Repentance, which literally means to turn, is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It generally involves a commitment to personal change and the resolve to live a more responsible and humane life. The practice of repentance plays an important role in the soteriological doctrines of the world's major religions where it is considered necessary for the attainment of salvation. In religious contexts it often involves an act of confession to God or to a spiritual elder (such as a monk or priest). This typically includes an admission of guilt, a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible. Within a form part of the process of psychological healing that takes place during a course of psychotherapy.
In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nacham (to feel sorrow). In the New Testament, the word translated as 'repentance' is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), "after/behind one's mind", which is a compound word of the preposition 'meta' (after, with), and the verb 'noeo' (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by 'after' and 'different'; so that the whole compound means: 'to think differently after'. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart", or, "change of consciousness".
The doctrine of repentance as taught in the Bible is a call to persons to make a radical turn from one way of life to another. The repentance (metanoia) called for throughout the Bible is a summons to a personal, absolute and ultimate unconditional surrender to God as Sovereign. Though it includes sorrow and regret, it is more than that. It is a call to conversion from self-love, self-trust, and self-assertion to obedient trust and self-commitment to God. It is a change of mind that involves a conscious turning away from wrong actions, attitudes and thoughts that conflict with a Godly lifestyle and biblical commands, and an intentional turning toward doing that which the Bible says pleases God. In repenting, one makes a complete change of direction (180° turn) toward God. The words "repent," "repentance," and "repented" are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible.
Repentance typically includes an admission of guilt for committing a wrong or for omission of doing the right thing; a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong or the omission where possible.
Ezekiel 14:6 says, "Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations." When one changes one's mind about sin, a change in behavior will naturally result. For example, those who repented of their sins in the Old Testament often showed outward evidence by tearing down idolatrous statues.[2Kings 11:18]
In the New Testament, one of many examples of repentance in the New Testament can be found in the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11ff. Other instances of repentance included water baptism, restitution, and the burning of occultic possessions.
Rabbinic Jewish literature contains extensive discussions on the subject of repentance. Many rabbinic sources state that repentance is of paramount importance to the existence of this world, so that it was one of the seven provisions which God made before the Creation. "The Holy One, blessed be His name, said to Elijah, 'Behold, the precious gift which I have bestowed on my world: though a man sins again and again, but returns in penitence, I will receive him.' " "Great is repentance: it brings healing into the world"; "it reaches to the throne of the Lord";[Hosea 14:2,5] "it brings redemption";[Isaiah 59:20] "it prolongs man's life";[Ezekiel 18:21] Talmud Yoma 86a). "Repentance and works of charity are man's intercessors before God's throne". Sincere repentance is equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar, and the offering of all the sacrifices.
Sincere repentance is manifested when the same temptation to sin, under the same conditions, is ever after resolutely resisted. "He that confesses his sin and still clings to it is likened to a man that holds in his hand a defiling object; though he batheth in all the waters of the world he is not cleansed; but the moment he casteth the defiling object from him a single bath will cleanse him, as it is said: 'Whosoever confesses and forsakes them [his sins] shall have mercy' ".[Prov. 28:13]
According to Jewish doctrine, repentance is the prerequisite of atonement. Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, derives its significance only from the fact that it is the culmination of the ten penitential days with which the Jewish religious year begins; and therefore it is of no avail without repentance Though man ought to be penitent every day, the first ten days of every year are the acceptable time announced by the prophet Isaiah: "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near".[Isaiah 55:6]
Repentance and the Day of Atonement only absolve one from sins committed against God; from sins against another person they absolve only when restitution has been made and the pardon of the offended party has been obtained.
No one need despair on account of his or her sins, for every penitent sinner is graciously received by God.[Jeremiah 31:9] Jewish doctrine holds that it is never too late, even on the day of death, to return to God with sincere repentance for "as the sea is always open for every one who wishes to cleanse himself, so are the gates of repentance always open to the sinner". Jewish doctrine states that the hand of God is continually stretched out to receive a sinner. One view in the Talmud holds that a repentant sinner attains a more exalted spiritual eminence than one who has never sinned. It is a sin to taunt a repentant sinner by recalling their former sinful ways.
Repentance occupies a prominent position in all the ethical writings of the Middle Ages. Bahya ibn Paquda devotes a special section to it in his 'Hovot ha-Levavot", "Gate of Repentance." Maimonides devotes the last section of "Sefer ha-Madda'" in his Mishneh Torah to the subject. One of the most significant medieval works on Repentance is "Shaarei Teshuva," the "Gates of Repentance" by Rabbeinu Yona of Gerona.
In the Hebrew Bible, repentance generally leads to salvation. In some cases, individuals or nations repent of their sins and are spared God's judgment. Sometimes the punishment avoided is destruction in this life, sometimes it is damnation. In the Book of Jonah, the prophet initially chose to disobey God's command, and then he repented and became obedient. However, Jonah returned to disobedience when he hoped for the destruction of the city of Nineveh. In the Book of Job, Job never repented of any particular sin or activity when he went through his major dilemma. The Hebrew term teshuvah (lit. "return") is used to refer to "repentance". This implies that transgression and sin are the natural and inevitable consequence of man's straying from God and His laws, and that it is man's destiny and duty to be with God. The Bible states that God's loving-kindness is extended to the returning sinner.
The Torah (five books of Moses) distinguishes between offenses against God and offenses against man. In the first case, the manifestation of repentance consists in: (1) Confession of one's sin before God,[Lev. 5:5] [Num. 5:7] the essential part being a solemn promise and firm resolve not to commit the same sin again. (2) Making certain prescribed offerings.[Lev. 5:1-20] Offenses against man require, in addition to confession and sacrifice, restitution in full of whatever has been wrongfully obtained or withheld from one's fellow man, with one-fifth of its value added thereto.[Lev. 5:20-26] If the wronged man has died, restitution must be made to his heir; if he has no heir, it must be given to the priest who officiates at the sacrifice made for the remission of the sin.[Num. 5:7-9]
There are other manifestations of repentance mentioned in the Bible. These include pouring out water, which symbolizes the pouring out of one's heart before God; prayer self-affliction, as fasting; wearing sackcloth; sitting and sleeping on the ground. However, the Prophets disparaged all such outer manifestations of repentance, insisting rather on a complete change of the sinner's mental and spiritual attitude.[Hosea 14:1-2] "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy, and repenteth him of the evil".[Joel 2:13] In Isaiah 55:7, the Bible states that repentance brings pardon and forgiveness of sin. Apart from repentance, no other activities, such as sacrifices or religious ceremonies can secure pardon and forgiveness of sin.
Repentance appears prominently in the Scriptures. See the description of repentance in the Hebrew Bible above for repentance in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the first command that Jesus gave was to repent.[Matthew 4:17] He thus repeated the message of John the Baptist.[Matthew 3:2] Jesus sent out disciples who "proclaimed that people should repent".[Mark 6:12] In his Pentecost sermon, Peter the Apostle called on people to repent,[Acts 2:38] an appeal he repeated in his sermon at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out".[Acts 3:19] Paul the Apostle likewise testified "both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God"[Acts 20:21] and said that "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent".[Acts 17:30]
The Greek word used for repentance in the New Testament is μετάνοια (metanoia), and the Greek verb for "to repent" is μετανοῶ, contracted from μετανο-έω (metano-eo), as in Mark's account of the initial preaching of Jesus: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
In English, the prefix meta can indicate "beyond, about", as "meta-economics" or "meta-philosophy" (see meta), inspired by the non-Greek use of the word "metaphysics", which in Greek was just the title of a work of Aristotle, the Metaphysics, so named simply because in the customary ordering of the works of Aristotle it was the book following the Physics; the Greek word thus meant nothing more than "[the book that comes] after [the book entitled] Physics". In Greek, composite words that have μετα- (meta-) as the initial element are most frequently used "of change of place, condition, plan, etc.", as in the English word "metamorphosis". Even in a non-religious context, the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), in particular, meant "change of mind or heart, repentance, regret" or, in rhetoric, "afterthought, correction".
The Augsburg Confession, (known in Latin as Confessio Augustana), is the primary confession of faith used in the Lutheran Church. It is one of the most important documents of the Protestant Reformation. It divides repentance into two parts:
- "One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin;"
- "The other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors."
In the Calvinist tradition within Protestantism, there is a threefold idea involved in true repentance. The Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote that repentance "may be justly defined to be a true conversion of our life to God, proceeding from a serious fear of God, and consisting in the mortification of the flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit.” He further said that "it will be useful to amplify and explain the definition we have given; in which there are three points to be particularly considered".
In the first place, when we call repentance 'a conversion of the life to God', we require a transformation, not only in the external actions, but in the soul itself; which, after having put off the old nature, should produce the fruits of actions corresponding to its renovation....
In the second place, we represented repentance as proceeding from a serious fear of God. For before the mind of a sinner can be inclined to repentance, it must be excited by the knowledge of the Divine judgment.
It remains for us, in the third place, to explain our position, that repentance consists of two parts—the mortification of the flesh and the vivification of the spirit.... Both these branches of repentance effects our participation of Christ. For if we truly partake of his death, our old man is crucified by its power, and the body of sin expires, so that the corruption of our former nature loses all its vigor.... If we are partakers of his resurrection, we are raised by it to a newness of life, which corresponds with the righteousness of God." [Quotes from A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin edited by Hugh T. Kerr, The Westminster Press-Philadelphia 1939.]
Scriptures used by Protestants
In the New Testament Jesus told this parable: "There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.[Matt. 21:28-29] The word used here for "repent" means to change one's mind, thought, purpose, views regarding a matter. It is to have another attitude or mindset about something.
This change is well illustrated in the action of the Prodigal Son.[Luke 15:11-32] The issue of repentance is also discussed in connection with the will and disposition. One of the Hebrew words for repent means "to turn". The Prodigal Son said, "I will arise..., and he arose".[Luke 15:18,20] The Prodigal said, "I have sinned against heaven".[Luke 15:21]
In the well-known story of the Pharisee and the Publican, the Greek word used for repentance means "to be a care to one afterwards", to cause great concern to another. This meaning is exemplified by the repentant person who not only has profound regret for his or her past, but also the fulfilled hope in the potential of God’s grace to continually bear the fruit of healing and true reconciliation within the individual, with others, and most especially with God. The Hebrew equivalent is strong as well, and it means to pant, to sigh, or to moan. So the publican "beat upon his breast, and said, 'God be merciful to me a sinner' ", indicating sorrow of heart.[Luke 18:9-14]
The part played by one's will and disposition in repentance is shown in the confession of sin to God: "I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin".[Psa. 38:18]
There also must be confession to a person also insofar as that persons whom we have wronged in and by our sin.[Mt. 5:23–24] See also James 5:16, Isa. 55:7, and Prov. 28:13. Another clear example pointing out the necessity of confessing one's sins is found in Proverbs: "Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy".[Pr. 28:13]
Acts of repentance do not earn God's forgiveness from one's sin. Rather, forgiveness is given as a gift from God to those whom he saves. "...they praised God, saying, 'So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.' "[Acts 11:18] "The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."[2Tim 2:24-26] God calls all to repent through the hearing of the Gospel. God grants total repentance as each individual responds to repentance through faith in the expiating sacrifice of Jesus for all sin. "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ."[Rom. 10:17] Repentance is given before anything else, by definition.
Individuals cannot show true change in their life before they themselves have changed (repented) to bring about manifestations of that change/repentance. When the people of Nineveh heard the preaching of the word of God by Jonah,[Jonah 3:5-10] they believed the message and turned to God.
The very Gospel which calls for repentance produces it.[Acts 2:37,38,41] The Gospel is the instrument that God uses to bring about this desired end. Furthermore, this message must be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.[1Thes 1:5-10][Rev. 3:19] [Heb. 12:6,10-11] The chastisements of God are sometimes for the purpose of bringing his wandering children back to repentance.[2Tim. 2:24-25] God often uses the loving, Christian reproof of a fellow believer to be the means of bringing a wayward Christian back to God.
The word tawbah (repentance) in Arabic literally means 'to return', and is mentioned in the Qur'an. In an Islamic context, it refers to the act of leaving what Allah has prohibited and returning to what he has commanded. The act of repentance can redeem the sins and give the opportunity to go to Heaven. These awards are noted in Quran verse as follows.
- O you who have believed, repent to Allah with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remove from you your misdeeds and admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow [on] the Day when Allah will not disgrace the Prophet and those who believed with him. Their light will proceed before them and on their right; they will say, "Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You are over all things." [At-Tahriim 66:8]
Although repentance is considered as one act that can be used for cleansing the sins, the Quran noted that all of the sins are forgiven with or without repentance except the state of Shirk. The shirk is the act of worshiping another deity besides Allah. The believing person has to compulsory repent for shirk sin, to be forgiven by Allah. Two verses are giving comments regarding Shirk, [An-Nisaa 4:48] and [An-Nisaa 4:116].
- Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin. [An-Nisaa 4:48]
Islam does not accept the concept of original sin, instead it teaches that a person is born in a state of innonence and pure belief. The person remains in that state of sinlessness as along as they have not reached the age of puberty. After which they are accountable for their sins.
The Buddha considered shame over doing wrong (Pali: hiri) and fear of the consequences of wrongdoing (Pali:otappa) as essential safeguards against falling into evil ways and further as extremely useful in the path of purification. Also recommended was the regular practice of self-assessment or wise reflection (Pali: yoniso manasikara) on one's own actions in relation to others and the bigger picture.
Hoʻoponopono (ho-o-pono-pono) is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with (repentance) prayers. Similar forgiveness practices were performed on islands throughout the South Pacific, including Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand. Traditionally hoʻoponopono is practiced by healing priests or kahuna lapaʻau among family members of a person who is physically ill. Modern versions are performed within the family by a family elder, or by the individual alone.
- Repentance Day, a public holiday of Christian prayer in Papua New Guinea
- OED: To repent, v "To review one's actions and feel contrition or regret for something one has done or omitted to do; (esp. in religious contexts) to acknowledge the sinfulness of one's past action or conduct by showing sincere remorse and undertaking to reform in the future."
- Stagg, Frank. New Testament Theology. Broadman Press, 1962. ISBN 0-8054-1613-7, pp. 118-119
- See Matt. 11:20-21; Mark 1:4; Luke 19:8; Acts 19:19. Such deeds are called "fruits fit for repentance".[Matt. 3:8]
- Talmud Bavli, tractates Pesahim 54a; Nedarim 39b; Midrash Genesis Rabbah 1
- Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 28b
- Talmud Shabbath 32a
- (Pesiqta, ed. Buber, 25:158; Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 7; Talmud Sanhedrin 43b)
- (Talmud Yoma 86b; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 2:1-2)
- (Talmud Taanith 16a; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 2:3)
- (Mishna Yoma Chapter 8, 8)
- Midrash Sifra, Emor, 14.
- Mishna Avoth Chap 2, 10; Talmud Shabbath 153a
- Talmud Rosh Hashan 18a; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 2:6
- Talmud Yoma 87a; Mishneh Torah Teshuva2:9
- (Pesiqta., ed. Buber, xxv. 157; Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbah ii.; Midrash Psalms lxiii.)
- (Talmud Pesachim 119a; Deuteronomy Rabbah ii)
- Talmud Berakhoth 34b.
- (Talmud Bava Metsia 58b; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 8:8)
- In the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 4:7; Leviticus 4, 5; Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 30:2; 1 Kings 8:33, 48; Hosea 14:2; Jeremiah 3:12,31:18,36:3; Ezekiel 18:30-32; Isaiah 54:22,55:6-10; Joel 2:12; Jonah 2:10).
- (comp. Deut. 11:26-28; Isa. 1:4; Jer. 2:13, 16:11; Ezek. 18:30)
- (I Sam. 7:6; according to the Targum
- comp. Jerusalem Talmud Ta'anit 68d;Midrash Tehilim cxix.; Lamentations 2:19);
- (II Sam. 12:16);
- (I Kings 21:27; Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:5).
- Catholic Exchange: "Gospel imperative: Repent!
- Liddell and Scott, μετάνοια
- Strong's Concordance, μετάνοια
- Liddell and Scott, μετανο-έω
- Strong's Concordance, μετανοέω
- Liddell and Scott μετά
- Collins English Dictionary
- Liddell and Scott, μετάνοια
- Augsburg Confession, Article XII: Of Repentance
- Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:28:46
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