What is Repentance and why does the KJB translate two different words as “to repent”?
A young man named Josh recently wrote to me in what I would characterize as a very confused, contradictory and shaky state as he questioned the accuracy of the King James Bible regarding the word “repent” and the meaning of the two Greek words that underlie this translation.
He writes: Hi Will, I have read lots of your articles on brandplucked. I am convinced that the KJV doesn't have any known translation errors. But there still seems to be one translation confusion in the KJV. The KJV translates the Greek word "metanoia" as "repentance".
"Metanoia" means a change of mind, and has nothing to do with a turning or a sorrow. It is purely intellectual since "meta" = "after", and "noia" = "understand". It literally means to "after-understand". It's an afterthought, or a change of mind.
The KJV also translates the Greek word "metamelomai" as "repentance". But "metamelomai" means a sorrow, not just a change of mind. By translating these two words as the same word "repent", it will cause a misunderstanding to any lay person that these two words mean the same thing - which they do not. This isn't an example of an error issue, but of a clarity issue. Should we look at the Greek to see which definition of repent fits, or should we only look at the KJV?
Any lexicon will define metanoia as a change of mind and metamelomai as sorrow. None of them mean to turn, and they don't both mean the same thing as the KJV makes it seem. A more consistent version is the NKJV which translates metanoia as repentance and metamelomai as regret. That's how it just seems to me. If there is an answer to my question, I would love to hear it. I am not attacking the KJV, but I see this one error. I would love to read your response to this. God bless.” [End of Josh’s comments]
First of all, the man is obviously on shaky ground - “I am convinced the KJV has no known translation errors” vs “I see this one error”. And he is woefully misinformed when he asserts: “any lexicon will define metanoia as a change of mind and metamelomai as sorrow.” and “they don’t both mean the same thing as the KJV makes it seem”.
There is a saying that “Knowing a little Greek is a dangerous thing.” It is also true that ignorance of our own English language is a dangerous thing. And both are certainly true in this young man’s case.
Does Josh believe the NKJV is the inerrant words of God? Of course not. Which is a good thing, because the NKJV most certainly is not the infallible words of God.
See “Is the NKJV the inerrant and 100% true Bible? Not a Chance!”
By the way, even though Josh tells us that metanoia is defined as "a change of mind" and metamelomai is supposedly defined as "sorrow", not even his referenced NKJV translates either word in these ways. The NKJV has "Repent" for metanoia, and for metamelomai it has 3 different ways of translating it - "relent, was remorseful, and regretted" - not "sorrowful".
Joshua has merely turned into what is known as “a Bible Rummager”. He picks a verse or a phrase or a word from this translation here and another one from that one over there, and pastes them together to make up his own bible version, but he does not believe that ANY whole bible on this earth is the complete and inerrant words of God.
So, let’s take a look at these two words, what they mean and how they are translated, not only in the King James Bible but in many others as well.
First of all, he needs to learn the various meanings of the perfectly good English word Repent.
Webster's online dictionary 10th edition - Main Entry: re·pent
1 : TO TURN FROM SIN and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life
2 a : TO FEEL REGRET OR CONTRITION, b : TO CHANGE ONE’S MIND
1 : to cause TO FEEL REGRET or contrition
2 : TO FEEL SORROW, REGRET, or contrition for
1(intransitive) To FEEL PAIN, SORROW, OR REGRET FOR WHAT ONE HAS DONE OR OMITTED TO DO.
2(intransitive) TO CHANGE ONE’S MIND, OR THE COURSE OF CONDUCT, ON ACCOUNT OF REGRET OR DISSATISFACTION.
3(transitive) To feel pain on account of; to remember with sorrow.
4(transitive) To cause to have sorrow or regret.
We can see that Josh is wrong when he says that neither Greek word means “to turn” when one of the definitions of “repent” is “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life”. This IS one of the meanings of the English word “repent”.
And secondly, he is totally wrong about what the Lexicons say regarding the meanings of both these Greek words and of “repentance” itself. BOTH Greek words are defined as “repentance” in every Greek Lexicon I looked at.
Let’s look at the first one he mentions - “metanoia”. A “literal” rendering may be “a change of mind” but is that all that is involved in the MEANING of the word? No. One of the definitions of “repent” is “TO CHANGE ONE’S MIND, OR THE COURSE OF CONDUCT, ON ACCOUNT OF REGRET OR DISSATISFACTION.” It is not just an intellectual assent to certain truths. There is an emotional as well as a volitional change in both attitude and actions.
There is a verb form metanoeo - μετανοειτε = “repent” and it is used 35 times in the KJB and is always translated as “repent” or “repented”. It is used in such places as Luke 13:3 “but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”; “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Luke 15:10
And the word metanoeo is used in Revelation 9:20-21 where we read: “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet REPENTED NOT (ου μετενοησαν ) of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils…Neither REPENTED (ου μετενοησαν ) they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, not of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
It should be obvious that the word means not only to “change one’s mind” but also to “change the course of conduct” or “to turn” from a sinful lifestyle to one of godliness.
The Bible itself gives us its own definition of what Repent means in Ezekiel 18:30 where God says: "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. REPENT, AND TURN yourselves FROM all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin."
The second word is metamelomai and it is found only six times in the entire New Testament and is always translated as “repented” or “repent” in the KJB and in many other translations as well. It is used in such places as Matthew 21:29 and 32 where one of the two sons at first refused to work in his father’s vineyard “but afterward HE REPENTED, and went.”
And in verse 32 where we read: “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, REPENTED NOT afterward, they ye might believe him.”
In both cases we see not only “a change of mind” but also a TURNING AROUND of the conduct and actions.
In fact, contrary to the assertions of Josh, there are many Bible translations that translate this word metamelomai as “repent”, including the NIVs 1978, 1984 and 2011 editions which translate Matthew 21:32 as “And even after you saw this, you did NOT REPENT and believe him.”
So also do Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew’s Bible 1549, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587, Darby 1890, Young’s 1898, the Revised Version 1881, the ASV 1901, the Living Bible 1971, the RSV 1952 and 1971, the World English Bible, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, Green’s literal translation 2000, the Common Edition N.T. 1999, A Conservative Version 2005, the Complete Apostle’s Bible 2005, the American Bible Union N.T. 2008, the New Heart English Bible 2010, the Jubilee Bible 2010 and the New Living Translation of 2013!
Josh wrote - “Any lexicon will define metanoia as a change of mind and metamelomai as sorrow.” And "Metanoia" means a change of mind, and has nothing to do with a turning or a sorrow. It is purely intellectual”.
Let’s see if he is right or not. Let’s take a look.
Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, 1968 page 1115 defines Metanoeo and metanoia as 1. To change one’s mind or purpose. 2. To REPENT. And the noun as 1. change of mind or heart, REPENTANCE, REGRET. (Isn’t “regret” like “sorrow”?)
Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon define the other Greek word metamelomai on page 1114 as meaning: 1. To FEEL REPENTANCE, regret. 2. CHANGE one’s purpose or LINE OF CONDUCT. 3. That which will cause regret, matter for future REPENTANCE. 4. REPENTANCE, regret.
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament 1889 on pages 405-406 defines the first Greek word matanoeo and the noun metanoia as meaning - 1. to repent - TO FEEL SORRY that one has done this or that. 2. to change one’s mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins. (Isn’t this “to turn around” to have “sorrow”?)
Thayer then defines the noun metanoia as 1. “A change of mind, as it appears in one who REPENTS of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done.”
He also continues with: “the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life…the tokens and effects of which are good deeds.”
Thayer further states that metanoia is “that change of mind by which WE TURN FROM, desist from dead works.”
As for the second word metamelomai, Thayer defines this on page 405 as meaning: “it is a care to one afterwards; TO REPENT ONESELF.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich 1957 on page 513 defines the first word metanoeo and the noun metanoia as: 1. Change of mind, then feel remorse, REPENT, be converted.
Likewise the noun means: “a change of mind, remorse, REPENTANCE, TURNING ABOUT, conversion, as a TURNING AWAY from dead works.”
And when Arndt and Gingrich deal with the second word under consideration - metamelomai - they tell us on page 512 that it means: "to feel regret, TO REPENT, it can also mean to change one's mind."
It should be abundantly obvious by this time that the two words are virtually interchangeable. The problem is not with the English text of the King James Bible. You simply need to recognize the different nuances or shades of meaning of this excellent English word “repent” and apply the appropriate one to the context.
The King James Bible is always right. All of grace, believing the Book,
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Notes from the Internet
Hi saints. This was encouraging. This same brother Josh wrote me back and this is what he said. - A rare bird indeed; someone with a teachable spirit.
Josh writes: "Thank you soooo much for that answer! As I read your article, I was struck of how you called me a Bible rummager. That is so true! In my study of the Bible, I regularly said, "The ESV is right in this verse, the NKJV is right in that verse, etc." I now realize that I virtually created a Bible in my mind my combining what I thought were the best features in every version. I used to have TONS of objections to the KJV, but they were all answered by either you or KJVtoday.com. My objection to how "repent" is translated in the KJV was the LAST objection. I now have absolutely no reason to say that God hasn't preserved His wordS in the KJV. The evidence from manuscripts, translation, and history is overwhelming. In short, you have convinced me to become a KJV Bible-Believer. It is a relief to know that there is an ultimate standard by which every doctrinal statement can be judged by.
Thank you so much, and God bless."