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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Repentance (μετάνοια) is one of two words used in the NT, both of which originally denoted a change of mind of any sort. It is so used, though only occasionally, in Thucydides, Plato, Polybius, etc., and the phrase locus paenitentiae (‘opportunity for a change of mind’; cf. τόπον μετανοίας,  Wisdom of Solomon 12:10 and  Hebrews 12:17, both with a deeper religious meaning-for the latter passage see B. F. Westcott, Hebrews 1889, in loc.) is found in the Roman jurists. μετανοεῖν is common in the Septuagint; there, with παρακληθῆναι (cf. the use of ἵλεως), it denotes change of mind or attitude, both in man and in God, as the translation of רחם (Niph), whose causative mood is used for bringing about the special change from sorrow to ease (e.g.  Genesis 6:7,  Exodus 32:12;  Exodus 32:14,  1 Chronicles 21:15,  Joel 2:13,  1 Samuel 15:29 [cf.  1 Samuel 15:11]). The noun is very rare in the Septuagint, occurring only in  Proverbs 14:15,  Wisdom of Solomon 11:23;  Wisdom of Solomon 12:10;  Wisdom of Solomon 12:19, and  Sirach 44:16 (Ἐνὼχ … ὑπόδειγμα μετανοίας). In the NT, a differentiation takes place: μεταμέλομαι (which is also found in a few passages in the classics) is used for a general change of attitude or purpose ( Matthew 21:30;  Matthew 27:3 and  Hebrews 7:21, a quotation from  Psalms 110:4, the only reference to a change of mind in God in the NT, though cf.  2 Corinthians 7:8); μετάνοια, and μετανοεῖν are used of a religious change of attitude to God and to sin, often occurring in the phrase μετάνοια ἀπὸ or ἐκ. No such idea is found in classical Greek literature. It is commoner in Acts than in any other book of the NT. The earliest Christian preaching, as there described, involved the announcement of Jesus as the Messiah and the simple call for repentance in view of His near return ( Acts 2:38;  Acts 3:19;  Acts 8:22;  Acts 20:21). This is equally true of the sermons of the original apostles and of St. Paul; in  Acts 17:30, St. Paul tells the Athenians that God is summoning all to repentance, using the same phrase-ἀπαγγέλλειν μετανοεῖν-as he uses of his own action in  Acts 26:20. In essence, this is identical with the preaching of the Baptist ( Acts 13:24;  Acts 19:4; cf.  Matthew 3:2 and ||s), except that the Baptist spoke of Jesus as coming, and of the Kingdom, or the Messiah, as at hand, while the apostles referred to Jesus as already come. How repentance is to be brought about is not stated. The imperative mood implies an act of human will, possible for all to whom the call comes. On the other hand, the apostles speak of Jesus as having been exalted by God as Captain and Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins ( Acts 5:31); and the Christians in Jerusalem, hearing of the conversion of Cornelius, exclaim, ‘Why, God has given repentance to the Gentiles’ ( Acts 11:18; cf.  Wisdom of Solomon 12:19). There is probably here no contradiction, thought, if such existed, it might easily have been overlooked by the early preachers. Man could not be thought of as forced into repentance independently of his own will; but repentance is none the leas made possible only through a dispensation of God’s grace (cf. articleAtonement, and  2 Peter 3:9, where the Lord is said to will that all men should come to repentance). As in the preaching of the Baptist ( Matthew 3:2 and ||s), repentance is expected to manifest itself in conduct ( Acts 26:20).

The above passages show that repentance was an integral part of St. Paul’s preaching; but references to repentance in the Pauline Epistles are very rare, though of great interest. The kindness of God leads to repentance ( Romans 2:4; a strikingly similar thought is also found in  Ezekiel 36:29 ff., though in  Ezekiel 6:9 the impulse to repentance is attributed to a different cause; cf. the interesting passage  Wisdom of Solomon 12:22-27). The forbearance and mildness characteristic of the servant of God may lead to God’s giving repentance to those who experience such treatment ( 2 Timothy 2:25). In each case, the simple conception of  Acts 5:31;  Acts 11:18, that repentance is an attitude induced or made possible by God, is at once elaborated and modified. There is. no explicit reference here to the work of Christ; but, as in Ezekiel, the experience of blessings felt to be unmerited, or the shock of unmerited forbearance from Christian people, brings about a change of mind towards sin and God. With the foregoing, we may compare the simple statement in Clem. Rom. (Ep. ad Cor. i. 7) that from generation to generation the Master has given opportunity for repentance to those who wish to turn to Him.

How is this wish caused? Hitherto, we have met no reference in the NT to the ‘godly sorrow’ for sin emphasized by Ezekiel. In converts from heathenism there might be fear at a threatened catastrophe (cf. the Philippian jailer) but not sorrow. In one passage, however, St. Paul is led to develop very clearly the influence of sorrow for sin on believers. He is referring to the effect of his previous sharp rebuke on the Corinthian Church, which hitherto had refused to mourn for the presence of sin within its borders ( 1 Corinthians 5:2; cf.  1 Corinthians 12:26). He does not now regret (μεταμέλεσθαι not μετανοεῖν in this case) the pain he had caused them, since this pain was experienced in the way of God (κατὰ θεόν) rather than in the way of the world, and this worked not death (cf. the young man‘s sorrow in  Matthew 19:22) but repentance, arousing in them indignation, fear, longing, and a passionate desire to set themselves right. The result of such sorrow in the community is seen in the punishment inficted on the guilty member; and once this has brought repentance to him also, he must be comforted by his fellow-believers, lest he be overwhelmed by his pain. If, on the other hand, this punishment is ineffectual, more drastic treatment from the Apostle will be needed ( 2 Corinthians 13:2). At the same time, he knows that the sin of his converts and friends will cause a deep sorrow, a ‘vicarious repentance,’ in him ( 2 Corinthians 12:21, cf.  Jeremiah 8:18 ff.).

One passage, denying the possibility of repentance to those who fall away after illumination ( Hebrews 6:6; cf.  Hebrews 12:17) has occasioned great difficulty to interpreters. With the theological questions raised by the verse we have no concern here; repentance, however, is evidently used in its largest sense of an entire change of attitude, and the writer’s meaning is that when a man has definitely relinquished the fullest spiritual privileges, it is impossible (for human agency) to enter on a process of making him anew (the expressions and the tenses used are noteworthy). Apart from this passage, however, the possibility that repentance may be for some men unattainable is never hinted at. Repentance in believers has a prominent place in the messages to the Seven Churches. There, it is expected that repentance will follow from the accusation and conviction of sin. If not, a sudden punishment in each case is to fall on both the guilty church and the sinners harboured in it ( Revelation 2:5;  Revelation 2:16;  Revelation 2:21;  Revelation 3:3, etc.). In the Apostolic Fathers, explicit references to this repentance are lacking. Even the letters of Ignatius, though addressed to churches with whom their writer bad considerable fault to find, say nothing definite on the subject. Hermas is aware that this sorrow may be a blessing; but he is more concerned to point out that, in general, sorrow may distress the Spirit which dwells in the Christian (Mand. X. iii. 1, 2), In the Apostolic Age, indeed, it would seem that Christians were so eager to enter into the new joy, that they would not stay to contemplate sorrow ( Acts 2:46,  Ephesians 1:3; if they groaned, it was for a fuller illumination,  Romans 8:23). This frame of mind finds constant expression in the Odes of Solomon; in almost the only place where repentance and sorrow might have occurred to the writer (xxxiii., Christ’s preaching in Hades), they are tin unmentioned. As for the heathen, their sins had been overlooked ( Acts 17:30). Divine punishments for sin might well bring sorrow to the evildcer ( James 5:1,  Revelation 9:20-21;  Revelation 16:9;  Revelation 16:11 where the most drastic treatment meted out to the sinners in the world before the Parousia fails to produce repentance); but such sufferings as come to the Christian are lifted up into the rapture of communion with Christ ( Colossians 1:24,  1 Peter 4:13).

These considerations may be thought hardly sufficient to explain the comparative silence of St. Paul. It may be added that he was writing for believers, in whom repentance was an accomplished fact, his chief concern being to lead them on to religion conceptions and levels of conduct of whose significance they could not have been aware when they first turned from dead works. Further, he does not lay great emphasis on the original and simple change of attitude in his converts. He rather analyzes what would seem to have been his own experience of it: the crushing weight of law; the emergence of desire: the resultant sense of helplessness; and the deliverance wrought by the grace of God ( Romans 7:24; cf. I. A. Dorner, System of Christian Ethics, Eng. translation, 1887, p. 364; the wretchedness to which St. Paul here refers is not sorrow for sin, but the resulting sense of being torn in two); or else he describes its immediate consequences, in relation to Christ, under the figures of death and resurrection ( Colossians 2:20). Similarly, no reference is made to repentance in the Johannine Epistles or the Fourth Gospel. Its place is taken by the figures of the new birth ( John 3:3; cf. also  1 Peter 1:23) or the passage from darkness to light ( John 8:12,  1 John 2:8), which are equally applicable to repentance and conversion.

For this comparative neglect in the NT a psychological reason may perhaps be suggested. Repentance and conversion, unless either is imperfect, must go together. They are two sides of the same process. In repentance, however, the emotional side of the process is more prominent; but it is questionable whether a past emotion is ever recalled. The memory of its occurrence can of course be retained, and an appropriate stimulus may arouse a similar emotion. But it may be that such a stimulus never occurs. This would be the case with the normal Christian. Sorrow for sin becomes as much a thing of the past as sin itself. The emotions associated with repentance are only memories, and the forward look ( Philippians 3:13,  Hebrews 12:1) and the preoccupation of the mind with the things of the Kingdom ( Philippians 4:8) will prevent any morbid dwelling on an experience which can only be temporary and ought to be short-lived, just as, by these means, any desire for a formal analysis of a past psychosis will be removed. St. Peter never refers, save by way of allusion, to his own repentance; and the long description of the stages previous to repentance and conversion in Augustine’s Confessions and Bunyan’s Grace Abounding would seem to be foreign to the spirit of the NT writers. They prefer to dilate on the consequences of the process ( 1 Corinthians 6:11,  Titus 3:5).

The same absence of interest in abstract analysis explains the silence of the NT on the question of the relative parts played by man and God in repentance. The attitude of the NT writers is rather that of the normal believer, who knows that his attitude of mind changed (see above), and that he once willed a very different set of actions, while he is equally sure that this change could never have happened apart from the grace of God ( Romans 11:33). The argument in  Romans 9:14-18 is not intended to prove that God arbitrarily grants repentance to some and withholds it from others (cf. the catalogue of warnings given to Israel, Romans 10); but only that if God’s favours are withheld, God cannot rightly be blamed (see Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary, ‘Romans’5, 1902, p. 248 ff.). On the other hand, with regard to the ethical consequences of repentance, there is no ambiguity whatever: a fact which is the more remarkable since the belief in the near approach of the Parousia might have been expected to lead to an ‘Interimsethik,’ or, as some of the Thessalonian converts believed, to no ethies at all ( 1 Thessalonians 5:7,  2 Thessalonians 3:11). The same thing may be seen clearly in the Epistle of Barnabas, in which the apocalyptic section is followed immediately by the transcription of the ‘Two Ways.’ (See Schweitzer, Geschichte der paulinischen Forschung, 1911, who points out that the same stress on the importance of ethies in the descriptions of the coming world after the Parousia effectually distinguishes Jewish and Christian from pagan eschatology.)

But in truth, no multiplied references to repentance were necessary. No Christian could forget the new light in which he had come to look upon his past life (the paganism around him would make this impossible), nor the act of loving self-surrender to a new personal influence which accompanied it ( Acts 20:21; cf.  Mark 1:15,  Hebrews 6:1); and, though he might fail to display at the first all the graces of a mature Christian character ( Ephesians 4:28), he knew that repentance and faith together had wrought a real deliverance for him ( 1 Peter 4:3); and if he had felt less sorrow at the time than we might have expected for sins which hitherto he had not thought of as sins, he now regarded them with the more loathing and contempt.

Literature.-R. J. Drummond, Relation of the Apostolic Teaching to the Teaching of Christ, Edinburgh, 1900; H. H. Henson, Moral Discipline in the Christian Church, London, 1905, esp. ch. iv.; R. J. Knowling, The Testimony of St. Paul to Christ, do., 1905; H. Weinel, St. Paul: The Man and His Work, Eng. translation, do., 1906; W. P. DuBose, The Gospel according to St. Paul, do., 1907; R. Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, do., 1912; W. M. Macgregor, Christian Freedom, Edinburgh, 1914.

W. F. Lofthouse.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

The most common term in the Old Testament for repentance is sub  ; the verbal forms appear well over 1,050 times, although translated "repent" only 13 times, and the substantive "repentance" occurs only once in the New International Version. More commonly the translation is "turn" or "return." A related term is naham [   Matthew 21:32 ).

Two requisites of repentance included in sub are "to turn from evil, and to turn to the good." Most critical theologically is the idea of returning to God, or turning away from evil. If one turns away from God, apostasy is indicated. Three times Ezekiel included God's call to the people of Israel: "Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!" (14:6); "Repent! Turn away from all your offenses" (18:30); "Turn! Turn from your evil ways" (33:11). Such a call was characteristic of the prophets (see, e.g.,   Isaiah 45:22;  55:7;  Joel 2:12-13 ). The Septuagint underlines this idea by usually translating sub by epi ( apo- ) strepho [Ἀποστρέφω] (to turn about, or to turn away from). To be abandoned are both evil intentions and evil deeds, and both motive and conduct are to be radically changed. A striking example is found in  Isaiah 1:16-17 : "Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."

One may detect two sides to this turning/converting. There is the free sovereign act of God's mercy, and a conscious decision to turn to God (a turning that goes beyond sorrow and contrition).

Confession of sins is both commanded and frequently illustrated (e.g., in the penitential prayers, as  Psalm 25,51 ). When one is guilty of various sins, "he must confess in what way he has sinned" in order to receive atonement and forgiveness ( Leviticus 5:5;  26:40-42 ). Thus, confession belongs to repentance, and is needed for divine forgiveness (cf.  1 John 1:9 ). A great prophecy/ promise is given in the Book of Isaiah: "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins" (59:20).

The two chief forms of repentance in the Old Testament were cultic and ritual (e.g., expressed in public ceremonies, fasting, various displays of sorrow, liturgies, or days of repentance), and the prophetic concept (e.g., people are to "return to the Lord"). The latter stresses a change in relation to God.

To repent and to convert involved obedience to God's revealed will, placing trust in him, turning away from all evil and ungodliness. Each person was to "turn from his wicked evil way" ( Jeremiah 26:3;  36:3 ). Amos gave God's lament, that despite all he had done for or to the people, "yet you have not returned to me" (4:4,8-11). Hosea anticipated the day when Israel "will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king" (3:5). Thus he pled with them to return to the Lord their God and to say, "Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously" (14:2b).

Included also in the Old Testament is the idea of "regretting" something. The Septuagint used metamelomai [   Exodus 13:17 ). Lady Wisdom warned against immorality by saying, "At the end of your life you will groan" ( Proverbs 5:11 ).

The use of the Hebrew word naham [   Genesis 6:6-7 ); the Lord "relented" and turned away his threat of disaster ( Exodus 32:14 ); he was "grieved" at having made Saul king, and deposed him ( 1 Samuel 15:11,26 ). These descriptions may be regarded as anthropopathic, in which God exhibited emotional responses known to be present in humans also. Not infrequently God relented and withheld predicted judgment on Israel. An especially vivid illustration of this reversal is found in  Hosea 11:8-9 : "How can I give you up, Ephraim? My heart is changed within me I will not carry out my fierce anger." God's true love for Israel would triumph, and he would keep covenant with his people.

In the New Testament, the key term for repentance is metanoia [Μετάνοια]. It has two usual senses: a "change of mind" and "regret/remorse."

In the Synoptic Gospels metanoia [   Mark 1:4 ), made imperative by the nearness of judgment (see  Matthew 3:10 ,; "already" ), despite having Abraham as ancestor. John the Baptist called for a break with the old and a turning to God.

According to  Matthew 3 , John was not specific about "the fruits of repentance, " except in his call for baptism with water. But the Lukan narrative includes the question of people, "What should we do then?" To the crowds, the tax collectors, and the soldiers, John spelled out specific ways in which the validity of their repentance should be demonstrated ( Luke 3:10-14 ). Thus, metanoia [   Mark 1:4;  Luke 3:3 ), and was to be evidenced by the changed attitudes and deeds of the respondents.

In both Mark (1:15) and Matthew (4:17) Jesus began his public proclamation with the call "Repent." Mark connects it with believing the good news; Matthew, with the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. While Luke does not include this initial call, he notes several strong calls for repentance in Jesus' teachings (see esp. 10:13; 11:32; 13:3,5; 17:3-4). The Book of Acts often connects metanoia [2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 26:18,20). There are strong reminiscences here of John's proclamations, but one striking difference is in the audiences. While John addressed Jewish hearers only, those in Acts were comprised of Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. The first four incidents feature Peter as speaker; the last text refers to Paul's statement about his mission. In addition, Paul is said to have preached to both Jews and Gentiles/Greeks to "turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (20:21). These two elements are also found in the Markan account, where Jesus called people to "repent and believe [in the good news about himself]" (  Mark 1:15 ). Further, metanoia [Μετάνοια] is joined with epistrepho [Ἐπιστρέφω] in  Acts 3:19 (Peter) and 26:20 (Paul). Thus, repentance leads to conversion, and "deeds consistent with repentance" are to follow.

In Paul's letters the verb metanoeo [   2 Corinthians 12:21 ) and the noun metanoia [   Romans 2:4;  2 Corinthians 7:9,10;  2 Timothy 2:25 ). The negative word "unrepentant" appears in  Romans 2:5 . Many conclude that for Paul the more comprehensive term "faith" ( pistis [   Acts 20:21 ).

A knotty problem arises in  Hebrews 6:4-6 in the text, "It is impossible for those to be brought back to repentance, because " For persons described as "fallen away" is repentance repeatable in any sense? Much depends on the context and syntax of the text, and the reader is referred to commentaries for detailed discussion. Probably the statement of the text is a pastoral rather than a dogmatic theological assertion, but nonetheless the warning is to be taken seriously. The final epistolary occurrence is   2 Peter 3:9 , describing the Lord's patience in waiting for all who will repent.

Finally, metanoia [2:5,16, 21-22; 3:3,19). Believers are called to repent of various malpractices, and to exercise their former faithfulness. Those outside the church, despite various warnings, did not repent of their deeds (9:20-21; 16:9,11).

The other Greek word for repenting ( metamelomai [   Matthew 21:32 ). There the temple authorities are confronted by Jesus with their failure to repent at the preaching of John. In Greek usage, this term referred to changing one's mind or one's feelings; according to Aristotle it showed inner inconsistency.

The sense of "regret" is common to New Testament uses. A son "changed his mind" about doing his father's bidding ( Matthew 21:29 ). Judas Iscariot was "seized with remorse" after betraying Jesus ( Matthew 27:3 ). Paul did not "regret" the sorrow caused by his severe letter to Corinth ( 2 Corinthians 7:8 ); instead, the pain brought "repentance" ( metanoia [Μετάνοια]) that leads to salvation, and leaves no "regret" (vv. 9-10).

Walter M. Dunnett

Bibliography . J. Behm, TDNT, 4:975-1006; V. P. Hamilton, TWOT, 2:2340; H. Merklein, EDNT, 2:415-19; O. Michel, TDNT, 4:626-28; G. F. Moore, Judaism, 1:507ff.; M. R. Wilson, TWOT, 2:571.

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

 Genesis 6:6-7 1 Samuel 15:35 Exodus 32:14 1 Samuel 15:29

Old Testament In ancient Israel repentance was first expressed corporately. When national calamities such as famine, drought, defeat, or a plague of locusts arose, the people did not feel responsible individually for these catastrophes. Rather, they sensed that the incidents were caused by the guilt of the nation. All shared the responsibility and, consequently, the ritual of repentance. Fasting, the wearing of sackcloth (the traditional attire for mourning), the scattering of ashes ( Isaiah 58:5;  Nehemiah 9:1;  Daniel 9:3 ), and the recitation of prayers and psalms in a penitential liturgy characterized this collective experience of worship.

With the use of such outward tokens of repentance, however, the danger of sham or pretense also arose. Ritual not accompanied by a genuine attitude of repentance was empty. Against such misleading and, therefore, futile expressions of remorse, the eighth-century prophets spoke out. Their attacks upon feigned worship and their calls for genuine contrition on the part of the individual gave flower to the characteristic biblical concept of repentance. What was needed was not ritual alone, but the active involvement of the individual in making a radical change within the heart ( Ezekiel 18:31 ) and in seeking a new direction for one's life. What was demanded was a turning from sin and at the same time a turning to God. For the prophets, such a turning or conversion was not just simply a change within a person; it was openly manifested in justice, kindness, and humility (  Micah 6:8;  Amos 5:24;  Hosea 2:19-20 ).

New Testament A direct connection between the prophets and the New Testament is found in John the Baptist. Appearing in the wilderness, he, like they, issued the call to his own generation for this radical kind of turning. He baptized those who by confessing their sins responded to his invitation ( Mark 1:4-5 ). Likewise, he expected that those who had made this commitment would demonstrate by their actions the change which they had made in their hearts ( Luke 3:10-14 ). He differed, though, from the prophets in that his message of repentance was intricately bound up with his expectation of the imminent coming of the Messiah ( Luke 3:15-17; see also  Acts 19:4 ).

The Messiah came also preaching a message of repentance ( Mark 1:15 ). Stressing that all men needed to repent ( Luke 13:1-5 ), Jesus summoned his followers to turn and become like children (  Matthew 18:3 ). He defined His ministry in terms of calling sinners to repentance ( Luke 5:32 ). Moreover, He illustrated His understanding of repentance in the parable of the prodigal who returned to the father (  Luke 15:11-32 ). Like John, he insisted that the life that was changed was obvious by the “fruit” that it bore ( Luke 6:20-45 ).

Jesus also differed from His predecessors in His proclamation of repentance. He related it closely to the arrival of the kingdom of God ( Mark 1:14-15 ) and specifically associated it with one's acceptance of Him. Those who were unrepentant were those who rejected Him ( Luke 10:8-15;  Luke 11:30-32 ); those who received Him were the truly repentant. In His name repentance and forgiveness were to be proclaimed to all nations ( Luke 24:47 ).

Acts shows this proclamation was made. Peter ( Acts 2:38;  Acts 3:19;  Acts 5:31 ) and Paul ( Acts 17:30;  Acts 20:21 ) told Jews and Gentiles alike “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” ( Acts 26:20 NAS). The apostolic preaching virtually identified repentance with belief in Christ: both resulted in the forgiveness of sins (  Acts 2:38;  Acts 10:43 ).

“Repentance” is infrequently found in Paul's writings and never in John. Both speak of faith which entails both a rejection of sin and a positive response to God. Other apostolic writings also note the relationship of faith and repentance ( Acts 20:21;  Hebrews 6:1 ). In 1John, moreover, confession of sins is tantamount to repentance from sins ( Hebrews 1:9 ).

Other Usages Not all references refer to turning to God from sin. Judas repented of what he had done ( Matthew 27:3 ). The Greek term differs from the normal word for repentance. In this context the meaning is regret or remorse; Judas' repentance was not the type that leads towards salvation.

Paul described an earlier letter he had sent to the Corinthians which caused them grief, but which eventually led them to repentance. Here Paul described a change in the Corinthians' attitude about him ( 2 Corinthians 7:8-13 ). Their repentance resulted in their reconciliation with him.

Renewal of commitment or reaffirmation of faith seems to be the meaning of repentance in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation ( Revelation 2:5 ,Revelation 2:5, 2:16 ,Revelation 2:16, 2:21-22;  Revelation 3:3 ,Revelation 3:3, 3:19 ). Twice the letters call for the readers to remember and thereby to return to what they had been. The call is for rededication and not initial conversion. See Confession; Conversion; Faith; Kingdom Of God; Sackcloth .

Naymond Keathley

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [4]

Repentance is a turning from sin to God ( Deuteronomy 30:1-2;  2 Chronicles 6:26-27;  2 Chronicles 7:14;  Nehemiah 1:9;  Psalms 78:34;  Isaiah 55:7;  Jeremiah 8:6;  Jeremiah 31:18-19;  Ezekiel 18:21;  Malachi 3:7;  Matthew 11:20-21;  Luke 15:7;  Luke 16:30;  Acts 3:19;  Acts 8:22;  Acts 14:15;  Acts 26:19-20;  Revelation 9:20-21). The open demonstration of this turning to God is sometimes called conversion ( Acts 15:3; cf.  Acts 26:17-18;  1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Jesus and the New Testament preachers commanded people to repent, because without repentance there can be no salvation ( Matthew 3:2;  Matthew 4:17;  Mark 6:12;  Luke 5:32;  Luke 13:3;  Luke 24:47;  Acts 2:38;  Acts 11:18;  Acts 17:30).

It is true that faith is the means by which people receive salvation ( Romans 3:22-25;  Ephesians 2:8), but faith that does not involve repentance is not true faith. It is not a faith that leads to salvation. Faith means complete trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning death. It means that people must have total dependence on Christ for their entire salvation (see Faith ). But such trust is impossible so long as they cling to anything of themselves. They cannot rely upon the work of Christ for the forgiveness of sin unless they turn from that sin ( Mark 1:15;  Acts 11:21;  Acts 20:21;  Acts 26:18;  1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Because faith involves repentance and repentance involves faith, the Bible in some places speaks of forgiveness as depending on faith ( Acts 10:43;  Acts 13:38-39), in others as depending on repentance ( Luke 24:47;  Acts 3:19;  Acts 3:26). But the preaching of repentance, like the preaching of faith, must be related to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ( Luke 24:46-47).

Although it is true that people must exercise faith and repentance if they are to be saved, it is also true that neither faith nor repentance would be possible in the heart of self-centred human beings apart from the gracious work of God. God is the one who brings conviction of sin within people and gives them the readiness to repent and believe ( Acts 5:31;  Acts 11:18; cf.  John 6:65;  John 16:7-11).

Repentance involves a complete change in the mind and will of the believer. It is more than mere sorrow for sin; it is surrender to God. People may be sorry for their sin because of its consequences, but still have no thought for God. True repentance recognizes the character of sin as deserving God’s judgment, and turns from that sin to ask God’s forgiveness. Sorrow for sin that ignores God leads only to self-pity and despair. Godly sorrow leads to repentance and new life ( 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; cf.  Job 42:5-6;  Psalms 51:1-17;  Luke 18:13). It proves its genuineness in a complete change of behaviour ( Luke 3:8-14;  Luke 19:8;  2 Corinthians 5:17;  1 John 2:4-6).

A different usage of the word ‘repent’ is found in the Old Testament, where writers sometimes use it in relation to God. The word simply has to do with a change in God’s dealings with people. It has nothing to do with any divine sin or failure ( Genesis 6:6;  1 Samuel 15:11;  Jeremiah 18:7-10;  Jonah 3:8-9; cf.  Psalms 110:4;  Jeremiah 4:28).

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [5]

In general, is sorrow for any thing past. In theology it signifies that sorrow for sin which produces newness of life. The Greek word most frequently used in the New Testament for repentance properly denotes an afterthought, or the soul recollecting its own actings; and that in such a manner as to produce sorrow in the review, and a desire of amendment. Another word also is used which signifies anxiety or uneasiness upon the consideration of what is done. There are, however, various kinds or repentance; as,

1. A natural repentance, or what is merely the effect of natural conscience.

2. A national repentance, such as the Jews in Babylon were called unto; to which temporal blessings were promised,  Ezekiel 18:1-32;  Ezekiel 19:1-14;  Ezekiel 20:1-49;  Ezekiel 21:1-32;  Ezekiel 22:1-31;  Ezekiel 23:1-49;  Ezekiel 24:1-27;  Ezekiel 25:1-17;  Ezekiel 26:1-21;  Ezekiel 27:1-36;  Ezekiel 28:1-26;  Ezekiel 29:1-21;  Ezekiel 30:1-26;  Ezekiel 31:1-18;  Ezekiel 32:1-30 .

3. An External repentance, or an outward humiliation for sin, as in the case of Ahab.

4. A hypocritical repentance, as represented in Ephraim,  Hosea 7:16 .

5. A legal repentance, which is a mere work of the law, and the effect of convictions of sin by it which in time wear off, and come to nothing.

6. an evangelical repentance, which consists in conviction of sin; sorrow for it; confession of it; hatred to it; and renunciation of it. A legal and evangelical repentance are distinguished thus:

1. A legal repentance flows only from a sense of danger and fear of wrath; but an evangelical repentance is a true mourning for sin, and an earnest desire of deliverance from it.

2. A legal repentance flows from unbelief, but evangelical is always the fruit and consequence of a saving faith.

3. A legal repentance flows from an aversion to God and to his holy law, but an evangelical from love to both.

4. A legal repentance ordinarily flows from discouragement and despondency, but evangelical from encouraging hope.

5. A legal repentance is temporary, but evangelical is the daily exercise of the true Christian.

6. A legal repentance does at most produce only a partial and external reformation, but an evangelical is a total change of heart and life. The author of true repentance is God,  Acts 5:31 . The subjects of it are sinners, since none but those who have sinned can repent. The means of repentance is the word, and the ministers of it; yet sometimes consideration, sanctified afflictions, conversation, &c. have been the instruments of repentance. The blessings connected with repentance are, pardon, peace, and everlasting life,  Acts 11:18 .

The time of repentance is the present life,  Isaiah 55:6 .  Ecclesiastes 9:5 . the evidences of repentance are, faith, humility, prayer, and obedience,  Zechariah 12:10 . The necessity of repentance appears evident from the evil of sin; the misery it involves us in here; the commands given us to repent in God's word; the promises made to the penitent; and the absolute incapability of enjoying God here or hereafter without it.

See Dickinson's Letters, let. 9; Dr. Owen on the 130th Psalm; Gill'sBody of Divinity, article Repentance; Ridgley's Body of Divinity, question 76; Davies's Sermons, ser. 44. vol. 3:; Case's Sermons, ser. 4; Whitefield's Sermons; Saurin's Sermons, ser. 9. vol. 3: Robinson's translation; Scott's Treatise on Repentance.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [6]

The idea conveyed in this term is of great importance from the fact of its application not only to man but to God, showing how God, in His government of the earth, is pleased to express His own sense of events taking place upon it. This does not clash with His omniscience. There are two senses in which repentance on the part of God is spoken of.

1. As to His own creation or appointment of objects that fail to answer to His glory. He repented that He had made man on the earth, and that He had set up Saul as king of Israel.   Genesis 6:6,7;  1 Samuel 15:11,35

2. As to punishment which He has threatened, or blessing He has promised. When Israel turned from their evil ways and sought God, He often repented of the punishment He had meditated.   2 Samuel 24:16 , etc. On the other hand, the promises to bless Israel when in the land were made conditionally on their obedience, so that God would, if they did evil, turn from or repent of the good that He had said He would do, either to Israel or in fact to any nation.   Jeremiah 18:8-10 . He would alter the order of His dealings towards them, and as to Israel He said, "I am weary with repenting."  Jeremiah 15:6 . In all this the responsibility of man is concerned, as well as the divine government.

But the unconditional promises of God, as made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are not subject to repentance. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance."  Romans 11:29 . "God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?"  Numbers 23:19;  1 Samuel 15:29;  Malachi 3:6 . And this must hold good in regard to every purpose of His will.

As regards man, repentance is the necessary precursor of his experience of grace on the part of God. Two motives for repentance are presented in scripture: the goodness of God which leads to repentance ( Romans 2:4 ) and coming judgement, on account of which God now commands all men to repent ( Acts 17:30,31 ); but it is distinctly of His grace and for His glory that this door of return to Him is granted ( Acts 11:18 ) in that He has approached man in grace and by His glad tidings, consequent on His righteousness having been secured in the death of Christ. Hence God's testimony is "repentance toward God, and faith towardour Lord Jesus Christ."  Acts 20:21 .

Repentance has been described as "a change of mind Godward that leads to a judgement of self and one's acts."  1 Kings 8:47;  Ezekiel 14:6;  Matthew 3:2;  Matthew 9:13;  Luke 15:7;  Acts 20:21;  2 Corinthians 7:9,10; etc. This would not be possible but for the thought of mercy in God. It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance.  Romans 2:4 .

Repentance is also spoken of as a change of thought and action where there is no evil to repent of.  2 Corinthians 7:8 .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [7]

REPENTANCE . Repentance, in the sense of turning from a purpose, is frequently predicated of God in the OT (  Genesis 6:6-7 ,   Exodus 32:14 etc.). Repentance for sin is commonly expressed by ‘turn’ or ‘return’ ( e.g.   Deuteronomy 4:30 ,   Isaiah 55:7 ,   Ezekiel 3:2 ,   Hosea 14:2 ). Repentance has a prominent place in the NT, alone (  Matthew 4:17 ,   Luke 15:7 ,   Acts 2:38 etc.), or in conjunction with faith (  Mark 1:15 ,   Acts 20:21 etc.), as an Indispensable condition of salvation. The word ordinarily used ( metanoia ) means literally ‘change of mind.’ The change, however, is one in which not the intellect only, but the whole nature (understanding, affections, will), is involved. It is such an altered view of God and sin as carries with it heartfelt sorrow for sin, confession of it, and decisive turning from it to God and righteousness (  Luke 15:17-18 ,   Romans 6:17-18 ,   2 Corinthians 7:10-11 etc.). Its reality is tested by its fruits (  Matthew 3:8 ,   Luke 6:43-46 ). From this ‘godly sorrow’, which works ‘repentance unto salvation’ (  2 Corinthians 7:10-11 ), is distinguished a ‘sorrow of the world’ which ‘worketh death’ (  2 Corinthians 7:10 ), i.e. a sorrow which has no relation to God, or to the intrinsic evil of sin, but only to sin’s harmful consequences. There may be keen remorse, and blaming of one’s self for one’s folly, yet no real repentance.

Disputes have arisen in theology as to the priority of faith or repentance, but unnecessarily, for the two, rightly viewed, are but the positive and negative poles of the same state of soul. There can be no evangelical faith which does not spring from a heart broken and contrite on account of sin; on the other hand, there can be no true repentance which has not the germ of faith in God, and of hope in His mercy, in it. The Law alone would break the heart; the Gospel melts it. Repentance is the turning from sin; Gospel faith is the turning to Christ for salvation. The acts are inseparable (  Acts 20:21 ).

James Orr.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [8]

is sometimes used generally for a change of mind, and an earnest wishing that something were undone that has been done. Esau found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears; he could not move his father Isaac to repent of what he had done, or to recall the blessing from Jacob and confer it on himself,  Hebrews 12:17;  Matthew 3:2;  Matthew 4:17 . Taken in a religious sense it signifies conviction of sin and sorrow for it. But there is,

1. A partial or worldly repentance, wherein one is grieved for and turns from his sin, merely on account of the hurt it has done, or is likely to do, him; so a malefactor, who still loves his sin, repents of doing it, because it brings him to punishment.

2. An evangelical repentance, which is a godly sorrow wrought in the heart of a sinful person by the word and Spirit of God, whereby, from a sense of his sin, as offensive to God, and defiling and endangering to his own soul, and from an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, he, with grief and hatred of all his known sins, turns from them to God, as his Saviour and Lord. This is called "repentance toward God," as therein we turn from sin to him; and "repentance unto life;" as it leads to spiritual life, and is the first step to eternal life,   Matthew 3:2;  Acts 3:19;  Acts 11:18;  Acts 20:12 . God himself is said to repent, but this can only be understood of his altering his conduct towards his creatures, either in the bestowing of good or the infliction of evil: which change in the divine conduct is founded on a change in his creatures; and thus, speaking after the manner of men, God is said to repent.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

  • Metanoeo, meaning to change one's mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge. This verb, with (3) the cognate noun Metanoia , is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.

    Evangelical repentance consists of (1) a true sense of one's own guilt and sinfulness; (2) an apprehension of God's mercy in Christ; (3) an actual hatred of sin (  Psalm 119:128;  Job 42:5,6;  2 co  7:10 ) and turning from it to God; and (4) a persistent endeavour after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments.

    The true penitent is conscious of guilt ( Psalm 51:4,9 ), of pollution (51:5,7,10), and of helplessness (51:11; 109:21,22). Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be. But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance ( Psalm 51:1;  130:4 ).

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Repentance'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.

  • American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [10]

    A change of mind, accompanied with regret and sorrow for something done, and an earnest wish that it was undone. Such was the repentance of Juda,  Matthew 27:3; and so it is said that Esau found "no place of repentance" in his father Isaac, although he sought it with tears,  Hebrews 12:17; that is, Isaac would not change what he had done, and revoke the blessing given to Jacob,  Genesis 27:1-46 . God is sometimes said to "repent" of something he had done,  Genesis 6:6   Jonah 3:9,10; not that he could wish it undone, but that in his providence such a change of course took place as among men would be ascribed to a change of mind. But the true gospel repentance, or "repentance unto life," is sorrow for sin, grief for having committed it, and a turning away from it with abhorrence, accompanied with sincere endeavors, in reliance on God's grace and the influences of the Holy Spirit, to live in humble and holy obedience to the commands and will of God. This is that repentance which always accompanies true faith, and to which is promised the free forgiveness of sin through the merits of Jesus Christ,  Matthew 4:17   Acts 3:19   11:18   20:12 .

    Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [11]

    This, in idea, is supposed to be perfectly understood by every one; but in reality very few have a true scriptural apprehension of it. Re pentance, like faith, is the sole gift of God. The act itself is so impossible to be assumed or taken up by any, that it is equally easy to alter the colour of the hair, or the features of the countenance, as to change the heart. Jesus, it is said, ( Acts 5:31) "Is exalted a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." What therefore Christ gives cannot be the work or the merit of man. There may be, and there often is, a false repentance, which men of no religion may possess, but which is as distinguishable from true repentance as darkness from light, when the principles of both are analyzed. False repentance is that which springs from a sorrow for the consequences, not the causes of sin. True repentance is that which flows from the consciousness of the sin itself. The man of godly sorrow sorrows for having offended God. The man of worldly sorrow sorrows that his sin hath brought punishment. The one is the effect of fear; the other of love. The repentance for the consequence of sin goes no further than as it dreads the punishment: the repentance for the cause of sin becomes the continued gracious sorrow of the heart. These observations may be sufficient to mark the very different features of both, and under grace enable any one to understand the vast distinction.

    King James Dictionary [12]


    1. Sorrow for any thing done or said the pain or grief which a person experiences in consequence of the injury or inconvenience produced by his own conduct. 2. In theology, the pain, regret or affliction which a person feels on account of his past conduct, because it exposes him to punishment. This sorrow proceeding merely from the fear of punishment, is called legal repentance, as being excited by the terrors of legal penalties, and it may exist without an amendment of life. 3. Real penitence sorrow or deep contrition for sin, as an offense and dishonor to God, a violation of his holy law, and the basest ingratitude towards a Being of infinite benevolence. This is called evangelical repentance, and is accompanied and followed by amendment of life.

    Repentance is a change of mind, or a conversion from sin to God.

    Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.  2 Corinthians 7 .  Matthew 3 .

    Repentance is the relinquishment of any practice, from conviction that it has offended God.

    Webster's Dictionary [13]

    (n.) The act of repenting, or the state of being penitent; sorrow for what one has done or omitted to do; especially, contrition for sin.

    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [14]

    rḗ - pen´tans  :

    I. Old Testament Terms

    1. To Repent - "to Pant," "to Sigh"

    2. To Repent - "to Turn" or "Return"

    II. New Testament Terms

    1. Repent - "to Care," "Be Concerned"

    2. Repent - "to Change the Mind"

    3. Repent - "to Turn Over," "to Turn Upon," "to Turn Unto"

    III. The Psychological Elements

    1. The Intellectual Element

    2. The Emotional Element

    3. The Volitional Element


    To get an accurate idea of the precise New Testament meaning of this highly important word it is necessary to consider its approximate synonyms in the original Hebrew and Greek The psychological elements of repentance should be considered in the light of the general teaching of Scripture.

    I. Old Testament Terms.

    1. To Repent - "To Pant," "To Sigh":

    The Hebrew word נחם , nāḥam , is an onomatopoetic term which implies difficulty in breathing, hence, "to pant," "to sigh," "to groan." Naturally it came to signify "to lament" or "to grieve," and when the emotion was produced by the desire of good for others, it merged into compassion and sympathy, and when incited by a consideration of one's own character and deeds it means "to rue," "to repent." To adapt language to our understanding, God is represented as repenting when delayed penalties are at last to be inflicted, or when threatened evils have been averted by genuine reformation (  Genesis 6:6;  Jonah 3:10 ). This word is translated "repent" about 40 times in the Old Testament, and in nearly all cases it refers to God. The principal idea is not personal relation to sin, either in its experience of grief or in turning from an evil course. Yet the results of sin are manifest in its use. God's heart is grieved at man's iniquity, and in love He bestows His grace, or in justice He terminates His mercy. It indicates the aroused emotions of God which prompt Him to a different course of dealing with the people. Similarly when used with reference to man, only in this case the consciousness of personal transgression is evident. This distinction in the application of the word is intended by such declarations as God "is not a man, that he should repent" ( 1 Samuel 15:29;  Job 42:6;  Jeremiah 8:6 ).

    2. To Repent - "To Turn" or "Return":

    The term שׁוּב , shūbh , is most generally employed to express the Scriptural idea of genuine repentance. It is used extensively by the prophets, and makes prominent the idea of a radical change in one's attitude toward sin and God. It implies a conscious, moral separation, and a personal decision to forsake sin and to enter into fellowship with God. It is employed extensively with reference to man's turning away from sin to righteousness (  Deuteronomy 4:30;  Nehemiah 1:9;  Psalm 7:12;  Jeremiah 3:14 ). It quite often refers to God in His relation to man ( Exodus 32:12;  Joshua 7:26 ). It is employed to indicate the thorough spiritual change which God alone can effect ( Psalm 85:4 ). When the term is translated by "return" it has reference either to man, to God, or to God and man ( 1 Samuel 7:3;  Psalm 90:13 (both terms, nāḥam and shūbh  ;  Isaiah 21:12;  Isaiah 55:7 ). Both terms are also sometimes employed when the twofold idea of grief and altered relation is expressed, and are translated by "repent" and "return" ( Ezekiel 14:6;  Hosea 12:6;  Jonah 3:8 ).

    II. New Testament Terms.

    1. Repent - "To Care," "Be Concerned":

    The term μεταμέλομαι , metamélomai , literally signifies to have a feeling or care, concern or regret; like nāḥam , it expresses the emotional aspect of repentance. The feeling indicated by the word may issue in genuine repentance, or it may degenerate into mere remorse (  Matthew 21:29 ,  Matthew 21:32;  Matthew 27:3 ). Judas repented only in the sense of regret, remorse, and not in the sense of the abandonment of sin. The word is used with reference to Paul's feeling concerning a certain course of conduct, and with reference to God in His attitude toward His purposes of grace ( 2 Corinthians 7:8 the King James Version;   Hebrews 7:21 ).

    2. Repent - "To Change the Mind":

    The word μετανοέω , metanoéō , expresses the true New Testament idea of the spiritual change implied in a sinner's return to God. The term signifies "to have another mind," to change the opinion or purpose with regard to sin. It is equivalent to the Old Testament word "turn." Thus, it is employed by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles (  Matthew 3:2;  Mark 1:15;  Acts 2:38 ). The idea expressed by the word is intimately associated with different aspects of spiritual transformation and of Christian life, with the process in which the agency of man is prominent, as faith ( Acts 20:21 ), and as conversion ( Acts 3:19 ); also with those experiences and blessings of which God alone is the author, as remission and forgiveness of sin ( Luke 24:47;  Acts 5:31 ). It is sometimes conjoined with baptism, which as an overt public act proclaims a changed relation to sin and God ( Mark 1:4;  Luke 3:3;  Acts 13:24;  Acts 19:4 ). As a vital experience, repentance is to manifest its reality by producing good fruits appropriate to the new spiritual life ( Matthew 3:8 ).

    3. Repent - "To Turn over," "To Turn upon," "To Turn Unto":

    The word έπιστρέφω , epistréphō , is used to bring out more clearly the distinct change wrought in repentance. It is employed quite frequently in Acts to express the positive side of a change involved in New Testament repentance, or to indicate the return to God of which the turning from sin is the negative aspect. The two conceptions are inseparable and complementary. The word is used to express the spiritual transition from sin to God (  Acts 9:35;  1 Thessalonians 1:9 ); to strengthen the idea of faith ( Acts 11:21 ); and to complete and emphasize the change required by New Testament repentance ( Acts 26:20 ).

    There is great difficulty in expressing the true idea of a change of thought with reference to sin when we translate the New Testament "repentance" into other languages. The Latin version renders it "exercise penitence" ( poenitentiam agere ). But "penitence" etymologically signifies pain, grief, distress, rather than a change of thought and purpose. Thus Latin Christianity has been corrupted by the pernicious error of presenting grief over sin rather than abandonment of sin as the primary idea of New Testament repentance. It was easy to make the transition from penitence to penance, consequently the Romanists represent Jesus and the apostles as urging people to do penance ( poenitentiam agite ). The English word "repent" is derived from the Latin repoenitere , and inherits the fault of the Latin, making grief the principal idea and keeping it in the background, if not altogether out of sight, the fundamental New Testament conception of a change of mind with reference to sin. But the exhortations of the ancient prophets, of Jesus, and of the apostles show that the change of mind is the dominant idea of the words employed, while the accompanying grief and consequent reformation enter into one's experience from the very nature of the case.

    III. The Psychological Elements.

    1. The Intellectual Element:

    Repentance is that change of a sinner's mind which leads him to turn from his evil ways and live. The change wrought in repentance is so deep and radical as to affect the whole spiritual nature and to involve the entire personality. The intellect must function, the emotions must be aroused, and the will must act. Psychology shows repentance to be profound, personal and all-pervasive. The intellectual element is manifest from the nature of man as an intelligent being, and from the demands of God who desires only rational service. Man must apprehend sin as unutterably heinous, the divine law as perfect and inexorable, and himself as coming short or falling below the requirements of a holy God ( Job 42:5 ,  Job 42:6;  Psalm 51:3;  Romans 3:20 ).

    2. The Emotional Element:

    There may be a knowledge of sin without turning from it as an awful thing which dishonors God and ruins man. The change of view may lead only to a dread of punishment and not to the hatred and abandonment of sin ( Exodus 9:27;  Numbers 22:34;  Joshua 7:20;  1 Samuel 15:24;  Matthew 27:4 ). An emotional element is necessarily involved in repentance. While feeling is not the equivalent of repentance, it nevertheless may be a powerful impulse to a genuine turning from sin. A penitent cannot from the nature of the case be stolid and indifferent. The emotional attitude must be altered if New Testament repentance be experienced. There is a type of grief that issues in repentance and another which plunges into remorse. There is a godly sorrow and also a sorrow of the world. The former brings life; the latter, death ( Matthew 27:3;  Luke 18:23;  2 Corinthians 7:9 ,  2 Corinthians 7:10 ). There must be a consciousness of sin in its effect on man and in its relation to God before there can be a hearty turning away from unrighteousness. The feeling naturally accompanying repentance implies a conviction of personal sin and sinfulness and an earnest appeal to God to forgive according to His mercy ( Psalm 51:1 ,  Psalm 51:2 ,  Psalm 51:10-14 ).

    3. The Volitional Element:

    The most prominent element in the psychology of repentance is the voluntary, or volitional. This aspect of the penitent's experience is expressed in the Old Testament by "turn", or "return," and in the New Testament by "repent" or "turn." The words employed in the Hebrew and Greek place chief emphasis on the will, the change of mind, or of purpose, because a complete and sincere turning to God involves both the apprehension of the nature of sin and the consciousness of personal guilt ( Jeremiah 25:5;  Mark 1:15;  Acts 2:38;  2 Corinthians 7:9 ,  2 Corinthians 7:10 ). The demand for repentance implies free will and individual responsibility. That men are called upon to repent there can be no doubt, and that God is represented as taking the initiative in repentance is equally clear. The solution of the problem belongs to the spiritual sphere. The psychical phenomena have their origin in the mysterious relations of the human and the divine personalities. There can be no external substitute for the internal change. Sackcloth for the body and remorse for the soul are not to be confused with a determined abandonment of sin and return to God. Not material sacrifice, but a spiritual change, is the inexorable demand of God in both dispensations ( Psalm 51:17;  Isaiah 1:11;  Jeremiah 6:20;  Hosea 6:6 ).

    Repentance is only a condition of salvation and not its meritorious ground. The motives for repentance are chiefly found in the goodness of God, in divine love, in the pleading desire to have sinners saved, in the inevitable consequences of sin, in the universal demands of the gospel, and in the hope of spiritual life and membership in the kingdom of heaven ( Ezekiel 33:11;  Mark 1:15;  Luke 13:1-5;  John 3:16;  Acts 17:30;  Romans 2:4;  1 Timothy 2:4 ). The first four beatitudes ( Matthew 5:3-6 ) form a heavenly ladder by which penitent souls pass from the dominion of Satan into the Kingdom of God. A consciousness of spiritual poverty dethroning pride, a sense of personal unworthiness producing grief, a willingness to surrender to God in genuine humility, and a strong spiritual desire developing into hunger and thirst, enter into the experience of one who wholly abandons sin and heartily turns to Him who grants repentance unto life.


    Various theological works and commentaries Note especially Strong, Systematic Theology , III, 832-36; Broadus on   Matthew 3:2 , American Comm .; article "Busse" (Penance). Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche .

    Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [15]

    ( נֹחִם , Μετάνοια ) signifies a Change Of The Mind from a rebellious and disaffected state to that submission and thorough separation from iniquity by which converted sinners are distinguished ( Matthew 3:2-8). Repentance is sometimes used generally for a mere change of sentiment, and an earnest wishing that something were undone that has been done. In a sense analogous to this, God himself is said to repent; but this can only be understood of his altering his conduct towards his creatures, either in the bestowing of good or infliction of evil which change in the divine conduct is founded on a change in his creatures; and thus speaking after the manner of men, God is said to repent. In this generic sense also Esau "found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears;" that is, he could not move his father Isaac to repent of what he had done, or to recall the blessing from Jacob and confer it on himself ( Hebrews 12:17;  Romans 11:29;  2 Corinthians 7:10). There are various kinds of repentance, as

    (1) a Natural repentance, or what is merely the effect of natural conscience;

    (2) a National repentance, such as the Jews in Babylon were called unto, to which temporal blessings were promised ( Ezekiel 18:30);

    (3) an External repentance, or an outward humiliation for sin, as in the case of Ahab;

    (4) a Hypocritical repentance, as represented in Ephraim ( Hosea 7:16);

    (5) a Legal repentance, which is a mere work of the law and the effect of convictions of sin by it, which in time wear off and come to nothing;

    (6) an Evangelical repentance, which consists in conviction of sin, accompanied by sorrow for it, confession of it, hatred to it, and renunciation of it.

    A legal and an evangelical repentance are distinguished thus:

    1. A legal repentance flows only from a sense of danger and fear of wrath, but an evangelical repentance produces a true mourning for sin and an earnest desire of deliverance from it.

    2. A legal repentance flows from unbelief, but evangelical is always the fruit and consequence of a saving faith.

    3. A legal repentance consists of an aversion to God and to his holy law, but an evangelical flows from love to both.

    4. A legal repentance ordinarily flows from discouragement and despondency, but evangelical from encouraging hope.

    5. A legal repentance is temporary, but evangelical is the daily exercise of the true Christian.

    6. A legal repentance does at most produce only a partial and external reformation, but an evangelical is a total change of heart and life.

    The author as well as object of true repentance is God ( Acts 5:31). The subjects of it are sinners, since none but those who have sinned can repent. The means of repentance is the Word and the ministers of it; yet sometimes private consideration, sanctified afflictions, conversation, etc., have been the instruments of repentance. The blessings connected with repentance are pardon, peace, and everlasting life (11:18). The time of repentance is the present life ( Isaiah 55:6; Ecclesiastes 9:50). The evidences of repentance are faith, humility, prayer, and obedience ( Zechariah 12:10). The necessity of repentance appears evident from the evil of sin; the misery it involves us in here; the commands given us to repent in God's Word; the promises made to the penitent; and the absolute incapability of enjoying God here or hereafter without it. See Dickinson, Letters, let. 9; Owen, On The 130 Th Psalm; Gill, Body Of Divinity, s.v. "Repentance;" Ridgley, Body Of Divinity, quest. 76; Davies, Sermons, vol. 3:serm. 44; Case, Sermons, serm. 4; Whitefield, Sermons; Saurin, Sermons (Robinson's transl.), vol. iii; Scott, Treatise on Repentance. (See Penance); (See Penitence).