Long ago Martin Luther read the Latin translation of the Greek New Testament called the Vulgate. He saw that John that Baptist and Jesus called out to their hearers, “Do penance! For the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Really? he thought. Did they really call for their hearers to do acts of self-mortification, contrition, confession to a priest, and other acts involved in trying to achieve absolution for sin?

But Luther found that the meaning of the original Greek word metanoia didn’t involve doing any acts of piety. Rather, he found, it meant “change your mind.”

Unfortunately, at least in English versions, the Latin Vulgate has exerted far more influence than it should have. The original Greek word got translated “penitence” or “repentance,” which some would argue wasn’t as far off from “penance” as it needed to be.

What does the “change of mind” mean? And why would I agree with some great thinkers that repentance is not an acceptable translation?

And why do I believe this truth is vitally important for all of us?

An Old Book And A Fresh Way Of Thinking

Recently I was directed to the old book The Great Meaning of Metanoia, by Treadwell Walden. It expanded some things I was thinking when I first wrote about repentance years ago as “coming to your senses.” I’ll be quoting from his book here.

Walden lamented the replacement of metanoia with a word that conveyed the Roman Catholic notion of penitence—that is, if you’re sorry enough, if you confess enough, if you weep enough, if you do such and such things to prove yourself, then your penitence (repentance) is received and you can go on your way.

This does not at all convey the Great Meaning of Metanoia, the Greek word that has been translated “repentance”  in almost every English version of the Bible.

It’s one more thing that contributes to confusion about the gospel.

 

 

 

 

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