(nāham, sûbh נָחַם, H5714; metanoia μετανοέω, G3566). This concept is encountered repeatedly in both Old Testament and New Testament. It means to turn about, to have a change of mind, to express regret. It is used both of God and man. The verb means the act of turning about; the noun means the result of such action.
Old Testament Terms
In the King James Version of the Old Testament God himself is described as repenting (
In contrast, human repentance is a change for the better and is a conscious turning from evil or disobedience or sin or idolatry to the living God (
To Repent—"to Pant," "to Sigh"
The Hebrew word naham, 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 (
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" (
To Repent—"to Turn" or "Return"
New Testament Terms
In the New Testament repentance and faith are the two sides of one coin (
The positive side of repentance is conversion, the actual turning to God or Christ for grace. This is conveyed in the New Testament by the noun epistrophē (once only, in
Repent—"to Care," "Be Concerned"
The term metamelomai, literally signifies to have a feeling or care, concern or regret; like nacham, 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 (
Repent—"to Change the Mind"
Repent—"to Turn Over," "to Turn Upon," "to Turn Unto"
The word epistrepho, 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 (
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.
Repentance on the part of God
Repentance on the part of man other than theological
Repentance is the term used to describe Israel’s change of attitude toward Benjamin (
Repentance toward God
The most important phase of this doctrine in the Bible is not in its non-theological meaning of the change of mind; it is rather a basic change in man’s attitude toward God. In much of the Old Testament there is no provision made for man to turn from his sin and to seek pardon. There is little of this in the Pentateuch. The numerous plagues reported in Exodus and Numbers were the result of man’s sin against God, for which there was no alternative but to take the punishment meted out. The one exception to this is the last of the fourteen murmurings in the wilderness as reported in
One of the earliest examples of repentance is seen in King David’s reaction to Nathan’s parable. Because David said, “I have sinned,” forgiveness was granted—“you shall not die” (
The 8th-century prophets often expressed the idea by means of terms translated “seek” or “return.” One of the keynotes of the prophecy of Amos is expressed in essentially two words—“seek” and “live” (
The classic expression for this doctrine and the place where it is most clearly articulated is in the innocent suffering with the guilty (as with Achan’s family) will no longer be in effect, but each man will be judged on the basis of his own conduct. This means that the sinner who changes his ways, ceases to sin, and does what is right, shall escape the penalty of his sin and live (
It is into this background that kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The same emphasis was followed by Jesus and still later by Jesus’ disciples (
Conversely, Jesus’ severest strictures were directed to the impenitent (
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 (
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 (
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 (
The Volitional Element
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 (
The first four beatitudes (