Metanoia vs Metamelomai


In this post, I intend to show the difference the Bible intentionally makes between a response of faith vs a response of emotion. Three different words are used in the Greek and are sometimes understood interchangeably in the English (because of poor translation) but they are very different in the Greek. This is especially true in the King James Version. In this article we will only discuss two of these words. One of these words is the correct response (a change of thinking) to the Gospel while the other can mean any sort of regret.

This is not an exhaustive exposition, its nature is more of a summation of what I have researched.

Before we go any further if we are to say that repentance is a turning from sin, how can we also say salvation is by grace through faith? If one is required to turn, change his life around, quit sinning, commit, promise, feel remorse or promise to turn from sin, how could anyone be saved? Furthermore, why would Jesus have to die? Fortunately, the Bible teaches we are saved by the finished and fully accepted work of Christ, the Son of Man paying on our behalf. A full pardon is ours on the condition of simple faith in Him not on our change of life.

There’s a word the Bible uses in connection with salvation is (μετάνοια-METANOIA), which means a change of mind and it does include any sort of emotion in and of itself. In fact, it doesn’t include a change of any kind except in thinking. The word that means to have regret or sorrow is (μεταμέλομαι-METAMELOMAI).

What is the issue?

The Greek word (μετάνοια-METANOIA) was translated to repentance into the Latin Vulgate Bible which later carried over into the English (see how that happened here).

The LatinVulgate

The Malmesbury Bible

The word repentance, according to the dictionary, means to have regret or sorrow, to grovel. This very unfortunate translation has affected our understanding of what it means to repent. Incidentally, μετάνοια is never stated as ‘repent of your sins’ and never mentioned a single time in the book of John which was written so that one might be saved (John 20:31). Therefore, we can conclude that repentance (if not specifically stated) is implied within the term belief and vice versa. Everybody that has believed has repented (changed their mind) about what they were trusting in to believe in Christ. Perhaps more accuracy for the word μετάνοια would be to transliterate it since the word has been used in the English language anyway since the 1500s in the medical field. (See more here)

Judas Iscariot is an example of someone who felt remorse (μεταμέλομαι) yet did not believe…

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

Matthew 27:3

Judas felt remorse so profoundly, he gave the money back and even hung himself as a result, but all his remorse does not acquire his forgiveness of sins before God (Jn 17:12). Many today teach remorse of sin as the means to be saved. If this were the case, Judas got saved through his remorse, and we know that is not the case.

It is not wrong to feel remorse for sin of course, but remorse for sin is not synonymous with believing as can be the use of μετάνοια.

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Peter does not say believe as John would so here it essentially means the same thing. Repentance (μετάνοια) is a change thinking or attitude toward God (Acts 20:21). Godly sorrow can lead to repentance (a change of thinking) as we see in the life of the Corinthians…

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret [METAMELOMAI] it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful , but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance [METANOIA]; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.

2 Corinthians 7:8-9

We also see that the goodness of God can lead to repentance (change of thinking).

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Romans 2:4

Turning from sin however is not implied or insinuated in the word METANOIA. It simply means change of thinking. Sin has been completely paid for by Jesus on the cross. What is needed for the individual is that Christ’s payment be accredited to his account and this happens when a person believes.

The word METANOIA was a neutral term that meant to change one’s mind from something to something else not necessarily good or bad. Every time the word METANOIA shows up we must look within the immediate context to see what a person should change their mind about and to what. Authentic repentance is not measured in a change of lifestyle. I mentioned earlier that repent of your sins is never found in Scripture. What is found is ‘repent for the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 24:47). This is a huge difference! One is conditional while the other is a result.

Metanoia Verses (NASB)

Repentance…Matt 3:8, Matt 3:11, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Luke 3:8, Luke 5:32, Luke 15:7, Luke 24:47, Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18, Acts 13:24, Acts 19:4, Acts 20:21, Acts 26:20, Rom 2:4, 2 Cor 7:9, 2 Cor 7:10, 2 Tim 2:25, Heb 6:1, Heb 6:6, Heb 12:17, 2 Pet 3:9

Metanoia is always translated repentance in the NASB and KJV Bibles.

Two things are seen to lead to repentance. Godly sorrow and the goodness of God. But neither of the two are synonymous with repentance, they can lead to a change of thinking.

Metamelomai Verses (NASB)

  1. Regretted it…Matt 21:29
  2. Feel remorse…Matt 21:32
  3. Felt remorse…Matt 27:3
  4. Regret it…2 Cor 7:9
  5. Change his mind…Heb 7:21

Metamelomai as Repent (KJV)

  1. Then Judas…repented himself…Matt 27:3
  2. He repented and went…Matt 21:29
  3. The Lord sware and will not repent…Heb 7:21

Two very different words yet used interchangeably? According to the KJV Judas repented.

We see in the KJV that Ninevah repented [METAMELOMAI]…

The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented [METANOIA] at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Matthew 12:41

So, as we can see, Judas was remorseful to the point of suicide while Nineveh actually changed their thinking after hearing the message of Jonah. But the English was no help at all.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the KJV or the NASB are bad translations. Far from it! However, the error of the use of the word repentance instead of a change of mind for the translation of the word METANOIA has so deeply affected our understanding. Therefore, if we are to gain greater clarity, it is necessary for us today to go back to its intended use in the Greek during the 1st century.

In Conclusion

The correct meaning of words is very important. Especially regarding the Gospel message! Words can change their meaning over time so when we’re looking at what the Bible actually says, it is incumbent upon us to go back and find the original usage if at all possible.

The confusion regarding the Gospel today causes translations, dictionaries, lexicons, and teachers to bank on erroneous meanings of words to defend their theological position. Though traditionally repentance has been misunderstood, today the correct meaning is essential to clarify and distinguish false gospels that might seem the same but are powerless to save!!

A dreadful error was made by translating the word METANOIA as repentance. A possible correction could be to translate the word METAMELOMAI as repentance and the word METANOIA could be transliterated such as we have done with many other difficult to translate words. (ie. abba, alleluia, amen, anathema, cherubim, cummin, hosanna)

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Change our way of thinking stop sinning and follow Christ amen

Arnold Wry