Early Quotes in History on Repentance as a Change of Mind, Part 1

I remember when I first decided to go through the Bible to check each instance of the word repent. I also searched for either secular or religious writings in the early days nearest to Jesus. I found Plutarch and I also looked into the septuagint which was extremely helpful to my understanding of what some teachers have corrupted over the years.  This is a more exhaustive list by and links to even more. I hope you will find this useful, I sure did. (Holly Garcia Held)

GraceNotes – no. 92 by Dr. Charlie Bing

The meaning of repentance is a contemporary controversy. When we examine a sampling of quotes from historical sources there is general agreement that repentance is essentially an inner change of mind or heart. The information below is selected from an article by Jonathan Perrault. You can find his article with more complete quotes and bibliology in the Grace Research Room at GraceLife.org or at the author’s web site FreeGraceFreeSpeech.blogspot.com. The selections and sources below are abbreviated to save space.

Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.) in The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 3, transl. William Whiston: “And thus did Vespasian march with his army, and came to the bounds of Galilee, where he pitched his camp and restrained his soldiers, who were eager for war; he also showed his army to the enemy, in order to affright them, and to afford them a season for repentance [metanoia], to see whether they would change their minds…”Shepherd of Hermas (c. 140 A.D.) in Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 3, chapter 7, transl. J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers: “These are they that heard the word, and would be baptized unto the name of the Lord. Then, when they call to their remembrance the purity of the truth, they change their minds [metanoeō], and go back again after their evil desires.”Polycarp (69-155 A.D.) in A Translation of the Epistles of Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Ignatius, transl. Temple Chevallier: “The Proconsul said unto him [Polycarp], ‘I have wild beasts ready; to those I will cast thee, unless thou repent.’ He answered, ‘Call for them, then: for we Christians are fixed in our minds, not to change [i.e. not to repent] from good to evil.”Tertullian (c. 155–c. 220 A.D.) in Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of The Writings of The Fathers Down to A.D. 325., vol. 7, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, transl. Peter Holmes, Against Marcion: “Now in Greek the word for repentance (metanoia) is formed, not from the confession of a sin, but from a change of mind, which in God we have shown to be regulated by the occurrence of varying circumstances.”Athanasius (4th–5th century A.D.) in De Parables, Question 133, The Works of the Right Rev. William Beveridge, ed. Thomas Hartwell Horne: “…the author of the questions ascribed to Athanasius, explains metanoein, by tou metatithesthai ton noun apo tou kakou pros to agathon; ‘the changing of the mind from bad to good.'” (The Greek is transcribed into English letters.)Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (1859): “Metanoia, as, ē, after-thought: a change of mind on reflection: hence repentance…” (The Greek is transcribed into English letters.)Cremer’s Lexicon (1892): “μετάνοια, ἡ, change of mind, repentance…. In the N.T., and especially in Luke, corresponding with μετανοεῖν [to repent], it is = repentance, with reference to νους [mind, intellect, thought] as the faculty of moral reflection.”

Alexander Souter in A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (1917): “metanoeō, I change my mind, I change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God by the nous [mind] instead of rejection)”… “metanoia, a change of mind, a change in the inner man.”

Abbot-Smith’s Lexicon (1922): “metanoeō…to change one’s mind or purpose, hence, to repent… metanoia…after-thought, change of mind, repentance.”

Desiderus Erasmus (1466-1536) in Annotation on Matthew 3:2: “…but if the Greek word, [is] not derived from punishment, as it seems to some [who translate it], penance, whereas more likely it would be derived from comprehending afterwards, and indeed by coming to one’s senses, it is described as a change of mind.” (Translated from the Latin)

Martin Luther (1483–1546) quoted by Henry Eyster Jacobs in Elements of Religion (Philadelphia: The Board of Publication of the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran church in North America): “Afterwards, by the favor of the learned, who are so zealously transmitting to us the Greek and Hebrew, I learned that the same word [poenitentia] in Greek is metanoia, so that repentance or metanoia is ‘a change of mind.'”

John Calvin (1509-1564) in Institutes of Christian Religion, Vol. 1, Book 3, transl. John Allen: “The Hebrew word for repentance, denotes conversion or return. The Greek word signifies change of mind or intention.”

Philip Schaff in A Religious Encyclopedia: or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, vol. 3 (1884): “The Reformers went back to the original idea of repentance as ‘a transmutation of the mind and affections’ (transmutation mentis et affectus ― Luther)… Calvin did not differ from Luther, although he failed to emphasize the pangs for sin committed as much as he.”

William Tyndale (1494-1536) in Tyndale’s New Testament: “And the Greek in the New Testament hath perpetually metanoeō to turn in the heart and mind, and to come to the right knowledge, and to a man’s right wit again.

Edward Fisher in The Marrow of Modern Divinity (1646): “First, that the word repent, in the original, signifies a change of our minds from false waies to the right, and of our hearts from evil to good…” (Old English waies = ways)

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2: “The word in the New Testament which is most frequently translated repentance, most properly signifies a change of mind.”

Adam Clarke (1762-1832) in Adam Clarke’s Commentary and Critical Notes on the New Testament, on Acts 11:18: “As the word metanoia which we translate repentance signifies literally a change of mind, it may here be referred to a change of religious views…”

John Campbell (1795-1867) in Theology for Youth, cited by John Bowes in the Preface to his New Testament: Translated from the Purest Greek: “What is the general import of the term ‘repentance’ in the Scriptures? It’s general import is, that entire change of mind which takes place on a sinner’s conversion to God.”

Hermann Olshausen (1796-1839) in Biblical Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 1, on Matt. 3:2: “Metanoia, repentance, change of mind, denotes here the result of the law in its effect on the mind.

John Peter Lange (1802-1884) in A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol. 1, ed. Philip Schaff, on Matt. 3:2: “The expression, ‘Repent ye,’ is not equivalent with ‘Do penance.’ The original means, Change your minds, your mode of thinking and of viewing things…”

Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1: “[John the Baptist] called them to repentance—a ‘change of mind’…”

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown (1883) in A Commentary: Critical, Practical and Explanatory, on Acts 2:38: “Repent—The word denotes change of mind, and here includes the reception of the Gospel as the proper issue of that revolution of mind which they were then undergoing.”

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) in God’s Way of Peace: “The word repentance signifies in the Greek, ‘change of mind…'”

Henry Alford (1810-1871) in Homilies on the Former Part of the Acts of the Apostles, on Acts 2:38: “Well then, what was the answer which the Apostle Peter gave to them? ‘Change your mind’—’Repent’. It is well, sometimes, to express words with their simple derivative force. ‘Change your minds’—not, do penance: there is no outward act implied in the word further than the inward state of mind will necessarily and naturally bring about.”

Conclusion

It is clear that those who were closest to the original language and many scholars later agreed that repentance was an inner change. Any addition of outward conduct was imported by theological bias. Many of those quoted above also associated repentance with salvation which did not contradict salvation by grace through faith because they understood that repentance, like faith, was an inner change, a change of mind or heart.

See Part 2 of this article

(Another article on Repentance in Salvation by Ron Shea – Part 1)


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9 Responses to “Early Quotes in History on Repentance as a Change of Mind, Part 1

  • Madeline Lybarger
    1 month ago

    Thank you so much,Holly.I am so tired of
    Christians using this term in the wrong way.
    This is article is a keeper!

    • Madeline, I am with you. I know many do it out of ignorance, but so many are unwilling to just listen to any evidence and ponder God repenting even. This misuse of this word has Roman Catholic roots, do penance, penitence, etc. It destroys the clarity of the gospel and I believe will keep many lost. Thanks for commenting and reading! Love in Him!

  • Hi Holly, loving your articles. It has become clear to me that this conflating of repentance (metanoia) and repentance of sin is a very prevalent and damaging doctrine in the church. I’ve heard it preached plenty and had never really given in much thought. I’m only quite new to this though, and have had many years of Ray Comfort’s teaching and influence that I’m having to unlearn.

    This weekend just gone by our pastor preached on forgiveness, and he used Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant to illustrate his point and it kindof threw me a bit.

    The servant asks the master for forgiveness of his debt, receives it, and then goes off to demand repayment from another servant who owed him a pittance.

    The parable seemed to indicate that we must forgive our brother when he asks us for forgiveness for his trespass. Just going by this parable, it would seem to logically follow that we also have to ask forgiveness of our debt to the Master in order to receive it, however I know this seems to contradict what I’m really starting to understand in my heart about forgiveness/salvation being exclusively by faith in Christ. So I’m guessing I am misinterpreting the parable, or am not understanding the correct application. It’s been bugging me all week so I thought I better ask.

    How would you deal with this potential objection in light of this parable?

    Thanks again for your articles, I’ve been sharing them with friends and have found them very enlightening and encouraging.

    Blessings!

    Adam.

    PS: I think I posted this twice, sorry!

    • Hi Adam, thanks for your encouragement (and no, I didn’t see it posted twice). I apologize if I made you wait, they have to be approved by an admin and these days the others are pretty busy so it’s mainly just me.

      I didn’t realize it was so prevalent when I was in the error, I just thought that it was correct, after all, they all said ‘repent’. But so do the Catholics, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s witnesses etc.

      This conflation is sadly damaging to believers and nonbelievers alike, (keeping the lost lost). It reminds me of some of the ‘woe’ passages, about how they bind heavy burdens that are too hard to bear, laying them on people’s shoulders, yet they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. (hypocrites He said). He said they shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, both that they couldn’t go in, and were not allowing others to go in (by their bad doctrine) -Matthew 23:3-4,13; Luke 11:46.

      People like Ray’s accent and his methodology, like using the law, and getting people to see they’re guilty. We do realize that the law is a tutor to bring us to Christ. And sometimes it was used. Steven used it and the stories of the Patriarchs and prophets which enraged those who rushed him and killed him. Sometimes it was used, most often the cross, Christ and Him crucified was the method used, but obviously someone has to realize the penalty of sin to know why it is they need a Savior. The Word says we have the law written on our hearts.

      There’s always application from some Scriptures we read that were under law. I’ll give you some of my thoughts, then you could also look on secureforever.org (Tom Cucuzza) to see if he expounds on this particular parable.

      A simplified way to look at it, is all the passages that dealt with Jesus before the cross were in the period of law/Old Covenant. When Jesus was resurrected, and the Holy Spirit was given, we are now in the period of the New Covenant (Heb 7-10 kind of contrasts them). Hebrews 9:15-20 shows that at His death, by His blood, the New Covenant was dedicated. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for those of us who believe (Rom 10:4). We are now under the perfect law of Liberty,(James 1) and the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:2), freeing us from the Old Covenant law.

      So, under the law there was temporary forgiveness of sin in the animal sacrifice. But now, we know our forgiveness is permanent positionally.

      I was just asked this same question a few days back, so it makes me smile and thank Him.

      Practically speaking we should forgive another, assuming they want to be, and have admitted what they’ve done. It doesn’t always happen that way, and sometimes you just forgive, but doesn’t mean you have fellowship.

      Of course now in the New Covenant, we see a newer principle. It’s not just forgive or you’re not forgiven. A couple of places in the Beatitudes, and a place or two in the synoptic gospels speak on forgiveness regarding the law and the Old Covenant. The principle or some application is there even though it is spoken of regarding law in the Old Covenant in those places. It tells them to put their sacrifice down, go make things right with your brother, then come to God.

      But we see a similar principle in the NC, the difference is basically we’re no longer dealing with eternal forgiveness, but with blessing and with fellowship. Colossians 3:12-13, Eph 4:32;1 Peter 3:8-9; James 5:16; and in the book of 1 John (concerning our fellowship with God and others, walking in the light vs. the darkness — or walking in the Spirit vs. the lusts of the flesh). Forgiveness keeps the body of Christ in good fellowship with one another. Sometimes in this lifetime we separate from others, maybe for a season, but we should try to fix the fellowship if possible. It’s not always possible.

      Long story short, the principles even in the Old Covenant had to do with whether they would be blessed or not. There is practical or experiential forgiveness, and there is eternal forgiveness. There is consequences in this lifetime for things we do wrong, but no longer eternal penalty for those of us who believe. That is the difference between position and practice.

      I think that a lot of people have trouble understanding the difference, but we are forgiven for all of our trespasses, once for all time (Col 2:13-15), justified by all things that the law could not (Acts 13:38-39). But there is still our walk, and we can have consequences for wrong behavior in this lifetime. I’ll go grab a list I made once on another article. Our position is as His children forever. Children are still disciplined and can be punished. But they are still loved and still our children. We love them. How much more does He love us?…

      Thank you for coming, God bless you and your friends.

    • Here is the list Adam from Eternal Security, God’s Promise.

      Below is a short list of what we CAN lose or suffer by allowing sin to reign in our lives. (There is much more)

      Loss of Fellowship with God (1 John 1:3, 6,9)
      Loss of Fellowship with others (1 John 1:3, 7)
      Loss of Fullness of joy in our walk (1 John 1:4)
      Loss of Rewards at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-16)
      Bring judgment upon ourselves in this lifetime (1 Cor 11:29)
      Loss of our physical life (1 Cor 5:5; Acts 5:1-11, 1 Cor 11:30)
      Loss of our health, be weak or sickly (1 Cor 11:30)
      Loss of our testimony or justification before men (James 2, Titus 3:8)
      We can shame the name of Christ for sins named among us (Eph 5:3).
      Face chastening (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-6)
      Face consequences for our actions (Gal 6:7-9)
      Others face things because of us, including loss of knowing Christ. (Gal 6:9)
      We can stray from the truth, and be dishonorable – (2 Tim 2:18-20)
      Being ashamed at His appearing – (1 John 2:28)
      We can lose the joy of our salvation (Ps 51:12)
      We can cause others to stumble (1 John 2:10)
      We may not walk freely in this lifetime (Jn 8:31-32) because of lack of knowledge.
      Loss of growth in Christ (practical sanctification – Jn 17:17; Eph 5:25-26; Ps 119:9)
      Saved from deception (1 Tim 4:16; Eph 4:11-16)
      Loss of edifying others in the body (Eph 4:11-16).
      Loss of assurance or security in His love for us (we become fearful – Heb 10:26-27).
      Fall from grace (Gal 5:4)
      Loss of spiritual growth (Eph 4:13-15).
      Suffer from lack of discernment (Heb 5:12-14).
      Can be deceived by another gospel (2 Cor 11:3-4).
      Shame in not showing our Savior love by our unworthy walk (Eph 4:11; John 14:15).

  • Thanks for your reply Holly. I had a feeling it was something along those lines but I couldn’t articulate it.

    The second comment has thrown me a bit (I get thrown more often than I like to admit lol)

    You’re saying we cannot lose our salvation, which I agree with, but if we were deceived by another gospel or fell from grace are those not talking about loss of salvation?

    I’ve been wrestling with a lot of spiritual OCD the past few years, probably as a direct result of the shoddy theology I had subjected myself to, so I tend to see a lot of these things through that lens, which I realise is wrong, but still recalibrating.

    Thanks again, you’ve got no idea how much I appreciate your replies and time.

    Adam.

    • So, Peter was deceived and called out by Paul, but no, he did not lose his salvation. Falling from grace does not mean they’ve fallen from salvation either. It is just those who were ‘running well’, but then listened and became bewitched (Gal 3:1-5) to those who taught them they needed to keep the law also. It hinders our walk or our race in this lifetime. It costs us when our faith is made shipwreck. If you can always remember salvation is eternal, and since we are given to Jesus, we belong to Him now. We are flesh of His flesh, bone of His bones, members of His body. He says no one will take us from Him, no one will snatch us out of His hand. He will not lose one (John 10:28-29). It’s good to remember what happens to us when we believe. We are right then, given eternal life (passed from death into life). That is our position, it will not change.

      Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. John 5:24

      Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. John 6:47

      We are sealed with His Spirit until the day of redemption the moment we believe (Eph 1:13-14; 4:30). No human being including ourselves, can remove His seal.

      Believers shall never perish; John 3:15, John 3:16; John 10:28, see John 11:25-27 below:

      Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

      The moment we believe we are delivered from the power of darkness and moved into the Kingdom of Jesus (Col 1:13).

      Remember, He is able to save us to the uttermost. Why do we have a Mediator? He ever lives to make intercession for us. God’s promise is eternal life. We believed Him, it’s done.

      Here are some more things to read if you like from our friends at expreacherman. And of course, I am happy to always share Scripture and give you my thoughts, as those were things that troubled me too.

      https://expreacherman.com/36-amazing-things/

      • Perfect. Thank you so much Holly! Many blessings to you and keep up your excellent work here! 🙏

        Adam.

        • Adam, just remember the enemy is always prowling about. He knows our weaknesses and accuses us there (and even some that aren’t). Remember Jesus’s example of answering him in the wilderness, He always did it with Scripture. Love in Him.

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