Repent - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


metanoeo (G3340) Repent
metamelomai (G3338)
Reformation theologians frequently argued that metanoia (G3341) and metameleia and their verbs metanoein and metamelesthai are quite distinct. On the one hand, metameliea and its verb express a desire that an action might be undone, express regrets or even remorse, but do not imply an effective change of heart. On the other hand, metanoia and its verb refer to a true change of heart toward God. According to Chillingworth:
To this purpose it is worth the observing, that when the Scripture speaks of that kind of repentance, which is only sorrow for something done, and wishing it undone, it constantly useth the word metameleia, to which forgiveness of sins is nowhere promised. So it is written of Judas the son of perdition (Matt. 27:3), metameletheis apetrepse, he repented and went and hanged himself, and so constantly in other places. But that repentance to which remission of sins and salvation is promised, is perpetually expressed by the word metanoia, which signifieth a thorough change of the heart and soul, of the life and actions.
Before proceeding further, let me correct a slight inaccuracy in Chillingworth's statement. Metameleia does not occur in the New Testament and is found only once in the Septuagint (Hos. 11:8). Since this is a work on New Testament synonyms, the comparison and distinction can be made only between the verbs, though what is true of them also will be true of their nouns. But still another qualification needs to be made. Jeremy Taylor remarked:
The Greeks use two words to express this duty, metameleia and metanoia.Metameleia is from metameleisthai, post factum angi et crucian,"to be afflicted in mind," "to be troubled for our former folly"; it is dysarestesis epi pepragmenois, saith Favorinus, "a being displeased for what we have done," and it is generally used for all sorts of repentance; but more properly to signify either the beginning of a good, or the whole state of an ineffective, repentance. In the first sense we find it in Matthew, hymeis de idontes ou metamelethete hysteron tou pisteusai auto,"and ye, seeing, did not repent that ye might believe Him." Of the second sense we have an example in Judas, metameletheis apestrepse, he "repented" too, but the end of it was he died with anguish and despair.... There is in this repentance a sorrow for what is done, a disliking of the thing with its consequences and effect, and so far also it is a change of mind. But it goes no further than so far to change the mind that it brings trouble and sorrow, and such things as are the natural events of it.... When there was a difference made, metanoia was the better word, which does not properly signify the sorrow for having done amiss, but something that is nobler than it, but brought in at the gate of sorrow. For he kata Theon lype,"a godly sorrow," that is metameleia, or the first beginning of repentance, metanoian katergazetai, "worketh this better repentance," metanoian ametameleton [G278] and eis soterian [4991].
Later Taylor admitted that "however the grammarians may distinguish them, yet the words are used promiscuously" and that it is not possible to distinguish them in a rigid fashion. Although this is partially true, it is possible to show that each word has a predominant use. There was a well-known conflict between the early Reformers and the Roman Catholic theologians over whether paenitentia (repentance), as the Catholics held, or resipiscentia (reformation), as Beza and others affirmed, was the better Latin translation of metanoia. There was much to be said on both sides. Had metameleia and not metanoia been the disputed word, the Catholics would have had a more favorable position. Augustine stated: "Paenitentia is a certain defense of one grieving, always punishing himself for having committed what pained him."
Properly speaking, metanoein is "to know after" as pronoein (G4306) is "to know before"; metanoia is "afterknowledge," as pronoia (G4307) is "foreknowledge." As Clement of Alexandria said:
If he perceived afterwards [metenoesen] what he had done wrong, if he has understood where he had made a mistake and has had a change of heart, that very thing isafter he has realized these thingsmetanoia or late knowledge.

And Stobaeus stated: "The wise man must not know after [metanoein] but know before [pronoein]." The next step that metanoia signifies is the change of mind that results from this afterknowledge. Thus Tertullian wrote: "In the Greek language the word for repentance is not derived from the admission of a fault but from a change of mind." The third stage of metanoia results from this change of mind and consists of regret for the course of action that was pursued and of dysapestesis (displeasure) with oneself. Tertullian defined it as "a certain suffering of the mind which comes from a displeasure about a previous opinion," for this was all that the heathen understood by it. At this stage of its meaning, metanoia was associated with degmos, aischyne, and pothos.Last of all metanoia signifies a resulting change of conduct. This change of mind and consequent change of action, however, may be a change for the worse or a change for the better. The change signified by metanoia does not necessarily imply a resipiscentia (reformation) as well. That idea is a Christian addition to metanoia. Thus A. Gellius stated:
We are accustomed then to say we regret [paenitere] when the deeds which we ourselves have done, or have been done through our will and plan, begin to displease us and we change our opinion about them.
Similarly, Plutarch told of two murderers who spared a child but who afterwards "repented" (metenoesan) and sought to slay it. Plutarch used metameleia in the sense of repenting of something that is good, thus validating Tertullian's complaint:
What the pagans irrationally might include under the act of regret will be sufficiently clear from that fact alone that they apply it also to their good deeds: one regrets loyalty, love, sincerity, patience, mercy when any of these has fallen on the thankless.
The regret that is part of the meaning of metanoia may be (and often is) quite unconnected with any sense of wrongdoing, with any sense of violating a moral law. This type of regret may simply be what our fathers used to call "hadiwist." Sometimes, though rarely, metanoia has an ethical meaning, as is the case in two other passages in Plutarch. In the former passage, Plutarch's use of metanoia is in harmony with its use in Romans 2:4; in the latter passage, Plutarch used metameleia and metanoia interchangeably.
Only in Scripture and in the works of those who were dependent on Scripture does metanoia predominantly refer to a change of mind, to taking a wiser view of the past, to "the soul's perception of the wicked things it has done" (Favorinus), to a regret for the ill done in the past that results in a change of life for the better, to "a turning about of one's life." Or as Plato had already described it, metanoia refers to "a turning from shadows to light" and to "a turning about, a turning around of the soul." This meaning was neither an etymological component of the word nor its primary meaning but was imported into it. This usage did not occur frequently in the Septuagint or in the Apocrypha but is common in Philo, who related metanoia and beltiosis and who explained metanoia as a "change to the better." In the New Testament, metanoein and metanoia are always used in an ethical sense to refer to "a radical transformation in the lifestyle of people, accompanied by painful remorse" (Delitzsch).
The meanings of metanoein and metanoia gradually expanded until they came to express the mighty, Spirit-wrought change in mind, heart, and life known as repentance. A similar honor was partially bestowed on metameleia and metamelesthai. Plutarch called the first word "a saving demon," explained it as "the shame from pleasures which are contrary to law and uncontrollable," and associated it with barythymia, heaviness of heart. Metamelesthai is used five times in the New Testament, metameleia not at all. In one case, metamelesthai is used to refer to Judas Iscariot's sorrow (Matt. 27:3), which resulted in his death. On another occasion (Heb. 7:21), metamelesthai does not refer to man's repentance but to God's change of mind.
Metanoia occurs twenty-five times in the New Testament and metanoein thirty-five times. Those who deny any discernible difference between these words (either in profane or in sacred Greek) point to passages in secular Greek where metameleia is used in all the senses claimed for metanoia and to other passages where the two are used interchangeably to refer to remorse.In sacred Greek they point to passages in the New Testament where metamelesthai implies all that metanoein would (Matt. 21:29, 32). Although all of that is true, there is a distinct preference in sacred and profane Greek to use metanoia as the word that best expresses the nobler form of repentance. This is in keeping with what we would have expected from the relative etymological force of the words. The one who has changed his mind about the past is on the road to changing everything, but the one who has an after care may have little more than a selfish dread of the consequences of his actions.
We may sum up the long dispute on the relation of these words by quoting from Bengel, who distinguishes them but who does not push the distinction too far.
From its origin metanoia is properly of the mind and metameleia is of the will, since the former would indicate a change of opinion and the latter a change in anxiety or in eagerness.... Either term therefore is used for a person who repents of an act or a planwhether the repentance is good or bad, whether for a good thing or a bad thing, whether it occurs with a change of deeds in the future or without it. However if you consider the use, metameleia generally is a middle term and refers usually to individual actions, while metanoia especially in the New Testament is used in a good sense, which denotes the reformation of the whole life and of ourselves in a measureor it is the entire happy reminiscence after error and sins, with our beloved ones joining in, which produces worthy fruits. Hence it happens that metanoein often occurs in the imperative mood, metameleisthai neverbut in other places where metanoia is read one may substitute metameleia, but not the reverse.

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