I found an interesting article by Suzette Martinez Standring that takes on the idea of repenting and what Jesus’ original intent might have been. Standring reports on a book she read recently about the translation from Greek into Latin and other languages after.
Insight came from a book written in 2005 by Edward J. Anton titled “Repentance: A Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart.” The word “repent” is examined from all angles. Guess what? Jesus never meant to sell tickets on the guilt trip.
Greek was the language of the gospels and the word “repent” was recorded as “metanoia.” “Meta” means “after” and it bears the concept of “shift” or “change” (as in the word metamorphosis). “Noia” translates to “mind.” Metanoia is a mindset that happens after a life-changing experience. A major shift in one’s worldview is what John the Baptist called for when he spoke about Jesus and said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah.” (Matthew 3:1-3)
“Metanoia” is a clarion call to transformational thinking.
When second century Latin translators got a hold of the Greek text, they inserted “Paenitentiam agite” where “metanoia” had been, leading people to do penance whenever they regretted their perceived sins. (To my mind, that idea doesn’t automatically lead to people changing behaviours, their transgressions get forgiven but they may go ahead and do them again anyway because forgiveness is only a few rosary beads away.) When Tyndale copied the Latin into English in 1535, he chose to replace “Paenitentiam agite” with “repent” which is a little closer to the Greek concept of changing the mind before it’s too late. That alteration led him to being condemned as a heretic at the time, but it still stands as the preferred English translation today.
Standring is encouraging all Christians to concentrate less on the guilt ideas surrounding the definition of repenting these days and get back to the idea of changing for the better, as Christ himself was apparently suggesting.
It’s good advice on the atheist side of things, too. There should be a dedication and ambition to change the way we do things when we can and make the choice to be better people, however we as individuals might want to define that. I’m reminded of the serenity prayer, actually, and wondering how it could be re-written into a less godly version without losing its impact and direction.
Maybe something like this?
I give myself the power
to decide my fate,
to change what I can
and if I can’t, wait
no longer to accept it.
I pledge to live life fully and
enjoy the moments. “Hardship”
does not mean
impossible, just a trip
along the way toward lasting peace.
The world is what it is
but we are who we
so I will choose wisely.
In happiness or strife,
I choose this life
and, satisfied, wish for no other.