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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old TestamentGirdlestone's OT Synonyms


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The previous chapters of this book have been occupied with discussion on the names, and consequently on the nature and capacities, of God and of man, and also on the varied aspects of human sin. Attention is now to be called to some of the sacred words used to express the moral or spiritual process whereby man is restored to his true position. Two ideas are set forth in the O.T., and adopted in the N.T., in this connection; the one marks the bringing of a man to himself, the other the bringing of a man to God; the one is ordinarily designated repentance, the other conversion.

Very various views have been held with respect to the meaning of the word repentance. Some take it to indicate a change of heart or disposition, others a change of mind or thought (the Sinnesänderung of the Berlenburger Bible), others a change of aim or purpose, and others a change of life or conduct. With the exception of three passages - namely, 1 Kings 8:47, Ezekiel 14:6, and Ezekiel 18:30 (in which the Hebrew is Shuv [See below, § 3.] (שׁוב ), and the Greek ἐπιστρέφω) - the English word repent is used in the A. V. to represent a form of the Hebrew Nacham (נחם ), from which the name of the prophet Nahum is derived. The original meaning of this word is generally understood to be to draw a deep breath, and this is taken as the physical mode of giving expression to a deep feeling, either of relief or sorrow. The one aspect of Nacham is represented by the Greek παρακάλεισθαι, the other by μετανοέιν and μεταμέλεσθαι.

Nacham is rendered by μετανοέιν in the following passages: 1 Samuel 15:29, 'The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent;' Jeremiah 4:28, 'I have purposed it, and will not repent;' Jeremiah 18:8, 'If that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them' (compare verse 10, where we read, 'If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them'); Joel 2:13-14, 'The Lord . repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent;' Amos 7:3; Amos 7:6, 'The Lord repented for this. It shall not be, saith the Lord;' Jonah 3:10, 'God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not;' see also 4:2; Zechariah 8:14,'I repented not.'

All these passages refer to God's repentance; the two which remain refer to man's: Jeremiah 8:6, 'No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?' Jeremiah 31:19, 'Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote up on my thigh.'

The LXX has μεταμέλομαι for Nacham in the following passages: Genesis 6:7, 'It repenteth me that I have made them;' 1 Samuel 15:11, 'It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king' (see also verse 35); 1 Chronicles 21:15, 'The Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand;' Psalms 106:45, 'He remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies;' Psalms 110:4, 'The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent;' Jeremiah 20:16, 'Let that man be as the cities which the Lord overthrew, and repented not;' Hosea 11:8, 'Mine heart is turned with in me, my repentings are kindled together.'

In the following passages this Greek word is used in the LXX of man's repentance: Exodus 13:17, 'Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt;' Ezekiel 14:22, 'Ye shall repent (A.V. be comforted) concerning the evil that I have brought up on Jerusalem.'

It is evident, from a consideration of these passages, that when we approach the subject of repentance in the N.T., we must not tie it down too strictly, either to one formal process, or to one set time in a man's life, but must understand by it such a state of deep feeling as leads to a change or amendment of life. The etymology and the classical usage of the words μετανοέιν and μεταμέλεσθαιmust give way before the fact that these words were used by Greek-speaking Jews, as representatives of the passive and reflexive voices of Nacham. It is hard indeed to find one expression in any language which can adequately represent the complex emotions implied by the word. When the word is used with reference to God, there is implied an idea of change, and perhaps of sorrow, but not the consciousness of wrong-doing. When it is used with reference to man, sorrow arises from a sense of sin, a conviction of wrong-doing in its varied aspects fills the heart with bitterness, and change of purpose and of the outward life ensue; also an undercurrent of relief accompanies the sorrow, for the penitent draws a deep breat has the sin, which has been leading him astray, shows itself to him in its true colours, and gives way before the announcement of mercy.

There is a remarkable tract on Penitence [An edition of this tract, with a Latin translation by Mr. Clavering, was published in Oxford in 1705.] written by Moses Maimonides, in which the subject is treated, not as a matter of feeling, but of practice. Penitence is described as the condition of a man who, having once fallen into a sin, now abstains from it, although the inducements to return to it are as strong as ever. The Hebrew word which the writer adopts to represent this process is a noun derived from shuvto turn. But the first open step in this change is confession, which is to be expressed in the following form of words: 'O Lord, I have sinned; I have done wrong, and have been a transgress or before Thee, and I have done such and such things; behold, I am sorry (Nacham), and am ashamed because of my misdeeds, and I will never commit any such offenses again.' It is neither sorrow without change, nor change without sorrow, but it is such a deep feeling of sorrow as gives rise to a determination to change, or, as the English Church Catechism has it, 'repentance whereby we forsake sin.'

The learned Rosenmüller defines repentance as the admission of wrong-doing followed by grief and leading to a wiser course: 'Post factum sapere, et de errore admisso ita dolere ut sapias.' [Schol N. T.] He holds to the Latin resipiscere as the best rendering of the word; and this view has been very common since the days of Beza, from whom Rosenmüller takes his definition almost word for word. The distinction between μεταμέλεια, regret, and μετάνοια, reconsideration, which Beza held, must not be pressed very far; because, as we have seen, these words are used in almost the same sense in the LXX. [The opinion here advanced has the support of Elsner. See also Archbishop Trench's discussions on the word in his work on the 'Synonyms of the N. T.' he is inclined to draw out the distinction between the two words above named but in his work on the 'Authorised Version' he rather disclaims Beza's resipiscentia.] Besides, as a matter of fact, the noun μεταμέλειαdoes not occur in the N.T., and the verb μεταμέλεσθαιfalls into the background. It is once used with respect to God, viz in Hebrews 7:21, which is quoted from Psalms 110:4; and four times of man, viz in Matthew 21:29; Matthew 21:32; Matthew 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8. See the negative form in Romans 11:29; 2 Corinthians 7:10.

The objections to the Latin word Poenitentia as a rendering of μετάνοιαwere more forcibly expressed by Erasmus in his Annotations. But he wrote without at all taking into consideration the Hebrew and Judaeo-Greek usage, whence we derive the word μετάνοια. Because in his days the Roman sacrament of penance, i.e. satisfaction for sins committed after baptism, was called by the same name as penitence, or sorrow for sins committed either before or after baptism, he thought that some other word should be adopted. He called Poenitentia a barbarism and a solecism, and to him must be given the credit of pressing up on his contemporaries the word resipiscentia, which had previously been adopted by Lactantius, as the better of the two. Luc as Brugensis, however, well replies that Poenitentia had a far wider meaning amongst Latin ecclesiastical writers than was usually supposed; it implied not only sorrow, but also a change for the better. Whilst, on the other hand, μετάνοια had a wider meaning than change; for it included sorrow, and compunction of heart.

In the Decrees of the Council of Trent, a careful distinction is drawn between the Poenitentiawhich precedes baptism, and that which follows it. The former is general, and consists of a sorrow for sin with a renunciation of wickedness. Here we have the complex idea of repentance evidently implied in the usage of the word, though not in its etymology. The Poenitentiawhich follows after baptism is not efficacious, according to the theory of the Church of Rome, without confession followed by sacerdotal absolution. [Satisfaction, according to the Tridentine theology, consists of certain acts of self-denial, whether corporal suffering or otherwise, imposed on the penitent according to the judgment of the priest and the rules of the Church, for the purpose of bringing men into greater conformity with Christ; because 'If we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified together.' These acts are considered to represent the 'fruits meet for repentence,' and to be accepted by God through Christ.]

When Mart in Luther made his first translation of the N.T., he adopted the phrase bessert euch, 'better yourselves' (a phrase answering to 'amend your ways') as a rendering for μετανοείτε, repent; but after a few years he returned to the customary phrase of the country, thut Busse, a phrase answering to Do penance or Be penitent. Perhaps he was moved to this change by the feeling that moral amendment in the abstract was no equivalent for repentance, and tended rather to mislead in seven passages he has Reue, regret; thus the 'repentance not to be repented of' (Vulg. poenitentiam stabilem) is rendered 'eine Reue, die Niem and gereuet,' a regret which no man regrets.

Bibilography Information
Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Repentance'. Synonyms of the Old Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​lexicons/​eng/​girdlestone/​repentance.html.
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