Ronald R. Shea, Th.M., J.D.
Repentance in a Nutshell – Pt 1
Common Myths About Repentance
Repentance is directed to sin, either by way of heartfelt remorse, or by way of turning from one’s sins.
Sin is not the inherent object of repentance. One can repent about anything. To demonstrate this, one need only consider the following facts:
- The person who repents more often than any other person in the Old Testament is God! If sin is the automatic and intrinsic object of repentance, and means to “turn from one’s sins,” we have a “God” who turns from His sins! This fact alone should serve notice that there is something seriously wrong with the belief that “repentance” means “turning from sin.“
- Even more troubling, the person who refuses to repent more often than any other person in the Old Testament is God! Therefore, if repentance means “turning from one’s sin,” we not only have a “God” who frequently turns from His sins often, we also have a God who frequently refuses to turn from His sins! To quote the astronaut who returned to the lunar module only to learn that he had locked the door behind him during his moon walk . . . “Houston, we have a problem.”
- One can even repent from goodness to sin! Plutarch, the Greek historian, writes of two criminals who “spared a child, and then afterwards, repented and sought to slay it.” This is not repenting from sin, it is repenting to sin! The very opposite meaning so often ascribed to “repentance” in common culture.
- Finally, and amazingly, the phrase “repent of your sins” never occurs in Scripture!! That’s correct! Never! To confirm this, simply take out a Strong’s Concordance, and look up every passage where the words “repent,” or “repented,” occur in Scripture. You will never see the phrase “repent of your sins” in the Bible. Yet somehow, a phrase that never occurs in Scripture has become the central message of the gospel for all too many evangelists, ministers and theologians!
Unless someone is determined to defend some preconceived theological notion on Repentance, the above summary of facts should genuinely alarm the reader that something is seriously astray in the church today. And this is not some minor error in an obscure question of theology. It deals with the most important message in the universe, affecting the eternal destiny of every man, woman and child on this planet. And you don’t even need to be a scholar in Hebrew or Greek to confirm this. You can simply confirm these facts using a concordance and a Bible.
In the Old Testament of the King James Bible, some form of the English word “repent” or “repentance” occurs exactly forty times (40x). In every case, it comes from one of two Hebrew roots, “nacham” (which deals with care, compassion or regret), and “shuv” which basically means to turn, or to change one’s mind.
“The Old Testament concept of “repentance” carried with it the concept of turning from sin, and was linked to the eternal salvation of an individual.”
“Repentance in the Old Testament involved a godly remorse over sin, and a turning from sin to righteousness!”
In thirty one (31) of the forty (40) times, some form of the word “repent” occurs in the Old Testament, it is God who is repenting, being called upon to repent, or refusing to repent! That is more than three quarters of the time! (See Appendix A)
As we noted in the nutshell summary, if repentance means “turning from one’s sin,” we not only have a “God” who frequently turns from His sins often, we also have a God who frequently refuses to turn from His sins! This prospect should raise at least mild alarm in the mind of a Bible believing Christian
Of the other nine times (9x) that some form of the word “repent” occurs in the Old Testament, eight times (8x) deal with nations, not the repentance of an individual. (See Appendix B)
Only one time in the entire Old Testament (Job 42:6) is an individual other than God repenting. And Job’s repentance has nothing to do with eternal salvation. Job had been bent on defending himself in the face of the abusive logic of his “friends” (tormentors). Finally, Job repents, and relies on God to confound with wisdom and knowledge of his tormentors and shut their mouths. In not a single case in the Old Testament in which the word “repent” occurs does it deal with personal salvation of an individual.
In view of this, the Old Testament will not be visited further. If the reader wishes to examine the forty references to the word “repentance” in the Old Testament, with a brief discussion of all forty occurrences is found in Appendix A and B. The forty occurrences are arranged there in table format, disclosing the subject of the repentance (the person or entity repenting), the object of repentance (what they repented about), and the consequence of repentance (what was achieved, or what would have been achieved through repentance, had they done so? As will be seen, individual salvation was never the intended consequence of repentance in the Old Testament.
“OK, maybe the Hebrew terms in the Old Testament translated “repent” had nothing to do with turning from sin, but the Greek words used in the New Testament for “repentance” are unquestionably related to turning from sin!”
In the Greek New Testament, the word most frequently translated “repent” is some form of the Greek word “metanoia.” The Greek word “metamalomai” is also translated “repent” within the New Testament.
When the Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, they frequently translated the Hebrew words “nacham” and “shuv” with the Greek words “metanoia” and “metamalomai.” If these Greek terms inherently “carry with them the concept of turning from one’s sins“, then either God began turning from His sins when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, or the Jewish scholars who translated the Septuagint were imbeciles. Since neither of these is likely, the assertion that these Greek terms “carried with them the concept of turning from one’s sins” is not only wrong, it is manifestly impossible. Sadly, this sophistry is nevertheless proclaimed with zeal and sincerity from pulpits and even chairs of theology across the globe.
As noted above, Plutarch, the Greek historian, wrote of two criminals who “spared a child, and then afterwards, repented and sought to slay it.”
If the Greek word for repentance “carries with it a turning from sin,” than the Greek historian Plutarch did not understand his own language!
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