repentance in the Bible

Repentance is a very versatile word. It can be used in various contexts to express various meanings. Christians often fall for the mistake of trying to force only a single meaning onto this one word. Some people say repentance always is about repenting of sins and some people say repentance is never talking about repenting of sins. Myself, I believe the quote by Edwin Hatch is extremely relevant:

We tend also to attach an undue importance to phrases which occur in such writers; few, if any, writers write with the precision of a legal document, and the inverted pyramids which have been built upon chance phrases of Clement or Justin are monuments of caution which we shall do well to keep before our eyes.

Repentance in the Bible is used concerning a wide berth of subjects, and the actor we find repenting the most in the Bible is God.

Gen 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
Exo 32:14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Deu 32:36 For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
1Sa 15:11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
1Sa 15:35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
2Sa 24:16 And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.
1Ch 21:15 And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
Jer 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.
Jer 26:3 If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.
Jer 26:13 Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.
Jer 26:19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls.
Jer 42:10 If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you.
Amo 7:3 The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.
Amo 7:6 The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord GOD.
Jon 3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

And now for the kicker:

Jer 15:6 Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting.

God gets weary of repenting! I got weary of quoting about Him repenting, and this list does not even include the times God repents not using the word “repent” or the times the word “repent” is translated differently.

Now Pastor Anderson correctly notes that the NKJV translates all these verses differently. He sees this as a vast conspiracy to disassociate God from repentance to then trick people into thinking repentance has to do with sin. The more likely explanation is that the Calvinist translators were embarrassed by God’s repentance and were covering up the text of the Bible.

Pastor Anderson seems to make the mistake of interpreting repentance as never involving sins. But Jesus links repentance and sins:

Mat 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

So Jesus is here calling “sinners” to repentance. If the repentance did not involve sins, then why is the group labeled “sinners”. The one defining characteristic of the group called to “repent” is that they “sin”. Jesus uses the word repent concerning the “Kingdom of God”. Whenever Jesus extrapolates on the conditions for entering the Kingdom of God, it involves following commandments. See the rich young ruler:

Mat 19:17 And he [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments…
Mat 19:24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus answered a question about inheriting eternal life by saying that someone inherits eternal life by “keeping the commandments”. So Jesus links sin, eternal life, the Kingdom of God, commandments, and repentance. This is not an isolated example. The concepts seem linked in Jesus’ ministry.

But repent is not always used in conjunction with sin. Jesus uses the word to illustrate a change of mind in one parable:

Mat 21:28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
Mat 21:29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.

Paul uses the word to show he is not sorry about an action that is not even a sin:

2Co 7:8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.

Repentance in English culture, just as the Greek and Hebrew cultures, can mean various things. In the Bible, the word is no different. Repentance is used of God, of Paul changing his mind about offensive actions, of people deciding to do different things, and of people turning from sins. It is a mistake to advocate a fixed and inflexible definition of the word.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Dispensationalism, God, Open Theism, Textual Criticism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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