by Lee Taylor
Repentance is a crucial Bible teaching. It is inseparably bound to what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace through faith. Some believers are confused about what repentance is. Can one repent without tears? Does sorrow indicate true repentance?
Repent and its forms occur 64 times in the New Testament. Two different words are translated into the various forms of repent. The word metamelomai is used only six times. The word used more frequently to convey the idea of repent is metanoeo, along with its noun form metanoia.
Metanoeo is a compound word. It comes from a word that means “after” and another that means “mind” or “think.” It means to “think after” resulting in a change of mind. Simply put, it has the meaning of “to change one’s mind” and carries with it the New Testament idea of the spiritual change implied in a sinner’s return to God.
Metamelomai is also a compound word. It is formed from a word meaning “after,” and another word meaning “to care.” Thayer’s Lexicon says this word has the idea an after care or “a care to one afterwards.” Another lexicon says that it may mean “to feel regret, to repent,” or to “simply change one’s mind.” In the 1915 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Byron DeMent said it means “to have a feeling or care, concern or regret.” He continued, “it expresses the emotional aspect of repentance,” and it “may issue forth in true repentance or degenerate into mere remorse.”
This word first appears in the New Testament in Matthew 21:29. A man with two sons told the first to work in the vineyard. The son refused to work, but later “repented” and went to work. Although it seems that here metamelomai has the meaning of true repentance, it isn’t necessarily the case. It could be that the boy’s sorrow led him into true repentance. A.T. Robertson says, “The boy got sorry for his stubborn refusal to obey his father and went and obeyed.” G. Campbell Morgan said, “the word ‘repent’ here is not to change the mind, but to be filled with sorrow–he realized the mistake and went into the vineyard.”
In verse 32 Jesus again used this word. He was speaking to those who had rejected the message of John the Baptist, even after they saw the effect on harlots and publicans. Jesus said, “and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” It seems that here, believing would come after repenting and as a result of repenting. “Deep sorrow” or “regret” would best fit the meaning of metamelomai since true repentance and faith occur together, at the same moment. One is not the result of the other.
Again, in Matthew 27:3 Judas Iscariot “repented” after betraying Jesus. This also is the word metamelomai. Judas demonstrated a deep emotional sorrow by giving back the silver, admitting he had sinned, and by committing suicide. However, his “repentance” was not a change of mind toward sin and God. Rather it was regret because of the result of his betrayal of Jesus.
Paul used the word metamelomai twice in 2 Corinthians 7:8. The sin and disorder at the Church of Corinth caused Paul to write his first letter to them. The letter used sharp, cutting words. Paul sent the letter to Corinth and then sent Titus to see how they received it. Paul intended to meet Titus in Troas to find out how it went in Corinth. While waiting at Troas, Paul’s thoughts were occupied by the church at Corinth. How was the letter received? How would Titus be treated? Did He offend the Corinthians with his letter? Anxiety filled Paul’s heart. He left Troas and went to Macedonia, perhaps to meet Titus earlier than planned. When he got to Macedonia, Paul’s emotions were in an uproar, “without were fightings, within were fears,” (2 Corinthians 7:6). When Titus came with the news that the letter caused the Corinthians to correct matters, and their zeal toward Paul was increased, Paul rejoiced.
In this context Paul said, “For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not metamelomai, though I did metamelomai,” (2 Corinthians 7:8). Paul regretted sending the letter, but when he saw the good effects, he no longer regretted it. His regret was a deep emotional sorrow. In the same passage Paul used metanoeo for true repentance when he said, “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of,” (2 Corinthians 7:10). If he had intended this same meaning in verse 8, he would not have used the word metamelomai.
In Hebrews 7:21 this word is used in the negative referring to God. In referring to the priesthood of Christ the writer quotes the Psalms saying, “The Lord swore and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Many commentators say this means God will not change his mind about the oath. In light of the other usages of the word “metamelomai,” this would mean that God will not even have an emotional regret. He will not even be sorry for His oath. Someone can be sorry without truly repenting, as shown in the case of Judas. God is more definite. He is saying “I not only will not repent of my oath, I will not even be sorry I have made it.”
This word has the meaning of regret, remorse, or deep sorrow that can lead into true repentance, but which in itself falls short of true repentance. When Scripture speaks of sorrow for something done, and wishing it undone, it uses the word metamelomai. When it speaks of the real change of repentance, it uses the word metanoeo. Sorrow and tears may accompany repentance, but they are not repentance. Likewise, repentance may come without tears.
by Lee Taylor
Original article can be found at http://www.fbcwhitmorelake.org/2012/10/regretting-or-repenting/