No Hebrew word is an exact equivalent for the English term “repentance.” Repentance was expressed by a number of different actions that show a change in thinking and attitude toward sin and God. Repentance may be demonstrated by:
- a public display of mourning over sin, such as weeping (Ezra 10:1), tearing garments and/or hair (Ezra 9:3), and wearing sackcloth (Joel 1:13)
- making restitution for wrongs committed (1 Chr 21:22–26)
- abasing oneself before the wronged party (Gen 33:3)
The Hebrew word that most closely approximates “repent” or “repentance” is translated into English as “return,” which basically means “to turn around and go in the opposite direction.” In theological contexts, the implication is to turn from a road characterized by rebellion toward God and to a road characterized by obedience. The emphasis is upon actions that necessarily proceed from turning one’s orientation toward God.
Though there isn’t a Hebrew word for repentance, these Old Testament passages reflect the idea:
- Exodus 32:14—And Yahweh relented concerning the disaster that he had threatened to do to his people.
- 2 Chronicles 7:14—Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and will pray and will seek my face and will turn from their evil ways, then I myself shall hear from the heavens and will forgive their sins and heal their land.
The Greek word for repentance in the Bible is μετανοέω. Let’s look at how a couple of Bible dictionaries define it:
- to think differently or afterwards, i.e., reconsider (mor. feel compunction) to know after, change one’s mind, repent
Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
2 Corinthians 7:9–10 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
2 Timothy 2:25 Correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.