What does it mean to Repent?

This Wednesday, Lent begins. Lent is a 40-day period of fasting, repentance, and prayer that many Christians undertake corporately all over the globe.  Lately, I’ve been considering the meaning of “repent” (Hebrew שׁוב; Greek metanoeo) in the terms of how the biblical authors thought about it.

Repent in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, שׁוב is usually translated “turn back” or “returned” or “restore(d).” In 1958, William L. Holladay, in The Root Subh in the Old Testament, examined each of the 1,064 occurrences of שׁוב, and concluded it indicated movement “in an opposite direction in which one was going with the assumption that one will arrive again at the initial point of departure.”

The idea is to return to the starting point. This usually was in relation to Israel returning to the starting point of the Covenant with God. Occasionally in the Old Testament, it meant God returning to Israel, but only after Israel made the decision first to return to God.

This is most clear in Jeremiah and Deuteronomy, where the prophets admonish Israel to return to God, so the Exile can end.

Thus, repentance is part of reconciliation with God and the end of Exile.

Repent in Second Temple Literature

In Second Temple literature, sometimes repentance means God’s people deciding to return to God and then God granting them reconciliation and an end of Exile. But many other cases, others layers of depth are added to the meaning.

In Wisdom of Solomon, for instance, God grants repentance to Gentiles too, not just to the Jews. So, at least to this author, the Gentiles were also exiled from God.

In some examples of Second Temple literature, divine beings are agents of repentance, such as powerful angels.

In Joseph and Aseneth (a pre-Christian Hellenistic Jewish work) the divine agent of Repentance is linked to Wisdom, the Second Power in Heaven, who grants it forever. The Second Power is sometimes referred to in the Old Testament as the Word of the Lord or the Angel of the Lord and of course, the Wisdom of the Lord. He was in the beginning with God and he is God.

Repent in Greek Literature

In non-biblical Greek literature, “repentance” is further developed, and has four characteristics, according to Guy Nave in The Role and Function of Repentance in Luke-Acts:

  1. To express an intellectual change of thinking. This is the core meaning of repentance. This changing of the mind leads to…
  2. An act of emotion. This emotion usually (but not always) leads to a change in behavior. Repentance is more than an intellectual change of opinion. Emotion and action are involved.
  3. An action to avoid judgement or to receive forgiveness.
  4. A source of reconciliation between two parties.

These ideas form the backdrop to the New Testament, which was written in Greek and fashioned with a Hebrew and Greek backdrop, use of the word normally translated as “repent.”

The Gospel writer Luke, who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else, wrote more extensively about repentance than the other Synoptic authors. For instance, the hope of repentance is central to Luke’s Great Commission (Luke 24:44-49), while absent in Matthew’s (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Prodigal Son

The core ideas related to repentance are found in Luke’s parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Through his own decisions, the son is exiled from the father. After losing everything, the son responds by trying to save himself, albeit disgracefully. In despair, he rationalizes he cannot save himself, and returns to confess his disqualification to be his father’s son. He acts on this, and the father grants complete reconciliation. Then the father addresses the other brother, whose emotions and actions demonstrate he is unwittingly in exile, with the attempt at full reconciliation.

All the themes mentioned above relating to repentance apply for Luke’s parable.

  1. The son is exiled of his own choice.
  2. The famine would be seen as coming from a divine agent.
  3. Based on this divine act, the son uses his reason to change his thinking and abandons his attempt to save himself.
  4. He forges this change of thinking with emotion.
  5. His change of thought and emotion subvert the just judgement brought by his own sinful choices.
  6. The father grants full reconciliation.
  7. The exile ends.

Meanwhile the father uses reason forged with emotion to subvert the other brother’s exile. These themes continue in Acts.

Paul picks it up in Romans 2, by metaphorically addressing the son who did not flee, but is actually in exile. Paul’s point is everyone is in exile. Therefore, God intervened and through Jesus Christ, God has completed the reconciliation, so people should make reasoned decisions, forged with emotion, leading to action, and thus complete God’s reconciliation by to turning towards the Father through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is really good news and the message God charges Christ followers to preach to the world. (See 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). So preach the good news… use words if necessary.  

The next 40 days, I intend to think more on repentance, considering which of my thinking and actions, my gifts and abilities, could be better submitted to the Father’s rule, as I look towards the Cross and Resurrection, because God’s rule and reign is actually here, it’s overturning the rule of darkness day by day, and I want to be a part of that victory.

For more on this topic, see the source material behind the article: MORLAN, DAVID,SCOTT (2010) Conversion in Luke and Paul: Some Exegetical and Theological Explorations, Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/408/



  1. REPENT — Go Back Along the Lines You Came
    The Bible begins with the creation and ends with the new creation and the gospel is in reverse in the Old Testament but that has been hidden for almost 2,000 years

    6 “You have heard; look at all this. And you, will you not declare it? I proclaim to you new things from this time, Even hidden things which you have not known. 7 “They are created now and not long ago; And before today you have not heard them, So that you will not say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ 8 “You have not heard, you have not known. Even from long ago your ear has not been open, Because I knew that you would deal very treacherously; And you have been called a rebel from birth. Isaiah 48

    This existed for 2,000 years but no one has written about it till now. It is now unsealed —

    Forward Events

    1) The Garden of Eden — Adam and Eve were judged by the tree “of knowledge of good and evil”. Cherubims and a flaming sword (time?) which turned every way kept mankind from going back to eat of the tree of life.

    2) The Flood — It rained 40 days. After a 40 day period a dove and raven were sent up from the ark. The rainbow shows that we will not be judged by water again.

    3) The Law — Israel was freed from Egypt and given the Law through Moses “Christ is the end of the law”

    Backward Events

    3) The Law
    In the NT when Jesus was born his parents kept Torah law. Before he was 2 they fled to Egypt to avoid death of their 1st born (Kept the law — then fled to Egypt)
    a reverse of
    In the OT Israel fled from Egypt after the death of Egypt’s first born. Then they were given the law at Sinai. (Fled Egypt — then given the law)

    2) The Flood
    In the OT It rained 40 days. A dove and raven were sent up from Noah’s Ark after another 40 day period. (Rain 40 days — Dove and Raven go up)
    In the NT Jesus was baptized by John. The spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove. He went into the wilderness 40 days.
    The dove = the spirit God.
    The raven = the spirit of Elijah.
    The word translated “Raven” occurs 10 times in the Old Testament. I relate 3 of them to John through Elijah. Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6). Elijah was to turn the heart of the fathers to the children and visa versa (Malachi 4:6). The eye that mocks at his father and despises to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out (Proverbs 30:17). Jesus said that If you care to believe it John is the Elijah to come (Matthew 11:14). Hence I believe John’s baptism has something to do with a raven.

    [note 1 (scripture references outside the strict chronology of Moses to Adam):
    Matthew 4:4, 7 & 10 is paralleled in reverse by Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:16 & 6:13

    Matthew 4:4 Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Deuteronomy 8:3 Man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD …

    Matthew 4:7 You shall not tempt the LORD thy God.
    Deuteronomy 6:16 You shall not tempt the LORD thy God,

    Matthew 4:10 Thou shalt worship the LORD thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
    Deuteronomy 6:13 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.

    Note: The backward walk goes from before the giving the law of Moses in Exodus to the beginning of Genesis (Romans 5:14 “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses,” … ) and, I believe, into Revelations. The above further evidence is outside the thread of the Gospel in reverse from Exodus to Genesis. It’s in reverse but in Deuteronomy. I don’t know why yet but I wonder about it]

    1) The Garden of Eden
    It says in Deuteronomy 30:6 “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love the LORD your God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that you may live.”
    We can be alive without a circumcised heart. In order to “live” one must eat of the tree of life which is in the garden of Eden.

    Genesis 3:24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

    The angel of death that passed over the Israeli homes on the Jewish holiday of Passover is, I believe, the Cherubim and sword guarding Eden. I suspect the flaming sword going every way is also symbolic of time as you would have to go back in time to find Eden since it does not physically exist today to my knowledge. Einstein showed the faster something goes the slower time gets. It doesn’t matter what direction you go – “every way” (“like a flame”). Jesus takes us to the Eden of God.

    The Last Supper
    The last supper of Jesus was the Passover supper. The angel of death passed over when it saw the blood of the lamb on their doorposts.

    On Passover Jesus and his disciples revisit the original scene in Eden in reverse. Jesus is the 2nd/last Adam The disciples are the bride of Christ. Judas “One of you is a devil” (Jesus said of Judas) — Adam, Eve and the devil (the serpent).
    In the OT Eve gave to Adam to eat to forget our creator.
    In the NT Jesus gave to his disciples eat in remembrance of him (a reversal —Adam giving to Eve to remember)

    The Temptation
    OT – Where were Adam and Eve before they ate? In a garden (Eden) being tempted.
    NT – Where were Christ and the disciples after they ate? In a garden (Gethsemane) during their time of temptation.
    note – Gethsemane was on or near the Mount of Olives. The olive tree to many is symbolic of the tree of life, “I’ll live” or O’ live” may be carryover to English “olive”.

    The Bride
    OT Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed before they ate of the tree.
    NT Messiah was crucified naked and despised the shame of being hung on a tree.
    Jesus went back before Eve was formed.
    OT Adam was put into a deep sleep. His side was opened. A helps meet was made for him from his side.
    NT Christ was put into a deep sleep, death. His side was opened. Water and blood came out. The bride of Christ, his disciples, are his witnesses and “3 bear witness on earth — the spirit, water and blood”.

    The Alpha and Omega
    The Beginning Meets The End
    One must be born again. In Christ, our creator takes us to heavenly places but there was a battle in heaven. He takes us back to the beginning and where are we? At the end of the scripture. “Revelations” is the description of that battle. In the beginning of Genesis and at the end of Revelation we have a new creation. This is where the beginning meets the end.

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    May not be copied without written permission from author and must include all copyright info above and link backwardwalk.com

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