SEED & BREAD
WHAT DOES metanoeO MEAN ?
(Originally published 10 Aug. 79)
Having presented in Issue No. 106 the problem in regard to the word
"repent" we are now ready to consider the true meaning of the Greek word
that is so translated. Dr. A.T. Robertson says that the word metanoeO
"has been hopelessly mistranslated," and further declares "that the
tragedy of it is that we have no one English word that reproduces
exactly the meaning and atmosphere of the Greek word."
When a student of the Word of God comes upon a situation where there is
no English word that will express the meaning and nuances of the Greek
word under consideration, he is then forced into the somewhat difficult
situation of using as a translation some word that comes as near as
possible to representing it, then using other closely related words as
the context of various occurrences demand. However, great care must be
exercised so that the word selected does not misrepresent the word under
examination. The word "repent" in no way represents the Greek word
metanoeO. It is a total misrepresentation. An important truth is lost as
long as this word is used to cover it up.
The Greek verb metanoeO, which is always mistranslated "repent," is made
up of a combination of two simple, easily understood words. These are
meta, which means "after," and noia which means "mind." All who labor in
the healing arts, such as doctors and nurses, will know at once the
meaning of meta and noia. Since this word is a verb, it would mean to a
Greek of the first century "have the after-mind;" and the noun of course
would name the result of such an action, which would be
Knowing that this is what the Greek means, I began a long search for
some word in the English that would set forth these ideas. Various words
were tried and found to be unworkable. I finally hit upon the words
submit and submission and decided these could be used as good, basic,
representative translations. I asked various fellow students to put
these words to the test to see if they were workable and productive in
bringing forth truth. They did this and found them to be so, shedding
light on passages that had been quite dark heretofore. However, we found
that these words had their limitations, and they seemed to create
problems in certain passages where metanoeO and metanoia were found.
But, keeping in mind Robertsonís words that: "we have no one word that
reproduces exactly the meaning and atmosphere of metanoeO," we adopted
three closely related and congruous words in order to express the truth
in all contexts. These three words are submit, yield and ease.
Some who are bound up to the impossible idea of "one translation for
each word" may object to the use of three words, but I refuse to accept
the bondage of any such unworkable theory. Anyone who has ever
endeavored to turn Greek into English will know that Greek has many
words for which there are no exact English equivalents. When we come
upon these, we must use several words that are basically related, even
though not strictly synonymous, in order to express the truth. An
example of this is the word gunE, which means "woman." However, in
translating we come upon occurrences where the word "woman" simply will
not fit, and word wife is needed. With these two words, wife and woman,
the translator can give the true meaning of every occurrence.
Even so it is with the word metanoeO. To express the truth in all
passages and contexts, we need the words submit, yield and ease. These
words are related, they are congruous, and they do the work. The reader
will understand that ease is used in the sense of unburden or disburden.
This is important since all sin and guilt are in Scripture viewed as
being heavy and oppressive burdens. "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and
are heavy laden," is the invitation of the Lord Jesus to men to submit
to Him, and thus to ease themselves of their burden of sin and guilt
In order to understand why the words submit and submission have been
chosen to represent metanoeO and metanoia, we will need to give careful
thought as to what the verb phrase "have the after-mind" means, also to
the ideas that are set forth by the word "submit." We will consider some
Joshua called for complete submission on the part of the children of
Israel when he demanded: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." It
was the time for decision and commitment. Some in this great company
were still clinging to the gods their fathers served in Egypt (Josh.
24:14,15), but this could be tolerated no longer. Complete submission
without recourse or qualification was now demanded. Joshua revealed his
own complete submission, shutting out any future modification by saying:
"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." His mind that day
would be his mind tomorrow. He had the after-mind.
Ruth revealed her complete submission to Naomi when she said: "Whither
thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people
shall be my people, and thy God my God" (Ruth 1:16). This was her
declared mind at that moment. No matter where Naomi went, no matter
where she resided, no matter what adverse circumstances should
ariseóRuth would be her companion. Nothing but the death of one of them
could change their relationship. Her mind and purpose she had before her
declaration of loyalty, and before she knew what the circumstances might
be, would be just the same after these became evident. Her attitude was
what a first century Greek would call metanoeOóhaving the after-mind.
Hers was true submission, not subject to any alteration. The Greek name
for such an attitude was metanoia, after-mindedness.
If someone should say, "I will go tomorrow if it does not rain," he is
declaring that his present mind is to go; but in case of rain, he will
change his present mind so that his "after-mind" will no longer be the
same as his "fore-mind." If someone in authority over him should reply:
"Make up your mind, either to go or not to go, rain or shine," he is
demanding that he have the same mind tomorrow as he has today. He is
demanding that todayís mind and tomorrowís mind be the sameóthat he have
In Matt. 8:19 we read of one who had the fore-mind to follow Christ, and
declared it, but he seemed to lack the "after-mind." We find: "A certain
scribe came, and said unto Him, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever
Thou goest." But when the Lord revealed His poverty, so total that He
had no place to sleep that night, his "after-mind" did not match his
"fore-mind." At least we never hear of him again.
An example of complete submission, where "fore-mind" and "after-mind"
were identical, is seen in the prophet Daniel. Submitting only to God,
it was his determination not to defile himself in Babylon, and to
maintain his prayer contacts with God. This was before the royal decree
was signed that no man could ask anything of any God for thirty days.
And if anyone did, he would be cast into a den of lions. But no den of
lions could alter Danielís mind or purpose. He had the "after-mind"
before he knew what the consequences might be.
With all these facts in mind, we now come to Johnís demand made to
Israel before Jesus began His ministry. I would translate Matthew 3:2:
"Submit, for the government of the heavens has drawn near." And indeed
it had drawn near, for within three years it would be a reality, even
though only like the blade stage of growing grain. (See Issue No. 48).
Those who submitted in advance without knowing what the cost would be
would indeed receive great reward.
It has long been imagined that John was declaring the whole duty of man
toward God, a veritable complete plan of salvation from sin for those
who came to him in the wilderness of Judea. This has caused men to try
to read much more into this first occurrence of metanoeO than is
actually there. In view of this, there are those who say that the word
submit falls short of saying what God expected of men, and that
submission is an insufficient statement of what Johnís disciples did.
This is true! But if it is true of "submit," it is also true of metanoeo.
If not, why then did the Lord Jesus say in Mark 1:15: "Submit, and
believe the gospel." Submission without qualifications was only the
first step, a most vital step, but it was only the start. Submission
must precede belief.
Paul preached: "Submission toward God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus
Christ" (Acts 20:21). Later he said he had demanded of the Gentiles
three things: "that they should submit, and turn to God, and do works
meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20). Peter told the men of Israel that
they should: "Submit and turn about" (Acts 3:19). The additional
statements made in all these proclamations show that to submit is always
the initial step and only the initial step. Much more than submission is
required, but this must be set forth by additional statements. It is not
included in the word metanoeO or in the word submit.
John the Baptist came as the Lordís forerunner proclaiming the nearness
of Godís government, making ready for the appearance of the One on Whose
shoulders the government would rest (Isa. 9:6). John did not say,
"Repent of your sins"; or, "Repent, or you will be lost forever"; or,
"Repent and you will be saved." The sole reason given as to why they
should submit was that Godís government was impending. When sovereignty
is assumed and a government imposes itself upon men, they can either
submit or resist. The demand made by John fit the situation perfectly at
that time. Divine government was coming; it was impending; and all in
Israel were called upon to submit, to yield, to offer no resistance, to
make no moves contrary to it, to ease themselves of every factor that
might block their entrance into it (See Matt. 18:8,9), to wait for
further orders from the One who would be the King of the Kingdom.
Their submission, being voluntary and in advance of the actual
establishment of Godís government upon the earth, would result in a
similarity of mind between God and His people Israel. They were to yield
their minds irrevocably to the power of another.
The Apostle Paul provides an excellent example of the after-mind, that
is, submission in advance of knowing what the requirements would be. As
soon as he discovered Who was speaking to him, his immediate response
was: "Lord, what will you have me to do" (Acts 9:6). He stood ready to
do whatever the Lord might say. Even the vision of all that he would
suffer did not alter his mind in the least. Truly, this man had the
after-mind. He was submissive.
Our available space has been used up, but another study will be needed
to examine difficult passages where metanoeO is found.
Issue no. 107