Part 4: From Teshuvah to Mentanoia

The original Old Testament manuscripts the King James Version of the Bible is based upon were written in Hebrew.  The New Testament manuscripts were in Greek. Those who know the ancient versions of these languages could become aware of how these translations affected the information being expressed in our bibles.  Naturally, for the average person having that kind of talent might not be possible or practical so we have to rely on others gifted that way.

Some connections between words or verses of scripture may have been lost in translation. For example, knowing that boasting in Romans 3:27 and rejoicing in 2 Corinthians 1:12 are translated from the same Greek word may help us compare those two verses in new ways. Those who know Greek or Hebrew can speculate about the meaning the translators may have intended when it is ambiguous in English. Genesis 39:6, for example, tells us that Joseph was goodly. The Hebrew word for goodly can also be translated “fair” or “handsome.” Knowing the meanings of some Hebrew and Greek words can sometimes give us deeper insight into what the KJV means. For example, knowing that the Hebrew word for covenant is from a word that can also mean “to select” as well as “to feed” may help us think more deeply about the meaning of the sacrament.  James E. Faulconer, Doing Bible Research Without Knowing Hebrew or Greek, courtesy of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, maxwellinstitute.byu.edu.

In the case of the Jewish understanding of what repentance meant, it underwent a transition shortly after the first Old and New Testament books started to be written.

Church Fathers like Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE), and Augustine (410 A.D.) changed the Hebrew meaning of repentance to “not the work of man, but a gift like grace from God.”   Prior to baptism some sort of contrition for sin was required from an adult convert before his baptism, which could be announced before his immersion.  As the faith grew babies were brought for baptism.  Since they couldn’t possibly confess to sinful repentance, the fathers had to find a way around this.  Their solution was to redefine repentance as an act of the Lord, or grace given, that occurred after baptism.

As described in Part 2, the Roman Church added the indulgence practices and “ritual acts of penance” to achieve repentance.   Saint Augustine of Hippo (410 CE) wrote that “repentance was not the work of man, but a gift — like grace — from God.”

As the first century turned into the second, the Old Testament teachings of repentance by confessing one’s transgressions and having a complete change of conduct,  and alluded to in Christ’s teachings, were gradually being laid aside by men.  Organized, Western style Christian faith as we know it was beginning.  Other events occurred as well to remove these teachings from the conscious thought of those reaching for the Lord.

While the Catholic Church installed the practices of indulgences and penances, Protestant theologians after the Reformation taught that the meaning of “repentance” could be just a mental exercise.  In other words “to change from not believing in Christ to believing in Christ” – which actually meant to believe their specific theology about Christ, or to believe in Christ. The Greek word for this was “Mentanoia” (met-anʹ-oy-ah) and its definition was “changing one’s mind or heart about someone or something.”  Mentanoia, being a Greek word and teshuvah a Hebrew one, are similar but they mean two entirely different things.

This change from the Judean to Reformation definition of repentance led to the practice of simply accepting Christ, and maybe performing a ritual of confession along with penitential acts to the Lord to be reconciled with your fellow man.  The harmed or injured party or parties and any act of repentance towards them are not involved.  When you read the English translations of Greek manuscripts of the words of the Jewish Jesus, it is absolutely necessary to remember that his meanings are from the Jewish culture.  After all the Jewish Jesus did not think or teach in Greek [or Latin].  Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor, The Jewish Meaning of Repentance, biblicalheritige.org

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