A series of articles looking at some Greek words used in scripture and tradition. The New Testament was written in a version of Ancient Greek called koine, as was some liturgy and theology.
A common word in the English translation of the New Testament is ‘repent’. The Greek word metanoia, which means ‘a change of mind’, is most often used to translate ‘repent’.
Metanoia is made up of two words – the Greek preposition, meta, meaning ‘after’, ‘with’, or ‘among’; and noia (nous), meaning ‘mind’ or ‘sense’. Greek verbs are often compounded with prepositions, creating subtle nuances that are difficult to render, so metanoia, although literally translated as ‘thinking after’, comes to mean ‘changing one’s mind’. Thus the meaning of metanoia is more complex than being sorry for sin, the usual understanding of repentance. It implies a fundamental change in the way the individual thinks about or senses the self, others, the world and the universe.
For example, in Matthew 4:17, From that time on, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, most modern English versions continue to translate metanoia as ‘repent’. However, there are some exceptions: The Amplified Bible renders metanoia as ‘change your life’; The Contemporary English Version says ‘Turn back to God!’ The God’s Word translation renders the phrase as ‘Change your hearts and lives’ and the official Catholic translation used for scripture and liturgy from 400 to 1943, The Latin Vulgate, translates metanoia in this text as ‘do penance’, enabling the sacrament of penance to be linked to the word.
Susan Frykberg, BTheo, BA (Ancient Greek), MA, is a pastoral care worker for Nazareth Rest Home, Whanganui.