So far as I can tell, this Greek word means something like a change of mind, or a change of heart.

Then the Vulgate says "pœnitentiam agite" which seems to mean do penance, something like a punitive thing. The Lutheran bible says "macht Buße", or make amends. That is a completely different concept. The ESV uses the word "repent" or "repentance", which seems to match what the Vulgate says and the Lutheran bible say.

Am I misunderstanding something? Do the Greek or early manuscripts ever talk about repentance?

  • 1
    What is your objection to that translation? merriam-webster.com/dictionary/repent – Ruminator Oct 20 '19 at 18:32
  • @Ruminator From your link, and other dictionaries: repentance has to do with remorse, contrition, compunction; I don't see how μετανοέω means any of that. – Wilson Oct 20 '19 at 19:23
  • The link provides 3 glosses. It is context that indicates that the Jews associated the word with contrition: [Mat 11:21 CSB] (21) "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago. – Ruminator Oct 20 '19 at 19:54
  • I think μετανοέω has all to to do with contrition and compunction, especially from a teological point of view. A true change of mind from a life of sin can only come from the Holy Spirit, as John 16:8 states: <<And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment>>: you can't save yourself just by an intellectual change of mind. – Davide Vitali Oct 21 '19 at 18:22
  • Changing one's mind or opinion about the (supposed) morality of a certain (immoral) act undoubtedly leads to sorrow and remorse. – Lucian Oct 24 '19 at 1:26

μετανοέω (μετανοῶ) is composed of the preposition μετά and the verb νοέω. The preposition μετά in composition may indicate “change of place, condition, plan, etc.”1 The verb νοέω means, among other things, “to understand; to think.”2 Thus, μετανοέω means, among other things,3 “to change how or what one thinks.”4

LSJ, p. 1115, μετανοέω, 2.

In English, we also say, “to change one’s mind”:5

OED, mind (n.), 12., “to change one’s mind”

In Cyropaedia, Xenophon wrote,6

Xenophon. Cyropaedia, 1.1.3

In Epitrepontes (Επιτρέποντες), Menander wrote,7

Menander. Epitrepontes, Act 2, Lines 70–75

In addition to meaning “to change one’s mind,” LSJ also defines it as “repent.”8

LSJ, p. 1115, μετανοέω, 3.

“Repent” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:9

OED, repent (v.), 1., a.

Now, “repent” (and μετανοῶ, 3.) still implies a change of mind, but this change is caused by one’s own contrition, regret, or being sorry for one’s own action. In μετανοῶ, 2., the change of mind is not necessarily caused by such regret. Rather, it could simply be a matter of convenience.

Many assume that this meaning of μετανοῶ (i.e., 3.) was born by the Greek New Testament. However, already in the 5th c. B.C., Antiphon of Rhamnus had used the verb μετανοῶ in the same sense.10

ταῦτα οὖν σεβόμενοι ὁσίως καὶ δικαίως ἀπολύετέ με, καὶ μὴ μετανοήσαντες τὴν ἁμαρτίαν γνῶτε: ἀνίατος γὰρ ἡ μετάνοια τῶν τοιούτων ἐστίν.

Respect these considerations, and satisfy heaven and justice by acquitting me. Do not wait until remorse proves to you your mistake; remorse in cases such as this has no remedy.

Maidment translates both the verb (participle) μετανοήσαντες and the noun μετάνοια11 by a form of “remorse.” This is clearly an appropriate English translation consdering the context. It is remorse or regret for one’s action that causes the individual to change his mind, i.e., repent.

In summary, μετανοῶ is appropriately translated as “repent” in English translations of Acts 2:38, because it does not simply mean “to change one’s mind,” but to change one’s mind because of the contrition, grief, remorse, or guilt caused by the consciousness of one’s sins. Hence, the apostle Paul writes that the Corinthians “were grieved unto repentance,”12 and “godly sorrow produces repentance unto salvation.”13


1 LSJ, p. 1109, μετά, G., VIII.
2 id., p. 1177, νοέω, 2. & 3.
3 LSJ, p. 1115, μετανοέω, lists its first meaning as “perceive afterwards or too late; concur subsequently.”
4 OED online, mind (n.), 12., “to change one’s mind”
5 6 Book 1, Ch. 1, §3
7 Act 2, Lines 70–75.
8 LSJ, p. 1115, μετανοέω, 3.
9 OED online, repent (v.), 1., a.
10 First Tetralogy, 2.4.12; also, see On the Murder of Herodes, 5.91
11 “repentance”
12 2 Cor. 7:9
13 2 Cor. 7:10


Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. with revised supplement. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

Menander. Four Plays of Menander: The Hero, Epitrepontes, Periceiromene and Samia. Ed. Capps, Edward. Boston: Ginn, 1910.

Menander. The Arbitration (The Epitrepontes of Menander). Trans. Murray, George. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1945.

Minor Attic Orators, Volume I: Antiphon. Andocides. Trans. Maidment, K. J. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1941.

Oxford English Dictionary online.

Xenophon. Xenophontis Opera Omnia. Reprint. 1970. Oxford: Clarendon, 1910.

Xenophon. Cyropaedia, Books 1–4. Trans. Miller, Walter. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1914.

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