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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxix. μετανοέω, μεταμέλομαι.

It is often stated by theologians of the Reformation period that μετάνοια and μεταμέλεια, with their several verbs, μετανοεῖν and μεταμέλεσθαι, are so far distinct, that where it is intended to express the mere desire that the done might be undone, accompanied with regrets or even with remorse, but with no effective change of heart, there the latter words are employed; but where a true change of heart toward God, there the former. It was Beza, I believe, who first strongly urged this. He was followed by many; thus see Spanheim, Dub. Evang. vol. iii. dub. 9; and Chillingworth (Sermons before Charles I. p. 11): ‘To this purpose it is worth the observing, that when the Scripture speaks of that kind of repentance, which is only sorrow for something done, and wishing it undone, it constantly useth the word μεταμέλεια, to which forgiveness of sins is nowhere promised. So it is written of Judas the son of perdition (Matt. 27:3), μεταμεληθεὶς ἀπέτρεψε, he repented and went and hanged himself, and so constantly in other places. But that repentance to which remission of sins and salvation is promised, is perpetually expressed by the word μετάνοια, which signifieth a thorough change of the heart and soul, of the life and actions.’

Let me, before proceeding further, correct a slight inaccuracy in this statement. Μεταμέλεια nowhere occurs in the N. T.; only once in the Old (Hos. 11:8). So far as we are dealing with N.T. synonyms, it is properly between the verbs alone that the comparison can be instituted, and a distinction drawn; though, indeed, what stands good of them will stand good of their substantives as well. But even after this correction made, the statement will itself need a certain qualification. Jeremy Taylor allows as much; whose words—they occur in his great treatise, On the Doctrine and Practice of Repentance, ch. ii. 1, 2—are as follows: ‘The Greeks use two words to express this duty, μεταμέλεια and μετάνοια. Μεταμέλεια is from μεταμελεῖσθαι, post factum angi et cruciari, to be afflicted in mind, to be troubled for our former folly; it is δυσαρέστησις ἐπὶ πεπραγμένοις, saith Phavorinus, a being displeased for what we have done, and it is generally used for all sorts of repentance; but more properly to signify either the beginning of a good, or the whole state of an ineffective, repentance. In the first sense we find it in St. Matthew, ὑμεῖς δὲ ἰδόντες οὐ μετεμελήθητε ὕστερον τοῦ πιστεῦσαι αὐτῷ ‘and ye, seeing, did not repent that ye might believe Him.’ Of the second sense we have an example in Judas, μεταμελήθεις ἀπέστρεψε, he “repented” too, but the end of it was he died with anguish and despair. . . . There is in this repentance a sorrow for what is done, a disliking of the thing with its consequents and effect, and so far also it is a change of mind. But it goes no further than so far to change the mind that it brings trouble and sorrow, and such things as are the natural events of it. . . . When there was a difference made, μετάνοια was the better word, which does not properly signify the sorrow for having done amiss, but something that is nobler than it, but brought in at the gate of sorrow. For ἡ κατὰ Θεὸν λύπη, a godly sorrow, that is μεταμέλεια, or the first beginning of repentance, μετάνοιαν κατεργάζεται, worketh this better repentance, μετάνοιαν ἀμεταμέλητον and εἰς σωτηρίαν.’ Thus far Jeremy Taylor. Presently, however, he admits that ‘however the grammarians may distinguish them, yet the words are used promiscuously,’ and that no rigid line of discrimination can be drawn between them as some have attempted to draw. This in its measure is true, yet not so true but that a predominant use of one and of the other can very clearly be traced. There was, as is well known, a conflict between the early Reformers and the Roman Catholic divines whether ‘poenitentia,’ as the latter affirmed, or ‘resipiscentia,’ as Beza and the others, was the better Latin rendering of μετάνοια. There was much to be said on both sides; but it is clear that if the standing word had been μεταμέλεια, and not μετάνοια, this would have told to a certain degree in favour of the Roman Catholic view. ‘Poenitentia,’ says Augustine (De Ver. et Fals. Poen. c. viii.), ‘est quaedam dolentis vindicta, semper puniens in se quod dolet commisisse.’

Μετανοεῖν is properly to know after, as προνοεῖν to know before, and μετάνοια afterknowledge, as πρόνοια foreknowledge; which is well brought out by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. ii. 6): εἰ ἐφ᾽ οἷς ἥμαρτεν μετενόησεν, εἰ σύνεσιν ἔλαβεν ἐφ᾽ οἷς ἔπταισεν, καὶ μετέγνω, ὅπερ ἐστὶ, μετὰ ταῦτα ἔγνω· βραδεῖα γὰρ γνῶσις, μετάνοια. So in the Florilegium of Stobaeus, i. 14: οὐ μετανοεῖν ἀλλὰ προνοεῖν χρὴ τὸν ἄνδρα τὸν σοφόν. At its next step μετάνοια signifies the change of mind consequent on this after-knowledge; thus Tertullian (Adv. Marcion. ii. 24): ‘In Graeco sermone poenitentiae nomen non ex delicti confessione, sed ex animi demutatione, compositum est.’ At its third, it is regret for the course pursued; resulting from the change of mind consequent on this after-knowledge; with a δυσαρέστησις, or displeasure with oneself thereupon; ‘passio quaedam animi quae veniat de offensâ sententiae prioris,’ which, as Tertullian (De Poenit. 1) affirms, was all that the heathen understood by it. At this stage of its meaning it is found associated with δηγμός (Plutarch, Quom. Am. ab Adul. 12); with αἰσχύνη (De Virt. Mor. 12); with πόθος (Pericles, 10; cf. Lucian, De Saltat. 84). Last of all it signifies change of conduct for the future, springing from all this. At the same time this change of mind, and of action upon this following, may be quite as well a change for the worse as for the better; there is no need that it should be a ‘resipiscentia’ as well; this is quite a Christian superaddition to the word. Thus A. Gellius (xvii. 1. 6): ‘Poenitere tum dicere solemus, cum quae ipsi fecimus, aut quae de nostrâ voluntate nostroque consilio facta sunt, ea nobis post incipiunt displicere, sententiamque in iis nostram demutamus.’ In like manner Plutarch (Sept. Sap. Conv. 21) tells us of two murderers, who, having spared a child, afterwards ‘repented’ (μετενόησαν), and sought to slay it; μεταμέλεια is used by him in the same sense of a repenting of good (De Ser. Num. Vin. 11); so that here also Tertullian had right in his complaint (De Poenit. 1): ‘Quam autem in poenitentiae actu irrationaliter deversentur [ethnici], vel uno isto satis erit expedire, cum illam etiam in bonis actis suis adhibent. Poenitet fidei, amoris, simplicitatis, patientiae, misericordiae, prout quid in ingratiam cecidit.’ The regret may be, and often is, quite unconnected with the sense of any wrong done, of the violation of any moral law, may be simply what our fathers were wont to call ‘hadiwist’ (had-I-wist better, I should have acted otherwise); thus see Plutarch, De Lib. Ed. 14; Sept. Sap. Conv. 12; De Soler. Anim. 3: λύπη δι᾽ ἀλγηδόνος, ἣν μετάνοιαν ὀνομάζομεν, ‘displeasure with oneself, proceeding from pain, which we call repentance’ (Holland). That it had sometimes, though rarely, an ethical meaning, none would of course deny, in which sense Plutarch (De Ser. Num. Vin. 6) has a passage in wonderful harmony with Rom. 2:4; and another (De Tranq. Animi, 19), in which μεταμέλεια and μετάνοια are interchangeably used.

It is only after μετάνοια has been taken up into the uses of Scripture, or of writers dependant on Scripture, that it comes predominantly to mean a change of mind, taking a wiser view of the past, συναίσθησις ψυχῆς ἐφ᾽ οἷς ἔπραξεν ἀτόποις (Phavorinus), a regret for the ill done in that past, and out of all this a change of life for the better; ἐπιστροφὴ τοῦ βίου (Clement of Alexandria, Strom. ii. 245 a), or as Plato already had, in part at least, described it, μεταστροφὴ ἀπὸ τῶν σκιῶν ἐπὶ τὸ φῶς (Rep. vii. 532 b) περιστροφή, ψυχῆς περιαγωγή (Rep. vii. 521 c). This is all imported into, does not etymologically nor yet by primary usage lie in, the word. Not very frequent in the Septuagint or the Apocrypha (yet see Ecclus. 44:15; Wisd. 11:24; 12:10, 19; and for the verb, Jer. 8:6), it is common in Philo, who joins μετάνοια with βελτίωσις (De Abrah. 3), explaining it as πρὸς τὸ βέλτιον ἡ μεταβολή (ibid. and De Poen. 2); while in the N. T. μετανεῖν and μετάνοια, whenever they are used in the N. T., and it is singular how rarely this in the writings of St. Paul is the case, μετανοεῖν but once (2 Cor. 12:21), and μετάνοια only four times (Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:9, 10; 2 Tim. 2:25), are never employed in other than an ethical sense; ‘die unter Schmerz der Reue sich im Personleben des Menschen vollziehende radicale Umstimmung,’ Delitzsch has finely described it.

But while thus μετανοεῖν and μετάνοια gradually advanced in depth and fulness of meaning, till they became the fixed and recognized words to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God (‘such a virtuous alteration of the mind and purpose as begets a like virtuous change in the life and practice,’ Kettlewell), which we call repentance; the like honour was very partially vouchsafed to μεταμέλεια and μεταμέλεσθαι. The first, styled by Plutarch σώτειρα δαίμων, and by him explained as ἡ ἐπὶ ταῖς ἡδοναῖς, ὅσαι παράνομοι καὶ ἀκρατεῖς, αἰσχύνη (De Gen. Soc. 22), associated by him with βαρυθυμία (An Vit. ad Inf. 2), by Plato with ταραχή (Rep. ix. 577 e; cf. Plutarch, De Cohib. Irâ, 16), has been noted as never occurring in the N. T.; the second only five times; and designating on one of these the sorrow of this world which worketh death, of Judas Iscariot (Matt. 27:3), and on another expressing, not the repentance of men, but the change of mind of God (Heb. 7:21); and this while μετάνοια occurs some five and twenty, and μετανοεῖν some five and thirty times. Those who deny that either in profane or sacred Greek any traceable difference existed between the words are able, in the former, to point to passages where μεταμέλεια is used in all those senses which have been here claimed for μετάνοια, to others where the two are employed as convertible terms, and both to express remorse (Plutarch, De Tranq. Anim. 19); in the latter, to passages in the N. T. where μεταμέλεσθαι implies all that μετανοεῖν would have implied (Matt. 21:29, 32). But all this freely admitted, there does remain, both in sacred and profane use, a very distinct preference for μετάνοια as the expression of the nobler repentance. This we might, indeed, have expected beforehand, from the relative etymological force of the words. He who has changed his mind about the past is in the way to change everything; he who has an after care may have little or nothing more than a selfish dread of the consequences of what he has done (Aristotle, Ethic. Nic. ix. 4. 10: μεταμελείας οἱ φαῦλοι γέμουσιν); so that the long dispute on the relation of these words with one another may be summed up in the statement of Bengel, which seems to me to express the exact truth of the matter; allowing a difference, but not urging it too far (Gnomon N. T.; 2 Cor. 7:10): ‘Vietymi μετάνοια proprie est mentis, μεταμέλεια voluntatis; quod illa sententiam, haec solicitudinem vel potius studium mutatum dicat. . . . Utrumque ergo dicitur de eo, quem facti consiliive poenitet, sive poenitentia bona sit sive mala, sive malae rei sive bonae, sive cum mutatione actionum in posterum, sive citra eam. Veruntamen si usum spectes, μεταμέλεια plerunque est μέσον vocabulum, et refertur potissimum ad actiones singulares: μετάνοια vero, in N.T. praesertim, in bonam partem sumitur, quo notatur poenitentia totius vitae ipsorumque nostri quodammodo: sive tota illa beata mentis post errorem et peccata reminiscentia, cum omnibus affectibus eam ingredientibus, quam fructus digni sequuntur. Hinc fit ut μετανοεῖν saepe in imperativo ponatnr, μεταμελεῖσθαι nunquam: ceteris autem locis, ubicunque μετάνοια legitur, μεταμέλειαν possis substituere: sed non contra.’ Compare Witsius, De Oecon. Foed. Dei, iii. 12. 130–136; Girdlestone, Old Testament Synonyms, p. 153 sqq.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G3338,G3340.]

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