By Jack Kinsella
The Bible was originally recorded in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek — but not in the working language of Jesus’ day, which was Latin.
The reason, I believe, is that Latin, like English, was a notoriously imprecise language. To the ancients, Latin was the language of business, Greek the language of philosophy and humanity, and Hebrew the language of God.
There is also a saying in our modern world to the effect that English is the language of business, French the language of love and Spanish the language of God. That reflects the areas in which those languages are the most descriptive.
The United Nations uses six official languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
Originally, there were only five; Arabic wasn’t added until the OPEC Crisis in 1973. The reason for six official languages is to make allowances for those things that get ‘lost in translation’ from one language to another.
Of the six, English is the most deficient. As with Latin, more things are lost in translating TO English than FROM it.
Some words have no English equivalent; ‘Schadensfreude’ is a German word that means, ‘happiness at the misfortune of others’ in English, but to a native German, it carries all kinds of shades and sub-texts English cannot support.
The closest English word to “Schadensfreude” is “epicaricacy” — I rest my case.
Both Hebrew and Greek are very precise languages — which explains why God chose those languages to record His Word — there are some concepts that only Hebrew or Greek can do justice to — they “lose something in the translation” into English.
The Greek word ‘metanoeo’ is one of those words that defies transliteration into English. The closest English equivalent to it is ‘repent’ but that word comes no closer to expressing the flavor of ‘metanoeo’ than ‘epicaricacy’ does for ‘Schadensfreude’.
The Greek ‘metanoeo’ is a compound word; ‘meta’ meaning ‘after’ and implying ‘change’ and ‘noeo’ meaning ‘the mind’. Combining them, ‘metanoeo’ literally means ‘after thought’ in the sense of ‘re-thinking’.
The implication here is, after rethinking everything, you have a change of mind from one thing to something else. (We don’t have an English word that says all that. The closest we can come is ‘repent’ but it only applies to religion, not thought)
“metanoeo… lit. to perceive afterwards (meta, after, implying change, noeo, to perceive; [comes from the Greek noun] nous, the mind, the seat of moral reflection), in contrast to pronoeo, to perceive beforehand, hence signifies to change one’s mind or purpose…” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).
By implication, metanoeo means a complete change of mind from one thing to another in which the two positions are mutually exclusive, rather than simply meaning any old change of thinking.
For a hard-line Far Left Democrat to become a hard-line conservative Republican is an example of ‘metanoeo’, for example, whereas deciding you like country music after all, is not.
(One can like country music without giving up one’s love for Big Band Swing, one cannot become a “hard-line conservative” Republican and remain on the fence about abortion.)
Metanoeo is not just a ‘changed’ mind, it is a total reversal of one’s previous beliefs.
When the Bible says ‘repent and be saved’ what it means is understand the nature of sin and be aware of your personal guilt. The concepts of sin and righteousness are originally perceived spiritually, but understanding and awareness of them are functions of the mind.
The fact that God demands repentance shows that it involves your mind; it is something you choose to do. Metanoeo suggests more than just rejecting your former position or attitude, and includes turning to and embracing a new one.
For some Christians, ‘repenting’ is what you do once when you get saved, and after that, it almost seems as if no further repentance is necessary. One is forgiven and that’s that.
THAT version of ‘repentance’ is more like deciding you like country music but you still love swing.
On the other side of the extreme, ‘repentance’ means to never sin again. For some Christians, that means that one maintains their own salvation on guts alone, in constant fear they will sin themselves out of God’s protective Hand.
That version doesn’t require a change of mind, it demands a change of works. There are many churches who have voted to disfellowship someone because they ‘showed no signs of repentance’ — which is nothing less than judging what is in another person’s mind and heart — both the exclusive provinces of God.
Biblical ‘metanoeo’ is somewhere in the middle — it is neither a one-time event before resuming the life of Good Times Charlie nor is it a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of a believer.
Before I was a believer, my concept of sin was anything that hurt another person directly (especially if it meant I’d be exposed as the culprit). It’s been rightly observed that the “best measure of a man’s character is what he does when nobody is looking.”
When I became a believer, I knew that no matter what I did, whether in Grand Central Station or alone in a locked room, there was always Somebody looking. It was a total reversal of my worldview — a complete change of mind that brought with it a semi-complete change of heart.
I say ‘semi-complete’ change of heart because metanoeo is a process — I am not the believer I was twenty years ago — indeed, I’m not the believer I was twenty days ago.
If you are a sincere, born again, Blood-bought believer, there is something in your life you’ve undergone a metanoeo over since coming to Christ. (If you are like me, there are many somethings — and a couple on the horizon you’re still wrestling with.)
Before I was a believer, I was uninterested in coming to Christ because of all the things I’d have to give up first. Like most unbelievers, I believed that salvation meant cleaning myself up first, and then presenting myself before the Lord. It was too much to even contemplate.
When I learned the Gospel, I underwent a total metanoeo about both my guilt and God’s forgiveness, and as I’ve matured in the Lord, that ‘change of mind’ has continued.
A related word is metanoia, which usually is translated “repentance” or “conversion.” It literally means your thinking has been converted. It does not mean you have achieved sinless perfection, nor does it hold out any promise that you will in this life.
It means understanding that you CANNOT, and that Jesus Christ in His mercy, made a way for you to be converted (notice ‘being converted’ is a process), starting by removing your sin and your guilt at the moment of salvation.
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)
You can be ‘confident’ that it is Jesus Who began ‘a good work in you’ and it is Jesus Who will perform it. Trust Him and allow Him direct you on the path He has prepared for you.
Don’t let doubts or the enemy or some clever argument steal away your victory.
The refrain from the old hymn, “Saved” says it all. At the moment you were saved by the Crucified One, “Your sins are forgiven, your guilt is all gone!”
But your metanoeo was just beginning.
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on May 2, 2006.