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Repentance is reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to and actual actions that show and prove a change for the better.[1]

In modern times, it is generally seen as involving a commitment to personal change and the resolve to live a more responsible and humane life. In other words, being sorry for one's misdeeds. It can also involve sorrow over a specific sin or series of sins that an individual feels guilt over, or conviction that he or she has committed. The practice of repentance plays an important role in the soteriological doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Analogous practices have been found in other world religions as well. In religious contexts, it often involves an act of confession to God or to a spiritual elder (such as a monk or priest). This confession might include an admission of guilt, a promise or intent not to repeat the offense, an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

Abrahamic religions

The doctrine of repentance as taught in the Bible is a call to persons to make a radical turn from one way of life to another. The repentance (metanoia) called for throughout the Bible is a summons to a personal, absolute and ultimate unconditional surrender to God as Sovereign. Though it includes sorrow and regret, it is more than that. It is a call to conversion from self-love, self-trust, and self-assertion to obedient trust and self-commitment to now live for God and his purposes.[2] It is a change of mind that involves a conscious turning away from wrong actions, attitudes and thoughts that conflict with a Godly lifestyle and biblical commands, and an intentional turning toward doing that which the Bible says pleases God. In repenting, one makes a complete change of direction (180° turn) toward God. The words "repent," "repentance," and "repented" are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible.[2]

Repentance typically requires an admission of guilt for committing a wrong or for omitting to do the right thing; a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong or the omission where possible.


says, "Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations." Rabbinic Jewish literature contains extensive discussions on the subject of repentance. Many rabbinic sources state that repentance is of paramount importance to the existence of this world, so that it was one of the seven provisions which God made before the Creation.[3] "The Holy One, blessed be His name, said to Elijah, 'Behold, the precious gift which I have bestowed on my world: though a man sins again and again, but returns in penitence, I will receive him.' "[4] "Great is repentance: it brings healing into the world"; "it reaches to the throne of the Lord";[Hosea 14:2,5] "it brings redemption";[Isaiah 59:20] "it prolongs man's life";[Ezekiel 18:21] Talmud Yoma 86a). "Repentance and works of charity are man's intercessors before God's throne".[5] Sincere repentance is equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar, and the offering of all the sacrifices.[6]

Sincere repentance is manifested when the same temptation to sin, under the same conditions, is ever after resolutely resisted.[7] "He that confesses his sin and still clings to it is likened to a man that holds in his hand a defiling object; though he batheth in all the waters of the world he is not cleansed; but the moment he casteth the defiling object from him a single bath will cleanse him, as it is said: 'Whosoever confesses and forsakes them [his sins] shall have mercy' ".[Prov. 28:13][8]

According to Jewish doctrine, repentance is the prerequisite of atonement.[9] Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, derives its significance only from the fact that it is the culmination of the ten penitential days with which the Jewish religious year begins; and therefore it is of no avail without repentance[10] Though man ought to be penitent every day,[11] the first ten days of every year are the acceptable time announced by the prophet Isaiah: "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near".[Isaiah 55:6][12]

Repentance and the Day of Atonement only absolve one from sins committed against God; from sins against another person they absolve only when restitution has been made and the pardon of the offended party has been obtained.[13]

No one need despair on account of his or her sins, for every penitent sinner is graciously received by God.[Jeremiah 31:9] Jewish doctrine holds that it is never too late, even on the day of death, to return to God with sincere repentance for "as the sea is always open for every one who wishes to cleanse himself, so are the gates of repentance always open to the sinner".[14] Jewish doctrine states that the hand of God is continually stretched out to receive a sinner.[15] One view in the Talmud holds that a repentant sinner attains a more exalted spiritual eminence than one who has never sinned.[16] It is a sin to taunt a repentant sinner by recalling their former sinful ways.[17]

Repentance occupies a prominent position in all the ethical writings of the Middle Ages. Bahya ibn Paquda devotes a special section to it in his 'Hovot ha-Levavot", "Gate of Repentance." Maimonides devotes the last section of "Sefer ha-Madda'" in his Mishneh Torah to the subject. One of the most significant medieval works on Repentance is "Shaarei Teshuva," the "Gates of Repentance" by Rabbeinu Yona of Gerona.

In the Hebrew Bible, repentance generally leads to salvation. In some cases, individuals or nations repent of their sins and are spared God's judgment. Sometimes the punishment avoided is destruction in this life, and sometimes it is damnation.[18] In the Book of Jonah, the prophet initially chose to disobey God's command, and then he repented and became obedient. However, Jonah returned to disobedience when he hoped for the destruction of the city of Nineveh. The Hebrew term teshuvah (lit. "return") is used to refer to "repentance". This implies that transgression and sin are the natural and inevitable consequence of man's straying from God and his laws,[19] and that it is man's destiny and duty to be with God. The Bible states that God's loving-kindness is extended to the returning sinner.

The Torah (five books of Moses) distinguishes between offenses against God and offenses against man. In the first case, the manifestation of repentance consists in: (1) Confession of one's sin before God,[Lev. 5:5] [Num. 5:7] the essential part being a solemn promise and firm resolve not to commit the same sin again. (2) Making certain prescribed offerings.[Lev. 5:1-20] Offenses against man require, in addition to confession and sacrifice, restitution in full of whatever has been wrongfully obtained or withheld from one's fellow man, with one-fifth of its value added thereto.[Lev. 5:20-26] If the wronged man has died, restitution must be made to his heir; if he has no heir, it must be given to the priest who officiates at the sacrifice made for the remission of the sin.[Num. 5:7-9]

There are other manifestations of repentance mentioned in the Bible. These include pouring out water,[20] which symbolizes the pouring out of one's heart before God;[21] prayer[22] self-affliction, as fasting; wearing sackcloth; sitting and sleeping on the ground.[23] However, the Prophets disparaged all such outer manifestations of repentance, insisting rather on a complete change of the sinner's mental and spiritual attitude.[Hosea 14:1-2] "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy, and repenteth him of the evil".[Joel 2:13] In , the Bible states that repentance brings pardon and forgiveness of sin. Apart from repentance, no other activities, such as sacrifices or religious ceremonies can secure pardon and forgiveness of sin.


In the New Testament, one of many examples of repentance in the New Testament can be found in the parable of the prodigal son found in . Other instances of repentance included water baptism and restitution.[24]

Repentance appears prominently in the Scriptures. See the description of repentance in the Hebrew Bible above for repentance in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the first command that Jesus gave was to repent,[Matthew 4:17] thus repeating the message of John the Baptist.[Matthew 3:2][25] Jesus sent out disciples who "proclaimed that people should repent".[Mark 6:12] In his Pentecost sermon, Peter the Apostle called on people to repent,[Acts 2:38] an appeal he repeated in his sermon at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple: "Repent therefore, and return again to God, that your sins may be blotted out".[Acts 3:19] Paul the Apostle likewise testified "both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God"[Acts 20:21] and said that "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent".[Acts 17:30]

The Greek word used for repentance in the New Testament is (metanoia),[26][27] and the Greek verb for "to repent" is ?, contracted from - (metano-eo),[28][29] as in Mark's account of the initial preaching of Jesus: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and trust in the good news."

In English, the prefix meta can indicate "beyond, about", as "meta-economics" or "meta-philosophy" (see meta), inspired by the non-Greek use of the word "metaphysics", which in Greek was just the title of a work of Aristotle, the Metaphysics, so named simply because in the customary ordering of the works of Aristotle it was the book following the Physics; the Greek word thus meant nothing more than "[the book that comes] after [the book entitled] Physics". In Greek, composite words that have ?- (meta-) as the initial element are most frequently used "of change of place, condition, plan, etc.",[30] as in the English word "metamorphosis".[31] Even in a non-religious context, the Greek word (metanoia), in particular, meant "change of mind or heart, repentance" or, in rhetoric, "afterthought, correction".[26]


Martin Luther's 1534 bible

The Augsburg Confession (known in Latin as Confessio Augustana) is the primary confession of faith used in the Lutheran Church. It is one of the most important documents of the Protestant Reformation. It divides repentance into two parts:

  • "One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin;"
  • "The other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors."[32]

In the Reformed tradition within Protestantism, there is a threefold idea involved in true repentance. The Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote that repentance "may be justly defined to be a true conversion of our life to God, proceeding from a serious fear of God, and consisting in the mortification of the flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit." He further said that "it will be useful to amplify and explain the definition we have given; in which there are three points to be particularly considered".

John Calvin at 53 in an engraving by René Boyvin.

In the first place, when we call repentance 'a conversion of the life to God', we require a transformation, not only in the external actions, but in the soul itself; which, after having put off the old nature, should produce the fruits of actions corresponding to its renovation....

In the second place, we represented repentance as proceeding from a serious fear of God. For before the mind of a sinner can be inclined to repentance, it must be excited by the knowledge of the Divine judgment.

It remains for us, in the third place, to explain our position, that repentance consists of two parts--the mortification of the flesh and the vivification of the spirit.... Both these branches of repentance effects our participation of Christ. For if we truly partake of his death, our old man is crucified by its power, and the body of sin expires, so that the corruption of our former nature loses all its vigor.... If we are partakers of his resurrection, we are raised by it to a newness of life, which corresponds with the righteousness of God." [Quotes from A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin edited by Hugh T. Kerr, The Westminster Press-Philadelphia 1939.]


In Methodist theology:

Genuine repentance toward God consists in a knowledge of, a sorry for, and a confession and forsaking of sins, brought about by the knowledge of goodness and severity of God through the truth, by the convincing power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:2; Acts 20:21; II Cor. 7:10, 11; I John 1:9; first clause). --Articles of Religion, Immanuel Missionary Church[33]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in repentance much in the same way other Abrahamic religions do. They believe repentance is "a change of mind and heart that gives us a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world" (Gospel Topics). Here are few key points of doctrine:

  • We sin and become unclean, disqualifying us from entering God's kingdom . We can become clean once again and enter God's presence.
  • It is through Jesus Christ that we can become whole again. (Helaman 5:11, )
  • The Atonement of Jesus Christ was planned from the beginning. (, , , 2 Nephi 2:7)
  • Baptism helps bring about the remission of sins. (, , , )
  • We aren't expected to be perfect, just to offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit. (, )


Tawba[34] is the Islamic concept of repenting to God due to performing any sins and misdeeds. It is a direct matter between a person and God, so there is no intercession. There is no original sin in Islam.[35][36][37] It is the act of leaving what God has prohibited and returning to what he has commanded. The word denotes the act of being repentant for one's misdeeds, atoning for those misdeeds, and having a strong determination to forsake those misdeeds (remorse, resolution, and repentance). If someone sins against another person, restitution is required.[38]


The Buddha considered shame over doing wrong (Pali: hiri) and fear of the consequences of wrongdoing (Pali:otappa) as essential safeguards against falling into evil ways and further as extremely useful in the path of purification. Also recommended was the regular practice of self-assessment or wise reflection (Pali: yoniso manasikara) on one's own actions in relation to others and the bigger picture.[]

In Mahayana Buddhism, one of the most common repentance verses used for reflection is Samantabhadra's Repentance Verse taken from Chapter 40 of the Flower Adornment Sutra:

 For all the evil deeds I have done in the past
 Created by my body, mouth, and mind,
 From beginningless greed, anger, and delusion,
 I now know shame and repent of them all. [39]

Hawaiian tradition

Hoʻoponopono (ho-o-pono-pono) is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with (repentance) prayers. Similar forgiveness practices were performed on islands throughout the South Pacific, including Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand. Traditionally hoʻoponopono is practiced by healing priests or kahuna lapaʻau among family members of a person who is physically ill. Modern versions are performed within the family by a family elder, or by the individual alone.

See also


  1. ^ Jeremiah Unterman (2017). Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics. University of Nebraska Press. p. 109. ISBN 0827612702. The modern definition of "to repent," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "To review one's actions and feel contrition or regret for something one has done or omitted to do; (esp. in religious contexts) to acknowledge the sinfulness of one's past action or conduct by showing sincere remorse and undertaking to reform in the future."
  2. ^ a b Stagg, Frank. New Testament Theology. Broadman Press, 1962. ISBN 0-8054-1613-7, pp. 118-119
  3. ^ Talmud Bavli, tractates Pesahim 54a; Nedarim 39b; Midrash Genesis Rabbah 1
  4. ^ Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 28b
  5. ^ Talmud Shabbath 32a
  6. ^ (Pesiqta, ed. Buber, 25:158; Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 7; Talmud Sanhedrin 43b)
  7. ^ (Talmud Yoma 86b; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 2:1-2)
  8. ^ (Talmud Taanith 16a; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 2:3)
  9. ^ (Mishna Yoma Chapter 8, 8)
  10. ^ Midrash Sifra, Emor, 14.
  11. ^ Mishna Avoth Chap 2, 10; Talmud Shabbath 153a
  12. ^ Talmud Rosh Hashan 18a; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 2:6
  13. ^ Talmud Yoma 87a; Mishneh Torah Teshuva2:9
  14. ^ (Pesiqta., ed. Buber, xxv. 157; Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbah ii.; Midrash Psalms lxiii.)
  15. ^ (Talmud Pesachim 119a; Deuteronomy Rabbah ii)
  16. ^ Talmud Berakhoth 34b.
  17. ^ (Talmud Bava Metsia 58b; Mishneh Torah Teshuva 8:8)
  18. ^ In the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Bible (; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ).
  19. ^ (comp. Deut. 11:26-28; Isa. 1:4; Jer. 2:13, 16:11; Ezek. 18:30)
  20. ^ (I Sam. 7:6; according to the Targum
  21. ^ comp. Jerusalem Talmud Ta'anit 68d;Midrash Tehilim cxix.; Lamentations 2:19);
  22. ^ (II Sam. 12:16);
  23. ^ (I Kings 21:27; Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:5).
  24. ^ See ; ; ; . Such deeds are called "fruits fit for repentance".[Matt. 3:8]
  25. ^ "Gospel imperative: Repent!". 26 January 2008. Retrieved 2018.
  26. ^ a b "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, ". Retrieved 2018.
  27. ^ "Strong's Greek: 3341. (metanoia) -- change of mind, repentance". Retrieved 2018.
  28. ^ "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, -". Retrieved 2018.
  29. ^ "Strong's Greek: 3340. (metanoeó) -- to change one's mind or purpose". Retrieved 2018.
  30. ^ "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, ?". Retrieved 2018.
  31. ^ "Metamorphosis definition and meaning - Collins English Dictionary". Retrieved 2018.
  32. ^ "Augsburg Confession - Book of Concord". Retrieved 2018.
  33. ^ Discipline of the Immanuel Missionary Church. Shoals, Indiana: Immanuel Missionary Church. 1986. p. 8.
  34. ^ B. Silverstein Islam and Modernity in Turkey Springer 2011 ISBN 978-0-230-11703-7 page 124
  35. ^ "Tawbah - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Retrieved . See Repentance
  36. ^ "Repentance - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Retrieved . Arabic tawbah. A major theme of the Quran, mentioned over seventy times and with an entire surah (9) titled for it. Usually described as turning toward God, asking forgiveness, and being forgiven. Islam has no concept of original sin, need for atonement, or ecclesiastical confession. Repentance and forgiveness are a direct matter between the individual and God, requiring no intercession. In cases of sin against another person, restitution is required. In cases of sin against God, repentance, remorse, and resolution to change one's behavior are considered sufficient. Although classical scholars emphasized the individual dimension of repentance, many revivalists and reformists have tied individual actions to larger issues of public morality, ethics, and social reform, arguing for reimplementation of the Islamic penal code as public expiation for sins. Sufis understand repentance as a process of spiritual conversion toward constant awareness of God's presence. Muhammad reputedly requested God's forgiveness several times daily.
  37. ^ "Islam | religion". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved . In order to communicate the truth of Divine Unity, God has sent messengers or prophets to human beings, whose weakness of nature makes them ever prone to forget or even willfully to reject Divine Unity under the promptings of Satan. According to the Qurnic teaching, the being who became Satan (Shayn or Ibl?s) had previously occupied a high station but fell from divine grace by his act of disobedience in refusing to honour Adam when he, along with other angels, was ordered to do so. Since then his work has been to beguile human beings into error and sin. Satan is, therefore, the contemporary of humanity, and Satan's own act of disobedience is construed by the Qurn as the sin of pride. Satan's machinations will cease only on the Last Day.
    Judging from the accounts of the Qurn, the record of humanity's acceptance of the prophets' messages has been far from perfect. The whole universe is replete with signs of God. The human soul itself is viewed as a witness of the unity and grace of God. The messengers of God have, throughout history, been calling humanity back to God. Yet not all people have accepted the truth; many of them have rejected it and become disbelievers (k?fir, plural kuff?r; literally, "concealing"--i.e., the blessings of God), and, when a person becomes so obdurate, his heart is sealed by God. Nevertheless, it is always possible for a sinner to repent (tawbah) and redeem himself by a genuine conversion to the truth. There is no point of no return, and God is forever merciful and always willing and ready to pardon. Genuine repentance has the effect of removing all sins and restoring a person to the state of sinlessness with which he started his life.
  38. ^ D. Beaulieu, Peter (2012). Beyond Secularism and Jihad?: A Triangular Inquiry Into the Mosque, the Manger, and Modernity. University Press of America. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-7618-5837-9.
  39. ^ "City of 10,000 Buddhas - Sutra Texts - The Avatamsaka Sutra 40". Retrieved 2018.

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