There has been much to do about the whole Ergun Caner controversy: with what he have publically stated over the years, and whether or not he has “repented”, etc.
I won’t be pouring here the details and argue that he has lied, etc. I want to focus on what true remorse and repentance means. I think Christians who have exposed Caner want to see a true repentance because ultimately any offense Caner committed is against the LORD first.
TurretinFan has written on the topic of Ergun Caner and his apology HERE and HERE, and in light of that I thought it is important that the whole discussion must come to term with a biblical understanding of repentance and penance. That is the subject of this post.
LEXICAL AND EXEGETICAL CONSIDERATION
In considering the distinction between penance and repentance, it is sobering to consider the similarities and differences between Judas and Peter. Certainly both men suffered grief with what they have done. Peter, after denying Jesus three times, “went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Judas, after realizing what he has done and the severity of betraying Jesus, “felt remorse” and even “returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders” (Matthew 27:3). Yet, both of these men’s grief led to different result: one ended up committing suicide by hanging himself (Matthew 27:5) and the other ended up being restored by Jesus (John 21), going on to experience fruitful ministry for the Lord. Paul teaches in his second epistles to the Corinthians the distinction between two different kinds of grief: There is a “sorrow that is according to the will of God” which “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation” and a “sorrow of the world” which “produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Since the differences between these two griefs are as wide as heaven and hell, it is important to have a proper understanding of what true repentance means, which is the result of Godly sorrow.
In the Old Testament, there are several Hebrew words that are typically translated as “repent”. These include mhB and bwv. The first Scriptural reference to “repent” occurs in Genesis 6:4 and the Hebrew verb here is mhB. A lexical study of mhB reveals that there is a semantical range with this term in the Hebrew. According to Butterworth, the word generally means “Be sorry, console one self.” The same term could also be used to mean “to feel sorrow or sympathy, find comfort, be comforted.” Specifically in Genesis 6, the word carries the meaning of “change one’s mind.” Interestingly though, the subject in Genesis 6:4 is God. Butterworth has observed that “the reference is notable as being one of the rare occasions when God is said to repent or change his mind concerning something intended as good.” Simian-Yofre notes that the use of the verb m’êheB “in the other texts where Yahweh is the subject, it is a punishment that is regretted (or not).” While the issue of God’s “repentance” is different than man’s repentance, in considering the possible semantical range of this word, one get a glimpse that this term has an idea of change in the various meaning of this verb. Butterworth has also noted that “repentance on the part of the people…will make it possible for God to repent, change his mind (nhm): 18:8, 10; 20:16; 26:3, 13, 19; cf. 42:10.” The exegetical significance of this Hebrew term reveals that repentance involves change, and specifically the changing of one’s mind.
Perhaps more relevant to this current discussion is the Hebrew verb bwv, which verbal and noun forms appears over 1,050 times in the Old Testament, and the twelfth most frequently found word in the Old Testament. It is also a term that the Old Testament prophets used regularly especially Isaiah and Jeremiah. Graupner states that the original basic meaning is “to move in an opposite direction from that toward which one previously moved.” Graupner also qualifies this by noting that in later development bwv does not necessarily presuppose a return towards some kind of original direction. According to Thompson and Martens, this term’s “imagery is one of a person doing a turnabout.” Theologically, the direction of repentance that one is heading towards is important: “Critical in this turnabout, if it is to be repentance, is the direction toward which one turns, namely, to Yahweh.” Since true repentance turns to God, godly remorse of sin will lead one to turn to the Lord rather than away from Him.
In order for this repentance to be genuine, repentance also “requires an understanding of one’s own guilt.” The usage of Jeremiah 3:13 attest to this truth, in which the surrounding verses (v.12, 14) both feature the Lord exhorting, “Return, faithless Israel’” and verse 13 asks of Israel, “Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God.” In summary, the significant lexical insight of this Hebrew term reveals that Biblical repentance requires the admission of one’s guilt with sin, a turning away from a previous set direction (of sin) and the adoption of a new direction (seeking the LORD Himself).
Concerning the Greek terms employed for “repentance”, the Greek Septuagint translates bwv with various equivalents. Out of the thirty plus Greek forms used, the most common form is στρεφω, which is used about 70 percent (or about 800) of all occurrences. This Greek phrase carries the basic meaning of “turn towards”. Soebo has observed concerning the Greek substitute terms of how “no particular translation tendency is discernable.”
It would seem natural to expect στρεφω to be the common word used to describe repentance in the Greek New Testament. However, this is not the case; instead the frequent New Testament term for repentance is μετανοεω. In the Greek Septuagint, bwv has never been translated as μετανοεω. More surprisingly, the verb μετανοεω and it’s noun form does not even appear at all in the Greek Septuagint. Graupner gives two possible reasons for why this is the case: 1.) μετανοεω and its noun form are rarely used in any case in Classical and Hellenistic Greek, 2.) and the word μετανοεω is a noetic term that runs contrary to bwv as a verb of motion. Goetzmann states that “the NT does not stress the concrete physical concept implied in the OT use of bwv, but rather the thought, the will, the νους.” As a result of this truth, it is significant to know that biblical repentance involves every faculty of man, and not just an outward behavior.
Lexically, the term μετανοεω is a compound word, with the preposition μετα and νοεω. According to Vine, the term literally means “to perceive afterwards.” The term carries the meaning of changing one’s mind or adopting another view. Behm notes that repentance requires “a radical break with the sins of the past”, as evident from 2 Corinthians 12:21. The exegetical significance of this term lexically is that repentance results in actual change and the change originate at the root of the level of the mind.
To summarize the study of the Hebrew and Greek terms for repentance, biblical repentance always involve an honest confession of one’s sin, a true change, a turning away from one’s previous direction towards sin for a new direction towards God. This change involves the whole person: the mind, will and outward behavior.
Concerning the concept of repentance as taught in the Old Testament and the New Testament, Vincent remarked that “In the O.T., repentance with reference to sin is not so prominent as that change of mind or purpose…” While the truth of the doctrine of progressive revelation would lead believers to expect the New Testament to flesh out more fully the meaning of repentance as seen above, yet one must not assume that the concept of repentance which involves the change of mind can only be found in the New Testament. Traces of the requirement of biblical repentance can also be found in the Old Testament. One such Old Testament example is found in Isaiah 55:6-7. The Hebrew term for repent, bwv, is used in verse seven in the clause “And let him return to the LORD”. Verse six implores the hearers to “Seek the LORD while He may be found.” In verse seven, the author exhorts the hearers with “Let the wicked forsake his way” and similarly, “the unrighteous man his thoughts.” Note the reference to “thoughts.” These three actions (“seek”, “forsake his way…his thoughts) correspond to the Biblical requirement of repentance (seeking the Lord, turning away from previous sinful behavioral direction and sinful thoughts as well). This repentance is the hope for Isaiah’s hearers in dealing with the guilt of sin, and also subsequent listeners since verse seven states that as a result, the LORD “will have compassion on him” to the point that the LORD “will abundantly pardon.”
Thompson and Martens also believes that Jeremiah 3:22-4:2 is another indication of the full requirement of repentance found in the Old Testament, since it has the elements of “acknowledging God’s lordship (3:22); admitting wrongdoing (3:23) including the verbal confession, ‘We [I] have sinned’ (3:25); addressing the shame (3:25); and affirming and adhering to new conduct (4:1-2).” This passage, along with Isaiah 55:6-7 indicates that the concept of repentance was there during Old Testament times, and that the New Testament often built upon and expanded on what the Old Testament had taught earlier. Progressive revelation adds more information but must never be taken to mean as introducing radically alien new material.
Repentance is in contrast to penance, since repentance involves real change of the whole person while penance does not. While it looks similar to μετανοεω, the word μεταμελεσθαι does not have the understanding of a radical total change. They are not synonyms. According to Michael, “μετανοειν implies that one has later arrived at a different view of something (νους), μεταμελεσθαι that one has a different feeling about it (μελει).” Having a different perspective versus having a different feeling are two different things. Michael goes on to say that remorse is different from repentance because “Remorse does not have to be pleasing to God. It can simply be a change in mood.” In other words, penance is just the emotional reaction towards sin rather than an actual transformation in one’s perspective, will and behavior towards sin.
Just having a change in feeling is not enough. Feelings are also very fickle: Moods comes and goes and are often prone to being inaccurate in it’s reflection of external realities. Even Paul experience μεταμελεσθαι (“regret”) as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:8, but later chose not to feel emotionally regretful. Moods then, are too subjective and cannot serve as an adequate basis in which to measure one’s repentance. Determining repentance must rest in other requirements rather than solely on feelings. Fortunately, Scripture has given us these requirements.
As mentioned in the beginning of this essay, the insufficiency of experiencing μεταμελεσθαι without true repentance is soberly illustrated in the case of Judas. The remorse that Judas felt is described in Matthew 27:3 and the Greek root word for remorse here is unsurprisingly μεταμελεσθαι. Judas grief did not lead him to turn towards God for reconciliation from sin. Instead, Judas continued on with his direction of sin, and eventually even committing the sin of suicide: “he went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). Just having a bad emotional reaction towards sin does not clear one’s conscience of one’s own sin. In fact, left alone without any hope, such a “sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Christians need to remember that they are not immune from sin, for 1 John 1:8 clearly states that “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If a Christian is convicted of their sins and is in a sorrowful state, the believer is called to repent without regret. True repentance involves confessing one’s sin to the Lord, and 1 John 1:9 promises that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” True repentance does not stop here: one who repents is also called to change, and change is possible because God took the initiative to renew the believer’s spirit and mind (Ephesians 4:23) so that a believer can now “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24).
Knowing that true repentance requires actual changes, it is reasonable to expect evidence of moral changes of the character of the one who has repented. The Biblical motif of bearing fruit testifies to this truth. John the Baptist, who’s opening message is about repentance, asked of the religious leaders of his day, “”You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” and then proceeded to tell them “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). Someone who says that they have repented from their sins, is expected to have actual results (“fruits”) testifying to the truth of their repentance. This principle assumes that one’s outward behavior (“fruit”) is directly tied to the moral condition of that person, a principle that Jesus taught when He stated in Matthew 7:17, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” In bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, one would not expect bad behavior (“fruit”) since Jesus has taught, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:18).
In the scenario of a Christian church member who has confessed to an immoral affair and is seeking counseling, it can not be over-emphasized the importance of prayer in dealing with the issue. Perhaps a strict formula is difficult, and prayers for wisdom from God is vital in such a counseling situation. Knowing that man cannot know the heart of another man except the man himself and God, it is important that the biblical counselor seek God for wisdom as to how to handle the situation. Having stressed the importance of prayer and need for spiritual wisdom, there are also some principles in dealing with the person with the immoral affairs, to see that they truly repent rather than have remorse because of the fear of man or remorse of being caught.
To begin with, as the counselor one has to gather as much information of the situation possible. Who are the parties involved? What was the extant of the sin, and how long has this been going on for? What was the counselee’s unbiblical behavior and thoughts? The description given by the counselee and others must be interpreted biblically and be called as sin for what it is.
It is important that the counselee go before the presence of God and honestly assess in their prayers to God whether or not they are truly born-again. While Christians can sin, and commit horrendous sin, such a moment of sin should lead one to genuinely question their salvation in open honesty. Often such shocking news of an affair sounds like big news to the church and loved ones, but much of these types of “large” sins took many habitual small steps to get there. It is a hidden secret sin that reflects that person’s entire lifestyle, entire identity and character for months if not even years. Because of the reigning nature of such a sin, there is legitimate ground to question the counselee’s salvation and if it turns out that one is not saved to begin with, there is only so much a counselor can do with a counselee if the individual is not a Christian. The goal then is to seek to it that this individual might perhaps by the grace of God repent from his sin unto salvation.
Even if the counselee is a believer, going before the presence of God is important as the sin of the affair is primarily against God before anyone else. Going through Biblical passages on sexual immorality, lust, and adultery is important, because it is only through the Word of God that can bring the individual to have godly sorrow, sorrows that lead to true repentance instead of moods of remorse (2nd Corinthians 7:10). If the counselee does not primarily see God as the principle party whom he has wronged, it is dangerous since this individual might just be experiencing remorse. The counselee need to be informed that only God can see his heart and nothing escapes him, that the only alternative is truly turning away from his sins beginning with his heart and mind. The Word is able to judge the counselee’s mind and heart (Hebrews 4:12), and it is the flamethrower so to speak that can reach the dark corners of his caved heart.
The counselee should be exhorted to make a radical 180 degrees turn away from the sin. That means breaking all ties immediately with the person whom the affair was shared with. Repentance is radical, and anything short of this such as the idea of keeping the friendship is unacceptable. Counselors should watch for this total break away from the previous sinful direction.
Another important step in the counseling process should make sure that the counselee goes to all that he offended and confess all the sins he has committed against them. He needs to genuinely ask for their forgiveness, even willing to seek any restitution for the past wrongs, if possible. Genuine repentance fears God much more than it fears man, and it is the fear of God that should prompt him to approach those whom he has wronged (church, spouse, family). The counselee should seek to restore the relationship of those whom he has wronged. He must also come up with a radical plan to avoid such a sin in the future, and how he can be held accountable, which the counselor can walk with the counselee through.
ELDER’S EVALUATION OF GENUINE REPENTANCE
How would you encourage the elders of your church to evaluate the genuine repentance of this Christian church member expressing to be repentant? As mentioned earlier, only God can know the heart. However, the local congregation’s elders have a responsibility to evaluate genuine repentance on the part of the counselee if not at the minimum for the sake of the Holy testimony of the Church. One aspect is to see if the counselee is following an active plan to deny the possibility of gratifying his sin. If the individual does not have a plan, then the elders or a biblical counselor can walk with him through the steps of developing a plan. How faithful is this person to the plan? This is a tangible way for the elders to judge whether the repentance was genuine. Another important aspect is assessing how the counselee is taking the accountability. Furthermore, the testimony of those around him such as his wife, family, friends and others are important, of whether or not they see genuine repentance.
Likewise, in the situation of Ergun Caner, the church he attends, and those around him must be involved in seeing his repentance instead of making a defense for him and his sins as just “mistakes”. To see otherwise is not really seeing the sins the way God sees it, and is not a true confession and repentance.
Behm, J. “μετανοεω” in Theological Dictionary of New Testament, 10 volumes. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, 4:976-1008. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.
Butterworth, Mike. “mhB” In New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 volumes. Edited by William A. VanGemeren. 3:81-2. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997.
Elliger, Karl, and W. Rudolph, eds. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. 5th ed. New York: American Bible Society, 1997.
Friberg, Timothy and Barbara Friberg, Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.
Goetzmann, J. “μετανοια” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 volumes. Edited by Colin Brown, 1:357-359. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Graupner, Bonn M., “bwv” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 14 volumes. Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry. Translated by Douglas W. Stott,14:461-511. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.
Soebo, M., “bwv” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 14 volumes. Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry. Translated by Douglas W. Stott,14:527. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.
Thompson, J.A and Elmer A. Martens, “mhB” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 volumes. Edited by William A. VanGemeren, 4:55-59. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997.
Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: With Their Precise Meanings for English Readers. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966.
Yofre, “mhB..” In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. 14 volumes. Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry. Translated by Douglas W. Stott, 9:340-355. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.
Mike Butterworth, “mhB” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis
, 5 vols., ed. by William A. VanGemeren, 3:81-2. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 81.
 Simian-Yofre, “mhB” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 14 vols., ed. by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry translated by Douglas W. Stott, 9:340-355. (Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 342.
 Butterworth, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 82.
 Simian-Yofre, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 344.
 Butterworth, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 82.
 Bonn M. Graupner, “bwv” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 14 vols., ed. by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry translated by Douglas W. Stott,14:461-511. (Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 472.
 Graupner, “bwv” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 464.
 J.A Thompson and Elmer A. Martens, “mhB” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vols., ed. by William A. VanGemeren, 4:55-59. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 57.
 Thompson and Martens, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 57.
 Graupner, “bwv” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 495.
 Ibid, 514.
 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 358.
 M. Soebo, “bwv” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 527.
 Graupner, “bwv” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 514.
 J. Goetzmann, “μετανοια” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols., ed. by Colin Brown, 1:357-359. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), 357.
 W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: With Their Precise Meanings for English Readers, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966), 279.
J. Behm, “μετανοεω” in Theological Dictionary of New Testament, 10 vols., Gerhard Kittel, 4:976-1008. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967),976.
 J. Behm, “μετανοεω” in Theological Dictionary of New Testament, 10 vols., Gerhard Kittel, 4:976-1008. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967),1004.
 W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: With Their Precise Meanings for English Readers, 279.
 Thompson and Martens, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 57.
 Michael, Theological Dictonary of the New Testament, 4:626.
 Ibid, 4:627.
Read Full Post »