Jerome’s Latin translation of “repent” as “do penance”, leading to unBiblical practices for centuries

Jerome’s Latin translation of the Greek metanoeo / μετανοεω was a mistake. The Latin was “do penance” and developed into doing external deeds that the priest said, like crawl up steps and say 100 hail Mary’s or give money to the poor or the church for forgiveness. That is wrong. “Repent” is an internal turning from sin to God that includes a godly sorrow that leads to change and salvation.

Also, Jerome’s translation from Greek into the Latin word for justification was wrong also. (the Greek is: “the count righteous / just / right” but the Latin had more the idea of “to make righteous / just / right”. These 2 mistakes in translation and relying upon them (rather than the original Greek) for centuries is just one of the problems of what later became the Roman Catholic Church.

This is a good explanation:

Actually, “TheDen,” you omitted a very important little word, and in fact, by adding that word, Jerome did change the sense of the entire passage. Here’s a link to A Concise Dictionary to the Vulgate New Testament with an introduction by G.C. Richards who lists, on page 16, some of the same effects on the text that McGrath noted. Specifically, the words paenitentiam agere which “inevitably suggested ‘acts’ and that it no doubt led to the development of the penitential system, by which ‘penance’ became something [to be] done.”

He gives other examples that you can read for yourself, and the inevitable conclusion is: “thus the language of the Vulgate affected in no small degree the life of the Church”.

Diarmaid MacCulloch in his History of the Reformation also summarizes the effects of the Latin Vulgate on the church:
An examination of the New Testament [of Jerome’s mistranslations in the Vulgate] had even more profound consequences [than his mistranslations of the Old Testament]: Jerome had chosen certain Latin words in his translation of the original Greek, which formed a rather shaky foundation for very considerable theological constructions by the later Western Church.

It was not simply that Jerome gave misleading impressions of the Greek text: the mere fact that for a thousand years the Latin Church had based its authority on a translation [with many errors in it] was significant when scholars heard for the first time the unmediated urgency of the angular street-Greek poured out by … Paul of Tarsus as he wrestled with the problem of how Jesus represented God. The struggle sounded so much less decorous in the original than in Latin: the shock was bound to stir up new movements in the Church and suggest that it was not so authoritative or normative an interpreter of Scripture as it claimed.(82-83)
Again, regarding the translation of “metanoiea”:
Most notorious was Erasmus’s retranslation of Gospel passages (especially Matthew 3.2 [and and also 4:17]) where John the Baptist [and Jesus] is presented in the Greek as crying out to his listeners in the wilderness: “metanoeite”. Jerome had translated this as “poenitentiam agite,” “do penance”, and the medieval Church had pointed to the Baptist’s cry as biblical support for its theology of the sacrament of penance. Erasmus said that what John had told his listeners to do was to come to their senses, or repent, and he translated the command into Latin as “resipiscite.” Much turned on one word.(99-100)
Craig Keener has provided an excellent study of what the word “repentance” meant in the New Testament-era literature, and says (primary source references omitted):
“Repentance” in the Gospels recalls not the “change of mind” earlier etymological interpreters sometimes supposed, but the biblical concept of “turning” or “returning” to God (Is 31:6; 45:22; 55:7; Jeremiah 3:7; 3:14; 3:22; 4:1; 8:50; 18:11; 24:7; 25:5; 26:3; 35:15; 36:7; 44:5; Lamentations 3:40; Ezekiel 13:22; 14:6; 18:23; 18:30; 33:9; 33:11; Hosea 11:5; 12:6; 14:1-2; Joel 2:12-13; Zechariah 1:3-4; Malachi 3:6)

[I’ve listed all these Scriptural citations to show that the idea of “repentance” espoused here did have a great deal of consistency through the OT.]

The idea of repentance as returning to God was pervasive in early Judaism but foreign to Greek religion. Sages extolled repentance, some later rabbis even claiming its preexistence or its association with the Messiah’s mission. It is efficacious, though in rabbinic tradition it merely suspends judgment until the Day of Atonement may remove it (and beyond a certain limit it is not efficacious for the person who premeditates sin in hopes of repenting afterward [Sounds a lot like Roman Catholics who think it’s ok to sin, because you can then just go to confession]).

Yet John’s call is more radical; his “repentance” refers not to a regular turning from sin after a specific act, but to a once-for-all repentance, the kind of turning from an old way of life to a new that Judaism associated with Gentiles converting to Judaism, here in view of the impending day of judgment (cf. MT 4:17; 11:20; 12:41; Acts 17:30-31Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Rom 2:4Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). His call to repentance recalls a familiar summons in the biblical prophets. In various ways John warns his hearers against depending on the special privileges of their heritage. Craig Keener (“The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary” Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, UK, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©2009, pg 120)

From this article by John Bugay:
http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2011/01/words-mean-things-1.html

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About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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