The Meaning of Repentance

by Greg Mackie

Source of material commented on (link to book’s Amazon page):

Renowned Jesus scholar Marcus Borg has recently written a book entitled Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. In this fascinating book, Borg presents a comprehensive portrait of the Jesus of history, based on a lifetime of research. Among the many new insights I’ve gotten from this book is a fresh view of what Jesus meant by “repentance.”

Borg’s discussion of repentance occurs in the context of Jesus’ distinction between the “broad way” of life that most people in the world follow, and the “narrow way” Jesus was advocating as an alternative. The broad way is the way of convention, a way of life centered on worldly goals like wealth, honor, and status—in short, life as we know it, a way marked by egocentric self-interest. Jesus’ alternative way, the narrow way, was a way centered in God, a way of life that reflects God’s love and compassion for all, the antithesis of egocentric self-interest. How does one leave the broad way and enter the narrow way? This is where repentance comes in.

We all know what “repentance” normally means. Borg, quoting Roberta Bondi, puts it this way: “to feel really, really bad about what a sinful person you are.” But Borg claims that the meaning of the word “repentance” in the gospels is quite different from the meaning it has acquired in popular Christianity. In the gospels, he says, it means “to return” in the sense of returning from exile. It also means “to go beyond the mind that you have” (emphasis Borg’s)—in other words, to go beyond the mind locked in the broad way of convention and “acquire a new mind, a new way of seeing.” Borg sums it up this way:

Thus the word “repent” combines to return from exile and to think/see anew. It means to return from a condition of estrangement and exile to the presence of God. And it means to acquire a new way of seeing and thinking that goes beyond the conventions of culture. Both meanings involve centering in God—in God as Jesus spoke of God.

I think the Jesus of A Course in Miracles would smile upon this definition. His way is not “repentance in the usual sense,” which “implies guilt” (T-5.VII.5:4). Rather, his way is repentance is the unconventional sense described by Borg: a new way of thinking and seeing that is centered in God, a way that transcends the ways of the world and enables us to return from our apparent exile from God. The Jesus of the Course claims that we are “at home in God, dreaming of exile” (T-10.I.2:1), and the way to awaken from this dream is a “reversal of [our] thinking” (W-pI.20.1:4) which enables us “to see things differently” (W-pI.27.Heading) —to see in a way that reflects the Love of God.

These views aren’t identical—Borg certainly doesn’t characterize the world as a dream. But I find it striking that the Course and a scholar studying the historical Jesus have independently come up with such similar views of repentance. While there’s no way to prove that Jesus really wrote A Course in Miracles, in my mind this is one more intriguing piece of evidence in favor of the view that the Jesus of the Course and the Jesus of history are one and the same.


  1. Mary
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink


    This idea is not new. It has been known for a long time that the Greek word "metanoia", misleadingly translated into English as "repentance", actually means a change of mind. This is a deep word with vast implications for our interpretation of the Gospels. Needless to say it is light years away from the usual guff about "repentance".


    • Pamela Reuben
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:48 am | Permalink

      I have found both the Bible and bible based forms of Christianity (don’t know what ‘popular Christianity’ is) to be quite knowledgeable about repentance as the idea of being sorry for all mistakes made (call them sin or otherwise) and determining to ask Jesus to take over your life, at which point, any mistakes/sins past, present, and future are forgiven to the point where when God sees you, he sees only Christ. Thus, you are no longer (nor can you be) a sinner anywhere but in your own mind’s determination to hold onto guilt despite the fact that God has forgiven you. This is a large part of why the Bible, in Romans 12:2, tells us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” To me, that is not ‘guff’ but is in fact simply a different form of The Curricula designed for those who feel the world is not a dream and that sin IS. These Bible notions about repentance are perfectly capable, over time and with the Help of The Holy Spirit, of removing both of these notions.

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