Penance and Scripture

Where does the Bible speak of penance? I’m not talking about the Sacrament of Penance but about sacrifice. I know it’s in there, just need help finding it. Thanks,


The following is a good article by James Akin on penance. It has Bible verses too!

God Bless,


Thanks for the article.

You’re welcome. :slight_smile:

God Bless,

Here’s 100 references or so where the Bible speaks of sackcloth, most of them are in direct relation to penance, which is a demonstration of sorrow for sin. A physical way in which people have shown their contrition for sin.

Being penitent and penance are inexorably linked in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. This is also what was meant when the people in the Gospels were told to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance. Penitence is the like a second step that follows repentance, and penance is a scriptural aspect of that.

Douay Rheims has it no other Catholic Bible or Protestant Bible transtlates it properly.

Penance In Scripture:

But unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish. Luke 13:3

And God indeed having winked at times of this ignorance, now delcareth unto men, that all should everywhere do penance. Because he hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in equity, by by man whom he hath appointed; giving faith to all, by raising him up from the dead Acts 17:30-31

Therefore will I judge everyman according to his ways, O house of Israel, saith the Lord God. Be converted, and do penance for all your enequities: and iniquity shall not be your ruin, Ezechial 18:30

And in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the desert of judea. And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Mat 3:12

But I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first charity. Be mindufl, therefore, from whence thou art fallen: and do penance and do the first works. Or else I come to thee, and will move thy candelstick out of its place, except thou do penance Rev 2:4-5

But I have against thee a few things: because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat, and to commit fornication: So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaites. In like manner, do penance: if not, I come to thee quickl, and will fight against them with the sword of mouth. Rev 2:14-16

Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die. For I find not thy works full before my God. Have in mind therefore in what manner thou has received and heard: and observe, and do penance. Rev 3:2-3

Such as I love, rebuke and chastise, Be zealous therefore, and do penance. Reve 3:19

Main Entry: Re-pent Etymology: Middle English, from Old French repentir, from re-+pentir to be sorry, from Latin paenitEre or PENITENT (Merriam-Webster,1999)

PENITENT \Pen”i*tent, n. 1, one under church censure, but admitted to penance; one undergoing penance. (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1996)

Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. . . . ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:1–12).

There were several instances in the 16th Century where the traditional Latin vocabulary used by St. Jerome in the Vulgate was challenged based on the grammar and vocabulary in the Greek New Testament. Most of this were minor quibbles of no great import, but some were used by prots to question Catholic teaching and practice.

One of the important challenges were the following:

  1. The translation of “metanoeo” as “paenitentiam agite”

The Greek verb “metanoeo” comes from two other Greek words: meta (change) & noos (mind). The most accurate rendering into English of the meaning of this word would be “to repent.” The implication was that at some point in time someone would change their mind about a past action and regret having done it. There was no simple Latin equivalent of this Greek term and so the Vulgate used the phrase "paenitentiam agite"which in Latin means “do penance.” The idea of “penance” in Latin carried the connotation of regret and sorrow for past actions but went further in that it also implied the performing of acts of reparation and mortification. By having Jesus say that his followers had to “do penance and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15) it implied that they needed to perform acts of mortification (fasting, self-denial, wearing a hair shirt, self flagellation) or reparation (restoring loss goods, compensating victims) , as conditions for the forgiveness of sins.

The prots in the 16th Century claimed that the word metanoeo carried no such implication and that all that was needed was a genuine sense of sorrow for sin. Certain radicals – typified today by some Dispensationalists – even stated that sorrow for sin was not needed. They claimed that repentance merely meant that you intellectually changed the way you thought from that moment forwards without any reference to past actions. Those were “covered over” by Christ and hence forgotten by God.

Technically, the prots were right. The words “metaneo” and "paenitentiam agite"are not exact equivalents. But they forgot that the NT uses Greek words in a distinctly Hebrew way and that they must be understood in the context of a Hebrew idiom. The word for “repent” in OT Hebrew was “nacham” which has the following connotations according to Strong’s Concordance:

Nacham - to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted

a) (Niphal)

  1. to be sorry, be moved to pity, have compassion
  2. to be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent
  3. to comfort oneself, be comforted
  4. to comfort oneself, ease oneself

b) (Piel) to comfort, console

c) (Pual) to be comforted, be consoled

d) (Hithpael)

  1. to be sorry, have compassion
  2. to rue, repent of
  3. to comfort oneself, be comforted
  4. to ease oneself

As you can see, the OT concept included sorrow, grief , compassion, and acts to comfort others and be comforted oneself. Repentance was not merely a passive act of regret nor merely a change of mind. As such, St. Jerome’s choice of "do penance"had the wider context of the OT meaning in mind and we need to appreciate that.

In later rabbinical theology, the term “teshuvah” (turning) would be used for repentance. It would be defined by the Talmud as a turning towards God and a turning away from one’s sins. It also meant a turning towards one’s sins as something to contemplate and regret: the opposite of moral denial. St. Thomas Aquinas was aware of this rabbinical teaching and in his Summa Theologiae he has the turnings towards God and towards/away from sin as two of the four results of the grace of justification. (The other two were the forgiveness of sin and the infusion of the new life of grace.)

The Rabbis were not heavily into acts of mortification. many of these practices were unique to Christians who wished to imitate their Lord in his suffering for mankind on the cross. Nevertheless, repentance in “sack cloth and ashes” was a Jewish practice advocated in both Testaments(e.g., Daniel 9:3, Matthew 11:21Matt 11:21 they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. , Luke 10:13).
If one steals from someone, or damages another’s property willfully or neglectfully, is it enough to have true sorrow and resolve not to do it again? Or is something more required such as restitution!
In summary, the issue here was whether Greek grammar or the Biblical idiom should guide the translation. The prots opted for the former while St. Jerome and the Catholic Tradition opted for the latter.

Interesting. Examples you gave are reasons that I fully recommend the Douay-Rheims over any English Bible period.

Three traditional (Jewish and Christian) forms of penance are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Jesus Christ gave instructions on each of these forms of penance in his sermon on the mount, Matthew 6:1-18.

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