Was Jesus’ First Instruction to “Repent”? A Contemplative Interpretation of the Greek

What was Jesus’ first recorded teaching? It may not be what we think.

The very first imperative or instruction that Jesus is recorded to have taught is to “repent” (Mark 1:15). What did he mean by that?

The Greek word translated in that verse as “repent” is metanoeite (μετανοεῖτε), from metanoeó (verb form “to repent”) or metanoia (noun form “repentance”). This word is made up of two parts, namely “meta,” meaning a change or beyond or after, and “noia,” from noeó or nous, meaning mind, to think, to apprehend, mental effort.

So metanoia essentially means a “change of mind,” or going “beyond mind,” or “transcending the mind,” even “after mind,” which implies perhaps quite a different meaning from the moralistic “repentance” that we are familiar with in traditional Christianity.

I suggest this is more closely what Jesus was teaching people to do: he was teaching a contemplative practice, saying that people had to transcend their thinking mind, going beyond their duality of mind, the subject-object split of the psyche, returning to a deeper form of awareness, even Awareness itself, pure consciousness. And if they did this, they would see the “Kingdom of God” is right here and now. We may do the same.

(The photograph at top is of one of the earliest manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, dating to between 330-360 CE, and shows the first chapter of Mark. The Greek word metanoeite (μετανοεῖτε) is highlighted in Mark 1:15.)

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2 thoughts on “Was Jesus’ First Instruction to “Repent”? A Contemplative Interpretation of the Greek

  1. I like you going to the etymology that may partially get at the original experience of the Master. If we look to the Aramaic language, is there a word in Aramaic language that means change of mind followed by actions guided from beyond. I am appreciative for the wonderful understandings you are bring to our consciousness by understanding the etymology that you bring to our consciousness the etymology of words from the Greek that get at the meaning for me, better than the many Latin/English/Modern translations. Every language has vulnerabilities that loose something in translations. It is too bad that we don’t have an Aramaic Gospel, but many today are studying the original Aramaic that Yeshua spoke as Yeshua came from both Hebrew and Aramaic which phonetically to me is more music/vocally in voice pleasanter to say “yes” followed by more silent breathe, “hua” English saying Our Savior, for me, looses something as does Jesus. How did they get to Jesus? Could you say more? Perhaps why Yahweh was phonetically Yah (affirmative) followed by a whisper, “Weh”
    Some are now studying the Aramaic texts of old to understand the language that Yeshua spoke, it is so much more a kinesthetic, breath expression language, like Yahweh of the early Hebrews.

    Also interesting to me that you chose Mark for your discussion. To me he was like a street person, cruder in language but more accurate and to the point. eg. on the miracle of Yeshua curing the blind man, Luke as an upper class physician, perhaps embarrassed by spit, just says, Jesus took mud and put it on the blind man’s eyes and he was healed. Mark says it more the way it really happened. Jesus took His spit, (particulates/atoms/water from the Master) and then placed it on the blind man’s eyes (transfer of blessed matter that heals) Much better than buying a blind man today a Mcdonald’s hamburger that could be laced with negativity from angry/underpaid/depressed workers or giving to the hungry second rate food or missionaries whose food is laced with conversion instead of care.

    Also I note that Luke as a physician, talks more about all the miracles than the other synoptic gospel writers, even with his handicaps in social class distinction coming through occasionally in his hedging somewhat on the Greek language of his time. I often turn first to Mark’s take on Jesus, then to Luke and then to John, who when he was probably experiencing Jesus as a little boy and as an adult writing, he writes as a mystic to me.
    To me, Mathew was a tax collector, an institutional man, and I am cautious about what institutions can become particularly in the spread of egregious patriarchies and dualistic paradigms that are to be followed obediently by their guilt-ridden members. As a psychologist/amateur musician that sometimes theologizes, I know that many organized religions and institutions can be most hazardous to mental and physical health and even now an apology by Pope Francis to the Indigenous people of Canada has a sour note. He will not reverse papal decree of the past that declared them savages, stripped them of their language, their parents, any connection to their heritage, physically and sexually abused many, some who even died, and the money of retribution that was suppose to go to the Indigenous people of Canada (with the apology) instead went to lawyers to diminish the high price law suits against the Vatican and their building another church.

    John, to me, said it well and all inclusive: The word (love) was made flesh) and dwelt among us. Every word of love to me must become flesh in sincere follow through actions, included concretely (grounded) always accompanying our apologies to one another for the numerous offenses we all do.

    Your critique and comment

  2. Experiential prayers that I frequently say, practice and live and wish to share:



    From one of many of Tom Leonhardt’s composed prayer based on the Aramaic Jesus in his liturgy that includes constant interchange of repentance/forgiveness/participation/gratitude:

    Empower our remembering, O Radian One. Shine within us, outside us.
    Let Darkness Shine.

    Awaken our eyes to SEE, our ears to HEAR, for heaven is Here is Now!
    Unravel our small identity in you, reveal to ourselves who we really
    are: sparks of your radiance, signs of your fruitful, nurturing Life!
    In gratitude we praise you, Father, Mother of all. You birth Unity,
    you vibrate life into form in each new moment. Yes! We praise you!

    Radiant One: you shine within us, outside us–
    even darkness shines—when we remember.
    Focus your light within us, make it useful:
    as the rays of a beacon show the way,
    Create your reign of unity now
    through our fiery hearts and willing hands.
    Let all wills move together in your vortex,
    as the stars and planets swirl through the sky.
    Give us the food we need to grow through each day,
    through each illumination of life’s needs.
    Forgive our hidden past, the secret shames,
    as we constantly forgive what others hide.
    Help us not forget our Source,
    yet free us from not being in the Present.
    Out of you the astonishing fire, the birthing glory,
    returning light and sound to the cosmos.
    Truly–power to these statements–
    may they be the ground from which all my actions grow:
    Sealed in trust and Faith.

    Closing prayer after communion:
    Abwoon, we thank you for the mystery of communion in Yeshua.
    Open us ever more fully to the wonder of your presence in all creation. Empower our “I can” in Yeshua’s atmosphere. Amen.


    May the road rise with you. May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine war, upon your face. May the rain fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you, in the hallow of, His/Her hand.

    This AM, I AM while watching: https://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=Hit8O&m=gv0fOAFsyjwhXR2&b=MiuI16E.iPBBbh.tVKPIDw

    Dona Nobis Pacem

    Darryl Luke Pokea

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