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Scriptural Concepts


Hebrew Word

The Hebrew word teshuvah means "turning", and is the primary scriptural word for repentance.

Meaning in Ancient Israel

In scriptures and in ancient Israel the verb shoov, "turn", was used in the phrase "turn to God".

The word teshuvah appears in scripture eight times. In six places it means "turning" in the sense of a person returning to a place or the calendar returning to the beginning of the year. Twice, in the book of Job, it refers to a verbal reply.

Only after the return from the Babylonian Exile did Jewish scholars began to disucss what it means to turn to God and to develop a mature, named concept of teshuvah.

Meaning in the First Century

By first century (and continuing afterwards), Jewish sages had created different but quite similar lists explaining the steps of teshuvah. Here is one such list, to which we have added scriptural references:

  1. humbling your heart (Psalm 34:18)
  2. forgiving others (Matthew 6)
  3. introspection and prayer (Psalm 139:3)
  4. apologizing to all for whom God shows a need to do so (Matthew 5:33)
  5. accepting blame from what God showed us in #3, #4
  6. remorse (Second Corinthians 7:10)
  7. willingness to suffer consequences of sin (Second Samuel 12:13-14)
  8. confession before God and sometimes other people (James 5:16)
  9. reconciliation and restitution with God and people (Jeremiah 31:34, Acts 13:38, Luke 19:8, Luke 3:9-13)
  10. not repeating the sin (First Kings 8:35, Second Chronicles 6:26 and 7:14, Ezekiel 33:11-20)

Notice that scripturally, as well as in Jewish philosophy, there are two kinds of humility and both are part of repentance.

While the Temple was in use, repentance often involved bringing offerings to the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed, different Jewish sects wondered and discussed how much God would still respond with forgiveness to people's repentance.

Meaning for Yeshua's followers in Modern Times

Assurance that Repentance Brings Forgiveness

As followers of Yeshua, we can be certain, as John explains, that whenever we repent we will be forgiven (First John 1:8-9).

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Our forgiveness is assured because Yeshua, in heaven, intercedes before the Father on our behalf (First John 2:2).

My little children, I write these things to you so that you will not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Yeshua the Messiah, the righteous one.

Our assurance of forgiveness means we must be very careful not to take God's forgiveness for granted, and not to allow the scope and importance of teshuvah to be diminished in our eyes.

Furthermore, we should interecede for others who need forgiveness (First Timothy 2:1), even though we have no assurance God will extend forgiveness to them (Jeremiah 7:16).

Also, with teshuvah we can stop carrying our sins, and empty ourselves to bear the sins of others to the cross to help God remove evil from the world. Only by practicing teshuvah constantly can our hearts be completely free to best help God remove wickedness from circulation. (For more information on this dynamic, please see the end of the essay entitled Forgiveness.)