Berean Digest

Tavares D. Mathews

Did Judas Repent?

One of the most interesting figures in the entire Bible would have to be Judas Iscariot. Judas is the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Judah.  Jude is a shortened version of the same name (cf. Matthew 13:55; Jude 1:1). He and his father, Simon, were from Kerioth (John 6:71). The surname, Iscariot, is believed to derive from a Hebrew word for “man of Kerioth”. Thus, he was recognized or set apart from other men named Judas. (cf. Matthew 27:56) Other than being known as the betrayer of Jesus, Judas perhaps is also best known as the “treasurer” of the apostles and as being a thief (John 12:6).

Now to the question before us: Did Judas Repent? The King James Version states:

“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.”(Matt. 27:3, 4)   

At first glance, one may suppose that the answer is apparent, but is that the case. In order to understand any word, one must first define the term and then observe the context in which it is used. Only then can one reach an accurate interpretation of a biblical term or text.

What does the word “repent” mean?

The Greek word for repent is Metanoeo which means: to change one’s mind, that is, to change one’s mind for better. A.T. Robertson indicates that it means to, “Change your mind and your life.” (Word Pictures of the New Testament)

Is this definition of repentance seen in what Judas did? The answer is apparently no. Although, Judas acknowledged his sin, it is evident that repentance did not occur. One can acknowledge wrong without taking the next step of changing one’s heart, then changing his actions. If Judas would have truly repented, he needed to “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). This is seen in the parable which Jesus gave concerning two sons.

“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went” (Matthew 21:28, 29).

Repent in the above verse means “to be sorry afterward.” The son considered    his    dis -obedience and it is evident that he changed his mind, because he did as the father commanded. The repentance of the son was not his doing what the father said, but that he changed his mind which led to him doing the father’s will.  The son was “made sorry after a godly manner”, thus he “sorrowed to repentance”                (2 Cor. 7:9, 10).

Furthermore, consider this. The word used for “repent” in the KJV, for Matt. 27:3 and 21:29 is not the same Greek word used to represent a change of mind and action which the word Metanoeo denotes. The word used is: Metamellomai.

The New American Standard Version perhaps best translates the term:

“And he answered, `I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.” (Matthew 21:29)

Repentance can be seen in the verse above, because not only did the son regret not obeying his father, but also he went and did as the father commanded. But, notice what Judas did.

“Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse…and went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3, 5)

Was he sorrowful? Yes. Sorrowful enough to repent? No (2 Cor. 7:9, 10).

It should be remembered that those whom Peter preached to at Pentecost were remorseful because they had played a part in crucifying Jesus. Luke writes: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts”, thus sorrowful, yet Peter answered their question as to what they must do in order to make things right, by commanding them to “repent”. Indicating that even though they had confessed they had sinned and were sorry, they still had to take another step – repent (metanoeo).

Ralph Earle’s comments on Matthew 27:4 are excellent. (Word Meanings in the New Testament, 26)

There are two Greek verbs that are always translated “repent” in the KJV: metamelomai (5 times) and metanoeo (34 times). It is metamelomai here (and in 21:29, 32; 2 Cor. 7:8; Heb 7:21)

Metanoeo basically means to “change one’s mind”. So it is properly translated “repent” in most instances. It involves the intellect and will. Metamelomai has to do more with the emotions, and so does not indicate true biblical repentance. If Judas had really “repented” he would not have committed suicide (v.5). The difference between these two verbs is very well described by Michael. He writes: “Metanoein and metamelesthai are distinct in classical Greek. Metanoein means a change of heart either generally or in respect of a specific sin, whereas, metamelesthai means ‘to experience remorse.’…He also quotes Josephus as saying: “Alongside metanoia, the change of will, is metamelos, remorse, through which man suffers the pain of self-accusation” (p. 628) It seems clear that the correct translation of metameletheis here (aor. pass. part.) is not “repented” (KJV), but “felt remorse” (NASB).

Judas shows us how a person can be seen as walking with Jesus physically, yet walking down a different path spiritual (mentally). Judas, the son of a stone, stumbled over the chief cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6, 8). The son of Simon became the son of perdition (John 17:12) and “He shall be praised” has become, “he shall be cursed”.