For Lent – Top 10 Bible Verses on Penance

John the Baptist – A Biblical Saint of Perfect Penance
Here are the Top Ten Bible verses on Penance. In Greek, we often find in Scripture the Greek term “metanoia” which is a deep “transformation of mind” of conformity to God. In Latin, we find “agite paenitentiam” or “do penance.” Protestant commentators begining with Martin Luther criticized this translation because they felt that it emphasized outward acts and not an inward transformation. The Church responded by arguing that “agite paenitentiam” or “do penance” is a perfectly sound interpretation because inward repentance always leads to an outward expression. Moreover, in secular texts “agere paenitentiam” often refers to simple inward remorse. Nevertheless, just as faith without works is dead, so also repentance without penance is dead.
So here are the “top ten” penance passages in Sacred Scripture. I’m leading off with Luke 13:3 because, for me, that is the most powerful passage regarding penance.
Luke 13:3
No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.
{This is a solemn promise of Christ to all of us. Unless we do penance, we will “perish.”}
Job 42:6
Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes.
Ecclesiasticus 2:22
If we do not penance, we shall fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men.
{If we don’t experience discipline in this life, we shall experience it in the next.}
Jeremiah 31:19
For after thou didst convert me, I did penance: and after thou didst shew unto me, I struck my thigh: I am confounded and ashamed, because I have borne the reproach of my youth.
{Notice here, that penance comes after conversion.}
Lamentations 2:14
Thy prophets have seen false and foolish things for thee: and they have not laid open thy iniquity, to excite thee to penance: but they have seen for thee false revelations and banishments.
{Here the spiritual leaders of Israel have wrongly induced the people to follow after false revelations or apparitions. Instead, they should have led the people to penance. Incidentally, Saint Francis is the perfect example of the right leader. He doesn’t appeal to apparitions or even to his stigmata. He appeals to the power of prayer, fasting, and penance.}
Ezekiel 18:21
But if the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all my commandments, and do judgment, and justice, living he shall live, and shall not die.
{This is the great promise for Lent. If we humble ourselves and live sacrificially, we will have life. God is merciful and loving and He desires our transformation into the image of Christ His Son.}
Matthew 3:8
Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
{Here we find that true repentance requires fruit – it requires outward acts that conform to the inward reality.}
Matthew 11:20
Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein were done the most of his miracles, for that they had not done penance.
{This is a sobering verse. Christ doesn’t work miracles where the people don’t repent. Divine power is restricted by human pride.}
Romans 2:4
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and patience, and longsuffering? Knowest thou not, that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?
{The love, mercy, and benignity of God brings us to a true repentance. Notice that being mean and hateful does not bring others to penance.}
Apocalypse 2:5
Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen: and do penance, and do the first works. Or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou do penance.
{Here “do penance” and “do the first works” are paired together. Penance has an outward dimension, because sin also has an outward dimension. The horrifying truth is that Christ will snuff out the Church of any region if they don’t live a life of penitence.}
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  • Larry

    The word penance is not in the King James version, the Geneva Bible, or the Guttenberg edition.

    • Bershawn300

      These are Protestant Bibles.

      • ryan


  • Justin Spratt

    The Catholic teaching of “doing penance” as a means of atoning for sin or of appeasing God is nowhere taught in the Bible.

    • Bershawn300

      Catholic doctrine CONDEMNS the idea that anyone but CHRIST can atone for sin. However, it AFFIRMS what Jesus explicitly states in Mt. 3: ‘Produce fruit in keeping with repentance’ — that repentance should manifest itself in a change of behavior as well as thought. This is entirely Biblical.

      Also, on a common sense everyday level, people know that someone who pays a lip-service apology and someone who truly changes their behavior are two different things.

      Penance has to do with fully changing one’s behavior in a Christ-centered direction versus a mere lip-service apology. The Catholic Church provides behavioral accountability to help one go in a new direction. I’ve just become Catholic after being a lifelong Calvinist and am, after careful research and prayer, fully convinced of the Scriptural and historical support for all Catholic teachings.

  • Bershawn300

    Mr. Marshall – Would love to see responses to critiques below (besides the obvious responses that the King James, Geneva, or Guttenberg versions would have Protestant-leaning tendencies.) Is there more you -or someone- can say about the Latin or Greek renderings of this word and the history behind them? Would be helpful for apologetics purposes. Thanks! Love your site.