The Language of Repentance in the Book of Mormon

Noel B. Reynolds, Brigham Young University - Provo


The English words repent/repentance may provide one of the clearest examples of how the English translation of the Book of Mormon can insulate modern readers from the precise meanings of important terms as they would have been understood by the Nephite prophets.1 Shaped by centuries of Christian usage, the modern English term evokes subjective feelings of penitence, regret or sorrow for misdeeds, and desires or intentions for moral reformation. Our references to repentance can usually be equated with expressions of remorse, confession of sins, efforts at restitution, performance of penance, or conversion to a religion or a moral way of life. So it may come as a shock to modern readers to learn that the Book of Mormon prophets likely would not have been thinking primarily in terms of any of these attitudes or actions when they spoke of repentance. Rather, they were referring to God’s invitation to all men and women to make or renew a covenant with him to keep his commandments.