Sunday Morning Greek Blog

April 10, 2011

Turning, Returning, and Repenting

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Luke Gospel of,New Testament,Repentance — Scott Stocking @ 8:26 am

As I have been reading through Luke 3–9, I have noticed the repetition of words I have not seen or noticed before in the other Gospels. This is not unusual. I blogged earlier about Mark’s use of the word εὐθύς (euthus /yoo THOOS/ ‘immediately’), which occurs more than 40 times in his Gospel. Luke uses the word only once as an adverb, but he chose another word that he uses almost exclusively, παραχρῆμα (parachrēma /pah rah CHRAY mah/), to mean the same thing. Of the 18 occurrences of this word, 16 appear in Luke-Acts, with the other two found in Matthew 2:19–20. So Luke’s emphasis on immediacy is not quite as strong as Mark’s, but significant nonetheless.

Another word that kept popping up over and over again was the word Luke uses (again almost exclusively) for “return,” ὑποστρέφω (hypostrephō /hoo po STREH foe/). By itself, the word is not spectacular in any way. Every time Luke uses the word in Luke-Acts (32 times of 35 total occurrences of the word in the NT), it refers to actual physical movement from one place to another. Only Peter, in 2 Peter 2:21, uses the word in a figurative sense, and that negatively, referring to those who “turn their backs on the sacred command.” Keep that in mind, because this passage becomes important a little later in this discussion. The word is only used three times of Jesus returning; most of the other occurrences refer to people returning home, returning to Jerusalem, or returning to Jesus to give a report or to give thanks. Again, nothing spectacular in any of this, but it does suggest that Jesus and his followers never sat still for too long and that there was a lot of activity around him.

This has something to say about what the ministry of local congregations should look like. Congregations that are buzzing with activity through the week, whether in the church building, in the homes of its members, or in popular meeting places like Panera’s or Starbuck’s, are making a difference in the lives of people. In Luke 9:10, the Gospel writer records that the 12 apostles (as long as we’re talking about frequently used words, the number “12” occurs 6 times in Luke 8–9 referring to 4 different entities) “returned and reported to [Jesus] what they had done.” I’m getting ahead of my reading schedule a bit by citing this next verse, but it reflects the same principle: In Luke 10:17, when the 72 return from their mission (similar to the mission of the 12), they report to Jesus that “the demons obeyed us in your name.” What would Sunday morning or small group be like if, each time we returned, we told what the Lord was doing in and through us? What would the dynamic of your small group look like if you not only did a Bible study, but just shared about the great things God is doing for you? Our congregation occasionally shows video testimonies of how God is working in the lives of his people. That has had a powerful impact on those seekers who are looking for a meaningful connection to the body of Christ. So when you return to church or small group or Sunday school class each week, share something good that God has been doing in your life, not just the prayer requests for your concerns.

The beautiful thing about doing word studies like this is that one can make many serendipitous discoveries along the way. One of the questions I asked myself as I began looking at ὑποστρέφω was, “What other words are used for ‘return’ in the NT?” I checked Louw & Nida’s Greek-English Dictionary Based on Semantic Domains for all the Greek words that carry the idea of “return” in their use in the NT. I found a handful of words that, in a few instances, carried the same idea as ὑποστρέφω and together occurred fewer times in the NT than ὑποστρέφω. But one related word stood out, ἑπιστρέφω (epistrephō /eh pee STREH foe/ ‘turn’, ‘return’, ‘turn back to’). Half of the 36 occurrences of this word in the NT are found in Luke-Acts (he does like to corner the market on word usage!). Of those 36 occurrences, 21 of them refer to “repentance” and turning to God, or in a couple cases just the opposite, turning back to the ways of the world. Of Luke’s 18 uses of the word, 12 (there’s that number 12 again!) have the sense of turning or returning to the Lord, often with the idea of repentance present in the immediate context. I mentioned the lone figurative use of ὑποστρέφω in 2 Peter 2:21 above. One of the negative uses of ἑπιστρέφω follows on the heels of that in 2 Peter 2:22, where Peter quotes Proverbs 26:11: “A dog returns to its vomit.” This exemplifies the acts of negative repentance to which the word refers (see also Galatians 4:9).

So how do I tie this all together? Simple. When we return (ὑποστρέφω) to church or small group each week, let’s tell others about the great things God is doing for us, so the world will see that we don’t just come to have needs met and prayers answered. When the world sees that dynamic relationship that we have with God, and that a relationship with him can be about more than just having needs met, they will return (ἑπιστρέφω) to God and join in the great kingdom experience. How much more vibrant would our service and worship be if we adopt this attitude! And in keeping with the sense of παραχρῆμα, let’s not waste any time getting it done!

Εἰρήνη! (Peace!)

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