Please note that all Biblical quotes are presented from the Literal Translation.
In this series on the concept of repentance, as it is presented in the New Testament, we have already studied the verb μετανοὲω (Strong’s #3340), which means to make a decision to change the direction of one’s life, and its noun form μετὰνοια (Strong’s #3341), which states the condition of the decision for change or purpose. This week we take the second word in our continuing study, ἐπιστρὲφω (Strong’s #1994), “to turn around, to turn back, to be converted.” This is a compound word comprised of ἐπὶ (Strong’s #1909) which means, “upon, on” and στρὲφω (Strong’s #4762), “to turn, to turn around.”
In Classical Greek, this word means “to turn around,” even “to repel an enemy.” It is also used to express “to pay attention.” In the religious sense, it means, “to be turned around or be converted.” In the Septuagint Old Testament (Deuteronomy 4:30), ἐπιστρὲφω is used as “turning to the Lord”-. In Isaiah 44:22, it is used to express the cry of the Lord for Israel to “return” to Him.
In the New Testament, which is the focus of our study, ἐπιστρὲφω is found 41 times. It is used in Matthew 12:44 and Mark 13:16 to express a return to a physical location, whereas it means “to turn to the Lord” in 2 Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Peter 2:25. Additionally, Luke uses ἐπιστρὲφω in its religious sense from Old Testament prophecy in Luke 1:16,17.
The Book of Acts is the only place in the New Testament where the noun form ἐπιστροφὴ (Strong’s #1995), “conversion,” is found. It is used within the context of Paul and Barnabas being sent to Jerusalem to discuss whether circumcision of the flesh is a necessary requirement for the salvation of Gentiles. Scripture records that they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, “relating the conversion of the Gentiles; and they were causing great joy to all the brothers.”- Acts 15:3.
At times, ἐπιστρὲφω is used in conjunction with another word. In Acts 3:19 Luke uses ἐπιστρὲφω with μετανοὲω. He writes Peter’s message, “Repent (the imperative or command form of μετανοὲω) therefore and be converted (the imperative or command form of ἐπιστρὲφω), in order that your sins may be wiped awayF1 so that times of refreshing may come from the face of the Lord.” The use of these two words in conjunction with one another gives an added depth to the message of repentance. Μετανοὲω is used to call a person “to make a decision to turn from his sin” and ἐπιστρὲφω is used to express “to turn to or upon the Lord.” Therefore, the New Testament teaching on repentance actually has a dual aspect, a turning away from sin with a simultaneous turning toward or to the Lord.
This duality is a principle underlying many of the teachings of the early church. James says, “Be submitted (the aorist passive imperative or command of ὑποτὰσσω, Strong’s #5293) therefore to God. Resist (aorist active imperative or command of ἀνθὶστημι, Strong’s #436) the devil, and he will flee from you.” – James 4:7. Here James presents the dual aspect of the teaching on walking with the Lord. He says that two things must happen, not one. The believer must be submitted to the Lord and he must resist the devil. He cannot just submit to the Lord without resisting the devil, nor can he resist the devil without being submitted to the Lord. Without this understanding, a Christian can find himself wrestling with the devil and allowing that wrestling alone to occupy his time and attention. However, a full understanding of Scripture reveals the teaching that each believer must resist the devil while, at the same time, he is submitting himself to the Lord.
We see this principle of duality again in Paul’s response to the pagan people of Lystra who have attempted to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. He says to them, “Why are you doing these things? We ourselves are also men of like passions with you, preaching the gospel to you that you should turnF2 from these empty things upon the living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the things in them;”-Acts 14:15. In this example, Paul uses two prepositions with ἐπιστρὲφω to express the dual aspect of repentance: ἀπὸ (Strong’s #575) meaning “from” and ἐπὶ (Strong’s #1909) meaning “on,” or “upon.” His call is for them “to turn” away “from” their idolatry and to turn “upon” the Living God.
Again this principle is seen in Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa, he recounts how Jesus called him to preach to the Gentiles, “To open their eyes, so that they might turnF3 from darkness unto light and from the authority of Satan upon God, in order that they might receive (F4) forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among the ones who had been sanctified by faith into Me.” – Acts 26:18. Paul is saying that he has been commissioned by the Lord to call the Gentiles to turn “from” (ἀπὸ, (Strong’s #575) darkness and the authority of Satan, “unto” (εἰς, Strong’s #1519) light and “upon” (ἐπὶ, Strong’s #1909) God.
Before Jesus dies on the cross for the sins of the world, the message lacks duality. People are told to “repent” — make a decision to change one’s source of hope for salvation from religion (the Law) to the Messiah. After Jesus rises from the dead and ascends to the right of God in Heaven, the message becomes two-fold: “Repent” — make a decision to turn from your sins — and “be converted” – turn to the Lord and believe upon Him to save you. From this we see that for a person to express and experience true repentance, he must make a decision both to turn from his life of sin and to turn to the living God. This process of salvation is very different from a person simply being “sorry” for his sin, as we will see next week when we study the third and final word in our series, μεταμὲλομαι.
*EPISTREPHO is the English font spelling of the Greek word ἐπιστρὲφω.
F1: The preposition with the articular infinitive εἰς͂τὸ͂ἐξαλειφθῆναῖὑμῶν͂τὰς͂ἁμαρτὶας,” for the to be wiped away sins of you,” is translated by διὰ͂νὰ͂ἐξαλειφθῶσιν͂αἷἁμαρτὶαῖσας, “in order that your sins may be wiped away.”
F2: The infinitive ἐπιστρὲφειν,” to turn,” is translated by νὰ͂ἐπιστρὲψητε, “that you should turn.”
F3: The articular infinitive τοῦ͂ἐπιστρὲψαι, “the to be turned,” is translated by ὥστε͂νὰ͂ἐπιστρὲψωσιν, “so that they might turn.”
F4: The articular infinitive with the accusative subject, τοῦ͂λαβεῖν͂αὐτοῦς, “the to receive them,” is translated διἆνὰ͂λὰβωσιν, “in order that they might receive.”
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