T. PIERCE BROWN
I do not usually write articles primarily for preachers and teachers, for I leave that to more scholarly persons. However, since I have been listening to preachers for about 65 years that I can remember, some suggestions may be worthwhile. It is my judgment that those of us who write and speak refer to different words as synonyms when it would sometimes be more accurate and profitable to describe them in different ways. We have often heard preachers say that “church” and “kingdom” are synonyms. They are not. It is true that the term “church” and the term “kingdom” refer to the same group of persons when we are talking about those who are saved in this age, but the term “church” means “the called out ones” and the term “kingdom” means “under the rule of a king.” They may refer to the same group, but they do not mean the same thing, and are therefore not synonyms.
The terms “elder,” “bishop,” “pastor” are not synonyms. They are all terms that are properly applied to the same group of persons in the church, but they do not mean the same thing.
It is my considered judgment that when the Holy Spirit led the writer to use a specific word, instead of another word, which many scholars such as Thayer or Vine, may call synonyms, the Holy Spirit used that specific word because He wanted to emphasize something that the other word would not do as well. It is disturbing if a Greek scholar as renowned as Johann Winer, A. T. Robertson, or any other person, suggests that the inspired writer should have used another expression or word instead of the one he used. Rather, we should try to find why he used that particular one instead of another, which may be, called a synonym and may mean approximately the same thing in some circumstances.
J. Gresham Machen, in his New Testament Greek for beginners, page 81, gives the meaning of “epistrepho” and “hupostrepho” as being “I return.” I checked Thayer and Vine and got the impression that they indicated that the words were synonyms, as Thayer says one of the meanings is “I return.” When I checked the 36 references in the New Testament where “hupostrepho” is used, and the 39 references where “epistrepho” is used, it seems clear that they are not synonyms. Note carefully: both words may be used to refer to the same thing, just as “chair” may be called “furniture” and “table” may be called “furniture,” but “table” and “chair” are not synonyms.
In most cases, it is clear that when “hupostrepho” is used, the emphasis is on turning back to a place or circumstance that one previously occupied. When “epistrepho” is used, although one might be turning back to a previous condition, that is not the emphasis, but simply an incidental thought. For example, I might say, “Let us now turn to (or go into) the kitchen.” The fact that we had been in the kitchen before, or even had just come out of it would not be evidenced if I used the word “epistrepho” in reference to turning to it. The word “hupostrepho” in this connection would be used if I wanted to emphasize that we were returning to where we had been before. In both cases, regardless of which word is used, we might be returning to where we had been before. That does not mean, however, that the words mean the same thing or are synonyms.
One might assume that since Matthew12:44says, “I will return (epistrepho) unto my house whence I came out” and Luke11:24says, “I will return (hupostrepho) unto my house whence I came out” that the words must mean the same thing, and therefore be synonyms. That does not necessarily follow. My suggestion is that Matthew is simply indicating that since the unclean spirit is going to turn in some direction, he is going to turn to his house. Since it is the one from whence he came out, it is proper to translate it “return.” However, the word “return” is not discovered from, or indicated by, “epistrepho” but from the context and the fact that he had been there before. When the word “hupostrepho” is used in Luke, one would not need the expression “whence I came out” to understand that he had been there before, for the meaning is inherent in the term itself.
So, “epistrepho” may involve returning to where one was before, or it may not. When it is used, that is not the emphasis, but an incidental factor, if it is there at all. However, “hupostrepho” always involves returning to a former position or condition. That fact may not be particularly important, but this article is not about those words. It is about the principle illustrated by those kinds of words and how scholars and others speak of them. We should always check the Bible usage of all terms, and not just take the supposition of some scholar. Also, we should try to use words with the greatest precision possible and know the presuppositions of the author as well as we can. My presupposition is that when the Holy Spirit used a particular word, He probably had a good reason to use that word instead of another, and we would do well to try to discover the possible reason for that use instead of assuming that it was a mere accident, or that another word would have expressed as accurately what He wanted us to know.
It is possible that we might find one of the writers using an aorist tense to express a thought, when another writer used an imperfect. We should not assume that one made a mistake, or that the aorist and imperfect are interchangeable. We should rather conclude that the Holy Spirit wanted one writer to emphasize the action as a whole, and the other to emphasize its progressive nature.