In the BDAG entry for ἀποστρέφω APOSTREFW it is said no less than twice: “2d
aor. pass. in act. sense.” That is not very helpful and it is based on an
obsolete approach to grammar. Nor is it very helpful to talk in terms of
transitive and intransitive since these are purely syntactical terms. It is more
interesting to look at such verbs in terms of semantics and also accept that
what is morphologically called “passive” is often semantically middle.
This verb is extremely common in the LXX, but less common in the NT. Of the 9
occurrences in the NT, 4 are MP (middle-passive), while 5 are active.
The verb commonly has three primary roles and one secondary. The semantic
scenario is one of movement from one position to another. The semantic roles are
A (Agent) and P (Patient) which in the case of a person is often called E
(Experiencer) and L (Location). For this verb I prefer to talk about the primary
location as Pos1 (Position 1, i.e. where the movement starts from) and the
secondary location as Pos2 (where the movement ends or is directed towards.)
When the A and E roles refer to the same referent, Greek would often use a
Let me illustrate it with
Mat 26:52 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀπόστρεψον τὴν μάχαιράν σου εἰς τὸν τόπον
TOTE LEGEI AUTWI hO IHSOUS, APOSTREYON THN MACAIRAN SOU EIS TON TOPON AUTHS
Then Jesus said to him: Return your sword to its place.
Because of the imperative, the Agent is expressed in the verb form (you, the
addressee, Peter). The Patient is the sword, Pos1 is implicit (in his hand) and
Pos2 is indicated by an EIS phrase. Such a prepositional phrase is common for a
secondary (or peripheral) semantic role. The Agent is different from the P and
therefore an Active form is used.
The other NT examples are also instructive:
Mat 5:42 τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός, καὶ τὸν θέλοντα ἀπὸ σοῦ δανίσασθαι μὴ ἀποστραφῇς
TWi AITOUNTI SE DOS, KAI TON QELONTA APO SOUD DANISASQAI MH APOSTRAFHiS
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn yourself away from the one who
wants to borrow from you
Here the A refers to the same person as the P/E while Pos1 and Pos2 are not
specified. Do not turn yourself away from a position of not wanting to help to a
position of wanting to help. That is why the middle form is used, even if it is
called a “passive”.
Luk 23:14 εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Προσηνέγκατέ μοι τὸν ἄνθρωπον τοῦτον ὡς
ἀποστρέφοντα τὸν λαόν
EIPEN PROS AUTOUS, PROSHNEGKATE MOI TON ANQRWPON TOUTON hWS APOSTREFONTA TON
He said to them: You have brought to me this person as someone who turns away
A is Jesus, P/E is the people and Pos1 is a position of obedience, while Pos 2
is a position of revolt. Since A and P/E are different, an active is used.
Rom 11:26 Ἥξει ἐκ Σιὼν ὁ ῥυόμενος, ἀποστρέψει ἀσεβείας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβ.
hHXEI EK ZIWN hO RUOMENOS APOSTREYEI ASEBEIAS APO IAKWB
The deliverer will come from Zion to turn ungodliness away from Jakob
Here the A is Jesus (implicit), the P is ungodliness and Pos1 is Jacob/Israel.
As expected an active form is used.
2 Tim 1:15 ἀπεστράφησάν με πάντες οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ
APESTRAFHSAN ME PANTES hOI EN THi ASIAi
All (my co-workers) who (are) in Asia have turned themselves away from me.
Here we have the middle since the A and P/E refer to the same people. Pos1 is
“me”. Pos2 is implicit.
2 Tim 4:4 καὶ ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς ἀληθείας τὴν ἀκοὴν ἀποστρέψουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τοὺς μύθους
KAI APO MEN THS ALHQEIAS THN AKOHN APOSTREYOUSIN, EPI DE TOUS MUQOUS
And while/on the one hand they will turn the ear from the truth, they will (on
the other hand) turn themselves to myths.
A is the people, P is the ear, Pos1 is the truth and Pos 2 is the myths which is
syntactically connected to the parallel middle verb EKTRAPHSONTAI
Tit 1:4 μὴ προσέχοντες Ἰουδαϊκοῖς μύθοις καὶ ἐντολαῖς ἀνθρώπων ἀποστρεφομένων
MH PROSECONTES IOUDAIKOIS MUQOIS KAI ENTOLAIS ANQRWPWN APOSTREFOMENWN THN
not holding on to Jewish myths and commandments of human origin while turning
themselves away from the truth
The verb is middle because A and P/E refer to the same people. Pos1 is the
truth. Pos2 is the myths and commandments. There is a certain flexibility in how
Pos1 is expressed in the syntax. It may be a simple accusative as here or a
prepositional phrase with APO as above. It is probably occasioned by whether
there is already another accusative in the construction or not.
Heb 12:25 οἱ τὸν ἀπ᾽ οὐρανῶν ἀποστρεφόμενοι
hOI TON AP’ OURANWN APOSTREFOMENOI
those who (were) turning themselves away (from the voice) from heaven
Let me finish with a couple of examples form the LXX. Since this mail is a
follow-up to Acts 3:26, I want to look at those with hEKASTOS:
Ruth 1:8 καὶ εἶπεν Νωεμιν ταῖς νύμφαις αὐτῆς Πορεύεσθε δὴ ἀποστράφητε ἑκάστη εἰς
οἶκον μητρὸς αὐτῆς
KAI EIPEN NWEMIN TAIS NUMFAIS AUTHS, POREUESQE DH APOSTRAFHTE hEKASTH EIS OIKON
And Naomi said to here daughters-in-law: You go each one you turn yourself back
to the house of her mother
The middle is used since the daughters have their own free will to turn or not.
(One does, the other does not.) The A is the same referent as the P/E. Pos1 is
implicit, Pos2 is expressed by an EIS phrase.
2 Ch 11:4 Τάδε λέγει κύριος Οὐκ ἀναβήσεσθε καὶ οὐ πολεμήσετε πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς
ὑμῶν· ἀποστρέφετε ἕκαστος εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ
TADE LEGEI KURIOS, OUK ANABHSESQE KAI OU POLEUHSETE PROS TOUS ADELFOUS hUMWN.
APOSTREFETE hEKASTOS EIS TON OIKON AUTOU
Then the Lord says: Do not go up and do not make war against your brothers.
You(plural) must return each one to his own house.
Here the active is used. This may be a stylistic variation by the translator,
but I think it is more likely that the active puts focus on God who makes them
turn rather than on them returning out of their own volition or initiative.
There is a similar active form in Jer 27:16, although Jeremiah usually has the
middle form (18:11, 23:14, 25:5, 33:3, 42:15).
Jon 3:8 καὶ ἀπέστρεψαν ἕκαστος ἀπὸ τῆς ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ τῆς πονηρᾶς
KAI APESTREYAN hEKASTOS APO THS hODOU AUTOU THS PONHRAS
and they must turn, each one from his evil way
Again the active is probably because of an implicit A different form those who
are to turn. It is a command from the king to the people, similar to the