Re: Translation Question: Acts 19:14

From: James H. Vellenga (
Date: Mon Apr 29 1996 - 08:39:26 EDT

> From:
> I'm working on an exegetical paper on Acts 19:11-20, and I've discovered
> something which seems strange. Perhaps it's just my lack of experience with
> Greek. . . .
> Normally, in the sequence of tenses, an aorist participle means that the
> action described in the participle occurs before the action of the main verb.
> In Acts 19:14, however, the aorist participle ("having answered") seems to
> be contemporaneous with the main verb ("he said"). To translated it
> according to the usual sequence of tenses would result in something like
> this: "But after he had answered, the demon said"--which doesn't make sense.
> Is this an exception to the usual rules of tense sequence? I think I've
> noticed it earlier in Acts, as well. Any tips? references to standard
> grammars I've overlooked?

APOKRIQEIS ... EIPEN (or in this case, APOKRIQEN ... EIPEN) is a common
idiom in the NT. With variations in gender, number, and tense, it
occurs about 100 times -- all in the Synoptics and Acts. (John
commonly links the two indicative aorist verbs APOKRIQH ... KAI
EIPEN.) David Moore, citing Moulton, indicates that this comes from
a comparable Semitic idiom; I think it requires a similar idiomatic
rendering in English -- something like "In response ... he said ..."

I like "in response" better than "answering" for three reasons. One
is that "in response" seems less redundant with "he said" than
"answering" does. "In response" is a kind of internal activity that
precedes the speaking, while "answering" is part of the speaking.

Second, the etymology of APOKRINOMAI suggests a meaning like "to
conclude for oneself from," which again seems closer to an internal
response than an external answer.

The third is the odd usage in Matt. 11.25:

"At that time APOKRIQEIS Jesus said, 'I give you thanks, Father, ....'"

Now this immediately follows statements, or interactions, with
nobody; rather, Jesus has just been denouncing some of the local
cities for their lack of response. (In the parallel passage in
Luke, he has just debriefed the 70-some itinerant preachers
[PTWCHOI? ;-) ], but Luke doesn't use APOKRIQEIS.) It's possible
that Matthew inadvertantly left APOKRIQEIS in while copying from
another source. However, if we translate it as "in response,"
Jesus is seen as reacting to the more general situation of seeing
wise and powerful people reject his father's message, while people
with qualities of infants were accepting it.

So for Acts 19.15, I would say something like

"But in response the evil spirit said to him ...."


James H. Vellenga |
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