In Luke 24:28, we read

... καὶ αὐτὸς προσεποιήσατο πορρώτερον πορεύεσθαι (Westcott & Hort)1

... and He προσεποιήσατο farther to be going

Here, does προσεποιήσατο carry an active sense, as in the majority of translations (ESV, NIV, NRSV, WEB), such as "acted like", or is a passive sense (as in YLT, Weymouth) such as "appeared" also plausible? That is, did Jesus actively make it look like he was going further, or is it merely a mistaken impression?

In English, the infinitive nature of πορεύεσθαι doesn't work with "act" in English and hence is changed to something like "He acted as if he were going farther" (ESV). Obviously, this is not definitive in Greek - I assume this is just due to different syntactic rules, but an explanation would be nice if anyone knows the precise reason. (As indicated by Susan in the comments, "pretended to go further" would work, although I don't see any translations that use the word pretend.)

1Textus Receptus has προσεποιεῖτο πορρωτέρω - does not seem to be an important variation to me, but I could be mistaken

  • 1
    In English, the infinitive nature of πορεύεσθαι doesn't work with an active verb ...: How about, “he pretended to be going farther....”?
    – Susan
    Aug 19 '15 at 21:45
  • @Susan Good point - I was thinking of act specifically. "acted (like) to be going further" just doesn't sound right.
    – ThaddeusB
    Aug 19 '15 at 21:49

The lexical form of the word of interest in προσποιέω. It is inflected here as a third person aorist verb in the middle voice. At the linked LSJ entry section II gives usages “mostly in [the middle voice]”. Subsection 2 gives the basic meaning:

take to oneself what does not belong to one, pretend to, lay claim to

This resonates with the components of this compound word from (1) the preposition πρὸς, denoting approach or proximity (“toward” or “at”); and (2) the verb ποιέω, with a very broad semantic range along the lines of “to do/make”.

Προσποιέω is only used in the middle voice in Koine literature (see BDAG). The middle voice in Koine has a variety of meanings, the essence of which is debated. Although it was frequently a reflexive voice (subject = direct object) in Ancient Greek, this meaning is rare in the NT Greek where it generally indicates a heightened level of participation by the subject in the action of the verb.1 Quoting Wallace (italics original):

[In] the middle voice the subject performs or experiences the action expressed by the verb in such a way that emphasizes the subject’s participation. It may be said that the subject acts “with a vested interest."

In Luke 24:28, Jesus both the actor (in the general sense of the term) and is also himself a participant in the effects of the action, a sort of indirect object: “he did/made X appearance to(ward) himself”.

Although προσποιέω is a hapax within the NT, it does show up a few times in the LXX (where the reflexive meaning of the middle voice is more common). For instance, also in the aorist middle, 1 Sam 21:14 (of David as he fled from Saul, in deceit of the servants of Achish king of Gath):

καὶ ἠλλοίωσεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ καὶ προσεποιήσατο2
And he changed his face before him, and he put on an act

As indicated by this usage and the LSJ definition, the term can carry an idea of deception. In that sense, “pretend to...” would be appropriate. To the OP’s question did Jesus actively make it look like he was going further?: yes. Translations have likely avoided “pretend”, however, because it is inappropriate to the context. As the disciples interact with the risen Jesus whom they do not recognize:

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth...."

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

Jesus’ question, “What things?” and his acting “as if he were going farther” aren’t measures of deception; they are pieces of an orchestrated series of events leading the disciples to the recognition of their Lord.

1. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996).

2. The lack of an infinitive complement there to me suggests that it’s probably being understood as a direct reflexive, indeed translating the hithpolel (reflexive) וַיִּתְהֹלֵל.

  • Thanks, very helpful. I can certain see how a root semantic meanings of "[generic action verb] towards oneself" could come to mean "act". I didn't have my BDAG with me when I asked the Q - I certainly agree it supports a pretty active translation - I'll have to follow up by checking out the other examples it cites. Two follow up Qs: 1) Would you say middle voice would never support a passive translation, or only this particular verb won't? 2) If you had to guess, would you say the "appeared" translations choice to change the form to keep the "to be going" or or semantics?
    – ThaddeusB
    Aug 20 '15 at 3:50
  • (1) “Never say...”...but no, not usually. (But note that the forms of mid. & passive are sometimes identical. Not here.) More often they have a “simply" active translation value, either because they are "deponent" or because they differ lexically from an active counterpart. (Possible exception: the middle ἀπόλλυμαι comes pretty close to passive.) (2) Not a mindreader, but...my guess is “appeared” was to avoid the suggestion that Jesus was dissembling. The verb is not about the perception of the disciples.
    – Susan
    Aug 20 '15 at 4:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.