I was perusing Luke 17 when I noticed the specific context of the familiar passage about "losing" and "preserving" one's "life". This is the verse:

[Luke 17:33 KJV] Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

[Luke 17:33 mGNT] ὃς ἐὰν ζητήσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ περιποιήσασθαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ ζῳογονήσει αὐτήν

How should this best be translated? The word translated "save/keep/preserve" appears 3 times in the NT and only here is "save":

Luke 17:33 V-ANM
GRK: ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ περιποιήσασθαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν
NAS: seeks to keep his life
INT: life of him to save will lose it

Acts 20:28 V-AIM-3S
GRK: θεοῦ ἣν περιεποιήσατο διὰ τοῦ
NAS: which He purchased with His own
KJV: which he hath purchased with
INT: of God which he purchased with

1 Timothy 3:13 V-PIM-3P
GRK: ἑαυτοῖς καλὸν περιποιοῦνται καὶ πολλὴν
NAS: as deacons obtain for themselves
KJV: well purchase to themselves
INT: for themselves good acquire and much

The reason I ask is I had only considered the verse in isolation. In isolation it seems to be talking about the necessity of being willing to die for confessing Jesus as the Messiah. However, in context it appears that what he's saying is to not be like Lot's wife who, because she had to flee her home "looked back" and perished. So in this context "losing one's life" is to "leave everything familiar and valuable to you, including family and friends and don't look back". He's saying, "When you see the Roman army approaching RUN FOR THE JUDEAN HILLS AND DON'T TRY TO GO BACK AND RECOVER YOUR STUFF!!!" Here's the context:

[Luk 17:28-33 KJV] 28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed [them] all. 30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. 31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. 32 Remember Lot's wife. 33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

IE: The passage is not about "being a disciple" but rather about "not being stupid" by going back into Jerusalem to get your stuff when God is raining hell on the city in judgment.

So I think I have the idea of the context. What about the specifics of the translation to fit the context? Can it be improved?


Regarding verse 31:

31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. '

The flat-roofed eastern houses have stairs on the outside, by which a person may ascend and descend without coming into the house; and in walled cities they usually form continued terraces, from one end of the city to the other, terminating at the gates; so that one may pass along the tops of the houses and escape out of the city without coming down into the street. Job 2:4; Jer 45:5; Mat 6:25; Mat 16:26; Mat 24:17-21; Mar 13:14-16; Phl 3:7,8

Here are the synoptic parallels:

[Mat 24:17-21 KJV] 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

[Mar 13:14-16 KJV] 14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: 15 And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter [therein], to take any thing out of his house: 16 And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.

History (Josephus) tells us that 1.1 million non-combatants died in the Roman siege.

2 Answers 2


The Greek word in question, which is unfortunately translated "save" in KJV, is "peripoieio" from two words, "peri" (= around) + "poieo" (= do, make, etc).

BDAG lists two meanings for this compound word that are very similar:

  1. to make secure for oneself (Luke 17:33)
  2. to gain possession of something, gain for oneself Acts 20:28, 1 Tim 3:13.

Thus, the ESV provides a reasonable translation of Luke 17:33, "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it."

The context of this cryptic saying begins in Luke 17:26 where Jesus proceeds to cite two examples from OT history to illustrate a moral principle.

  • V26, 27 as it was in the days of Noah, people eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage - people living their lives for themselves without regard to eternal matters. But the flood destroyed them
  • V28, 29 as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating and drinking, buying and sell, planting and building. That is, going about their lives without regard to spiritual/eternal matters. But fire devoured them.
  • V30 It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed, ie, do not make your temporal life and "things" more important than eternal/spiritual things. "Remember Lot's wife."

Then Jesus' conclusion - whoever tries to keep their lives for themselves will loose eternal life, but whoever looses this temporal life will gain eternal life. Jesus uttered a very similar aphorism in Matt 10:39, "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." Again, the same question is asked by Jesus in Matt 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, John 12:25, and in all cases the person is being asked to decide which is more important - this temporal life or eternal life. Thus, contextually, it might be possible to paraphrase this idea as:

"Whoever tries to keep his life for himself, will lose it eternally; but whoever, lives his life for me and looses it for my sake will gain eternal life." (A little clumsy but I hope this coveys the idea.)

This same principle is taught in other places such as:

  • James 4:14 Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
  • Colossians 2:6, 7 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
  • Col 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
  • Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
  • Thanks Mac. So can you tell me how you might translate the entire verse, taking into account the context of Jesus telling the Judeans to "flee to the hills and don't go back to get your stuff" and the semantic domain of the words involved?
    – Ruminator
    Dec 22, 2018 at 21:53
  • I have updated the answer as requested.
    – user25930
    Dec 22, 2018 at 22:06
  • I took a look at your suggested translation. Personally - that is, to my mind - it doesn't seem to capture the context. It seems so inappropriately generic and abstract to my ears. Others may read it differently, of course.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 22, 2018 at 22:09

Here is the Greek:

ὃς ἐὰν ζητήσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ περιποιήσασθαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ ζῳογονήσει αὐτήν

Given the context and vocabulary I would translate along the lines of:

If anyone tries to rescue his lifestyle he will lose it; but whoever leaves it behind will save his life.

  • That is an "interesting" translation - you have translated "psyche" as "stuff" meaning non-living possessions. That would be unique - I am unaware of any other place where "psyche" denotes non-living things. It is usually translated as "life", "soul", "person", etc. That is, always living things.
    – user25930
    Dec 23, 2018 at 0:28
  • 1
    I also updated my answer with further references.
    – user25930
    Dec 23, 2018 at 0:35
  • I went ahead and changed it to "lifestyle" but neither is perfect. In English we say "lifestyle" but it sounds very anachronistic. But I think it's pretty close to what Jesus is on about. I think it gets to the point.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 23, 2018 at 0:44

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