Luke 1:16-17 (YLT):

16 and many of the sons of Israel he shall turn (epistrepho) to the Lord their God, 17 and he shall go before Him, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn (epistrepho) hearts of fathers unto children, and disobedient ones to the wisdom of righteous ones, to make ready for the Lord, a people prepared.

  • 1
    What do you see as the significant difference in meaning between the two translations? Dec 31, 2021 at 13:57
  • No, not between translations. I was reading in Vines and there is a strong sense of "return" or "turn about". Even when rendered "convert" as in James 5:19-20, the context speaks to "return"; ie someone strays from the truth and then is converted or they return to the truth.
    – alb
    Dec 31, 2021 at 14:05
  • My personal inference is that "turn" would refer to individuals (turning from the way they have lived their lives to the Lord's ways), whereas "return" would refer to society in general (returning to the ways of their ancestors). Dec 31, 2021 at 21:38

3 Answers 3


According to BDAG, ἐπιστρέφω means either:

  1. to return to a point where one has been, turn, around, go back, eg, Luke 8:55, Acts 15:36, 16:18, Rev 1:12b, Matt 12:44, Luke 2:39, etc
  2. to change direction, turn around, eg, Matt 5:30, 8:33, John 21:20
  3. to cause a person to change belief or course of conduct with focus on the thing to which one turns, turn, eg, Luke 1:16, 17, James 5:20, 19
  4. to change one's mind or course of action for better or worse, turn, return, eg, Acts 15:16, Gal 4:9, 2 Peter 2:21, Acts 9:35, 11:21, etc.

Thus, "turn" and "return" are both valid translations of ἐπιστρέφω. To illustrate and put this in better contrast let us examine two verses:

  • Luke 1:16 - Many of the sons of Israel he will turn back to the Lord their God.
  • Acts 9:35 - and all who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

The highlighted words in both cases translated the verb ἐπιστρέφω. In the first case, the Jews turn back to God; in the second case, the gentiles turn to God.

Both end up "facing" the same direction, viz, toward God, but the Jews who had turned away, turned back, or returned to God.

  • Very good answer +1. Isn't this exactly what Peter was telling the Jews in Acts 2 when he told them to repent and be converted, ie "return". The question is "return" to what?
    – alb
    Jan 1, 2022 at 3:54
  • @alb - I presume it is return to serving the God who founded the Israelite commonwealth and nation as per Ex 19-23.
    – Dottard
    Jan 1, 2022 at 6:52
  • How about return to the promise of Abraham from the Covenant of the Law? Interesting Peter tells the Jews to repent and return and the Gentiles just to believe. The Gentiles didn't have the Law in which to return to.
    – alb
    Jan 1, 2022 at 14:59
  • @alb - We should not confuse the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12, 15, 17) promise of the land of promise, with the Israelite covenant of the moral law (Ex 19-23). See also Rom 2:14-17
    – Dottard
    Jan 1, 2022 at 20:01
  • I would respectfully disagree. See Dr. Bayliss (from Dallas Theological) article. thebiblicalstory.org/baylis/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/…
    – alb
    Jan 1, 2022 at 20:07

Both words have a similar meaning; Strongs suggests turn as the main meaning of ἐπιστρέψαι.

As we read in Maleachi 2:6

True instruction was in his mouth, and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.

for the Hebrew הֵשִׁ֥יב. Strong suggests "to turn back, return", still the word is translated as "turn from inequity".

John certainly wanted both: to turn the view on the essential, God, and correct their path in this direction. If someone is walking directly in the opposite direction, this means, he returns, but in general, he will get an instruction, a vision where to go, whether he is walking or standing.


Your use of Young's Literal Translation for these two verses reminded me of how he used it in Revelation 1:12. This was with reference to the apostle John. In both cases, the word 'epistrepho' is used, and Young's Alalytical Concordance gives the meaning "To turn over, upon, unto". Therefore, Young consistently translates "shall he turn... to turn the hearts" in Luke 1, and "I turned... and being turned" in Revelation 1.

In both Luke and Revelation, people first had to turn in order to be able to understand. With John the Baptist, the people had to turn to be prepared to recognise the Messiah who was soon to start his ministry. Their repenting and being baptised could not happen until first they turned to consider John the Baptist, to heed what he was saying and doing. Their attention had to turn away from the mundane matters of life to a spiritual reality being proclaimed.

With the apostle John, he heard behind him a great voice, like a trumpet. He heard its message, and turned to see from where the commanding voice emanated. Having turned, he saw seven golden lampstands, and the glorious Christ in their midst. This was not a literal event, but a revelation of the Spirit.

This kind of 'turning' is a spiritual one. People have to hear a spiritual command, turn their attention to the one giving the command, and then do what they are told to do. John the Baptist commanded the people to repent and to be baptised. Only then would they become a people prepared for Christ.

The apostle John had to hear the commanding voice behind him, turn and then both see and understand the significance of the one speaking - the risen Christ.

As this is a spiritual turning required to then be enabled to see and understand a spiritual message and its spiritual source, it should not be rendered 'return', for that requires different, though related words, anakampto, or anastrepho in Greek. They were not to turn back to something - they were not to return to something. They were to turn around to see something different, something new. In both cases, this was a new vision of Christ as the Messiah John was preparing them to heed, and then turning to see the vision of Christ as the glorified one who was speaking.

  • Appreciate your answer but if you look at Thayers Lexicon it says: "b. to cause to return, to bring back; figuratively, τινα ἐπί κύριον τόν Θεόν, to the love and obedience of God, Luke 1:16; ἐπί τέκνα, to love for the children, Luke 1:17..." Example: KJV renders epistrepho as "converted" in James 5:19-20, however, the context speaks to "return"; ie someone strays from the truth and then is converted or they return to the truth.
    – alb
    Jan 1, 2022 at 18:56
  • @alb There must be a difference between epi and not/epi.
    – Anne
    Jan 3, 2022 at 9:51

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