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ἐμπνέων ... Present active participle of old and common verb. Not “breathing out,” but “breathing in” (inhaling) as in Aeschylus and Plato or “breathing on” (from Homer on). -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 9:1). Broadman Press.

Acts 9:1 (ESV) But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest

It is difficult to find an example of usage related to here in Acts. It occurs once in the New Testament, and in the Septuagint (LXX) it refers to people who are alive (breathing). Breathing in seems to give more of the picture of a hound dog tracking a sent than a bull expressing anger.

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Appendix: looking for meanings other than simply breath that might apply herea

Philo uses this word:

And God breathed into man’s face both physically and morally. Physically, when he placed the senses in the face: and this portion of the body above all others is vivified and inspired; and morally, in this manner, as the face is the dominant portion of the body, so also is the mind the dominant portion of the soul. It is into this alone that God breathes; but the other parts, the sensations, the power of speech, and the power of generation, he does not think worthy of his breath, for they are inferior in power. (40) By what then were these subordinate parts inspired? -- Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 29). Hendrickson.

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I agree that the etymology of the word ἐμπνέων implies breathing IN not OUT. However, it always dangerous to base current meanings on ancient derivations as the OP would be aware.

[Indeed, the same can be said of ἐμφυσάω (with the same prefix!) but id definitely used of Jesus breathing OUT on the disciples in John 20:22.]

BDAG gives two basic meanings for the word:

  1. to emit breath, breath (Kaibel above) figuratively in the idiom of ἀπειλῆς καὶ φόνου he breathed murderous threats Acts 9:1 ...
  2. to give a share in one's breath and then have influence, inspire [not used in this sense in the NT]

[For far more details, see BDAG and the numerous references to secular and classic Greek literature it contains.]

Thus, it appears that the word ἐμπνέων means breathing generally and appears to be a Hebraism in the sense that in Hebrew, the word for "anger" is actually אַף meaning "nostril, nose, etc" and is used for one who displays anger because when a person in angry, they breath heavily, eg, Gen 27:45, 39:19, 44:18, 49:6, 7, Ex 4:14, 11:8, 22:24, etc.

With this understanding, the prefix ἐμ would indicate that the word here does not mean to breath in but that the breathing come from an internal emotion, hence the Hebraism using a Greek word.

Thus, with only a little literary license, one might adventurously translate Acts 9:1 as, "Paul, still angry with murderous threats ..."

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  • Does this mean that "But Saul, still inspiring/influencing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord...?" This does seem to match Philo.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 1:18
  • @PerryWebb - "inspiring" is the word's extended meaning; "breathing is the primary meaning, hence my comments above.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 1:45
  • You may well be right about a Hebraism. Luke was a gentile. However, Dr. Bailey pointed out Hebraisms in Luke's Gospel which supports the authenticity of Jesus' statements. This may be due to wording from Paul's own testimony.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 22:09
  • @PerryWebb - good point. I have detected many Hebraisms in Luke's writings. He was well suited to spanning the divide between Jew and gentile because his works could be understood by both.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 22:13
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In Acts 9:1, the word in question refers to Saul (who would later become Paul), and is typically translated into English as "breathing out." However, as the quote you've provided from A.T. Robertson points out, the original Greek word, "ἐμπνέων" (empneon), has a more nuanced meaning.

The Greek word "ἐμπνέων" is a present active participle form of "ἐμπνέω" (empneo), which means to breathe in, inhale, or breathe upon. In the context of Acts 9:1, many scholars interpret this as Saul "breathing in" threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, which can be seen as Saul being consumed by his anger and hostility towards the Christians. It's a vivid metaphor that portrays Saul as filled with rage and murderous intent.

When Robertson suggests it might better be translated as "breathing in" or "breathing on", he is trying to capture this nuance of the original Greek. Rather than simply expressing external threats, Saul is depicted as "inhaling" threats and murder, as if his hostility towards the Christians is the very air he breathes.

While the analogy of a hound dog tracking a scent does capture the idea of intense focus and determination, it lacks the element of hostility and rage that is present in the original context. The analogy of a bull expressing anger might be closer in conveying the passionate fury that Saul had towards the Christians at this time.

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    Perhaps the analogy of a dragon breathing out fire onto intended victims would fit?
    – Lesley
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 13:41

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