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ἀπεκρίθη – separated or answered?

In earlier and more refined Greek writings, such as those of Plato, ἀπεκρίθη (apekrithē) and ἀποκριθήσομαι (apokrithēsomai) in the passive sense aren’t typically used to convey the sense of “he answered.” Instead, ἀποκριθῆναι (apokrithēnai) and ἀποκρίνασθαι (apokrinasthai) are used interchangeably.

In the New Testament, there is a peculiar use the passive form ἀπεκρίθη (apekrithē). The aorist middle form, ἀπεκρίνατο (apekrinato), appears only in a few instances, such as in Matthew 27:12, Mark 14:61, Luke 3:16, Luke 23:9, John 5:17, 19, John 12:23, and Acts 3:12.

What makes this word so important is the fact that it appears in conjunction with “he said” many times, i.e. “he separated and said” thus to translate it as  “he answered and said” is certainly redundant and unnecessary.

So, while earlier Greek writings preferred different forms for “he answered,” the New Testament authors did not rely on them, but chose to use a passive form ἀπεκρίθη.

ἀποκρίνω (apokrinō) occurs 232 times in the New Testament (cf. Strong’s #611). In classical Greek, it means “to separate” or “to choose.”

According to LSJ (Liddell, Scott, Jones), “set apart” or “to be parted or separated,” ἀποκρίνω (apokrinō) has various uses:

  1. Set apart: This usage is suggested in works such as Plato’s “Plutarch” and other sources like Pherecrates and Aelian’s “Varia Historia.”
  2. To be parted or separated: In its passive form, ἀποκρίνθη (apokrinthē), it indicates being separated or parted. For instance, in Homer’s “Iliad,” it describes two champions being separated from the throng. It’s also seen in other contexts, such as describing the separation of elements in cosmogony or the separation of different nations.

The term encompasses both physical separation, as in the case of combatants separated without a decisive result, and conceptual separation, as when disparate elements are brought under one name.

The problem with translating the passive ἀποκρίνθη as “he answered” is that while “he answered” is a common translation for the aorist passive form ἀποκρίνθη (apokrinthē), it doesn’t fully convey the passive aspect of the verb. A more precise translation accounting for the passive voice would be something like “he is being answered” or “he was being answered.” This emphasizes the fact that the subject is receiving the action of being answered rather than actively answering.

When the New Testament authors focus on certain patterns, specific word choices, or linguistic forms, it means they intend for them to be paid close attention to.