Sent:                                   Sunday, February 13, 2022 2:55 PM

To:                                           Acts/Greek Students

Subject:                              Recognizing Idioms


Dear All,


Last Thursday, Grace asked about ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό in Acts 2:1.  It is all-but impossible to translate word-for-word and have it make any sense at all.  When that happens to you, you start to suspect that you may be looking at an idiom.


And what is an “idiom” you ask?  It is an expression that means something, but not exactly what the words say.  For instance, in English, you could say, “He has ice water in his veins.”


Well, naturally he does NOT have ice water in his veins.  He has blood in his veins, and that blood is at 37° C.


That expression is an idiom that means “He stays calm in a stressful situation.”


If you think you are looking at an idiom, the first thing to do is to take a close look at your lexical aids.  In StepBible, they do in fact flag this exact phrase, ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, as an idiom.



But what do you do if your lexicon doesn’t give you any help on the phrase you are looking for?  If you own it, the BDAG lexicon will go a good bit further than StepBible in defining obscure idiomatic usages of particular words.


If you don’t own BDAG, then your best bet is to take a look at published translations…because you know for sure that the translation committees that produced these absolutely DID have access to BDAG, and to the unabridged version of the LSJ lexicon.


Further, the translation committees—if they are still in doubt about a usage—may look at ancient Latin or Syriac translations of the text, to see how people translated it who were a good bit closer to Koine Greek than we are.


The easiest way to access a range of translations is from In the case of Acts 2:1, here is what we get:



As you look at this, you get the strong feeling that “ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό is an idiom for ‘in one place’.”


Now, I just this afternoon discovered how to search for every instance of a Greek phrase in the StepBible.  This will be useful to you for more than just tracking down idioms.


1.    Ensure that you are looking at the SBLGNT or THGNT on screen.

2.    Click on the search button.

3.    Paste or type the Greek phrase you want, including it inside quotation marks.

4.    Your search phrase will automatically appear in the box to the right of ‘Word or “a phrase” in the translation.’

What threw me off is that the SBLGNT is not a “translation”.  But for the purposes of this search box, it is.

5.    Click on “ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό” in the “Suggested search word(s)” box.


It turns out this phrase is used ONLY 4 times in the whole NT.



Now, you can go up and turn on an English translation, in addition to the SBLGNT, to see how they translated this.



This gives you a much better feel for how this idiom is used.



Beth, a couple of weeks ago we were talking about the phrase πιστὸςλόγος from 1 Tim. 3:1.  This approach to using StepBible will return all of the instances where this phrase occurs in the whole NT.  I am very impressed with the power that the StepBible guys have built into their application.


The big deal is just to make sure that if you are searching a Greek phrase, a Greek version appears above any English translations.



Well!!  It has been a good Sunday afternoon.  I have learned something new about how to study and translate the Bible.


I may include this page as a lesson at our class web site.  Being able to track down the translation of obscure idioms, and being able to search for a phrase in the Greek New Testament…these are both pretty powerful tools to be able to use.


After composing this email, I ran into this quote:


The prep. phrase ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό is an idiomatic phrase common in the LXX (55 times), mng. “together” or “come together.”


L. Scott Kellum, Acts, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2020), 29.


While an interesting quote, we had already come up with this translation insight without first needing to purchase a $40 commentary.


The commentary does go on to give a helpful translation tip, since we would not want to use "together together" in an English sentence as a rendering of ὁμοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό:


Because ὁμοῦ (adv., “together”) is also used in the same phrase, we are forced to use the lit. “in the same place.”




I tried doing a phrase-search for ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό in the LXX using StepBible, but it didn’t return anything. 


It is a significant achievement that the StepBible programmers added phrase searching to the Greek New Testament (which is extremely cool!).  But they have not yet added it to the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX).