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The Greek Meaning of Conversion That Will Deepen Your Understanding of What It Means to Come Unto Christ

During Jesus’s last earthly meal, the Passover, He said to Peter:

"I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

Is conversion something that happens to us—something that occurs because of the agency of an outside force? Are we to suppose that Peter was to wait until he was converted? To wait until some other entity or person exercises agency to make his conversion happen?

What we miss when we read this scripture this way is that conversion is what we do. We are the ones who convert ourselves. How does that make sense? Let’s look a little more closely into the meaning and history of conversion.

The English word “convert” means to “fully turn.” The underlying Greek word for “convert” used in Luke 22:32 is epistrepho, which means “to turn.” When Luke uses this verb in his gospel record, the person turning is doing so of their own volition and agency. In Luke 2:20 the shepherds “turned themselves” when they returned glorifying. In Luke 8:55, the departed spirit obeyed the voice of God and “turned,” or came again to the body, of its own volition. In Luke 17:4, the penitent one chooses to “turn themselves,” or repent and return for forgiveness. In Luke 17:31, when the day of judgment comes, choose to not “turn yourself” back to your field, but instead flee to the mountains. In other words, we are the ones making the turn, and fully. If God turns us, then our agency is compromised, our learning is destroyed, and our growth is blighted.

Digging further, we see that the Greek word epistrepho is built on the Greek word for trophy. What does a trophy have to do with turning and conversion? The word trophy means “turning point.” This is where things get really interesting.

In the ancient world, when two opposing armies met on the battlefield, eventually one would begin to overpower the other. When that happened, the losing side would quickly abandon all their weapons, protection, and other equipment that would hinder their rapid flight from the battlefield. These losing warriors literally “turned themselves” around and ran. The winning army collected the discarded weapons and equipment, which now served as the symbols that they had won the battle—trophies!

What are our trophies that we discard so that we might turn ourselves to Jesus? Our sins, our pride, our fears, our careless concerns. Anything that hinders us from turning ourselves to Jesus can be cast down, repented of, and become a token of our willingness to give away anything and everything that keeps us from Jesus.

The Lamanite king of Alma 22 declared his trophies when he said, “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.” (Alma 22:18). This king was willing to abandon all his sins that he had used to fight against Jesus, that he had used to “shield” himself from Jesus. The king left his sins on the battlefield as “trophies” for Jesus. Once the king had shed these trophies, turning himself to Jesus, God could “conquer” his soul, bringing him to true safety and peace.

Returning to Jesus’s statement to Peter “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” agency is fully in Peter’s hands. Peter is the one who must choose to fully turn himself, to give himself over to the Lord and His service. Just like all of us.

Our conversion is our choice. And our actions demonstrate our choice.

Therefore, the trophies of our conversion are a broken heart, a contrite spirit, and a willing mind faced squarely in the direction of Jesus on the battlefield for our soul.

Lead image from Shutterstock



Make a Choice

Looking for more inspiring thoughts on this topic? Check out Make a Choice by Jeff Benedict. 

New York Times best-selling author Jeff Benedict has seen both good and bad in his career as a journalist. Some of the best are the extraordinary people he has met who have made deliberate choices to live happier lives despite the extreme hardship that each of them have faced. Although life will knock us down from time to time, this book is an important reminder that we all can make a choice to get back up, brush ourselves off, and keep pressing forward. All we have to do is Make a Choice.


Taylorhalverson

Dr. Taylor Halverson

Taylor Halverson is a BYU Teaching and Learning Consultant. He recently helped edit the new book Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True and has published and presented widely on scripture, innovation, entrepreneurship, technology, teaching, and learning and has PhDs in Biblical Studies and Instructional Technology. Click here to request a free eBook Memoirs of the Ward Rumor Control Coordinator, a light-hearted look at our beloved Mormon culture. More at taylorhalverson.com.

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