I specifically put both terms in the title as they are each so common but with the differing ending have slightly different situational use.
1: to retell or restate briefly : SUMMARIZE recapitulate the main points of an argument. He is best when commenting on the words of others; he is worst when attempting to recapitulate the history of sports or boxing.— Arthur KrystalTo recapitulate the ten presidential elections since 1952 does not in itself advance our understanding of the huge changes taking place in American political behavior.— Bernard A. Weisberger
2: to give new form or expression to. With massive, forbidding bulwarks, crenellated parapets, watchtowers buttressing the corners of the walls, his notion of a prison recapitulated the forms of medieval fear and paranoia.— John Edgar Wideman
3a: to repeat the principal stages or phases of (a process, such as a biological process). This chapter dwells on the recurring theme that carcinogenesis recapitulates embryogenesis …— Shi-Ming Tu
3b: to reproduce or closely resemble (as in structure or function). The animal model should recapitulate if not the entire human disease phenotype, then at least the key attributes under study.— Thomas A. Milne The field of tissue engineering aims to recapitulate native tissue function toward replacing damaged or diseased tissues and organs.— Jennifer K. Lee et al.
intransitive verb: to make or be able to make a summary : SUM UP To recapitulate, at the center of a black hole … there resides a singularity: a region in which time no longer exists …— Kip S. Thorne
1560s, back-formation from recapitulation (q.v.) and also from Late Latin recapitulatus, past participle of recapitulare. Related: Recapitulated; recapitulating.
late 14c., “a summarizing,” from Old French recapitulacion (13c.), from Late Latin recapitulationem (nominative recapitulatio), noun of action from past participle stem of recapitulare “go over the main points of a thing again,” literally “restate by heads or chapters,” from re- “again” (see re-) + capitulum “main part,” literally “little head,” diminutive of caput “head,” also “leader, guide, chief person; summit; capital city; origin, source, spring,” figuratively “life, physical life;” in writing “a division, paragraph;” of money, “the principal sum,” from PIE root *kaput– “head.”
Recapitulate shows up often in theological study.
Why this is is made all the more obvious when you compare the structures of one text to another from the Scriptures. There are many parallels, chiasms, and reuse of Scripture by Scripture. There are also many instances (such as in the Psalms) where something is simply restated using different words or the same point or story is told again but from a slightly different angle or using different examples.
In other words, there are plenty of points where things can get restated or retold. This also includes people who closely resemble another in the Scriptures–this is not a mistake; it is deliberate and thereby shows clear connection between each. Especially dealing with people you will also come across the term “type” and this is most often seen when looking at key figures that find their ultimate and perfect realization in Jesus. All those before Him were incomplete “summaries” of the Christ (ex. Jesus could be said to have recapitulated Adam but unlike Adam, did not sin like Adam).
Recapitulate can end up being used broadly or narrowly but its use still gets back to the context of the above definitions.