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Matthew 20:10 But when the first came,
Context:

A parable comparing the realm of the skies to hiring workers throughout the day.

Spoken to:
audience
Greek Verse:

Matthew 20:10  καὶ ἐλθόντες οἱ πρῶτοι ἐνόμισαν ὅτι πλεῖον λήμψονται: καὶ ἔλαβον [τὸ] ἀνὰ δηνάριον καὶ αὐτοί.

KJV Verse:

Matthew 20:10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

NIV Verse:

Matthew 20:10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.

Literal Alternative:

And showing up, the initial ones assumed that more they are getting, and they got it from top to bottom: a denarius, and they themselves....

Hidden Meaning:

The last two Greek words in this verse, meaning "and they," very likely belong to the beginning of the next verse. They are translated as "likewise" in the KJV, and "of them," which is the wrong form of the pronoun, and "also" in the NIV. All the translators what this "and/also" to be part of the "received" clause, but if it was it would give away the punchline, which the listeners expect to be different than the previous verse, (like theworkers) but isn't. If these words are moved to where they belong, this verse ends on the same punchline as the previous verse, "from top to bottom a denarius."

Again, all biblical translations get the preposition at the end wrong, translating it as "each" and "every." While this conveys some of its meaning, it confusing it with the very common word that Jesus uses for "each" and "every." More importantly, it destroys Jesus's play on words, emphasizing the "top to bottom" sense of the words "first to last" nouns, which can also mean "top to bottom."  This preposition is only used six times by Jesus with the intent purpose of showing the range of something, here, the range of the payment.
 

Wordplay:

The word translated as "the first" also means "the highest" and "the best." 

The word translates as "every man" means "from bottom to top."   However, it also means "without understanding," which describes what is going on here. Finally, it also means "fulfillment," which also describes the payment. 

Both of these words continue the wordplay of Matthew 20:8 and Matthew 20:9 "last to first" wordplay. 

My Takeaway:

Getting what is given is not getting what we expect.

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About this Site

I started this site fifteen years ago.  My original award-winning work as a "techno-linguist" was in ancient Chinese. I wanted to bring the same computer search and analysis techniques to explore something more important: the original Greek of Jesus's words. To understand why this was important to me, you may want to read this article on how Jesus's meaning is lost.

This site does not promote any religious point of view. On the contrary, it seeks to avoid the competing and evolving religious dogmas that have shaped Biblical translation for centuries.  I purposely use "nonreligious" sources for Greek word meaning, rejoining the study of Biblical Greek with the broader study of ancient Greek. My goal is simply to identify how listeners of Jesus's time would have heard him.

Jesus' words are unique for three reasons.

  1. His words were spoken, not written. Spoken language is inherently different than written language.
  2. His words changed the meaning of words, determining even how later NT authors' used the Greek.
  3. His words were the basis of a unique historical revolution in the way people think.

Most of the on-line material on "Biblical Greek" is largely tautological. It explains the Greek only in terms of how it has been translated into English in the Bible. It flows from the ways that the  Gospel was taught from the Latin Vulgate. I respect this work and use it daily. However,  most of my work takes place outside of this tradition, researching the use of the Greek closer to the time of Jesus, especially the Greek OT, the Septuagint.

The Bible has been such a powerful force in history that it has changed the meaning of many words in English, Latin, and Greek. However, the Greek of Jesus's words has been faithfully preserved for centuries despite the changing religious fashions. These fashions, unfortunately, affect each successive English translation of the Bible, moving it further and further from the Greek.  I stopped analyzing the NLT version because so much of it fails to connect to anything in Jesus's Greek. It is not a translation but how a group of people today feel about the ideas in other English translations. The Message Bible version is even worse.

This site is offered for those who care about fidelity to Scripture as passed down for two thousand years.

Most Recent Question

Question:
Does John 6:37 mean that once I’m saved, no matter what sin I do, if I come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness and repent from that sin, I will not be cast out?
Answer:

I don't see anything about asking forgiveness and repenting nor anything about "being saved." All of these are Christian concepts invented after Jesus. He doesn't use these ideas at all. What is translated as "forgive" means "let go" as in dropping something. What is translated as "repent" means "change your mind" as in thinking differently. What gets translated as "being saved" is the idea of being "rescued" not from "evil" but from "worthlessness."

None of this is in the verses. Or in its context. His ideas in John 6:37 are simpler.  You are either returning to Jesus or moving away from him. Those who the Father has given him...