Matthew 12:36 That every idle word

Spoken to: 

audience

Context: 

Pharisees attack, casting out demons, valuable and worthless

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

I'm speaking, however, to you: Every fruitless remark that they might repeat, these men, they are going to give back about it an explanation during a time of decision.

KJV : 

Matthew 12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

There are a number of confusing words in the English translation here, including the key words "idle," "word," "speak," "give," "account," and "judgment." Because of this sloppy translation, the connection to the idea of "value" in the previous verse is lost in translation. There is also important definite particle is omitted before "men." The actual phrase is "these men," which seems to refer specifically to the Pharisees who were challenging him. A "the" is added before "a time of judgment" to make it seem as though Jesus was referring to a specific date when he wasn't.

Another good play on words in the Greek is lost in English translation. The word translated as "word' is not the common Greek noun usually translated as "word'. However, the Greek word normally translated as "word" does appear here: but it is translated as "account" is that  It is very consistent with Jesus's message about "good" meaning "useful" and 'bad" meaning "useless" in the previous verse, Matthew 12:35.

NIV : 

Matthew 12:36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.

Wordplay: 

The term translated as "they shall give" means "to pay back" in a financial sense, while the word translated as "account" means "value" or "cost." 

My Takeaway: 

Words can destroy valuable knowledge as well as capture it.

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Λέγω (1st sg pres ind act) "I say" is from lego, which means "to recount", "to tell over", "to say", "to speak", "to teach", "to mean", "boast of", "tell of", "recite," nominate," and "command." It has a secondary meaning "pick out, ""choose for oneself", "pick up", "gather", "count," and "recount." A less common word that is spelled the same means "to lay", "to lay asleep" and "to lull asleep."

δὲ (partic) "But" is from de which means "but" and "on the other hand." It is the particle that joins sentences in an adversarial way but can also be a weak connective ("and") and explanation of cause ("so") and a condition ("if").

ὑμῖν (pron 2nd pl dat) "You" is from humas the plural form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."
ὅτι "That" is from hoti, which introduces a statement of fact "with regard to the fact that", "seeing that," and acts as a causal adverb meaning "for what", "because", "since," and "wherefore."

πᾶν (adj sg neut acc) "Every" is from pas, which means "all", "the whole", "every", "anyone", "all kinds," and "anything." In the adverbial form, it means "every way", "on every side", "in every way," and "altogether." -- The word translated as "all things" is one word meaning "all", "the whole", "every," and similar ideas. As an adverb, it means "in every way", "on every side," and "altogether."

ῥῆμα [10 verses](noun sg neut acc) "Word" is from rhema, which means "that which is spoken", "word", "saying", "word for word", "subject of speech," and "matter."

ἀργὸν [2 verses](adj sg neut acc) "Idle" is argos, which means "not working the ground", "lazy," and "idle" when applied to people, but when applied to things (like words) "lying idle", "yielding no return," and "fruitless."

 (pron sg neut acc) "That" is from hos, which means "this", "that", "he", "she", "which", "what", "who", "whosoever", "where", "for which reason," and many similar meanings. -- The word translated as "that" is a demonstrative pronoun, but it often acts as a pronoun, especially a connective pronoun introducing a dependent clause.

λαλήσουσιν (3rd pl aor subj act or 3rd pl fut ind act) "Shall speak" is from laleo, which means "to talk", "to speak ", "to prattle", "to chat," and [for oracles] "to proclaim." It also means "chatter" as the opposite of articulate speech.

οἱ (article pl masc nom) Untranslated is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ἄνθρωποι, (noun pl masc nom) "Men" is from anthropos, which is "man," and, in plural, "mankind." It also means "humanity" and that which is human and opposed to that which is animal or inanimate. -- The Greek word for "of man" in the singular means "person" and "humanity" and "people" and "peoples" in plural.

ἀποδώσουσιν (3rd pl fut ind act) "They shall give" is from apodidomi which means "to give back", "to restore," and "to deliver." It has the economic sense of "to sell" or "to give something for one's own profit." It begins with apo the preposition of separation and origin, the idea of "from" in English, didômi which means "to give", "to grant", "to hand over," and "to describe."

περὶ (prep) "Thereof" is from peri, which means "round about (Place)", "around", "about", "concerning", "on account of", "in regard to", "before", "above", "beyond," and "all around."

αὐτοῦ (adj sg masc gen) Untranslated is autos, which means "the same," and the reflexive pronouns, "myself", "yourself", "himself", "herself", "itself," or the oblique case of the pronouns, "him", "her," and "it." It also means "one's true self," that is, "the soul" as opposed to the body and "of one's own accord."

λόγον (noun sg masc acc) "Account" is from logos, which is usually translated as "word" in the gospel but actually means "computation", "relation", "explanation", "law", "rule of conduct", "continuous statement", "tradition", "discussion, ""reckoning," and "value."

ἐν (prep) "In" is from en, which means "in", "on", "at", "by", "among", "within", "surrounded by", "in one's hands", "in one's power," and "with".

ἡμέρᾳ (noun sg fem dat) "Day" is from hemera, which, as a noun, means "day ""a state or time of life", "a time (poetic)", "day break" and "day time." It is also and also has a second meaning, of "quiet", "tame (animals)", "cultivated (crops)," and "civilized (people)." --

κρίσεως: (noun sg fem gen) "Judgment" is from krisis, which means "separating", "distinguishing", "judgment", "choice", "election", "trial", "dispute", "event," and "issue."

KJV Analysis: 

But -- The term translated as "but" means that, but since it always appears in the second position in a phrase, it feels more like our word "however," which can appear in the second position. The effect is to change the direction of the phrase after it is started.

I --This is from the first-person, singular form of the verb.

say -- The word translated as "I tell" is the most common word that means "to say," and "to speak," but it also means "to teach," which seems to be the way Christ uses it more frequently. It also has many ancillary meanings such as "to count" ("to number" or like we might say, "to recount" a story) or "to choose for yourself." Christ usually uses this word to refer to his own speaking or teaching.

unto -- This word "to" comes from the dative case of the following word that requires the addition of a preposition in English, but the translator must decide which preposition to use: a "to" as an indirect object.

you, -- The Greek pronoun "you" here is plural and in the form of an indirect object, "to you", "for you", etc. 

That -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "that" in the Greek source.

every -- The word translated as "every" is the Greek adjective meaning "all", "the whole", "every," and similar ideas.

idle  - (CW) "Idle" is an adjective that means "not working the ground", "lazy," and "idle" when applied to people, but when applied to things (like words) "lying idle", "yielding no return," and "fruitless." The reference is the idea of valuable fruit developed in previous verses.

word  - (CW) The Greek word translated as "word" is not the Greek word that is almost always translated as "word(s)" in the Gospels, but another word that specifically means spoken words, that is, a "saying". The English word "remarks" is from this Greek root word  and captures its meaning well.

that -- The word translated as "that" is a demonstrative pronoun ("this" "that"), but it often acts as a pronoun ("the one that), especially a connective pronoun ("the one that") introducing a dependent clause.

untranslated "the"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those"). See this article for more. 

men -- The Greek word for "man" means "man", "person" and "humanity" in the singular. In the plural, it means "men", "people", and "peoples". 

shall -- This helping verb "shall" indicates that the verb is the future tense or a form that indicates possibility at some time. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English.

speak,  - (CW) The Greek word translated as "shall speak" is not the ordinary "to say" or "to speak" in Greek that is translated as "say" above. This word here means both "idle chatter", "gossip," and "the proclamations of an oracle." Jesus uses it to capture the idea of "pass on," because that refers to both someone gossiping and an oracle proclaiming. Jesus sometimes refers to his own speaking with this word in a self-effacing way. 

they -- This is from the third-person, plural form of the verb.

shall -- This helping verb "shall" indicates that the verb is the future tense. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English.

give  - (CW) The word translated as "give" doesn't mean simply "give." It means "to give back." In a financial sense, to "pay back." It is not the simple word meaning "give," which is its root.

account  - (CW) "Account" is actually the Greek term usually translated as "word,". It means "a computation", "a reckoning," and "value." It is also "an explanation", "an argument," or "a rule or principle of law." When used with a verb with a financial sense, it means "value" or "cost." Jesus usually uses it to mean "explanation," which works here, or more simply "idea."

thereof -- (WW) The Greek word translated as "thereof" means "around" when referring to a place, but, in this context, it means "about", "concerning", "on account of," and "in regard to." This is a preposition with an object.

untranslated "it"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is isis the word usually translated as "his", "hers," and "its."  Here, it is the object of the preposition, so "it." It is singular and the form refers to the word "remark."

in  - The word translated as "in" also means "within", "with," or "among." Or in the case of referring to a time, "during."

the -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "the" in the Greek source.

day  - The Greek word translated as "day" also means "time," in general, and refers specifically to the "daytime."

of -- This word "of"  comes from the genitive case of the following word that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession.

judgment.  - The Greek word translated as "of judgment" means distinguishing among choices and "separating" things. Christ uses it in a variety of ways, though the KJV usually translates it as "judgment." It also means a "turning point," since it is the source of the meaning of "crisis" has in English. Only secondarily does it means "judgment" as in a court judgment.

KJV Translation Issues: 

9
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "that" doesn't exist in the source.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "idle" has more the idea of "fruitless."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "word" is not the common word usually translated as "word."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "men" is not shown in the English translation.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "speak" is not the common words usually translated as "speak."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "give" is not the common word usually translated as "give."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "account" has more the idea of "explanation."
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "thereof" should be "concerning."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "the" before "day" doesn't exist in the source.

NIV Analysis: 

But -- The Greek word translated as "but" joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better. When used in writing, it creates complex sentences, but when spoken, it makes a good pausing point so that an important or humorous word can follow.

I --This is from the first-person, singular form of the verb.

tell -- The word translated as "tell" is the most common word that means "to say," and "to speak," but it also means "to teach," which seems to be the way Christ uses it more frequently. Christ usually uses this word to refer to his own speaking or teaching. This Greek word rhymes with the Greek word used above meaning "I".

you,  -- The Greek pronoun "you" here is plural and in the form of an indirect object, "to you", "for you", etc.

that -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "that" in the Greek source.

everyone -- -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "everyone" in the Greek source.

will -- This helping verb "will" indicates that the verb is the future tense. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English.

have to -- (IP) There is nothing that can be translated as "have to" in the Greek source.

give  - (CW) The word translated as "give" doesn't mean simply "give." It means "to give back." In a financial sense, to "pay back." It is not the simple word meaning "give," which is its root.

account  - (CW) "Account" is actually the Greek term usually translated as "word,". It means "a computation", "a reckoning," and "value." It is also "an explanation", "an argument," or "a rule or principle of law." When used with a verb with a financial sense, it means "value" or "cost." Jesus usually uses it to mean "explanation," which works here, or more simply "idea."

on - The word translated as "in" also means "within", "with," or "among." Or in the case of referring to a time, "during."

the -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "the" in the Greek source.

day  - The Greek word translated as "day" also means "time," in general, and refers specifically to the "daytime."

of -- This word "of"  comes from the genitive case of the following word that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession.

judgment.  - The Greek word translated as "of judgment" means distinguishing among choices and "separating" things. Christ uses it in a variety of ways, though the KJV usually translates it as "judgment." It also means a "turning point," since it is the source of the meaning of "crisis" has in English. Only secondarily does it means "judgment" as in a court judgment.

for -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "for" in the Greek source.

every --  The word translated as "everyone" is the Greek adjective meaning "all", "the whole", "every," and similar ideas. However, to be translated as "everyone" it would have to be plural and masculine. Here it is singular and neuter, matching the term "word."

empty  -  (WW) "Empty" is an adjective that means "not working the ground", "lazy," and "idle" when applied to people, but when applied to things (like words) "lying idle", "yielding no return," and "fruitless." The reference is the idea of valuable fruit developed in previous verses.

word  - (CW) The Greek word translated as "word" is not the Greek word that is almost always translated as "word(s)" in the Gospels, but another word that specifically means spoken words, that is, a "saying". The English word "remarks" is from this Greek root word  and captures its meaning well.

untranslated "that"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is a demonstrative pronoun ("this" "that"), but it often acts as a pronoun ("the one that), especially a connective pronoun ("the one that") introducing a dependent clause.

untranslated "the"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun and, without a noun, takes the meaning of "the one." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those"). See this article for more. 

they -- (WW) The Greek word for "they" means "man", "person" and "humanity" in the singular. In the plural, it means "men", "people", and "peoples". 

have -- (WT) This helping verb "have" indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action competed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here. The verb is the future tense or a form that indicates possibility at some time. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English.

spoken,  - (CW) The Greek word translated as "shall speak" is not the ordinary "to say" or "to speak" in Greek that is translated as "say" above. This word here means both "idle chatter", "gossip," and "the proclamations of an oracle." Jesus uses it to capture the idea of "pass on," because that refers to both someone gossiping and an oracle proclaiming. Jesus sometimes refers to his own speaking with this word in a self-effacing way.

untranslated "about"  -- (MW) The untranslated word means "around" when referring to a place, but, in this context, it means "about", "concerning", "on account of," and "in regard to." This is a preposition with an object.

untranslated "it"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is isis the word usually translated as "his", "hers," and "its."  Here, it is the object of the preposition, so "it." It is singular and the form refers to the word "remark."

NIV Translation Issues: 

16
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "that" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "everyone" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The phrase "have to" doesn't exist in the source.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "give" is not the common word usually translated as "give."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "account" has more the idea of "explanation."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "the" before "day" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "for"  doesn't exist in the source.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "empty" should be "fruitless."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "word" is not the common word usually translated as "word."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "that"  is not shown in the English translation.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "men" is not shown in the English translation.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "they" should be "men."
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is the future
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "spoken" is not the common words usually translated as "speak."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "about"  is not shown in the English translation.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "it" is not shown in the English translation.

The Spoken Version: 

“However, I’m telling you:  every fruitless remark that they might repeat, these men,” he said, indicating the group of Distinguished, “they are going to give back concerning it.”
“What will they give it back?” someone asked. “For their libels against you?”
“An explanation?” suggested the Nazarene.
The crowd laughed.
“When will they have to explain themselves?” that same person asked.
“In a time of decision,” the Master answered with a smile.
The crowd laughed again.

Front Page Date: 

Nov 11 2020