Matthew 20:12 [Saying,] These last have wrought [but] one hour

KJV Verse: 

Mat 20:12 Saying, These last have wrought [but] one hour, and your have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden and heat of the day.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

These lowest served for one hour, and your have served them the same [as] us, the ones bearing the weight of the day and the summer's heat.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

"The last" is from an adjective that has many meanings, which are used in the wordplay in this verse. In space, this means "furthest." In degree, it means "uttermost" and "highest." In persons, it means "lowest" and "meanest." Of time, it means "last" and "ending." Here, is used as a noun.

The same word is used here that is translated as "wrought" and "made." Both from verb which has two general meanings of "make," and "do" and this verse combines both meanings. No English word has quite the same two ideas. In the sense of "make" this word means "to produce", "to bring into existence", "to bring about," and "to cause." In the sense of "to do," it means "to act" and "to be effective." It is usually translated as "do" in the Gospels, but both examples here are its primary meaning.

There is also a little wordplay with the word for "equal" and "them." The word translated as "them" actually an adjective that means "the same," referring to an earlier noun, like our pronouns do.

"Which have born" is from a verb that means to "lift up" "raise", "endure," and "bear." In is in the form of an adjective ("enduring") used as a noun ("the ones enduring."

"Burden" is from an adjective that means "weight", "heaviness", "burden," and, in a positive sense, "abudance." Here, it has the sense of the greater part, what the Greeks would call "the weight" of something.

"Heat" is from a noun which means "burning heat" and "summer heat."

Here, Christ expresses the standard complaint of humanity: that life isn't fair. Some suffer and bear more burdens in life, but God doesn't not necessarily reward them for their suffering or their efforts.

Notice that Christ specifically raises the issue of equality, or, as we might say it, fairness. From our limited (which is to say, self-centered and human) point of view, reward ought to be proportional to effort. In real life, we know that it isn't. Those who don't believe in God often point to this as a "defect" in the universe and therefore proof that God does not exist. The reasoning is, "If God exists, why isn't life more fair? Why aren't the rewards we received equal to the amount time we put in, the amount of effort we make, or the amount we suffer?"

Christ, unlike some Christian apologists, doesn't dismiss this question or relegate the balancing of the scales to the afterlife. Instead, his view puts everything in terms of our debt to God. Those who talk about what God owes us are seriously confused in terms of "fairness" are seriously confused. How can we repay God for anything we have?

 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Οὗτοι (adj pl masc nom) "These" is from houtos, which means "this", "that", "the nearer." As an adverb, it means "in this way", "therefore", "so much", "to such an extent," and "that is why."

οἱ ἔσχατοι (adj pl masc nom) "The last" is from eschatos. In space, this means "furthest." In degree, it means "uttermost" and "highest." In persons, it means "lowest" and "meanest." Of time, it means "last" and "ending."

μίαν (adj sg fem acc) "One" is from heis, which means "one", "single," and "one and the same." This adjective is irregular, having a number of forms depending on sex, number, and case: heis, henos, heni, hen, hena, mia, mias, miai, mian; hen, henos, hen. The form is mia, feminine singular.

ὥραν (noun sg fem acc) "Hour" is from hora, which means "any period", "season," (especially springtime), "year' (generally), "climate" (as determined by seasons), "duration", "the twelve equal parts into which the period of daylight was divided", "the fitting time" (for a task). -- The word translated as "hour" means a period of time, generally, as we might say "moment."

ἐποίησαν, (verb 3rd pl aor ind act) "Have wrought" is from poieo, which means "to make", "to produce", "to create", "to bring into existence", "to bring about", "to cause", "to render", "to consider", "to prepare", "to make ready," and "to do."

καὶ "And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just." -- The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also") and, in a series, is best translated as "not only...but also."

ἴσους (adj pl masc acc) "Equal" is from isos, which means "equal" in size, strength, number, or rights; of persons, "fair," "impartial"; of ground, "even," "flat"; generally, "just", "fair." It is also used to mean an "equal share" or "equally distributed."

αὐτοὺς (adj pl masc acc) "Them" is from 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."

ἡμῖν (pron 1st pl masc dat) "Unto us" is from hemeis, the first person plural pronoun, "we", "us". Christ's listeners.

ἐποίησας (verb 2nd sg aor ind act) "Thou has made" is from poieo, which means "to make", "to produce", "to create", "to bring into existence", "to bring about", "to cause", "to render", "to consider", "to prepare", "to make ready", "put "in a certain place or condition, "deem," "consider," "reckon" a thing as, "make ready," "prepare," as food and "to do."

τοῖς βαστάσασι (part pl aor act masc dat) "Have born the burden" is from bastazô, which means "to lift up", "to raise", "to bear", "to carry", "to endure," and "to carry off, "produce", "yield," of land."

τὸ βάρος (noun sg neut acc) "The burden" is from baros, which means "weight", "heaviness", "burden," and, in a positive sense, "abudance."

τῆς ἡμέρας (adj sg fem gen) "Of the 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)." -- The Greek word translated as "day" also means "time," in general, and refers specifically to the "daytime."

καὶ "And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just." -- The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also") and, in a series, is best translated as "not only...but also."

τὸν καύσωνα. [uncommon] (noun sg masc acc) "Heat" is from kausôn, which means "burning heat" and "summer heat."

Wordplay: 

"The last" here, continues the general wordplay of "first" and "last" seen in the last several verses (Mat 20:10).

Related Verses: