Matthew 20:9 And when they came that [were hired]

KJV Verse: 

Mat 20:9 And when they came that [were hired] about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

Coming [at that time], however, those [from] around the eleventh hour, they took from top to bottom a silver coin.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

Again, while most of this text is straight forward story telling, this verse does have a little wordplay in it, very much continuing that from the previous verse, Mat 20:8. Interestingly, the wordplay revolves around a word that isn't even translated, at least not very accurately, in the KJV.

The Greek word translated as "and" is different in today's sources. It is the word that is usually translated as "but," and joins phrases in an adversarial way. Since it always falls in the second position, translating it as "however" often captures its feeling better.

There is no "when" here. It is added because of the form of the verb.

One verb is translated as "they came" means "to start out." It indicates movement, especially its beginning, without indicating a direction toward or away from anything, so it works either as "come" or "go," but it is more like our phrase "being underway." Its form, it means "at the time" and it is in the form of an adjective, "coming."

The word translated as "that" is a demonstrative pronoun, but it often acts as a pronoun, especially a connective pronoun introducing a dependent clause. Here, it is plural, so "those."

There is no word for "were hired" in the Greek source. It was added to explain the following "about the eleventh hour" phrase," but that can be done simply by translated the preposition translated as "about" as "from about" which it is sense.

The word translated as "hour" means a period of time, generally, as we might say "moment," but specifically to the twelve equal periods of daylight used during this period.

The word translated as "they received" primarily means "take," and has many different uses as we use "take" in English, but it is often used as we use the term "got" to mean "take." Among these are the ideas of "understanding" and "possessing." It is not passive, but active, "they took." It is in the form of "at that time."

"Every man" is from a preposition that means "from bottom to top", "up along," of Time, "throughout," and, metaphorically, "continually in", "in," and "among." However, the word also an adjective that means "without understanding" and a noun that means "fullfilment." However, the word forms used for those meanings don't quite fit in the sentence as well so they are implied, not stated.

"Penny is from the Greek word for a denarius, which was a coin of silver, which had the purchasing power of about $70-$80 today (though comparisons are obviously not very meaningful). It was the standard wage for a day's labor by a general laborer, which for most of human history was an agricultural worker. To offer and agree to work for this wage would be considered the expected practice for hundreds of years around the birth of Christ in the Roman Empire.

Greek Vocabulary: 

ἐλθόντες (part pl aor act masc nom) "When they came" is from erchomai, which means "to start," "to set out", "to come", "to go," and any kind of motion. It means both "to go" on a journey and "to arrive" at a place.

δὲ "And" 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").

οἱ (pron pl masc nom) "That" is from hos, which means "this", "that", "he", "she", "which", "what", "who", "whosoever", "where", "for which reason," and many similar meanings.

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

τὴν (article sg fem acc) "The" is the Greek definite article, which usually precedes a noun but here is separated by the adjective.

ἑνδεκάτην (adj sg fem acc) "Eleventh" is from hendekatos, which means "eleventh."

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).

ἔλαβον (verb 3rd pl aor ind act) "They received" is from lambano means to "take", "take hold of", "grasp", "seize", "catch", "overtake", "find out", "detect", "take as", "take [food or drugs]", "understand", "take in hand", "undertake", "take in", "hold", "get", "receive [things]", "receive hospitably", "receive in marriage", "receive as produce", "profit", "admit", "initiate", "take hold of", "lay hold on", "seize and keep hold of", "obtain possession of", "lay hands upon", "find fault with", "censure," "to apprehend with the senses", "to take hold of," and "to seize." It is also specifically used to mean "seized with emotion."

ἀνὰ "Every man" is from ana, which is a preposition that means with the accusative: of Place: "up", "from bottom to top", "up along," of Time, "throughout," and, metaphorically, "continually in", "in," and "among."

δηνάριον. (noun sg neut acc) "Penny" is from denarion, which was the principle silver coin of the Roman Empire in NT times.


The word translates as "every man" means "from bottom to top," continuing the wordplay of the previous verse, Mat 20:8, "last to first" wordplay.   However, it also means "without understanding," which describes what is going on here. Finally, it also means "fullfilment," which also describes the payment. 

Related Verses: