Matthew 18:12 What do you think? If a man has an hundred sheep,

Spoken to: 

audience

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

What seems likely to you? When it belongs to any man, a hundred sheep, and it wanders, one, away from them. Will he certainly not leave that ninety-nine upon the mountains and, walking, he searches for the one wandering.

KJV : 

Matthew 18:12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

NIV : 

Matthew 18:12 What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This verse may be the epitome of Jesus's mastery of wordplay, not just in the choice of words, which could be captured in translation but isn't, but also in the word order creates suspense and surprise that is way lost in any translation. He does this by putting the verbs first, following later, after misleading words, with the subject. For the listener, his words offer a series of surprises, a roller coaster of shifting meanings.

For example, the second clause beginning six words in Greek. It seems to start, "When it becomes", but the "becomes" is followed by an indirect object "to some man." This changes the meaning of "becomes" to "produced or belongs." Still no subject. Then comes the "hundred," which doesn't seem to indicate a subject either because the subject is singular and a hundred is plural.  Then, finally, the subject noun appears, "sheep," which, though plural matches the singular verb because plural neuter nouns like "sheep" are usually treated as a single conglomeration. Everything works out as perfectly grammatical Greek, but what a wild ride for the listener.

The word translated as "gone astray/wonders" also begins its clause, and its meaning also changes as the rest of the cause is revealed. First, its verbal form makes it part of the "when" clause, something that might happen along with a man owning a hundred sheep. The verb could mean "wanders" or "be misled." The subject, "one" doesn't clarify what is happening since it could refer either to one sheep or the flock. The meaning doesn't become clear until the phrase "away from them."

The ending of this verse plays a similar trick on the listener, one that can be understood only by tone of voice. The initial words say the exact opposite of Jesus's meaning until we realized that it is a question. It literally says "Certainly he won't leave the ninety-nine sheep on a mountain...." This makes perfect sense, but what happens to the meaning if inflection changes this phrase into question? It then becomes, "Certainly, won't he leave the ninety-nine on a mountain?" Same exact words. Opposite meaning. It is like a magic trick.

And yet look at the below analysis to see how this verse cramped into a simple, "no fun" meaning.

Wordplay: 

This verse may be the epitome of Jesus's mastery of wordplay. See description.

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

τί (pron/irreg sg neut nom/acc) "How" is from tis which can mean "someone", "any one", "everyone", "they [indefinite]", "many a one", "whoever", "anyone", "anything", "some sort", "some sort of", "each", "any", "the individual", "such," and so on. In a question, it can mean "who", "which," or "what."

ὑμῖν (pron 2nd pl dat) "You" is from humon, which is a plural form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

δοκεῖ; [17 verses](verb 2nd sg pres ind mp or verb 3rd sg pres ind act ) "Think" is dokeo, which means "expect", "suppose", "imagine", "have an opinion", "seem", "seem good," and "to be reputed."

ἐὰν (conj) "If" is from ean, which is a conditional particle (derived from ei (if)and an (might)) which makes reference to a time and experience in the future that introduces but does not determine an event.

γένηταί [117 verses](verb 3rd sg aor subj mid)"Have" is ginomai, which means "to become", "to come into being", "to happen", "to be produced", "fall to", "belong to", "under control of," (of events}, "take place," an "come to pass." It means changing into a new state of being. It is the complementary opposite of the verb "to be" (eimi)which indicates existence in the same state.

τινι (pron sg dat) Untranslated is from tis which can mean "someone", "any one", "everyone", "they [indefinite]", "many a one", "whoever", "anyone", "anything", "some sort", "some sort of", "each", "any", "the individual", "such," and so on. In a question, it can mean "who", "why," or "what."

ἀνθρώπῳ [209 verses](noun sg masc dat) "A man" 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 the plural.

ἑκατὸν [10 verses](numeral) "Hundred" is from hekaton, which is the number "a hundred."

πρόβατα (noun pl neut nom) "Sheep" is from probaton, which means any domesticated four-footed animal, "sheep", "cattle", "herds," and "flocks.

καὶ (conj.adv) "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."

πλανηθῇ [12 verses] (verb 3rd sg aor subj pass) "Be gone astray" is planaô, which means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray," and, in the passive, "wander", "stray," and "to be misled."

ἓν (noun sg neut nom/acc) "One" is from heis, which means "one" (as opposed to other numbers), "single," and "one and the same." As in English, it can be used as a pronoun, meaning a single person.

ἐξ (prep) "Of" is from ek, which means 1) [of motion] "out of", "from", "by", "away from;" 2) [of place] "beyond", "outside of", "beyond;" 3) [of succession] "after", "from;" 4) [of rest] "on", "in," 5) [of time] "since", "from", "at", "in;" 5) [of materials] "out of", "made from."

αὐτῶν, (adj pl masc/fem/neut gen) "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."

οὐχὶ [23 verses](adv) "Not" is from ouchi, an adverb which means "no", "no truly", "assuredly not", "not however", "nevertheless," "notwithstanding", "yet", "still", "never yet", "for not", "indeed", "for surely not", "no,—certainly not", "for I don't suppose," and "for in no manner."

ἀφήσει [73 verses](verb 3rd sg fut ind act) "Doth he...leave" is aphiemi, which means "to let fall", "to send away", "give up", "hand over", "to let loose", "to get rid of", "to leave alone", "to pass by", "to permit," and "to send forth from oneself." -

τὰ (article pl neut acc)   "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

ἐνενήκοντα [4 verses] (numeral)"Ninety" is enenekonta that is the Greek number ninty plus the number ennea, the number nine. The article preceding it makes it a noun and the object of the verb.

ἐννέα [5 verses](numeral) "Nine" is ennea, the number "nine".

ἐπὶ (prep) "Into" is from epi. which means "on", "upon", "at", "by", "before", "across," and "against."

τὰ (article pl neut acc)   "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

ὄρη (noun pl neut acc) "Mountain" is from oros, which means "mountain", "hill", "canton," and "parish."

καὶ (conj/adv) "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."

πορευθεὶς [54 verses](part sg aor pass masc nom) "Goeth" is poreuomai (poreuô) which means "make to go", "carry", "convey", "bring", "go", "march," and "proceed." It is almost always translated as "go" in the NT.

ζητεῖ [36 verses](3rd sg pres ind act) "Seek" is zeteo, which means "inquire for", "search for", "seek after", "desire", and "feel the want of."

τὸ (article sg masc acc)   "That which" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

πλανώμενον; (part sg pres mp masc acc) "Be gone astray" is from planaô, which means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray," and, in the passive, "wander", "stray," and "to be misled."

KJV Analysis: 

How  - (CW) The Greek word translated as "how" is usually the indefinite pronoun, "anyone", "whoever," etc. but it also acts as an interrogative pronoun, "what", "which," and "who." It is the subject of this sentence, but it is not the word usually translated as "how."

think  - (CW) The word translated as "think" doesn't mean think as much as it means "expect" or "imagine." Is also "seems" and "seems good."

ye? -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the verb.

if -- (CW) The Greek word meaning "if might" indicates more of an expectation of something happening than "if" alone. This is often how we use the word "when". This is not the common word that means "if."

missing "to"  -- (MW) The untranslated word "to" comes from the dative case of the following words that requires the addition of a preposition in English. The most common is a "to" for the English indirect object. However, the translator can choose other prepositions: "with,"  "in,"   "of,"  "as," "by," "for," "at," or "on" depending on the context. Here, we don't know what it means until we read the following context.

a  - -- (WW) The Greek word translated as "a" in the singular means "anyone", "someone,"  "something," and "anything."  Before "man" the sense is "some man" or "any man."

man  - (WF) The word translated as "man" means "man" or "person," but it isn't the subject of the sentence, but the indirect object, the one something is given to. This is not the subject of the sentence.

have  - (WW) The word translated as "have" means "to become," that is, to enter into a new state. It also means "belongs to" when used with a dative ("to any man"). It is not the word translated as "have" normally in Greek.

an -- There is no indefinite article in Greek, but when a word doesn't have a definite article, the indefinite article can be added in English translation.

hundred  - "An hundred" is from the Greek number "a hundred."

sheep,  - "Sheep" is from the Greek word refers to any domesticated animal. Christ always uses sheep to symbolize his followers and to describe his relationship and feelings for his followers. While "sheep" has a negative connotation, in Jesus's era they were a form of wealth as productive animals. Since "sheep" included "rams", they weren't the passive creatures we think of them as today.

 and - The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also").

one  - The Greek word translated as "one " means "one" (as opposed to other numbers), "single," and "one and the same."

of  - (CW) The Greek preposition translated as "of" means "out of" or "away from." In Greek, they use the genitive case instead of a preposition for the types of phrases with usually use with "of."  This is not the common "of" from a genitive form of a noun.

them  - The word translated as "them" is the Greek word commonly translated as third-person pronouns in English.  The word means "the same" when used as an adjective. In the adverbial form, it  means "just here" or "exactly there."

be -- (CW) This helping verb "be" indicates that the verb is passive. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English. Here, however, the passive form changes the meaning of the word from "make go astray" to "wander."

gone astray,  - "Be gone astray" is from a verb which means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray" and, in the passive, as it is here, "to wander," and "to be misled."

doth -- (WW) This helping verb is used to create questions, commands, negative statements, and smooth word flow in English, but the Greek could be either a question or a statement. However, since the verb is the future tense, this should be "will."

he -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the verb.

not -- (CW) The word translated as "not" is a different form of the usual Greek negative of fact meaning "no truly", "assuredly not", "not however", "nevertheless," and "notwithstanding." It begins the clause.

leave  - The word translated as "doth he...leave" primarily means "to let go" or "to send away." This same word is usually translated as "leave", "forgive", "suffer," and "let" in the New Testament.

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

ninety - This is the Greek numeral "ninety."

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

nine, - This is the Greek numeral "nine."

and -- The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also").

goeth -- (WF) The Greek verb translated as "go" is the most common verb translated as "go" in the NT. This word means "to lead over", "depart," and "to carry over." This word, however, uniquely means both "to pursue a course" and "to depart from life." In the active voice, it means "made to go" or "carried over" but in the passive or middle,its normal form, the subject is either being taken or taking himself and means "going," "crossing over," or "departing" more directly. It also isn't an active verb here, but a verb in the form of an adjective. This word means "to lead over", "depart," and "to carry over." This word, however, uniquely means both "to pursue a course" and "to depart from life."

into  -  (CW, WP) The word translated as "into" means "upon," "against", "before", "by" or "on." The sense here is "upon." This preposition phrase belong before the "and" referring to the leaving not the going.

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

mountains,  - --The word translated as "mountain" means "mountain" or "hill" but it could also be the word that means "mule."  The word is plural.

and -- (IW) The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also"). There is no "and" here. It is added because the form of the "go" was made active.

seeketh  - -- The Greek verb translated as "seeketh" has a variety of meanings around the idea of "searching" and "desiring". It has a sense of seeking with a specific aim. 

that which -- The word translated as "that which" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

is -- This helping verb is added to make this a question, but the Greek could be either a question or a statement.

gone astray  - (WF) "Gone astray" is from the adjective form of the verb, used above, which means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray" and, in the passive, "to wander," and "to be misled." It is not an active verb, but a participle, "straying." " It is preceded by an article, making it act like a nou, the one going astray.

KJV Translation Issues: 

17
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "how" is not the common word usually translated as "how."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "think" has more the sense of "imagine."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "if" is not the common word usually translated as "if."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "to" is required by the following word form.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "a" should be "any' or "some."
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "man" is the subject but an indirect object.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "have" should be "belongs."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "of" is not the word form usually translated as "wherefore."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "be" doesn't represent the passive as much as a change in word meaning
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "not" is the standard negative but a more extreme form.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "doth" should be "will."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "and" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "goeth" is not an active verb but a participle, "going."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "into" is not the word form usually translated as "into" and means "upon."
  • WP -- Wrongly Placed -- The word "into/upon" phrase doesn't appear here but before the "and."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "and" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "gone astray" is not an active verb but a participle, "having gone astray."

NIV Analysis: 

What- The Greek word translated as "what" is usually the indefinite pronoun, "anyone", "whoever," etc. but it also acts as an interrogative pronoun, "what", "which," and "who." It is the subject of this sentence.

do -- This helping verb is used to create questions, commands, negative statements, and smooth word flow in English, but the Greek could be either a question or a statement.

you  -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the verb.

think?  - (CW) The word translated as "think" doesn't mean think as much as it means "expect" or "imagine." Is also "seems" and "seems good."

If -- (CW) The Greek word meaning "if might" indicates more of an expectation of something happening than "if" alone. This is often how we use the word "when". This is not the common word that means "if."

missing "to"  -- (MW) The untranslated word "to" comes from the dative case of the following words that require the addition of a preposition in English. The most common is a "to" for the English indirect object. However, the translator can choose other prepositions: "with,"  "in,"   "of,"  "as," "by," "for," "at," or "on" depending on the context. Here, we don't know what it means until we read the following context.

a  - -- (WW) The Greek word translated as "a" in the singular means "anyone", "someone,"  "something," and "anything."  Before "man" the sense is "some man" or "any man."

man  - (WF) The word translated as "man" means "man" or "person," but it isn't the subject of the sentence, but the indirect object, the one something is given to. This is not the subject of the sentence.

owns - (WW) The word translated as "have" means "to become," that is, to enter into a new state. It also means "belongs to" when used with a dative ("to any man"). It is not the word translated as "have" normally in Greek.

a -- There is no indefinite article in Greek, but when a word doesn't have a definite article, the indefinite article can be added in English translation.

hundred  - "An hundred" is from the Greek number "a hundred."

sheep,  - "Sheep" is from the Greek word refers to any domesticated animal. Christ always uses sheep to symbolize his followers and to describe his relationship and feelings for his followers. While "sheep" has a negative connotation, in Jesus's era they were a form of wealth as productive animals. Since "sheep" included "rams", they weren't the passive creatures we think of them as today.

 and - The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also").

one  - The Greek word translated as "one " means "one" (as opposed to other numbers), "single," and "one and the same."

of  - (CW) The Greek preposition translated as "of" means "out of" or "away from." In Greek, they use the genitive case instead of a preposition for the types of phrases with usually use with "of."  This is not the common "of" from a genitive form of a noun.

them  - The word translated as "them" is the Greek word commonly translated as third-person pronouns in English.  The word means "the same" when used as an adjective. In the adverbial form, it  means "just here" or "exactly there."

wanders away,  - "Wanders away" is from a verb which means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray" and, in the passive, as it is here, "to wander," and "to be misled."

will -- This helping verb is used to create questions, commands, negative statements, and smooth word flow in English, but the Greek could be either a question or a statement.

he -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the verb.

not -- (CW) The word translated as "not" is a different form of the usual Greek negative of fact meaning "no truly", "assuredly not", "not however", "nevertheless," and "notwithstanding." It begins the clause.

leave  - The word translated as "doth he...leave" primarily means "to let go" or "to send away." This same word is usually translated as "leave", "forgive", "suffer," and "let" in the New Testament.

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

ninety - This is the Greek numeral "ninety."

nine, - This is the Greek numeral "nine."

on - The word translated as "on" means "upon," "against", "before", "by" or "on." The sense here is "upon."

the -- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

mountains,  - --The word translated as "mountain" means "mountain" or "hill" but it could also be the word that means "mule."  The word is plural.

and -- The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also").

go -- (WF) The Greek verb translated as "go" is the most common verb translated as "go" in the NT. This word means "to lead over", "depart," and "to carry over." This word, however, uniquely means both "to pursue a course" and "to depart from life." In the active voice, it means "made to go" or "carried over" but in the passive or middle,its normal form, the subject is either being taken or taking himself and means "going," "crossing over," or "departing" more directly. It also isn't an active verb here, but a verb in the form of an adjective. This word means "to lead over", "depart," and "to carry over." This word, however, uniquely means both "to pursue a course" and "to depart from life."

to  - (IW) This word does not appear in the source. It indicates an infinitive verb, but the following verb is active.

look for - -- The Greek verb translated as "look for" has a variety of meanings around the idea of "searching" and "desiring". It has a sense of seeking with a specific aim. 

the one -- The word translated as "the one" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") than the English "the." See this article for more. 

that wandered off?  - (WF) "Wandered off" is from the adjective form of the verb, used above, which means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray" and, in the passive, "to wander," and "to be misled." It is not an active verb, but a participle, "straying." " It is preceded by an article, making it act like a nou, the one going astray.

NIV Translation Issues: 

11
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "think" has more the sense of "imagine."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "if" is not the common word usually translated as "if."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "to" is required by the following word form.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "a" should be "any' or "some."
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "man" is the subject but an indirect object.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "owns" should be "belongs."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "of" is not the word form usually translated as "wherefore."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "not" is the standard negative but a more extreme form.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "go" is not an active verb but a participle, "going."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "to" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "wandered off" is not an active verb but a participle, "having gone astray."

Possible Symbolic Meaning: 

Sheep are Jesus's symbol for his followers since sheep follow the shepherd. The use of the term verb meaning "becoming" to describe the belonging of the sheep to the shepherd describes the learning of someone following a teacher.  The word for "stray" also means to be misled as a follower is mislead. 

Front Page Date: 

Mar 25 2021