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

Spoken to: 

audience

Context: 

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

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

These the last one hour performed, and equal you make them to the ones bearing the weight during the day and the heat.

My Takeaway: 

Life isn't fair: we all get far more than we deserve.

KJV : 

Matthew 20:12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

NIV : 

Matthew 20:12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This verse contains a number of uncommon, rare, and unique words for Jesus to use.

The word translated as "equal" also means "fair" and it is used only by Jesus four times. It also means "fair." Notice that here, this idea is espoused by the antagonists of the parable. Clearly, this was not a central message of Jesus.

Two of the uncommon words are related to the bearing of burdens, something Jesus espoused for his followers, but not commonly. He condemns his opponents for purring heavy burdens on people, claiming that his burden is light.

Wordplay: 

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

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Οὗτοι [137 verses](adj pl masc nom) "These" is 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 (article sg neut dat)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ἔσχατοι [21 verses](adj pl masc nom) "last" is 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 [94 verses](adj sg fem acc) "One" is 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 [37 verses](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, [168 verses](verb 3rd pl aor ind act) "Have wrought" is 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 (conj) "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, it is best translated as "not only...but also."

ἴσους [4 verses](adj pl masc acc) "Equal" is 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 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 [10 verses](pron 1st pl masc dat) "Unto us" is from hemeis, the first person plural pronoun, "we," "us." Christ's listeners.

ἐποίησας [168 verses](verb 2nd sg aor ind act) "Thou has made" is 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 (article sg neut dat)  "Which" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). In the plural with an adjective, the sense is "the ones."

βαστάσασι [6 verses](part pl aor act masc dat) "Have born the burden" is bastazô, which means "to lift up," "to raise," "to bear," "to carry," "to endure," and "to carry off, "produce," "yield," of land."

τὸ (article sg neut dat)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

βάρος [1 verse] (noun sg neut acc) "The burden" is baros, which means "weight," "heaviness," "burden," and, in a positive sense, "abundance."

τῆς (article sg fem gen)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ἡμέρας [96 verses](adj sg fem gen) "Of the day" is 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  (conj) "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, it is best translated as "not only...but also."

τὸν (article sg neut dat)  Untranslated is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

καύσωνα. [2 verses]] (noun sg masc acc) "Heat" is kausôn, which means "burning heat" and "summer heat."

KJV Analysis: 

Saying,   -(OS)  The word translated as "Saying" appears in Matthew 20:12 in the current sources, but in the KJV it appears previous verse. It is the most common word that means "to say," and "to speak." This is in the present tense.

These -- "These" is translated from a Greek word that means "this," "that," "the nearer."

missing "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. 

last  - "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.

have  - - (WT) This helping verb "have" indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action completed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here. This is the tense that means "at some point in time."

wrought  - (CW) The same word is used in this verse 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 our word "perform" works better for the way Jesus uses it. In both examples here that is its primary meaning.

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

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

hour,  - - The word translated as "hour" means a period of time equal to the one-twelfth part of the daylight, like an "hour."

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

thou -- This is from the second-person, singular form of the verb.

hast - (WT) This helping verb "hast" indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action completed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here. This is the tense that means "at some point in time."

made -- The Greek word translated as "to do" has the primary meaning of "making" or producing" something or "causing" or "performing" as service. It describes a productive action.  It is not as broad a word as the English "do," which covers all actions, productive or not. 

them - The word translated as "them" is the Greek word commonly translated as third-person pronouns in English.

equal  -- Equal" is  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." Jesus only uses this word four times.

unto -- This word "unto" comes from the dative case of the following word that requires the addition of a preposition in English. The most common is a "to" for the English indirect object.

us, - -  "Us" is the 1st person, plural, accusative pronoun. Jesus only uses this pronoun in seven verses this pronoun seven times, most often in the Lord's Prayer.

which -- The word translated as "which" is the Greek definite article, which when not preceding a noun, takes the meaning of "the one" or, in the plural, "the ones." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more. 

have - - (WT) This helping verb "have" indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action completed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here. This is the tense that means "at some point in time."

borne  - "Borne" is from a verb that means to "lift up" "raise," "endure," and "bear." Jesus only uses it six times, always in the sense of taking up a heavy responsibility. It is in the form of an adjective ("enduring") used as a noun ("the ones enduring."

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. 

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

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

missing "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. 

heat -  "Heat" is from a noun that means "burning heat" and "summer heat." Jesus only uses this word two times, both related to hot weather.

of -- This word "of"  comes from the genitive case of the following word that requires the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession. In references to time, it could instead be translated ‘during’, ‘at’, or ‘within’.

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. 

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

KJV Translation Issues: 

8
  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The Greek word translated as "saying" existed in the KJV Greek source but not the one we used today.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "last" is not shown in the English translation.
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is something that happens at a specific point in time (past, present, or future).
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "wrought" is translated later in verse as  "made."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "but" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "hast" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is something that happens at a specific point in time (past, present, or future).
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is something that happens at a specific point in time (past, present, or future).
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "heat" is not shown in the English translation.

NIV Analysis: 

These -- "These" is translated from a Greek word that means "this," "that," "the nearer."

who   -- (WW) This 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. 

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

last  - "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.

worked - (CW) The same word is used in this verse 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 our word "perform" works better for the way Jesus uses it. In both examples here that is its primary meaning.

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

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

hour,  - - The word translated as "hour" means a period of time equal to the one-twelfth part of the daylight, like an "hour."

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

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

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

have - (WT) This helping verb "have " indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action completed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here. This is the tense that means "at some point in time."

made -- The Greek word translated as "to do" has the primary meaning of "making" or producing" something or "causing" or "performing" as service. It describes a productive action.  It is not as broad a word as the English "do," which covers all actions, productive or not. 

them - The word translated as "them" is the Greek word commonly translated as third-person pronouns in English.

equal  -- Equal" is  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." Jesus only uses this word four times.

to -- This word "to" comes from the dative case of the following word that requires the addition of a preposition in English. The most common is a "to" for the English indirect object.

us, - -  "Us" is the 1st person, plural, accusative pronoun. Jesus only uses this pronoun in seven verses this pronoun seven times, most often in the Lord's Prayer.

who -- The word translated as "who " is the Greek definite article, which when not preceding a noun, takes the meaning of "the one" or, in the plural, "the ones." The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that," "these," "those"). See this article for more. 

have - - (WT) This helping verb "have" indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action completed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here. This is the tense that means "at some point in time."

borne  - "Borne" is from a verb that means to "lift up" "raise," "endure," and "bear." Jesus only uses it six times, always in the sense of taking up a heavy responsibility. It is in the form of an adjective ("enduring") used as a noun ("the ones enduring."

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. 

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

of the work - (IP) There is nothing that can be translated as "f the work" in the Greek source.

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

missing "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. 

heat -  "Heat" is from a noun that means "burning heat" and "summer heat." Jesus only uses this word two times, both related to hot weather.

of -- This word "of"  comes from the genitive case of the following word that requires the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession. In references to time, it could instead be translated ‘during’, ‘at’, or ‘within’.

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. 

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

NIV Translation Issues: 

9
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "who" should be "the."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "were hired" doesn't exist in the source.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "last" is not shown in the English translation.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "worked" is translated later in verse as  "made."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "only" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "they said" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is something that happens at a specific point in time (past, present, or future).
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is something that happens at a specific point in time (past, present, or future).
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The phrase "of the work" doesn't exist in the source.

Possible Symbolic Meaning: 

Here, Jesus 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 Jesus 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 fairer? Why aren't the rewards we received equal to the amount of time we put in, the amount of effort we make, or the amount we suffer?"

Jesus, 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?

Front Page Date: 

May 16 2021