Matthew 19:30 But many [that are] first shall be last

Spoken to: 

Apostles

Context: 

After Jesus tells those that follow him will be rewarded.  The context however is more likely, Matthew 19:24 that describes how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

Many, however, will be first, last and last, first.

My Takeaway: 

Positions flip around, reversing themselves.

KJV : 

Matthew 19:30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

NIV : 

Matthew 19:30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This is a great example of a translation that is meant to highlight one possible meaning and obscure all the other possible meanings. But while most of Jesus's words have the wordplay translated out of them, that is much more difficult here. All the "nouns" here are actually adjectives, plural, referring to people, not things. They are all also in the form of  subjects, so  they are all equated, but only one verb "to be" appears, in the future tense after "many" and before "first." 

The alternate translation is "Many, however, will be highest, lowest and lowest, highest." Imagine how this could have been said with different gestures and inflections to change its meaning. Where we mentally add the verbs "are" can change the meaning dramatically. For example, "Many, however, shall are first, they are last, and they are last, first."

All these adjectives have several different meanings depending on their context. The word translated as "many" can also mean "mighty" or "great in value."   If the context is "the realm of the sky," then a sense of "first" and "last" could well be "highest" and "lowest," especially since this is these word's meaning when referring to people's rank, which seems to be the point.  The next chapter begins with a parable illustrating this idea. The terms translated as "first" and "last" are superlative forms of adjectives. How we translated these words also changes the meaning dramatically. For example, "Many, however, shall are highest, they are lowest, and they are lowest, highest."

Wordplay: 

This verse is dense in multiple meanings from the extremes translated as "first" and "last."

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Πολλοὶ [61 verses](adj pl masc nom) "Many" is from polus, which means "many (in number)," "great (in size or power or worth)," and "large (of space)."

δὲ  (conj)"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").

ἔσονται (verb 3rd pl fut ind mid) "Shall be" is from eimi, which means "to be," "to exist," "to be the case," and "is possible."

πρῶτοι [41 verses](adj pl masc nom irreg_superl) "First" is protos. In place, this means "the foremost." Of time, it means "the initial." In order, it means "the first." In math, it means the prime numbers. Of rank or degree, it means "the highest" or "the best."

ἔσχατοι [21 verses](adj pl masc nom) "The 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."

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.

ἔσχατοι [21 verses](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."

πρῶτοι.[61 verses](adj pl masc nom irreg_superl) "First" is from protos. In place, this means "the foremost." Of time, it means "the initial." In order, it means "the first." In math, it means the prime numbers. Of rank or degree, it means "the highest" or "the best."

KJV 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.

many  - "Many " is from a word that means "many" in number. In size, degree, and intensity, it means "much" and "mighty." Of value or worth, it means "of great worth" and "of great consequence." Of space, it means "large" and "wide." Of time, it means "long."

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

first  - "First" is from an adjective that, of place, this means "the foremost." Of time, it means "the initial." In order, it means "the first." In math, it means the prime numbers. Of rank or degree, it means "the highest" or "the best."

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.

be --(WP)  The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics.

last;  - "Last" is from an adjective that, 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."

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

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

last - "Last" is from an adjective that, 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."

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

first.  - "First" is from an adjective that, of place, this means "the foremost." Of time, it means "the initial." In order, it means "the first." In math, it means the prime numbers. Of rank or degree, it means "the highest" or "the best."

KJV Translation Issues: 

5
  • Every word except for "but" and "and" could have a multiple meaning issue.
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The phrase "that are" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WP -- Wrongly Placed -- The word "shall be" doesn't appear here but before the "first" and after "many."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "the" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "shall be" 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.

many  - "Many " is from from a word that means "many" in number. In size, degree, and intensity, it means "much" and "mighty." Of value or worth, it means "of great worth" and "of great consequence." Of space, it means "large" and "wide." Of time, it means "long."

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

first  - "First" is from an adjective that, of place, this means "the foremost." Of time, it means "the initial." In order, it means "the first." In math, it means the prime numbers. Of rank or degree, it means "the highest" or "the best."

will -- 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.

be --(WP)  The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics.

last;  - "Last" is from an adjective that, 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."

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

many who are -- (IP) There is nothing that can be translated as "many who are" in the Greek source.

last - "Last" is from an adjective that, 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."

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

first.  - "First" is from an adjective that, of place, this means "the foremost." Of time, it means "the initial." In order, it means "the first." In math, it means the prime numbers. Of rank or degree, it means "the highest" or "the best."

NIV Translation Issues: 

5
  • Every word except for "but" and "and" could have a multiple meaning issue.
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The phrase "who are" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WP -- Wrongly Placed -- The word "will be" doesn't appear here but before the "first" and after "many."
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The phrase "many who are" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "will be" doesn't exist in the source.

Front Page Date: 

May 4 2021