Matthew 20:16 So the last shall be first,

Spoken to: 

audience

Context: 

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

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

In this way, those last will be first, and those first, last.

My Takeaway: 

First and last are illusions if time is an illusion. Highest and lowest are illusions if rank is an illusion.

KJV : 

Matthew 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

NIV : 

Matthew 20:16  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

While the body of this verse ending the parable looks similar to the verse that preceded the parable, Matthew 19:30, Jesus is playing a trick on us. In the beginning, the "first" was the first idea. Here, as the end, the "last" comes first.  So this is the opposite of the first interaction. Does it mean the same thing? Yes, because the equations balance in either order, which is Jesus's point.  This verse also adds definite articles to two of the adjectives,  making them act like nouns, "those first" and "those last."  Here, of course, he is referring to the "those" in the story. However, there are two types of "first" in the story: the first hired and the first paid. Those last hired are the first paid. The first paid, however, at the last hired.  How we translated these words also changes the meaning dramatically. For example, "In this way, however, those lowest will be highest, and those highest, lowest."

This is a great example of a translation that is meant to highlight one possible meaning and obscure all the other possible meanings. All these adjectives have several different meanings depending on their context. If the context is "the realm of the sky," then a sense of "first" and "last" could well be "highest" and "lowest," especially since these words could refer to people's feelings at the end of the parable.

The first is that the second part of the KJV verse doesn't exist in today's Greek sources or in most modern bible translations.

Wordplay: 

This verse is dense in multiple meanings from "first" and "last."

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Οὕτως [137 verses](adv) "So" is houtos, which means, as an adverb, "in this way," "therefore," "so much," "to such an extent," and "that is why."

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

οἱ (article pl masc nom)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

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."

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."

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.

οἱ (article pl masc nom)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

πρῶτοι [41 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."

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."

KJV Analysis: 

So  - This "so" is a word that means "in this way," "therefore," "so much," "to such an extent," and "that is why."

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. 

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." In the first part of the verse, it is introduced with an article, making it a noun.

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 -- 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.

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." In its first occurrence, it has no article, so it is an adjective.

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

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. 

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." In its first occurrence, it has no article, so it is an adjective.

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." In the first part of the verse, it is introduced with an article, making it a noun.

for many be called, but few chosen. -- (OS) There is nothing in the Greek that can be translated as "for many be called, but few chosen. " in the source we use today but it does exist in the source that the KJV translators used.

KJV Translation Issues: 

1
  • OS -- Outdated Source -- The Greek word translated as "or many be called, but few chosen." existed in the KJV Greek source but not the one we used today.

NIV Analysis: 

So  - This "so" is a word that means "in this way," "therefore," "so much," "to such an extent," and "that is why."

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. 

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." In the first part of the verse, it is introduced with an article, making it a noun.

will -- This helping verb "be" indicates that the verb is the future tense. Helping or auxiliary verbs are needed to translate the Greek verb forms into English.

be -- 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.

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." In its first occurrence, it has no article, so it is an adjective.

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

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. 

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." In its first occurrence, it has no article, so it is an adjective.

will be -- (IW) There is  nothing in the Greek that can be translated as "will be" 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." In the first part of the verse, it is introduced with an article, making it a noun.

for many be called, but few chosen. -- (OS) There is nothing in the Greek that can be translated as "for many be called, but few chosen. " in the source we use today but it does exist in the source that the KJV translators used.

NIV Translation Issues: 

1
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "will be" doesn't exist in the source.

Front Page Date: 

May 20 2021