Matthew 21:28 But what do you think? A man had two sons;

Spoken to: 

audience

Context: 

After the Pharisees question Jesus about his authority, he tells a story about the nature of obedience.

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

What, however, to you does it seem? A man had children, two. Approaching the first, he said, "Child, go out for the day, work yourself in the vineyard."

My Takeaway: 

To know which way is up, we have to know who is an authority.

KJV : 

Matthew 21:28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.

NIV : 

Matthew 21:28 What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This story is funny, but the humor sadly is not translated into English. The "what do you think" phrase here is addressed to the ones who challenged Jesus to explain the source of his authority. As the story begins, the word translated misleadingly as "came" and "went" is not the common word for "come," and certainly not "went," but a special form of "come" that is typically used for an inferior approaching a superior, as we use "approach," which suggests that the son considered himself superior to the father. The word translated as "the first," in the context of authority, it means "the highest," which is another play on the relative roles of parent and child. The word translated as "son" means "child" and also makes the son less of an adult.

The whole story is an explanation that makes light of Jesus's refusal to explain his authority. As a whole, it contains words Jesus often uses only when he is making light of something. The scene is one of a parent kicking his children out of the nest, which relates as much to Jesus and his apostles than his opponents. (For more on understanding Jesus's humor, read this article.)

Wordplay: 

The word used to describe the father approaching the son is used primarily for an subordinate approaching someone in authority.
The word for "work" is a word Christ uses rarely, only for humor. He uses it only in the form "work yourself" or "work for yourself."

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

Τί (irreg sg neut nom/acc)"What" 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."

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").

ὑμῖν (pron 2nd pl dat) "Ye" is from humin, the 2nd person pronoun.

δοκεῖ; [17 verses](verb 3rd sg pres/impef ind act or 2nd sg pres ind mp) "Think" is dokeo, which means "expect," "suppose," "imagine," "have an opinion," "seem," "seem good," and "to be reputed." -- The word translated as "think" doesn't mean think as much as it means "expect" or "imagine."

ἄνθρωπος [209 verses](noun sg masc nom) "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.

εἶχεν [181 verses](verb 3rd sg imperf ind act) "Had" is echo, which means "to have," "to hold," "to possess," "to keep," "to have charge of," "to maintain," "to hold fast," "to bear," "to keep close," "to keep safe," and "to have means to do."

τέκνα ( [25 verses]noun pl neut nom/acc) "Sons" is teknon, which means "that which is born," "child," and "the young."

δύο. [36 verses](numeral) "Two" is duo, which means the number "two," "a couple," and "a pair." -- The Greek word for "two" means "two" or a "couple."

προσελθὼν [6 verses](part sg aor act masc nom) "He came" is proserchomai, which means "come," "go to," "approach," "draw nigh," in hostile sense, "attack," "come in," "surrender," "capitulate," "come forward to speak," "appear before a tribunal or official," "apply oneself to," of things, "to be added," "come in (of revenue)" and "have sexual intercourse."

τῷ (article sg masc dat)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

πρώτῳ (adj sg masc dat) 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."

εἶπεν [162 verses] (verb 3rd sg aor ind act) "Said" isc which means "to speak," "to say," "to recite," "to address," "to mention," "to name," "to proclaim," "to plead," "to promise," and "to offer."

Τέκνον, [25 verses](noun sg neut voc) "Son" is teknon, which means "that which is born," "child," and "the young." -- The word translated as "son" is not the usual word for example, used in "son of man" but another word that is usually translated as "child."

ὕπαγε [47 verses](verb 2nd sg pres imperat act) "Go" is hypago, which means "to lead under," "to bring under," "to bring a person before judgment," "to lead on by degrees," "to take away from beneath," "to withdraw," "to go away," "to retire," "to draw off," and "off with you." -

σήμερον [14 verses](adv) "Today" is semeron, which is an adverb that means "for today" and "on this day."

ἐργάζου [8 verses](verb 2nd sg pres imperat mp) "Work" is ergazomai, which means to "work at," "make," "do," "perform," "work [a material]," "earn by working," work at a trade or business," " traffic," and "trade." - Jesus uses a very businesslike term that means "to labor," "to trade," "to do business," "to earn by working," and "to acquire."

ἐν (prep) "In" is from en, which means "in," "on," "at," "by," "among," "within," "surrounded by," "in one's hands," "in one's power," and "with". -- The word translated as "in" also means "within," "with," or "among."

τῷ (article sg masc dat)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

ἀμπελῶνι: (noun sg masc dat) "Vineyard" is from ampelon which means simply "vineyard."

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.

what - The word translated as "what" means "anyone, but in a question, it can mean "who," "why," or "what."

think?  - "Think ye" is from a verb that means "to expect," "to seem," "to suppose," "to imagine," and "to have an opinion." The form is either a third-person singular or a second-person singular but since a plural "you" precedes it, the latter doesn't work. It's obvious meaning is "does it seem," which first with the "to you" that precedes it.

ye-- (WF) The Greek pronoun "you" here is plural and in the form of an indirect object, "to you," "for you," etc. This is not the subject of the sentence.

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.

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

man  - The Greek word for "a man" in the singular means "person" and "humanity" and "people" and "peoples" in the plural.

had -- The word translated as "have" means to "have," "possess," "bear," "keep close," "have means to do",  "to have due to one", or "keep" and many specific uses.

two  - The "two" is the numeral, "two," which, like numbers in English, plays a lot of roles.

sons;  - The word translated as "son" is not the usual word for example, used in "son of man" but another word that is usually translated as "child" or "offspring." (More about the various words that Christ uses for children in this article. )

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

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

came  - (CW, WF) The word translated as "came" is the first bit of humor. It is not the common word for "come," but a special form of the word that has the sense of "coming forward" and "approach" but it is typically used for an inferior approaching a superior, which suggests that the son considered himself superior. This is a verb in the form of an adjective, "approaching."

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.

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,  - The word translated as "the first" takes a lot of different types of "first" meanings from its context. It is one of Jesus's favorite "multiple meaning" words, used most recently in Matthew 20:16. In the context of authority, it means "the highest," which is another play on the relative roles of parent and child.

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

said, - "Said" is from the Greek verb that means "to say" and "to speak" but, it has less a sense of teaching and more a sense of addressing and talking that the others common word for "to speak."

Son,  - (CW)  The man addresses the child as "child" using that same word as above. This word has no "gender". It also makes the son less of an adult.

go  - "Go" is from a Greek verbal command that means literally "go under" or "bring under," but Christ usually uses it to mean "go away" and "depart."

work  - "Work" is from a word Christ uses humorously. It means "work," "do," or "make," but it is not the common word Christ uses frequently, but a more sophisticated word he uses rarely. He uses it to mean "make a living for yourself." The form is where the subject acts on himself, so "work yourself."

missing "by/for yourself"-- (WV) A phrase is necessary because the form of the previous verb is a middle voice, which means that the subject is to  act on "yourself," "for yourself" or "by yourself."

to day -- The Greek word translated as "to day" is an adverb that means "for today" and "on this day." Jesus sometimes uses it as a noun by adding an article before it.

in   -- The word translated as "in" means "in," "within," "with," "during" (time),  or "among"  with a dative object as the one here.

my -- (WW) The word translated as "my" 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. 

vineyard. - The word for "vineyard" means vineyard, but notice that it doesn't say that this is the family's vineyard nor does this verse describe the man as the "master of the estate" as we saw in the first/last parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:4).

KJV Translation Issues: 

9
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "you" is not the subject but an indirect object.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "certain" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "and" doesn't exist in the source.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "came" does not capture the specific meaning of the word.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "come" is not an active verb but a participle, "approaching."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "and" doesn't exist in the source.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "Son" does not capture the specific meaning of the word.
  • WV  - Wrong Voice - The verb is in the middle voice requiring the concept of "yourselves" as its object.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "me" should be "the."

NIV Analysis: 

What - The word translated as "what" means "anyone, but in a question, it can mean "who," "why," or "what."

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 -- (WF) The Greek pronoun "you" here is plural and in the form of an indirect object, "to you," "for you," etc. This is not the subject of the sentence.

think?  - "Think ye" is from a verb that means "to expect," "to seem," "to suppose," "to imagine," and "to have an opinion." The form is either a third-person singular or a second-person singular but since a plural "you" precedes it, the latter doesn't work. It's obvious meaning is "does it seem," which first with the "to you" that precedes it.

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

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.

man  - The Greek word for "a man" in the singular means "person" and "humanity" and "people" and "peoples" in the plural.

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

had -- The word translated as "have" means to "have," "possess," "bear," "keep close," "have means to do",  "to have due to one", or "keep" and many specific uses.

two  - The "two" is the numeral, "two," which, like numbers in English, plays a lot of roles.

sons;  - The word translated as "son" is not the usual word for example, used in "son of man" but another word that is usually translated as "child" or "offspring." (More about the various words that Christ uses for children in this article. )

He -- This is from the masculine, singular form of the verb.

went - (WW, WF) The word translated as "went" is the first bit of humor. It is not any form of "go" but "come," in a special form of the word that has the sense of "coming forward" and "approach" but it is typically used for an inferior approaching a superior, which suggests that the son considered himself superior. This is a verb in the form of an adjective, "approaching."

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.

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,  - The word translated as "the first" takes a lot of different types of "first" meanings from its context. It is one of Jesus's favorite "multiple meaning" words, used most recently in Matthew 20:16. In the context of authority, it means "the highest," which is another play on the relative roles of parent and child.

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

said, - "Said" is from the Greek verb that means "to say" and "to speak" but, it has less a sense of teaching and more a sense of addressing and talking that the others common word for "to speak."

Son,  - (CW)  The man addresses the child as "child" using that same word as above. This word has no "gender". It also makes the son less of an adult.

go  - "Go" is from a Greek verbal command that means literally "go under" or "bring under," but Christ usually uses it to mean "go away" and "depart."

work  - "Work" is from a word Christ uses humorously. It means "work," "do," or "make," but it is not the common word Christ uses frequently, but a more sophisticated word he uses rarely. He uses it to mean "make a living for yourself." The form is where the subject acts on himself, so "work yourself."

missing "by/for yourself"-- (WV) A phrase is necessary because the form of the previous verb is a middle voice, which means that the subject is to  act on "yourself," "for yourself" or "by yourself."

today -- The Greek word translated as "to day" is an adverb that means "for today" and "on this day." Jesus sometimes uses it as a noun by adding an article before it.

in   -- The word translated as "in" means "in," "within," "with," "during" (time),  or "among"  with a dative object as the one here.

the -- The word translated as "my" 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. 

vineyard. - The word for "vineyard" means vineyard, but notice that it doesn't say that this is the family's vineyard nor does this verse describe the man as the "master of the estate" as we saw in the first/last parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:4).

NIV Translation Issues: 

8
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "you" is not the subject but an indirect object.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "there was" doesn't exist in the source.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "who" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "went" should be "approaching."
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "went" is not an active verb but a participle, "approaching."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "and" doesn't exist in the source.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "Son" does not capture the specific meaning of the word.
  • WV  - Wrong Voice - The verb is in the middle voice requiring the concept of "yourselves" as its object.

Front Page Date: 

Jun 10 2021