Matthew 21:31 Which of these two did the will of [his] father?

Spoken to: 

audience

Context: 

In a lesson about authority, after opponents question his authority, Jesus tells a story of a father with two sons to set up a question about authority.

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

Which of the pair performed the desires of the father? Honestly, I tell you: the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are leading you into the realm of the Divine.

My Takeaway: 

An honest sinner is a better example than a good liar.

KJV : 

Matthew 21:31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

NIV : 

Matthew 21:31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?...Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

There is humor hidden here in a rare word for Jesus that he hasn't used before but works here because of its double meaning. The word is the verb translated as "go...before" and "are entering...ahead of." It means to "lead forward." When applied to people, it also means "to promote" or "prefer to honor." It has the sense of  "to precede" and "outrank." Perhaps the phrase "lead" captures the idea best. The word "you" is the object of the verb so "lead you" captures it. Not this is not the future tense so "are leading you" works well.

Though not part of Christ's words, his questioners here say that the first son, the one saying "I am, Master" but not actually going is the one who did the will of the father.

The end of this verse sets up the next verse Matthew 21:32.

Wordplay: 

The double meaning of the word translated as "go...before" as "lead on." The normal association with tax-collectors and prostitutes is to "lead on" in the sense of to induce or persuade, but Christ changes it around with the phrase that follows, "into the kingdom of God." 

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

τίς (irreg sg masc nom) "Whether" 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."

ἐκ (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."

τῶν (article pl masc gen) "Them" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

δύο [36 verses](numeral) "Twain" is from duo, which means the number "two," "a couple," and "a pair."

ἐποίησεν [168 verses](verb 3rd sg aor ind act) "Did" 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." -

τὸ (article sg neut nom) "Them" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

θέλημα [16 verses](noun sg neut nom) "Will" is from the noun, thelema, which means "will" and "pleasure."

τοῦ (article sg neut nom) "His" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

πατρός[191 verses](noun sg masc gen) "Father" is from pater, which means "father," "grandfather," "author," "parent," and "forefathers."

Ἀμὴν [88 verses](exclaim) "Verily" is amen, which is the Hebrew, meaning "truly," "of a truth," and "so be it." It has no history in Greek of this meaning before the NT. However, this is also the infinitive form of the Greek verb amao, which means "to reap" or "to cut." -- The word translated as "verily" is the Hebrew word that means "truly" or "certainly," but it sounds like the Greek word with the same meaning. In Greek, the word also means "to reap."

λέγω [264 verses](1st sg pres ind act) "I say" is lego, which means "to recount," "to tell over," "to say," "to speak," "to teach," "to mean," "boast of," "tell of," "recite," nominate," and "command." It has a secondary meaning "pick out," "choose for oneself," "pick up," "gather," "count," and "recount." A less common word that is spelled the same means "to lay," "to lay asleep" and "to lull asleep." -- The word translated as "I tell" is the most common word that means "to say," and "to speak," but it also means "to teach," which seems to be the way Christ uses it more frequently. It also has many ancillary meanings such as "to count" ("to number" or like we might say, "to recount" a story) or "to choose for yourself." Christ usually uses this word to refer to his own speaking or teaching.

ὑμῖν, (pron 2nd pl dat) "To you" is humin the plural form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

ὅτι (adv/conj) "That" is from hoti, which introduces a statement of fact "with regard to the fact that," "seeing that," and acts as a causal adverb meaning "for what," "because," "since," and "wherefore." -- The word translated as "that" introduces a statement of fact or cause

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

τελῶναι [9 verses](noun pl masc nom) "The publicans" is telones, which means "farmer," and "collector of toll, custom, and taxes."

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."

αἱ (article pl fem nom) "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

πόρναι [3 verses](noun pl fem nom) "The harlots" is porne, which means "harlot," and "prostitute." It is from a verb that means "for sale," "bought," and "ruined."

προάγουσιν [3 verses](verb 3rd pl pres ind act) "Go...before" is proago, which means to "lead forward," "carry on," "bring forward," "lead on," "induce," "persuade," "carry forward," "advance," "lead the way," and "go before."

ὑμᾶς (pron 2nd pl acc) "You" is from humas which is the plural form of su the pronoun of the second person, "you."

εἰς (prep) "Into" is from eis, which means "into (of place)," "up to (of time)," "until (of time)," "as much as (of measure or limit)," "as far as (of measure or limit)," "towards (to express relation)," "in regard to (to express relation)," "of an end or limit," and "for (of purpose or object)."

τὴν (article sg fem acc) "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

βασιλείαν (noun sg fem acc) "The kingdom" is from basileia, which means "kingdom," "dominion," "hereditary monarchy," "kingly office," (passive) "being ruled by a king," and "reign."

τοῦ (article sg masc gen) "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

θεοῦ. (noun sg masc gen) "God" is from theos, which means "God," "divine," and "Deity."

KJV Analysis: 

Whether  - The word translated as "whether" means "anyone" or "someone." In a question, it can mean "who," "why," or "what."

of  - (CW) The Greek preposition translated as "of" means "out of" of "from." In Greek, they use the genitive case instead of a preposition for the types of phrases that usually begin with "of."

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

twain  - "Twain" is from the number "two" preceded by an article, "the two." The Greek word for "two" means "two," "pair," or a "couple."

did  - The Greek word translated as "did" has the primary meaning of "making" or producing" something or "causing" or "rendering" as service. In this context, "perform" comes closest in English.

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. 

will  - The word translated as "will" means what someone wants or desires as well as the "will" of character. It mostly means what one wishes or has determined shall be done. It also means a desire or a choice.

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.

his -- (WW) The word translated as "his" 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. The "the" here makes this line also apply to the Divine father.

father?  - "Father" is the from the common word that Christ uses to address his own father, though it can mean any male ancestor. There is no "his" appearing in the Greek source. It is simple "the father."

Verily -- The word translated as "verily" is from the Hebrew word that means "truly" or "certainly," but it sounds like the Greek word with the same meaning. In Greek, the word also means "to reap." See this article discussing this "amen phrase."

I -- This is from the first-person, singular form of the following verb.

say -- The word translated as "say" is the most common word that means "to say," and "to speak," but it also means "to teach," which seems to be the way Christ uses it more frequently. It also has many ancillary meanings such as "to count" ("to number" or like we might say, "to recount" a story) or "to choose for yourself." Christ usually uses this word to refer to his own speaking or teaching.

unto -- This word "unto" comes from the dative case of the following word that requires the addition of a preposition in English, but the translator must decide which preposition to use: a "to" as an indirect object.

you,  -- The Greek pronoun "you" here is plural and in the form of an indirect object, "to you," "for you," etc.

That  - -- The word translated as "that" introduces a statement of fact or cause, "for what," "because," "since," and "wherefore."

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. 

publicans  - The Greek term translated as "publican" means "farmer" and "tax collector." by Jesus's time, they were not tax farmers, that is, private individuals who bought the right to collect taxes. They worked directly for Rome, but the term "farmer" seems to have stuck. Historically, these people were both rich and notoriously corrupt, especially as tax farmers, and they were made into government employees to reform them. They also seem to be associated with having lavish parties. When Christ is accused of being a drunk and a glutton, this idea is supported by the fact he is a friend with tax-collectors.

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. 

harlots " - The harlots" is from the Greek word that means "prostitute." It is from a verb that means "for sale," "bought," and "ruined."

go  - (CW) "Go...before" is from a Greek verb which means to "lead forward," "lead on," "persuade," "lead the way," and "go before." The play on meaning here between "lead on" and "lead the way." It is not the verb usually translated as "go" but a compound word with a root usually translated as "brought." This is the present tense, so the listener had no way to expect what follows.

into  - -- The word translated as "unto" means "into" a place, "towards" as a direction, "in regards to" a subject, and "up to" limits in time and measure.

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. 

kingdom  - The word translated as "kingdom" can be the region, the reign, the castle or the authority of a ruler. Christ does not seem to use it to mean a physical region, so its translation as "reign" or "realm" seems more appropriate. This is especially true because the "reign" of a king means the execution of his will.

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.

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. 

God -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God," "the Divine" or "the divine one." Jesus often uses it this way perhaps to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

before -- This is from the prefix of the previous verb that means "before" or "in front."

you.  - -- The "you" here is the second-person, plural pronoun in the form of an object.

KJV Translation Issues: 

5
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "of" does not capture the specific meaning of the word.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "them" should be "the."
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "his" should be "the."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "go" does not capture the specific meaning of the word.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "God" is not shown in the English translation.

NIV Analysis: 

Which - The word translated as "whether" means "anyone" or "someone." In a question, it can mean "who," "why," or "what."

of  - (CW) The Greek preposition translated as "of" means "out of" of "from." In Greek, they use the genitive case instead of a preposition for the types of phrases that usually begin with "of."

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. 

two - "Two" is from the number "two" preceded by an article, "the two." The Greek word for "two" means "two," "pair," or a "couple."

did  - The Greek word translated as "did" has the primary meaning of "making" or producing" something or "causing" or "rendering" as service. In this context, "perform" comes closest in English.

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

his -- (WW) The word translated as "his" 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. The "the" here makes this line also apply to the Divine father.

father?  - "Father" is the from the common word that Christ uses to address his own father, though it can mean any male ancestor. There is no "his" appearing in the Greek source. It is simple "the father."

wanted - (WF) The word translated as "wanted" is a noun that means what someone wants or desires as well as the "will" of character. It mostly means what one wishes or has determined shall be done. It also means a desire or a choice. It is not a verb.

Truly -- The word translated as "truly " is from the Hebrew word that means "truly" or "certainly," but it sounds like the Greek word with the same meaning. In Greek, the word also means "to reap." See this article discussing this "amen phrase."

I -- This is from the first-person, singular form of the following verb.

tell -- The word translated as "say" is the most common word that means "to say," and "to speak," but it also means "to teach," which seems to be the way Christ uses it more frequently. It also has many ancillary meanings such as "to count" ("to number" or like we might say, "to recount" a story) or "to choose for yourself." Christ usually uses this word to refer to his own speaking or teaching.

you,  -- The Greek pronoun "you" here is plural and in the form of an indirect object, "to you," "for you," etc.

missing "that"  -- (MW) The untranslated word "that" introduces a statement of fact or cause, "for what," "because," "since," and "wherefore."

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. 

tax collectors - The Greek term translated as "tax collectors " means "farmer" and "tax collector." by Jesus's time, they were not tax farmers, that is, private individuals who bought the right to collect taxes. They worked directly for Rome, but the term "farmer" seems to have stuck. Historically, these people were both rich and notoriously corrupt, especially as tax farmers, and they were made into government employees to reform them. They also seem to be associated with having lavish parties. When Christ is accused of being a drunk and a glutton, this idea is supported by the fact he is a friend with tax-collectors.

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. 

harlots " - The harlots" is from the Greek word that means "prostitute." It is from a verb that means "for sale," "bought," and "ruined."

are -- This helping verb indicates the present tense of the verb.

entering  - (CW) "Entering...ahead of" is from a Greek verb which means to "lead forward," "lead on," "persuade," "lead the way," and "go before." The play on meaning here between "lead on" and "lead the way." It is not the verb usually translated as "entering" but a compound word with a root usually translated as "brought." This is the present tense, so the listener had no way to expect what follows.

into  - -- The word translated as "unto" means "into" a place, "towards" as a direction, "in regards to" a subject, and "up to" limits in time and measure.

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. 

kingdom  - The word translated as "kingdom" can be the region, the reign, the castle or the authority of a ruler. Christ does not seem to use it to mean a physical region, so its translation as "reign" or "realm" seems more appropriate. This is especially true because the "reign" of a king means the execution of his will.

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.

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. 

God -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God," "the Divine" or "the divine one." Jesus often uses it this way perhaps to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

ahead of -- This is from the prefix of the previous verb that means "before" or "in front."

you.  - -- The "you" here is the second-person, plural pronoun in the form of an object.

NIV Translation Issues: 

6
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "of" does not capture the specific meaning of the word.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "what" should be "the."
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "his" should be "the."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "that" is not shown in the English translation.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "entering" does not capture the specific meaning of the word.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "God" is not shown in the English translation.

Front Page Date: 

Jun 13 2021