Matthew 21:13 It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer;

KJV Verse: 

Mat 21:13 It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

It has been written itself, "My household is going to be named a household of prayer." You, however, want to make it "a pirate's cave."

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

The original Greek is more colorful, contrasting the "house of prayer" not just with a "den of thieves" but with "a pirate's cave."

"It is written" is a common phrase used by Christ to refer to what was written in the Jewish holy books. It is in a from where the subject acts on itself, "It has written itself." Here, he is quoting the prophets (not "the law," Moses) Isa 56:7 ("house of prayer") and Jer 7:11 ("Den of robbers"). As is usual, Christ's Greek follows the Greek Septuagint exactly, Greek word for word.

The Greek word translated as "house," is any dwelling place but not exclusively a separate house. It means the household or clan that lives in the building as well.

The term translated as "shall be called" is like our word "call" means both "to summon" and also "to name." It is in the future passive, indicating something that has not happened, but something that will happen. The temple of Christ's time was called a place of sacrifice.

This is the first mention of the word "prayer" by Jesus in the Gospels. He earlier talks about praying, but doesn't use the word. It means both the act of talking to the divine and the place for it as well.

The Greek word translated as "have made" has the primary meaning of "making" or producing" something or "causing" or "rendering" as service. However, it is usually translated as "do" in the Gospels. This verse is a good example of where that meaning doesn't work, since the verb means making something not just doing it.

The tense of the previous verb is not as simple as it appears. It might be refer to the past but the form could also refer to the present. And in the present tense, ("are making") or the form could refer to something people want to do, "want to make."

The term translated as "den" means "cave" or "grotto."

The term translated as "of thieves" means "robber" or "pirate."

NOTE: Christ is not attacking commerce as such here. He is attacking the use of religion as a way of making a living. This is a very common theme for him and should create problems for every modern church, which, of course, has to raise money to survive.

Since this money was raised in Christ's time, by selling animals to be sacrificed at the temp, Christ is condemning the whole tradition of "sacrifice" as opposed to prayer in our relationship with God.

Offering sacrifices to God is too often a form of trade rather than a form of worship. It is form of bargaining with God: if I give God this sacrifice, then I want God to give me what I want in return. Since we cannot bargain with God (a point Christ makes clear in the previous chapter), sacrifice as a form of bargaining is worthless, (poneros) which, of course, is the word that always gets translated as "evil" in the New Testament.

But while bargaining with God is worthless, there is something even worse going on here. The real crime here is coercion. When a priesthood tells believers that they must pay to have the right relationship with God, they are using their position to coerce others. This is the piracy that Christ is attacking here.

For Christ, the relationship between people must be voluntary, arising from a free agreement. Bargaining and trade are both seen as good things among people. What is bad is coercion, that is, threatening people unless they comply to our wishes.

However, between God and humans, bargains are not possible. Trade is not possible. God needs nothing we can offer. The tradition of religious sacrifice always mixed elements of worship and bargaining. Here Christ makes it clear that prayer, that is, seeking guidance and favors from God is not a form of trade, but simply an acceptance of God's control over our world.

Greek Vocabulary: 

Γέγραπται (verb 3rd sg perf ind mp) "It is written" is from grapho which means "to mark", "to express by written characters", "to write a letter", "to write down [a law]", "to proscribe", "to ordain", "to write for oneself", "to enroll oneself", "to draw signs", "to describe a figure" "to brand," and "to indict."

οἶκός (noun sg masc nom) "House" is from oikos, which means "house", "dwelling place", "room", "home", "meeting hall", "household goods", "substance," and "ruling family." It is any dwelling place but not exclusively a separate house.

μου (noun sg masc gen) "My" is from mou, which mean "my," or "mine."

οἶκος (noun sg masc nom) "House" is from oikos, which means "house", "dwelling place", "room", "home", "meeting hall", "household goods", "substance," and "ruling family." It is any dwelling place but not exclusively a separate house.

προσευχῆς (noun sg fem gen) "Prayer" is from proseuche, which means "prayer" and also "place of prayer," "sanctuary," and "chapel." Christ more commonly uses the verb form of the word, proseuchomai.

κληθήσεται,” (verb 3rd sg fut ind pass) "Shall be called" is from kaleo, which means "call", "summon", "invite", "invoke", "call by name," and "demand."

ὑμεῖς "You" is from hymeis (humeis), which are the singular nominative form of the second person, "you." -- The pronoun is used explicitly as the subject of the sentence. Since it is already part of the verb, its use creates emphasis on the "you." The "you" here is plural, indicating all Christ's listeners.

δὲ "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").

αὐτὸν (adj sg masc acc) "It" is from 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." -

ποιεῖτε (verb 2nd pl imperf/pres ind act/opt) "Have made" is from 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."

σπήλαιον (noun sg neut acc) "Den" is from spêlaion (spelaion), which means "grotto", "cavern," and "cave." It is the source for our term for exploring caves, "spelunking." It also means "behind the scenes" in a theater and was slang for one's "private parts."

λῃστῶν.” (noun pl masc gen) "Thieves" is from lestes, which means "robber" or "pirate."

Wordplay: 

The phrase translated as "den of thieves" could also be translated as a "pirates'cave." The word "cave" is also slang for private parts, so, politely, a "pirates' butt." 

Related Verses: