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

KJV Verse: 

Mat 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.

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

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

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

This story is funny, but the humor is hidden in the Greek.The "what do you think" phrase here is addressed to the ones who challenged Christ to explain the source of his authority. The story is an explanation that makes light of his refusal to do so. It contains words Christ usual uses only when he is making light of something. The scene is one of a parent kicking children out of the nest. (For more on understanding Christ's humor, read this article.)

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.

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

"Think ye" is from a verb that means "to expect," "to seem," "to suppose", "to imagine," and "to have an opinion." However, it is in form that has two possible meanings. It's obvious meaning is "does it seem," which first with the "to you" that precedes it. However, it also means "do you imagine yourselves."

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

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. )

The word translated as "came" is the first bit of humor. It a special form of the word commonly translated as "come." It has the sense of "coming forward" and "approach" but it is typically used for an inferior approaching a superior.

The word translated as "the first" takes a lot of different types of "first" meanings from its context. It is one of Christ's favortite "multiple meaning" words, used most recently in Mat 20:16. It can mean both the first-born child but it can also mean the "best" child. This is a verb in the form of an adjective, "approaching."

"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."

The man addresses the child as "child" using that same word as above. This word has no "sex".

"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" 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."

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 (Mat 20:4).

 

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 "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; (verb 3rd sg pres/impef ind act or 2nd sg pres ind mp) "Think" is from 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 "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 (verb 3rd sg imperf ind act) "Had" is from 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 (noun pl neut nom/acc) "Sons" is from teknon, which means "that which is born", "child," and "the young."

δύο. "Two" is from duo, which means the number "two", "a couple," and "a pair." -- The Greek word for "two" means "two" or a "couple."

προσελθὼν (part sg aor act masc nom) "He came" is from 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 πρώτῳ (adj sg masc dat) "To the 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 (verb 3rd sg aor ind act) "Said" is from eipon, which means "to speak", "to say", "to recite", "to address", "to mention", "to name", "to proclaim", "to plead", "to promise," and "to offer."

Τέκνον, (noun sg neut voc) "Son" is from 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 (verb 2nd sg pres imperat act) "Go" is from hupago, 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 "Today" is from semeron, which is an adverb that means "for today" and "on this day."

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

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

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."

 

The Spoken Version: 

But what do you expect?
A man maintained two offspring.
Carefully approaching the first, he said:
Child, go out
and get a job for yourself,
just for the day,
in the local vineyard.

Related Verses: