Re: Matthew 21:29-31

From: Mike Sangrey (
Date: Sun Sep 05 1999 - 09:04:12 EDT said:
> I've been lurking on the B-Greek list for a few days now, and had a
> question with respect to translating a certain passage. How would one
> translate Matthew 21:29-31 for Arab readers? For the Arab reader (at
> least those I know of who seem to have a very fatalistic view of
> events controlled in all aspects by Allah), the son who told his
> father that he would do as instructed but later did not is seen as
> being the "good" son rather than the one who said he would not but
> afterward did his father's will. It would be unthinkable to these
> persons for a son to shame his father by telling him "no," even if he
> actually did later go out and do as his father asked. But the son who
> told his father "yes" but did not complete the task because it was not
> Allah's will that he accomplish the task is seen in a better light.
> Would one rather try placing an explanatory footnote explaining the
> mileau of Israelite culture in the first century or try to tackle the
> translation issue in some way? Thank you in advance for any help you
> can give on this.

Since it is unthinkable for the son to say "no" to his father,
then your translation should stick to that. We who live in a much
more permissive society do not see the import of Jesus meaning.
We interact with this passage by thinking, "Big deal, so he said no,
what's the problem?" Jesus's point in telling this story is that
sinful people, no matter how sinful, who respond correctly are the
ones that are right and that righteous people who respond incorrectly
are wrong. The people in the temple courts would have been shocked
to hear Jesus say that "prostitutes are entering the kingdom." So,
I think you should reflect the original language fairly closely
when translating the verbal interchange between father and son.

However, your main problem, as I see it, is with what the son
did or didn't do. The fatalist's mind set cause confusion with a
straight-forward translation. Perhaps you could add a phrase to the
effect that the father derived a great benefit or loss from the son.
Perhaps, if necessary, even stating that the father derived honor
or shame from God Himself which exceeded the honor or shame of the
son's verbal reply.

The implication is that even with a fatalistic mind set, one is
pointed to the honor or shame the father has received by the sons
action or inaction.

Mike Sangrey
Lancaster, Pa.
       There is no 'do' in faith, everywhere present within it is 'done'.

--- B-Greek home page: You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: [] To unsubscribe, forward this message to To subscribe, send a message to

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:40:37 EDT