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Father’s “house” or “business”? - Luke 2:49 (Monday with Mounce 149)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceWhen Jesus’ parents finally realized they had left Jesus in Jerusalem, returned, and finally found him, Jesus’ response is surprising to all parents.

“Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I would have to be in my Father’s house?”

This is certainly the traditional understanding of the passage (cf. ESV, NRSV, NIV, NET, HCSB, NLT). But what is interesting is that the NASB puts “house” in italics (indicating that the word is not explicitly there), and the KJV reads, “I must be about my Father’s business.”

The Greek word for word reads, “in the (ἐν τοῖς) of my father (τοῦ πατρός μου) it is necessary for me to be (δεῖ εἶναί με).

The use of preposition + article + modifier + noun is a normal construction. What makes it a little challenging is when the final noun is omitted, being assumed in the context. So the traditional understanding is that the missing word is οἶκος, “house” (in which case τοῖς is masculine). This certainly makes sense contextually, since v 46 identifies Jesus as being “in the temple.”

But what is the problem with this? (The answer is simple, first year grammar stuff, so don’t think too hard.)

Right. τοῖς is plural, and you wouldn’t have the plural of οἶκος for “my father’s houses.”

Apparently, this is a different construction in which the article is functioning as a noun, and you still have to fill in a noun idea. See, for example, 1 Cor 7:33; “But a married man is concerned about the things of the world (τὰ τοῦ κόσμου), how to please his wife.” According to this argument, τοῖς is neuter and refers to the “things” (i.e., “business”) of his father. (But note: this requires a difficult use of ἐν to mean something like “in reference to.”)

Now, I don’t want to overstate the argument since Prof. Marshall says that the translation “house” is “perfectly possible linguistically and was accepted by the early church fathers.” But the plural τοῖς nags me, and suggests it is the ”things” of the father that was motivating Jesus to stay behind.

Either way, all translations have to be interpretive.

MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

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