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Where did those missing words go? (Matt 21:30) — Mondays with Mounce 208

Categories Mondays with Mounce


Having a great time at ETS/SBL in Baltimore. Always fun to see friends and make new ones. Talking with a guy at Accordance, and he had a good question.

In the parable of the two sons we read, “And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ (ἐγώ, κύριε), but did not go” (ESV). “I go,” of course, is not English, but even for the ESV this is a bit extreme (NRSV is the same). This is why you see other translations making it a little smoother, such as “I will, sir” (HCSB, NIV, NET).

But where is the verb that is translated “go” or “will (go)”? It would be the verb for ἐγώ , but it isn’t there.

Remember the basic rule. If there is a parallel construction, Greek does not feel the need to repeat words. What is interesting about this verse is that the expressed part of the construction is not in the same verse. Here is the context of vv 28-30.

28. “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go (ὕπαγε) and work (ἐργάζου) in the vineyard today.’ 29. And he answered, ‘I will not’ (οὐ θέλω), but afterward he changed his mind and went (ἀπῆλθεν). 30. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir’ (ἐγώ, κύριε), but did not go” (ἀπῆλθεν).

So where is the verb for ἐγώ? It is way back in v 28. There the father tells the son to “go” and “work.” The first son responds that he does not want (to go and work). The second son assumes the verbs and says “I (will go and work), sir,” but he did not.

In most cases, you would find the verb for ἐγώ in the same sentence, but in this case you have to go two verses back. Ah, the joys of Greek.



William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of 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's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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