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Father’s “house” or “business” (Luke 2:49) — Mondays with Mounce 230
Omitted words. We all do it. I am from Minnesota, and we love to end sentences in prepositions. “Do you want to go with?” From context, you know to supply the final “me.”
It happens especially in parallel constructions. “I went to the store, but he didn’t.” Didn’t what? He didn’t “go the store.” It is natural in our own language to know what words need to be supplied.
But not so easy in others. Jesus tells his 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?” (Luke 2:49). But note the Greek. οὐκ ᾔδειτε ὅτι ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με; What does τοῖς modify? Luke doesn’t say, and leaves it up to our Greek informed imagination.
The NASB (and most translations) includes “house.” As per their style, they italicize it and footnote, “Or affairs; lit in the things of My Father.” The ESV goes with “house” and footnotes, “Or about my Father’s business,” perhaps mimicking the KJV (see also the NIV).
One picky thing first about the NASB. “In the things of My Father” is not “literal.” It is word for word. There is no Greek “things.” And the capitalized “My Father” is interpretive. When are we going to stop thinking “literal” means word for word? Webster defines “literal” as “involving the ordinary or usual meaning of a word; giving the meaning of each individual word; completely true and accurate, not exaggerated.” “Literal” all has to do with meaning, not form.
“House” makes perfectly good sense. Jesus is referring to the temple, and references it as such in v 26. It also makes sense of ἐν. What this means is that the omitted word would be οἶκος. This is Bock’s preferred interpretation (1:269f.).
What is the problem with that? Right, τοῖς is plural and so the NASB’s “the things” seems the safer guess. However, Bock argues that this is an idiom for “being in one’s house” (see Genesis 41:51; Esther 7:9; Job 18:19, although this may not be a legitimate example since τοῖς is parallel to the earlier ὁ οἶκος).
Isn’t Greek fun? Omitted words can be frustrating.
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.
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