Matthew 20:13–16 (LDGNT)
13ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς ἑνὶ αὐτῶν εἶπεν Ἑταῖρε οὐκ ἀδικῶ σε οὐχὶ δηναρίου συνεφώνησάς μοι
14ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε θέλω δὲ τούτῳ τῷ ἐσχάτῳ δοῦναι ὡς καὶ σοί
15ἢ οὐκ ἔξεστίν μοι ὃ θέλω ποιῆσαι ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς ἢ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρός ἐστιν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀγαθός εἰμι
16Οὕτως ἔσονται οἱ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι
Matthew 20:13–16 (LEB) Lexham English Bible
13But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am not doing you wrong. Did you not come to an agreement with me for a denarius?
14Take what is yours and go! But I want to give to this last person the same as I gave to you also.
15Is it not permitted for me to do whatever I want with what is mine? Or is your eye evil because I am generous?’
16Thus the last will be first and the first last.”
The Wages Are Paid Out (20:9–16) Lexham Context Commentary
The evening comes, and all of the hired workers come to get paid. The group that was hired last gets paid first. Their wage is a denarius, even though they worked comparatively little. The first hired group expect to receive more, but receive the agreed-on denarius. They complain, but the master explains that he has met the agreement and has the right to do what he wants with his money.
20:13 The master of the house addresses an individual among the group rather than the group as a whole. He reminds the “friend” that they came to an agreement for a denarius. The response of the master in 20:13–15 seeks to win over the individual to the master’s point of view.
20:14 The master of the house continues his response. He commands the individual to take his denarius and go. The master then indicates that it was his will to pay the eleventh-hour works the same amount. He has chosen generosity to some, while not forsaking the justice of keeping to his agreement with the earliest group of workers.
20:15 The master of the house concludes his response begun in 20:13. He reminds the individual that it is his right to do as he wishes with what is his. The master’s final statement is a question to the individual, asking whether his eye is “evil” because of the master’s generosity. The importance of the eye, as symbolic of the whole person, was discussed by Jesus in 6:22–23. The evil nature of the individual’s eye is seen in the response to the master’s generosity: jealousy and greed.
20:16 Jesus offers a comparative frame at the end to aid in the interpretation of the parable, the same enigmatic statement that was made just prior to the parable in 19:30 and echoed within the parable (20:8, 12, 14).
Mangum, D. (Ed.). (2020). Lexham Context Commentary: New Testament (Mt 20:9–16). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
UBS Handbook Matthew 20:13-16
One of them is understood by some scholars to mean “a certain one of them,” referring to the one who was objecting the most. But no translation renders in this way, which is probably the wisest choice.
Friend is a polite way of addressing someone whose name is unknown (though it may also be used of one’s close companions); it indicates that the person who uses it is both friendly and approachable. The word occurs only two other times in the New Testament (Matt 22:12; 26:50), and in each of these three occurrences the person addressed is in the wrong. “My friend” will be better in some languages.
I am doing you no wrong is somewhat awkward for English speakers. TEV has “I have not cheated you”; NEB “I am not being unfair to you”; and GeCL “I do you no injustice.”
Did you not agree with me for a denarius? translates a rhetorical question which expects the answer “Yes.” For speakers of English the question form and the word order (did you not) are somewhat difficult; but it is possible to do away with both the question and the unusual negative construction “you agreed to do a day’s work for one silver coin” (TEV). Other restructurings are also possible. For example, “you agreed” may be made to read either “you agreed with me” or “we agreed.” One may also translate “We agreed that you would work a full day, and I would pay you a full day’s wages.” Perhaps the most natural way in English is to add a negative question at the end of the statement, as in “You agreed to work for a denarius (or, a normal day’s pay), didn’t you? (or, isn’t that so?)”
Take what belongs to you, and go may be more explicitly rendered as in TEV: “Now take your pay and go home” (NEB “Take your pay and go home”). With reference to the coin mentioned in the previous verse, GeCL translates “You have received it, now go.” One scholar, who has done much research on the parables, suggests that go carries the meaning “you have no more business here.” He also indicates that I choose means “it is my firm intention.”
I choose can be rendered impersonally in English, as in “It is my choice” or “It is my wish” (Brc). However, sentences like “I have decided” or “I want” may be better.
This last translates a masculine singular form in Greek (TEV “this man who was hired last”), but for some languages a plural form may be more natural, especially in light of verses 6–7, 9.
As I give to you is literally “as to you.” When translating at a common language level, it will be expected in some languages that the verb be repeated as in RSV and TEV (“as much as I gave you”).
With what belongs to me is translated “with my own money” by TEV, NEB, NIV. Since the preposition with may also mean “in” or “on,” the phrase may also mean “on my own land” or “on my own estate.” Nevertheless, this alternative possibility is not represented in any of the standard translations. It is possible to change the question form to a strong affirmation: “I have the right to do what I wish with my own money!” NEB does away with the question form: “Surely I am free to do what I like with my own money.”
Do you begrudge (so also AT) translates an idiomatic expression (literally “is your eye evil”) which TEV and NEB take to mean “are you jealous.” NJB, NIV, and NAB each use the term “envious.” The same idiom is found in the list of sins in Mark 7:22. “Are you annoyed” is also acceptable.
Generosity (so also AT; TEV, Mft, NJB “generous”) translates the adjective “good,” which here has the specific connotation of generosity. The question Or do you begrudge my generosity? may take the form of a statement: “You should not be jealous just because I am generous.” It may be necessary to indicate some recipient of generosity, as in “Are you jealous because I am generous toward someone else?” or “Does it make you jealous when I am generous to these people?”
So is translated “And Jesus concluded” by TEV. All translations indicate a shift in speaker by closing the quotation at the end of verse 15, and some translations try to help further by introducing a new paragraph with verse 15. However, this solution is of no assistance to persons who must depend upon hearing the scripture read, and its value is questionable even for those who read the scripture for themselves. A number of CLTs follow TEV in introducing Jesus as the speaker.
The last translates a masculine plural form in Greek. It may be necessary, not only to mark this as a specific reference to people, but to indicate the time periods: “So those people who are last now will someday be first …” As in 19:30, to which this verse refers, last and first do not refer to time but to rank. Translators can use the same expressions here as they did there, possibly “least important” and “most important.”
Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew (pp. 619–621). New York: United Bible Societies.