What did Jesus answer Mary and Joseph when He as a boy of twelve was found in the Temple? Was it: “Did you not know that I have to be in my FATHER’S HOUSE?” (NIV)
or was it: “Did you not know that I have to be about my FATHER’S BUSINESS?” (KJV)
In Luke 2:49 we have an interesting situation. The different translations reveal the two possibilities stated above. Yet there is no confusion or different versions in the source texts or any of the manuscripts. If both the KJV and the NIV use the same words in Greek, why this great difference? As a matter of fact, the very word translated by the one as “business” and the other as “house” is absent from the text.
If we translate this sentence “word-for-word”, the problem emerges:
“Did you not know that I have to be in that of my Father?”
All languages have some trends that are unique to them. In Greek it often happens that a word that would be obvious from the context, could just be left out of the sentence. That is probably what happened here. In this sentence “that” could be “business” or “house” or even “rabbis” or something else that could fit!
In the Greek the word “that” could be the plural, neuter, functioning as a substantive. It therefore could be interpreted as “the things” or “business” as is found in the KJV. If however Jesus wanted to say “house”, as the NIV translates, why would He drop the word here and not in other places like Luke 13:25: “When once the master of the house has risen up…” There “house” would be the obvious word that could have been left out. Yet is was not dropped. See also Luke 6:3-4, 11:51 and 19:46.
The challenge before every translator of the Bible is to decide on the best way to present us with what the writer of the gospel had written, or even meant with what he hadn’t written!
Both renderings have equal possibility to represent what Jesus said to his parents. In this case it is all about the interpretation of a “missing” word.
Your comments at the bottom of this page or to my at firstname.lastname@example.org are welcome.