The Greek text of Luke 2:49 states,

ΜΘʹ καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς Τί ὅτι ἐζητεῖτέ με οὐκ ᾔδειτε ὅτι ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με TR, 1550

The Greek phrase «ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με» roughly translates into English as, “I must be in My Father’s [things].” The Greek text lacks a noun to be translated into English as either “house” or “business,” and translators base their translation on an ellipsis.

I found one example in the LXX where «ἐν τοῖς...» referred to one’s house. For example, in Esther 7:9, the LXX translates the Hebrew phrase בְּבֵית הָמָן (“in the house of Haman”) into Greek as «ἐν τοῖς Αμαν». So, is there anything precluding us from accepting the meaning of «ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με» as “I must be in my Father’s house” rather than “I must be about my Father’s business”?

  • why not keep the ellipsis?
    – fumanchu
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 17:00
  • Maybe the text is purposely uncertain because both are true. Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 17:32
  • @fumanchu: Can you identify an instance where an English translation (not an interlinear) maintains an ellipsis that occurs in the Greek? I can’t recall that ever happening.
    – user862
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 18:34
  • I simply mean that "the things" is as specific as the text itself gets. It is a general failure IMO that most English translations feel they need to fill in what the original left out. It's as if they believe the original possessed some clarity that is now hidden and needs to be explicitly revealed lest modern readers employ the extremely poorly-developed language areas of their brains.
    – fumanchu
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 17:25

3 Answers 3


The Greek definite article, and in particular, the neuter plural (as here), is very frequently used in “elliptic” expressions. The standard dictionary of classical Greek (Liddell/Scott/Johns) says:


elliptic expressions : 1 before the gen. of a pr.n., to express descent, son or daughter, Θουκυδίδης ὁ Ὀλόρου (sc. υἱός) Th.4.104 ; Ἑλένη ἡ τοῦ Διός (sc. θυγάτηρ) E.Hel.470 : also to denote other relationships, e.g. brother, Lys.32.24, Alciphr.2.2.10 ; ἡ Σμικυθίωνος Μελιστίχη M.the wife of S., Ar.Ec.46 ; Κλέαρχος καὶ οἱ ἐκείνου Cl. and his men, X.An.1.2.15 ; ὁ τοῦ Ἀντιγένεος the slave of A., Hp.Hum.20.

2 generally, before a gen. it indicates a wider relation, as τὸ τῶν νεῶν, τὸ τῶν Ἑρμῶν, the matter of the ships, the affair of the Hermae, Th.4.23,6.60 ; τὰ τοῦ Ἀρριβαίου πράσσειν to promote the interests of Arrhibaeus, Id.4.83, cf. 6.89, etc.; τὸ τῆς τύχης,=ἡ τύχη, Id.4.18 ; τὰ τῆς τύχης accidents, chance events, ib.55 ; τὰ γὰρ φθιτῶν τοῖς ὁρῶσι κόσμος performance of the rites due to the dead befits the living, E.Supp.78(lyr.); τὰ τῶν θεῶν that which is destined by the gods, S.Tr.498(lyr.) : hence with neut. of Possessive Pron., τὸ ἐμόν, τὸ σόν, what regards me or thee, my or thy business or interests, S.Aj.124, El.251, etc.: and with gen. of 3 pers., τὸ τῆσδε E.Hipp.48. But τό τινος is freq. also, a man's word or saying, as τὸ τοῦ Σόλωνος Hdt.1.86 ; τὸ τοῦ Ὁμήρου as Homer says, Pl.Tht.183e ; also τά τινος so-and-so's house, Ar.V.1432, D.54.7, Theoc.2.76, Herod.5.52, Ev.Luc.2.49.

So, as you see, the authors think that here in Ev.Luc.2.49 ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου means “at my father’s house”, or, as we can say, equally elliptically, in English “at my father’s”. “Ellipsis” does not mean that something is missing in the text, but merely that we are not specifying something that is obvious. At the same time, I am not sure that this is the very best translation in this particular context. It could just as well mean “at my father’s business”, like

τὰ τοῦ Ἀρριβαίου πράσσειν to promote the interests of Arrhibaeus

Linguistically, both are possible, and both are equally good classical Greek.

  • Can we combine the cultural background that at that age (12 years old average but actually "2 hairs" rule) boys would go to study and, if they were found able, they would train with Rabbis and if they were not they would apprentice a trade. Usually their father's trade. So there is great meaning and almost irony for a 12yo Jesus to be speaking with the Rabbis (who approved of him and may have taken him as a student) and then to his earthly father Joseph and say "I'm here about my father's business of course, where else?" When he really means his heavenly Father. Would the language fit that?
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 18:55

Here is how I would translate Luke 2:49

And he said to them, Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that I am bound to be involved in the affairs of my Father?

Reasoning: enter image description here

As you can see τοῖς is plural, so "house" would not be a good choice. The KJV have given "business", which is okay because it is the equivalent of "doings". However, I have chosen "affairs" to retain the plural of the Greek.


One key here is the dative definite article (TOIS) being plural which indicates that there are ("things,issues...business if you will) matters that are current necessities that are existing to Jesus that are characterized by His Father. A need to be;!indicated by DEI ...and what kind of issues characterized by The Father TOU PATROS MOU (genitive case which indicates (what kind of)

God kind of stuff was occurring there in that one...My oh my !

It would seem that it was not a place that He was in, but a situation of experiences related to God and what was necessary to be happening right there and then.p

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