Can you shed some light over the intended meaning of the parable of the Children in the Marketplace?

Is there more context or any words in the parable that have special meaning? Also, are there any good references or commentaries about this parable?

I have been searching in different sources but I found the interpretation sometimes lacking in depth.

  • 2
    Excellent question! And welcome to BiblicalHermeneutics.SE!
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 14:48
  • ¡Bienvenidos a BH.SE! Thanks for the question. I have some ideas, but they may be as shallow as what you already know. Let me poke around a bit to see if I can find anything else. Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 18:57

5 Answers 5


This teaching session began when John the Baptist sent two disciples to question Jesus. Luke 7:15-19 (ESV)

And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Jesus answers the men by saying He was fulfilling Isaiah 29:18 and 35:5-6. Luke 7:24-27 (ESV):

When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

'Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.'

So Jesus affirms that John is a prophet who fulfilled Malachi 3:1. It's interesting to think that John may have been in Herod's prison at the time (see Mark 6). If so, John would have wondered about his cousin who wasn't in the wilderness, eating locusts and wearing rough leather, but living it up in the towns of Galilee, going to weddings and spending time with sinners. He naturally would have been worried that he had not proclaimed a radical renewal of Judaism, but introduced the people to a heretic. And probably the crowd had the same question.

Luke 7:31-35 (ESV):

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

  'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.'

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

The parenthetical remark in verses 29 and 30 makes clear that the religious leaders had rejected John's baptism and were also generally opposed to Jesus too. So Jesus compares them to children in the marketplace who are not satisfied. Neither the ascetic John nor the hedonist Jesus pleased them. They could not see past the surface of either man to the wisdom underneath.

But who are the children in the marketplace? Sadly, they are still with us, I believe. I'm reminded of riding the Metro in Mexico City and seeing street urchins playing electric guitar with tiny, portable amps, or banging on makeshift, cardboard-box drums, or playing pop songs on beat-up flutes. They didn't care what they played as long as someone would give money to their toddler sibling who was wandering around the car with a hat or a bucket begging for spare change. I believe Jesus had these sorts of desperate, pathetic, poor-as-dirt, abused children in mind.

So the parable is a double condemnation:

  1. The people are as fickle as children who will do anything to get a bit of money.

  2. The society allows children to be in such desperate conditions that they must beg just to stay alive.

John Piper, in a sermon about Romans 1:18-22 said:

God warns with his wrath and he woos with his kindness. He speaks both languages: severity and tenderness. Do you recall how Jesus interpreted the coming of John the Baptist as a severe, leather-girded, locus-eating, desert-living, adultery-condemning prophet, on the one hand, and his own coming as a party-going, wine-making, child-healing, sin-forgiving savior, on the other hand? He said, "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn." Instead, you said, "John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton" (Matthew 11:17). The gospel came with both languages, but they would not hear.

  • Jon's answer is good, and I would not take away anything from it, but there is an eschatological dimension in context of the whole passage that needs to be taken into consideration: Matt 10:11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. - John (the dirge - Old Covenant) is being replaced by Jesus (the dance - Kingdom of Heaven) I have written more on this here: nlife.ca/video/dirge-dance-and-end-world
    – andrewfn
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 2:52
  • @andrewfn thank you for the link that was such a blessing Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 20:15
  • The original response is fine. However, whether the children are buskers is more debatable - one idea is children acted out important scenes (pipes - marriage and the dirge - funeral).The idea that Jesus is the piper child and the dirge is the OT (John/Elijah), I would instead say it refers to the Pharisees who want God to dance to their tune. Its 'this generation' that are calling out.
    – M__
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 3:51

It appears Jesus is alluding to - in a variant version - a popular fable (Young, The Parables, pg. 20). Aesop has a fable - The Fisherman and his flute - where the fisherman is playing his flute, trying to make the fish dance but they won't dance. Then he catches them in his net and they begin to dance (on the ground) but by then it is too late.

"Early one morning, a fisherman skilled in music took his flute and his nets to the seashore. Standing on a rock, he played several tunes in the hope that the fish, attracted by his melody, would dance into his net, which he had placed below. At last, having waited in vain, he laid aside his flute, and casting his net into the sea, made an excellent haul of fish. When he saw them leaping about in the net he said, "Silly creatures, you would not dance for me before and now I am no longer playing, you do so"

This fable was found in Herodotus Histories. It is applied in a political fashion to those who arrive at the king too late when they could have responded earlier.

The second half of the verse "sang a dirge" is not in Aesop's fable but it follows - We sang a funeral dirge but you did not respond properly.

The message: If you do not pay attention when a benefit is offered to you then it does you no good when you are forced into action.

From Brad Young, The Parables, pg. 20 - "the fish ignore the music of the flute. They are free and arrogant."

The fish should have responded to the fisherman's flute out of their own free will and they would have lived.

Jesus - uses this well-known story to speak of his own generation that did not heed the message when it was first brought to them from John. John is a prophet

'Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare Your way before you."

John's message: "Repent!" Since they did not repent - then when judgment comes - there will be nothing the king - Jesus - can do for them.

Brad Young, The Parables, pg. 21: "John the Baptist is like the fisherman who played his flute. Many did not respond. At the final judgment, they will dance."

The men of this generation could have listened to John but they choose not to.

  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take our site tour. and check out what makes us different from other sites that study the Bible. Could you elaborate more on how you came to the conclusion Jesus is quoting Aesop's fables? Ideally cite some scholars who think so (we are interested in what experts think). Please don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 13:54
  • Good advice @Dan. Nevertheless, I'm going to say what I think. I think this isn't an Aesop fable, in either case. The second part, "we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn" is not part of the fable at all. This is pure speculation from what I've been able to determine. The point of the fable doesn't match Jesus' point. Following point is that the people are not satisfied. The fable, according to Wikipedia is a political statement and from others the point is using the correct tool. Either way, Jesus wouldn't make such a stretch. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 23:49
  • See Brad H. Young, The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation (pg. 20-21). He cites David Flusser who, at the time, was a leading scholar of the Second Temple Period at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Flusser notes the same thing about alluding to Aesop.
    – S. Broberg
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 14:53
  • Its an interesting idea, which has a lot of support, but the metaphor in the passage concerns children rather than fisherman. Children wouldn't be allowed near boats or nets alone.
    – M__
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 3:54

This could be called the "Parable of the Brats".

The first thing we must understand is that the "generation" -- Christ names the Pharisees and scribes in the Luke version -- are those into whose mouths he puts these childish complaints. Generation literally refers to what is sometimes called the "spirit of the age", which at that time was in the hands of the Jewish theocrats. Peter uses the same words (tes geneas) in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 (calling the generation "corrupt".) But one could reasonably apply it to any period in history, seen from the perspective of a pious Christian, really, so we might be able to generalize the term.

Anyway, the two tunes that are played are the complaints the Pharisees make about John and Jesus, and about those who follow them.

The Pharisees are basically jealous. Their complaints about Jesus and John are motivated by envy at the number of people who follow them. And they are doubly angry because they expect not only the population, but John and Jesus, to dance to whatever tune they play.

The tune they play is the law, and since we are talking about Pharisees, not necessarily the law of Moses, but the oral law propounded by the Pharisees themselves, which will become the Mishnah; not truly even the law of Moses, but rules the Pharisees (and their predecessors) thought up to interpret the law.

John, by living his well-known ascetic lifestyle, refuses to join them in eating good food, wearing soft clothes, etc. He is the one who refuses to dance when they play the flute. He dares to prophesy God's wrath for people whom the Pharisees consider have found righteousness before God by their acts.

Jesus, on the other hand, has been roundly criticized for dealing with and even sharing meals with publicans. He has just healed the slave of a Gentile. His disciples harvest and prepare food on the Sabbath. Yet when the Pharisees "play a dirge" -- fulminate about the lawlessness of such actions and seek to make Him tearful with repentance -- Christ and his disciples refuse to comply. Instead, they tell the Pharisees that they are wrong. They feast when the Pharisees think they should go hungry.

The Pharisees' relationship with God is so filled with error that it is like a child's game, an imitation of true righteousness. And like children, they are sulking because so many people in general, and John and Jesus in particular, refuse to play by their rules.

  • 1
    Thank you for this contribution, and welcome to BH-SE. This answer will be strengthened and more highly regarded on this site if you cite some textual/contextual/linguistic/historical sources to support the assertions of this answer.
    – user2027
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 15:51
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites in that we expect you to show your work for all assertions, Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it (e.g. cite sources, give specific textual support for general assertions, etc.).
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 19:33
  • Personally I think is the most helpful exegesis. Whether I would go to link 'the law' with a tune, I dunno. Pharisees certainly had traditions which were outside the law, cleaning cups and washing as a purification ritual.
    – M__
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 4:00
  • My impressions are that Jesus' conflicts with the Pharisees did not concern the "Law of Moses" in the strict sense, that is, the commandments and rules specified in the Tanakh/Penteteuch. Rather, they concerned a gloss on the strict "Law of Moses" created by men to interpret them, which eventually were codified as the Mishnah. As an example, the tenth commandment forbids work on the Sabbath; but it does not specifically mention healing. The Pharisees made specific, even nit-picking, rules about what sort of healing constituted forbidden "work" and what did not; but Jesus disagreed with them. Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 13:36

I heard some commentary that Jesus was comparing the Pharisees to children who didn’t grasp the seriousness of the daily business taking place. Parents working to pay the bills and children pestering people with childish desires, “why didn’t you play along?!?”


What is the meaning behind the parable of Children in the Marketplace in Luke 7:31-35?

Luke 7:31-35 (NASB)

31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a [a]drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and [b]sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

After referring to the virtues of John the Baptist, (verses 7:24-29) Jesus turns his attention to the proud and faithless generation (verse 7:30 NET)

30 "However, the Pharisees and the experts in religious law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John."

And declares:(verse 7:31-32 NASB)

31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

**What does Jesus means by that, He explains:(**verses 33-35 NASB)

33 "For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a [k]drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and [l]sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”


Nothing satisfies or pleases such proud people, on one hand there is John, living an austere life and following the angel's declaration to live as a Nazirite, he was neither eating or drinking no wine, yet people are accusing him saying ,that he has a demon. On the other hand Jesus lives like any other person eating and drinking , but people accuse him and say he is a "glutton."

Jesus compares the unresponsive generation to children in the market place ,who refuse to respond when other children are playing the flute, or do not lament when others wail. Jesus finishes and says " wisdom is vindicated by all her deeds." The "deeds" is the evidence produced by Jesus and John that prove the charges against them are false.

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