Translators seem about equally divided on this question, with older translations such as KJV, Geneva, Darby and even RSV using the present tense and newer ones leaning toward the future tense. My Greek is not good enough to help me understand the answer. I would appreciate expert opinions, as well as interpretations based on the context.

Personally, I have always thought, based on reading traditional translations, that Zacchaeus was telling Jesus what he already did, in order to defend himself from unjust accusations. But the response of Jesus that "today salvation has come to this house," might imply that his blessing was due Zacchaeus' commitment to future giving rather than current practice.

Finally, reading the parable that follows the story of Zacchaeus recently led me to the opinion that Jesus [or Luke] was making an analogy between Zacchaeus (the chief tax collector of the district) and the lord in the parable. This lord was misjudged by one of his servants as corrupt and severe, when in fact he was extremely generous. Luke's decision (unlike Matthew's) to place the parable immediately after the Zacchaeus incident tends toward seeing Zacchaeus as already generous, rather than promising generosity in the future.

So: did Zacchaeus actually say "I [already" give]" or "I will give."


2 Answers 2


Let us be very clear, there are two versions of the verb "to give" in Luke 19:8, both in exactly the same tense:

  • δίδωμι (didomi) = present indicative active = "I give"
  • ἀποδίδωμι (apodidomi) = present indicative active = "I give back/return"

Thus, Zacchaeus is making a strict promise by saying, in the present tense (a Hebrewism because Hebrew does not have a future tense) that he promises to give generously as the verse outlines. This is possibly the reason that some versions use the future tense in English translation.

[I note that this exchange between Jesus and Zacchaeus probably did not occur in Greek but more probably Aramaic, but we cannot be sure.]

Note the comments of Ellicott:

The half of my goods I give . .—It seems more natural to see in this the statement of a new purpose than that of an habitual practice. In the absence of any words implying a command of this nature, we must assume either that it was a spontaneous impulse of large-hearted devotion, or, possibly, that Zacchæus had heard of the command given but a few days before to the young ruler (Luke 18:22). The promise implies immediate distribution. The compensation for wrongs that men might have suffered at his hands was to come out of the remaining half.

Barnes is similar:

The half of my goods I give to the poor - It is not necessary to understand this as affirming that this "had" been his practice, or that he said this in the way of proclaiming his own righteousness. It maybe understood rather as a purpose which he "then" formed under the teaching of Christ.

  • I'm upvoting this but not ready to accept yet because you ignore the issue of the parallelism between Zacchaeus and the lord in the parable of the 10 minas. Do you Luke had no intention of making an analogy between the lord and Zacchaeus? Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 0:41
  • @DanFefferman - I struggle to see any direct parallel between the two parables because they use different verbs and the spiritual lesson (point of the parable) is entirely different. Zacchaeus is about the generosity 9change of heart or conversion) induced by serving Christ; the minas are about developing one's spiritual resources/talents for Christ's service. That is, one is about what happens when we come to Jesus, the other is about what happens in Christ's service. If you wish, I can place this in the answer.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 1:31
  • I still see a connection to the Zacchaeus story but I'm accepting your answer. Makes me wonder if Matthew's version uses the same verbs that you mention... in other words did they both have virtually the same parable and simply place it in a different context. Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 4:46

"Giving", I suggest, is a process. Having stage:

  1. Understanding the need to give and deciding to do it.

  2. Deciding what to give, how and when.

  3. Doing it.

Luke 19:8

"..Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor..". ESV.

""didomi" is present/indicative/active. [give].

I think this tells us that the speaker is actively involved with the process but not necessarily how far he is along it.

"Half of my gifts" suggests that he has reached stage 2 but he may not have decided how and exactly when, just "soon".

The speaker has decided how much and to whom. He has made a commitment to the process; he is giving.

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