Parable of the Two Sons

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For another parable told by Jesus about two sons, see Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Jesus and John the Baptist (15th century).

The Parable of the Two Sons is a parable told by Jesus in the New Testament, found in Matthew 21:28–32. It contrasts the tax collectors and prostitutes who accepted the message taught by John the Baptist with the "religious" people who did not.


The parable is as follows:

"But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, 'Son, go work in my vineyard.' He answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind, and went. He came to the second, and said the same thing. He answered, 'I go, sir,' but he didn't go. Which of the two did the will of his father?"

They said to him, "The first."

Jesus said to them, "Most certainly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn't believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. When you saw it, you didn't even repent afterward, that you might believe him."
— Matthew 21:28–32, World English Bible


In this parable, Jesus speaks to those who believed they were without sin. The nonbelievers, the tax collectors and prostitutes, were accepting the message taught by John the Baptist and were repenting. The essential message of the parable is that God values actions over words.[1] The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican has a somewhat similar theme.


Some say that this Parable, along with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, flies in the face of dogmatic Christian insistence that to be a Christian is the only way to be acceptable to God. In this line of thinking, outward religious profession has no bearing on inner spiritual disposition. A Christian or Jew may be a disbeliever, and a Muslim or Buddhist may be a believer in Christ’s teaching. Therefore, inner spiritual disposition that bears the fruit of the Spirit is far more important than outward manifestations of piety.

There is some truth to these assertions. Obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), and “outward manifestations of piety” can belie an “inner spiritual disposition” that is completely out of alignment with Jesus’ teaching. However, all separation of real-world faith in action from a virtual faith stance is untenable. Faith without follow-through is a dead faith (James 2:17), and a Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, or so-called Christian who does not heed the Parable of the Two Sons’ call to repentance (Matthew 21:32) misses the point of Jesus’ teaching entirely.


  1. ^ New Interpreter's Bible, A commentary in twelve volumes, Volume 8, page 412.