What does Luke 7:32 mean?
ESV: 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.’
NIV: They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: " ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’
NASB: They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a song of mourning, and you did not weep.’
CSB: They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other: We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a lament, but you didn’t weep!
NLT: They are like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you didn’t dance, so we played funeral songs, and you didn’t weep.’
KJV: They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
NKJV: They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not weep.’
Verse Commentary:
Verses 32, 33, and 34 present an interesting challenge in interpretation. Some see a chiasm: a pyramid-like expression of ideas mirrored around a central point. This would connect the flute players to Jesus (Luke 7:34) and the dirge singers to John the Baptist (Luke 7:33); the religious leaders reject both. That Matthew does not include the text found in 7:29–30 also leads some to interpret the passage this way. However, this does not seem to match the intent of the writer.

The "children" are "the people of this generation" (Luke 7:31). Specifically, this means the "Pharisees and the lawyers" (Luke 7:30), but also ultimately every respectable Jew who does not recognize they are a sinner and, therefore, rejects John's call to repent. The Pharisees and the lawyers sit in the marketplace, dictating what proper worship looks like: more celebratory than John and more rigid than Jesus. They condemn both Jesus and John for rejecting their direction (Luke 7:33–34).

The part about the flute is included in Aesop's fable The Fisherman Piping. A fisherman played a flute in hopes the fish would be attracted to the music. When that didn't work, he put down his nets and the fish jumped right in. He said, "You wouldn't dance when I piped: but now I've stopped, you can do nothing else!"

The part about the dirge is very poignant considering Luke's previous story (Luke 7:11–17). As Jesus and His followers entered the city of Nain, they crossed paths with a funeral procession for the only son of a widow. Culturally, Jesus' group should have turned around and joined the procession. But Jesus didn't have to. He is God, the creator of the world, and He has the power to raise the dead—so He did. Indeed, the religious leaders may play a dirge, but Jesus—and His followers—do not have to "grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Verse Context:
Luke 7:24–35 records Jesus making an interesting observation. John lived an ascetic, monk-like lifestyle in the wilderness; Jesus eats and drinks alongside moral and social outcasts. Yet both preach the same message of repentance of sins. The sinners and tax collectors respond to both John and Jesus, drawn to the message without concern for their lifestyles. Stubborn religious leaders, however, claim to judge their lifestyles; what they really can't accept is the message proclaimed by Jesus and John. This section is also depicted in Matthew 11:7–19.
Chapter Summary:
Luke 7 presents a chiasm: a set of themes mirrored around a reflection point. The humble centurion (Luke 7:1–10) contrasts the legalistic Pharisee (Luke 7:39–50). The widow of Nain (Luke 7:11–17) and the sinful women (Luke 7:36–38) have nothing to offer but gratitude for Jesus' blessings. In the center are John the Baptist and his disciples who struggle to trust that Jesus is worth following (Luke 7:18–23), then the sinners who do choose to follow Jesus and the religious leaders who refuse (Luke 7:24–35).
Chapter Context:
Luke 7 continues Jesus' mission primarily to the people of Galilee expressed as a series of pointed events and teachings punctuated by calls to follow Him. He has finished teaching the rigors of discipleship (Luke 6:17–45) and invited the crowd to place their faith in Him (Luke 6:46–49). Here, Luke describes different reactions to Jesus' miracles and message. Next, Jesus will reveal the mechanics of and reactions to His call (Luke 8:4–21) before showing His great authority over nature, demons, sickness, and worldly powers (Luke 8:22—9:17). After a final call to the disciples to deepen their faith (Luke 9:18–50), Jesus will turn toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51—19:27).
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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