Love God with All (Mark 12:30)

“And you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your life, and with all of your understanding, and with all of your strength.”

(Mark 12:30)


Jesus continues the passage with an explanation of what it means to be committed to God as Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), or “our God.”  And Jesus says that the way we live this out is by fully committing ourselves to God’s adoration and service.  The first section of this passage is a direct quote of the LXX, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, yet, it would seem, at the initial onset, that Jesus has added to the text as we move to the latter half of what Jesus is teaching, but we will address that as we get to that section.

Jesus begins with the command from Deuteronomy 6:5 to love the Lord our God with all of our heart.  In the modern, Greek, mindset (remembering that our way of thinking is predominantly influenced by Greek thought, not Hebrew thought), the heart is the seat of the emotions or passions.  Thus, when many of us read this line initially, we immediately assume Jesus to be commanding us to love Yahweh with all of our passion.  While Jesus certainly does command us to love Yahweh with our passions, that is not what he means by heart.  In the Hebrew mindset, the heart was the seat of one’s personality and reason.  If a Hebrew person wanted to speak of one’s passions alone, he would talk about something as being from our bowels (I can’t figure out why Hallmark hasn’t picked up on that idea—I can just see the Valentine’s Day cards now; I love you with all of my bowels, dear…).  Thus, the command that is being given is that everything that makes you a reasoning human being—the whole of your personality, if you will—is to be dedicated to the love of God.  This would include, then, not only your reason and intellect, but also those little quirks that make you who you are.  Beloved, have you ever considered the fact that you are to love God with your idiosyncrasies?   They are part of your very makeup, thus, they are designed to be used by you to the glory of God!

Jesus continues with the command that we are to love God with all of our life.  This is the Greek term yuch/ (psuche), which is the word from which our English word “psyche” comes.  Many of our English translations will translate this word as “soul,” but I have opted to translate this as “life” out of deference to the Hebrew word that yuch/ (psuche) is being used to translate in this case.  The Hebrew term is the word vp,n< (nephesh), which refers to all that which gives life to and animates the body.  It is variously translated as life, breath, and even soul, but it is distinct from the word x;Wr (ruach), which means “spirit.”  In modern English, we don’t normally distinguish between the idea of a soul and of a spirit, so to preserve the Hebrew distinction, I have opted to translate this as life.  In Hebrew, the spirit is understood much in the same way as we understand a spirit today, but the soul was intimately bound to giving your physical body life, and hence our translation.  Thus, the idea being communicated in this first half of Jesus’ statement is not a dichotomy between the passions of man and the soul of man, but a united image of how we are to love God with our personality and with all that gives us life and breath in this world.  We are to be wholly committed to Yahweh, our God.

Now, as we look back to Deuteronomy 6:5, from which Jesus is quoting, we find a peculiar difference.  The Hebrew concludes with a third command, that we are to love God with all of our daom. (meod), or, literally, all of our “veriness.”  The idea expressed, by making the adverb “very” into a noun, is that of applying all of your abundance, all of your blessings, and all of the external things that God has put into your life toward the worship of God.  All of the rich blessings that have come to you in this world, as they have come from God, are to be used and applied toward the love of God.  That raises an important question for all of us—how are we using those blessings?  How do we use our vacation time; how do we use our savings; how do we use the finances that we have been afforded; and how do we use the retirements that God has given to us?  Beloved, we are often guilty of applying these things—these things that make up our “veriness”—toward our own ends and not for the love of God.  How we need to regularly look at our lives and see just how we are using the blessings that God has afforded us.

Yet, Jesus does not use this language, nor is he quoting from the Greek LXX, which reads, all of our du/namiß (dunamis)—or might (dunamis is the word from which we get the English word, “dynamite”).  Instead, Jesus breaks this final command into two separate parts: dia/noia (dianoia) or understanding and ijscuß (ischus) or strength.  My initial response was that maybe Jesus was breaking up the language of vp,n< (nephesh), or life, as yuch/ (psuche) and dia/noia (dianoia) and replacing du/namiß (dunamis) with ijscuß (ischus).  Thus, the idea of life would be expressed by both life and mind or soul and mind and power would be changed to reflect the idea of strength.  The problem with this interpretation is two-fold.  First of all, it seems odd that Jesus would add the word dia/noia (dianoia) to yuch/ (psuche) when yuch/ (psuche) is a direct quote of the Greek LXX.  Secondly, given that Matthew does not record Jesus as saying ijscuß (ischus) at all, but ends with dia/noia (dianoia).  Matthew, being a good Jew, would have been intimately familiar with the text and importance of Deuteronomy 6:5 and it would have been very unlikely that he would neglect to record an element therein.

That leads us with one other reasonable alterative, and that is to understand Jesus as expanding on the idea of our loving God with all of our daom. (meod), or veriness.  Instead of using the LXX translation, then, we see Jesus giving his own translation of daom. (meod) into Greek by using two terms: dia/noia (dianoia) and ijscuß (ischus).  In other words, Jesus is saying that for us to worship God with all of our abundance, or veriness, requires us to do so with our mental capacity, or dia/noia (dianoia), and our physical capacity, or ijscuß (ischus).  In other words, all of the energy we might expend, to accomplish all that we do in this life, we are called upon to use to love God.  We are to think about God, reason about God, meditate about God, and then the work of our hands—as mighty as that work may be, must too be done for the glory and love of God.  Indeed, this translation would capture the idea of the abundance that God has given us (as that abundance so often comes through the labors of our hands and/or our minds).

Thus, Jesus, in quoting Moses here, leaves no stone unturned when being asked the question of how we are to express our love and adoration for God on high—every inch of our life is to be devoted to God’s glory regardless of our career, trade, or background.  Does this mean that all should be preachers and missionaries?  Certainly not!  Yet, this does mean that whatever you do, whether hobby, curiosity, or career, should be done to the glory of God.  Dear friends, I wonder, can we say this about our own lives?  Can we say that the way we have ordered our career or the way we have spent our leisure time is designed to glorify God?  Oh, beloved, how we should look deeply at our hearts, our lives, and our efforts and ask ourselves, “how is God glorified in this.”  And then, when an answer is shown, work diligently to change how we live our days so as to submit ourselves to the challenge of Jesus’ words.  May our lives be lived all for the glory and honor of God alone.

About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on December 24, 2008, in Expositions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I heard something very interesting put forward about this quote and that is that the Deut passage is speaking to a Jewish audience in comparision to the Gospel passages speaking to a Greek audience. We all know that Greeks are the powerhouse’s and great minds behind western culture today and therefore as such we the Helenistic culture we are surrounded by rely’s on thought.

    Conclusion: For a jew heart was everything, but to a Greek the heart was just another compartment, so, Jesus adds mind as this cover the meaning of the Deut 6 to the Greek audience. Let me know what you think….


    • Thanks, Jai,

      There is some truth to the conclusion you are making as audience certainly does influence how you describe something. In addition, as we have moved into more modern times, the western, Greek, idea of divisions between intellect, passions, personality, etc… has influenced the Jewish categories, and is so reflected, I might argue, in the modern Hebrew translation of the New Testament, where they add the word skl, which refers to one’s insight, success, etc…

      Yet, at the same time, my concern is in terms of audience. Mark is an early Gospel writer (likely the earliest of the four evangelists), and so arguably one could say that it is meant at least initially as a Jewish and not Greek testimony. Matthew, with all of the Old Testament quotations is clearly Jewish in terms of initial audience and Luke plainly addresses his to a Greek individual or group of individuals. There are lots of debates around John’s intended audience, though an interesting argument is made by Ron Nash that he was addressing the Alexandrian Jews, so there you have a conglomeration. Bottom line is that the answer of the Shema being for Jews and the Gospels for Greeks is a bit too simplistic given context.

      There is one more thing to consider. The statements of Jesus that Mark and the other Gospel writers record were originally spoken to and understood by a Jewish audience. The teacher of the law commends Jesus on his answer. While I grant that some people hold that the Gospel writers were not writing down the actual words of Jesus, but were recording the gist of his ideas, I hold to a higher view of Biblical inerrancy. I believe that what we have is what Jesus actually said, just translated into Greek (in other words, the four evangelists were giving us an essentially literal translation of Jesus’ words, not a dynamic equivalence–a word for word translation rather than an idea for idea translation). Hence we arrive at some of the initial thoughts and questions about harmonizing these two sets of statements.

      Jai, that was a great comment, thanks for your thoughts.




  2. Hi Win

    Your writing skills are great and I take your statements on board and agree with most of them. I believe also that there are no mistakes on the page especially seeing that Matthew was a tax collector and needed to take peoples words down verbatim.

    I agree about the audience being Jewish, yet that doesn’t mean that they think like traditional Jews as Greek thought/culture had been influencing the area for at least 300 years before Jesus entered the scene. To emphasis this idea of Greek culture being the prevalent culture of today you have only to look at the Government system in place at Jesus’s time the Language that was used by Jesus and also the numerous references Jesus gave to the Jews about the then Roman ideals. (eg going the extra mile and paying Caesar that which is Caesars) Yes they are still Jewish people, but as in western culture today there is a synthesis that happens when a dominant culture comes. An example in Australia is that we are now beginning to change our spelling to American spelling (eg gaol is now jail) and also American traditions are well known and often practiced like Halloween etc.

    Having said all that, I am still having to make an assumption based on the Gospel text that Jesus is talking to Jewish audience with a synthesis of Greek culture. Because of my lack of knowledge on how to prove something, I can’t prove that this is correct, but all the dots in my mind seem to lead to this conclusion and therefore as a result lead to Jesus altering the Deut 6:5 shema.

    Another idea is that this could be the result of translation from one language to another as happens today when translating the Bible in to another language. In this case we could say that Jesus is translating the Shema to make sense to his audience. However, I plausible as this may be I don’t think this is the case as Greek is a language which is very large in terms of vocab making it easy to translate other out of other languages.

    At the end of the day the shema is my opinion is still has the same meaning in both the OT and the NT, i.e. to Love God with your holistic self.

    Let me know your thoughts.



    • Jai,

      On some level, we are getting into an area of speculation on just how much the hellenistic culture had “infected” the Jewish worldview of the day, this is something I am not an expert on. I do know, though, that with all of the revolts against the Romans, especially originating in Galilee, and with the Jewish national prejudice against the Hellenists, so there was a strong “resistance” movement to the syncretism of Jewish and Greek culture. On a side note, I teach at a seminary in eastern Ukraine and find it very interesting how there is strong resistance between those who are predominantly Russian in their culture to the move toward the Ukrainian language, etc… My bias is that Jesus and those to whom he spoke were more Jewish than Greek on the basis that they were not in the diaspora where most of the synthesis was taking place.

      In context, Jesus is also speaking in Jerusalem to one of the scribes, it seems odd to me to see this conversation taking place in Greek, but Aramaic seems the more likely language. Thus, Mark is translating Jesus’ words into Greek for his audience and we then have pretty much come full circle 🙂

      Ultimately, I agree, at the end of the day, I believe that these harmonize, as I have speculated in my posts. I don’t claim to have the absolute last word on that harmony, but it is an interesting exercise to work through. The Shema happens to be one of those monolithic passages of scripture and my concern is to make sure that we don’t put too heavy a Greek spin on it when interpreting what God is teaching us.

      Blessings, brother,



  3. Hi Win

    I agree with you and believe that this is an area of speculation and as such if I ever present this idea I will need to preface it very carefully so as not to teach it as a truth that isn’t real and I will also explain that the emphasis is on the message Jesus is trying to get across. I also agree with the fact that although the exact words of the Shema might change the message behind them doesn’t.
    Thank you for your lengthy comments on this idea. I appreciate the feedback and time you put into them greatly.

    Blessing to you also,


    • Indeed, Jai, you are right. The message of the Shema is that every aspect of our lives is to be devoted to the love of God. We are to commit our mind, body, spirit, possessions, and even our lives to loving and serving our Almighty God; if we get that, the other things will fall into place. There is an old story of a young Rabbi that wanted to study the philosophy of the west. When he asked permission, his older and wiser uncle sent him to Joshua 1:8, where the Lord tells Joshua to set the Scriptures before his eyes day and night. The older Rabbi then told the younger one to go and find the hour that was neither day nor night and in that hour he may study the philosophy of the west. This perhaps helps show the rabbinic desire to preserve the integrity of their culture, but more importantly, shows the principle that there can never be too much of the day nor too much of your life committed to God’s word and to living to his praise and glory. We owe him a debt of gratitude that is incalculable, may we withhold nothing from him.

      That being said, it is interesting to speculate (so long as we recognize we are speculating) on the relationship and harmony of the two.




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