In Mark 12:30, Jesus says the greatest command is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The scribe replies “to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength…”. The scribe uses different words than Jesus but Jesus appears to accept it. Is there a significance between the Greek words that are used?
Points awarded for your eagle eye on spotting this. Actually, I quite like this exchange between Jesus and the Scribe, it was like a cool, calming breeze after the storms.
Just for fun, allow me the pleasure to lay the context before I attempt a response to your question.
This pleasant exchange come hot on the heels of hostile encounters. One day prior, Jesus famously cleaned up the temple from becoming “a den of robbers”, much to the chagrin of the Jewish religious authorities. (Mark 12 verse 15)
Next day, they took turn confronting Jesus, beginning with the Chief priests, the scribes and the elders (v.27-33), then the Pharisees and the Herodians (v.13-17), and lastly the Sadducees’ (v18-27). And Jesus passed all of them with flying colors.
I’m tempted to dive into each test, as they are so deep. But that’s not the point of this message. Anyway, the scribe you mentioned finally makes his appearance. Noticed that he “recognized how well Jesus has answered” (v28). So, he actually posed a question to help settle the real issue, to expose to all whether Jesus is a false prophet trying to mislead people or is He the real deal.
I believed from how he affirmed Jesus’ answer and adding that revering God and loving others are far more important than all burnt offering and sacrifices (v33), that he was sincerely asking, and probably helping, without intent to trap Jesus. This exchange puts the hostility to rest, as no one dared to ask any more question after that (v34).
The ANSWER: Shema Yisrael
Thank you for being patient, I shall now get to your question. Jesus was actually quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, aka Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel) to the Jews. Noticed also that there was only 3 items too, not 4 like it was written that Jesus said.
The 3 things we are to love God with are heart, soul, and strength. Now the Hebrew terms of course means differently to what contemporary English speaker knows it as translated.
The Hebrew for Heart is Lev(av). The Hebrews’ understanding of the heart is actually very rich, it stands for the heart, the mind and the body where we feel, think, and will, or make choices. It is like the command center of human beings. That’s why when Moses says God will have to circumcise our hearts(our command centre) in Deut 30:6 so that we can carry out the Shema Yisrael.
Whereas the Hebrew for Soul is Nephesh, literally the throat. But throat talks about the whole living being of human, like in Gen 46:15, where there are 33 people (nephesh) in the family. Also in Ps 119:175, translated “Let ME live that I may praise You”, the real Hebrew actually said, “Let My Nephesh live, that IT may praise You.” It is not like spirit or apparition, or non-physical aspect of our being as modern people think today. It should be more accurately translated as the whole physical existence.
And lastly the Hebrew for Strength is Me’od, and is actually the adverb “very” or “much”. Like when God saw all that He had made and it was very(me’od) good (Gen 1:31), or when Jacob grew exceedingly (me’od me’od) prosperous in Gen 30:43. So it actually means muchness of everything that we are, muchness of our Lev(av) and our Nephesh, multiplied. This is a challenge to translate, so the Greek translated it to Dunamis (power) and the Aramaic translation is Wealth. Basically, Me’od means whatever resources available to you, all of them, devote them to God.
What It Really Means
So, to unpack the Shema Yisrael, to love God with all your Heart (Lev: mind, will, emotion), and all your Soul (Nephesh: whole physical being/existence) and all your Strength (Me’od: muchness of ALL our resources.)
Back to Jesus and the Scribe
So for Jesus to say love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is actually more accurate to the real Hebrew language than to limit Himself to 3 items only. And for the scribe to rephrase it with heart, understanding and strength is not wrong as well. Basically the real meaning of the Shema Yisrael is to love God with ALL that we are, not just 3 or 4 elements of what we are.
There’s a lot more the videos can explain better than I do. Please watch them and bless yourself. Hope it was fun for you learning about this topic. I know I did, refreshing them again makes me appreciate more of what was said.
Thank you very much! That is the explanation I was looking for. With the bonus answer of why Jesus used 4 attributes compared to 3 in Hebrew. Plus you included additional resources so I can dive deeper into the meaning. Thank you again.