Greek: καρδία (kardia), ψυχή (psychē), διάνοια (dianoia), ἰσχύς (ischys)
English: heart, soul, mind/understanding, strength
by Mark D. Taylor, NLT Bible Translation Committee
As recorded in Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-31, one of the Pharisees questioned Jesus regarding which commandment in the law of Moses was most important. Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 in his reply. In Matthew, Jesus’ response is stated as “You must love the lord your God with all your heart (kardia), all your soul (psyche), and all your mind (dianoia)” (Matt 22:37). But in Mark 12:30 Jesus’ response reads, “You must love the lord your God with all your heart (kardia), all your soul (psyche), all your mind (dianoia), and all your strength (ischys).” This raises the question: Did Jesus use three attributes of the human person or four as he quoted from Deuteronomy. Let’s line these passages up, along with Deuteronomy 6:5, for easy comparison:
|Deut 6:5||. . . with all your heart, all your soul,||and all your strength|
|Matt 22:37||. . . with all your heart, all your soul,||and all your mind|
|Mark 12:30||. . . with all your heart, all your soul,||all your mind,||and all your strength|
Deuteronomy uses the terms heart, soul, and strength, which seem to reflect the entirety of the human person. But why does Matthew use mind and not strength? And why does Mark include the term mind along with the three terms from Deuteronomy?
The issue is complicated by the different languages at play. Deuteronomy, as part of the Old Testament, was written in Hebrew (so the NLT rendering of Deuteronomy 6:5 is a translation from Hebrew to English). Jesus, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, was probably speaking in Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew that had become the lingua franca in the area during Persian rule. Meanwhile, the New Testament was written in Greek, so when Matthew and Mark wrote their Gospels, they were recording Jesus’ words as though he had been speaking in Greek.
In the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:5, the terms used are lebab (typically “heart,” but it could also refer to the source of one’s thinking, i.e., “mind”), nephesh (“soul,” “self,” or “life”), and me’od (an intensifying adjective that means “much” or “great” or “very”). So a more literal translation of the Deuteronomy passage might be “with all your heart, all your soul, and everything about you.” When the Hebrew Scriptures were first translated into Greek in the Septuagint, the Greek translators rendered me’od as dunamis (“power” or “strength”). Mark used ischys (“strength”), essentially a synonym of dunamis, and both Matthew and Mark included dianoia (“mind”). Some scholars suggest that Matthew used three terms (as opposed to Mark’s four) out of an awareness that Deuteronomy 6:5 contains only three terms.
We don’t know if Jesus used three or four words in Aramaic. Regardless, it seems that different—though related—terms in each of these languages could be employed to convey the overall sense of the entirety of a person. That is the underlying message. With everything we are and everything we have, we are to worship and love the Lord our God.
May we heed the words of this “greatest commandment,” worshiping and loving the Lord with our heart (i.e., our emotions and our will), our soul (i.e., the inner person), our mind (i.e., our intellect and reasoning), and our strength (i.e., our physical bodies and everything we own).