• Angela

New Testament Authors as Translators

With All Your Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength

You may know the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Timothy as authors of the New Testament. But did you also know that they were bible translators?!

Remember the episode in Matthew's gospel when the teachers of the law tried to pop-quiz Jesus on the Greatest Commandment? The same event also appears in the gospels of Luke and Mark. Jesus' answer is now familiar to most believers:


"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength."

-Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27

This verse is one example of many instances where the New Testament authors quote passages of the Old Testament (which they knew as the Hebrew Scriptures.)


But the discerning reader will notice a difference between Jesus' words above and the verse he is quoting from Deuteronomy:


"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."

-Deuteronomy 6:5


The original commandment leaves out the phrase "with all your mind." But why?


Bible Misquote?

Critics of the view of the Bible as God's Word often point to the places where the Bible is inconsistent or even seems to contradict itself. In the example above, three books of the Bible seem to be misquoting another book.


I have heard many sermons attempting to answer this question, even specifically about the verses above. Biblical commentaries also have a lot to say on the subject. Some have posited that Jesus is adding a new aspect to the original commandment. So, is this the new and improved version? Is it a misquote by Jesus himself or the gospel authors?


Or is it a translation issue?


In this case, I don't mean that we've lost something in the English translations from the Greek and Hebrew original texts. Instead, the gospel authors were acting as Bible translators here. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were translating Jesus' words into Greek, when he likely quoted the verse in Hebrew while speaking in Aramaic.


The mysterious addition of "with all your mind" is a result of the gospel authors' decisions not as authors, but as translators.


Thinking in Greek vs. Thinking in Hebrew

The commandment found in Deuteronomy 6:5 was originally written in Hebrew. Biblical Hebrew (which is different than the modern Hebrew spoken in Israel today) did not have a word for "mind" as we understand it. According to Murray Salisbury, ancient Israelites understood the "heart" to be the seat of thought as well as emotion. Thus for the original Hebrew-speaking audience, "Love the Lord with all your heart" encompassed the idea of both heart and mind. In biblical Hebrew, you feel and think with your heart.


When the original gospel authors were writing, the most wide-spoken lingua franca was Koine Greek, so this is the language they wrote in. To a Greek audience, there is a big difference between the heart and the mind. The heart held emotions, irrational gut feelings, and desires, both romantic and otherwise. The mind was the center of logic and rationality (very Greek ideas which the Western world still prizes today). In Koine Greek, you feel with your heart, but you think with your mind.


Bible Translation of Ancient Times

We don't know for certain which language Jesus used when he actually spoke these words for the first time. But we do have the original Hebrew text in Deuteronomy and we have the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke of the same words written for a Greek audience.


The phrase "with all your mind" is not a new addition to the greatest commandment because its meaning was already understood by the original Hebrew audience. They understood the command to mean that they were to love God with their feelings, thoughts, strength, and life. So the version we find in the New Testament is merely a translation of that same Hebrew original idea. With the addition of "mind," the Greek audience would understand the same original meaning as the ancient Hebrews. After all, translation is about communicating meaning, not words, across languages.


So these verses are not an example of a biblical misquote. They are instead an example of God's Word being translated within God's Word for new audiences to hear and understand. We carry on the same work today, with the goal that all language groups will come to love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. In other words, we love the Lord not just in part, but with our whole being.


What a privilege to be part of that work.

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