And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
Mind – If you remember (and I hope you do), the word in the Hebrew passage is not “mind.” It is me’od – greatness, very, much, exceedingly. Somehow the Matthew version of Yeshua’s quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5 shifts me’od to the Greek word dianoia and the Greek dianoia seems to have very little to do with an adverb about lots of stuff. What are we to make of this? Did Yeshua forget what the Hebrew text says?
Forgetting the Shema is like forgetting your name. Unless Yeshua had a total collapse of mental faculties, it is simply impossible that He would have used some other word except me’od. Therefore, the problem has to be in the translation from Hebrew to Greek, not in the actual words Yeshua spoke. We can see more evidence of a translation problem when we look at this same event recorded in Mark and Luke. Mark’s version is “with all your mind and with all your strength.” Apparently, the translator of Mark realized that me’od had a connection to “strength” so he added this, but he still left in the surprising Greek word dianoia. Luke keeps both of Mark’s phrases, but reverses their order (“with all your strength, and with all your mind”). How are we to understand this linguistic sleight-of-hand?
It’s very clear that Yeshua recited the Deuteronomy passage as it is written in Hebrew. It’s also very clear that the Greek gospels have a great deal of trouble trying to capture the Hebrew meaning of me’od. All three authors use dianoia, but two of them realize there is more to this Hebrew word than mental activity, so they attempt to include some idea of strength in the context. If any passages demonstrate that the Gospels are translations of Hebrew into Greek, this is one of those. It’s apparent that the various authors stumble around trying to capture a word that has no direct Greek equivalent.
Why did they choose dianoia? First, we should contrast dianoia with nous. Dianoia is the mind at work. It includes thinking, feeling and understanding, but it is the active function of the mind, not simply the mental storage compartment. At least this approaches a Hebrew point of view. Whatever the translators thought, they knew that the Hebrew expression was about action and purpose, not a state of being. But why use any expression that seems to divide man into component parts? The answer requires a deeper reflection on translation issues. If I attempt to capture a foreign concept in another language, I am often stuck with thought forms that don’t quite fit. I have two choices. I can choose the closest compatible expression or I can try to make up a new one. Paul often chooses the latter. Matthew, Mark and Luke seem to have chosen the former. Dianoia is as close as they could get to me’od, but at least Mark and Luke realized that me’od needed the additional support of ischus (strength – mental, moral and physical).
What we have in the Gospels is a translation of concept, not a transfer of exact words. You might think of the Gospels as a paraphrase of Yeshua’s actual words. We get the point, but the actual words He used are hidden behind the translation. One thing we know for sure: Yeshua did not consider loving God as a mental state of being. It was not about a storehouse of correct theological information or a treasury of the right propositions. Loving God is about actions, even if sometimes the best way to describe them requires us to use marginal concepts like dianoia.
What’s the lesson? First, translations make a big difference. Be careful how you read. Second, never let the current culture dictate what the text means. Look to the original audience for understanding. And finally, remember that loving God is not what you think. It’s what you do with the mind awake to Him.
Topical Index: mind, dianoia, Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27