Mark Chapter 12  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Mark 12
Mar 12:1

“And he began to speak to them in parables.” This parable of the Greedy Farmers is in Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9:19.

This parable is a clear reference to the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, except in Isaiah the vineyard is itself Israel, and is wicked, while in Jesus’ parable the vineyard is God’s and it is the people who are hired to tend it who are evil. Jesus was using thinly veiled language to speak of the leaders of the Jews, who had been entrusted by God to take care of His vineyard, i.e., His people, but were evil. The Jews got his point (Mark 12:12), and wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the people. This shows the boldness and honesty of Jesus. He did not just ignore the evil of the Jews, but informed them and any disciple that was paying attention. This parable appears in Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9-19.

“A man planted a vineyard.” In parables such as this, the “man” is God.​

“and put a wall around it.” Farmers would surround their plots and vineyards with a short stone wall. Stones were abundant in Israel whereas wood and fence material was scarce and expensive to work into a proper fence. So culturally the man would have built a low stone wall around his vineyard (cp. Prov. 24:30-31).

Mar 12:2

“of the fruit.” This is an example of a partitive genitive. The custom was that the owner would get a specific portion of the yield of the crops.

Mar 12:3(top)
Mar 12:4(top)
Mar 12:5(top)
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Mar 12:10

the cornerstone. The Greek text reads, “the head of the corner.” That is, the stone with the most important place (see “cornerstone” in commentary on Matt. 21:42).

Mar 12:11(top)
Mar 12:12

“because they knew that he spoke the parable against them.” Matthew is clearer, and says that when “the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:45).

Mar 12:13

“to trap him in his words.” The record of the trap about paying taxes is recorded in Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17, and Luke 20:20-25.

Mar 12:14

“census tax.” The Greek word is kēnsos (#2778 κῆνσος; pronounced 'kane-sos). In the New Testament, a census tax or “poll tax” referred to the tax or tribute levied on individuals, and it was to be paid yearly. It is not an income tax, a property tax, or a toll. Since it is a tax on every adult we would call it a poll tax or capitation tax. The Jews especially hated this tax, because it was seen as a specific sign of servitude to Rome, and therefore the Rabbis had many disputes among themselves and with others about paying it.

This was a well thought through trap. It is recorded in three of the four Gospels: Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; and Luke 20:20-26. This event occurred in the last week of Jesus’ life, and especially in those latter days of Jesus’ life the authorities were actively seeking a way to discredit and arrest him, and the subject of taxes could provide a way for them to trap him.

Paying taxes was always a “hot topic,” and most people hated to pay them. To heighten the tension of the situation (and thus the chance of Jesus making a misstatement and being trapped) the Pharisees, who took issue with Rome on many issues, brought with them the Herodians, who were Jews who supported Rome and supported paying taxes to Rome (cp. Matt. 22:16; Mark 12:13). There was a natural animosity between these two groups, but it also seemed natural that they would ask Jesus, a teacher from Galilee with no party affiliation, about taxes, something that no doubt the Pharisees and Herodians argued about regularly. Thus, although the Jews were trying to trap Jesus by asking him the question, people in the crowd would not have thought it out of character for them to ask Jesus about paying the poll tax.

They began the trap by flattering Jesus and telling him how they knew he only cared about teaching the true way of God (Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21). This was more than just flattery. It was designed to make sure that Jesus would not simply dodge the issue and refuse to answer the question. If he did not care about what people thought, and taught the way of God, he would answer clearly and directly—something basically guaranteed to get him in trouble either way he answered. If he answered it was lawful to pay, the people would have doubted his being a teacher from God. If he answered it was not lawful to pay, he would have been in trouble with the Roman authorities.

The Pharisees then asked Jesus if it was “lawful” to pay taxes to Caesar. The main idea behind the word “lawful” seems to be if paying the tax, and thus acknowledging Rome’s authority over people individually, broached God’s role as the sole true authority over the people. Jesus’ answer was godly and wise: the money belonged to Caesar, so give back to Caesar what was his. This answer, of course, amounts to paying the tax, but with a different emphasis. It is not that in paying the tax Jesus recognized the authority of Caesar over him, it was simply that the money was not his to begin with. It belonged to Caesar. Jesus demonstrated over and over in his ministry that if people would trust God, then God would take care of them. It was okay with God if people used money borrowed from Caesar to help make life easier, but God also could take care of people without borrowed money, something He did regularly, for example in multiplying food for hungry people.

There is quite a bit on paying taxes in the Bible, and Jesus addressed it on a couple different occasions. For example, besides this poll tax, he spoke of the half-shekel temple tax in Matthew 17:25-27. Never did Jesus support not paying taxes for the reason most people do not like to pay taxes—that the government wastes the money or spends it unwisely. The fact is that in biblical times the government was not answerable to the people. There were no elections, and certainly no promises of being “fair,” being “transparent” with the tax money, or using it for the good of the people and the education of children. The ruler used it any way he wanted, and that was the way it had always been. In biblical times people had no recourse from unfair taxes, they paid them or suffered. They could be sent to jail or sometimes be sold into slavery. Today taxes are as hated as they have ever been, but in many countries, such as the USA or Great Brittan, the people have the right to vote for representatives who will recognize their right to keep that which they have worked for. Sadly, the number of people who want a free ride on the backs of others keeps growing, so it is harder and harder to get a majority to vote to allow a person to keep the money he works for. The standard communist idea, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is more and more the global standard, which means that those people who work hard and should have more just have more taken away from them by those in power.

In spite of that, God’s way is not lying and cheating on taxes, but realizing that mankind does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; and storing up treasure in heaven by living a holy lifestyle. Certainly there have been times in history when people revolted against their government and overthrew it, but that is totally different from an individual simply not paying taxes because he thinks they are unfair. Christians need to realize that this world will never be fair, just, or right, and the joy of life is in fellowship with God and Christ, and with like-minded believers.

Mar 12:15(top)
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Mar 12:18

“who say that there is no resurrection.” The Old Testament has a number of verses about God raising the dead in the future (cp. Deut. 32:39; Job. 19:25-27; Ps. 71:20; Isa. 26:19; 66:14; Ezek. 37:12-14; Dan. 12:2, 13; and Hos. 13:14).

[For more about the Sadducees and the resurrection, see commentary on Matthew 22:23.]

Mar 12:19(top)
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Mar 12:21(top)
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Mar 12:23(top)
Mar 12:24

“Isn’t this.” This is the figure of speech erotesis (rhetorical question). The Sadducees did not know either the Scriptures or the power of God on the subject of the resurrection.

Mar 12:25

“out from among the dead.” See commentary on Romans 4:24. (Cp. Wuest)

“neither marry nor are given in marriage.” In the next life, people do not marry. See commentary on Matthew 22:30.

Mar 12:26(top)
Mar 12:27

“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” For an explanation of this, see commentary on Matthew 22:32.

Mar 12:28

“disputing with one another.” The Greek verb translated “disputing” has a wide range of meanings and can be translated disputing, debating, arguing, or even discussing, but here it seems the conversation was somewhat intense.

“Jesus.” The Greek text is literally, “he,” but the REV and other versions change it to “Jesus” for clarity (cp. CSB; NIV; the Amplified Bible; The Kingdom NT by N. T. Wright; God’s New Covenant by H. Cassirer; The NT by Charles Williams).

“What.” The Pharisee asks this question in a respectful manner, and it was an honest question, and designed to “test” Jesus. Jesus had just silenced the Sadducees on the topic of resurrection, which delighted the Pharisees. The Sadducees and Pharisees also were sharply divided over which commandments were important and which were not. The Sadducees asserted that a commandment had to be in the Torah, the first 5 books of Moses, while the Pharisees had a much broader interpretation. This Pharisee wanted to see how Jesus would answer, and whether it would support a Pharisaical position or not.

“most important.” The Greek word translated “most important” is prōtos (#4413 πρῶτος), and it can mean first in time, first in place, first in rank, honor or power. Here it means first, or most important, in rank. We would normally say, “most important” for clarity and to avoid any question about what commandment was given first by God. We would say, “What is the most important commandment in the Law?” The answer is important, because it turns out that the most important commandment was not even one of the Ten Commandments, although it is certainly implied because if we have no other gods before God, and if we obey the Ten Commandments, then we clearly love God. Nevertheless, the statement that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, was an amplification and a clarification of the rest of the Law.

Mar 12:29

“most important.” See commentary on Mark 12:28.

“Hear, O Israel!” The verb “hear” means not only to hear, but to pay attention and heed. Thus, some versions have, “Listen.” The verb “hear” is in the imperative mood, hence the exclamation point at the end of the phrase.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” This verse is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:4, and is most often translated something like this: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,” or “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” However, in this article we will see that these translations are not the best, and can lead to false conclusions.

The Hebrew words Shema Yisrael (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל), “Hear, [O] Israel!”) are the first two words of Deuteronomy 6:4, and are the title of a prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services (the title “Shema Yisrael” is often shortened to simply “Shema”). Observant Jews consider the Shema to be the most important part of the prayer service in Judaism. Originally the “Shema” prayer was only Deuteronomy 6:4, but in more modern Judaism it has been expanded to include other sections of the Torah as well. (In this article, we will sometimes refer to Deuteronomy 6:4 as the Shema).

The first thing we should say about the statement, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” is that, according to Christ, it was a part of the greatest commandment in the Law. Usually when someone asks, “What are the two greatest commandments in the Law?” the answer is “Love God, and love your neighbor.” But Jesus did not answer that way. Jesus included the Shema in his answer, and by doing so made a very important point: before we say that “Love God” is the first and greatest commandment, we should know who “God” is. The Shema shows us that we do not get to choose who “our God” is, Yahweh alone is God.

Most people think that the great commandment is just “Love God,” partly because the record in Matthew 22:37, which is the same event, does not include the Shema statement. However, it is common that when two or more Gospels record an event that they include different details. In this case, Mark gives the full account, and Matthew leaves out the Shema. That is understandable for a couple different reasons. One is that the account in Matthew is much shorter than the account in Mark, but a more important reason is that the Gospel of Mark highlights Jesus’ ministry as the servant of God. One of the important roles of a servant was to promote and protect the Master, and so it makes sense that in his role as the “servant of God,” Jesus would promote that his Father, God, was the only God.

[For more on why there are four Gospels and the emphasis of each Gospel, see commentary on Mark 1:1, “the Good News of Jesus Christ.”]

The Shema is widely understood by Christians to be about the nature of God and a confirmation of the Trinity and the compound unity of God, i.e., that God is “one,” and therefore He is one God made up of three persons. However, that is not at all what the verse is saying, as we will see by examining both the Old Testament and New Testament texts on the subject.

One thing should be clear to everyone who studies Mark 12:29: no matter how the Greek text of Mark is worded, it is a translation of the Hebrew, because to answer the Pharisee’s question, Jesus Christ would have quoted the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Jesus would not have spoken Greek to him. Although we will see as the study develops that the Greek in Mark (and the Septuagint), can mean what the Hebrew OT says, the Hebrew wording is very dense and has a number of secondary meanings built into it, and so the full meaning of the Hebrew is difficult to capture in Greek.

To fully understand the dialogue between the Pharisee and Jesus in Mark 12:28-34, it is helpful to know it is the same record as Matthew 22:34-39, although each Gospel has details that the other Gospel does not include. The Pharisee, who was also a “scribe,” that is, an expert in the Law, asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the Law. The conversation that followed gives us a context that helps us properly understand and translate the Shema.

The Old Testament text, like the New Testament, is often used to support the Trinity. But that is not what the verse is saying. For one thing, the Jews do not now, and never have, believed in a Trinity, and yet they have used Deuteronomy 6:4 as the rallying call of the nation of Israel since long before the time of Jesus. Deuteronomy 6:4 can be, and should be, translated close to the way it is translated in a number of modern versions: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (NAB, NLT, NRSV, and the Tanakh; the JPS Bible). The Geneva Bible of 1599, which was the Bible of the Pilgrims and many of our founding Fathers and is a translation generally recognized by scholars as a better translation than the King James Version, has: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord only.” The Moffatt Bible has: “the Eternal, the Eternal alone, is our God.” Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible correctly uses God’s proper name, “Yahweh,” instead of “LORD,” and has: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God—Yahweh alone.” We believe that using “Yahweh” instead of “LORD” is the most proper way to render the verse, and Rotherham’s translation is about as close as you can get to an English translation that captures the primary meaning of the verse.

Deuteronomy 6:4 is saying that Israel [and believers today] have only one God—Yahweh. That is why the verse says that Yahweh is “our” God.” Other people may have other gods, but the people of God are to have Yahweh alone as their God. This Old Testament truth is confirmed by Christ in Mark 12:29, and reconfirmed by Paul, who wrote that, “to us there is one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:6).

Although it is commonly believed that Deuteronomy 6:4 is a statement of “monotheism” and thus the “compound unity” of God, that is not what the verse is saying. Of course it is a statement about monotheism, that there is one God, but that is not its primary emphasis, as we will see below. Furthermore, it is not a statement about the compound unity of God for a number of reasons. First, because the compound unity of God does not appear in Scripture. Second, the Old Testament was given by God to the Jews so they could know and obey Him, and never in the more than 3500 years since the Shema was written have the Jews understood it to refer to a compound unity in God—quite the opposite. They took it to mean that there was only one God, and fiercely fought against polytheism throughout their history. So if the Shema was God’s attempt to reveal a compound unity in God, the attempt was an epic failure. It makes much more sense that God gave the verse to the Jews and intended it to mean what the Jews say it means. Furthermore, the Jews did not take the Shema as their primary statement of monotheism because many other verses made that point (we will cover that shortly). Third, the context of the Shema in both the Old and New Testaments, backed by the Scope of Scripture, shows that the Shema is not saying “God is ‘one,’ but rather is saying that Yahweh “alone” is our God.

The context shows us that Deuteronomy 6:4 is using the Hebrew word ‘echad (#0259 אֶחָד; “one, only, an, alone”) in the primary sense of “only” or “alone,” in contrast to the number “one,” and the context in Mark 12 confirms this. Note how Deuteronomy 6:4-5, flow together and thus make a major—and logical—point: “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone! And you must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” It is because Yahweh “alone” is God that we can worship him with “all” our heart, “all” our soul, and “all” our might. If we had more than one God, our worship would have to be divided between all the gods we served, and each god would get only “part” of our heart, soul, and strength. In fact, that is what happens with Trinitarians today: they divide their worship of God into the worship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But that division of worship is what is expressly forbidden by Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29.

When Jesus was asked about the first commandment, he quoted both Deuteronomy 6:4 and Deuteronomy 6:5. Interestingly, in both Hebrew and Greek (the Septuagint and Mark 12), these can be one sentence, the second starting with “and,” (or even “and so”). It is traditional to separate the “first commandment” into two sentences, but grammatically it can be one sentence and thus easily seen to be one commandment.

What should be clear is that Deuteronomy 6:4 is a statement about our personal relationship to God. He “alone” is God, so He is to be “our” only God and we must worship Him with “all” that we are and have. Deuteronomy 6:4 is not primarily a statement about monotheism, it is a statement about relationship. Stated another way, Deuteronomy 6:4 is not about the nature of God, it is about our relationship with God. Monotheism is important, and God had established that there was only one God earlier in Deuteronomy. Only about 50 verses before the Shema, God had twice stated that He was the only God. Deuteronomy 4:35 says, “Yahweh is God, besides Him there is no other.” Four verses later Deuteronomy 4:39 establishes that truth and says, “Yahweh is God in heaven above and on earth below. There is no other.” After establishing that there is only one God in chapter 4, Deuteronomy 6:4 then takes that truth and makes it personal: Yahweh who alone is God is to be “our” God, and we are to worship Him with “all” our heart, soul, and strength. Furthermore, after Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, and Deuteronomy 6:4 have established that there is only one God, and thus Yahweh alone is to be “our God,” Deuteronomy 6:13 then says that we should fear and serve Him, and swear oaths in His name.

The scope of Scripture also shows us that the Shema is about our relationship with God and not the singular nature of God. For example, Zechariah 14:9 uses the word ’echad and speaks of the future, saying that Yahweh will be king over the whole earth. The last part of the verse says in that day, “Yahweh will be one [’echad], and his name one [’echad].” Here we see the same use of ’echad that we see in the Shema. When Zechariah says that in that day Yahweh will be “one,” it is not making a statement about God’s nature, as if somehow His nature would become “one” in the future but is not “one” now. Rather, it is using “one,” (’echad) as “alone,” just as in Deuteronomy 6:4. Zechariah is saying that in the future Yahweh will be “alone” and His name “alone,” not in competition with the names of other gods. Unlike today when many “gods” distract us from God, in the future, all the competing gods will be cast away and Yahweh “alone” will be everyone’s God. Isaiah says, “On that day people will throw their silver and gold idols, which they made to worship, to the moles and the bats” (Isa. 2:20 HCSB). Zechariah says, “‘And on that day,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, ‘I will erase idol worship throughout the land, so that even the names of the idols will be forgotten’” (Zech. 13:2 NLT). Isaiah 2:11 and Isaiah 2:17 say that Yahweh alone will be exalted in that Day.

Also, the very first of the Ten Commandments fits with the Shema, saying that Yahweh alone is to be our God. The First Commandment is: “I am Yahweh your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me” (Exod. 20:2-3; NLT with Yahweh in place of “the LORD”). So the first commandment says in effect the same thing that the Shema says: God alone is to be our God, and we are not to have any other god but Him.

Having seen that the Shema is a statement about our relationship with God and that He “alone” is to be our God, we can now turn our attention to the New Testament text and Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29. As has been stated earlier, there is no doubt that Jesus would have quoted the Shema as it appears in the Hebrew text. He would not have been quoting it in Greek, even though the Gospel of Mark is written in Greek. But when we study the Greek word translated “one” in Mark 12:29, heis (#1520 εἷς; pronounced “hace”), we find that just like the Hebrew word ’echad, can mean “one” or “alone,” so can the Greek word heis. In fact, we see heis being used in the sense of “alone” several times in the New Testament. The BDAG Greek English Lexicon lists Mark 2:7; 10:18; 12:29; Matthew 23:10; and Luke 18:19 as clear examples of heis meaning “alone.”

As has been stated above, the Hebrew text is very compressed and hard to translate. A common translation of the Greek is, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” However, a translation that reflects more of the meaning of the verse is, “Hear, Israel, The Lord our God is the only Lord” (that same basic translation appears in: The Geneva Bible; The New English Bible; Sir Andrews Norton’s, A Translation of the Gospels; The New Testament by William Barclay; and The Source New Testament by A. Nyland). Another good translation is in the New American Bible (NAB), which follows its translation of Deuteronomy and has, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Still another good translation is God’s New Covenant by Heinz Cassirer. He has: “Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one and only Lord.” Cassirer’s translation should catch our attention because he was born and raised Jewish and taught philosophy at Glasgow University and Corpus Christi, Oxford, and converted to Christianity due to his reading the Greek New Testament. Thus he brings a unique blend of Jewish heritage and a thorough knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek to his translation. He clearly understands that the Shema is making the point that God is the “one and only” God.

How do we know that when Jesus quoted the Shema that he quoted it with the same meaning it had in the Old Testament; that God “alone” was God? We know it by reading the whole account in Mark. We must pay attention to all the elements of the conversation: the question the Pharisee asked, Jesus’ answer, the Pharisee’s commentary on Jesus’ answer, and Jesus’ statement about what the Pharisee said.

First, the Pharisee’s question: “What commandment is the first of all?” We learn from Matthew 22:34 that the question was initially asked to test Jesus. It was a question that the Jews had asked and hotly debated among themselves for centuries, and was a question all the Jews were interested in. It seems clear the Pharisee legitimately wanted to know where Jesus stood on the issue.

Jesus answered the question by quoting both Deuteronomy 6:4, 5, which shows that Jesus understood that it was not enough to just “love God,” in some generic sense, we must love the “right God,” the true God, the only God, who is Yahweh. Jesus then added the second commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. The Pharisee had not asked for that information, but we can see why Jesus added it: the Pharisees were well known for holding themselves aloof from others, and even the name “Pharisee” means “Separated one,” someone separated from the rest of mankind, who are then relegated by default to a lesser status. Jesus was trying to reach this Pharisee’s heart, and teach him that if he loved God, it would show itself through his love for others.

The Pharisee responded to Jesus’ answer in a way that showed he had grasped what Jesus said and had himself come to a similar conclusion about the central point of the Old Testament Law. The Pharisee started by acknowledging that Jesus’ statement was “well said,” and then he connected the Shema with Deuteronomy 4:35, that Yahweh is God and there is no other God but him. The Pharisee did not have any conception of a “compound unity” in God, but rather spoke back to Jesus the simple message of the Old Testament contained in the Shema: Yahweh alone is God and there is no other God, and that is why we can and must love God with “all” our heart, soul, and might. Furthermore, as the Pharisee acknowledged, loving God and our neighbor was more important than all other religious ceremonies and practices.

Jesus immediately recognized the heart of this Pharisee, and said to him: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” If the Shema was teaching the “compound unity” of God, and if Jesus was trying to communicate that to the Pharisee, he would have immediately recognized by the Pharisee’s answer that he did not “get it.” At that point, Jesus should have further engaged the Pharisee so he could have a chance to understand the compound unity of God and the doctrine of the Trinity. Why didn’t he? The simple answer is that Deuteronomy 4:35 and Deuteronomy 6:4 teach a simple truth: there is one God, Yahweh, and He alone is to be our God. That is the simple point that is being made in both the Old and New Testaments.

Having said that the most pertinent truth in the Shema is that Yahweh alone is to be our God, there are nevertheless some other basic truths that the wording of the Shema shows us. Although the primary meaning is, “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone,” the wording of the Hebrew text and the word ’echad also allows for: “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is unique.” Although not the primary meaning, if we read the verse that way, it is saying that Yahweh, who is “our God,” is unique among the gods, thus superior and worthy of our worship. The usage of ’echad as “unique” is found in Song of Solomon 6:9, where the king speaks of his 60 queens, 80 concubines, and “young women without number,” but tells his new beloved that she is “unique” (Do you think she believed him?).

Another secondary meaning that can be seen in the very compact wording of Deuteronomy 6:4 is that there is “one” Yahweh. It was common in the cultures of the Middle East that several gods would be known by the same name, or the same god would be assigned different characteristics and worshiped differently in different places. Examples of gods like this include: Astarte, Baal, Cybele, El (a Canaanite god), Isis, Leviathan, Lilith, and Tammuz. In contrast to gods who, in different places had different characteristics and were worshiped differently, Yahweh was only “one” God and was to be known as the same and worshiped the same everywhere.

In the spiritual battle, Satan is always trying to distort God: His nature, His character, His love, and His actions, and God works to prevent that. After the birth of Christ, Satan has worked to distort Jesus too. Thus less than 30 years after Jesus gave his life for mankind, 2 Corinthians 11:4 speaks of those people who preach “another Jesus,” and Galatians 1:6-9 shows that people were perverting the Gospel, saying, “If anyone is proclaiming to you a Good News that is contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

In closing, it is helpful to speak a few more words about why the Shema cannot be referring to a “compound unity” in God. If the Shema was making the point that God was a compound unity, then neither verse 4 nor verse 5 would fit with what the Bible actually says. The Old Testament never reveals that “Yahweh” was a compound deity, made up of separate “Persons.” Trinitarian theologians acknowledge that the Old Testament does not reveal the Trinity—a major reason the Jews never believed in one. In the Old Testament, “Yahweh” and the Son are always represented as two separate entities. “Yahweh” is the equivalent of the “Father” (or “God”) in the New Testament. Just as the Father and Son occur together many times in the New Testament and are clearly presented as two (Cp., “The testimony of two men is true: I bear witness about myself, and the Father bears witness of me”—John 8:17-18), so the Old Testament presents Yahweh and the “Son” (also referred to as the “Lord,” “Servant,” or “anointed”) as two, not “one God” (Cp., Ps. 2:2, 7; 110:1; Isa. 42:5ff; 49:4-5; 53:6, 10, 11). Furthermore, it is clear in the Old Testament texts, such as those that call the Messiah the servant of Yahweh, and in the New Testament texts as well (Cp., 1 Cor. 15:28) that the “Son” is subservient to Yahweh. Given that, for the Shema to say that “Yahweh” is “one,” in contrast to many, does not make sense. If the verse were referring to a compound deity, it would have had to say that “Elohim” is one.

Furthermore, if the Shema were saying that “Yahweh” were “one” in the sense of a compound unity, then verse 5 would be incomplete and confusing, rather than helpful. If God were a compound unity, then what the Israelites would need would be instruction as to how to treat each “Person,” i.e., how to worship and serve each “Person” in this compound deity. But instead of offering instruction as to how to worship each “Person,” verse 5 contradicts the idea of multiple “Persons” in God and says to worship “Yahweh” with “all” your heart, soul, and might, clearly treating Yahweh as the one God whom we worship.

Also, Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee, that he was not far from the kingdom of God, shows us that a person does not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved. We can see from the way the Pharisee spoke to Jesus that he did not believe in the Trinity, but Jesus made no attempt to instruct him and instead said he was not far from the Kingdom. If a person had to believe in the Trinity to be saved, Jesus would have taught the Pharisee about it, and would never have said he was close to the Kingdom.

Mar 12:30

“and so.” The Greek text has the conjunction kai, which is most often translated “and,” but which can have a number of meanings, depending on the context. One of those meanings is that it introduces a result from a preceding circumstance, thus can mean “and then” or “and so,” or as we would say, “so,” or “therefore.”a Rotherham has correctly picked up on the sense of the kai in this case, and seen that it makes a logical connection between the first quotation from the Old Testament and the second one, and translated it as “therefore” in The Emphasized Bible, and the Geneva Bible of 1599 also uses “therefore.” So translating the kai as “therefore,” or as “and so,” more clearly brings out the sense of what Jesus was saying and shows why he prefaced his quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5 by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4.

The original Hebrew phrase taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 also starts with the common conjunction that is most often translated “and” but has a number of different meanings, including “so” and “therefore,”b and the NAB says “therefore.”

The point that we must understand is that the “greatest commandment” is one single command, not two independent statements. There is not one statement that says that there is one God and a second statement that tells us to love Him. Yahweh alone is God so we are to love Him with “all” we are and have. If Yahweh was not God “alone,” not the only God, then we would have to divide our love between our different gods.

“love.” The verb “love,” agapaō, (#25 ἀγαπάω) is in the future tense, indicative mood, which here is being used idiomatically as a present imperative.c The expert in the Law had asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, and Jesus gave him (and us), a complete answer. Jesus made it clear that since there is only one God, therefore you must love Him with everything you have: all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

In the Greco-Roman culture surrounding the Jews, the people had many gods, and the people had to divide their love and worship between them. For that matter, many of the Jews had superstitions and regulations that had all but replaced a genuine relationship with the true God. Jesus made it clear that there is only one true God, and “therefore” we must love Him with “all” we have.

Given the implied “therefore,” and the fact that “love” is idiomatically an imperative, it would be correct to translate verses 29 and 30: “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Therefore you must love Him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

“and…and…and.” The elements in the command are each connected with “and,” which is the figure of speech polysyndeton (“many ands.”d The figure polysyndeton places an “and” between each item in the list, and by that literary device emphasizes each thing in the list. Thus, when Jesus says we must love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” he is specifically emphasizing each point in the list. In normal grammar, only the last item on the list has the “and.”

In contrast to the figure polysyndeton, which emphasizes each item in the list, the figure of speech asyndeton (“no ands”) does not have the word “and” at all, even between the last two items in the list. This means that nothing in the list gets specific emphasis, but the readers are meant to see that while the things on the list are important enough to mention, it is the conclusion that God wants to get the emphasis, and He lets us know that by the figure asyndeton. So while the figure polysyndeton emphasizes each item in the list, the asyndeton emphasizes the conclusion (a good example of asyndeton is the fruit of the spirit in Galatians. See commentary on Galatians 5:22).

There are many good examples of polysyndeton in the Bible, although sometimes the translators do not accurately bring it from the Hebrew or Greek into the English. A good example is Ephesians 1:21, which says that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, “far above all rulership, and authority, and power, and lordship, and every name that is named.” In Luke 14:21 there is a polysyndeton in Jesus’ parable, which emphasizes each category of people. The head of the house says, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and maimed and blind and lame.” In the same chapter, in Luke 14:13-14, Jesus was teaching and used an asyndeton to good effect. He said, “But when you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they do not have the means to repay you, for you will be repaid at the Resurrection of the Righteous.” The asyndeton deemphasizes the categories of people and puts the emphasis on the conclusion, “and you will be blessed.”

[See figure of speech “syndeton.”]

“soul.” See commentary on Matthew 22:37.

See BDAG Greek-English Lexicon and Friberg, Analytical Lexicon.
Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.
See Robertson, Grammar, 330.
See Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 208.

Additional resource:

Video expand/contractWhat is the First and Greatest Commandment? (11:32) (Pub: 2014-09-06)

It is important to understand what the first and greatest commandment is and how the depth of the Hebrew language can be lost in translation. The first and greatest commandment is identified as the Shema in Deuteronomy. This teaching explores the meaning of the Shema.

Verses: Deut. 6:4-5; 1 Cor. 8:6

Teacher: John Schoenheit

Watch on Youtube popout

Mar 12:31

“neighbor.” On who is our neighbor, see commentary on Luke 10:27.

Mar 12:32(top)
Mar 12:33

with all your intelligence.” The Greek word translated as “intelligence” is also used for one’s “understanding.” To love God with “all your intelligence” is to think deeply about God, to study God, to use the intelligence that you have to learn more about Him and thus be better connected to Him.

“neighbor.” On who is our neighbor, see commentary on Luke 10:27.

Mar 12:34

“And after that no one dared.” In the honor-shame society of the biblical world, to ask a person a question was to challenge them, and if the person could not answer the question they are shamed and the one asking was elevated, but if the question was answered, then the person who asked the question was shamed and the one who gave the answer was elevated. In this social context, Jesus had done such a good job answering difficult questions that no one else wanted to risk being publicly shamed, so no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

Mar 12:35(top)
Mar 12:36

“The Lord said to my Lord.” The quotation is from Psalm 110:1, and it is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36, and Luke 20:42-43. Psalm 110:1 is a very important verse theologically. For one thing, it shows that Jesus is not equal to God (see commentary on Psalm 110:1).

[For more information on Jesus not being God, see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son,” and Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”]

“by the holy spirit.” David spoke as God directed him to via the gift of holy spirit that was upon David (see commentary on Matt. 22:43). Even though the Greek has both articles with holy spirit, tō pneuma tō hagion (τῷ πνεύματι τῷ ἁγίω), it seems to be more of a reference to the gift of holy spirit than it is to the Giver, God. There are many other times the gift of holy spirit has both articles (cp. Luke 3:22; John 14:26; Acts 2:33; 5:32; 10:44, 47; 11:15; 15:8; 19:6; Eph. 1:13; 1 Thess. 4:8).

[For more information on the uses of “Holy Spirit”, see Appendix 6: “Usages of ‘Spirit.’” For more information on the Holy Spirit, see Appendix 11: “What is the Holy Spirit?”]

Mar 12:37

“and so how is he his son?” Jesus is the Son of David (cp. Matt. 1:1; 9:27; Luke 18:38-39, etc.), so this question is inviting a discussion on the subject.

“was listening to him with delight.” The Greek we translate as “listening to him gladly” is hēdeōs (#2234 ἡδέως; pronounced hay-de-ōs) and it means with pleasure, with delight, gladly. Some versions catch the sense by saying that the crowds “enjoyed” listening to him. We should not take this to mean that the crowds took to heart what Jesus said and then changed. In Mark 6:20 the same phraseology is used when Herod Antipas used to call for John the Baptist, and “heard him gladly.” Jesus taught openly, but still only had some 120 disciples gathered on the Day of Pentecost. If anything, this shows how people can hear the Word of God taught, even from the Master himself, enjoy it, but not have it change their lives.

Mar 12:38(top)
Mar 12:39(top)
Mar 12:40

“They cheat widows out of their houses.” The text is literally, “devour widows’ houses.” These “experts in the Law” were in a position to help widows through the legal steps of securing their belongings after a husband died, but instead, they found “legal ways” to take things away from the widow’s estate, apparently occasionally even leaving them homeless. The evil of these “experts” was deliberately covered up with shows of holiness, such as praying long prayers in public.

“harsher punishment.” The REV takes the sense of krima (#2917 κρίμα)—along with the KJV, NET, NIV, and HCSB translations—to indicate both the judgment and execution of the sentence.a Hence, krima becomes “punishment” rather than “condemnation;” and the comparative adjective perissoteros (#4055 περισσότερος) becomes “harsher” rather than “greater.”

Cp. Lenski.
Mar 12:41

“the offering box.” There was a specific place in the Temple where offerings were put, and it was like an “offering box.” It was not the Temple treasury.

Mar 12:42

“Two leptons.” The Greek says “lepta” which is the plural of “lepton.” The lepton was a small, common, brass coin minted by the Jews. According to this verse, two leptons equal one quadrans (the Roman quadrans was the smallest Roman coin and was worth 1/4 of an assarion, which was 1/64 of a denarius.) A denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer, so if a laborer makes eight dollars an hour for eight hours, or sixty-four dollars a day, a quadrans was worth one dollar. Since two leptons equaled a quadrans, one lepton was worth about a half dollar.

Coins are one area where it is hard to translate. We feel that “penny” is misleading. For one thing, at the rates we assigned here, a lepton is worth $.50. Similarly, while “mite” communicates a small amount, it is unclear, and the reader may think that the Bible is making the point that the woman cast a small amount into the treasury and not realize that it points out exactly how much she cast in. It was a small amount, but it was exactly described in the Biblical text as being two leptons, not just “a small amount.” This is a case where the best solution is likely to keep the coin in the text and make a text note as to the amount it is worth.

Mar 12:43(top)
Mar 12:44(top)

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