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Exploring the Jewish roots of Christianity and the ongoing relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers

By Daniel Nessim. Reposted with kind permission.

Should we read the Scripture with a ‘Greek’ mindset or a ‘Hebrew’ one? Sometimes the answer is both. In the previous month, we noted Yohanan 1:1 and its layers of meaning that draw on both Hebrew and Greek thought. We should also look at what we might think is the most Jewish of all Jewish quotations in the Gospels. It is Yeshua quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, something that is recited twice daily in Jewish prayer. In Deuteronomy, Israel is told to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’.

What is interesting is that Mark cites Yeshua saying this (Mark 12:30, 37). When Yeshua quotes it He adds the word dianoia (which basically means ‘heart’ or ‘mind’). It can’t be that Mark didn’t know the Shema and got it wrong. Apart from the fact that we hold the Scriptures to be inerrant, he correctly quotes it three verses later in 12:33. Knowing that those Yeshua spoke to Jews knew the exact words, it seems that He paraphrased for the sake of emphasis, and to make a point in a form of midrash (interpretation).

It must be remembered that when the Shema is recited it is accompanied by the recitation of the following verses (Deut 6:5-9). In those verses Israel is told to teach the commandments to one’s children, to talk of them throughout the day and to bind them on one’s hand, forehead and gates. These verses stress the learning, internalising and understanding of the Shema and all that it entails – using one’s mind. When a Jewish person kisses a mezuzah on the doorpost, or lays tefillin on his arm and forehead, the physical act commemorates, reminds, and helps to fulfil this biblical command.

We can see why, then, Yeshua emphasised understanding, as use of one’s mind is so closely tied to the Shema. The scribe’s response is interesting. Picking up on Yeshua’s emphasis he says ‘heart, understanding and strength’, replacing Yeshua’s dianoia with his own word for ‘understanding’, one that emphasises intelligence and sharp thinking. That is both a value of rabbinic thinking, which highly values acuteness of mind to study Torah, and of the influential Greek culture, which also highly valued the intellect.

In fact, there is something deeper going on under the surface, as after the exchange with the scribe ‘no one dared to ask him any more questions’. For us one lesson to learn is that part of loving God with all of our ‘heart, mind and soul’ is to love Him with all of our intellect.

© King's Evangelical Divinity School 2022
KIC, Millennium Way, Broadstairs, Kent CT10 2QQ (United Kingdom)

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