The LXX translators faced the same sort of challenges that confront modern day bible translators. There are times when a literal word-for-word translator was felt to insufficiently convey the full meaning of the word and in the attempt to better convey their understanding of the particular word, they may insert elaborations into the text. While there may be some benefits to this, it can also have unintended consequences in the longer term when contexts have changed from when the translators worked.
Today we look at one of the most famous verses in the Torah, Deuteronomy 6:5. Part of the “Shema” prayer that almost every Jewish adult and child would know, this part reads:-
וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ
The transliteration and word-for-word translation is as follows:-
v’ahavta et YHWH eloekha b’kol levav’kha u’b’kol nefsh’kha u’b’kol meod’kha
and-you-shall-love YHWH your-god in-all your-heart and-in-all your-soul and-in-all your-strength
The translation is very straightforward and unambiguous. However, when you look at Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27 where Deut 6:5 is quoted, you will see all kinds of variations that do not accurately reflect the Hebrew text for Deut 6:5. From the NKJV:-
Mt 22:37 – … you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. …
Mk 12:30 – … and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. …
Lk 10:27 – … You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. …
One explanation might be that Jesus or the gospel writers weren’t particular about accuracy in their citations of scripture – which seems a little unlikely give how well known this particular verse is. Almost any Jew could have quoted it directly without error. We might have some explanation for Matt 22:37 in that the Hebrew manuscript for Matthew (known as the Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew – but let’s not get into the provenance of this text) actually provides a more accurate citation.
What the three gospel citations have in common, though, is the inclusion of the words “all your mind” which is not found in the Hebrew text. Where did this come from?
If you guessed the LXX, you were right. The LXX (Brenton English translation) reads:-
LXX-B – And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and all thy strength.
It turns out that some versions of LXX (yes, there are variants) use the Greek word διάνοιαν (Greek:dianoian = “understanding” or “mind”) instead of καρδίας (Greek:kardias = “heart”) to translate לְבָבְ (Hebrew:levav = “heart”). Some translators probably felt that “understanding” or “mind” was a better translation for “heart” – ie: we should love God with all our understanding or mind. Inevitably there were some people quoting the “heart” version and others who quoted the “mind” version. For this reason, it isn’t surprising that after a period of time, there was some confusion as to which word should be used and Mark probably decided to include both in Mk 12:30:-
NKJV – … and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. …
In other cases, “mind” was combined with “soul” or “strength”. It looked like there was a lot of confusion in how this verse was quoted in the Greek. The exegetical intricacies of these issues would take far more than FB posts could cover so I’ll just leave it at this point. Again, we have to remember that it wasn’t easy to get your hands on biblical text back in those days and oral transmission was the main method by which information was passed along. Most people could not really read or write either as there was no mandatory education in those days.
I should also add that in the Hebrew, there is no separate word for “mind”. In 2Sam 7:3, for example, the word translated as “mind” is in fact לְבָבְ (Hebrew:levav = “heart”). While the Greek has separate words for heart and mind, Hebrew only has one word and it is therefore very unlikely that Jesus would have actually said “mind” separately from “heart” given that he probably spoke Aramaic or Hebrew rather than Greek.
What we learn here is that translations can help shed light on the meaning of a word – the heart is for pumping blood and the mind is for understanding. To love God with all our heart is, per the LXX translators, simply a metaphorical way of saying that we should love God with our understanding and mind, as opposed to how modern readers mind think to love God with our (heart) emotions. At the same time, we also see that textual transmission cannot escape the imperfections of the human hands that put the information into writing. The gospel writers had to make some decisions about which was the best citation based on what was available to them, and not on perfect sources. This really forces us to reconsider the popular (but deeply flawed) views of verbal plenary inspiration of the bible.
Of course, what’s most important in the end is to keep Deut 6:5! With all you’ve got regardless of translators or translations.