Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, December 21, 2020

When an Initial καί Matters (Mark 12:30)

We all know that Greek wants to start a sentence with a conjunction to indicate the specific relationship of that sentence with the preceding. We also know that punctuation and the use of paragraphs can often perform the same function, and so an initial καί is often left untranslated. But every once in a while I come across one that probably should be translated, and the Great Commandment might be one. 

Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment. He replies with the Shema and its affirmation of monotheism (which is not a command), “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29). He then follows with, the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (v 30, NIV).

When you read the two verses in sequence, it makes sense to see that the second is supposed to follow from the first, but in English that isn’t explicit, and it is a legitimate question to ask how an affirmation of monotheism is connected to the call to love God. Just because there is one God does not necessarily mean that we should love him.

What surprised me was when I realized that v 30 begins with a καί. God is one “and” we are to love him. It is also interesting that the καί is translated by the NASB, ESV, and NLT, and not by the NIV and the NRSV, CSB, and NET.

The greatest commandment is not simply a theological affirmation of monotheism, as important as that is. The single greatest commandment is both the theology of monotheism as well as the recognition that the one God is worthy of our love. Intellectual assent of monotheism is insufficient in and of itself. The commandment is both theology and praxis; all good theology leads to praxis.


Dr. Mounce, Thank you for writing on the greatest commandment. I have a question that I hope you will be able to clarify. I have a co-worker whose knowledge of Greek exceeds my own (I studied year one while in Seminary, and he has doctorate level training w/a large amount of experience). I have believed, and often taught, that the greatest commandment that we find in Deut.6,, and also noted in Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27, should be first in our mind and inform all other commands, actions, thoughts, etc. In contrast, he argues that the greek indicates the two commands Jesus mentions (i.e., 1. to love God / 2. love your neighbor), are equal in importance and practice. That is, one should not rank these 1 & 2 but teach and practice them as equally important commands. If possible, would you please consider bringing some clarity to this topic? As you stated in the blog, "...good theology lead to praxis," and this is the intent of the question. Thank you for you ministry.