God help the American language. I say this half in jest, but I feel for anyone who is trying to learn it along with all of our idioms, homonyms, homophones, and such.
Reading a devotion recently, I went down a rabbit hole of translations and word meanings. It was an interesting journey that significantly shifted how I understand something Jesus said. So let me take you a little bit down the path too. I promise we won’t go too deep.
Let’s start here: How would you define the word like?
I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor? ~Mother Teresa, Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary
According to Dictionary.com, the word like has 18 definitions. Here is a sampling of four that relate to our discussion today.
1. of the same form, appearance, kind, character, amount, etc.
2. corresponding or agreeing in general or in some noticeable respect; similar.
3. bearing resemblance.
16. nearly; closely; approximately.
My thoughts on like.
All of these definitions align with what I thought on the word before looking it up. In fact, a couple of the words they used are ones I would have picked: similar and nearly.
Are you wondering where this is going? Why do you need this little lesson on grammar? Because one of the words translated in many of our American Bibles as like does not quite mean what our American word like means.
Rather, the original word has a much richer, deeper meaning. Let’s take a look.
One of the Verses Where Like Matters
Take a look at the New International Version of Matthew 22:36-40.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
See our little word buried in there, right before the second commandment?
Just so you know this isn’t a quirk of that one translation, here is the Contemporary English Version: The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.”
And the New American Standard Bible: The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
How I interpreted it.
So, taking our definitions of like, and how the Bible versions I’ve always read translated Jesus’s words, I always thought of the two greatest commandments in a hierarchal manner.
First, I am to love God. Then I am to love others.
Loving God is most important. Loving others is highly important.
But, that’s not what Jesus’s original words actually mean.
The New Living Translation.
This year, I chose to spend a lot of time in the New Living Translation (NLT). I purposely change versions of the Bible each year, doing much of my reading out of that one version because each one has strengths and weaknesses. This one simple habit has led to many discoveries like what I’m about to share with you.
[Note: If you want to read more about my thoughts on Bible versions and what I most study and love, click here.]
Here is how the NLT translates Matthew 22:39: A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Instead of using like, they used equally important, which did not line up with my years of reading this passage.
Equally important? Loving others is equally important to loving God? Could this translation have it right? And if so, what does that mean?
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT).
So I pulled out my software with the heavy-duty, deeply scholastic theological books and commentaries. I wanted to know the original word that Jesus used and what it means. I won’t pretend I can pronounce it, but the word Jesus used means: Of the same kind (TDNT, page 187).
Johannes Schneider wrote this word was used “among the Spartans and in other aristocratic and oligarchical constitutions citizens with the same claim to high office and the same share in government.” It means “’the same’, expressing the closest agreement.” *
Then he adds, “In the sense ‘of equal value’ the word is found in Mt. 22:39, where it is said that the command to love one’s neighbour is equal in importance and validity to the command to love God.” *
Like being equal.
So we don’t love God first and then love our neighbor next. According to Jesus, the two concepts are on opposite sides of a balanced scale, each as important as the other.
Like being equal, not similar. Not closely or nearly or any other term that infers a hierarchal relationship.
Love God as much as you love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself as much as you love God.
My duty to my neighbor is much more nearly expressed by saying that I have to make him happy if I may. ~Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist and poet
That puts a whole new spin on all kinds of things, including the age-old question of who my neighbor is, the parable of The Good Samaritan, and much more. I’m looking out my front windows with a fresh perspective, looking more closely at my cashier, the ones who restock the store shelves, and the person who cuts my hair.
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
* Schneider, Johannes. “Ὅμοιος, Ὁμοιότης, Ὁμοιόω, Ὁμοίωσις, Ὁμοίωμα, Ἀφομοιόω, Παρόμοιος, Παρομοιάζω.” Ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological dictionary of the New Testament 1964– : 187-188. Print.