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Why doesn't the greatest commandment include "spirit" along with heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Mark 12:29-31 - “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Is it because before Jesus’ death and shedding of blood ushered in the new covenant, our spirits were dead?

Ephesians 2:1,4-5 - As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved.

Ezekiel 11:19 - I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26 - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Luke 22:20 - In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

The shedding of blood is required for the establishment of a covenant and for forgiveness.

Hebrews 9:16-18 - In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.

Hebrews 9:22 - In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

I’m thinking that possibly, the old covenant commands, though good, did not have the ability to give life. They are good and perfect, but no one could follow them. They basically were given so the people of Isreal (and people watching) could see that no one could be holy on their own. God needed to provide the way to holiness and life.

Colossians 2:13-14 - When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness [written code], which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it [written code] away, nailing it to the cross.

Could it be that before we were made alive by belief in Christ we had no way to love him with “all our spirit” because our spirits were dead and so the law did not include spirit in the greatest command?

Now we are spiritually alive and can love him with our spirit.

John 4:24 - God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

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    God is love, His spirit in us enables love.
    – steveowen
    Nov 19, 2022 at 21:20
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    Up-voted +1. Interesting thought. I can see what you are getting at. I'm not sure it can be proven.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 23, 2022 at 10:58
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    On reflection, I think one would need to examine the breadth of meaning of the Hebrew word nephesh which is translated 'life' and 'soul' but is more, even, than both of those. The word nephesh in Hebrew may (I only venture to say 'may') cover both pneuma (spirit) and psuche (soul) in Greek. We would need an expert to comment further.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 23, 2022 at 11:23

2 Answers 2

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You said, "My focus is on trying to understand if there is reason “spirit” was not included in the original Shema." In that case, all the additional comments you made about the way the New Testament speaks of Christ's blood and the written code being cancelled, are not really applicable here. That's not to question the truth of those facts - it's just to suggest that you might get a clearer answer by sticking to the Old Testament, and how the Jews Jesus was speaking to would understand 'spirit'.

The Hebrew scriptures only use 'neshamah' twice, where it means 'breath' - Job 26:4 & Prov. 20:27. But the word 'ruach', meaning spirit or wind, is frequent. However, it has various meanings, ranging from a spirit of jealousy to a lying spirit amongst prophets. It also refers to something God-given to all people, which returns to him upon their physical death (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This means that the ancient Hebraic understanding of the word 'spirit' was not a simple, one-meaning-only thing.

Another point could be that Jesus was showing that total commitment to, and love of God involved the whole person. The greatest command, as expressed in the Shema, was utter devotion to God, based on love of God. Those who view the human being as a spirit inclusive of the soul, 'contained' as it were in a physical body, would clearly grasp the truth of Jesus' answer, and find no fault with it. The occasion of his answer did not call for an explanation of any doctrine about what 'spirit' meant. Neither did the Shema call for any mention of 'spirit' in it, because the wording shows that the entire being of the person needs to love God first, above all else. That would include the 'spirit' part of people.

I hope this is helpful to you.

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Jesus was asked what is the most important or "foremost" commandment. He answered by citing a commandment (or two depending on how you count) namely Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This answer was basic Jewish teaching. It starts with a verse every Jewish child learns, the Shema which commands that all Jews must hear (and obey) the Lord, followed the commandment to love God with all one's heart, soul and might. We need not wonder why he didn't include "spirit" as well as soul, because to do that would be to add something to the scripture he was citing.

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  • Can you explain how wondering why adds something to the text? I think if it as pondering it or meditating on scripture. Nov 20, 2022 at 14:45
  • Hmmm I guess my writing was not clear. It's fine to wonder... But not to include "spirit" because that is not in the commandment. The man who asked was a scribe who presumably knew the scriptures. It would be inappropriate to answer with anything other than a direct quotation of the commandment. Nov 20, 2022 at 15:25
  • Got it. I guess I made the question too long. My focus is on trying to understand if there is reason “spirit” was not included in the original Shema. A parallel observation is that following the Law was promised to result in blessings, but in the Law there is no promise of eternal life. Possibly this is because man’s spirit was dead and the Law did not impart life to our spirits. Only through Jesus’ resurrection, after his sacrifice to forgive forever, and the giving of the Spirit, could our spirits be made alive. Nov 20, 2022 at 16:19
  • Jesus added mind didn't he? Nov 21, 2022 at 2:01
  • @MikeBorden - Why didn’t I see that?! I’ll have to mull that one too. Nov 21, 2022 at 4:47

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