I don't know Greek myself, but comparing various translations of Mark 12:30 I was wondering whether what is often translated as 'shall' is necessary in the Greek? If it is an 'englishism' carried over from the Shakespearean English translation of the KJV? Or if it is ambiguous? Essentially help me understand words please!

I'm curious if this verse is a decree, of sorts, that everyone will love God; (youngs literal, Mark 12:30) "and thou shalt love the Lord thy God out of all thy heart, and out of thy soul, and out of all thine understanding, and out of all thy strength — this [is] the first command;"

καὶ ἀγαπήσεις Κύριον τὸν Θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου.


4 Answers 4


The first thing you should do when you see an odd thing in an English translation is check more translations. Biblehub makes that easy. There you can see that even some modern translations still use "shall", while others use "must", and some use an imperative verb.

If you don't know Greek grammar, or don't have access to better resources, Biblehub also has an adequate morphological breakdown of the verse. So we can see there's only one verb, ἀγαπήσεις, which is V-FIA-2S, or Future Indicative Active, with a second person singular subject. So a naive initial translation would be "You will love the lord your god..."

But the next question is does the Future verb form in Greek convey everything that "will" does in English today? There are two major senses that are relevant here. Wallace (in Beyond the Basics) calls them the Predictive Future and the Imperative Future. The Predictive is the normal future we use in English, when you're describing an event you're fairly certain will occur in the future. The Imperative Future is an alternative to giving a command in the imperative verb form. We have this in English too; imagine a parent saying to their teenager "You will be home by 10pm." I think it's worth pointing out that these two senses of the future represent two of the major categories of modality: Epistemic and Deontic modality.

So which sense is it? The Predictive Future would mean that Jesus is prophesying that in the future all people will actually genuinely love God. The Imperative Future would mean that Jesus is giving a command to love God. Well context makes it crystal clear which option we choose:

Mark 12:28-30 (NIV): One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“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.’

So even though English does have the imperative/deontic sense of "will", because it's not as common and is a quite marked expression, most translations choose to convey the sense of the imperative through either a direct imperative English verb construction, or through another modal verb like "shall" or "must".


Mark 12:30 is a quotation of Deut. 6:4–5 in the O.T. The verb ἀγαπήσεις is conjugated in the 2nd person, future tense, indicative mood from the lemma ἀγαπῶ (ἀγαπάω). The Greek grammars are unanimous in stating that the verb conjugated in the future tense, indicative mood can be be used as an imperative, especially in the N.T. citations of the O.T. legal texts.


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1 Blass, p. 209, §64.3
2 Buttmann, p. 257, §139
3 Crosby, p. 295, §597
4 Goodwin, p. 19, §69
5 Kühner, p. 70, §406.4
6 Matthiae, p. 837, §498
7 Simonson, p. 192, §1923
8 Winer, p. 396397, Sec. XLIII, 5., c.


Blass, Friedrich Wilhelm. Grammar of New Testament Greek. Trans. Thackeray, Henry St. John. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Buttmann, Alexander. A Grammar of the New Testament Greek. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Andover: Draper, 1873.

Crosby, Alpheus. A Compendious Grammar of the Greek Language. New York: Woolworth, 1871.

Goodwin, William Watson. Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb. Boston: Ginn, 1893.

Kühner, Raphael. A Grammar of the Greek Language, Chiefly from the German of Raphael Kühner. Trans. Jelf, William Edward. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Oxford: Wright, 1851.

Matthiae, August Heinrich. A Copious Greek Grammar. 5th ed. Vol. 2. London: Murray, 1832.

Simonson, Gustave. A Greek Grammar: Syntax. London: Sonnenschein, 1911.

Winer, George Benedikt. A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek. 3rd ed. Trans. Moulton, William Fiddian. Edinburgh: Clark, 1882.

  • 1
    Nice bit of research. Your answer should have been the accepted one, I think.
    – user33515
    Apr 12, 2023 at 20:28

Der Übermensch in particular nailed why the Greek is the future indicative ἀγαπήσεις rather than the imperative ἀγάπα, I think. The future indicative took the place of the imperative in the legal language of the Septuagint ... but not in classical use and not by the time the New Testament was written (cf. Blass). It appears in Mark 12:29 as it does because Mark is quoting directly from the Septuagint. We see the same usage in Matthew 22:37 for the same reason.

But just from context we know that Jesus is referring to a command and not a prediction when he states ὅτι πρώτη πάντων ἐντολή ... - The first of all the commandments is ... (v29). Likewise the Old Testament: And these words, which I command thee ... (Deuteronomy 6:6).


It is rather the Hebraic idiom of using future tense for imperatives, which has been carried in Greek and English. The verbs are indeed in future tense, and the literal Bibles translate them so. Merkle- Plummer writes in Beginning with New Testament Greek:

Jesus quotes from Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18. In both of those Old Testament texts, an imperatival future appears in the Hebrew text, which is brought over quite literally as an imperatival future in the Septuagint (or, LXX, an early Greek translation of the Old Testament)—a rendering that Matthew mirrors here.

Imperatival Future: Following Old Testament usage, the future is often used to express an imperative or command. In the example given just above (Matt 1:21 NASB), the middle use of the future reveals a command to Joseph: “you shall call his name Jesus,” καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν. When translating, it is perhaps better to use “shall” than “will” since the former communicates the imperatival quality. This use is mostly found when the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament (especially the Ten Commandments): “YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD,” Κύριον τὸν θεόν σου προσκυνήσεις (Matt 4:10; quoting Deut 6:13 NASB); “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER,” Οὐ φονεύσεις (Matt 5:21; quoting Exod 20:13 NASB).

Also, Decker in Reading Koine Greek:

That is not a prediction. Instead it is a command: “He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (HCSB). Although this may seem surprising to you, we do use the future this way in English, though rarely. For example, when a mother or father says to a son or daughter, “You will clean your room tonight!” the form is future, but the meaning is clearly imperatival, not predictive.

In the NT the imperatival use of the future tense-form is most common in Matthew, but it is also found elsewhere. The NT frequency is due largely to the influence of the OT, mediated through the LXX, where this usage is quite common. The first example above (1 Pet. 1:16) is quoted from Lev. 19:2, and the second (Matt. 22:37) is from Deut. 6:5. This usage is not common outside the NT, but it is a recognized Greek usage.

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