Luke 10:40 in NIV:

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

The implication of the word, "had" is that Martha was doing obligatory tasks - if she didn't do it, there would be a huge problem (I've often heard people preach that Martha was preparing the meal, which is implied in The Message version).

However, this doesn't seem to fit with Jesus' reply, which indicates that Martha was doing less important things which were distracting (word used in above verse) her from Jesus.

Luke 10:40 in AMP seems to follow this, that Martha was doing tasks that were not essential:

But Martha [overly occupied and too busy] was distracted with much serving; and she came up to Him and said, Lord, is it nothing to You that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me [to lend a hand and do her part along with me]!

So is the NIV1 incorrect in using the word, "had"2?

1 As far as I can tell, the NIV is unique in using "had" and therefore implying that these tasks were essential.

2 I also don't see the word "had" when checking out the Strong's numbers.

  • It's possible that you're overemphasizing the "had." It could simply be a function of the English language and how the committee chose to make it more readable. It can be read without imperatival or subjunctive force. There is a range of words that the committee could have chosen if they wished to draw out the urgency. "Must" and "need" are the first two that come to mind.
    – swasheck
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 22:46

2 Answers 2


Greek text:

ἡ δὲ Μάρθα περιεσπᾶτο περὶ πολλὴν διακονίαν ἐπιστᾶσα δὲ εἶπεν κύριε οὐ μέλει σοι ὅτι ἡ ἀδελφή μου μόνην με κατέλιπεν διακονεῖν εἰπὲ οὖν αὐτῇ ἵνα μοι συναντιλάβηται

English translation (mine):

But Martha was distracted* about much serving, and when she stood by [him], she said, "Lord, don't you care that my sister left me alone to serve? Then speak to her so that she will assist me."

  • or "occupied"

There's nothing in the Greek that suggests obligation (i.e., "had"), which would likely be indicated by the Greek verb δεῖ ("ought," "must") followed by ποιεῖσθαι ("[to] be done").


I like the way the NASB Updated Version puts it:

"But Martha was distracted with all her preparations [margin says "Lit., much service"]; and she came up to Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.'"

I do think the NIV's use of the word had in verse 40 is unfortunate and perhaps ill-advised.

Allow me to illustrate Martha's predicament with a personal anecdote.

Not long ago I was invited to dinner at the home of a couple I know. They're a lovely Christian couple whom I've known for many years. Also invited to dinner was a missionary couple (husband and wife) who were on furlough from their overseas mission work. As I recall, they were in town because both my friends and my friends' church provided financial support to this missionary couple. I had never met them before that night.

Dinner itself was fine. We had some excellent food and good conversation. As soon as the meal was over, however, the wife of my friend got up and began to do the dishes, while her guests and husband and I conversed further.

At first, I thought my friend's wife was distracted just temporarily, much like Martha in Luke 10. She kept right on cleaning up, however, making me--and I presume her other guests and husband--somewhat uncomfortable.

Now, she did not ask for help, as Martha did, but she had evidently lost sight of the "one thing that is necessary . . . [and] the good part . . .." That good and necessary part was getting to know the missionaries better, finding out what their concerns were, and how we could better and more intelligently pray for them. Frankly, the dishes could wait!

Having been reared by a mom and dad who truly had the gift of hospitality, I learned a great deal from both my parents about the difference between the urgent and the truly important. When offering hospitality, the goal is not to see that things go perfectly, a la Martha Stewart, but that the guests feel welcome and comfortable, accepted and loved. Things seldom go perfectly, and for a host to get upset when they don't can often make guests feel uncomfortable.

If there are a few crumbs on the carpet, a few mismatched glasses or pieces of tableware, some slightly dirty windows, or any one of a hundred other lesser-important things, the good host need not apologize (e.g., "Oh, the house is a mess. I'm so sorry!"); rather s/he should say simply via word and deed, "Welcome to our home."

"Seek first the kingdom of God," Jesus said (Ma 6:33a).

In other words, we must not allow ourselves to be tyrannized by what seems to be urgent; rather, we must focus on and do what is necessary and good from God's perspective. When we make God's priority our priority, not just in hospitality but in every "spiritual service of worship" (Ro 12:1),

" . . . all these [lesser] things," Jesus said, "shall be added unto you" (Ma 6:33b).

As an afterthought: What if Martha and the other guests in her home had in unison joined with Mary and Jesus, forgoing the meal entirely? I'm sure that Jesus would have been very pleased indeed. Having fasted once for forty days in a row, skipping one meal would not have fazed Him in the least; rather, He would have welcomed the opportunity to interact with His hosts and all the other guests without the distractions of food preparation, not to mention the cleanup after supper!

Doing so would have been His way of seeking first the kingdom of His Father and His Father's righteousness. I am not so sure about the other guests' willingness to forgo a meal!


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