Matthew 12:7 ...I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,

Spoken to: 

The Pharisees

Context: 

Pharisees attack, violating the Sabbath

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

If, however, you had learned anything, it is: "Mercy I delight in and not a sacrifice." Not when you judged guilty those who are not at fault.

KJV : 

Matthew 12:7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

Both the Greek and original Hebrew are different from the English translations.The first part of the verse is from Hsa 6:6 "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." In the Greek vocabulary section, I discuss a little of the Hebrew source words as well as the Greek.

Jesus in this short phrase announces the new era where religion, for the first time in human history will be defined by compassion. While people today in almost every religion accept the basic idea that religion means having compassion for your fellow humans, hardly anyone realizes that this idea was completely novel when Christ introduced it. Until Christ, religions were about getting power from the gods or at least being protected from them.

However, this line is not only historically significant, it is also extremely clever because in this short phrase Christ both announces compassion as the new standard for worship AND condemns those attacking him for their lack of compassion. The ease with which Christ's words work on several different levels is one of the reasons studying his words makes me a stronger believer.

NIV : 

Matthew 12:7  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Wordplay: 

The first part of this phrase says "if you had learned anything" but that implies that his challengers have not.

The word translated as "sacrifice" means "victim" and "ceremony." The first meaning addresses his challenges desire to create victims by condemning others of sin. The second addresses the idea of religion "for display" the hidden meaning in the description of the "bread" in Matthew 12:4 as for "show" or "public display."

My Takeaway: 

Our kindness and knowledge are more important than our sacrifices.

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

εἰ (conj) "If" is from ei, which is the particle used to express conditions "if" (implying nothing about its fulfillment) or indirect questions, "whether." It also means "if ever", "in case," and "whenever." It is combined with various conjunctions to create derivative conditions.

δὲ (partic) "But" is from de which means "but" and "on the other hand." It is the particle that joins sentences in an adversarial way but can also be a weak connective ("and") and explanation of cause ("so") and a condition ("if").

ἐγνώκειτε (2nd, pl. pluper, act, ind) "You had known," is from ginosko which means "to learn to know", "to know by reflection or observation," and "to perceive."

τί (irreg sg neut nom/acc) "What" is from tis which can mean "someone", "anyone", "everyone", "they [indefinite]", "many a one", "whoever", "anyone", "anything", "some sort", "some sort of," "each", "any", "the individual", "such," and so on. In a question, it can mean "who", "why," or "what."

ἐστιν (verb 3rd sg pres ind act) "Meaneth" is from eimi, which means "to be", "to exist", "to be the case," and "is possible." (The future form is esomai. The 3rd person present indicative is "esti.")

Ἔλεος [4 verses] (noun sg neut nom /acc) "Mercy" is from eleos, which means "pity", "mercy," and "compassion." In the original Hebrew, "mercy" is checed, which means "goodness", "kindness," and "faithfulness." It also means "to be ashamed" and "a reproach." Based on the verb checed ("to be kind"), the adjective combines both the idea of being good and feel guilty if you are not good.

θέλω (1st sg pres ind act) "I will have" is from thelo, which as a verb means "to be willing (of consent rather than desire)," "to wish", "to ordain", "to decree", "to be resolved to a purpose" "to maintain", "to hold", "to delight in, and "will (to express a future event)." In the Hebrew, "desire" is chaphets, which means "to delight in", "to take pleasure in," and "to be pleased with."

καὶ (conj) And" is from kai, which is the conjunction joining phrases and clauses, "and," or "but." After words implying sameness, "as" (the same opinion as you). Used in series, joins positive with negative "Not only...but also." Also used to give emphasis, "even", "also," and "just."

οὐ (partic)  "Not" is from ou which is the negative adverb for facts and statements, negating both singles words and sentences. The other negative adverb, μή applies to will and thought; οὐ denies, μή rejects; οὐ is absolute, μή relative; οὐ objective, μή subjective.

θυσίαν,”[5 verses] (noun sg fem acc) "Sacrifice" is thysia, which means "a burnt-offering", "a sacrifice", "a victim of sacrifice," "mode of sacrifice", "festival at which sacrifices are offered," "rite," and "ceremony." In Hebrew, "sacrifice" is zebach, ("a sacrifice") which is the noun form of zabach, which means "to slaughter" either for sacrifice or for eating.

οὐκ (partic) "Not" is from ou which is the negative adverb for facts and statements, negating both singles words and sentences. The other negative adverb, μή applies to will and thought; οὐ denies, μή rejects; οὐ is absolute, μή relative; οὐ objective, μή subjective.

ἂν (conj) "Would" is ean, which is a conditional particle (derived from ei (if) and an (might), which makes reference to a time and experience in the future that introduces but does not determine an event. OR  (particle) "Should be" is an, which is a particle used with verbs to indicate that the action is limited by circumstances or defined by conditions. There is no exact equivalent in English, but it is translated as "possibly," "would have", "might", "should," and "could." 

κατεδικάσατε  [3 verses] (2nd pl aor ind act) "Ye would...have condemned" is katadikazô, which means "to give judgment against," "have judgment given in one's favor", "get a person condemned [to a payment] of money", "to pass a sentence," and "to condemn."

τοὺς (article pl masc acc)  "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the"). 

ἀναιτίους.  [2 verses](adj pl masc acc) "The guiltless" is from anaitios, which means "not being at fault", "guiltless," and "not being the cause" of something. It means literally "not the cause."

KJV Analysis: 

But -- The Greek word translated as "but" means "but", "however", and "on the other hand". It joins phrases in an adversarial way.

if -- The "if" here expresses a condition but it means nothing regarding whether that condition is met or not. It also means "if ever" and "whenever."

ye -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the verb.

had  -- This helping verb "had" indicates that the verb is the past tense.

known  - "Ye had known" is a verb that means "to learn to know", "to know by reflection or observation," and "to perceive."

what - The word translated here as "what" means "anything" or "anyone."

this - (IW) There is no Greek word in the source that means "this."

meaneth,  - (WW) Nor is there a word that means "means" or "meaneth," The Greek word is the verb "to be," which when used without a clear subject means "it is" or "there is."

I -- This is from the first-person, singular form of the verb.

will --  (CW) The Greek word translated as "will" is not the same as the helper verb "will" in English, which primarily expresses the future tense. Its primary purpose is to express consent and even a delight in doing something. It means "to consent" and "to be resolved to a purpose". As a participle, it can mean "willingly" and "gladly". The verb is in the present tense and, in this form, means something closer to "I delight in." This is also the meaning of the original Hebrew.

have -- -- (IW) There is nothing that can be translated as "have" in the Greek source.

mercy, -- "Mercy" is a Greek noun that means "pity", "mercy," and "compassion." The Hebrew word is closer to "kindness," which may be closer to Christ's use of the word.

and -- The Greek word translated as "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also").

not -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It means "no", "not," or"no truly."

sacrifice,  - Interestingly, the Greek terms translated as "sacrifice," does not refer to the act of sacrifice but to "a burnt offering" or "victim." Given the rest of the verse, "victim" is the primary meaning. In Hebrew, it means "the slaughtered ones." However, in Greek, it also means "ceremony," which, given the larger context of religious display in  Matthew 12:4, is part of the double meaning here. That double meaning is not found in Hebrew. which means "sacrifice" or  "to slaughter" for eating.

ye - This is from the second-person, plural form of the verb.

would -- The "would" is either from a particle or conjunction. The particle is used with verbs to indicate that the action is limited by circumstances or defined by conditions. There is no exact equivalent in English, but it is translated as "possibly," "would have", "might", "should," and "could." This particle usually suggests the subjunctive form of the verb.  OR This is the Greek conjunction meaning "if might" indicates more of an expectation of something happening than "if" alone. This is often how we use the word "when".

not -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It means "no", "not," or"no truly."

have -- (WT) This helping verb "have" indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action completed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here.

condemned  - "Condemned" is a Greek verb that means "to give or get a judgment against," and "to pass a sentence." It refers almost exclusively to a legal decision. It is neither the word Christ commonly uses that gets translated as "condemn" or the one he uses that gets translated as "judgment." Since this refers to legal decisions, "declare guilty" might work best in English. The these is something that happened at specific point in time. It is not something that "might" or "should happen.

the-- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") that the English "the." See this article for more. 

guiltless.  "Guiltless" is from an adjective means "not being at fault," "guiltless," and "not being the cause" of something. It means literally "not the cause. Here is it used as a plural noun. We saw this word the only other time Jesus use it in Matthew 12:5 where it was translated as in KJV "blameless."

KJV Translation Issues: 

5
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "this" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "meaneth" should be "is."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "will" does not mean the future tense. It means "desires."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "have" doesn't exist in the source.
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is something that happens at a specific point in time (past, present, or future).

NIV Analysis: 

untranslated "but"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is "but" means "but", "however", and "on the other hand". It joins phrases in an adversarial way.

If -- The "if" here expresses a condition but it means nothing regarding whether that condition is met or not. It also means "if ever" and "whenever."

you -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the verb.

had  -- This helping verb "had" indicates that the verb is the past tense.

known  - "Ye had known" is a verb that means "to learn to know", "to know by reflection or observation," and "to perceive."

what - The word translated here as "what" means "anything" or "anyone."

these  words - (IP) There is no Greek words in the source that means "these words."

mean,  - (WW) Nor is there a word that means "means" or "meaneth," The Greek word is the verb "to be," which when used without a clear subject means "it is" or "there is."

I -- This is from the first-person, singular form of the verb.

desire -- The Greek word translated as "desire" means "to consent" and "to be resolved to a purpose". As a participle, it can mean "willingly" and "gladly". The verb is in the present tense and, in this form, means something closer to "I delight in." This is also the meaning of the original Hebrew.

mercy, -- "Mercy" is a Greek noun that means "pity", "mercy," and "compassion." The Hebrew word is closer to "kindness," which may be closer to Christ's use of the word.

untranslated "and"  -- (MW) The untranslated word is "and" is used as the conjunction "and", but it also is used to add emphasis ("also").

not -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It means "no", "not," or"no truly."

sacrifice,  - Interestingly, the Greek terms translated as "sacrifice," does not refer to the act of sacrifice but to "a burnt offering" or "victim." Given the rest of the verse, "victim" is the primary meaning. In Hebrew, it means "the slaughtered ones." However, in Greek, it also means "ceremony," which, given the larger context of religious display in  Matthew 12:4, is part of the double meaning here. That double meaning is not found in Hebrew. which means "sacrifice" or  "to slaughter" for eating.

you - This is from the second-person, plural form of the verb.

would -- The "would" is either from a particle or conjunction. The particle is used with verbs to indicate that the action is limited by circumstances or defined by conditions. There is no exact equivalent in English, but it is translated as "possibly," "would have", "might", "should," and "could." This particle usually suggests the subjunctive form of the verb.  OR This is the Greek conjunction meaning "if might" indicates more of an expectation of something happening than "if" alone. This is often how we use the word "when".

not -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It means "no", "not," or"no truly."

have -- (WT) This helping verb "have" indicates that the verb is the tense indicating an action completed in the past. This is not the tense of the verb here.

condemned  - "Condemned" is a Greek verb that means "to give or get a judgment against," and "to pass a sentence." It refers almost exclusively to a legal decision. It is neither the word Christ commonly uses that gets translated as "condemn" or the one he uses that gets translated as "judgment." Since this refers to legal decisions, "declare guilty" might work best in English. The these is something that happened at specific point in time. It is not something that "might" or "should happen.

the-- The word translated as "the" is the Greek definite article. The Greek article is much closer to our demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "these", "those") that the English "the." See this article for more.

innocent.  "Innocent" is from an adjective means "not being at fault," "guiltless," and "not being the cause" of something. It means literally "not the cause. Here is it used as a plural noun. We saw this word the only other time Jesus use it in Matthew 12:5 where it was translated as in KJV "blameless."

NIV Translation Issues: 

5
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "but" is not shown in the English translation.
  • IP - Inserted Phrase-- The word "these words" don't exist in the source.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "mean" should be "is."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "and" is not shown in the English translation.
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" indicates the past perfect tense, but the tense is something that happens at a specific point in time (past, present, or future).

The Spoken Version: 

“Nonsense,” responded the member of the Distinguished, “If we have learned anything it is that the temple as a place of sacrifice is central to our traditions”
“If, however, you had learned anything,” suggested the Master, “ it is: ‘I delight in Mercy and not a sacrifice.’”
“We know the writtings of the profits as well as you,” returned the Distinguished.
“Not when you judged guilty those who are not at fault,” observed the Master.

Front Page Date: 

Oct 26 2020