Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate

KJV Verse: 

Mat 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.​

Greek Verse: 

Literal Alternative: 

No one has the power two masters to serve. Because either the one he is going to hate and the other he is going to embrace or to one he is going to attach himself and the other he is going to look down upon. You cannot God serve and possessions.

Hidden Meaning: 

The fact that Christ goes back to addressing the whole crowd in this verse rather than an individual is hidden in the Greek. Christ also uses Greek terms of opposing meanings to make his point about serving two masters that are lost in translation. He also wraps up this verse with a strange and surprising word that is one example of how we can know Christ taught in Greek, not Aramaic (see this article).

The Greek word translated as "no man" also means "no one" and every other negative pronoun.

The Greek verb translated as "can" means "to have an ability" and "to have a power" to do something. Unlike the English "can," it is not a "helper" verb but the main verb of the sentence.

This verb translated as "serve" means "to be a slave" and even "to make oneself a slave." It is the verb form of the noun that means "slave" but it usually translated in the NT as "servant." We can tone this term down, but Christ has made it clear in John 8:34 that everyone is a slave because we all make mistakes.

The word translated as "masters" is the same word that is often translated as "Lord" or "the Lord" in the NT. It also means "lord", "master of the house," and "head of the family." It is the specific terms for the master of slaves or servants, but it was a common term of respect both for those in authority and who were honored. It was the term people used to address Christ, even though he had no formal authority.

The word translated as "for" can be treated as "because" supporting a dependent clause, or, in written English, as "this is because..." to start a new sentence.

The verb translated as "hate" is in a form that is primarily the second person future. It could also be the third person future or the third person aorist tense. Because the following verb is 3rd person, that is "correct" but people listening would have heard "you" as well.

The word translated as "the one" is exactly as it appears, the number "one" preceded by an article "the." However, when used with the article, it also means "the first" and "the primary." It acts like our "one" as a pronoun, referring back to an earlier noun, in case, "master."

The Greek word translated as "love" is a less passionate form of affection that the English word "love." The alternative "to care for" comes close to its meaning. See this article on Greek concepts of love for more information.

There is a bit of wordplay here in the terms translated as "the other." While it certainly means "the other," it has the sense of the second and secondary. this is especially true here when use with "the one."

What makes this funny is the Christ has reversed the expected order. The more powerful or superior master is the one hated while the secondary master in the one loved. this is much clearer in Greek where "the other" is a more negative term, meaning "different" in the sense of different than it should be.

Christ is having fun with Greek term translated as "He will hold" because it has many seeming opposed meanings. This a complicated term which means literally to "hold out" or "hold against." It is a common word in Greek literature, but not in Christ's words. It has the seeming contradictory meanings of "holding out against" and "clinging to," "enduring" and "caring for". It has some of the same sense of the way we use "stuck" in English, where there is a negative sense of being "stuck with" someone and a positive sense of being "stuck on" someone.

The Greek word translated as "despise, but which means "to look down on" or "think poorly of." but it also means "to aim at" and "to comes to one's senses." In keeping with the opposite in feeling from the "stuck on" relationship, it can mean "to treat contemptuously" or just "to treat badly." Again, like the verb translated as "hate", the form here could also be the second person future, "you will look down on."

The "cannot" is from the same verb as we saw at the beginning of the sentence. The sense is that you do not have the ability or capability.

The Greek word for "serve" is again the one that means "to be a slave."

The Greek word for "God" is the one that is always used meaning "the divinity."

"Mammon" is not from any Greek term, and there is some debate about both its source and its meaning. However, Christ uses words we can understand and uses specific words not to confuse but to clarify and, when possible, entertain. The Aramaic source words suggested tend to means "wealth" and "money" is a popular translation, but Christ readily uses the Greek words for wealth and for money, both generally and specifically. If that was his meaning, why wouldn't he be clear about it? The idea that Mammon was the god of avarice seems to arise in a much later period, probably from Milton. The Hebrew candidate source word, however, combines there idea of "security", "deposit," and "that which is trusted." this is not a concept for which there is a ready Greek alternative.

Given that the context, starting at verse Mat 6:19, is comparing storing things on earth and heaven, the meaning here becomes more clear. Christ says "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." It is a small jump from a discussion about where you heart is to one about who or what you are enslaved. It comes down, at the end of the verse, to the same choice: God in heaven or what is trusted on earth.

Wordplay: 

 A number of entertaining contrasts, verb forms with confuse the second and third person, and the uses of an unusual word to make people think about what is being said in a larger context. 

The Spoken Version: 

“No one has the power,” the teacher explained in his rich baritone, “to slave for two masters. Because either he is going to hate the one.” He nodded toward the sky, which was now getting brighter. “And care for the other.” He gestured toward the ground. “Or he is going to attach himself to one,” he said, again indicating the brightening sky. “And he is going to look down on the other.” Again, pointing to the ground.
“You all do not have the power, to serve the Divine—,” he said, gazing upward, a smile growing on his face. Then, gesturing toward the rich man in white, he added cheerfully, “And Mr. Moneybags.”

Vocabulary: 

Οὐδεὶς (adj sg masc nom) "No man" is from oudeis which means "no one", "not one", "nothing", "naught", "good for naught," and "no matter."

δύναται (3rd sg pres ind mp) "Can" is from the verb, dynamai, which means "to have power by virtue of your own capabilities", "to be able," and "to be strong enough."

δυσὶ (numeral pl masc/fem/neut dat) "Two" is from duo, which means the number "two", "a couple," and "a pair."

κυρίοις (noun pl masc dat) "Masters" is from kyrios (kurios), which means "having power", "being in authority" and "being in possession of." It also means "lord", "master of the house," and "head of the family."

δουλεύειν: (pres inf act) "Serve," is from douleuo, which means to "be a slave", "serve", "be subject", "make oneself a slave", "accommodate oneself," and "render a service."

(conj) "Either" is e which is a particle meaning "either", "or," or "than."

γὰρ (partic) "For" comes from gar which is the introduction of a clause explaining a reason or explanation: "for", "since," and "as." In an abrupt question it means "why" and "what."

τὸν ἕνα (noun sg masc acc) "The one" is from heis, which means "one" (as opposed to other numbers), "single," and "one and the same." As in English, it can be used as a pronoun, meaning a single person.

μισήσει (3rd sg fut ind act) "Hate" is from miseo, which means "to hate" and in passive, "to be hated."

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."

τὸν ἕτερον (adj sg masc acc) "The other" is from heteros, which means "one or the other of two", "the second", "the secondary", "the minor", "other things [of like kind]", "another", "different," "other than", "different from", "other than should be," and "in another or a different way." As an adverb, it means "in one or the other way", "differently", "otherwise than should be", "badly," and "wrongly."

ἀγαπήσει, (3rd sg fut ind act) "Love" is from agapao, which means "to be fond of", "to greet with affection", "to persuade", "to caress", "to prize", "to desire", "to be pleased with," and "to be contended with." This love is more associated with affection than passion. See this article on love for more information.

(conj) "Or" is e which is a particle meaning "either", "or," or "than."

ἑνὸς (noun sg masc gen) "To the one" is from heis, which means "one" (as opposed to other numbers), "single," and "one and the same." As in English, it can be used as a pronoun, meaning a single person.

ἀνθέξεται [uncommon](3rd sg fut ind mid) "He will hold" is from antecho, which means to "hold out against", "withstand", "hold out", "endure", "stand one's ground", "extend", "reach", "hold before one against", "hold on by", "cling to", "care for", "support", "will lay claim [to the property from you]", "dispute it [with you]", "resist," and "adhere."

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."

τοῦ ἑτέρου (adj sg masc gen) "The other" is from heteros, which means "one or the other of two", "the second", "the secondary", "the minor", "other things [of like kind]", "another", "different," "other than", "different from", "other than should be," and "in another or a different way." As an adverb, it means "in one or the other way", "differently", "otherwise than should be", "badly," and "wrongly."

καταφρονήσει: (3rd sg fut ind act) "Despise" is from kataphroneô, which means "look down upon", "think slightly of", "regard slightly, "despise", "to be disdainful", "deal contemptuously", "fix one's thoughts upon", "aim at," and "come to one's senses."

οὐ (partic) "Not" is from ou which is the negative adverb for facts and statements, negating both single 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. -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It makes a negative statement of fact.

δύνασθε (2nd pl pres ind mp) "Can" is from the verb, dynamai, which means "to have power by virtue of your own capabilities", "to be able," and "to be strong enough."

θεῷ (noun sg masc dat) "God" is from theos, which means "God," the Deity."

δουλεύειν (pres inf act ) "Serve," is from douleuo, which means to "be a slave", "serve", "be subject", "make oneself a slave", "accommodate oneself," and "render a service."

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."

μαμωνᾷ. (noun sg masc dat) "Mammon" is not Greek. It could be from the Aramaic mamona, "riches" or "wealth," or from Hebrew mamon, "security", "that which is trusted," or "deposit" or from Akkardian "mimmu" meaning "property."

Related Verses: 

Mar 13 2017

evidence: 

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