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

Spoken to: 

audience

Context: 

Sermon on Mount, law and fulfillment, visible and hidden, temporary and permanent.

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

No one has the power to slave for two masters. Because either he is going to hate the one and the other he is going to embrace or one he is going to attach himself and the other he is going to look down upon. You do not have the power to slave for God and Mr. Moneybags.

KJV : 

Matthew 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.​

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus changes back to addressing the whole crowd in this verse rather than an individual. Jesus also uses several Greek terms of opposing meanings to make his point about serving two masters. He also wraps up this verse with a strange and surprising word, "mammon", that is one example of how we can know Christ taught in Greek, not Aramaic (see this article). In the Luke 16:13 version of this verse, the term "mammon" is used at the end of the previous parable, but here it is used alone. 

The word translated as "the one" and "the other" can also mean "the primary" and "the secondary" referring to the masters. 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.

Jesus is having fun with the Greek term translated as "hold" because it has many seemingly opposed meanings. It is a common word in Greek literature, but Jesus only uses it twice in this verse and its parallel in Luke. It has the seeming contradictory meanings of "holding out against" and "clinging to," "enduring" and "caring for". But in the middle voice, as it is used here,  it means "hold to himself" as we might say "cling to.

The word translated as "despise" is also amusing because it means "look down on." This idea is funny when applied to a slave's opinion of his master.

"Mammon" is not from any Greek word, and there is some debate about both its source and its meaning. This term is used one other place in the Gospels, the parable of the "Unjust Servant", but there it is used several times. In interpreting it, we are going to assume Jesus uses words we can understand and uses specific words, like this, not to confuse but to clarify his meaning, and, when possible, to entertain. The Aramaic source words mean "wealth" and "money", but Jesus readily uses the Greek words for wealth and for money, both generally and specifically. If that was his meaning, he would have used those words? There are several suggestions that the term is a personification of the idea of wealth and property like our Mr. Monopoly or, Mr. Moneybags.  This seems to work in the context in which this word appears, especially in the Luke usages, Luke 16:9, where it is used specifically to describe a rich man who fires his steward but that verse is particullarly confusing because it advises making friends with Mammon.

NIV : 

Matthew 6:24  No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

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. 

My Takeaway: 

Where your treasure is depends on depends on who you serve.

Related Verses: 

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

ἕνα (noun sg masc acc) "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 (article sg masc acc) "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the")

ἕτερον (adj sg masc acc) "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) "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 [2 verses](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 (article sg masc gen) "The" is the Greek definite article, hos, ("the").

ἑτέρου (adj sg masc gen) "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: [3 verses](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," "divine," and "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."

KJV Analysis: 

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

can -- (CW) 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.

serve -- (WF) This verb translated as "serve" means "to be a slave" and "to enslave oneself." It is in the form of an infinitive. The verb is from the same root as the Greek word for "slave" that is usually translated in the NT as "servant."

untranslated "to"-- (MW) The dative case of the following words requires the addition of a preposition in English, but the translator must decide which preposition to use:  a  "to,"  "with,"  "in,"   "of,"  "as," "by," "for," "at" or "on," can all be used depending on the context.

two -- The "two" is the numeral, "two," which, like numbers in English, plays a lot of roles. Often, it acts as an adjective, but without a noun to modify, so it takes on the role of a noun. The Greek word is "duo," which of course in English means "a pair of singers", or, more generally, any "pair." It uses joins the two people walking together as a pair or a couple.

masters: -- 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.

for -- 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.

either  -- "Either" is translated from a Greek word that means primarily "or" but serves as "than" in a comparison. The same word could also be the exclamation "hi" or the adverb meaning "in truth."

he -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the verb.

will  -- This helping verb "will" indicates the future tense.

hate --  "Hate" is a Greek verb meaning "to hate." The word is not primarily an emotion as it is in English. Instead, it is a negative state, not being devoted to someone and not liking them. 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. See this article on Greek concepts of love for more information.

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. 

one, -- The word translated as "one" is  the number "one." 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."

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

love --  (CW) The Greek word translated as "love" is a less an emotion then  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.

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. 

other; -- 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."

or else -- "Or else" is translated from a Greek word that means primarily "or" but serves as "than" in a comparison.

he -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the verb.

will  -- This helping verb "will" indicates the future tense.

hold -- (CW) The word translated as  "hold" means literally to "hold from," "hold out" or "hold after." But in the middle voice  it means "hold to himself" as we might say "cling to."  It is a common word in Greek literature, but not in Christ's words. The word has several seemingly 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. It is in the middle voice, which means the subject acts by or for himself.

to -- This word comes from the form of the

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

one, -- The word translated as "one" is  the number "one." 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 form is genitive, which is required by the verb.

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

despise --  (WW) The Greek word translated as "despise, actually 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 -- 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. 

other; -- 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."

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

can- -- (CW) 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.

-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." It makes a negative statement of fact. Adding "really" to the sentence captures the same idea. When a negative precedes the verb, it affects the whole clause. When it precedes other words, its force is limited to those words. Here it precedes the "can."

serve -- (WF) This verb translated as "serve" means "to be a slave" and "to enslave oneself." It is in the form of an infinitive. The verb is from the same root as the Greek word for "slave" that is usually translated in the NT as "servant."

God -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." Jesus usually uses it with an definitive article, "the God" or "the Divine," but here there is not article so the sense is serving divinity generally.  to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

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

mammon.- (UW) "Mammon" is not from any Greek word, but it is a word that is untranslated from the Greek letters of the sources. There is some debate about both its source and its meaning.  The Aramaic source words mean "wealth" and "money", but Jesus readily uses the Greek words for wealth and for money, both generally and specifically.  There are several suggestions that the term is a personification of the idea of wealth and property like our Mr. Monopoly or, Mr. Moneybags. 

KJV Translation Issues: 

10
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "can" is not a helper verb, but the active verb in the sentence.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "serve" is not an active verb but an infinitive, "to server" or "to enslave oneself."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "to" is not shown in the English translation.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "hold" is more complex meaning "hold to oneself" or "cling to."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "one" is not shown in the English translation.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "love" is not an emotion as in the English word. It means "care for."
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "despise" should be "look down on" or "think poorly of."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "can" part of "cannot" is not a helper verb, but the active verb in the sentence.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "serve" is not an active verb but an infinitive, "to server" or "to enslave oneself."
  • UW - Untranslated Word -- The word "mammon" means "wealth" or its personification, "Mr. Moneybags." 

NIV Analysis: 

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

can -- (CW) 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.

serve -- (WF) This verb translated as "serve" means "to be a slave" and "to enslave oneself." It is in the form of an infinitive. The verb is from the same root as the Greek word for "slave" that is usually translated in the NT as "servant."

untranslated "to"-- (MW) The dative case of the following words requires the addition of a preposition in English, but the translator must decide which preposition to use:  a  "to,"  "with,"  "in,"   "of,"  "as," "by," "for," "at" or "on," can all be used depending on the context.

two -- The "two" is the numeral, "two," which, like numbers in English, plays a lot of roles. Often, it acts as an adjective, but without a noun to modify, so it takes on the role of a noun. The Greek word is "duo," which of course in English means "a pair of singers", or, more generally, any "pair." It uses joins the two people walking together as a pair or a couple.

masters: -- 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.

untranslated "because"-- (MW) The untranslated word "because" can be treated as "because" supporting a dependent clause, or, in written English, as "this is because..." to start a new sentence.

Either -- "Either" is translated from a Greek word that means primarily "or" but serves as "than" in a comparison. The same word could also be the exclamation "hi" or the adverb meaning "in truth."

you -- (WW)  This is from the third-person, singular form of the verb.

will  -- This helping verb "will" indicates the future tense.

hate --  "Hate" is a Greek verb meaning "to hate." The word is not primarily an emotion as it is in English. Instead, it is a negative state, not being devoted to someone and not liking them. 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. See this article on Greek concepts of love for more information.

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. 

one, -- The word translated as "one" is  the number "one." 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."

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

love --  (CW) The Greek word translated as "love" is a less an emotion then  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.

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. 

other; -- 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."

or -- "Or " is translated from a Greek word that means primarily "or" but serves as "than" in a comparison.

you -- (WW)  This is from the third-person, singular form of the verb.

will  -- This helping verb "will" indicates the future tense.

be devoted -- (CW) The word translated as  "hold" means literally to "hold from," "hold out" or "hold after." But in the middle voice  it means "hold to himself" as we might say "cling to."  It is a common word in Greek literature, but not in Christ's words. The word has several seemingly 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. It is in the middle voice, which means the subject acts by or for himself.

to -- This word comes from the form of the

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

one, -- The word translated as "one" is  the number "one." 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 form is genitive, which is required by the verb.

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

despise --  (WW) The Greek word translated as "despise, actually 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 -- 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. 

other; -- 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."

cannot serve God and money.

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

can- -- (CW) 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.

-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." It makes a negative statement of fact. Adding "really" to the sentence captures the same idea. When a negative precedes the verb, it affects the whole clause. When it precedes other words, its force is limited to those words. Here it precedes the "can."

serve -- (WF) This verb translated as "serve" means "to be a slave" and "to enslave oneself." It is in the form of an infinitive. The verb is from the same root as the Greek word for "slave" that is usually translated in the NT as "servant."

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

God -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." Jesus usually uses it with an definitive article, "the God" or "the Divine," but here there is not article so the sense is serving divinity generally.  to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

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

mammon. -- (UW) "Mammon" is not from any Greek word, but it is a word that is untranslated from the Greek letters of the sources. There is some debate about both its source and its meaning.  The Aramaic source words mean "wealth" and "money", but Jesus readily uses the Greek words for wealth and for money, both generally and specifically.  There are several suggestions that the term is a personification of the idea of wealth and property like our Mr. Monopoly or, Mr. Moneybags. 

NIV Translation Issues: 

14
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "can" is not a helper verb, but the active verb in the sentence.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "serve" is not an active verb but an infinitive, "to server" or "to enslave oneself."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "because" is not shown in the English translation.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "you" should be "he."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "love" is not an emotion as in the English word. It means "care for."
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "you" should be "he."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "to" is not shown in the English translation.
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "be devoted" is more complex meaning "hold to oneself" or "cling to."
  • MW - Missing Word -- The word "the" before "one" is not shown in the English translation.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "despise" should be "look down on" or "think poorly of."
  • CW - Confusing Word -- The "can"[art of "cannot" is not a helper verb, but the active verb in the sentence.
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "serve" is not an active verb but an infinitive, "to server" or "to enslave oneself."
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "both" doesn't exist in the source.
  • UW - Untranslated Word -- The word "mammon" means "wealth" or its personification, "Mr. Moneybags." 

Possible Symbolic Meaning: 

Given that the context, starting at verse Matthew 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 your 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.

The Spoken Version: 

“Many of us are bond slaves to wealthy men,” Joanna called out. “Can we serve the Divine when our Masters have us slaving for Mr. Moneybags?”
This name drew a laugh. Mr. Moneybags is a idol of wealth and property among the Syrians of the region.
“No one,” the Teacher assured us with a smile, “has the ability to enslave himself to two masters.”
We chuckled at the idea.  Bonding yourself to two masters is like the same horse to two different people.
“But what about the master and his wife?” observed Joanna, clearly speaking from experience.
 The comment was funny and the Master laughed along with us.
“Because either,” he continued, shaking his fist angrily at the sky, “he is going to hate the primary one,” he said.
“The wife!” observed Joanna
We all laughed in response
Then the Master pulled out a small money pouch and held it up for us to see.
“And care for the secondary one,” he purred, rubbing his little money bag to his cheek in a loving way.
“Or,” he continued, “he will attach himself to one...”
He smiled knowingly as he pointed a finger upward in a familiar gesture.
“This realm of the skies,” we shouted in response.
“And he will look down on the other,” he said, pursing his lips and looking down disdainfully at the money bag in his hand.
We laughed at the idea of slaves looking down on masters because we all knew how often it was true.
“No,” he summarized with a shrug to us all. “You really do not have the power to slave for divinity and Mr. Moneybags.”

evidence: 

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Front Page Date: 

Jun 16 2020