Matthew tells us that some of the Jewish religious leaders tried to trap Jesus by asking him a few questions that, presumably, have no good answer. For example, some of the Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22).
When Jesus surprised them with his answer, some Sadducees asked him about marriage in heaven – again, in an attempt to trick him (Matthew 22:32). Again, as Matthew tells us, Jesus astounded them with his answer. Twice now, Jesus has showed his questioners that they do not understand the Scriptures nor do they understand the ways of the kingdom of God.
In a third attempt to trick Jesus, another Pharisee who was an expert in the law (Matthew 22:34-35) asks him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36 ESV)
In response, Matthew records the following:
And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
According to Matthew, Jesus says that all the Law and the Prophets (probably a reference to the entirety of the Old Testament Scriptures) depend upon this (these?) one (two?) commandment (commandments?): Love God (and love your neighbor).
Interestingly, Luke places the question on Jesus lips, and the response (the great commandment) on the lips of the “lawyer”:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28 ESV)
At this point, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus tells the story that we commonly call “The Good Samaritan.” (Luke 10:25-37)
When Matthew has Jesus teaching the “great commandment” as love God and love neighbor, there is the possibility that Jesus made this up, or that it was something new to the hearers. When Luke has the “lawyer” responding with love God and love neighbor, it seems like much more common knowledge that this is the great commandment.
But, the question is: Where does this come from? You will not find a particular passage in the Old Testament that states: the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second one (which is like the first one) is to love your neighbor as yourself.
Furthermore, if this is a valid interpretation of the Old Testament (and a valid summary of the entire Old Testament, or at least the Law and Prophets), do the New Testament authors do injury to the “great commandment” when they further summarize it as “Love your neighbor”? (for example, see Galatians 5:14, James 2:8, and 2 John 1:5)
I’m going to be examining these questions in the next two posts, beginning with a post on loving God, followed by a post on loving your neighbor.