Question: “Does the command to love replace the Old Testament?”

There are many people who teach that the command to love quoted by Jesus (Yeshua) replaced the Law; however, this miscommunicates what Jesus meant by what He said and the relationship between love and the Law.

The root source for this question comes from an account in the Gospels of a scribe asking Jesus (Yeshua) the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”  This is how this question has been translated to us in English.  However, a better understanding of the question is,

What do you [Jesus/Yeshua] see to be the essence or underlying principle, or central organizing principle, for us understanding what the various commandments are really all about?

This is a question that goes back to Moses and Mount Siani itself.  Numerous Jews throughout biblical (and even post-biblical) history, beginning with Moses, have tried to summarize what they saw to be the essence or basic organizing structure of the Law.  Or to put the question more simply, what is it that God is trying to teach us with all these commandments?  How should we understand them?  Here are some sample responses from the Old Testament (Tanakh) scriptures:

Moses: And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the
LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your
God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?”
(Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
David: O LORD, who shall abide in Your tabernacle?  who can dwell on Your holy mountain?  The one who lives honestly, practices righteousness, and acknowledges the truth in his heart — who does not slander with his tongue, who does not harm his friend or discredit his neighbor, who despises the one rejected by the LORD, but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his word whatever the cost, wh does not lend his money at interest or take a bribe against the innocent — the one who does these things will never be moved.” (Psalm 15:1-5)
Isaiah: “The one who lives righteously and speaks rightly, who refuses gain from extortion, whose hand never takes a bribe, who stops his ears from listening to murderous plots and shuts his eyes to avoid endorsing evil — he will dwell on the heights; his refuge will be the rocky fortresses, his food provided, his water assured.” (Isaiah 33:15-16)
Ezekiel: “Now suppose a man is righteous and does what is just and right:  He does not eat at the mountain shrines or raise his eyes to the idols of the house of the Israel [the
northern kingdom].  He does not defile his neighbor’s wife or come near a woman
during her menstrual impurity.  He doesn’t oppress anyone but returns his collateral to the debtor.  He does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing.  He doesn’t lend at interest or for profit but keeps his hand from wrongdoing and carries out true justice between men.  He follows My statutes and keeps My ordinances, acting faithfully. Such a person is righteous; he will certainly live.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.”
(Ezekiel 18:5-9)
Micah: “He has told you men what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: Only to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Habukkuk: But the righteous or just] one shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4b)

As you can see, each of these individuals had their own of understanding about what the essence of the commandments were all about.  So now, after centuries of people attempting to sum up the essence of the Law, this scribe now walks up to Jesus (Yeshua), and he asks Him to engage in this ongoing ancient question.

Jesus (Yeshua) responds to the question by choosing two commandments that begin with the same Hebrew word: v’ahavta (“and you shall love”).  The first commandment comes from Judaism’s central doctrine, the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:5), and the other commandment (Leviticus 19:11) comes from the Holiness code in Leviticus 19:

And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and the second is like unto it, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Upon these, hang all the Law and the prophets.  (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus (Yeshua) here is not replacing the Law with these two commandments as I have heard erroneously taught for many years, no more than the other men from the Old Testament (Tanakh) were replacing the Law with their summaries of the commandments.  Instead, He is answering the Scribe’s question by providing what Jesus (Yeshua) saw to be a summary of the commandments.  And summarizing something does not replace it.  Interestingly, Jesus’ (Yeshua‘s) summary tells us much more about Him than it does about the Law itself because it reveals how Jesus (Yeshua) Himself viewed the Law as a whole.  In His response, Jesus (Yeshua) is telling the scribe that when He looks at the various commandments in the Law, what He sees is God’s written description of what it means to love, specifically to love God and to love others.  And, in fact, by pairing these two commandments together like He did, Jesus (Yeshua) is using a well-known rabbinical technique to also tell the scribe that the measure of how much he loves God can be seen or demonstrated by how much he loves others.

So does the commandment to love replace the Old Testament (Tanakh) Law?  No, it summarizes it, and explains the Law’s ultimate purpose, to teach us all how to love.


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