I have heard Christian ministers and evangelists teach for years that the command to love replaces the Laws in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). However, the problem with this position is that at the very least, it is an extreme oversimplification of what Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) says, or at very worst, it misrepresents what He says, as well as misrepresents His own relationship to the Law (Heb. Torah). People have traditionally removed Him and His teachings from His original context, including His religious context, and, as a result, have misinterpreted what He says. However, when we closely examine and analyze the biblical references, we discover that the root source for this teaching comes from the same question being asked in two different accounts within the Gospels of the New Testament.
“What is the Great Commandment?”
In Matthew 22:36, a lawyer asks Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) the following question:
Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?
This same question (although worded differently) is asked by a scribe in Mark 12:28. Although the question asked is basically the same in both accounts, when we examine the context of each of the passages, we discover that the lawyer’s question is asked to “test” Jesus’/Joshua’s (Heb. Yeshua’s) knowledge of the Torah (God’s Law); whereas, the scribe was impressed by Jesus’/Joshua’s (Heb. Yeshua’s) response to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and as a result, he seems to see Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) more like a colleague, and I believe the scribe is hoping to enter into an intellectual discussion with Him regarding the commandments. Consequently, their two different attitudes seem to suggest to me that these are actually two different accounts, rather than two versions of the same account.
In both accounts, the question deals with the “greatest commandment” or the most prominent commandment (“the first commandment”) in the law. In both accounts, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) responds by choosing two commandments, which in Hebrew begin with the same word, v’ahavta (“and you shall love”). However, what most Christians do not understand is that Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) here is not replacing the Law, as they teach, but He is summarizing it. If I ask a friend about a movie he has seen recently, his summary does not replace the film; instead, it provides me with his understanding and view of the film. In much the same way, Jesus’s/Joshua’s (Heb. Yeshua’s) summary statement does not replace the commandments given by God to Moses, but it provides His understanding and view of them.
In a very Jewish way, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) is being asked to engage here in a 1,500-year-old discussion, one that goes back to Moses himself. Numerous Jews throughout the Old Testament, and up to the present time, have given (and are giving) their response to this question, and here in these Gospel accounts, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) is being asked to likewise engage in this ancient conversation. The question that Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) is being asked is, “Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua), when you look into the law and all of its different commandments, what do you see or understand the law to be about? What is it that God is wanting from us?” The following are some responses that have been offered throughout the Old Testament Scriptures to this question.
Quotes from Jews of the Old Testament
|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 in 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, who 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 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)|
|Habakkuk:||“Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous [or just] shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).|
As you can see, each of these individuals had their own understanding of what the commandments were all about, or in essence, what it is that God is wanting from us. So now, after centuries of people offering their own views, this scribe is asking Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) to engage in this ongoing question.
As I noted earlier, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) responds to this question by putting together two commandments that begin with the same Hebrew word, v’ahavta (“and you shall love”): Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel; The LORD our God is One LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Although there is no record of the lawyer’s response, the scribe responds positively to Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) answer:
And the scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher [or Rabbi], You have truly stated that He is One; and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33)
And it says, “when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.” (Mark 12:34).
As stated earlier, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) is not replacing the commandments that God handed down to Moses with these two commandments, as I have heard erroneously taught for many years, no more than the other men I’ve listed from the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) were replacing the Law of God with their summaries of the commandments. Instead, He is answering the Scribe’s question by providing what Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) saw to be the essence of what the commandments were all about. And providing a summary of something does not replace it.
What was the Significance of Jesus’s/Joshua’s Response?
Interestingly, His summary tells us much more about Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) than it does about God’s Law itself because it reveals how He viewed the Law as a whole. In His response, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) is telling the Scribe that when He looks at the various commandments in the Law (Heb. Torah), 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/Joshua (Heb. 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 Law (Heb. Torah)? No, it summarizes it, and explains the Law’s (Torah’s) ultimate purpose – to teach us how to love.