Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37: Do the greatest and second-greatest commandments dissolve the Torah?

JeffWhich is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34) is the third of the four great questions the leaders of Israel asked Yeshua, scrutinizing the chosen Lamb of God leading up to one great Passover. The pinnacle of all these discussions is about the purpose and goal of the Law.

There isn’t a directly parallel “greatest commandment” passage in Luke, but there were earlier passages (Luke 10:25–37; 18:18–27) in which Yeshua was questioned about which commandments are connected to “eternal life.”

In Luke 18, the questioner asks what is God’s key to eternal life, and Yeshua cites five of the six commandments in the “love your neighbor” part of the Ten Words. He also quotes the Shema. The one commandment that is omitted is coveting someone else’s wife and stuff.

In Luke 10, similar to Matthew 22 and Mark 12, a questioner responds to Yeshua’s question about the Torah’s instruction on this by reciting the Shema (Deut. 6:4–5) and the last part of Lev. 19:18 — what Yeshua said in the Matthew and Mark passages were the greatest and second-greatest commandments.

We will look at the Shema, particularly the second greatest commandment, which is the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. 

We see in Deut. 6:4–9, not only the Shema but the “lesser commandments” of the mezuzah and tefillin.

When we read Deut. 6:6, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” This is not just about the 10 commandments or short, cherry-picked commands but all of the Torah. 

Loving God involves all one’s:

  • לֵבָב levav: Heart: The use of the word “heart” in the Bible communicates the center of passions, inclinations emotion, motivation. It’s what drives a person. What is the center of your passions and interests? Is God the driving factor? When you “follow your heart”, is your heart inclined towards God or towards yourself? 
  • נֶפֶשׁ nefesh: Breath or soul: Life. Is one willing to put his life on the line for God? Does one think about God when making the decision as to whether to give one’s life or not?
  • מְאֹד me’od: Might or power: Wealth and means. To whose glory does one use his resources? 

In Rabbinic literature, they often juxtapose a “great” commandment with a “lesser” commandment that might use the same phrase to evaluate them. For example, the greatest and second-greatest commandments both start in Hebrew with ואהאבת v’ahavta, “and you will love.”

“‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:17–18)

Loving others was a key command for Yeshua’s apostles (1st John 3:4–12). We should have a concern for our fellow believers but we should not judge harshly or judge their standing before God because we are not to judge by appearances but to judge fairly and rightly and it takes a lot of insight to judge rightly. 

What we see in this is that sin, or what we call sin, is lawless, going outside of the law, or disregarding the law. A key aspect of loving your neighbor is in the Torah itself. We can’t know how to love our neighbor as ourselves without the Torah, and not just a few pieces of the Torah, but all of it. 

God doesn’t want us to sin, He wants us to be righteous but when we do sin, we have an advocate, Yeshua. God does not see us as sinners but as saints. Believers might sin on occasion but do not practice or wallow in sin. Believers in Yeshua practice righteousness. We might not always get it right but as long as we are traveling on the narrow path, rather than the highway to hell, we are going in the direction of righteousness. 

When God declares you “Not Guilty” you are given a new life by God and you are called to walk in the path that God calls us to walk, not on the old path that made us guilty before God. God clears the slate, cleans us up and shows us how to walk the right way. We walk in God’s way and recreate those ways in our lives. We don’t walk in our old life of sin but in the new path of righteousness. 

Yeshua quoted from Lev. 18:5 and Ezek. 20:10-11 in responding, “Do this, and you will live.” Some claim those verses advocate salvation by works, but Yeshua’s quoting of it points to a meaning of proper living after being justified by the Messiah before God.

The questioner’s self-justifying retort, “Who is my neighbor?” and Yeshua’s telling of the Good Samaritan parable illustrates he needed a “heart” transplant, the kind foretold in the “new covenant” prophecies. Part of that heart transplant is to treat others the way God treats us. 

Some have interpreted Yeshua’s saying that all the Torah hangs on the two greatest commandments as nullifying the need to study and practice the rest of the instructions in the Torah.

One pastor said recently that the Law evolved over time. David reduced Moses’ 613 commands to 15; the Prophets, to six; Micah, to three; and the Messiah, to two. 

This idea of distillation of the Torah was discussed at length in the Talmud (b.Makkot 23b–24a). Some see this as an “evolution” of the Torah, distilling the best and throwing out the dross but this is not the proper way to see this. 

  • The Torah has 613 commandments.
  • David reduced them to 11 in Psalm 15. What David is asking is, “Are you looking for loopholes around the Torah, or do you really want to understand God’s intent?” God’s ways are much higher than our ways (Isa 55.:9).
  • Isaiah distills the Torah further to six main commandments in Isa. 33:15-16. 
  • Micah further distills God’s Torah to three in Mic. 6:8.
  • Isaiah goes further, distilling to two.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come And My righteousness to be revealed.’ ” but the question comes in that how can we understand righteousness and justice without the rest of God’s Torah?” (Isa. 56:1)

  • Habakkuk then distills the Torah to one commandment:

“ ‘Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.’ ” (Hab 2:4; cf. Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38)

So, a distillation of the Law is meant to focus one’s attention on the “weightier matters of the Law,” rather than replace even the seemingly insignificant ones. Sages identified one of the latter as taking a mother bird with its young (Deut. 22:6).

These verses might boil down the Torah to the bare bones. But ask yourself, what do those “superfluous” Torah verses teach you about the larger precept? Even the minutia of the Torah shows us how to love God and our neighbor. 

Speaker: Jeff. Summary: Tammy.

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