Harmony of the Gospels

(8) Pharisees Question Commandments
Matthew 22:34-40 (focal passage), Mark 12:28-34


Matthew 22:34-40

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”


34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.

Paraphrase: When the Pharisees heard the report that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, who were the common enemies of their religion, they came together to decide how they might put it to their advantage.

Here is a discourse that Christ had with a Pharisee-lawyer, about the great commandment found in the Law (that is, the laws given by God to His people Israel through His prophet Moses). In this passage, our Lord gives us what is known as “The Great Commandment.”

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced their antagonists’ the Sadducees, they have a huddle where they plan a strategy. They send a clever lawyer, who was an expert in the Mosaic Law, to pose a question to Jesus, which was intend to prove that they were better than the Sadducees were by doing what they could not do, which was to discredit the Lord before the people. They should have thanked Him for successfully declaring and confirming the truth of the Resurrection in contradiction of the Sadducees, the common enemies of their religion, but instead they hoped to get the reputation of being able to baffle Jesus who had baffled the Sadducees. However, they were more irritated that Christ was honored, than pleased that the Sadducees were silenced; being more concerned for their own authority and traditions, which Christ opposed, than for the doctrine of the resurrection and a future state, which the Sadducees opposed. Note, it is a case of Pharisaical envy and meanness, to be displeased at the upholding of an acknowledge truth, when it is done by those we do not like, and to sacrifice a public good to private interests and prejudices. The apostle Paul always put Christ first—“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

35 Then one of them, a ¹lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,

Paraphrase: One of the Pharisees, who was a lawyer and their representative, asked Him a question he believed would draw Jesus into an argument concerning the Pharisees’ extensive interpretations of over six hundred laws.

The lawyers were students in, and teachers of, the Law of Moses, the same as the scribes were. They were equivalent to a Doctor of Theology today. However, some think that they differed from the scribes in that they dealt more in practical questions than the scribes did. This lawyer had been quickly sent by his colleagues, because he was an expert in the Law. He asked Jesus a question, testing Him. He wanted to see what Jesus would say, and to draw Him into a conversation that might satisfy His own and His friends’ curiosity. It appears from Mark’s account of the story, that this was the one to whom Christ said, “Thou are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12:3).

¹Lawyer       One who knew and practiced law. Lawyers are mentioned only in the New Testament. By Jesus’ day the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, had been expanded by the Jewish leaders. Their intent was to give the people an adequate interpretation and application of divine law to every situation of life. Added to the Law was a vast body of explanation, commentary, and application that was held to be just as binding as the actual writings of Moses.

New Testament lawyers were experts in this large body of material. They spent their time studying, interpreting, and expounding this law and acting as court judges. Also referred to as “teachers of the law” or “scribes,” Jewish lawyers generally opposed both John the Baptist (Luke 7:30) and Jesus (Luke 14:3) and tried to discredit Jesus (Matt. 22:34–40).

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Paraphrase: Tell me Master, which of the Mosaic laws should be the most highly esteemed for their importance.

God had given the people of Israel ten commandments, and laws concerning diet, land ownership, leprosy, the Sabbath, and so forth. To this was added a whole bundle of laws, called Fence Laws, which were aimed at preventing a person from even coming close to breaking one of the Commandments. The law in Jesus day had become a huge, massive thing containing 613 commandments. 365 were negative and 248 were positive. There were so many laws that it was impossible to keep from breaking at least one of them. It was necessary, therefore, that Jewish Law be reduced and simplified. Thus, the question was asked of Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” It was a needless question, since all the things of God’s law are great things—“I have written for him the great things of My law, But they were considered a strange thing” (Hos. 8:12), and the wisdom from above is without partiality in the law—“Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base Before all the people, Because you have not kept My ways But have shown partiality in the law” (Mal. 2:9). We are to have respect for them all. Yet it is true, there are some commands that are the principles of the oracles of God, and therefore are more extensive and inclusive than others are. Our Savior speaks of the “weightier matters of the law, (Matt 23:23).

The reason for the question was to put His knowledge and His judgment on trial. This question was argued for centuries among the observers of the law. Some said that the law of Circumcision was the Great Commandment; others said that the Law of the Sabbath was, and still others said that the Law of Sacrifices was. Each group made known what was their belief according to what they had been taught, and in turn had taught to others. Now they would see how Christ answered this question, hoping that His answer would enrage the people against him. If he did not answer according to the common opinion or if through a careless answer he should say that any one commandment was more important than another was, they would consider that He was slighting the rest, which would validate their claim that He was destroying the Law—“ Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).

This may have been a fair question; however, all political questions and hypothetical doctrinal questions are chaff compared to the most important question of all: IS JESUS CHRIST YOUR LORD AND DO YOU LOVE HIM?

Names and Titles Of Jesus Christ

A number of titles applied to Jesus Christ are related to His person and ministry. In His Messianic titles, he is the Aforepromised; the Anointed One; the Messiah (Christ); the Son (Only Begotten; seed) of God; King of the Jews; the Lion of Judah; the Comforter; the Counsellor; the Prophet (prophesy); the Suffering Servant; the Lamb of God; the High Priest (great); the Dayspring and Day-star.
In terms of His preeminence and authority, he is Lord; Head; Prince; Chief Shepherd; Chief Cornerstone; the Word of God.
In His act of salvation, he is Jesus; Savior; the Surety and Mediator of the new covenant; the Rock and the Author of life.
In the “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel, he is the bread of life; the door; the Light; the true vine; the way and the truth (Amen), and His disciples frequently called him their Master (Rabbi; Rabboni) and Teacher, and after His resurrection, Maran-atha.


37 Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your ¹heart, with all your ²soul, and with all your ³mind.’

Paraphrase: Jesus said to him, you should love God dearly, with all your thinking, feeling, desiring, and understanding.

Mark records that “Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:29-30).
In a masterful way, the Lord Jesus summarized man’s obligation to God as the first and great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He was quoting from the Shema, a Jewish statement of faith taken from Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  God is to have the supreme place in man’s life. No other love can be allowed to rival love for God.

Mark’s account adds the phrase, “and with all your strength.” This means that man’s first obligation is to love God with the totality of His being. This is not fleshly love, and it is not the love of a man for his family and friends; it is giving out ones whole nature in devotion. The heart speaks of the emotional nature, the soul of the spiritual nature, the mind of the intellectual nature, and strength of the physical nature.

All the law is fulfilled in one word, and that is, love—“Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). All obedience begins there, and nothing in religion is done right, that is not done in love. Man is a creature made for love; therefore, the law of love is written in the heart.

The love of God is the first and great commandment of all, and the summary of all the commands of the first table of the Ten Commandments. Now God, who is eternally good, is to be loved in the first place, and nothing loved more than him. Love is the first and great thing that God demands from us, and therefore the first and great thing that we should devote to him.

Now here we are directed to love God as ours; “You shall love the Lord your God.” The first commandment is Thou shalt have no other God; which implies that we must have him for our God, and that we must give our love to him. Those who made the sun and moon their gods, loved them according to Jeremiah 8:2 and Judges 18:24. To love God "as ours" means to love him because he is ours, our Creator, Owner, and Ruler, and to conduct ourselves with obedience to Him, and dependence on Him.

To love him with all our heart, soul, and mind means to love him with all our powers. Our love of God must be a sincere love, and not mere words, as theirs is who say, they love him but their hearts are not with him. It must be a strong love; we must love him in the most intense degree, and we must praise him with “all that is within us” (Ps. 103:1). All our love is too little to bestow upon him, and therefore all the powers of the soul must be working for him. This is the first and great commandment; for if we are obedient to this one, all the rest flows from it (love).

Note that Christ gave him a direct answer to his question. Those that sincerely desire to be instructed concerning their duty will be guided by Christ in their judgment, and He will teach them His way.

1-heart    The heart is the inner self that thinks, feels, and decides. In the Bible, the word “heart” has a much broader meaning than it does to the modern mind. The heart is that which is central to a person. Nearly all the references to the heart in the Bible refer to some aspect of human personality. In the Bible, all emotions are experienced by the heart: love and hate (Ps. 105:25; 1 Pet. 1:22); joy and sorrow (Eccl. 2:10; John 16:6); peace and bitterness (Ezek. 27:31; Col. 3:15); courage and fear (Gen. 42:28; Amos 2:16). The thinking processes are said to be carried out by the heart. This intellectual activity corresponds to what would be called “mind” in English. Thus, the heart may think (Esth. 6:6), understand (Job 38:36), imagine (Jer. 9:14), remember (Deut. 4:9), be wise (Prov. 2:10), and speak to itself (Deut. 7:17). Decision-making is also carried out by the heart. Purpose (Acts 11:23), intention (Heb. 4:12), and will (Eph. 6:6) are all activities of the heart.
Finally, heart often means someone’s true character or personality. Purity or evil (Jer. 3:17; Matt. 5:8); sincerity or hardness (Ex. 4:21; Col. 3:22); and maturity or rebelliousness (Ps. 101:2; Jer. 5:23)—all these describe the heart or true character of individuals. God knows the heart of each person (1 Sam. 16:7). Since people speak and act from their hearts, they are to guard them well (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 15:18–19). The most important duty of anyone is to love God with the whole heart (Matt. 22:37). With the heart a person believes in Christ and so experiences both love from God and the presence of Christ in the heart (Rom. 5:5; 10:9–10; Eph. 3:17).

2-soul     Soul is a word with two distinct meanings in the Bible:
1. That which makes a human or animal body alive. This usage of the word “soul” refers to life in the physical body. The best examples of this usage are those passages in the New Testament in which the Greek word for soul is translated as “life.” “For whoever desires to save His life [soul] will lose it,” Jesus declared, “but whoever loses His life [soul] for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses His own soul?” (Mark 8:36–37).
2. This idea is also present in the Old Testament. For example, the soul of a dying person departed at death (Gen. 35:18). The prophet Elijah brought a child back to life by stretching himself upon the child three times and praying that God would let the child’s soul come back into him (1 Kin. 17:19–23). The word soul also refers to the inner life of a person, the seat of emotions, and the center of human personality. The first use of the word soul in the Old Testament expresses this meaning: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (soul)” (Gen. 2:7). This means more than being given physical life; the biblical writer declares that man became a “living soul,” or a person, a human being, one distinct from all other animals. The soul is described as the seat of many emotions and desires: the desire for food (Deut. 12:20–21), love (Song 1:7), longing for God (Ps. 63:1), rejoicing (Ps. 86:4), knowing (Ps. 139:14), and memory (Lam. 3:20). In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of His soul as being “exceedingly sorrowful” (Matt. 26:38). Mary, the mother of Jesus, proclaimed that her soul “magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). John prayed that Gaius would “prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).

3-mind    The mind is the part of a person that thinks and reasons. Although the Hebrew language had no word for mind, several Hebrew words are sometimes translated as “mind.” The word for HEART frequently means “mind” (Deut. 30:1; Jer. 19:5). The word for SOUL is sometimes used similarly (1 Chr. 28:9), as is the word for SPIRIT (Ezek. 11:5). Four separate Greek words account for nearly all instances of “mind” in the New Testament. They all mean much the same thing: understanding, thought, mind, reason. While today we think of a person’s mind in a morally neutral way, in the New Testament the mind was clearly thought of as either good or evil. Negatively, the mind may be “hardened” (2 Cor. 3:14), “blinded” (2 Cor. 4:4), “corrupt” (2 Tim. 3:8), and “debased” (Rom. 1:28). On the positive side, humans may have minds that are renewed (Rom. 12:2) and pure (2 Pet. 3:1). They may love God with all their minds (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) and have God’s laws implanted in their minds (Heb. 8:10). Since Christians have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), they are instructed to be united in mind (Rom. 12:16; 1 Pet. 3:8).

38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

To this, Mark adds, “…There is no other commandment greater than these.”(Mk. 12:31).

Paraphrase: Jesus said that the greatest Commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and then He added, the next commandment in importance is, “You shall love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”

Jesus said that we are to love God and then He added that man’s second responsibility is to love His neighbor as himself. Barnes says, “Love to God and man comprehends the whole of religion: and to produce this has been the design of Moses, the prophets, the Savior, and the apostles.” We should frequently think about the words, “love your neighbor as yourself.” We should think of how very much we do love ourselves, and of how much of our activity centers on our care and comfort. Then we should try to imagine what it would be like if we showered that love on our neighbors. Then we should do it. Such behavior is not natural; it is supernatural. Only those who have been born again can do it, and then only by allowing Christ to do it through them.

To love our neighbor as ourselves is the second great commandment and it is similar to the first, in that it includes all the precepts of the second table of the Ten Commandments. It is like it, because it is founded upon it, and flows from it; and when we love our brother, whom we have seen, it is evidence of our love for God, whom we have not seen (1 Jn. 4:20). The love required by the Great Commandment is only possible for the saved—“We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

It is implied here, that we do, and should, love ourselves. There is a self-love, which is corrupt, and the root of some great sins for which we must confess and repent. But, there is a self-love, which is our natural duty. We must love ourselves, that is, we must have a proper regard for the dignity of our own natures, and a fitting concern for the welfare of our own souls and bodies. However, we must love God more than ourselves, because he is Jehovah, a being infinitely better than we are, and we must love him with all our heart, because he is one Lord, and there is no other like him; so we must love our neighbor as ourselves, because he has the same nature that we have; our hearts are fashioned alike, and my neighbor and myself are part of one society, that of the world of mankind; and if he is a fellow-Christian, the obligation is even stronger. Hath not one God created us? (Mal. 2:10). Has not one Christ redeemed us? Christ could say, There is no other commandment greater than these; for in these all the law is fulfilled, and if we are obedient to these, we will obey in all other ways also.

Since our Lord has prescribed, that we love our neighbors as ourselves, we must respect all men, and must wrong and injure no one; must show good will to all, and good wishes for all, and, as we have the opportunity, we must show good to all. We must love our neighbor as truly and sincerely as we love ourselves, and in many cases we must deny ourselves for the good of our neighbor, and must make ourselves servants of others, and if necessary to lay down our lives for the brethren.

As I said before, the man asking the question was a scribe or lawyer. They were experts in both theology and legal matters and therefore they designed this test question for Jesus. Jesus answered by linking the two commandments because the first is not possible without the second—“If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (One John 4:20)—any more than the second could stand without the first. This wholehearted devotion to God is at the heart of the Old Testament Law and the teachings of Jesus. A right relationship to God is the beginning of everything and produces a right relationship to others.

So, who is your neighbor? (Luke 10:25). That was a question asked of Jesus on another occasion, by one of the scribes. It spawned His parable of The Good Samaritan. Several opinions were held on the subject; therefore, it must have been debated between the various factions of Jewish society. One man replies that a neighbor is a friend, and another says that it is any other person. According to the Jews, any member of the Hebrew race is a neighbor, and according to the Pharisees only other Pharisees were neighbors, in fact, at one time in their history they called themselves, The Neighbors. But to Christ, a neighbor is a person, irrespective of race or religion that we happen to meet. It is well for us that such a question was asked him, because now we have His answer.

40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Paraphrase: All the laws and prophesies of God are summed-up in these two commands.

We are to love God more than ourselves, and our neighbor as ourselves; therefore, the life that really counts is concerned first with God, then with others. Material things are not mentioned. God is important and people are important too. The Lord gave these two commands together because genuine love for God naturally results in a love for others. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Consider the importance of these commandments. They summarize all those precepts relating to the Christian religion, which were written in men’s hearts by nature, given by Moses, and backed-up by the preaching and writing of the prophets. All of it depends upon the law of love. If it were taken away, everything would fall to the ground like a house of cards, and amount to nothing. Rituals and ceremonies, and all spiritual gifts must give way to love, because love is greater than they are. Love is contained within the spirit of the law, and it is the cement that holds it together.

The final three verses are from Chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel; the other three gospels have omitted the ending of the story.

32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.
33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.

Paraphrase: The scribe commended Jesus for His answer, saying that he agreed with what He said. Then He added, “There is one God, and He is Jehovah. We should love Him with our total being—emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and we should do it with all the power we can muster; and then we should love our neighbor at least as much as we love ourselves. When we do that, it pleases God more than anything else we can do, even more than our offerings and the sacrifices we make.” Jesus could tell that this man understood His teaching on The Great Commandment. Therefore, He told him, “you are close to believing in Me and entering My kingdom.” Those who heard the question and Jesus’ answer told others, so the word got around that to question Jesus is not wise. From this point on, no one was daring enough to engage Him in a debate or question Him on controversial issues.

The scribe agreed totally, stating that love for God and for one’s neighbor were far more important than performing religious rituals. He realized that people could go through religious ceremonies and put on a public display of piety without having an inward, personal holiness. He acknowledged that God is concerned with what a man is inwardly as well as outwardly. This man’s response shows deep insight. We should follow his example by endorsing Christ’s sayings as this man did.

When Jesus heard this remarkable observation, He told the scribe that he was not far from the kingdom of God. True subjects of the kingdom do not try to deceive God, their fellow men, or themselves with external religion. Realizing that God looks on the heart, they go to Him for cleansing from sin and for power to live in a manner pleasing to Him.

The scribe quoted that great doctrine, that the Lord our God is one Lord, and since he believed it, he not only agreed with Jesus, but also added, "there is no other but He.” He is our God too; therefore, we must have no other God beside Him. This excludes everything and everyone who is a rival for our affection. He must be #1. Christ had laid down that great law, of loving God with all our hearts; and He explained the meaning—that it is loving Him with our  understanding, like those that know what abundant reasons we have to love him. Our love of God must be total, and it must be intelligent. We must love Him with all our understanding, and with our rational powers and faculties. Jesus said, "To love God and our neighbour is the greatest commandment of all.’’

Christ approved of what the scribe said, and encouraged him to continue seeking the truth. That may be due to Him meeting so many intelligent people, lately, who either did not comprehend His words or did not want to understand. Jesus admitted that this man was different than most of the other scribes, and He said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” He was on his way to being a Christian. We are not told what became of this man, but I hope that he took the hint Christ gave him, and that, he went on to be a Christian, but if that was not the case, we should not be surprised, for there are many, as we well know, who are not far from the kingdom of God, and yet they never make it into Christ’s kingdom.

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