The Great Commandment (or Greatest Commandment) is a term used in the New Testament to describe the first of two commandments cited by Jesus in Matthew 22:35–40 and Mark 12:28–34. These two commandments are paraphrases taken from the Old Testament and are commonly seen as important to Jewish and Christian ethics.
In Mark, when asked "which is the great commandment in the law?", the Greek New Testament reports that Jesus answered, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, The Lord is One; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind", before also referring to a second commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Most Christian denominations consider these two commandments the core of the Christian religion.
New Testament accounts
Gospel of Matthew
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Gospel of Mark
In the Gospel of Mark, the Shema is included:
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Gospel of Luke
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
Old Testament references
Deuteronomy and Leviticus
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
Love the Lord thy God
Matthew Henry sums up the question of which is the great commandment,
It was a question disputed among the critics in the law. Some would have the law of circumcision to be the great commandment, others the law of the sabbath, others the law of sacrifices, according as they severally stood affected, and spent their zeal; now they would try what Christ said to this question, hoping to incense the people against him, if he should not answer according to the vulgar opinion; and if he should magnify one commandment, they would reflect on him as vilifying the rest.
Adam Clarke, in his Commentary on the Bible, wrote,
This is the first and great commandment - It is so,
- In its antiquity, being as old as the world, and engraven originally on our very nature.
- In dignity; as directly and immediately proceeding from and referring to God.
- In excellence; being the commandment of the new covenant, and the very spirit of the Divine adoption.
- In justice; because it alone renders to God his due, prefers him before all things, and secures to him his proper rank in relation to them.
- In sufficiency; being in itself capable of making men holy in this life, and happy in the other.
- In fruitfulness; because it is the root of all commandments, and the fulfilling of the law.
- In virtue and efficacy; because by this alone God reigns in the heart of man, and man is united to God.
- In extent; leaving nothing to the creature, which it does not refer to the Creator.
- In necessity; being absolutely indispensable.
- In duration; being ever to be continued on earth, and never to be discontinued in heaven.
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" is explained to mean "Act in such a manner that God will be beloved by all His creatures." Consequently, Israel, being, as the priest-people, enjoined like the Aaronite priest to sanctify the name of God and avoid whatever tends to desecrate it (Lev. xxii. 32), is not only obliged to give his life as witness or martyr for the maintenance of the true faith (see Isa. xliii. 12, μάρτυρες; and Pesik. 102b; Sifra, Emor, ix.), but so to conduct himself in every way as to prevent the name of God from being dishonored by non-Israelites.
Twice every day the Jew recites the Shema Yisrael, which contains the words: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. vi. 5). This verse is understood to enjoin him to willingly surrender life and fortune whenever the cause of God demands it, while it at the same time urges him to make God beloved by all his creatures through deeds of kindness, as Abraham did (Sifre, Deut. 32).
Although only asked about the first commandment, Jesus included the second commandment in his answer – This double reference has given rise to differing views with regard to the relationship that exists between the two commandments, although typically "love thy God" is referred to as "the first and greatest commandment", with "love thy neighbour" being referred to as "the second great commandment". It may simply reflect the "seven rules (Middot) of Hillel", in this case the first one, called Ḳal wa-ḥomer (Hebrew: קל וחומר).
Love thy neighbour as thyself
When asked which is the greatest commandment, the Christian New Testament depicts Jesus paraphrasing the Torah: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," before also paraphrasing a second passage; "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Most Christian denominations view these two commandments as, together, forming the core of the Christian religion. The second passage is considered to be a form of the Golden Rule (circa 1300 BCE),.
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- Christian–Jewish reconciliation
- Christianity and Judaism
- Law of Christ
- New Commandment
- Although most English versions of the Bible use the word "great", (from the Greek feminine μεγάλη big, great) a few versions change the word to "greatest". See multi-version comparison of Matthew 22:36.
- (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, Numbers 15:37–41)
- (Leviticus 19:18)
- Catholicity – LDS – GreatBibleStudy
- "Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible - Matthew 22". Mhcw.biblecommenter.com. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible Adam Clarke 1831 Commentary on the Bible - Matthew 22
- Sifre, Deut. 32; Yoma 86a
- "Ethics". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- "Judaism". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- "catholicweb.com". Home.catholicweb.com. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- Plaut, The Torah — A Modern Commentary; Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York 1981; pp.892.