SPECIAL TOPIC: THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT

"You shall love the Lord your God" is from Deut. 6:4-5, called the Shema ("to hear so as to do").  This man possibly pointed to his phylactery, which contained this verse.  It shows that primary focus is on our attitude of commitment toward God that includes everything we are.

The parallels in Mark and Matthew are slightly different.  Let me quote my notes from Matthew and Mark.

"Matt. 22:37-38 The greatest commandment is stated in Deut. 6:5.  There is a slight difference between the Masoretic Hebrew text and Jesus' quote, but the essence is the same.  This verse is not concerned with the dichotomous (cf. Heb. 4:12) or trichotomous (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23) nature of man, but rather deals with man as a unity (cf. Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:45): a thinking and feeling, physical and spiritual being.  It is true that because humans are earthly animals they depend upon this planet for food, water, air, and all the other things animal life needs to survive.  Humans are also spiritual beings who relate to God and the spiritual realms.  However it is a false interpretation to build theology on these different descriptions of human nature.  The key to this verse is the thrice-repeated "all," not the supposed distinctions between "heart," "soul," and "mind." 

Mark 12:29 'hear' Jesus quotes from Deut. 6:4-5, but not from the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint (the parallel in Matt. 22:37 is closer to the MT, but not exact). Jesus' quote adds a phrase to both the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Septuagint Greek text.  This exact quote is unknown from any OT text.  The LXX changes the Hebrew "heart" to "mind" or "understanding."  But this quote adds the phrase "with all your mind" to the three-fold phrasing (i.e., heart, soul, strength) in the MT and LXX.  The NJB recognizes this by printing the phrase as not part of the OT quote (i.e., not in italics).  It is interesting that the Greek uncial manuscript D (i.e., Bezae) from the fifth century omits the phrase "and with all your mind" entirely.  This may reflect the original because its absence matches the scribes' response in v. 33.

In the Matthew parallel (i.e., 22:32) Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."  Here the Hebrew clause "with all your strength" is left out.  It is so surprising that Mark and Matthew disagree with each other and with both the MT and the LXX.  This is a perfect example of the looseness of many of the OT quotes in the NT (even those attributed to Jesus).  Here is where precision is impossible.  They all (i.e., LXX, Matt. and Mark) reflect the general sense of the quote from Moses.

This OT text (i.e., Deut. 6:4-5) is called the Shema, which is the Hebrew word "hear."  It means to hear so as to do.  It has become the Jewish affirmation of monotheism.  It is prayed daily by faithful Jews and on every Sabbath.  There are other texts on the oneness and uniqueness of God in the Prophets, but this one is in the writings of Moses (i.e., Genesis - Deuteronomy) and is, therefore, binding on all of Jesus' listeners (i.e., Sadducees and Pharisees)." 

Deut. 6:5 "and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" This is a strong emphasis which asserts that our response to God is to involve our entire person. Jesus used this same verse in combination with Lev. 19:18 to affirm the entire essence of the law (cf. Matt. 22:36-38; Mark 12:29-34; Luke 10:27-38).

 Believers’ "love" (BDB 12, KB 17 Qal perfect) is assumed. It is characteristic of Deuteronomy to link obedience to YHWH’s covenant as evidence of one’s love for Him (cf. Deut. 5:10; 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1,13; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6,16,20). See full note at Deut. 5:10.

The terms "heart" and "soul" are often used together to show the complete person (cf. Deut. 4:29; 10:12; 11:13; 13:3; 26:16; 30:2,6,10).

The term "soul" (BDB 659) describes the life-force (i.e., breath) in both humans and animals (e.g., Gen. 1:20-30; 2:7,19; 7:22; Job 34:14-15; Ps. 104:29,30; 146:4; Eccl. 3:19-21). Here it refers to passionate desire.

"Might" (BDB 547) means "abundance" or "strength" (cf. 2 Kgs. 23:25). These three terms "heart," "soul," "might," represent the complete person and is, therefore, parallel to the phrase, "with a whole heart." Notice the preposition "all" (BDB 481) is repeated three times for emphasis.

This commandment is highlighted by Jesus as the greatest of the commandments (cf. Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:25-37). Each of these is addressed to different types of Jewish leaders. However, it must be understood that the life of Jesus and the Apostles was a transition period from the OT to the NT. These two laws, love God (Deut. 6:5) and love your brother (Lev. 19:18) are surely also summaries of the new covenant!

For the question, "how should NT believers respond?" to OT laws see:

1. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, pp. 165-169

2. Cracking Old Testament Codes, D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Giese, pp. 123-125.

 

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