The Great Commandment (or Greatest Commandment) is a name used in the New Testament to describe the first of two commandments cited by Jesus in Matthew 22:35–40, Mark 12:28–34, and Luke 10:27a.
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 thy Lord, thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”,
before also referring to a second commandment,
“And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Most Christian denominations consider these two commandments to be the core of correct Christian lifestyle.
New Testament accounts
Main article: New Testament
Gospel of Matthew
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”— Matthew 22:35-40
Gospel of Mark
In the Gospel of Mark, the Shema is included:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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 12:28-31
Gospel of Luke
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.— Luke 10:25-28
Gospel of John
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”— John 13:31-35
Old Testament references
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.— Deuteronomy 6:4-5
You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. 18 You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.— Leviticus 19:17-18
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 “first and greatest“:
- In its antiquity; being as old as the world, and engraved originally on our very nature.
- In its dignity; as directly and immediately proceeding from and referring to God.
- In its excellence; being the commandment of the new covenant, and the very spirit of the Divine adoption.
- In its 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 its sufficiency; being in itself capable of making men holy in this life, and happy in the other.
- In its fruitfulness; because it is the root of all commandments, and the fulfilling of the law.
- In its virtue and efficacy; because by this alone God reigns in the heart of humans, and humans are united to God.
- In its extent; leaving nothing to the creature, which it does not refer to the Creator.
- In its necessity; being absolutely indispensable.
- In its duration; 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 neighbor as thyself
Main article: Golden Rule
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).
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus explains “neighbor” should be understood as all people, and not just other Jews as was the common interpretation of the Jewish community of that time. Jesus illustrates this with the story of a Samaritan, a member of a religion hated by the Jewish leadership, showing mercy to his injured neighbor and setting the example for the second 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. Archived from the original on 2013-03-11. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible Adam Clarke 1831 Commentary on the Bible – Matthew 22Archived2011-08-29 at the Wayback Machine
- Sifre, Deut. 32; Yoma 86a
- “Ethics”. Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- “Judaism”. Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- “catholicweb.com”. Home.catholicweb.com. Archived from the original on 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-03-28.
- Plaut, The Torah — A Modern Commentary; Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York 1981; pp.892.
- Sabol, Jeffrey Stephen. “Jesus and the Ethic of Love: A Critical Examination of a New Covenant”. Loyola Marymount University. Retrieved 7 August 2019.