The great commandment and the other commandment that is spoken just under it in Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31 are in response to an unnamed Pharisee, who was described as a scribe, or lawyer. This scribe/lawyer was testing Jesus, trying to trick Jesus into saying something disreputable, or scandalous according to their religion. Jesus responded by saying the greatest commandment was "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. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)
In Matthew 22:40, Jesus explains the reason behind these being the greatest commandments; one, or both are the root of all the other commandments that are given to his followers.
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- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Quotes about the Great Commandment
- Jesus ... combines all duties (1) in one universal rule (which includes within itself both the inner and the outer moral relations of men), namely: Perform your duty for no motive other than unconditioned esteem for duty itself, i.e., love God (the Legislator of all duties) above all else; and (2) in a particular rule, that, namely, which concerns man’s external relation to other men as universal duty: Love every one as yourself, i.e., further his welfare from good-will that is immediate and not derived from motives of self-advantage. These commands are not mere laws of virtue but precepts of holiness which we ought to pursue, and the very pursuit of them is called virtue.
- Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Book IV, Part 1, Section 1, “The Christian religion as a natural religion”