Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Which is the great commandment . . .?—Literally, of what kind. The questioner asked as if it belonged to a class. Our Lord’s answer is definite, “This is the first and great commandment.”
The Jews are said to have divided the law into "greater and smaller" commandments. Which was of the greatest importance they had not determined. Some held that it was the law respecting sacrifice; others, that respecting circumcision; others, that pertaining to washings and purifying, etc.
For the exposition, see on Mr 12:13-34.See Poole on "Matthew 22:40". Matthew 22:24 either because he was usually so called by his disciples, and by the generality of the people; or merely in complaisance to engage his attention to him, and his question: and might hereby suggest, that should he return a proper and satisfactory answer to it he should be his master. The question is not which of the laws was the greatest, the oral, or the written law: the Jews give the preference to the law delivered by word of mouth; they prefer the traditions of the elders before the written law of Moses; See Gill on Matthew 15:2; but the question was about the written law of Moses; and not merely about the decalogue, or whether the commands of the first table were greater than those of the second, as was generally thought; or whether the affirmative precepts were not more to be regarded than negative ones, which was their commonly received opinion; but about the whole body of the law, moral and ceremonial, delivered by Moses: and not whether the ceremonial law was to be preferred to the moral, which they usually did; but what particular command there was in the whole law, which was greater than the rest: for as there were some commands that were light, and others that were weighty, a distinction often used by them (m), and to which Christ alludes in Matthew 23:23. It was moved that it might be said which was the greatest and weightiest of them all. Some thought the commandment of the sabbath was the greatest: hence they say (n), that he that keeps the sabbath is as if he kept the whole law: yea, they make the observance of the three meals, or feasts, which, according to the traditions of the elders, they were obliged to eat on the sabbath, to be at least one of the greatest of them,
"These three meals (says one of their writers (o)) are a great matter, for it is one , "of the great commandments in the law".
Which is the very phraseology used in this question. Others give the preference to circumcision, on which they bestow the greatest encomiums, and, among the rest (p), say, it drives away the sabbath, or that is obliged to give place unto it. Others (q) say of the "phylacteries", that the holiness of them is the greatest of all, and the command to be arrayed with them all the day, is more excellent than all others; and even of the fringe upon the borders of their garments, others observe (r), that a man that is guilty of that command, is guilty of all others, and that single precept is equal to all the rest. In this multiplicity of opinions, Christ's is desired on this subject, though with no good intention,
(m) Pirke Abot, c. 2. sect. 1. & c. 4. sect. 2.((n) Zohar in Exod. fol. 37. 1.((o) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 3. 3. (p) Misn. Nedarim, c. 3. sect. 11. (q) Maimon. Hilch. Tephillin, c. 4. sect. 25, 26. (r) T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 43. 2.Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 22:36 f. What kind of a commandment (qualitative, comp. Matthew 19:18) is great in the law; what must be the nature of a commandment in order to constitute it great? The commandment, then, which Jesus singles out as the great one κατʼ ἐξοχήν, and which, as corresponding to the subsequent δευτέρα, He places at the head of the whole series (ἡ μεγάλη κ. πρώτη, see the critical notes) in that of Deuteronomy 6:5, quoted somewhat freely after the Sept.
κύριον τὸν θεόν σου] אֵת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, in which regular designation τὸν θεόν σου is in apposition, consequently not to be rendered: “utpote Dominum tuum,” Fritzsche.
Love to God must fill the whole heart, the entire inner sphere in which all the workings of the personal consciousness originate (Delitzsch, Psychol. p. 248 ff.; Krumm, de notionib. psych. Paul. § 12), the whole soul, the whole faculty of feeling and desire, and the whole understanding, all the powers of thought and will, and must determine their operation. We have thus an enumeration of the different elements that go to make up to τὸ δεῖν ἀγαπᾶν τὸν θεὸν ὁλοψύχως τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ διὰ πάντων τῶν τῆς ψυχῆς μερῶν καὶ δυνάμεων αὐτῷ προσέχειν (Theophylact), the complete harmonious self-dedication of the entire inner man to God, as to its highest good. Comp. Weiss, Bibl. Theol. p. 81, ed. 2.Matthew 22:36. ποία ἐντολὴ: what sort of a commandment? it is a question not about an individual commandment, but about the qualities that determine greatness in the legal region. This was a question of the schools. The distinction between little and great was recognised (vide chap. Matthew 5:19), and the grounds of the distinction debated (vide Schöttgen, ad loc., who goes into the matter at length). Jesus had already made a contribution to the discussion by setting the ethical above the ritual (Matthew 15:1-20, cf. Matthew 19:18-22).Verse 36. - Which is the great commandment in the Law? Ποία ἐντολὴ μεγάλη ἐν τῷ νόμῳ; What sort of commandment is great in the Law? According to rabbinical teaching, there were more than six hundred precepts in the Law; of this considerable number all could not be observed. Which were of absolute obligation? which were not? The schools made a distinction between heavy and light commandments, as though some were of less importance than others, and might be neglected with impunity; and some of such exceeding dignity that fulfilment of them would condone imperfect obedience in the case of others. Some taught that if a man rightly selected some great precept to observe, he might safely disregard the rest of the Law (see Matthew 19:16, etc.). This was the kind of doctrine against which St. James (James 2:10) expostulates: "Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all." The Pharisees may have desired to discover whether Jesus knew and sanctioned these rabbinical distinctions. He had proved himself intimately acquainted with the inner meaning of Scripture, and able to evolve doctrines and to trace analogies which their dull minds had never comprehended; the question now was whether he entered into their subtle divisions and could decide this dispute for them. Such is the view usually taken of the scribe's question; but it may well be doubted, if regard is had to the character of the man, whether he had any intention of entangling Christ in these subtleties, but rather asked for a solution of the general problem - Of what nature was the precept which should be regarded as "first" (Mark) in the Law? We may compare the somewhat similar question and answer in Luke 10:25-28. Lange's idea, that the scribe wished to force Christ to make some answer which, by implying his own claim to be Son of God, would trench upon the doctrine of monotheism, seems wholly unwarranted. This theory is based on the supposition that the Pharisee took it for granted that Jesus would answer, "Thou shalt love God above all," and intended to found upon that reply a condemnation for having made himself equal with God by his assertion of Sonship. But the text gives no countenance to such intention, and it has been suggested chiefly for the purpose of accounting for Christ's subsequent question (vers. 41-45), which, however, needs no such foundation, as we shall see.
The A. V. and Rev. alike miss the point of this question, which is: which kind of command is great in the law? That is, what kind of a commandment must it be to constitute it a great one? Not, which commandment is greatest as compared with the others? The scribes declared that there were 248 affirmative precepts, as many as the members of the human body; and 365 negative precepts, as many as the days in the year; the total being 613, the number of letters in the Decalogue. Of these they called some light and some heavy. Some thought that the law about the fringes on the garments was the greatest; some that the omission of washings was as bad as homicide; some that the third commandment was the greatest. It was in view of this kind of distinction that the scribe asked the question; not as desiring a declaration as to which commandment was greatest, but as wanting to know the principle upon which a commandment was to be regarded as a great commandment.
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