BIBLE - @ Zeliha Vergnes | iStockPhotoWhen we are asked by leaders in our congregations to do something or to believe something in regards to Scripture, we should always be like the Bereans and test everything against Scripture itself (Acts 17:11)... the whole of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If a person feels "led by the spirit" to speak, behave, or believe a certain way, they should test that spirit (1 John 4:1) and see whether what that spirit is telling them to do is in agreement or disagreement with Scripture.

Let us take a journey together through Scripture and see what it says about the greatest commandment... a "walk in the Word" so to speak. As we take this walk, may we say, believe, and do what is right, be merciful in our speech and actions, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).

Included as an appendix to this article are references to most (if not all) verses in Scripture directly related to the greatest commandment. If you find a verse that is not referenced and think it should be, please contact the author.

Scriptural quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted. Bolded text or other emphases in the Scriptural references are the author's.



Hebraic thinking

was born and raised as a devout Jew in the first century. The twelve talmidim [disciples] were all Jewish men as were all of the others who followed Yeshua during the three years of his ministry. Having been born and raised in what we might today consider an ultra-Orthodox environment, Yeshua and the disciples would have been very "Hebrew" in their manner of thought. The Hebraic way of thinking is markedly different from the "Greek" way of thinking common in western civilization today. Some of the basic differences between the two are that the western/Greek mindset places an emphasis on mental comprehension; eastern/Hebraic thinking focuses on the behavioral changes brought about that comprehension.

Greek thought often identifies people, places, and things by abstract labels that are limited to strict definitions of meaning. Hebraic thinking often uses "word pictures" of other physical objects that evoke broad definitions and mental associations. As an example, Greek thinking might describe G-d as "omniscient", "omnipresent", and "omnipotent"... words that have specific, finite definitions. These terms are very abstract. There is no concrete reference that we can relate to in our day to day lives for these terms.

Hebraic thinking makes use of references to familiar, physical objects

Hebraic thought, on the other hand (on the other mind? Ha!), would say "My G-d is like a rock" (e.g. Deuteronomy 32:4, 1 Samuel 2:2, etc). Does this mean Scripture is making some type of mystical claim that G-d is in the rocks in our backyards? Far from it! Hebraic thinking makes use of references to familiar, physical objects that are part of day to day life and paints "word pictures" that can be easily shared and understood by those who have a common frame of reference. When Scripture compares G-d to a rock the word translated as "rock" is not a pebble but a mountain or a gigantic cliff. This evokes a sense of something majestic, unyielding, unmovable, enormous in size, lasting throughout time, etc. Hebraic thinking would say "My G-d is like streams of living water"... life-giving, refreshing, cleansing, restoring, etc. It might also say "My G-d is like a Shepherd" (e.g. Psalm 23)... a guardian, a caretaker, someone who leads me to places of water and nourishment, and someone who is with me always to care for me and protect me.

The purpose of noting this distinction is to point out how we of the West (Americans, Europeans, etc), as individuals trained in the Greek way of thinking, cannot presume that our native understanding of the words of Scripture is consistent with the intent and thought of the writers of Scripture. We must examine verses from Scripture closely... not only within their written context but also within their cultural and conceptual context. Only in this way can we have a complete understanding of what the Holy Spirit is telling us when He brings Scripture to our minds (as promised in John 14:26).

Invocation of Scripture

Also critical to a better understanding of the Gospel accounts and the writings of the Apostles is that a quote or reference to Scripture would invoke the larger context of that quote. In a way similar to how an American can say "We the People..." and invoke the larger sense of the entire Declaration of Independence, so, too, can Jewish authors or speakers refer to a single verse in Scripture and invoke the greater context of that verse.

It was not uncommon in Yeshua's time for the only form of primary education (i.e. reading and writing) among Jews to be the study of the first five books of Scripture (also known as the Books of Moses or the Torah). Frequent repetition of this Scripture in daily education, daily prayers, synagogue liturgy, and weekly Scripture study would have ingrained the Books of Moses into the minds of young Jews... including the disciples. It is this memorization and familiarization that would provide a broader context and understanding in the minds of those who heard Yeshua speak and quote from Scripture.

With this information in mind let us continue on our journey...

The Question

The Gospel accounts record an event where Yeshua is asked the question "What is the greatest commandment?" The accounts are found in Matthew 22:35-36 and Mark 12:28. These are two separate accounts of a single event.

Matthew 22:35-36

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"

Mark 12:28

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?"

From these verses we can identify the following:

  • The person asking the question was a scribe and a lawyer. "Lawyer" in this context is not an attorney or a barrister in the contemporary sense but someone who was well versed in the Law of Moses (the Torah).
  • The person asking the question was intending to test Yeshua.
    • This may have been intended to test him in the form of a challenge (e.g. "does this guy really know his stuff?") or it may have been a "litmus test" in order to determine what type of message Yeshua was teaching.
  • The person asking the question (in Mark's recollection) recognized that Yeshuahad answered the previous questions well.
    • This may indicate that the person asking the question thought highly of Yeshua and truly sought His thoughts on the matter rather than just quizzing him.
  • The person asking the question did not limit the scope of the question to just the Ten Commandments but to the entirety of the Law of Moses.


Traditionally there have been 613 commandments identified within the Law of Moses.


The Answer

Yeshua provided the following answer:

Matthew 22:37-38

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 foremost commandment."

Mark 12:29-30



From these verses we can see the following:

  • Yeshua said the greatest commandment tells us to do something... love!
    • "Love" is an action verb. It denotes a mental and emotional state that moves a person to action... to do something as a consequence of that love... to express that love.
  • Yeshuasaid that love should be directed at a specific person: the "Lord your G-d".
    • Yeshua is speaking to a Jew so He was referring to the G-d of the Jews... not Allah, not Artemis, not Zeus, not Jove, nor anyone else.
  • Yeshuasaid how we should love G-d
    • with all our heart
    • with all our soul
    • with all our mind
    • with all our strength


There is one additional point to note. The New American Standard Bible records both verses with most of Yeshua's answer in all capital letters.


The NASB uses a standard convention in Scripture translation where quotes from the "Old Testament" found in the "New Testament" are presented in all capital letters. Yeshua is quoting from the "Old Testament"!


The Shema

Mark's account provides a more complete picture of Yeshua's response and confirmation that Yeshua was indeed quoting from the "Old Testament"... specifically Deuteronomy 6:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our G-d, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.


It is absolutely critical that we understand this is a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 because every Jew who heard Yeshua's answer would have been very familiar with this passage.


It is the central prayer of Judaism and is known as the Shema. Shema is the first word of these verses in Hebrew. It is translated as the English word "hear" but has the greater sense of "hear and obey". With this answer Yeshua would have brought to mind in his Jewish listeners the greater context of the passage in Deuteronomy.

What is the greater context? Let's take a look...

Deuteronomy 6:1- 17

"Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your G-d has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your G-d, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the G-d of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our G-d, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Then it shall come about when the LORD your G-d brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall fear only the LORD your G-d; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the LORD your G-d in the midst of you is a jealous G-d; otherwise the anger of the LORD your G-d will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. You shall not put the LORD your G-d to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your G-d, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you.


The greater context of Yeshua's answer includes hearing and obeying (shema) the commandments, statutes, and judgments/rulings of G-d (see verse 1). We can clearly see that more than just the Ten Commandments are in scope here because it is not only "the commandments" but also the statutes and judgments given by G-d to Moses that are in context.

The love which Yeshua commands us to have is expressed by obedience to G-d's commandments, statutes, and judgments. Often times in Scripture we see our relationship with G-d described as a "parent and child" relationship. That is definitely applicable in this case as well. What parent does not want their child to obey them? Most parents prefer their children obey out of love. They would also rather spend time praising a child for his obedience rather than disciplining a child for his disobedience.

This message seems to be a confirmed by Yeshua's own words:

John 14:15

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."


Next, let's examine the manner in which Yeshua instructed us to love.


With all your heart

The heart is the center of our being and the part of us which makes decisions.

The Greek word in our original verses which is translated as "heart" is καρδία (kardia- Strong's # 2588) which is the Greek word which literally means heart: the cardiac muscle that pumps blood. To 21st-century Americans, who are well exposed to the marketing of Hallmark and Madison Avenue, the heart is the seat of our emotions and the head is the seat of our thoughts. If something gets a person "all emotional" it is said to have "touched his heart". In the Hebraic mindset, however, the heart is the center of our being and the part of us which makes decisions. It is the guts (literally the kidneys) that are the seat of emotion in the Hebraic mindset.

Think about a time when you were desperately and emotionally "in love" with someone or very angry or frightened. Didn't you get "butterflies" in your stomach? That's the Hebraic concept of the "guts" as the seat of emotion.

The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 6:5 is לבב (lavav- Strong's #3824) which means the mind or the inner person.

Here are some examples from Scripture where the meaning is clearer:

Genesis 6:5

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 20:5

"Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this."

Exodus 7:14

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go.

Psalm 4:4

Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

Psalm 33:11

The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.


The meaning of what "all your heart" means in a Hebraic sense is that we are being told to love G-d with all of our ability to choose. This fits with 2 Corinthians 10:5:

2 Corinthians 10:5

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of G-d, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ...

With all your soul

The Greek word which is translated as "soul" is ψυχή (psuche- Strong's #5590 - pronounced psoo khay) which means "breath".  This is a word that indicates something that is alive... it has breath. This word is often used to distinguish between the life that is in animals and humans (by virtue of their breath) and the vitality found in all living things including plants and insects (vitality - zoe Strong's # 2222). It is also used to distinguish between life of the flesh (psuche) and the immortal soul (pneuma- Strong's #4151). The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 6:5 is נפשׁ (nephesh- Strong's #5315) which literally means soul or living being.

The choice of the particular word (psuche) used indicates that we should love G-d with all of our life. This brings to mind Romans 12:1:

Romans 12:1

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of G-d, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to G-d, which is your spiritual service of worship.


Life may be measured in terms of time. If we use such a measure then it might be said that we should love G-d every minute of every hour of every day of our lives. From when we wake up to the time we go to sleep; how we dress, what we eat, the work with which we are employed, the words we speak, the things we place before our eyes... every minute of every hour of every day.

Such a concept brings to mind 1 Corinthians 10:31:

1 Corinthians 10:31

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of G-d.


Consider the following introspectional thought:  Are we honoring and loving G-d on His terms ("with all our life") or are we giving Him scraps of time whenever it is convenient for us?


With all your mind and with all your strength

Yeshua's phrasing "with all your mind and with all your strength" is not found in the original Hebrew of Deuteronomy 6:5. The verse in Deuteronomy concludes with the phrase "with all your might". The Hebrew word translated as "might" (mehode {strongsH}Strong's #3966{strongsH}- pronounced meh ODE) literally means "vehemence" and implies something that is done with every ounce of a person's strength, thought, and ability. Although the saying has become trite within corporate America, mehode has the sense of "giving 110%". It is the concept of digging deep within who we are and bringing forth a mental and physical effort beyond our normal capacity. That is the sense of mehode.

We should use all of our ability to think to love G-d.

The Greek word which is translated as "mind" is dianoia (Strong's #1271- pronounced dee ahn OY ah) which means the faculty of thought. It does not mean the thoughts themselves but rather the ability or capacity to think. We should use all of our ability to think to love G-d. This might seem to be a duplicate of "with all your thoughts" as described above.

Let's continue on a bit further before addressing this apparent duplication...

The Greek word which is translated as "strength" is ischus (Strong's #2479- pronounced IS khoos) which means forcefulness or strength. It can literally mean physical strength but can also have the implication of strength or power based upon one's authority.

It is possible that because of the strong Hellenistic Greek influence on the Jews of the time that Yeshua split the Hebrew word mehode from Deuteronomy 6:5 into terms that would clearly encompass both mental and physical aspects of a person so there could be no equivocation on this point. If He had not provided this clarification some might say "Physical acts of service without of any significant mental or emotional commitment are required."

This might leave a person with a "checkbox mentality" where he is not emotionally or mentally engaged in loving G-d by his service. This appears to be the attitude which is condemned in Isaiah 29:13:

Isaiah 29:13

Then the Lord said, "Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote...


Others might say "It is the thought that counts. It doesn't matter if we actually do anything." This attitude is exactly what is condemned in James 2:15-17:

James 2:15-17

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.


It is our belief at that the "mind alone" or "strength alone" concepts are wrong and that Yeshua provided clarification that our love for G-d should include both our mind and our bodies by expanding the singular Hebrew words into two Greek words that would definitively cover both.



In summary, rather than telling us that we should have really strong, warm, and fuzzy feelings about G-d, Yeshua tells us that we should have both an emotional and mental attitude towards the G-d of the Jews that would lead us to outwardly express ourselves towards Him with all of our thoughts, with all of our life, and with all our mental and physical capabilities. This is not a simple task nor an easy one but with practice and training we can do so.


Scripture provides the key:

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is inspired by G-d and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of G-d may be adequate, equipped for every good work.


Loving G-d as He has commanded is definitely a good work!

Additional note

In studying "the Greatest Commandment" given in Matthew 22:37-38 and Mark 12:29-30 we found a similarly worded passage in Luke:

Luke 10:27



Although the answer appears to be the same the question is different:


Luke 10:25- 28

And a lawyer stood up and put Him [Yeshua] to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?"


And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE."


It is of great interest that, when asked about eternal life, Yeshua answered not by saying "have faith in me" or "say the sinners prayer" but by pointing to the Law of Moses and by saying "DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE."  The only way to do that is by the power of G-d's Spirit after we are saved (Philippians 4:13).

Ponder that.


Torah Portion




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Today is

Yom Sh'lishi, 15 Kislev, 5784

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


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