What are the Two Great Commandments?

April: Matthew 18; Luke 10

Directly before Christ tells the story of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer who wants to “tempt” Jesus asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus responds, “What is written in the law?” 

The lawyer rattles off, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all they strength, and with all they mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” 

His answer has always left me surprised. Although I’ve seen explanations for why this is true, I never would have come up with those answer myself. That is because I was not a covenant Jew at the time of Christ. 

In Deuteronomy 6:5-8, it reads,  

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 

6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 

7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 

8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 

9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. 

Those following the covenant repeated this prayer every morning, except on the Sabbath and other holy days, since the time of Moses. It is still repeated by millions of male Jews daily. This is considered the first mitzvah after a thirteen-year-old’s Bar Mitzvah, an event much like a young man becoming a getting the Aaronic priesthood in our faith.  

The Pharisees took these versus literally. Even today many Jewish men repeat this prayer while strapping a box with these verses transcribed inside, called the “Tefillin,” to their forehead and arms while repeating the prayer. The versused are also written on small scrolls and adhered to the entrance of their homes. So, in Jesus’s day, the first part of lawyer’s response would have been easily answered by any faithful follower of Moses. (see https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/tefillin

The second half of the lawyer’s response comes from the Ten Commandments in Leviticus. Chapter nineteen contains an expanded version of the last three commandments about bearing false witness, stealing and coveting that which is thy neighbors. A portion of this instruction reads,  

18 ¶ Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18

From the phrase “the children of thy people,” most Torah scholars interpret the term neighbor to mean only those of the Jewish community, not a Samaritan, Roman or other Gentiles.  

With this context, it is clear to see why the lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbor?” 

Jesus’s answer teaches so well that we should love all people, not only those of our faith. It is by acts of kindness and caring, increased by the teaching of Christ, become partakers of that great gift made available through the atonement, eternal life.  

Nephi echoed this parable and its lesson perfectly when he taught,  

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

2 Nephi 31:20 

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