Christ and the Law

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22: 34-40



The first commandment recited by Christ is taken from the Shema, the prayer recited by the Jews morning and night.  All his Jewish listeners would have known it by heart and His choice of it should have been unsurprising to his interlocutors.  They would also have not been  surprised by  his addition of a second commandment which required loving your neighbor as yourself.  The commandment is taken from Leviticus 19: 18.  The great Rabbi Hillel, who died when Christ was a child, stated the commandment negatively:  What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.  Saint Paul, who doubtless was quite familiar with the teachings of Hillel, echoed this teaching:  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Galatians 5: 14.

If the answers of Christ were fairly obvious, why was the question asked?  Probably to test His knowledge.  Did this small town carpenter know the teaching of Hillel?  Perhaps to find fodder to accuse Him of heresy.  Whatever was the motivation, Christ yet again revealed Himself as completely supportive of the heart of the Jewish Law.  Normally Christ opposed it  only in regard to the Jewish ritual purity laws, at least as they had been interpreted.  Where he differed with a Jewish teaching outside of ritual purity, normally He increased the severity of the Law, forbidding divorce for example, or proclaiming that a man who looked lustfully at a woman was guilty of adultery.  Christ would add to the Jewish law and shore it up, but He came not to do away with it, but rather to perfect it.


“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

Matthew 5: 17

More to explorer


  1. I am reading Bargil Pixner’s book on “the fifth gospel” and in it he mentions a story from the Talmud:

    A man arrives in a town, looking for someone who can solve a problem. He asks the people whether a rabbi lives there. On receiving a negative reply, he asks: “Is there a carpenter among you, the son of a carpenter, who can offer me a solution?”

    To quote Pixner: “This seems to indicate that the carpenter in a hamlet like Nazareth was the best qualified person for questions concerning the Halakhah.”

  2. There is also from scripture the advice from Tobit to his son, often used the Liturgy of the Hours: “Do that to no man which thou hatest’ Tobit 4:15 (KJV)

  3. I think they enjoyed the verbal sparring and were also truly curious as to what He would teach. They were so into the thought problems that they couldn’t recognize what was right in front of them.
    In a following verse He in turn asks them, as He has before: “what do you think ? …of the Christ – posing them a riddle they cannot answer and His counter question goes the the bottom of the issue- His Authority. Now, in hindsight, we know that He is the Love of which He speaks.
    He goes on to denounce the fact that they preach from the seat of Moses but do not practice. Leviticus (from the Book of Moses) concerns love of God as applied in right worhip and also in human relationships.

  4. With his statement above Christ was establishing his supreme authority to not only interpret the law but to create it, e.g., “”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

  5. This passage also reveals an interesting apologetic point; we hear Protestants claim that St. Paul disdains the Law (conflating “the Law” with “good works” so as to support their sola gratia error), whereas he certainly believed the ritual portions of the Law were no longer of use, he certainly did not jettison the Law understood in the foundational sense that Our Lord maintained in this passage.

  6. I do appreciate the insights and wisdom of all our friend commentors here.
    I couldnt find another apprpriate place to ask a question, so i am asking on this one referencing law?
    I thought wiretapping without legal permission to do so was verboten – now thinking about the current search for information by the special counsel, what is the difference between electronic listening on phone conversations and sending in a live wire person into private conversations?

  7. People who are “wearing a wire”, or law enforcement using phone taps, are authorized to do it by a Judge issuing a variant of a search warrant. The Court’s order allowing this is subject to legal attack in a subsequent criminal proceeding. Such attacks are governed by the Constitution, relevant statutory law, relevant case law and the relevant facts of the case and the issuance of the warrant.. All very complicated.

  8. “wiretapping” where that means police surveillance of others’ phone calls (“3d party” recording) is permissible only by warrant and in most states only in carefully circumscribed circumstances and subject to short time limits, extendable upon further motion to a Court by the government.
    “singly party” recording of phone calls, and informants wearing recording devices are permissible without any warrant in some states (like Virginia), but illegal in other states. These recordings do not violate the 4th Amendment because courts have ruled there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a phone call with another person, i.e., it’s not reasonable to expect that the other person might not be recording or allowing others to listen in to the conversation. Some states chose to require a search warrant nonetheless.

  9. Thank you both. Yes I see it is complicated. I remember Washington wrote about religion being essential in civil society and I think especially essential in those we entrust with high positions as judges.

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