Mark 12:28-34


Matthew 22:34-46, the text for Pentecost XXIII in Series A, is a parallel to this text. Nestle/Aland Greek text also lists Luke 10:25-28. It contains similar thoughts but is not the same incident as the one noted by Matthew and Mark. Both follow the account of the Sadducees attempting to trap Jesus concerning the resurrection. Both quote Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Both state that Jesus considered these the greatest commandments of all. But there are differences.

Matthew informs us that after the Pharisees had heard Jesus muzzle the Sadducees, one of the number tried to trap Jesus with a question. Matthew does not record an answer from this questioning, but states that Jesus said: "On these two injunctions hang all the Law and the Prophets." Mark does not mention the Pharisees but states that a "teacher of the law" approached Jesus with a question. According to Mark Jesus begins with Deuteronomy 6:4 and 6:5. This is followed by Leviticus 19:18. Mark 12:32-34 is peculiar to Mark. All conservative scholars, so far as we know, consider the accounts in Matthew and Mark as parallel accounts.

We do not agree with those who consider this occasion as a friendly encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees. The account in Matthew 22:34-46 makes it plain that the encounter was not friendly. Furthermore, the last sentence in the Markan account which reads: "And no one dared to ask Him a question after that" does not sound like a friendly encounter. It is true, of course, that the answer of the "teacher of the law" (verses 32-33) is friendly and commends Jesus. And, in turn, Jesus commends the man who asked the question. But Jesus Himself elicited the friendly answer and commends him. The Gospel had its effect on this man. Though this man was commissioned by the Pharisees to trap Jesus, Jesus Himself touches his heart. Jesus' reply to him in verse 34 is remarkable.

Mark 12:28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him,  "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 

As mentioned above, the first part of this verse is not recorded by Matthew. Furthermore, Matthew calls him a "expert" whereas Mark call him a "teacher." Both words denote a person well-versed in the Scriptures.

NKJV is typical of the order most translations follow: "Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them, etc." The TEV, JB, and NEB have the man approaching Jesus after he had heard and perceived. The difference does not affect the sensus literalis. It is best to use the Greek word order.

"Debating" means to argue. It refers at least to verses 13-27. First with the Pharisees, then with the Sadducees. Now again with the Pharisees, as is indicated by Matthew. We agree with Ylvisaker who maintains that Weiss and others are in error when they contend that Matthew has given the incident an entirely different character than Mark.

The latter part of verse 28 reads: "Which is the first injunction of all?" This question contains a seductive element.

Ylvisaker: We know that the rabbins had found in the Torah 613 commandments which they divided into 248 positive precepts, in accordance with the number of parts in the human body, and 365 negative ordinances, corresponding to the days of the year . . . The question about the greatest law was regarded as one of the greatest problems of the day.

The proliferation of laws had led to a system which was totally devoid of love, the most important ingredient in all commandments. Matthew notes that he calls Jesus "Teacher" before the question but Mark notes that he calls him "Teacher" after Jesus' answer. We conclude that he called Jesus "Teacher" twice.

Mark 12:29  "The most important one, " answered Jesus,  "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." 

Mark alone records this part of Jesus' answer which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

Lenski: The quotation agrees with the Hebrew and the LXX, except that Mark has four 'with' phrases, one with 'mind' in the third place, thus retaining both the Hebrew 'heart' and the LXX 'mind.'

Note well that Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, does not begin with "do" but with "hear." We hear the Gospel, we do the Law. "Faith cometh by hearing." Romans 10:17. Verse 29 is telling Israel what kind of God they have.

The translations differ slightly from each other here. All have "The Lord our God" but differ thereafter. KJV has "is one Lord." NKJV has "The Lord is one." TEV reads: "is the only Lord." NIV has "the Lord is one." JB reads: "is the one Lord." NEB: "is the only Lord." and AAT: "alone is Lord." 

The question is: "Is Jesus referring to the unity of the Trinity or is He speaking about the uniqueness of the Lord?" Lenski follows the KJV: "The Lord our God is one Lord." If one translates thus, the first part ( "The Lord our God" ) is Gospel, while the second part ( "Is one Lord" ) describes God as to His unity of essence.

In Hebrew "Lord" here is Yahweh and "our God" is Elohenu. The word Yahweh denotes His covenant relationship Israel. Note that it is used twice in this verse.

Bengel: The proper name employed twice may signify the two great revelations of Jehovah, of which the one embraced the Jewish people, the other the Gentiles also.
Lenski: 'Lord' is Yahweh, the unchanging covenant Lord . . . This name is the sum and substance of the Gospel. In Yahweh we have the covenant of grace, and in Elouhenu with the possessive 'our' we have another expression of grace, the Omnipotent in association with Israel as his own people. 'Is one Lord' most decidedly declares the oneness of God; he is the only one, the Absolute, the one absolute Lord God . . . He does not say 'is one' but 'is one Lord' i.e., one Yahweh. . . . Moses puts the gospel first for his people and then adds the law.

Well said.

Mark 12:30  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'" 

The verse begins with "and" in Greek just as the Hebrew begins with a waw. AAT translates "then." All other English translations omit it. Beza's translation into Latin reads "igitur" which means "therefore." The word is a conjunction and joins equal elements. The elements are not equal here. Verse 29 describes God as to His attributes and essence but verse 30 is imperitival. Therefore "and" here means "and so" or "therefore." 

Note that the command to love is the future indicative form, a very strong imperative. Note also that it is singular. In verse 29 we had the plural, a genitive of relation. But in verse 30 we have the singular. We have "Lord the God" repeated, but now with "your," a singular number. What makes the covenant God so unique? His grace. And that gracious God is yours.

"Love" is the love of the regenerate. Heart denotes the inmost being. "Life" or "soul" is that which animates the body. Take it away and you have only a corpse. "Mind" denotes that power which employs itself in thought. Bengel defines "strength" as "the executive power through the whole body." This word "strength" denotes both physical and mental strength.

Hendriksen: We must not being to over-analyze. What is meant in all these passages is that people should love God with all the faculties with which God has endowed them.

The love of a little child for its parents is a weak illustration of what Jesus means. It is an attitude of total trust, confidence, loyalty and obedience. In Christ Jesus God belongs to me and I belong to Him.

Mark 12:31  "The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." 

"The second" does not denote inferiority. It is of the same supreme quality as the first. Both our love for God and our love for our neighbor are a gift of God. Both are a response because of what Jesus did for us. "We love because He first loved us. If anyone says: 'I love God' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for, the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, is not able to love God whom he has not seen. And we have this injunction from Him that the one who loves God loves also his brother." 1 John 4:19-21. The standard for loving the Lord, our God, is totality. The standard for loving our fellowman is the same treatment and attitude as toward ourselves.

Note "you love" is singular. Love is a personal, not communal, matter. Love for God is placed first because God is infinitely greater than is man and, secondly, because love for human beings flows from love toward God. 1 John 4:20-21. Look at Galatians 5:13-14; 5:6 and 1 Corinthians 13.

Note the construction of the last sentence in verse 31. Predicate adjective is placed first for emphasis. And note how effective the negative makes the whole sentence. We might have expected Jesus to say: "There is no greater commandment than to love God." But He did not say that. He did say: "He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of me," but in that passage He means that the person does not really love. Love shows itself in works and attitudes. When a person truly loves his neighbor we conclude that he loves God. When a person despises his neighbor we conclude that he despises God.  "Love is the fulfilling of the Law." In the Matthean account (22:40) at this point Jesus says: "On these two hang all the Law and the Prophets." All Law and Gospel hang on Mark 12:30-31.

Lenski: The Gospel, too, hangs on these two commandments. Only those who have and hold the Gospel can to any degree fulfill these commandments.

Mark 12:32  "Well said, teacher, " the man replied.  "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him." 

Verses 32-33 are an amazing answer.

Stoeckhardt: The scribe who had asked now talked sensibly and not as when he began, confirming and repeating what Jesus had stated. The Lord's answer had brought him to his senses, gaining confidence in the doctrine of this Master of Israel, and began to think that this might be the Messiah. Since this is a sign of faith Jesus assured him that he was not far from the kingdom, in fact that he already belonged to it, because divine truth always has the power to change the heart of the enemies of the Gospel.

Not all agree with Stoeckhardt on this point, but more about this later. Translators have some difficulty with the word "Well said." In verse 28 it was plainly an adverb. But in verse 32 it could be either an adverb or an exclamation. AAT makes it an exclamation: "Right, Teacher! You told the truth, etc." That is attractive. RSV reads: "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said etc." It is remarkable that the same word is used twice of one man's estimate of what Jesus said.

Lenski: The scribe restates what Jesus had quoted, putting it into his own words.
Hendriksen: The variations between Christ's own words and their near-repetition by the scribe are very slight. He substitutes 'understanding' for 'mind' and leaves out 'soul.' The man also adds something, namely, that such love as here described 'means far more than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.'

Mark 12:33  "To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 

Lenski: Next the two commandments. These are restated quite exactly, except that for soul and mind the scribe uses 'understanding,' that highest function of the soul and mind. The change is only formal. The burnt offering was wholly consumed on the altar; while of the slaughter sacrifices only certain parts were burnt on the altar. The two terms together stand for all the altar offerings.
Bengel: 'Whole burnt offerings,' the most noble species of sacrifices.

Note that just as Jesus had done, the scribe puts love toward God first and yet for the two subjects he has only one verb. Love for God and for man are the same as to their quality. But they are quite different as to their objects. God is the gracious and holy Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier without Whom we cannot be born, reborn, live or die correctly. Our neighbor is a weak, frail sinner who is sometimes absolutely obnoxious to us. But as Luther once said, even though our neighbor sins against us, he is still our neighbor.

Mark 12:34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,  "You are not far from the kingdom of God."  And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

"Saw" is "realized," the same word used for the scribe in verse 28. "Wisely" is an adverb of manner, and is variously translated: KJV: "Discreetly"; RSV, NIV, JB, NKJV "wisely"; NEB, AAT "sensibly"; NASB "Intelligently"; And TEV "How wise his answer was." In any case, Jesus heartily approved of this man's answer.

Lenski's opinion differs from Stoeckhardt's given already under verse 32.

Lenski: when Jesus assures this scribe that he is not far from the kingdom of God he is really urging him to take the next step and to enter this kingdom with its divine rule of grace. . . . If he now went on and further realized that he had not loved God and his neighbor in this perfect way, he would come to recognize his sinfulness and bow in contrition before God.

Oddly enough Stoeckhardt and Lenski view this pericope quite differently. Stoeckhardt is of the opinion that this scribe, in the name of the Pharisees, was hostile when he approached Jesus. But Lenski feels that the scribe approached Jesus as a friend, but had not yet repented at this point.

Meyer is of the opinion that Jesus uses the word "kingdom" in an eschatological sense. That idea is just as baffling as is his comment.

Meyer: The future kingdom of the Messiah is conceived as the common goal. Those who are fitted for the membership of this kingdom are near to this goal; those who are unfitted are remote from it. Hence the meaning: there is not much lacking to thee, that thou mightest be received into the kingdom at its establishment.

That answer does not satisfy.

Hendricksen: Of one thing there can be no question: by means of this very word of encouragement 'You are not far from the kingdom of God' Jesus was urging him to enter that kingdom.'

That has a synergistic ring to it.

Ylvisaker: Was he won? Is he now in the host which sings praises to God for the revelation of His love in the blood of the Lamb?

We have to admit that we do not know. But we do know what the pericope teaches.  Lex semper accusat. The Law always accuses. When we read and study this text we find so much in our lives that is not according to the greatest commandment. We are always and ever in need of contrition and faith.

In conclusion, just one thought. The word "all" occurs four times in verse 30. It occurs thrice in verse 33. But in no case is the body mentioned. We are not saying that Jesus is maintaining that the body is not important. It is. It is implied in the word "strength" in verse 30. Likewise in verse 33. But the point we are making is that the world is always thinking of godliness along the lines of the physical. In our generation jogging and many forms of exercise are well-nigh a religion. The Pharisee prided himself in his frequent fasting.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B Mark-John, Sundays after Pentecost, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 71-74

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