Loving one’s neighbor in JETS

As I mentioned earlier, the current issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (60.2) contains Henry Kelly’s essay on “Love of Neighbor as Great Commandment in the Time of Jesus: Grasping at Straws in the Hebrew Scriptures” (265–81). According to the abstract,

One’s “neighbor,” generously interpreted to include everyone else in the world, even personal and impersonal enemies, looms large in the NT, especially in the form of the second great commandment, and in various expressions of the Golden Rule. The NT also contains expansive claims that neighbors have a similar importance in the OT. The main basis that commentators cite for these claims is a half-verse in the middle of Leviticus (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” 19:18b), as fully justifying these claims, supported by other isolated verses, notably, Exod 23:45, on rescuing the ass of one’s enemy. Relying on these verses has the appearance of grasping at straws in order to justify the words of Jesus, but it seems clear that in the time of Jesus they had indeed been searched out and elevated to new significance. John Meier has recently argued that it was Jesus himself who gave the Levitical neighbor his high standing, but because the Gospels present the notion as already known, this article suggests that it had achieved a consensus status by this time.

For JETS subscribers, the essay doesn’t currently seem to appear on the current issue’s webpage, but doubtless that absence will be remedied at some point in the near future.

The (Hermeneutical) Rule of Love

Mark 12:28–30 reports Jesus’ citation of Deut 6:4–5 as Torah’s preeminent commandment and of Lev 19:18 as the commandment of next greatest standing (cf. Matt 22:34–40; Luke 10:25–28). Jesus’ expansion of Deuteronomy’s בכל־מאדך (Deut 6:5; ἐξ ὅλης τῆς δυνάμεώς σου; with all your might) into ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου (Mark 12:30; with all your mind and with all your strength)1 is in step with Deuteronomy’s original formulation (cf. Mark 12:33a) but perhaps stresses still further יהוה’s comprehensive claim on the affections of the command’s addressees.2 Not surprisingly, these commands’ importance also provides further, mutually-reinforcing suggestions about readings of Israel’s scriptures, including ones that privilege the love of יהוה and even of one’s potentially disagreeable neighbor over any burnt offering or sacrifice (Mark 12:32–34).3


1. The Lucianic texts that expand Deuteronomy’s normal three terms into four likely do so because of Christian influence (France, Mark, 479–80).

2. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture, 331; Bruce, “Synoptic Gospels,” 424–25; Ladd, Theology of the New Testament, 131; Lane, Mark, 432–33; cf. Augustine, Confessions, 10.29.

3. Heil, “The Temple Theme in Mark,” CBQ 59, no. 1 (1997): 76–77; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 304–5, 335, 566–67. Similarly, Augustine, Doctr. chr., 1.36 (NPNF1 2:533), suggests that “[w]hoever . . . thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (cf. Didache, 11.2). See also Augustine, Doctr. chr., 1.40 (NPNF1 2:534).