Commentary on Matthew 22:34-46

by Dr. Knox Chamblin


I. THE TRANSITION. 22:33-35.

A. The Crowds.

The crowds, says Matthew, "were astonished" at Jesus' answer to the Sadducees, v. 33 - that is, they were overwhelmed by the authority and the truth of his words (the same holds true for the other instances of ekplsssomai - 7:28; 13:54; and 19:25).

B. The Pharisees.

The reader hopes against hope that the Pharisees will follow the crowds' example. Not only has Jesus assented to the Pharisees' view of resurrection; he has offered a brilliant argument in its defense. V. 34 ("Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together") makes one wonder whether the Pharisees are about to reconsider their judgment of Jesus. However, far from acknowledging and bowing before Jesus' authority, the Pharisees have gathered together to plot a further "testing" of Jesus, v. 35. (Peiraz© is also applied to the Pharisees in 16:1; 19:3; 22:18. The only other instances of this verb in Mt denote the activity of Satan, 4:1, 3.) The Pharisees' hostility may be evident already in v. 34b, synschthssan epi to auto. These are the very words used in the LXX of Ps 2:2b, where rulers are said to "gather together against the LORD." If, as Gundry thinks (p. 447), Matthew is here consciously alluding to this Psalm, he is depicting not only the fact but also the enormity of Pharisaic opposition (cf. the quotation from this Ps in Acts 4:25-26). But the Pharisees' failure to follow the crowds' example on this occasion is not in the least surprising, given the intensifying and the hardening of their opposition to Jesus through previous encounters. Their assenting to Jesus' position on a theological particular is not nearly strong enough to end - or even to reduce - their singular determination to resist his authority and to destroy his person.

II. THE QUESTION. 22:35-36.

A. The Questioner.

Mt identifies him as a nomikos, "an expert in the law" (v. 35); Mk 12:28 calls him instead a grammateus. This illustrates the fact that the main function of the grammateus in Jesus' day was not to "inscribe" or "make copies of" the Scriptures but to study and expound their contents. That Mt represents the nomikos as one of the Pharisees (22:35a), illustrates the further point that the Pharisaic party included scribes (on these two points, see Appendix A.). Matthew's nomikos (used here alone in his Gospel) is especially appropriate in view of the man's question, "Which is the greatest commandment in the

Law [nomos]?" Cf. TDNT 4: 1088.

B. The Question Itself.

It is not surprising that a Jewish nomikos asks this question. In the Jewish religion the Law was central, obedience to the Law was vital, and (toward that end) scribal interpretation of the Law was crucial. So if there was in fact one "greatest commandment" in the Law, it mattered terribly that a scribe should identify it for himself and his listeners (cf. 23:23 on the "lighter and weightier" matters of the Law; Carson, 464; Lane, Mark, 431). Given the importance of the question, it was "probably a hotly debated one" in Jesus' day (Carson, 464).

C. The Questioner's Motives.

While in Mt the nomikos "tests" Jesus (22:35), Mk puts him in a rather favorable light (12:28, 32-34). Putting all the evidence together, I conclude (1) that an evil design accounts for the man's being put forward as the Pharisees' representative but that he personally views (or comes to view) Jesus more sympathetically than do those who sent him (cf. Mk 12:28, "Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him..."); and (2) that this man is genuinely concerned to have Jesus' judgment on this matter (B.).


A. The Two Commandments.

In keeping with the question (v. 36), Jesus quotes two passages from the Law, Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18. In accord with the Decalogue (Deut 5:6-21), he places love for God before love for neighbor. Yet, says Jesus, the second commandment is like the first (v. 39), and no less important than the first (Gundry, 449). For one shows his love for God by loving his neighbor. Cf. the Fourth Commandment (Ex 20:8-11), where honoring God entails giving rest to one's family and servants; and the whole "Second Table of the Law" (Ex 20:12-17). Conversely, he who does not love his neighbor, thereby demonstrates that he does not love God (1 Jn 3:14; 4:19-21). See M. G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, 128-30.

B. Loving God. 22:37-38.

Deut 6:5 commands, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (The corresponding nouns in the LXX are kardia, psychs, and dynamis.) For "strength," Mt 22:37 has "mind" (dianoia). On this difference, see the comms.

1. Love's focus. Israel's love is to be directed wholly and exclusively to "Yahweh your God" (Deut 6:4), not shared with false gods (Deut 4:15-31). Monotheism provides needed focus and orientation, particularly now that this God is "with us" in the person of his Son. That love finds expression in consistent obedience to Yahweh's commands (Deut 6:6-9), as now set forth by Jesus (cf. Jn 14:15).

2. Love's passion. Israel loves Yahweh in response to his saving acts (Deut 1-3), a gratitude now intensified by virtue of Jesus' work (1 Jn 4:19). Deut 6:5 does not describe separate compartments of the self; rather, this is the Hebraic way of saying that a person must love God with his whole being, with every capacity at his command.

B. Loving Neighbor. 22:39.

1. Love's unselfishness. Lev 19 commands Israelites to love others as they in fact love themselves. "'As yourself' only makes a point of comparison with normal self-interest [cf. Eph 5:29, "After all, no one ever hated his own body"]. It is not meant to teach self-love as obligatory or desirable" (Gundry, 449). The whole focus is upon the other party.

2. Love's comprehensiveness. The love shown to fellow- Israelites (Lev 19:18) does not come to full expression until it embraces the resident alien as well (v. 34). For the implications for Christian living, see e.g. Gal 3:28; 6:10.

C. The Implications. 22:40.

The entire OT rests on these two commandments, and provides direction in how to obey them. Deut 6:5 presupposes the Decalogue (5:6-21); and "all ten commandments are quoted or alluded to" in Lev 19 (Wenham, Leviticus, 264). It is not enough to be told, "Love God and neighbor." We need help in knowing how. If I love my wife, I will keep the seventh commandment; and if I love my neighbor I will not steal his belongings.


I. THE QUESTION. 22:41-42.

Here it is Jesus, not his opponents, who asks the question. He does so in face of the Pharisees' mounting antagonism: as in v. 34, "gathered together" recalls Ps 2:2. As the Pharisees have repeatedly sought to trap Jesus into betraying (what for them are) his fraudulent claims, he now exposes both their unbelief and their blindness to the Scriptures.


Jesus is indeed the son of David, as Matthew proclaims from the very beginning of his gospel (1:1-17). The truth of this is by no means denied in the present passage (even in the question of v. 45). Yet it is muted, for the sake of declaring something yet more fundamental about the Person of Jesus.


A. The Witness of Psalm 110.

Verse 44 quotes Ps 110:1, "The LORD [Yahweh] says to my Lord ['Adoni]: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'" There is a distinction of person between "the LORD" and "my Lord." Yet "the LORD" exalts "the Lord" to a position of singular honor (just as happens with the Son of Man in Dan 7), one that entitles him to receive the homage of David, the earthly king. Cf. Acts 2:22-36; Phil 2:9- 11.

B. Jesus' Deity.

Jesus is truly son of David (1:1-17), but not merely so. It is not enough to affirm that Jesus is the Davidic Messiah; one must also acclaim his deity. The son of David is pre-eminently "the Son of the living God" (see the comments on 16:16) and thus David's Lord. Only a person who recognizes Jesus to be both God and man, could understand and answer the question of v. 45.

C. The Son and the Father.

Matthew, like Ps 110, witnesses to both the distinction of person, and the identity of being, between God the Father and God the Son. See comments on 1:18-25; cf. Jn 1:1-18.

D. Judgment upon Unbelief.

The Pharisees do not acknowledge Jesus' Messiahship, much less his deity. They should have paid better attention to the Bible - and to David, writing under the Spirit's leading (v. 43)! Their inability to answer the question of v. 45, reveals blindness to the true meaning of Ps 110 - a blindness which helps to explain their rejection of Jesus. Rightly understanding the OT, prepares for correctly identifying Jesus (Jn 5:39-40, 45-47). Having been repeatedly bested in debate (v. 46), Jesus' enemies (here represented by the Pharisees) now have but one course of action, namely the one stated in 26:3-4.