Matthew 22:34-46 Part 1


It’s still Tuesday before the crucifixion on Friday.  Jesus is still in the temple courtyard with His huge crowds of followers; and there has been confrontation after confrontation and attempts piled upon other attempts to test, trick and entrap Him!  The Sanhedrin has already met secretly and decided to destroy Him but the issue now was how to get that done!  The fear factor was still there big-time however, because this was a formidable number of people – all of whom considered Him sent from God!  And because the crowds were there, and because of the way they had come there, (and their stated reasons for coming there) this was a critical situation that demanded immediate attention and action!  If the leaders of Israel didn’t move quickly they could lose it all!  Tens of thousands from all over the world – for Passover!

And that’s the motivation for their doing what we now find them doing in verse thirty-four.  The word is “sunagoge” – synagogue.  Gathering – assembly – congregating.


“Then the Pharisees, having heard that He did muzzle the Sadducees, gathered themselves together at that same place….”


Matthew hadn’t used that word before with regard to their approaching Jesus.  In each case, until now, there had been a smaller number of priests and Pharisees, or a few representatives of the Sanhedrin with someone from the court of Herod, or a group of unknown disciples of the Pharisees (to disguise where they came from), or a few of the Sadducees.

But now the Pharisees “gather themselves together” in a full court of the Sanhedrin!  They convene.  They congregate.  They assemble… at that same place! –  in the temple courtyard where this whole series of confrontations has taken place.

There were (more or less) seventy members of the Sanhedrin proper; but there were probably a number of “lesser” disciples and students and those expectant of being future members.  (The future apostle Paul might have been there, for he, as a young Pharisee, persecuted the early Church mercilessly, we’re told.)  So there could have been well over a hundred men there.  And since Matthew uses the word “sunagoge” he probably intends an official meeting.  Certainly they have gathered themselves for a particular purpose.  Imagine yourself going to Washington and, all of a sudden, the entire United States Senate convenes itself, with the fully robed supreme court of the United States, for the purpose of confronting you and interrogating you!  And all of them were against you and everything you stood for!

The Pharisees, regaled in robes and braid and tassels, had heard what happened when the Sadducees had confronted Jesus about resurrection (their own ideas about it had been smashed… as well as those of the Sadducees).  Matthew says that the Pharisees had heard that the Sadducees were “muzzled”.

I don’t see any need to use a lesser word than that.  It’s exactly the same word that Paul uses twice in his letters (once to the Church at Corinth and once to Timothy) when he mentions the Deuteronomy twenty-five case law concerning muzzling an ox!  Peter also uses it (although the King James doesn’t follow through with the “muzzling” translation), but he uses it to describe the effect Christians have on the world when we live Godly lives – obedient to authority!  What we say and what we do, if it’s faultless, “muzzles” our critics from legitimate criticism of us!

So the Sadducees were “muzzled”!  Their mouths were tied up so they couldn’t say anything.  Jesus’ deportment was faultless, His apologetic methodology was perfect, and His applying of God’s Words to the errors of men was a fortress that was unassailable!

But the Pharisees had heard what happened with the Sadducees, and then they all assembled at the temple.  Now, Matthew doesn’t say what their intent was for the whole Sanhedrin to convene, but it’s obvious.  It was for intimidation.

Many of the commentators of this passage are confused, saying that, taking all three of the Gospels as a whole, Jesus seems to be somewhat easy on the one who is chosen to do the questioning of Jesus.  They say that there is agreement and common ground reached here.  But nothing is further from the truth.

By remembering the entire context (including the fact that a death sentence against Jesus had already been pronounced by these hypocrites), and by reading the entire passage through verse forty-eight, and then by reading chapter twenty-three, there’s no possible way that “accord” between Jesus and the Pharisees can be read into this text.  There’s no “comfort zone” here at all!  This is a highly charged, very intense confrontation.  Wolves don’t turn “pacifist” in the midst of sheep (except in deception); the powers and authorities of the cosmos don’t reach common accord with the Anointed One of God; “Babylon” has not come to terms with the Messiah!

I think you’ll see, when we come to the second part of this passage (when Jesus becomes the questioner), that He is the One Who tricks them into a completely untenable position – so that the entire Sanhedrin is shamed and humiliated before the very crowds of people who they have caused to be in such desperate condition.

In verse thirty-five one of them has been chosen to do the questioning, as I stated before.  He is a “nomikos” – high-ranking lawyer or a law teacher… a scribe according to Mark chapter twelve, at verse twenty-eight.  We already know that “scribes” were those who were “doctors” of law who had risen to very high positions within the Pharisee system.

This man was one who had actually heard the Sadducees reasoning together after they had been “muzzled”.  Maybe he also began the move for the Sanhedrin to convene at the temple – we don’t know.

Anyway, having been a high-ranking scribe, and having heard the Sadducees’ discussions of what happened when they were muzzled by Jesus, he was the one designated to question Him.  And again, this isn’t “choose up sides” – children’s games going on here.  This is an event of cosmic conflict; an instance of Pharisaical envy and malice, and murderous intent.  To say the least they are displeased that this man Jesus seemed always to be right, and to win!  And this was so, even in the case in which their enemies – the Sadducees – were defeated!

So with intent to intimidate and produce fear and confusion and disarray, they all meet – one appointed to interrogate.  And as Matthew says in the last part of thirty-five, this was not an entrapment.  That’s key here.

There is no conundrum, no paradox, no double-meaning question.  Matthew uses “peiradzo” – putting Him to the proof!  They intend to interrogate Him theologically in their area of great expertise – the Law.  And “putting to the proof” includes measuring Him against the standard and requiring His submission to that standard!

Now, anyone who might be the least bit faint-hearted or apprehensive would have a hard time keeping himself together when he was standing alone against such odds.  The thinking process can be interrupted; mistakes can be made; and man can be forced into corners from which he can’t extract himself!  But of course the elders of Israel don’t realize that this is God-man, God’s Anointed Messiah.

Now.  So we can understand the scribe’s question in verse thirty-six, we should all be aware that, among the Pharisees, there was always dispute and argument and discussion over such things as “law classifications”.  Groups of laws; classes of laws; kinds of laws; “special circumstance” laws....  They had enumerated six hundred and thirteen ordinances; three hundred and sixty-five prohibitions (according to the days of the year); two hundred and twenty-eight commandments (listed according to the parts of the body)!  There were monumental debates over such things as whether Sabbath laws took precedence over sacrificial laws; whether laws regarding the washing of utensils were greater than tithing laws… and the like!  And these hypocrites will always live in infamy for their great care for law concerning tithing the mint and cumin (the smallest crops), and, yet, their own parents would suffer for lack of care!  Jesus told them that they did well in tithing their tiniest income, but He pronounced God’s righteous judgment upon them for dishonoring their mothers and fathers (the weightier matters of the law)!

So the context of the question includes this whole arena of “kinds” and “classifications” of law – many laws of which were not even in God’s Law; and the whole law being misinterpreted and applied in ungodly ways; many superceded by other laws (for their own benefits); and all of which was misused and misappropriated in terms of the coming Messiah!

So with that included in our context, we look at this scribe’s question – verse thirty-six.  And I know this sounds strange to our ears.  But, as you know, I like to read it as it appears in the text (rather than changing it arbitrarily); and then explain it.

The way it reads in the translations, it’s been changed.  King James, for example, reads:  “Which is the great Commandment in the Law?”  But the Pharisees aren’t interrogating Jesus with regard to just the Ten Commandments!  They’re not asking Him to tell them which one of the Ten is the greatest.  His answer has to do with the Ten Commandments; but their question isn’t limited that way.

The real intent of the question is to induce Jesus into a discussion about the kinds and types and classifications of laws about which they alone have studied and had lengthy discussions – because they are the ones who have written them and painstakingly classified them!

And the word in the Greek isn’t “which” (Commandment), but “of what kind”, or “which type”, or “in which classification” in the Law is there a “great” Commandment!  In all of the Torah, Talmud, Midrashim statutory writings, in all the law classifications, what kind of “great Commandment” is in the Law?

Once they induce Jesus to engage in a general law discussion, then they can gain at least equality in the discussion – and maybe even teach Him some things about law types!  They were so arrogant that they could have been expecting to catechize Jesus in this area and show the crowds their superiority!  (And remember the intimidation factor.)

But once again Jesus doesn’t answer in any expected way.  His responses always come from God’s words, and they come with great Authority.  And never are the Pharisees allowed even one opportunity for dispute!  So, in every case, to stop talking has been the better of their options!

Matthew records that Jesus spoke directly to the scribe who asked the question, rather than to the Sanhedrin as a whole.  But we are sure that they all heard what He said, because He speaks to all of them beginning with verse forty-one.

But here’s His reply to the scribe, in verses thirty-seven through forty, noting that Matthew says that Jesus affirmed to the scribe – rather than answered the scribe’s question.  Here it is:


“You shall love Kurios your God in your whole heart and in your whole self and in your whole mind.  This is the great and first Commandment.  Second, and similar to it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  In these two Commandments the whole Law hangs, and the prophets.”


I just want to make a few comments about this affirmation here at the beginning; and then we’ll come back later and look at some of the things in it in more detail.

First, as we consider Jesus’ apologetic methodology again, we see that He went directly to the words of God – this time out of the Law.  An absolute requirement for us (in dealing with the world), is to respond with “God said….”

Secondly, our Lord never did anything for which He could legitimately be faulted.  It’s important that who we are and what we do and say never conflict with our witness to the Truth!  Biblical apologetics requires consistency in word and life!

And thirdly, Jesus took control and never allowed unbelievers to assume an equality or superiority in questioning Him.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life; and whoever or whatever speaks or acts in defiance of that seeks to overturn it in order to be equal with it!  So there is no equality with Christ among those who would question Him, entrap Him or put Him to the proof!  And that must be a requirement for us as well – not that we place ourselves in such a lofty position, but that we retain Christ’s position over the world order as we deal with it.

Fourth, Jesus’ reply comes from two portions of the Law of Moses.  The first one is a quote from Deuteronomy six, verse five, and the second from Leviticus nineteen, at verse eighteen.  The first is a summary of the first four Commandments – having to do with man’s duty to God; and the second is a summary of the last six Commandments – having to do with man’s duty to man.  We will look at them more closely next Lord’s Day.

So Jesus did not respond to the scribe by choosing one classification of law out of which comes one great Commandment; and He didn’t state that one type of law, or any specific law at all, was greater than any other.  He affirms the whole Law!  The Ten Commandments is, itself, a summary of the whole corpus of God’s Law.  And in no case does a summary negate what is said in the corpus, or in the whole!

It’s similar to a synopsis.  An editor writes a synopsis of a book that he’s about to publish, and he puts that on the inside dust jacket of the new book.  Now if the synopsis abrogated the content of the book, then why publish the book?  He could just print one sheet of synopsis and let everybody know that the book is gone… just the synopsis remains!  “Buy my synopsis!  There is no book!”  That’s silly, but that’s the way men and women treat God’s Holy Law-word.

Jesus quotes from the Old Testament summary of the summary!  For surely the two great Commandments (here quoted) contain and encompass the Ten!  And, again, the Ten are not somehow lessened by the two summaries, are they?  But the two summaries contain the whole of the Ten!  That’s what Jesus means when He says, in verse thirty-nine, that “in these two Commandments hangs the whole Law and the prophets.”  In them, not on them, the whole Law consists.  The prophets too, because the books of the prophets are historical explications of God’s Law, as they foreshadow the Christ.

Therefore there is no way that the two summaries can be seen as a “reduction” in the demands of God’s Law; neither can the summaries be more acceptable to men because they’re more “general” and less specific; and neither can they be summarized again by men!

So the word “love”, in and of itself and taken out of context, is not a summary of the Law.  You see, the whole corpus of the Law is summarized in the Ten Commandments; yet many willfully believe that the Law has been reduced to the Ten Commandments!  And that the corpus is gone!

And now the Ten Commandments is summarized in the two great Commandments; yet many willfully believe that the Ten Commandments have been reduced to the two – and that now the Ten are gone!  They’re no longer valid!

And now even the two great Commandments have been arbitrarily summarized by man, reduced to the word “love” – and now the two are gone!  And they’re no longer valid.  And “love” (in whatever way men wish to define it) is the standard for ethics!  Everything else is abrogated, leaving everything open for whoever wishes to come in and participate in this great religion!  Anything goes – if you love.

But the summaries are not reductions; the Commandments are not more general and less specific; and there are no arbitrary summaries!  As Jesus says here in verse forty, “in these two Commandments hangs (or consists) the whole Law of God!  It is all summarized in these two, and the summary doesn’t negate or abrogate anything of that which it summarizes!

I’m going to stop right here until next Lord’s Day when I will expound upon the two great Commandments.  The first is, “you shall love Kurios (Jahveh) your God in your whole heart and in your whole self and in your whole mind.  Second and similar to it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our Lord’s Law-word has not been abrogated.  If you love Him, then hide His Word in your heart that you might not sin against Him.  Jahvey – God the Son – is the One Who revealed His Law-word to Moses.  And it was He Who said to His disciples:  “If you love me, keep My Commandments.”