Love Commandments in the Bible by Aída Besançon Spencer

According to Paul, the Corinthians appeared to be so enthusiastic about flashy spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues that they missed the greater importance of love that undergirds all gifts. For Paul, God’s love is joined with truth (1Cor 13:6).

All the commands to love in the Bible can be summarized by Jesus’ answer to a lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’” (Matt 22:36-40). Jesus is reaching back to the Israelites’ early years, to Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18, which are the first love commandments to care for others by caring for the poor and the stranger and by not stealing, lying, deceiving, disrespecting the deaf and blind, oppressing workers, slandering, killing, hating, taking vengeance, bearing a grudge (Lev 19:9-18), or otherwise being unjust. Instead, because they had been strangers and oppressed in Egypt, the Israelites were to love their neighbors as themselves (Lev 19:9-18). To act right and not oppress a neighbor is to love the neighbor.

The God of the Israelites is unique and therefore to be treated uniquely. One aspect of this uniqueness, compared to ancient Near Eastern deities, is God’s ability to love (Deut 5:8-10). The Hebrew Bible employs two principle words for “love.” Humans are exhorted to “love” (’ahav, verb; ’ahavah, noun) God because God shows “love” (hesed) to humans (Exod 20:6, Deut 5:10). Hesed is a stronger term for “love” than ’ahavah. Hesed can result in saving a life and entails generous and favorable acts, such as angels saving Lot and his family from destruction (Gen 19:9-19). It includes Sarah’s sacrificial love to preserve Abraham’s life (Gen 20:11-13). ’Ahavah, too, can include sacrificial love, such as Jacob’s for Rachel (Gen 29:18-20, Gen 29:30). But ’ahavah can also result in destructive action, as with Amnon’s rape of Tamar (2Sam 13:1, 2Sam 13:4, 2Sam 13:14).

Love is an important part of God’s covenant with Israel; it is a human response to God’s love and mercy. When Moses descends from Mount Sinai a second time with the newly engraved tablets of commandments, he summarizes what God requires of the Israelites: they are to 1) fear the Lord, 2) walk in all his ways, 3) love him, 4) serve the Lord, and 5) keep the commandments of the Lord (Deut 10:12-13). Every repetition of this summary by Moses prioritizes the command to love God (Deut 11:1-22, Deut 19:9, Deut 30:16-20, Josh 22:5). Love is intimately tied to obeying God. 

Jesus continues the earlier covenant’s emphasis on love of God, which includes obedience: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (for example, John 14:15-24). Jesus gives his disciples a “new” commandment, “that you love one another.” How can loving one another be new when love is a major theme of the earlier covenant? Jesus clarifies (after just having washed his disciples’ feet): “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus’ sacrificial love defines the meaning of love. Jesus laid down his life for others (1John 3:16; Eph 5:2). His new commandment is to love as Jesus loved (and as God has loved Israel, with hesed). Such love is a sign to others of God’s covenant.

Aída Besançon Spencer, "Love Commandments in the Bible", n.p. [cited 16 Oct 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/love-commandments-in-the-bible

Contributors

Aída Besançon Spencer

Aída Besançon Spencer
Professor, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Aída Besançon Spencer is professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Her research focuses on Paul’s letters, Luke-Acts, and women in ministry. Her writings include 1 Timothy, New Covenant Commentary Series (Cascade, 2013), Titus & 2 Timothy, NCCS (Cascade, 2014), Daily Bible Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Hendrickson, 2001), and Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Baker, 1985).

Gods or goddesses; powerful supernatural figures worshipped by humans.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Relating to the system of ritual slaughter and offering to a deity, often performed on an altar in a temple.

1Cor 13:6

6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

Matt 22:36-40

36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”37He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and ... View more

Deut 6:5

5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Lev 19:18

18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Lev 19:9-18

9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.10You shall not strip your ... View more

Lev 19:9-18

9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.10You shall not strip your ... View more

Deut 5:8-10

8You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water unde ... View more

Exod 20:6

6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Deut 5:10

10but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Gen 19:9-19

9But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them. ... View more

Gen 20:11-13

11Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.12Besides, she is indeed my ... View more

Gen 29:18-20

18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”19Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I ... View more

Gen 29:30

30So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.

2Sam 13:1

Amnon and Tamar
1Some time passed. David's son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David's son Amnon fell in love with her.

2Sam 13:4

4He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's ... View more

2Sam 13:14

14But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her.

Deut 10:12-13

The Essence of the Law
12So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to ... View more

Deut 11:1-22

Rewards for Obedience
1You shall love the Lord your God, therefore, and keep his charge, his decrees, his ordinances, and his commandments always.2Remember toda ... View more

Deut 19:9

9provided you diligently observe this entire commandment that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God and walking always in his ways—then you shall add ... View more

Deut 30:16-20

16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandm ... View more

Josh 22:5

5Take good care to observe the commandment and instruction that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, ... View more

John 14:15-24

The Promise of the Holy Spirit
15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with y ... View more

John 13:34-35

34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35By this everyone will know that you are ... View more

1John 3:16

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

Eph 5:2

2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.