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Loving God, Others, and Ourselves (Monday with Mounce 145)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI received two questions a while back and I thought I would answer them.

The first was that the comment that there is no imperative in the Greatest Commandment, just a future. “You shall love (ἀγαπήσεις) the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:37). So how could this be a command, other than the previous question uses the word “commandment.” “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment (ἐντολὴ) in the law?”

First of all, if all you had was ἐντολή, that would be enough. One person asks about a commandment; the answer is the commandment. Remember that language is nuanced, and there are many ways to say the same thing. You don't have to use an imperative to state a commandment.

Secondly, a common use of the future in Greek (and in English) is to state a command. So the future ἀγαπήσεις is a future indicative used as an imperative, as shown by the context. If you want more context, go to the Hebrew that is being cited, the Shema. Moses writes, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love ( וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ ) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command ( מְצַוְּךָ֛ ) you today shall be on your heart” (Deut 6:4-6, ESV). Clearly a command. In fact, in the LXX the translator uses ἀγαπήσεις (“you shall love”) and ἐντέλλομαί (“I command”).

The second question as to do with the next sentence, Matt 22:38. “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν).” The question is whether an imperatival idea could be connected with the “as yourself.” Something like, “you must love yourself, so you can also love your neighbor.”

From a strictly grammatical point of view, the answer is not immediately apparent since the second half of the verse appears to be presuming a verb that Jesus leaves out. Does Jesus mean, “Love you neighbor in the same way that you must love yourself? Or does Jesus mean, “Love you neighbor in the same way that you do love yourself? Having said that, I would be shocked if Jesus were commanding us to love ourselves. I would think that he is presuming this to be true. I am not a counselor and so I don’t have any training in this whole issue of whether, for example, a highly dysfunctional person does or does not love himself. But if I were to argue grammatically, I would go to the meaning of the conjunction ὡς. BDAG cites these three meanings first:

  • a comparative particle, marking the manner in which someth. proceeds, as, like
  • a conjunction marking a point of comparison, as
  • a marker introducing the perspective from which a pers., thing, or activity is viewed or understood as to character, function, or role, as

There is nothing in ὡς to suggest anything other than a comparison of our love for ourselves with our love for others. It also fits into the OT context of the verse being cited (Leviticus 19:18). There would have to be some major contextual clue that Jesus were commanding self-love, an idea that as far as I can recollect does not occur in the Bible. With this understanding, the omited verb would be ἀγαπᾷς.


MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on theCommittee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at

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