Interpretation

Jesus’ intellectual capability far surpassed everyone else’s and he was able to demonstrate his divine wisdom by answering questions that the most advanced Bible scholars thought were impossible for him to interpret. At the age of twelve, Jesus’ parents “found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (Luke 2:46-47). After stumping the Pharisees with his response about paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:21), and exposing the Sadducees ignorance of the power of God (Matthew 22:29), Jesus was approached by a man that was identified as a lawyer (Matthew 22:35). Matthew indicated the lawyer intended to ask Jesus a question in order to tempt him (Matthew 22:35). He said, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). The lawyer didn’t ask Jesus this question because he was uncertain of the answer, he wanted to know whether or not Jesus could interpret the law correctly. Mark’s record of this encounter indicated the lawyer may have had a superiority complex (Mark 32-33).

In spite of the lawyer’s bad attitude, Jesus engaged him in a conversation that was likely meant to open the lawyer’s eyes to the spiritual truths that were underlying his intellectual interpretation of the scriptures. It says in Mark 12:34, “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ statement to the lawyer may have been meant to convey the idea that the lawyer was searching for something that was right under his nose. He acknowledged that God was to be loved “with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength” (Mark 12:33) and yet, as Jesus stood before him, the lawyer didn’t recognize that Jesus was the very person he was supposed to be worshipping. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). “Jesus fulfilled the Law in the sense that He gave it its full meaning. He emphasized its deep, underlying principles and total commitment to it rather than mere external acknowledgment and obedience” (note on Matthew 5:17).

Luke’s gospel contains an encounter similar to the one recorded by Matthew and Mark. In Luke’s account, the lawyer that approached Jesus wanted to know how he could inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25). According to Luke, Jesus asked the lawyer, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer responded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27). When Jesus told the lawyer, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:28), he asked him, “And who is my neighbor?” (Mark 10:29). Jesus demonstrated his superior intellect and understanding of the law by illustrating his interpretation with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). In the story, a man is wounded by thieves and left lying in the middle of the road to die. A priest and Levite passed by the wounded man without helping him, but the Samaritan bound up his wounds and took him to an inn to recover. At the end of his story, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

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