“And Verily Did They All Then Shutteth the [Bleep] Up.”

This is The Great Commandment passage of the Bible, as told in Mark 12:28-34:

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ’No other commandment is greater than these.”

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

You know what I love about this passage? Its final sentence.

“And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

How mind-bogglingly perfect. Because (with the elegant understatement that marks the Bible as the supreme work of Western literature) it captures the full impact made upon those who were actually present when Jesus himself declared the ultimate law of God.

The teachers of religious law shut up! Have you ever tried to get a teacher of religious law to stop talking? You couldn’t do it with morphine, rope, and a roll of duct tape. Why Jesus doesn’t get more credit for this miracle, I have no idea.

But Jesus, being Jesus, did the impossible: he clammed up the Sadducees and Pharissees (Matthew 22: 34-40). And the fact that we’re told that he did—that that detail made it all the way through history to our little eyeballs—should tell us all we need to know about how we, too, are supposed to react to the Great Commandment.

We, like they, should be moved by it to silence.

It calls for no reply. No rejoinder. No comeback. No modifying, arguing, explicating, elucidating, clarifying, or pontificating.

No. Questions. Asked.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Simple, simple, so profoundly challenging about none of us do it.

You do it, though. If you have the nerve to call yourself a follower of Christ, then have the moxie to obey what Jesus unequivocally proclaimed the most important commandment of all.

Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

And then go, Christian. Go.

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  • berkshire

    “Why Jesus doesn’t get more credit for *this* miracle, I have no idea.”


  • Kim

    This a hard commandment. It is very hard to love my neighbor when my neighbor is calling what I believe – false. Wow. I’ve got a long way to go. Thanks for reminding me John! 🙂

  • Mindy

    ::::::clapping:::::: for Jesus’ accomplishment and your reminding us of it.

    Shutting up.


  • Katie

    Beautifully written & articulated, John. This post describes exactly why I am a ThruWay Christian.

    Above all, love. Period.

  • Suz


    I could ramble for an hour, but I’ll try to set an example, and shut the [bleep] up.

  • Lee Walker

    Excellent!!! ….’nuff said

  • Why’d it have to be “dared”? That’s one of those little things that makes nonbelievers feel oppressed. If that word were replaced with “needed”, it would have made the sentence nicer and better.

  • ???

  • Diana A.

    It was “dared” because in the previous passage, the Sadducees were trying to trick Jesus with their questions. However, they were unsuccessful and, in fact, Jesus’s answers were so authoritative as to silence his detractors.

    In my translation (The New Century Version) it says that “after that, no one was brave enough to ask Jesus any more questions.” It amounts to the same thing.

    Hope this helps.

  • DR

    I am curious about the word “dared” making you feel oppressed. Why is that?

  • I have read this passage so many times in my lifetime and never caught how Jesus got the Parisees to “Shut the [bleep] up.” Well, that changes things, doesn’t it? Brilliant!

  • Don Rappe

    This part of scripture is a favorite of mine. Herod sends out his theologians to question Jesus, to find some fault with his teaching so he can be arrested and executed as was his forerunner John. First they ask about Caesar, to see if Jesus will say something treasonous. Jesus shows that these theologians are carrying images of the god Caesar in their purses, violating the first two commandments.

    Then they ask about the resurrection of the dead hoping to hear some superstitious false teaching. Jesus tells them that life in the Eternal is eternal Life and that questions about details are nonsense,

    Then comes the question recounted in this post, and Jesus tells the inquisitor that he is “close” to the Kingdom of God. The context of the story requires me to understand that it is an inquisition, not a debate. The silence indicates that the inquisition has ended without providing the evidence desired by Herod. Or so I see it.

  • Wow. Never thought of that before. You’re right, getting them to shut up is like..wow.

  • most excellent. And I do agree that the writers of the bible could be the masters of the understatement.

  • Excellent.

    I also like Jesus’ sense of humor in this. “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

  • I don’t personally, but other nonbelievers go on and on about it. When a Sunday School teacher tells an inquisitive student to shut up, it seems like this passage would help the teacher feel justified. And it would help the student feel guilty. I don’t think the passage is precisely aimed at bad-intentioned questioners and away from good-intentioned questioners. And the whole idea that questions and arguments are a matter of bravery is a bad one, but it’s encouraged by this passage!!!

  • Oh yeah! They were weren’t they?

  • Mindy

    OK, hang on. First, question and arguments ARE brave – if they are well-thought-out and well-intentioned. Seeking more information for greater understanding? Good. Arguing a disagreement in order to clarify and bring forth greater understanding? Excellent. Pretending you’re part of the Spanish Inquisition? Not good. Asking unanswerable questions or racing around circular arguments in order to trip up a speaker? Very uncool.

    Second, telling an inquisitive student to shut up is heinously rude, and if any teacher, Sunday School or otherwise, talked to my kid like that, I’d be all over said teacher. More importantly, that teacher would be perverting the word of the Bible, as if s/he somehow equates to Jesus (NOT!), and the student to a slick government operative just looking for a reason to take him down. Um, NOT, again.

    So I still don’t get why you think ‘dared’ is wrong.

  • Alicia Bell

    Nope, he wasn’t far at all – Jesus was sitting right there. I love it!

  • This is absolutely inspired. Inspired AND inspirational.

    I thank God for blessing me with this post of yours today.

  • I don’t think it’s wrong, but I will for the sake of argument.

    Good arguments are brave, but they shouldn’t have to be. Organizations should always encourage them, because there’s always a sneaky natural tendency to discourage them. I’m proposing that this passage is part of that sneaky natural tendency. I’m worried that people will forget the “Don’t try to trick Jesus” part and only remember the “Don’t question this” part. Because people do that all the time, and it’s not always as easy to see the problem as in my dramatic Sunday School example. I’m scrambling to think of a subtler one.

  • It’s so easy to follow “Love your neighbor as yourself” with “but”. But what if my neighbor believes differently? But what if my neighbor isn’t even Christian?

    It’s so easy to say “but”, but Jesus wants us to just shut up and listen and love.

  • Tricia

    Katie, what’s a ThruWay Christian. Just curious, because in CA, they used to have (I don’t know if they still exist) drive thru church or drive-in church. In either case, you stayed in your car. The name ThruWay made me think maybe they do… So I got curious. I know what a thruway is, what’s a ThruWay Christian?

  • stormkite

    Because, in the story, Jesus silenced his questioners NOT by tellign them to shut the $#!@ up or threatening them, but by actually offering profound, intelligent, reality-based answers to their questions. In my experience, substantially ALL (one personal exception in nearly 50 years) “Christian” teachers skip that “answer the questions” step; they just go straight to the “shut the $#!@ up” step, usually in a highly abusive or bullying manner. Usually before they even show that they understand the question, and not infrequently before the question is even completely asked. The sin, it appears, is not in “not understanding” but in “daring to ask.”

    Humans in general seem to regard authority in others as arrogance and tyranny-in-the-making and in themselves as the obvious, plain, and unquestionable will of God ™(R)(C). Jesus taught humility; IME less than .00001 % of His followers got, or bothered to read, that particular memo.

  • mike george

    Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?”

    He said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

    Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

  • This has always been one of my favorite passages in the Bible, for the simple reason that Jesus put these two commandments forward as the basis of the law and the Prophets. Just like Job’s three foolish friends, Israel held to the belief that the richer one was, the more blessed he was by God and conversely the poor, ill, lame and downtrodden one was, the less blessed one was – and this was obviously because they had somehow sinned against God.

    When the teacher of the law answered; …”And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

    He was showing that it wasn’t the law, the sacrifices of animals and tithes that mattered, but having the faith to do these two things that God treasures above all else. By stating this, Jesus saw that he got it. End of debate – and why say more? Looking at all of those God declared righteous. They were, without exception, all a bunch of screw ups – just like us. It was their love for God and being people of integrity when dealing fairly with others that God treasured.

  • Iolanthe

    What if my neighbor doesn’t have a job? (Did you catch Giuliani’s “solution” to unemployment? Mockery and orders to the unemployed to just ‘get a job'”.

  • The difference between sheep of the flock and goats is the “but…but…but…”

  • Just one more quick comment here, and then it’s back to bed to sleep off as much I can of this cold I have been recently blessed with.

    One of my dearest friends, a Christian Reformed Church minister, once stated, “The pathway to destruction is too often the result when Christians take up the weapons of God and go forth to war with them. Even the wisest of us can not see all ends, which is why we must leave judgment and revenge to God.”

    These two tenets of Christianity are the firm foundation of the faith we call Christianity, and any who depart from these two tenets have departed from the gospel of faith, grace, forgiveness and mercy, having become a “religion” instead of a faith. A slim distinction, I know, but one well worth pondering and praying about.

    I know that I am a sinner and it is only because God first loved me that I am saved through the washing in the blood of Christ crucified. If I am not willing to pay forward the grace, forgiveness and mercy that was given to me, how can I ever expect God to grant me grace, forgiveness and mercy when my time of judgment comes?

    Thanks for posting this in the first place. This will be the first day of church I have missed in a long time – and reading these words is a good way to make up for not getting my weekly spiritual recharge!

  • Bravo!

  • Roger Smith

    Steve, gotta be honest, and maybe all you’re saying doesn’t reflect your actual views, but some you’ve picked up from others — but to think the passage using “dared” makes it seem “oppressive” is realy just a not very mature way to read any kind of literature. That is, all you have to do is look at the wider context — the religious hypocrites were always the ones who were dishonestly trying to trip Jesus up with phony questioning, and all that — and it’s the easiest thing in the world to see that “nobody dared …” isn’t some mean, ol’ oppressive thing by any stretch of the imagination, but a very well-deserved shutting up of a bunch of f***ing religious phonies. I can’t imagine any Sunday school teacher (or other religious person) in the world who would think they could get away with using that line as a “shut up and don’t ask any more questions” justification, because they would know perfectly well that it was religious phonies whom Jesus was shutting up, not (for example) innocent kids or others just asking honest questions.

    I can’t think of any kind of context in which that line would be used in the way you were fearing. In any case, before accusing any religious text, or person in it, or words people say in it, etc., as being mean or harsh or oppressive or anything else negative or not “nice”, the responsible and mature thing to do is to evaluate your *own* views first — because until you (or I, or anyone on earth) do that, you (or I, etc.) don’t have a gnat’s chance of even beginning to guess the original speaker’s or author’s point.

    But anyway — how many times in the whole history of religion have you ever heard of that line being misused in that way? And if not, why wouyld you pull up some pretext of “that’s not a very nice way to put it”, when it’s never even been a problem for anyone before?

    I’m sorry if it sounds a little blunt to say, “be more mature”, but frankly that’s what it comes down to. Responsibility is to question ourselves and our own attitudes, views, and motives first, before assuming that anyone else is in the wrong, whether a live person in front of us, or someone in literature, or anything else.

  • Roger Smith

    One of the other reasons that pretty much everyone did the “shaddap!” thing after this point was that, when Christ agreed with the religious teacher on the keystone of the law (love God, love your neighbor), he was affirming and taking sides on a great debate that had been going on for nearly a century.

    The famous rabbi Hillel the Great (who died in Jesus’ youth) was the first one on record to recognize that the centerpoint of God’s Word was that dual commandment of love. A famous anecdote about him has a critic challenging that Hillel couldn’t sum up the Torah (the law of God) while standing on one foot. Hillel perched on one foot and said, “Don’t do to anyone else what you wouldn’t want done to you. That IS the whole Torah; everything else is just explanation.” (His sort of inverse version of what we call the golden rule is sometimes called the silver rule, but the principle amounts to about the same thing — Jesus put a more proactive, outward-reaching take on it though: “In everything, DO for others what you’d want them to do for you.”)

    Hillel taught a lot of the same love, grace, mercy, and compassion that Jesus expanded on later. Hillel’s rival, though, a guy named Shammai, took the very hardline, rules-bound approach that we’d recognize today in a lot of the religious right. Both rabbis gathered “schools” of followers, and both had come from an older tradition of devotion called Parashim (“set-apart ones”), a movement attempting to rekindle greater and more sincere devotion to God (and which had emerged in the messy era when first the Greeks, and later the Romans, were coming through and making Israel one of their subservient provinces). “Parashim” gets rendered in Greek as Pharisaioi, which we know in English as Pharisees. They all meant very well — but while Hillel and the school of thought he founded recognized the importance of grace and mercy, Shammai and his followers became the hardliners whom Jesus was always having run-ins with.

    Hillel’s followers were still around too, of course; they just weren’t the arrogant loudmouths that religious conservatives always tend to be. So when this certain teacher of the law talks with Christ, and recognizes that the law of love really is the center point of God’s heart and will (THAT guy obviously was from the Hillel school) — then when Jesus confirms that, in effect what the crowd saw happening was that this Jesus, who to many people was, at least, already impressive (even if they didn’t quite get what he was about), was suddenly, so to speak, shaking hands with a representative of Hillel, who had long been considered one of the greatest rabbis ever. The miracle part of the exchange (which I think was there too!) was in that sort of silent, double confirmation that “Yes, loving God and loving one another is what the whole thing is about, period”, almost as if God and all his servants had invisibly met at those two men speaking together right there — and it’s almost as if the crowd intuitively recognized something like that. With that sort of agreement-of-the-ages on what God’s heart is really all about, there really ISN’T anything else you can (or need to) ask about. That anwers the most important question of all.

    A little postscript about the followers of Hillel: when the temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 CE, and especially when Israel was finally crushed in the disastrous bar Kochba rebellion about 60 years later, the Jewish community finally realized that trying to live up to the regulations of the law wasn’t really doing anything for them — but that showing love and mercy to one another, especially through all the trials and horrors that life could dish out, is what DID endure, and is what enables both individuals and communities to endure. So the teachings of Hillel won out, the hardline attitude of Shammai was ditched, and that is why to this day, Judaism for the most part majors on compassion, mercy, understanding, and tolerance. (A lot of hellish tribulations over the centuries since only served to galvanize that into them even more deeply, of course.)

    I just hope to God it doesn’t take a national catastrophe for us, like it did for Israel, for the religious community to wake up and smell the grace.

  • Erica

    Yes! Brava! And stellar title.

  • Wow, great post.

  • if only we could get it to come out right like that….

  • One of my favorites – <3

  • Roger –

    Thanks for a very factual reply and for the contrast. I’ve written much the same here on other posts. Jesus was a “Pharisee” of the School of Hillel and would have had quite a few “fans” among his peers, not just the “good Jews” like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus. The Pharisee, regardless of which school he followed, was your local Rabbi who taught your children Hebrew (which for all intents and purposes was a “dead” language, taught like Greek and Latin as Aramaic had replaced it as the vernacular after the Babylonian exile).

    Regardless of the which “School” the Rabbi’s followed, they practiced what would become “Rabbinic” Judaism after the codification of the Babylonian Talmud in the 6th century CE.

    The Sadducees were from the Priestly families and usually wealthy. They collaborated with and received “perks” from the Roman occupiers. Say what you will about them – they practiced Karaite Judaism (rejecting the “Oral” Torah and the Rabbinic arguments, that is, Talmud). But they kept the Jewish religion in Judea ALIVE and vibrant, and offered as much protection to the Judeans from Roman violence as best as they could. The Pharisees walked a middle ground, interceding on behalf of their people, again to protect them as much as possible from their Roman occupiers. Together, the Jewish religious authority tried to keep Judaism alive, knowing that the Zealots could (and would eventually) instigate insurrection leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora.

    The NT paints a horribly inaccurate picture of Judaism during that era. Jesus spoke out against the need to crush the Jews under the burden of the Law when they were already crushed by Roman oppression and tried to expand on the teaching of Hillel.

    Going the “extra mile”…Turning the other cheek. Jesus was no pacifist. The real danger in Jesus’ message that I have no doubt that many of the Jewish Authority feared, was its passive-aggressive nature.

    The Romans could legally commandeer a Jew to carry a load in accordance with (begin Wiki) the Roman Impressment Law. Under this law if a Roman Soldier passed you he could tell you to come carry his pack for up to one mile. By law you forced to go with him, however he could not force you to go further. By Jesus teaching to go another mile with him, it was a way of creatively exposing the injustice that was happening. Simply put, at the end of the mile when the soldier asks for his pack back, simply say, “it’s ok, I’m good” and keep walking. Eventually this soldier would be pleading with you to get the pack back or else he may get in trouble. When he commanded you to carry his pack he was doing it as a superior; now he’s pleading for back. (end Wiki).

    To turn the other cheek…backhanding a person in the culture of the era, whether you were a Roman or an upper-class Jew, was a show of dominance and putting the “peasant” in his place. Turning the the other cheek presented a dilemma: One would be forced to an open-handed slap or punch and thus acknowledging the “equality” of the person you’re striking. To turn the other cheek is to demand equality.

    Giving unto Caesar…good way to thumb your nose at the Romans and expose the hypocrisy of the Jewish Priestly class.

    Being a Judean in the 1st Century was not unlike being French in the 1940s under the Vichy Government.

    I get really, really tired of having to explain what I shouldn’t have to. The main reason the Christian religious leaders that John is talking about continue in the tradition of the “Pharisees” is because thanks to the apologetic nature of the NT and the complete lack of context regarding the culture Jesus lived in, they never got the message. They themselves love to call others, “Pharisees” without the context and the contrast between those who loved to quote the law, and those who taught the “Great Commandment” and the “Golden Rule”.

    We have so little remaining of Hillel’s teaching. Since Jesus quoted him without credit (the Jews Jesus spoke to would have been well-acquainted with Hillel and perfectly recognized his words), I often wonder how much other Hillel-material lives on through the “sayings of Jesus”.

    This in no way takes away from what John is saying above – he is perfectly correct and this was a great blog post.

  • Shaw


    I probably believe that what you believe is false but I still love you as I love myself.

    Its really not that hard.

  • Allie

    You really love her as you love herself? You pay her rent, and when she doesn’t call you, you accept all her excuses without hesitation because you know that no matter what her reason was, it seemed good enough to her?

    Wow, you really are amazing! Or maybe you’re just being really silly about how much you love yourself and how much that love differs from what you offer to even the second person on your list.

  • Carol

    “It calls for no reply. No rejoinder. No comeback. No modifying, arguing, explicating, elucidating, clarifying, or pontificating.”

    I will be joining the West Michigan District Conference of the United Methodist Church, being held next week in Grand Rapids, Michigan – but not as a delegate or voter or debater…I will be placing myself in the lobby, sitting in lotus position…hands tied with a rainbow stole, and mouth duct tapet shut…no debate, no speaking, simply showing how the LGBT community has been tied and gagged in the UMC…they will have to see what that looks like….LOVE the blog! Pray for me….. -=)

  • Fabulous!

  • John

    I don’t suppose you can post pictures of this somewhere?

  • Glynis

    Very cool points ! I had no idea of these “back-story” things.

    Thanks for typing all that.