There’s a lot of oversimplification that goes on in our world, of necessity. When someone asks you how you are doing, they’re not looking for your whole life story. “Doing fine” is an acceptable response, even though it is a gross oversimplification. When Carrie asks me how my day went, I’ll share a few highs and lows, rather than launching into a blow-by-blow description of the whole day. When we used to give driving directions (for those who can remember a world without Google Maps), we’d try to give enough detail without overwhelming our friends with an excess of landmarks.
When we share the gospel with others, or teach the story of Scripture, we’ll engage, of necessity, in some holy oversimplification. In doing so, we won’t be the first to do so. Since ancient times, Jewish rabbis have discussed and argued over what is the greatest commandment. Rabbi Jesus discussed this question during his ministry as well.
A story is told about Rabbi Simla, from about AD 250, who made the claim that various biblical authors had reduced the 613 commandments from the Torah down to a more manageable number. Simla said that David took the 613 commands down to 11, as stated in Psalms.
O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Psalm 15
Simla argued further that Isaiah took the 613 commands down to 6, that Micah took them down to 3, Isaiah to 2, and Amos and Habakkuk to 1.
- Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly, who despise the gain of oppression, who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it, who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed and shut their eyes from looking on evil, they will live on the heights… Isaiah 33:15ff
- What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
- Maintain justice, and do what is right… Isaiah 56:1
- For thus says the Lord: Seek me and live… Amos 5:4
- …the righteous shall live by faith. Habakkuk 2:4
When Rabbi Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, he too engaged in holy oversimplification. His response was two-fold: Love the Lord your God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself. While Jesus would (and did!) have more to say about kingdom living, this response for the ages is one we would do well to heed and pursue with all diligence!