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The Table Video

Nicholas Wolterstorff

Jesus' Love Command and Shalom

Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University
June 5, 2017

Jesus’ love command is foundational for Christian ethics; Wolterstorff reflects on its connections to the concept of Shalom.


One of the foremost features, if not the core, driving feature of Christian ethics, appears to come from Jesus’ commands to love.


Love God, love your neighbor. How do you understand these greatest of commandments, the summing up of the law and the prophets as Jesus says, as connected to that kind of shalom as flourishing?

Right, so, for all Christians … Well, so a hostile interrogator comes to Jesus, reported in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and says, “Master, what is the greatest “commandment in the Torah?” And no doubt, they expect Jesus to give an unacceptable answer. [snaps fingers]

And they can say, “Gotcha, that’s not the greatest [laughs] command.” What Jesus does is he quotes two passages from the Torah. One from Leviticus, love your neighbor as yourself, and one from Deuteronomy, love God above all. He quotes those two. And then the interrogators, well, they don’t actually say yes, but they concede, “Yeah, okay.” [laughs]

laughs: “Give us a minute.”

So the question is, okay, so the word in the Greek New Testament is agape, that Jesus used, agape. So the question is how we translate that. It’s customarily and correctly translated as love. But love, the English word love, has lots of different meanings. It can mean love your cat. You’re attached to it. You love a certain novel.

You are just drawn to it, and so forth. So the question is what love means here. And I’ve come to think it means– I’ve come to think the closest English word is to care about your neighbor. But, as you were suggesting, the goal is shalom, that one will interact with one’s neighbors in such a way that the shalom of them and the community is enhanced. That’s the content of it.