On the night before his death, Jesus gave a new command to his disciples: "Love each other as I have loved you."
The fact that Jesus called this commandment "new" is perplexing in light of Leviticus 19:18, which is part of the Torah of Moses. That passage states: "Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." Jesus had previously appealed to this command in conjunction with Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as constituting the basis for all the divine directives in the Law and the Prophets ( Matt 22:34-37 ; and par. ). In other words, how could Jesus designate something as "new" that had been in existence for centuries and was in a true sense very "old"?
While the Greek adjective kainos [kainov"] does not have to mean something brand new or totally new, there are at least five factors that explain why Jesus called this a "new" commandment and legitimize his use of this adjective to describe something he was inaugurating.
First, Jesus provided a new model for love. The directive to the disciples followed one of the most humiliating Acts Jesus performed during his lifetimehe had washed his disciples' feet. This act of servanthood was to serve as a model or example to the disciples of their relationship with another: "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" ( John 13:15 ). The disciples were to love one another as Jesus had loved them ( John 13:34 ). The disciples' love on the horizontal plane would reflect their relationship with the Son and with the Father on the vertical plane: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" ( John 15:9-10 ).
Second, Jesus provided a new motive for love. The disciples were to be motivated to love one another because Jesus demonstrated love by giving his life as an atoning sacrifice for sins. John emphasizes this motivational act in his First Epistle: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" ( 1 John 4:10-11 ).
Third, Jesus provided a new motivator for love. The great gift of Jesus to the church was the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. The great command of Jesus is to believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another ( 1 John 3:23 ). Those who obey his commands reveal an intimate knowledge of the Holy Spirit ( 1 John 3:24 ). This Spirit produces his fruit of love in Jesus' disciples ( Rom 5:5 ; Gal 5:22 ).
Fourth, the disciples are to practice the love command because of a new mission. All men will know Jesus' disciples by their love for one another ( John 13:34 ). Just as Jesus has revealed the Father to men ( John 1:18 ), his disciples reveal him to men by loving one another: "No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us" ( 1 John 4:12 ). Love as the voluntary sacrifice of oneself for the benefit of someone else so that God's will might be perfected in that person is the vital force in mission to a world in darkness that needs the light of life.
Fifth, the new commandment is new because of a new milieu. The coming of the Son has introduced newness. This fact is proven by the centrality of the concept of newness for New Testament theology: new teaching ( Mark 1:27 ; Acts 17:19 ); new wine and new wineskins ( Luke 5:37-39 ); new commandment ( John 13:34 ; 1 John 2:7-8 ; 2 John 5 ); new covenant ( Luke 22:20 ; 1 Cor 11:25 ; 2 Cor 3:6 ; Hebrews 8:8 Hebrews 8:13 ; 9:15 ; 12:24 ); new creation ( 2 Cor 5:17 ; Gal 6:15 ); new self ( Eph 2:15 ; 4:24 ; Col 3:10 ); new heaven and new earth ( 2 Peter 3:13 ; Rev 21:1 ); new name ( Rev 2:17 ; 3:12 ); new Jerusalem ( Rev 3:12 ; 21:2 ); new song ( Rev 5:9 ; 14:3 ); and all things new ( Rev 21:5 ).
The new command is an eschatological command. It is the central command for the new age and the basic ethic for the final times. As such it is the decisive command because it fulfills the will of God for his people and displays God's gift of love in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Carl B. Hoch, Jr.
See also Love
Bibliography. R. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple; R. E. Collins, Christian Morality; idem, These Things Have Been Written; idem, ABD, 4:1088; V. P. Furnish, The Love Command in the New Testament; N. Geisler, The Christian Ethic of Love; R. Harrisville, The Concept of Newness in the New Testament; C. B. Hoch, All Things New: The Central Importance of Newness for New Testament Theology; E. Lee, The Religious Thought of St. John; R. Michaels, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pp. 132-36; L. Morris, Testaments of Love; P. Perkins, Love Commands in the New Testament; R. Schnackenburg, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament; S. Schneiders, CBQ 43 (1981): 76-92; F. Segovia, Love Relationships in the Johannine Tradition; C. Spicq, Agape in the New Testament; W. Swartley, ed., The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'New Command'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".