In Mark 12:34, Jesus tells the scribe,

And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." (KJV)

In his answer, the scribe recites "The Schma" (Hear, Oh Israel...), and then expounds on the rest of Deut. 6; to which Jesus replies, "Thou are not far from the Kingdom of God."

Is Jesus reaffirming the Law in this passage? Or is He responding to a profession of faith on the part of the scribe?

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    Discreetly? I think that may be an example of KJV English that is likely to be misinterpreted by modern readers. It's not a common word, but it's a pretty transparent adverb from “mind” -- "thoughtfully" or "wisely". I presume that's what "discreetly" meant in 1611, but that's not what it means to me. (But good question!.... maybe just cite the translation?)
    – Susan
    Nov 22, 2015 at 8:40
  • @Susan Thank you for bringing up "discreetly". I believe the 1st answer captured the essense of it when he stated, 'listens and affirms the truth when he hears it." Actually, "discrete"(pronounced the same) has more in common with the Original Intent; the scribe (discriminates-separates Jesus's speech from the "chaff" of Pharisaical disapproval. The term 'discrete' however is an entirely technical term, used in audio and electronics to describe the relationship of "signal to noise".
    – Tau
    Nov 23, 2015 at 1:45

3 Answers 3


Within the surrounding dialogues various parties (the Pharisees and Sadducees) try to entrap Jesus, but this skeptical scribe listens and affirms the truth when he hears it. We would expect the scribe to believe Jesus' answer to be a basically agreed upon interpretation of what is the greatest commandment, but we would not expect him to add in,

"...is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33 ESV)

The scribe hasn't fully put together the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the one bringing the kingdom and that he should abandon his own way and get on board with Jesus' way (repent), but he basically gets that it's not about the sacrifices and offerings. The scribe has the kingdom mindset, and so he's not far from the kingdom.

Edit to address Tau's comment.

There is a certain arc to the story of the Old Testament. The Hebrews enter into covenant with God, break the Law, then get new laws in response. The more history we get, the more we are shown Israel's failure to keep those laws. The Pharisee traditions, which the scribe would probably qualify under, attempted to address these issues by seriously doubling down to follow the law, and that involves a lot of judgement calls for edge cases and turning generalities into specifics. For example, what constitutes "rest" on the Sabbath?

However, a reader who meditates on the prophets, psalms, and wisdom literature gets a commentary on the Law that says that the legalistic rule following is an abomination to God when it is done outside of the pursuit of righteousness. Righteousness summarizing to the two greatest commandments. Because the whole world is the Lord's he does not need burnt offerings and sacrifices, but he wants people who love him, trust him, and love their neighbor. However, the people are hard-hearted. This is what the new covenant is meant to address: removal of the heart of stone and replacement with a heart of flesh.

Jesus' "kingdom way" involves gathering his people to give them the heart of flesh so that they can love God and neighbor from the heart. So when the scribe affirms the two greatest commandments in the context of a dismissing attitude towards the delight God has in sacrifices, Jesus affirms that he is really close to the kingdom.

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    Thank you for your response! I was hoping for more explanation on Jesus's approach to the Law vs "Kingdom of God"; for example, what contitutes "Kingdom Mindset"?
    – Tau
    Nov 23, 2015 at 1:30
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    @Tau Thank's for the feedback, I have updated the answer. Nov 23, 2015 at 1:52
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    YES!!!!!!!! I believe with a little more 'reference'(footnoting perhaps) You will find more universal acceptance.
    – Tau
    Nov 23, 2015 at 5:17

In response to the scribe's question Jesus articulated 3 aspects of the most important commandment:

  1. The Lord our God, the Lord is One
  2. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your strength
  3. Love your neighbor as yourself

Jesus combined the Shema and Leviticus 19:18:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV)

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18 ESV)

The scribe responded to what Jesus said:

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33 ESV)

The scribe goes one step further by stating that obeying the most important commandment is more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. In other words, the scribe understands that the sacrificial system is less important than obeying the most important command. To which Jesus replies, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." That means, the scribe is close but is still missing something.

What the scribe lacks is the new commandment Jesus would give:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

Loving a neighbor as yourself is one level of love; it is an outward expression of love based on the internal standard of love of self. Under the Law of Moses, a person can fail to love a neighbor because they feel unworthy of love. The adage of "hurting people hurt people" is actually an application of Leviticus 19:18. When the world beats a person down, that person's love of others is beaten down.

Loving someone else as Jesus loved you is a higher level of love; it is an outward expression of love based on the outward expression of Jesus' love. The commandment of Christ eradicates all reasons for not loving one another.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4:11-12 ESV)

  • True.....and,....Love was certainly a requirement under the Old Covenant-yet mercy is vital to receiving God's unmerited favor. The scribe knew to show mercy under the Law, what was yet to be revealed to him was his need for God's unmerited favor, and the necessary humility to receive it. Jesus would have gone from "Rabbi" to "Lord" before his eyes, and opened him up to receive the Kingdom of God.
    – Tau
    Feb 24, 2017 at 6:51

The Schma = Hear Oh Israel Jesus = Hear Oh Israel + The World Jesus is saying that following the greatest of the old commandments still isn't enough. He is close but is still missing the revelation that Jesus is "the way the truth and the life". The new commandment for us is clarified for us in 1 John 3:23. - Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ - Love neighbors (by presenting the gospel in us and through us)


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