Reasons to Believe

Israel's Creed: The Shema Part 4

The Middle Eastern religions of Judaism and Islam embrace creeds that successfully summarize their respective faiths in a single sentence.

Could a Christian effectively summarize the essence of Christianity in a single sentence?

The ancient confessional statement known in Hebrew as the Shema serves that very purpose for Judaism (see part 1). The Hebrew creed contains doctrinal elements that separated the ancient Israelites from their pagan neighbors of the Near East (see part 2 ). The Shema was also to be incorporated into the life of the believing Jew as part of their spiritual devotion to God (see part 3).

Known as the watchword of Israel’s faith, the well-known passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 reads as follows in the New International Version of the Bible:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This article discusses Jesus’ use of the Shema in his discourses in the Gospels.

Jesus Christ’s Reference to the Shema

According to the Gospels (Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:34-40), an expert on Jewish law sought to test Jesus by asking him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus responded:

The most important one…is this ‘Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

In identifying the greatest commandment in the Old Testament law, Jesus directly quotes the Shema. However, he extended the commandment to also include the love of neighbor as well. For Jesus, the entire Law of Moses (including all 613 Jewish commandments) is fulfilled in the injunction to love God and to love one’s neighbor.

However, the New Testament is clear in conveying that no one, except Jesus Christ, has ever lived a life in perfect obedience to these two profound commandments.

All of us, upon reflection, know that what the apostle Paul wrote is true:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Human beings have therefore failed to keep God’s most critical commandments. To be a sinner is to be a commandment breaker.

Yet the gospel message reveals that by putting faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the believer receives Christ’s perfect law keeping as his very own (Romans 5:18-19). The believer in Jesus Christ is acceptable before God because Christ has kept the Law of God perfectly on his behalf.

The Shema is therefore quite relevant to the Christian even as it is to the Jew. Historic Christians also believe in the one, true Lord God almighty (Yahweh). However, the New Testament declares that to truly fulfill the commandments of God revealed in Israel’s creed a person must receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord!

The next article discusses how the Christian doctrine of the Trinity relates to the historic Jewish creedal statement.

For more on the meaning of the Shema, see the article in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley.

For more on how creeds have impacted historic Christianity, see chapter 4 of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.

For more on how Jesus Christ fulfills the Law of Moses on behalf of repentant sinners, see chapter 11 of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Subjects: Creeds

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.