“The whole law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:40 (R. T. France)
Hang – How do all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two? What exactly is the relationship? If you were reading this in Greek, you would notice something odd. The verb here (kremannumi) is a lengthened form of a word that is associated with the gallows. In particular, in the New Testament it is a word that described being suspended from the cross. Even this usage is a bit strange. The proper form of the verb occurs only once in the New Testament, in Matthew 18:6 where it describes a millstone hung around the neck. Most of the time the word is associated with either God’s wrath or judicial punishment. To find it in this verse in a very positive role is quite unusual.
The real background of this usage is in the rabbis. They often used the formula summation of the Torah, following the same encapsulation by the prophets. Their motive seems to be the theological reiteration that godly behavior depends on proper understanding. If we don’t truly understand God and His Torah, we will not be able to fulfill it. In this regard, the two foundational commandments (to love God and to love your neighbor) act as the platform from which all other godly actions flow. The other commandments are the realization and the actualization of these two. It is as if one could only grasp the full intention of these two, then all the rest would follow.
While this might seem perfectly obvious now, Christian theology hasn’t always been so straightforward regarding this verse. In fact, for centuries this verse was interpreted as an endorsement of the “law of love.” The WWJD movement is an example of a principle without specifics. The “law of love” theology left believers to decide for themselves how to behave in most of life’s circumstances. Bertram captures the thought: “It means rather that the love of God is seen to be the sustaining basis of all human attitudes and actions.” Can I get an “Amen!”? Yes, this is true – but what does it mean when I have to make a decision about the innumerable daily actions of my existence. The “law of love” is reduced to whatever I feel is right, and that is moral chaos.
When Yeshua said that the whole Torah and the prophets are suspended from these two concepts (love of God and love of neighbor), He said something like this: Everything hangs on these two nails. Take the nails out of the wall and everything else falls into a mess.” But that isn’t the same as saying that all I need is the two nails. Try putting nails into your walls and enjoying their magnificence rather than enjoying the pictures that were supposed to hang on them. Which would you prefer?
Perhaps it isn’t so unimaginable that this odd word also describes Yeshua on the cross. Everything about Torah and the Prophets hangs on Him too. Take that nail away and it all falls down.
Topical Index: hang, nail, Torah, cross, law of love, Matthew 22:40
 Bertram, kremannumi, TDNT, Vol. 3, p. 920.