In the book of Genesis, it is remarkable that the word “commandment” (mizwah) occurs only once.
“Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Genesis 26:5 RSV) After the death of Abraham this characterization of him was given, to his son Isaac.
In other parts of the book of Genesis we indeed sometimes see the verb ziwwah, to command. Nevertheless, Abraham is told to leave his land, he is tasked with the circumcision and later he is said to sacrifice his son Isaac. In all these instances without a form of ziwwah. On each occasion Abraham was told what God wanted from him, and he did so. After Abraham’s passing away, he left Isaac with the recordings of his dialogues with God, with the narratives of all the remarkable extraordinary events that had occurred. Actually, these narratives also became the instructions for Isaac, to preserve them and to live according to them. (See also: What Do We Learn from Abraham about the Hebrew Bible? )
Jesus Was a Teacher, Not a Commander
In the life of Jesus we see a comparable pattern. He gave almost no commandments to his disciples, although he spoke with great authority to them. Once he gave a negative command, he forbade some disciples from making known what they had seen on the mountain when he spoke with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:9). Only at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19-20), we hear Jesus say:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Therefore we may see the same pattern as in the story of Abraham: Jesus left a testament of his discourses, and gave the order to preserve them and to live according to them.
Two times Jesus made use of the verb entellomai (to order, command) in his last discourse at the Last Supper.
“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” And some later: “This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:14, 17)
Six times he used the noun entoly (order, command) in this discourse (13:34, 14:15, 21, 31, 15:10, 12), and each time they are in the context of loving him and one another. For instance:
“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)
It is clear that the actual words of Jesus belong to the center of the Christian faith and cannot be missed in any way. In his last discourse, Jesus referred to these words as to his testament for his disciples, before he died.
How to Use Jesus’s Testament?
Of course there is coherence of doctrine in the sayings of Jesus. However, it is too poor to live with a doctrine alone. Christians live with Jesus, and they do so, as he is alive and is still writing his biblical words in their hearts (which is only possible when he lives in their hearts). That is the new covenant, Hebrews 10:16-17. So let’s listen carefully to our heart. Let’s trust in him and in his testament. Now you understand why we need to know that we have Jesus’s actual words. They cannot be missed. It is gold for the human soul.