The Imperatives of Jesus


"Everyone will know you are my disciples, if you do what I tell you ..." (John 13:35)

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

Surprisingly few of the recorded words of Jesus are commands. The majority of what He said is teaching about subjects like the Kingdom of God, interactions with specific parties, or simply stating who he was and what his mission meant. These words provide crucial context for understanding what he really meant, but they're not, in the linguistic sense, imperatives (commands).

I take imperative here both in its syntactic and semantic meanings. In the strictest sense, something is a command if it's in the imperative tense: "enter in by the narrow gate". This includes negative imperatives (prohibitions) as well: "don't tempt the Lord".

Other expressions may not use the imperative tense, but still clearly have an imperative force behind them, urging the hearer to do or not do something. This includes rhetorical questions:  "Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)  Clearly the sense of this is "do what I tell you!" The same is true of descriptions with a clear intent of recommending actions, like the quotes from John above. Grammar aside, the sense is clear: do what I tell you.

Since my ultimate goal is less linguistic analysis that obedience to Jesus, only those commands that are addressed to his disciples (narrowly or broadly construed) are included. Some commands are addressed to specific groups (e.g. tax collectors), but still included if they have broader applicability (e.g., to me!). I make no attempt to separate commands from other kinds of hortatory expressions, that is, recommendations, suggestions, and the like. In our daily interactions with other people, these distinctions matter a lot: someone who treats every suggestions from a friend as a command would be regarded as socially disordered. But if it was spoken by Jesus and applies to me, then i see no distinction. Whatever He tells me to do, i wish to do it. 

Unless otherwise stated, the Scripture references are all to the New International Version. Since i'm looking at the meaning rather than literal words, however, i don't expect the translation used to affect whether something is actually an imperative or not.

The Imperatives from Matthew (not yet...)

The Imperatives from Mark (not yet...)

The Imperatives from Luke

The Imperatives from John (not yet...)

Other Imperatives from Scripture (not yet...)