Translation and Notes
On the questioner, the Interpreter’s Bible comments:
He is a model for the right approach both to Christ and to the scriptures. The psalmist speaks of “inquiring” in the temple (Ps. 27:4). We do so many other things there. We talk, we pray, we sing, we give. But so many never really inquire. That is the attitude which Jesus so eagerly welcomed. It is the reverent, humble search to learn the will of God for us and for our time; vastly different from the frequent attempt to bend the Almighty around until we can use him as a support for policies and points of view which we have already decided upon without reference to him. So often the common question “What would Jesus do?’ does not mark the beginning of a search at all. It marks the beginning of an argument. The conclusion usually runs something like this: “So, you see, Jesus would do just what I am doing.” — IB Exposition on Mark 12:28-34
I agree with their assessment of the questioner. Many modern commentators try to make him out to be one of those questioners who was trying to trap Jesus, but there is nothing of that in the text here.
I have adopted these two laws as a key to interpretation. You can see my essay on this at Hanging Biblical Interpretation.
28And one of the scribes heard them debating, and when he saw that Jesus had answered them well, he came and asked him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
29Jesus answered, “First is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord,
Mar 12:29 – The Lord our God is one Lord – This is the foundation of the first commandment, yea, of all the commandments. The Lord our God, the Lord, the God of all men, is one God, essentially, though three persons. From this unity of God it follows, that we owe all our love to him alone. — John Wesley
The quote is from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heard and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31And the second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment than these.”
The second quote is from Leviticus 19:18. “First” in this sense is not chronological, but logical. Which commandment best sums up the law, or is most basic logically.
32And the scribe said to him, “Excellent, teacher, you’re really right when you say that he is one, and there is none other than him, 33 and ‘loving him with all your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength’ and ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ is better than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Darrell Bock notes:
“. . . Properly relating to God translates into properly relating to others. This is more important than any ritual. The rule of God presses for people to live righteously with one another” (p. 331).
Mar 12:33 – To love him with all the heart – To love and serve him, with all the united powers of the soul in their utmost vigour; and to love his neighbour as himself – To maintain the same equitable and charitable temper and behaviour toward all men, as we, in like circumstances, would wish for from them toward ourselves, is a more necessary and important duty, than the offering the most noble and costly sacrifices. — John Wesley
In this rare case the scribe is totally in tune with what Jesus says. This wasn’t a trap, but a genuine question, genuinely answered.
34And when Jesus saw that he answered thoughtfully, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And nobody dared to ask him questions any more.
Referring to this questioner and the young man of Mark 10:17, Wuest quotes Swete:
“. . . In both cases something was wanting to convert admiration in discipleship. If wealth was the bar in the one case, pride of intellect may have been fatal in the other. The mental acumen which detects and approves spiritual truth may, in the tragedy of human life, keep its possessor from entering the kingdom of God.”
It seems to me that this is reading more into the white spaces than one is getting from the text itself. The questioner was near the kingdom. There is no necessity to assume that he didn’t finish the journey. There is no negative comment about him in Mark at all. Any assumption that he failed to completely apply his insight in his own life and eventually become a disciple is just that—assumption.