Who is my neighbor? But because he wished to justify himself… And who is my neighbor?” One wonders why the scholar did not “quit while he was ahead?” It is almost as though the scholar’s first question was entrée to the real question about who is (or is not) neighbor. In Leviticus 19 the word root neighbor (-ger) include fellow Israelites, but also stranger and travelers. While that Semitic custom remained present in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees also professed extensive limitations on interactions with non-Jews. (m. Abodah Zarah 1:1, 2:1-2, 4:9-10) To “justify himself” the scholar raises the disputed question about the identity of the neighbor. When the scholar added the Leviticus text, one may well speculate that the scholar’s understanding was that “neighbor” included only one’s fellow Israelite.
Jesus’ response is the parable of the Good Samaritan. As a parable, the story of the Good Samaritan is intended to challenge a wrong but accepted pattern of thought so that values of the kingdom can break into a closed system of living.
“With Jesus, the device of parabolic utterance is used not to explain things to people’s satisfaction but to call attention to the unsatisfactoriness of all their previous explanations and understandings.” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of the Kingdom, 6)
The unsatisfactoriness of the parable lies with those one would expect to fulfill the two great commandments. To appreciate the power of this parable, the listing of priest, Levite, and Samaritan may be significant. Scholar have shown that forms of the trilogy “priests, Levites, and people” are common in postexilic texts (1 Chron. 28:21; 2 Chron. 34:30; 35:2–3, 8, 18; Ezra 2:70; 7:7, 13; 8:15; 9:1; 10:5, 18–22, 25–43; Neh. 7:73; 8:13; 9:38; 10:28; 11:3, 20; cf. 1QS II, 11, 19–21), and this is what first-century Jews would have expected. The appearance of the Samaritan instead of a lay Judean is therefore striking, and this directly challenges the Jewish interpretation of the “neighbor.”
Luke 10:29 who is my neighbor: Lev 19:18 makes “sons of your own people,” i.e., fellow Israelites, as neighbors. Later Lev 19:33-34 extends this understanding to ger – the stranger or sojourner in the land. The Septuagint (LXX) translated ger as “proselyte” giving a narrower understanding of the term to those drawn to Judaism. In the understanding of the Pharisees the limitations on interactions with non-Jews was extensive (see m. Abodah Zarah 1:1, 2:1-2, 4:9-10)
The focus is on the definition of one’s “neighbor.” To appreciate the power of this parable, the listing of priest, Levite, and Samaritan may be significant. Scholar have shown that forms of the trilogy “priests, Levites, and people” are common in postexilic texts (1 Chron. 28:21; 2 Chron. 34:30; 35:2–3, 8, 18; Ezra 2:70; 7:7, 13; 8:15; 9:1; 10:5, 18–22, 25–43; Neh. 7:73; 8:13; 9:38; 10:28; 11:3, 20; cf. 1QS II, 11, 19–21), and this is what first-century Jews would have expected. The appearance of the Samaritan instead of a lay Judean is therefore striking, and this directly challenges the Jewish interpretation of the “neighbor” of Lev. 19:18. Two specific OT passages may have further contributed to this parable. First, the story of the compassionate Samaritans in 2 Chron. 28:8–15 provides a conceptual parallel to Jesus’ parable. Second, Hos. 6:6 may also have played a part, where one finds the discussion of mercy (or love) in the context of the cultic practices of Israel.
- Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), p.6
- Robert Walker Funk, Parables and Presence: Forms of the New Testament Tradition (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Pr; 1982) pp.33-4
- Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
- K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 319–322
- Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, and Dermot A. Lane. The New Dictionary of Theology (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2000) 652
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
Love of God and Love of Neighbor – some additional notes
taken, with adaptations, from G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 319–322
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” 27 He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
NT Context: Definition of One’s Neighbor. The quotations of Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18 appear in the dialogue between Jesus and the expert of the law concerning the way to “inherit eternal life” (10:25). In its Lucan context this dialogue focuses on the definition of one’s neighbor as the dialogue continues in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.
Reviewing the Lucan context of this dialogue, one cannot avoid noting its relationship with its conceptual parallels in Mark 12:28–31; Matt. 22:34–40, especially when the same two OT texts appear together when Jesus is questioned by Jewish scribal leadership. Significant differences between Luke’s text and its Markan and Matthean parallels are equally noteworthy, however. First, unlike Luke, who places this dialogue earlier in Jesus’ ministry, Mark and Matthew place this passage in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Second, the question that Jesus is addressing in Mark and Matthew centers on the “greatest command,” while the way to inherit eternal life is the topic in Luke. Third, Jesus is the one citing the OT in Mark and Matthew, while the lawyer cites the two OT texts in Luke. Finally, the parable of the Good Samaritan, which follows in Luke, is missing in Mark and Matthew.
Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18 in Context. Deuteronomy 6 belongs to a wider section that contains the stipulations, decrees, and laws that Moses gave the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. (4:45). This verse serves as a response to the first line of the Shema, which points to the pillar of Israel’s faith: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (6:4). In response, Israel is called to “love” (āhēb) their God (6:5). This “love” must be interpreted within its covenantal context, where faithfulness and loyalty are to characterize the life of Israel as God’s covenant partner. Both the focus on the exclusive devotion to the one true God and the command to love this God of Israel rest on God’s faithful acts on behalf of his people:
It was because the LORD loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your fathers, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed you from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, then, that the LORD, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful covenant down to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments (Deut. 7:8–9)
These two aspects form the foundation of the rest of the detailed commandments and stipulations. The way the material is presented reflects covenant formulations that aim at clarifying the relationship between the great king and the vassals. As J. D. Levenson rightly notes, “One must first accept the suzerainty of the great king, the fact of covenant; only then can he embrace the particulars which the new lord enjoins upon them, the stipulations.”
The total dedication required for Israel the covenant partner is expressed by the references to one’s lēbāb (“heart”), nepeš (“soul”), and mĕōd (“strength”). Similar expressions are found throughout Deuteronomy (4:29; 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 13:3; 26:16; 30:2, 6, 10). It is well known that in the Hebrew mindset lēbāb (“heart”) points to one’s will or intellect, and together with one’s life and physical abilities, this combination of terms refers to the totality of one’s personhood.
The command to love one’s rēa (“neighbor”; ger in Greek) is found within the Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26), where the focus is on the holy living of individual Israelites. In terms of theological coherence, the center of this section is in 19:2, which forms the basis for the covenantal relationship between the one God of all and Israel, his chosen people: “Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” The call to love one’s neighbor in 19:18 builds on this imitatio Dei command while summarizing the concern of a subsection (19:11–18) that focuses on the Israelites’ relationship with and responsibilities to their fellow citizens.
The meaning of the word rēa (“neighbor”) has to be understood within this context in Leviticus. The wider literary context, which focuses on cultic concerns, shows that this section is addressed primarily to the people of Israel, and the phrase “one of your people” in the first part of this verse confirms this observation. The existence of a separate provision concerning the “aliens” in 19:34–35 complicates the picture, however. Although this provision does confirm that the primary reference behind the word rēa (“neighbor”) is the fellow Israelites, these verses require that the Israelites also extend the mandate of 19:18 to aliens: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.” It is precisely this perceived ambiguity that forms the center of Jesus’ dialogue with the expert of the law in Luke 10:25–37.
Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18 in Judaism. As part of the Shema, Deut. 6:5 belongs to Israel’s confessional statement, which was recited twice daily (see m. Ber. 1:1–4), and allusions to this verse are found in Hellenistic and Palestinian Jewish traditions where the worship of the one true God is affirmed (see Philo, Decalogue 64; 1QS V, 9; Sib. Or. 8:482; T. Dan 5:3). Rabbinic traditions make it clear that the affirmation of the one God in 6:5 is to be understood as the basis of all commandments (m. Ber. 2:2), and to recite the Shema is to affirm the sovereignty of God (m. Ber. 2:5). The call to love one’s neighbor is likewise repeatedly made (1QS VII, 8–9; Sib. Or. 8:481; cf. Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). In rabbinic traditions this command is also considered to be the foundation of the whole Torah (b. Šabb. 31a; cf. t. Peah 4.19) In these traditions the definition of one’s rēa (“neighbor”) receives further attention. Most rabbinic interpreters see the word as referring to fellow Israelites, while the foreigners and the Samaritans are explicitly excluded (Mek. Exod. 21:35), although full proselytes are included in this category (cf. Sipra Qed. 8; see TDNT 6:135).
The combination of the commands to worship one God and to love one’s neighbor can be identified in Jewish traditions (cf. T. Iss. 5:2; 7:6; T. Dan 5:3; Philo, Spec. Laws 2.63) although they did not appear as explicit quotations or allusions to Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18.