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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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A person living in the same vicinity, engaging in mutual activities, and for whom one takes some responsibility. The Bible's major concern is how we treat our neighbor.

Old Testament Leviticus 19:18 stated the OT law to love your neighbor. Most of the other references shed light on how this love could be carried out, telling what not to do to a neighbor (see Deuteronomy 19:11-14; Deuteronomy 27:24; Proverbs 14:21; Habakkuk 2:15 ). Refusing to respect the rights of a neighbor constituted moral disintegration and provoked punishment on the nation (Isaiah 3:5; Jeremiah 9:4-9; Micah 7:5-6 ).

Leviticus 19:18 also defined neighbor. Neighbors were “the children of thy people.” That is, neighbors had to come from your kind. Anyone who believed differently from you could not be your neighbor.

Jesus By Jesus' day, the rabbis had further restricted the definition of neighbor. For them a neighbor was a Jew who strictly observed the Law. Other people were hated as enemies (Matthew 5:43 ). Jesus sought to broaden the definition of neighbor. Neighbors included your enemies. Love meant doing good for them (Matthew 5:44 ). His most comprehensive definition of neighbor came in response to a lawyer's question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 ). Jesus replied with the story of a man who had been beaten, robbed, and left to die. First, a priest went by and did nothing. Then, a Levite went by and did nothing. Finally, a foreigner (Samaritan) came and compassionately assisted the dying man, saving his life and making provisions for his immediate future (Luke 10:30-35 ).

Two truths are found from the parable. First, a neighbor is any person we encounter who has any need. Since every person we encounter has a need of some kind, we can understand the term to include every person we encounter. Second, we are to be a neighbor. The question is not just “Who is my neighbor?” but also, “Am I being a neighbor?” Neighboring is done as we show mercy ( Luke 10:37 ). Loving our neighbor is second in importance only to loving God (Matthew 25:35-39 ) and means more than all the offerings and sacrifices we could ever give (Mark 12:33 ).

New Testament The remainder of New Testament thought, of course, concurs with Jesus's teachings. Both Paul (Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14 ) and James (Galatians 2:8 ) regard “love your neighbor” to be of utmost importance for every Christian.

Gil Lain

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Neighbor'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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