A person living nearby, whether friend or enemy; or, viewed spiritually, a person who demonstrates to others the love and kindness that the Scriptures command, even though he lives at a distance or is not a relative or an associate. The Hebrew word rendered “neighbor” is sha·khenʹ, which has reference to location, either of cities or of persons, and includes friends and enemies.—Jer 49:18; Ru 4:17; Ps 79:4, 12.
Other associated Hebrew terms that vary slightly in connotation give us a broader view of the relationships expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Reʹaʽ means “fellow, companion, friend” and can apply to closeness of relationship, but it generally means one’s fellowman or fellow countryman, whether he is a close associate, lives nearby or not. In most of its uses in the Scriptures it applies to a fellow member of the commonwealth of Israel or to one residing in Israel. (Ex 20:16; 22:11; De 4:42; Pr 11:9) ʽA·mithʹ is rendered “associate” and is used often in the sense of one with whom a person has some dealings. (Le 6:2; 19:15, 17; 25:14, 15) Qa·rohvʹ, meaning “near, at hand, related to,” has reference to place, time, or persons; it can imply a more intimate relationship than “neighbor” and is thus rendered ‘intimate or close acquaintance.’ (Ex 32:27; Jos 9:16; Ps 15:3; 38:11; Eze 23:5) No one English word can express fully all these shades of meaning.
Similarly, in the Greek Scriptures there are three words with slightly different flavor that are usually translated “neighbor”: geiʹton, “one living in the same land” (Lu 14:12; Joh 9:8); pe·riʹoi·kos, an adjective meaning “dwelling around,” used as a noun (plural) at Luke 1:58; ple·siʹon, meaning “near,” used with the article ho (the), literally, “the (one) near.” (Ro 13:10; Eph 4:25) Of these Greek words, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says: “[These words] have a wider range of meaning than that of the Eng. word neighbour. There were no farmhouses scattered over the agricultural areas of Palestine; the populations, gathered in villages, went to and fro to their toil. Hence domestic life was touched at every point by a wide circle of neighbourhood. The terms for neighbour were therefore of a very comprehensive scope. This may be seen from the chief characteristics of the privileges and duties of neighbourhood as set forth in Scripture, (a) its helpfulness, e.g., . . . Luke 10:36; (b) its intimacy, e.g., Luke 15:6, 9 . . . Heb. 8:11; (c) its sincerity and sanctity, e.g., . . . Rom. 13:10; 15:2; Eph. 4:25; Jas. 4:12.”—1981, Vol. 3, p. 107.
Bad Neighbors. However, some living nearby might be evil neighbors, as were the neighbor nations around Israel. When Jerusalem’s temple was destroyed by Babylonian hands in 607 B.C.E., these nations, such as Edom, rejoiced, even surrendering fugitive Jews to their enemies. (Ps 137:7; Ob 8-14; Mic 4:11) The psalmist was moved to write: “We have become a reproach to our neighbors [a plural form of sha·khenʹ], a derision and a jeering to those round about us.” He prayed: “Repay to our neighbors [a plural form of sha·khenʹ] seven times into their bosom their reproach with which they have reproached you.” Because Jehovah ‘dwelt’ among Israel, he spoke of the nations that opposed his people as “all my bad neighbors, who are touching the hereditary possession that I caused my people, even Israel, to possess.”—Ps 79:4, 12; Jer 12:14; compare Ps 68:16.
Love Toward Neighbor Commanded. The Bible, throughout, instructs one to exercise love, kindness, generosity, and helpfulness toward one’s neighbor, whether he be merely a dweller nearby, an associate, a companion, an intimate acquaintance, or a friend. The Law commanded: “With justice you should judge your associate [form of ʽa·mithʹ]. . . . You must not hate your brother in your heart. You should by all means reprove your associate, that you may not bear sin along with him . . . and you must love your fellow [form of reʹaʽ] as yourself.” (Le 19:15-18) (In the Greek Septuagint the word reʹaʽ is here translated by the Greek expression ho ple·siʹon.) David commends the man who “has not slandered with his tongue. To his companion [form of reʹaʽ] he has done nothing bad, and no reproach has he taken up against his intimate acquaintance [form of qa·rohvʹ].” (Ps 15:3) Repeated are the injunctions not to do harm to one’s fellowman (reʹaʽ), not even to despise him or to desire anything that belongs to him.—Ex 20:16; De 5:21; 27:24; Pr 14:21.
The apostle Paul said: “He that loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” He then names some of the commandments of the Law and concludes: “and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor [ple·siʹon] as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor [ple·siʹon]; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.” (Ro 13:8-10; compare Ga 5:14.) James calls the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself “the kingly law.”—Jas 2:8.
Second-greatest commandment. To a Jew who asked, “What good must I do in order to get everlasting life?” and who wanted to know which commandments to follow, Jesus named five of the Ten Commandments and added the injunction at Leviticus 19:18 when he said: “You must love your neighbor [ple·siʹon] as yourself.” (Mt 19:16-19) He also classified this injunction as the second most important in the Law—one of the two on which all the Law and the Prophets hung.—Mt 22:35-40; Mr 12:28-31; Lu 10:25-28.
Who is my neighbor? Jesus also deepened the appreciation of his hearers as to the meaning of the word ple·siʹon when another man, anxious to prove himself righteous, asked: “Who really is my neighbor [ple·siʹon]?” In Jesus’ illustration of the merciful Samaritan he made it emphatic that even though one is living at a distance, or is not a relative or an associate, the real neighbor is the one who will exercise the love and kindness to another that the Scriptures command.—Lu 10:29-37.
In the Commonwealth of Israel. At Hebrews 8:11 a form of the Greek word po·liʹtes, “citizen,” appears in most Greek texts; some late manuscripts read ple·siʹon. Paul here quotes from the restoration prophecy of Jeremiah 31:34, spoken to those in the commonwealth of Israel: “‘And they will no more teach each one his companion [form of reʹaʽ] and each one his brother, saying, “Know Jehovah!” for they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.” Paul applies it to the spiritual “holy nation,” “the Israel of God,” saying: “And they will by no means teach each one his fellow citizen and each one his brother . . . ” Here the flavor of the original languages is kept better by the expression companion (for reʹaʽ) and citizen (for po·liʹtes), rather than neighbor.—1Pe 2:9; Ga 6:16.
Counsel From Proverbs. While a person is to help his neighbor and to love him, yet he must exercise caution not to make attempts to become the most intimate associate of his neighbor or fellowman—to avoid imposing or presuming upon him. The proverb couches the thought in these terms: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman [form of reʹaʽ], that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.”—Pr 25:17.
However, faith and trust in a companion, and the advisability of calling on such a person in time of need are counseled in the Proverbs: “Do not leave your own companion or the companion of your father, and do not enter the house of your own brother on the day of your disaster. Better is a neighbor [sha·khenʹ] that is near than a brother that is far away.” (Pr 27:10) Here the writer seems to be saying that a close family friend is one to be valued and should be looked to for help rather than even so close a relative as a brother, if that brother is far away, because he may not be as ready or at least not in as favorable a position to render help as the family companion.