This term is a contraction of the two old English words neah, “near,” and gebur, “dweller.” There are several Hebrew words that are rendered “neighbor” in certain contexts in some translations. The Hebrew word sha·khenʹ has reference to location, either of cities or of persons, and includes friends and enemies. (Jer. 49:18; Ruth 4:17; Ps. 79:4, 12) This word probably comes nearest to having the flavor of the common use of our word “neighbor.” Other Hebrew terms that are translated “neighbor” in some versions vary slightly in connotation and give us a broader view and at the same time a more accurate understanding of the relationships expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures.
RELATED HEBREW TERMS
The Hebrew word reʹaʽ means “fellow, companion, friend,” and can apply to closeness of relationship, but generally means one’s fellowman or fellow countryman, whether he is a close associate or lives in close proximity or not. In most of its uses in the Scriptures it applies to a fellow member of the commonwealth of Israel, or one residing in Israel. (Ex. 20:16; 22:11; Deut. 4:42; Prov. 11:9) ʽA·mithʹ denotes “society fellowship or fellowman,” used often in the sense of one with whom a person has some dealings or associations. (Lev. 6:2; 19:15, 17; 25:14, 15) Qa·rohvʹ, meaning “near, at hand, nearly related to,” has reference to place, time or persons; it can imply a more intimate relationship than “neighbor.” (Ex. 32:27; Josh. 9:16; Ps. 15:3; Ezek. 23:5) Thus, no one English word can express fully these shades of meaning. Accordingly, in some translations, other English terms are employed, depending upon the Hebrew word used and the context in each case. Some of these terms are: “fellow,” “associate,” “intimate acquaintance,” “companion,” “resident,” and so forth.
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” (Luke 14:12; John 9:8); pe·riʹoi·kos, an adjective meaning “dwelling around,” used as a noun (plural) at Luke 1:58; ple·siʹon, “near,” used with the article ho, “the,” as, “the (one) near.”—Rom. 13:10; Eph. 4:25.
Of these Greek words, W. E. Vine says, in An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: “[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.”—1962 ed., Vol. III, p. 107.
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; Obad. 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 Psalm 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.” (Lev. 19:15-18) (In the Septuagint Version 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; Deut. 5:21; 27:24; Prov. 14:21.
The apostle Paul said: “He that loves his fellow man 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.” (Rom. 13:8-10; compare Galatians 5:14.) James calls the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself the “kingly law.”—Jas. 2:8.
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 in junction at Leviticus 19:18 when he said: “You must love your neighbor [ple·siʹon] as yourself.” (Matt. 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.—Matt. 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 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 the same man, anxious to prove himself righteous, asked further: “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.—Luke 10:29-37.
IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL
At Hebrews 8:11 the Greek word po·liʹtes, “citizen,” appears in most Greek texts; some 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 fellow citizen (for po·liʹtes), rather than neighbor.—1 Pet. 2:9; Gal. 6:16.
COUNSEL FROM PROVERBS
While one 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 fellow man [form of reʹaʽ], that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.”—Prov. 25:17.
However, faithfulness and trustfulness in a companion, and the advisability of calling on such a person in time of need is 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.” (Prov. 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, as he may not be as ready or at least not in as favorable a position to render help as the family companion.