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Someone just came to me arguing that the second of the biggest commandments is also a commandment to love oneself.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Mat 22:39 (KJV)


And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mar 12:31 (KJV)

Now, regardless of how odd this argument might have sounded to me this raised the underlying question whether it means one should love ones neighbour 'at least as much' as yourself, or 'exactly as much' as yourself.

My hope is that there could be a language perspective on the word ὡς that could shed light on this, but as far as I know that word can be used in both senses. If that's not the case than I believe that the context of the commandment does favour a certain interpretation, but I am entirely open to any argumentation, so not going to outline my thoughts on this matter.

Lastly I have found articles addressing the issue of self-love in general this question is very explicitly about this commandment and it's interpretation.

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migrated from May 1 '14 at 13:50

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Texts in Greek

It's worth noting that the command to "love neighbour as self" extends beyond these two parallel passages from the gospels, and originates in a much earlier time and in a different language. Here are the texts in Greek:

  • Leviticus 19:18 ... καὶ ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος
    ... and you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the LORD
  • Leviticus 19:34 ὡς ὁ αὐτόχθων ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσται ὁ προσήλυτος ὁ προσπορευόμενος πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ ἀγαπήσεις αὐτὸν ὡς σεαυτόν ὅτι προσήλυτοι ἐγενήθητε ἐν γῇ Αἰγύπτῳ ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν
    As the native is to you, so the sojourner ["proselyte"] who approaches you, and you shall love him as yourself, because you were sojourners in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.
  • Matthew 19:19 τίμα τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα, καὶ ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
    Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Matthew 22:39 δευτέρα δὲ ὁμοία αὐτῇ· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
    And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Mark 12:31 δευτέρα αὕτη· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν.
    The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.
  • Luke 10:27 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης [τῆς] καρδίας σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἰσχύϊ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου, καὶ τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
    And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."
  • Romans 13:9 τὸ γὰρ οὐ μοιχεύσεις, οὐ φονεύσεις, οὐ κλέψεις, οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις, καὶ εἴ τις ἑτέρα ἐντολή, ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τούτῳ ἀνακεφαλαιοῦται [ἐν τῷ]· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
    For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
  • Galatians 5:14 ὁ γὰρ πᾶς νόμος ἐν ἑνὶ λόγῳ πεπλήρωται, ἐν τῷ· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν.
    For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
  • James 2:8 Εἰ μέντοι νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν κατὰ τὴν γραφήν· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν, καλῶς ποιεῖτε·
    If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.

LXX translations mine; Greek text is Rahlfs; NT text is NA27; NT English is ESV.

Texts in Hebrew

Of course, the first one is the source for the New Testament quotations; the second is related to the first. These were originally in Hebrew:

  • Lev 19:18 וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יְהוָה...
    ...and you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am YHWH
  • Lev 19:34 ...כְּאֶזְרָח מִכֶּם יִהְיֶה לָכֶם הַגֵּר הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ
    As is the native among you shall be for you the sojourner who sojourns with you; you shall love him as yourself... [wooden translation]

The bolded words, kāmôkā, "like you/as yourself", corresponds to the Greek Septuagint's translation, hōs seauton, as it appears in each of the Greek citations provided. The questions then become: "What does the Hebrew mean?", and "Is that meaning reflected in its Greek translation?"

Hebrew discussion

Linguistically, the preposition k- is a bit unusual, in not negotiating a relationship in space or time (like "in" or "at") but, as all the reference works explain, it indicates correspondences of quantity and kind which may range from complete identity to mere resemblance.1

The nature or degree of correspondence needs to be discerned from context. Sometimes it is clear, as in the case of Lamentations 5:3:

We have become orphans without a father,
Our mothers are like widows [כְּאַלְמָנוֹת].

In which case the likeness is, in fact, identity. The other end of the spectrum is approximation, as in Ruth 1:4:

And they lived there [in Moab] about ten years [כְּעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים].

As to Jacob Milgrom notes, there are a couple of options canvassed for how to understand Lev. 19:18b. Takamitsu Muraoka takes it in tandem with Deuteronomy 13:6 [= Masoretic Text 13.7]: "...or your friend who is as your own soul" [אוֹ רֵעֲךָ אֲשֶׁר כְּנַפְשְׁךָ], that is, the "like yourself" -- the correspondence -- is between self and neighbour: "you shall love your neighbour who is a human like you".2 For Muraoka this implies that the LXX translation misconstrues the Hebrew text.3

This is very much a minority view, however, and Milgrom, like most, takes the phrase "like yourself" to modify not "neighbour", but "you shall love", that is, it's an adverbial phrase.4 He further points to the book of Jubilees which he claims contains the first discernible commentary on this commandment (Milgrom cites it as Jub 30:24, although it appears in Charles's edition at 36:4). Isaac on his death-bed instructs Esau and Jacob:

And love one another, my sons, your brothers as a man who loves his own soul, and let each seek in what he may benefit his brother, and act together on the earth; and let them love each other as their own souls.

The commensurate nature of neighbour-love and self-love is seen, in that the good you seek for your "brother" is commensurate with or of the same species as the good sought for oneself. I think even this earliest evidence of reception makes a meaningful contribution to the immediate point raised by the OP.

Back to Greek

The Hebrew's k- is reflected in Greek's hōs (toggle to see full entry at link), an adverb.5 It marks correspondence, but does not specify "degree" in the way the OP seems to have in mind -- at least, such fine tuning or nuance in the way the two items compared are commensurate with each other is a matter of context, not the semantics of the particle per se. (Hope that's clear!)

And here, at least, the syntax is clear -- even Muraoka plainly admits that the phrase hōs seauton is adverbial, and "does not allow of any other understanding of the syntax of the commandment", this being the basis on which "St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas built their ethical doctrine of self-love" ("A Syntactic Problem", p. 292).

This is the very point which C.E.B. Cranfield takes up in his commentary on hōs seauton at Romans 13:9. This is not a requirement to "self-love", he argues, but an indication that the command comes "to us as the men [sic] that we actually are, the sinners who do, as a matter of fact, love ourselves", so that "the love for our neighbour which is required of us is a love which is altogether real and sincere". Not so, says J.D.G. Dunn,6

ὡς σεαυτόν of course does not make love of self the basis of love of neighbor (Wilckens) and should probably not be seen as a concession to human fallenness (against Cranfield), since self-love is a narrowing, excluding, self-engrossed kind of love. Rather, it simply implies a recognition of the importance of self-respect, so can be coordinated with the call for sober self-esteem (Rom 12:3)....


Much more could surely be said (and has been - the literature on this is huge), but to conclude by responding more directly to the OP's questions:

  • The command as it appears at various points in the New Testament needs to be taken in conjunction with its original form in Leviticus; this adds a layer of complexity, but roots the interpretative tradition (of which the NT is a part) in the original form of the command.
  • Semantics and linguistics will only take you so far: there is broad (but not universal) agreement that the phrase "like yourself" is adverbial and bears on the nature of the "love" shown to "neighbour" (and those latter two terms also require unpacking). But the Hebrew k- and Greek hōs do not settle any arguments, they merely coordinate self-love with neighbour-love.
  • It does, however, mean that it would be wrong to suggest that excessive love of neighbour is prohibited (if the understanding is that the two kinds of love should have a strict equivalence). The formulation does not indicate exact equality of measure or extent, but rather agreement in kind or manner. One can put the weigh-scales away.


  1. The best online authority I can point to is P. Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (2nd edn; Pontifical Institute Press, 2006), § 133g, p. 461. S.R. Driver wrote the entries for the prepositions in Brown Driver Briggs, and his entry for k- is worth looking at. If this gets really fascinating, there's always Ernst Jenni's Die hebräischen Präpositionen: Die Präposition Kaph (Kohlhammer, 1994).
  2. Perhaps implicit in Solomon Schechter's remarks in Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Macmillan, 1909), pp. 119-120.
  3. Explained in brief in A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, § 132a n. 2, p. 453, and in full in his "A Syntactic Problem in Lev. XIX. 18b", Journal of Semitic Studies 23/2 (1978): 291-297. The article has some fascinating reflections on intepretative history of this verse in both its Hebrew and Greek forms.
  4. J. Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22 (Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 1655-6.
  5. See also Smyth's entry on ὡς.
  6. C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans 9-16 (ICC; T & T Clark, 1979), p. 677; J.D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Word, 1988), p. 780.
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@title+body: The link between the title and the question is that if the instruction means the extend of the love of your neighbour should be equal to oneself than loving your neighbour more than oneself is not allowed (which was the original discussion that sparked all of this). – David Mulder May 1 '14 at 21:54
@DavidMulder - thanks for the clarification. I've given my response a heavy edit: hope it's helpful. – Davïd May 2 '14 at 8:49
So wish I could give you another +1 after your edit. Honestly, excellent answer! Hope I will get to know my literature well enough some day to be able to develop answers like these myself :D – David Mulder May 2 '14 at 13:08

In short, according to Jesus we are to love our neighbor in the same way we already love ourselves. That is, I believe, the meaning of the word as in the crucial phrase

"love your neighbor as yourself."

Self-love comes naturally--perhaps too naturally--to all of us. We feed, clothe, and house ourselves, shrinking from pain and moving toward pleasure. Even people who take asceticism to an extreme are doing so to be benefited in some way; hence, they are loving themselves by mortifying the flesh.

If Jesus wanted to make loving yourself a command, He could have said,

"Love yourself, and also love your neighbor,"

which of course He did not say.

Perhaps a legitimate paraphrase of Jesus' command to love neighbor as self could be,

"Make loving your neighbor as natural to you as loving yourself."

Isn't that what the "good Samaritan" did? He saw a man in desperate need; he gave him first aid; and he made sure he was well cared for until he recovered. While Jesus did not say it, if the Samaritan were in the same condition as the man he helped, he would certainly want to be treated in the same way as he himself treated the man who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead by thieves.

A good question to ask ourselves before we demonstrate love to our neighbor is,

"How would I want to be treated if our roles were reversed?"

This question is particularly good when we might be tempted to "love" our neighbor in a way that will only enable him or her to live irresponsibly. For example, suppose a neighbor (in the sense Jesus used the word) comes to you asking for a thousand dollars. You know for a fact he has a gambling problem. Is giving him a thousand bucks the loving thing to do? Would you, if you were in his shoes, want someone to feed your gambling habit? (Well, if you were a gambling addict, you probably would!)

The loving thing to do, however, would be to explain to your neighbor why you simply cannot give him the thousand dollars, and then lovingly refer him to people who can give him the help he really needs; namely, to break free of his addiction. Perhaps referring him to a local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous would fill the bill.

Quite often, when a needy person (uncharitably, a "panhandler") approaches me on the street and asks for money, more often than not, I'll say,

"I'm sorry, but I'm not comfortable doing that. I will, however, take you to get a bite to eat at the McDonalds down the street if you'd like."

First, in handling the situation in this way, I am recognizing him as a human being by engaging him in conversation and not simply avoiding him (which is what the priest and the Levite did in the good Samaritan story) or ignoring him altogether, as if he were a non-person.

Second, I am being honest with him, which is something I appreciate from people who interact with me. And third, I am offering to give him not only some food and fellowship, but I may also have an opportunity to share with him my faith in Jesus, which is really the greatest gift I can impart to him.

What I've said thus far may seem far and afield from answering your question. I am convinced, however, we need to dig a little deeper into what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Just as mother love can become smother love, so too can a "loving" deed become quite the opposite if we are not careful. Jesus did in fact say,

"'Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you'" (Matthew 5:42 NAS).


"'Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back'" (Luke 6:30 NKJV).

Jesus did not say, however, to give a person the very thing he asks of you or wants to borrow from you; rather, we are to give something to each person who asks of us. The starting point, of course, is treating the supplicant as a human being who has inherent dignity and worth, and the right to be given a straight answer. Even God very often says "No" to a person who asks of Him.

The late evangelist, Paul Little, told the story of a college student who had come to faith in Christ during a weekend Christian retreat. Shortly before returning to a class in which he was to have an exam for which he had not studied, a buddy slipped him in advance a copy of that very test. Excited in his newfound faith, he said, "Praise the Lord! Now I'm sure to pass the test!"

Had this student taken the time to ask the Lord to provide him with a cheat sheet, the Lord's answer would obviously have been no! God does not encourage His children to cheat. He will, however, let us fail an exam, if by doing so we learn to be responsible and honest in the way we approach our studies. In other words, God sometimes gives us what we truly need, and not what we simply want. Needs are not the same as "greeds"!

Getting back to loving God and loving neighbor as self, loving God supremely (with heart, soul, mind, and strength) is the primary responsibility of every child of God. How are we to love God? Under the Old Covenant, Israel had the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses to obey, and all 613 could be "boiled down" to loving God supremely and loving neighbor as self.

Under the New Covenant, we love God by obeying Jesus. As we obey Him, we demonstrate both our love for God and love for our neighbor (see John 14:23 ff.). While all 613 commandments in the Law of Moses served their purpose well in the role of guardian (see Galatians 3:25), Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the just requirements of the Law are fulfilled in us when we as Christians walk according to the Spirit (v.4 ff.). The Holy Spirit enables us to walk in love when we are fully yielded to Him and do not give in to the flesh.

In conclusion, as we mature in our faith, loving our neighbor may never come as naturally to us as loving ourselves, but God is pleased, I believe, when we progress in being others-centered rather than self-centered. As Paul encourages us in Philippians, chapter 2:

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests [which we do naturally!], but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . ." (vv.3-6).

My paraphrase of Paul:

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; look out for the interests of others as you [already] look out for your own personal interests. Have Jesus' attitude in this regard . . .."

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Great use of Scripture in your answer! Also look at Ephesians 5:29... "After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church" – jdj081 May 1 '14 at 20:28
@jdj081: Thanks for the encouragement. Thanks, too, for the excellent citation of Ephesians 5:29. Don – rhetorician May 2 '14 at 17:57

Matthew 22;39 and Mark 12;31, would best be interpreted considering the whole of the bible. Matthew 22;38 This is the first and greatest commandment. This declaration, considering the whole bible, it is not true. Exodus 20;3 Thou shalt not have other gods before me. This is the first commandment. The point being, better interpretation would result considering all factors.

Matthew 23;12

And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Matthew 16;24-25

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

The verses cited clearly answer the question; Yes, you are allowed to love your neighbour more than yourself. Likewise, with Abraham and Isaac, Abraham denied himself through his willingness to obey God. A primary theme of the bible is self-sacrifice, This began with God, sacrificing his Son.

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