But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, ESV)

ὁ δὲ θέλων ⸀δικαιῶσαι ἑαυτὸν εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν· καὶ τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29, NA28)

Charts made with Excel and Logos database.

The words πλησίον in the LXX translated.

enter image description here

The words translating רֵעַ in the LXX.

enter image description here

Neighbor can extend to friend and even countryman? It also means near. The Jews considered the Samaritan neither a friend or countryman, and he didn't live nearby. His journey did bring him near to the injured Jew in need. However, Jesus went way outside of who the man asking viewed as a neighbor. Jesus turn the question around from "Who is my neighbor?" to "Who is a neighbor?"

Most likely the two Jewish priests would have been worried about being defiled by a dead man:

Leviticus 21:1–4 concerns the family members for whom a priest may defile himself through corpse contact. These relatives include his mother, father, son, daughter, and brothers, each of whom is characterized as “his flesh, the one who is close to him [šĕʾērô haqqārōb ʾēlāyw].” His virgin sister, also described as “the one who is close to him [haqqĕrôbâʾēlāyw],” is included in this group because she has no husband. But his wife is explicitly excluded, and uncles, aunts, and cousins go unmentioned, suggesting their omission as well. Thus, according to Lev 21:1–4, the priest’s obligation to bury familial dead extends only to certain blood relations, whom we might characterize as his closest family members; it does not extend to the spouse, who is not a blood relation, nor to other family members, whom the text classifies implicitly as more distant by not including them among those characterized as “his flesh” and/or “close to him.” -- Olyan, S. M. (2017). Friendship in the Hebrew Bible. (J. J. Collins, Ed.) (p. 12). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

This brings in a similar issue to Jesus' tension with the Jewish leaders over healing on the Sabbath.


Although the biblical text has no word for “friendship,” there are a number of words for “friend.” Most common is rēaʿ [רֵעַ] and related nouns such as rēʿâ [רֵיעַ, רֵעָה], raʿyâ [רָעָה], rēʿeh [רֵעֶה], and mērēaʿ[מֵרֵעַ], each apparently derived either from a root r ʿ h [רעה] or a root r ʿʿ [רעע], both meaning something like “to associate with” or “to affiliate with,” suggesting a voluntary dimension to friendship. -- Olyan, S. M. (2017). Friendship in the Hebrew Bible. (J. J. Collins, Ed.) (p. 4). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

1 Answer 1


The simplest answer to this good question is that Jesus wanted to illustrate exactly what the OP's analysis of the word clearly teaches, that a neighbor is the one who is close and needs our help.

Note Jesus' own conclusion to the His parable in Luke 10:36, 37 -

36 Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 “The one who showed him mercy,” replied the expert in the law.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Indeed, BDAG defines the main meaning of πλησίον as:

the one who is near or close by, neighbor, fellow human being

Thayer is even more direct:

any other person, and where two are concerned the other (thy fellow-man, thy neighbor) i. e., according to the O. T. and Jewish conception, a member of the Hebrew race and commonwealth: Acts 7:27; and Rec. in Hebrews 8:11; according to the teaching of Christ, any other man irrespective of race or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet (which idea is clearly brought out in the parable Luke 10:25-37): Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31, 33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9, 10; (); Galatians 5:14; Ephesians 4:25; James 2:8 and L T Tr WH in ; πλησίον εἶναι τίνος, to be near one (one's neighbor), i. e. in a passive sense, worthy to be regarded as a friend and companion, Luke 10:29; actively, to perform the offices of a friend and companion, Luke 10:36; (on the omission of the article in the last two examples see Buttmann, § 129, 11; Winer's Grammar, § 19 at the end).

It was this Jewish mindset of a neighbor being only a fellow countryman that Jesus was at pains to dislodge. Seen another way, Jesus wanted to dispel any notion of racism.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.