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In Lev. 19:18, why is it worded with רֵעַ, the word translated neighbor, rather than the word שָׁכֵן? Both occur throughout the books of the Old Testament and aren't isolated to a particular period of time. The common word in modern Hebrew for neighbor is שָׁכֵן. Not that common is רֵעַ. JPS1985 translates רֵעַ as countrymen in Lev. 19:18. The Septuagint (LXX) in Lev. 19:18 translates it with πλησίος (neighbor, near). The Latin Vulgate translates it with amicum (friend). The Hebrew lexicons say רֵעַ can mean friend, neighbor, countryman.

This is asking about the human side of the wording. Of course, for divine sovereignty, the uncertainty of the term רֵעַ leads to the lawyer to as the question who is my neighbor (probably רֵעַ) in Luke 10:19, but most definitely a question about Lev. 19:18. This question leads to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Note: lawyers hate ambiguity, but Jesus seemed to love it.

See Who is my neighbor?

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The term (רֵעַ) appears to have wider scope as to those with “one or more shared life experiences.”

Neighbor in the Old Testament extends beyond persons living in a close proximity. רֵעַ (rea', “friend, fellow”) is translated as “neighbor” 66 times in the NASB. It is most commonly translated as “neighbor” within legal discourse or Wisdom literature, including Prophetic literature that falls into one of these two categories. In certain legal contexts, רֵעַ (rea') as “neighbor” can refer specifically to fellow citizens (e.g., Lev 19:18, “Do not bear a grudge against an Israelite, but rather love your neighbor as yourself”). Yet even in this context, the concept of acting neighborly is extended beyond fellow citizens to the stranger in the midst of the land (Lev 19:33–37). The Greek Septuagint most often translates רֵעַ (rea') as πλησίον (plēsion, “fellow,” when used a noun), which in turn becomes the foundation for most New Testament passages that speak about how to treat a neighbor. The basic meaning of both רֵעַ (rea') and πλησίον (plēsion) is a fellow human being, often one who is associated by one or more shared life experiences.

Source: Jeremiah K. Garrett, “Neighbor,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

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  • Seeing Lev. 19:18 as primarily meaning countrymen has an interesting twist considering Jesus extended it to a Samaritan and has good basis on Lev. 19:33-37. The lawyer was probably asking the opposite, "Do I need to include all my countrymen as my neighbor?"
    – Perry Webb
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 10:17
  • While this doesn't make Lev. 19:18 difficult to translate, it makes Luke 10:25-37 very difficult to translate in a way that includes all the implications of רֵעַ.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 10:26
  • @PerryWebb - How is that so? Is not the Samaritan and the unknown person of Luke 10:25-37 the "fellow human being, often one who is associated by one or more shared life experiences"...? In other words, the implications of רֵעַ are those with whom we have shared life experiences.
    – Joseph
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 18:21

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