The word רֵעַ rēaʿ is normally translated as "neighbor". Some Jewish friends told me it means "buddy/comrades" instead. For example, 1 Samuel 28:17 in the NET translation reads:

The LORD has done exactly as I prophesied! The LORD has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David!

"Neighbor" in English means someone that lives next to me or near me. David didn't live next to Saul. The word "neighbor" is pretty confusing.

Perhaps the word "neighbor" here means something else. But that too would be a very uncommon meaning and also very confusing.

Is there a better way of translating the word רֵעַ rēaʿ besides "neighbor"? Or what would justify its use in 1 Samuel 28:17?


5 Answers 5


Brown-Driver-Brigg's definition of rêa‛ (רֵיעַ):

  1. friend, companion, fellow, another person
    1. friend, intimate
    2. fellow, fellow-citizen, another person (weaker sense)
    3. other, another (reciprocal phrase)

"Neighbor" is probably the best word to use in this particular case, because at this point Saul and David aren't really "friends" or "companions." "Fellow" is too generic, as is "another person" because those words don't adequately convey the relationship between the two. "Fellow-citizen" is better but still not quite right, as Saul is currently king and David had already been anointed as king by Samuel back in 1 Samuel 16. Also, while Saul was definitely not neighborly to David, David had shown himself several times to be a true neighbor to Saul.



  1. a person who lives near another.
  2. a person or thing that is near another.
  3. one's fellow human being: to be generous toward one's less fortunate neighbors.
  4. a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans: to be a neighbor to someone in distress.
  5. (used as a term of address, especially as a friendly greeting to a stranger): Tell me, neighbor, which way to town?

HALOT cites the following for this word (emphasis mine):

—General note: the sbst. רֵעַ includes a wide range of related meanings which are more closely defined by their respective contexts. With Noth ATD 5:133 the general sense may be summarised thus: רֵעַ, without expressing a particular legal relationship, means those persons with whom one is brought into contact and with whom one must live on account of the circumstances of life, on which see also Elliger Lev. 258, and H. Gese Vom Sinai zum Zion 74: רֵעַ fellow citizen.

Perhaps in this context, fellow citizen would be the better choice in English.


In short, I believe the meaning of "person next door" can be set aside for this question. Instead here is a Bible study tool regarding the term.

Halfway down the page it defines “Neighbor” [na'-ber (rea`)] in two ways, those being:

  1. As Described in the Old Testament: Within this fairly long definition is “the term implies more than mere proximity; it means one related by the bond of nationality, a fellow-countryman, compatriot.” …and…
  2. As Described in the New Testament: Within this definition is the point that Jesus gives a much wider interpretation...“so as to include in it those outside the tie of nation or kindred. This is definitely done in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where, in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus shows that the relationship is a moral, not a physical one, based not on kinship but on the opportunity and capacity for mutual help. The word represents, not so much a rigid fact, but an ideal which one may or may not realize.”

In summary, the term “neighbor” ends up meaning anyone besides you. I believe that justifies using it in 1 Samuel 28:17.


The word has other connotations, like ‘friend’ (42 times in KJV) or ‘fellow’ (10 times), but ‘neighbor’ is most common (102 times) and is not incorrect. Saul was apparently from Gibeah of Benjamin, and David was from Bethlehem of Judah, about 10 miles south. Though part of a loosely ‘united kingdom’, the tribal designations remained critically important, especially since questions of kingship and dynasty were in flux. The fact that Saul and David were not of the same tribe but allied neighbors might well have had political significance within the federation.

Also, this account was likely written centuries later during a time when Judah was redefining its identity (again). That both dynastic houses of the former United Kingdom were now part of the new Judah might have been a point of pride and worth highlighting.


Here is the case where the Bible is its own best commentary and our own definition causes issues. To us neighbor means the person living next to us, but in reality neighbor is a close associate or friend. In regards to the Samaratin in Luke 10 who helps the Jew as opposed to the two people who turned their backs on him, Jesus ask the Jewish leaders who was the man's neighbor to which they replied the Samaratin. Neighbor here means friend and probably did during the time of the translators, as opposed to the person living in the next house over. This iw why in James 2:8 "If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour (G4139) as thyself, ye do well."

  • You said neighbor means friend and probably did during the time of the translators. Any source? You said that in reality, neighbor is a close associate or friend. Any source?
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 7:53
  • I mean out of so many possible english words that a translator can use to translate rhea, buddy, comrades, fellows, why use the word neighbor?
    – user4951
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 6:12

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