When Jesus said to 'love' your neighbor and your enemies, what was the context of the word?

In each Gospel Jesus calls upon His followers to love their fellow humans, though the context varies: love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12: 28-31), love one another (John 13:34-35, Luke 10), love your enemies (Matthew 5). After His resurrection His asks disciples if they love Him as well.

There were many different words for love in Greek and in other languages. Is there a word commonly used in the Greek texts for these passages and, if so, does anybody know how well it translates from Hebrew or Aramaic to Greek? I’m assuming it’s the one most akin to ‘brotherly love’ but I don’t know that.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a piece about how the word ‘respect’ should be substituted for ‘love’, which was impossible to do to a stranger and was immaterial to him (Vonnegut) anyway: he’d rather have a stranger’s respect than love and in the same piece said that he’s positive there have been moments when his wives didn’t love him but if they stopped respecting him it would have been unbearable. I’m curious if the word for ‘love’ may be closer in meaning to ‘respect’.

I should say that the Parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrates very well what is meant by loving your neighbour (and also shows that “neighbour” should be extended by you to mean anyone you are in a position to help): the Samaritan takes no thought of his own safety but personally inconveniences himself to help someone in trouble, and not only leaves the injured party in safe hands but assures the third party that he will reimburse him for any further expenses. That’s not “respect” by any definition I understand but something else entirely.

Except the point was exactly the opposite of that.

It wasn’t that neighbour should be extended by you to mean anyone you are in a position to help. The point was that anybody who helps you is your neighbour. It actually says that at the end of the parable. The rhetorical question was “Who was the injured man’s neighbour”. It wasn’t “who was the Samaritan’s neighbour”.

I can’t give any very deep answer to the question(s) in the O.P., but just to get the ball rolling, a good place to start with questions like this is the Blue Letter Bible, which allows you to click on the little “C” button beside any verse and pull up the Greek (or Hebrew for the Old Testament) words of which the English word or words are a translation.

The word rendered as “love” in all of the verses mentioned is agapaō, the noun form of which is the famous agapē; agapētos (beloved) is also used in the New Testament. Phileō is also used in the New Testament; I’m not sure which other Greek words for love appear in the Bible.

If A is B’s neighbour, is not B A’s neighbour?

This may be nitpicking, but this part of your OP answers the question in the thread title. The rest of your post seems more concerned with meaning than the context of the word.

Even if we accept that, it is still radically different to what you said.

You said that “neighbour should be extended by you to mean anyone you are in a position to help”. However in the parable of the good Samaritan, the victim was never, ever in a position to be able to help the Samaritan. Therefore by your reasoning the Samaritan was not the victim’s neighbour, since neighbour only included and those you are in a position to help.

The meaning of the parable was exactly the opposite of that. The point was that neighbour didn’t just mean other Jews. The point was that many Jews were not neighbourly at all, while non-Jews could be good neighbours. The Samaritan was the victim’s neighbour by virtue of helping him.

The Jews and Samaritans despised each other. The point of the parable was that the hated Samaritan was a better person (i.e, more Godly) than the two other guys, one a priest and one a Levite. The Samaritan treated the beaten man like a neighbor. Jesus wanted his followers to treat everyone, even someone they traditionally hated, like a neighbor.

In terms of meaning and context, I think it’s fair to save that “love your neighbor as yourself” has the same meaning as the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

To answer Vonnegut, then, if what he really wants is respect, then I would show him love by showing him respect. But if he was freezing cold, I would not be showing him love by saying “I really respect your impending death from hypothermia.” Instead, I’d be showing him love if I gave him a blanket, a heater, a ride to a motel, etc.

And, obviously, love is not being used in a romantic or sexual sense here. Greek had different words for those kinds of love.

Thanks for all answers. Hijacking my own thread a bit, were the Samaritans considered Jewish variants (i.e. like the way Catholics view Protestants) or a Jewish cult (i.e. like the way Catholics & Protestants might view Mormons) or something altogether different? For that matter, I know they considered themselves of Abrahamic origin but did they consider themselves Jews?

The Samaritans - who still exist - are considered sort of like a related tribe that split off from the main Jewish nation around the time of the Assyrian conquest.

The consider themselves Israelites, but not Jews - Jews are descended from the tribe of Judah, while the Samaritans see themselves as descended from the other tribes (mainly Menasseh, I think).

Summary, based on the C.S. Lewis book, of the four different concepts subsumed under “love”. Agapé.

My favorite take on the Good Samaritan.

Another way to look at how Jews viewed Samaritans: the Israelites had, due partly to the way they were conquered*, had a lot of intermarriages with other tribes. In other words, Samaritans were often viewed as “half-breeds,” with the same contempt you would expect from someone using that term in the 20th century.

*The Assyrian king would transplant his conquered people into different locations, to try to keep them more separated, and less likely to form uprisings against him. Due to forced cohabitation, racism between the groups decreased, and a lot of “mixed marriages” were had. A quick googling revealed this page, which has more information.

In each of the passages mentioned in the OP, the word used was one of the declensions of agapaō, unconditional love, not philō, brotherly love.

Interestingly, Jesus does have a conversation with Peter in which philō is used: John 21: 15-17

So, Jesus twice asks Peter whether Peter loves Jesus with a complete love, to which Peter responds that Peter loves Jesus like a brother, then Jesus finally gives up and asks Peter whether he loves Jesus as a brother and Peter replies in the affirmative–apparently failing to notice what Jesus was really asking, initially.

I always assumed Peter thought like we often do: that philo is stronger than agapao. But, in this context, it was not.

There is no aspect of Christian theology in which philo would be stronger than agapaō. Agapaō was a love that was complete and unconditional, the love that would, if necessary, spur one to give one’s life for another, (spouse, child, brother, parent, etc.), and could include aspects of empathy and or of being a “soul mate.” (That is why it was used when referring to human relations with God.) As employed in Greek, philō did not carry the same meaning and our translation as “brotherly love” might give an unintended impression of how it was employed in Koine Greek.

That makes no sense. You are required to agape everyone (1 Corinthians 13, particularly that last part of verse 5, which cannot apply to God), but not phileo or any other type of love. It’s just like the modern use of “I love you, but I don’t have to like you.” In that context, like is stronger than love, as like adds on to love.

I know the definitions of both agape and phileo. If phileo meant “brotherly love” as we use it today, it would inherently be weaker, but it means the love of frienship, which makes it stronger. It’s an additional love on top of the agape you have to have for everyone.

The only real way around this is to treat the two concepts as completely separate, but then the passage in question doesn’t make sense. There has to be a reason why Peter would think that using phileo would cover Jesus’s question of agape. At the very least, he had to think they were equivalent.

I have never encounered any translation of either word that agrees with yours.

I will not claim any extraordinary knowledge of Koine Greek to declare that you are wrong, but I will note that I have simply never encountered any translation or commentary in which philō was considered a “higher” or more virtuous act than agapaō. (See, for example, the discussion of C.S. Lewis’s book, The Four Loves to which Polycarp linked.)

You could be right, you you appear to hold a minority view.

Totally disagree. This quality is empathy. You don’t have to love them to any degree in order to be driven to aid a fellow human being (indeed, a fellow living being) in distress.