A photo capturing a diverse group of people, huddled together, engaged in a deep conversation, symbolizing the essence of the biblical question "Who is my neighbor?"

Who Is My Neighbor According To The Bible?

The question of who qualifies as one’s neighbor according to biblical principles has been pondered for centuries. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: According to Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, one’s neighbor refers to all people regardless of social, ethnic, or ideological differences.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine the biblical context of the concept of neighbor, analyze the influential Parable of the Good Samaritan, overview scholarly interpretations over the centuries, study other relevant biblical passages, and provide application for modern readers.

The Biblical Context of Neighbor

The Old Testament View of Neighbor

The concept of “neighbor” originates early in the Old Testament of the Bible. God’s people were called to love their neighbors as themselves (Leviticus 19:18). The predominant view of “neighbor” in the Old Testament refers to fellow Israelites.

However, the teachings also encouraged caring for disadvantaged groups like immigrants, orphans, and widows (Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19). Overall, the Old Testament cements the idea that neighbors – specifically fellow Israelites – should be treated with love and compassion.

Jesus’ Teachings Expand Understanding of Neighbor

In the New Testament, Jesus profoundly expanded the definition of one’s neighbor. When questioned on who qualifies as a neighbor, Jesus told the famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), concluding that one’s neighbor includes even groups they may consider opponents or outsiders, like the Samaritans.

By making the Samaritan the hero of the story, Jesus emphasized that neighbors are not limited by social, ethnic, or religious boundaries. Another foundational teaching is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31). For Jesus, everyone is a neighbor deserving of dignity and care.

Jesus did not just preach this ethic of neighborly love – he modeled it through caring for those rejected by society like lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. His call to love one’s neighbor culminated in teaching his followers to love and pray even for enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

According to New Testament scholar Robert Letham, “Jesus fused the command to love God with love for everyone, including enemies and persecutors.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Background on Samaritans

The Samaritans were a mixed race between Jews and Gentiles who inhabited Samaria after the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel around 722 BC. They developed their own temple on Mount Gerizim and considered only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as scripture.

As a result, the Samaritans were despised and avoided by the Jews during Jesus’ day (John 4:9). Many Jews traveling between Jerusalem and Galilee intentionally took alternative routes to avoid entering Samaritan territory.

Story Summary and Key Details

Jesus tells a parable about a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers and left half dead on the road (Luke 10:30). First, a priest came down the road and passed by the man. Next, a Levite walked by and ignored the man as well.

Finally, a Samaritan man came along and had deep compassion for the injured traveler. He bandaged the man’s wounds, put him on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and paid the innkeeper to care for him (Luke 10:33-35).

The key details are:

  • A helpless traveler is ignored by two high-ranking religious leaders
  • A Samaritan man stops and helps the stranger instead
  • The Samaritan shows practical compassion through generous action
  • This would have been quite shocking to Jesus’ Jewish audience at the time, since Samaritans were viewed as outsiders. Yet Jesus states the Samaritan proved to be the wounded man’s true neighbor.

    Implications for Understanding Neighbor

    For Jesus’ original audience, the implications were clear. Being a good neighbor does not depend on race, ethnicity, religion or status. As Jesus states, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor?” (Luke 10:36).

    The story calls listeners to expand our understanding of “neighbor” to include even those we might normally despise or avoid.

    Scholarly Interpretations Over the Centuries

    The concept of “who is my neighbor” has been debated and analyzed by scholars and theologians for centuries. Here is an overview of some of the key interpretations that have emerged over time:

    Early Church Fathers

    Many early church leaders, such as Augustine of Hippo and John Chrysostom, emphasized the universal scope of neighborly love. They argued that Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” applied not just to those in one’s immediate community, but to all human beings.

    Medieval Theologians

    In the Middle Ages, theologians like Thomas Aquinas built on the ideas of Augustine and others. Aquinas and his contemporaries provided careful analysis of what constitutes neighborly love and how far its obligations extend.

    While affirming universal love, medieval scholars also recognized that we have greater responsibility towards those closest to us.

    Reformation Leaders

    During the Reformation, theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin reexamined biblical texts on loving one’s neighbor. They emphasized that neighborly love flows out of love for God. Loving others is not just an ethical requirement but a grateful response to God’s mercy.

    Modern Christian Thinkers

    In recent centuries Christian writers have continued to explore what it means to love one’s neighbor. Some 20th century thinkers like Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer connected neighbor love to social justice issues. Others like C.S.

    Lewis and Mother Teresa focused on embodying practical neighborly love through personal actions.

    As we can see, “who is my neighbor” has been an important question for many great Christian thinkers over the past 2000 years. While interpretations have varied, most agree neighbor love is an essential part of Christian life and applies broadly to all human beings.

    Other Relevant Biblical Passages

    Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

    The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” comes from Leviticus 19:18 in the Old Testament. This verse teaches that we should love and care for others in the same way that we love and care for ourselves.

    Loving your neighbor means having compassion, empathy, kindness, and generosity towards others, regardless of differences. In the New Testament, Jesus referred to Leviticus 19:18 as the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39).

    The apostle Paul also emphasized loving your neighbor in Romans 13:9-10 and Galatians 5:14.

    This principle of neighborly love is foundational to Christian ethics. It reminds us of our shared humanity and challenges us to look beyond ourselves. Author and theologian C.S. Lewis described it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    When we treat our neighbors with dignity and respect, we help create a more just and peaceful society.

    The Golden Rule

    The “Golden Rule” is stated by Jesus in Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This concise, profound teaching encourages us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and consider how we would want to be treated in a given situation.

    It provides a simple but radical ethic of compassion and empathy.

    Various religious traditions have a version of the Golden Rule, including Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. This reveals its universal appeal as an ethical maxim. Essentially, the Golden Rule calls us to actively care for others and refrain from selfishness, cruelty, and indifference.

    If widely practiced, it has power to alleviate so much suffering in the world. As Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi reportedly said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

    The Parable of the Sheep and Goats

    In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells a dramatic parable contrasting “sheep” who care for those in need with “goats” who ignore them. Jesus says that during the final judgment, He will separate people into these two groups based on how they treated Him through caring for the poor, hungry, sick, imprisoned, and oppressed.

    This parable offers a bold vision of social justice and challenges followers of Jesus to serve “the least of these” – those on the margins of society. It insists that God cares deeply about how we treat vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

    According to this passage, our neighbors include the homeless, immigrants, victims of human trafficking, and anyone suffering injustice. American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. referred to this parable in advocating for greater equality and human rights protections.

    Application for Modern Readers

    Loving Neighbors Near and Far

    In today’s globalized world, Christ’s call to love our neighbor applies to those both near and far. While it can be easy to love those closest to us, Jesus calls us to look beyond our immediate circles and care for the marginalized worldwide.

    Organizations like Compassion International and World Vision allow us to practically show love to our global neighbors. A 2014 Barna study found that practicing hospitality and caring for the poor were top faith activities for Christians.

    As we love the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow from afar, we also must continue loving our actual neighbors next door. Small acts of kindness to nearby neighbors, like bringing cookies or shoveling snow, can have an outsized impact in showing Christ’s love.

    Overcoming Prejudice and Division

    The story of the Good Samaritan was shocking to Jesus’ original Jewish audience, with hatred between Jews and Samaritans at the time. The Samaritan overcame prejudice to help his wounded enemy. In America today, increased polarization presents new challenges for obeying Christ’s call to neighbor love.

    A 2019 Pew Research study found partisan antipathy at a 30-year high. Yet Christians have the example of the Good Samaritan, where human need triumphs over group identity. As Scripture says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

    By building relationships across party lines and choosing compassion over stereotypes, we can overcome prejudice through neighbor love.

    Living Out Christ’s Call to Compassion

    While loving others is challenging, Jesus repeatedly emphasized this command, saying “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Scripture calls us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for orphans and widows (Isaiah 58:7, James 1:27).

    With over 37 million Americans living below the poverty line, according to 2021 Census data, needs remain great within our communities. We can live out Christlike compassion through volunteering with soup kitchens, rehabilitative programs, pregnancy resource centers, and other local ministries.

    Through small acts of service, we echo the mercy shown by the Good Samaritan. Jesus assures us that as we care for “the least of these,” we demonstrate our love for God himself (Matthew 25:40).


    As we have explored, Jesus calls his followers to an expansive, boundary-breaking understanding of neighbor love encompassing all people regardless of social or ideological differences. When we embody Christ’s compassion through serving all people in need, we participate in building God’s kingdom on earth.

    The next time someone asks you, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ you can respond confidently with Jesus’ rallying call to recognize all fellow humans as neighbors deserving of mercy.

    Similar Posts