It seems likely to me that Jesus knew the Scripture “love your neighbor as yourself.” It was part of the legal code of ancient Israelite religion (Lev 19:18), and other Judeans familiar with the Scriptures surely would have known it. In ancient Israel, however, the neighbor was a fellow-Israelite (Deut 15:1-3; Lev 19:17-18). This definition of neighbor was expanded in Leviticus to include foreigners who came to dwell with the Israelites (Lev 19:33-34). It seems likely that Jesus was aware that the obligation of “loving the neighbor” also included foreigners in their midst. The issue, however, should not be decided on whether he knew the Scripture, but on how well it fitted his ideas and attitudes. Is it something he might have taught?
The Jesus Seminar voted several times on the saying and gave it a weighted average of gray,1 which meant “Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.”2 Unfortunately the Seminar did not vote on the saying Lev 19:18 by itself, but rather they considered it as a package with Deut 6:4-5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:5) as one of the two chief commandments of the law. There was a mail-in vote in 1989 on two of the three occurrences of the “chief commandments” appearing in the gospels: for Matt 22:37-40 and Luke 10:27 (Red, 0; Pink, 33; Gray, 60; Black, 7). At the University of Redlands in 1986 there was a vote on Mark 12:28-34 (Red, 11; Pink, 28; Gray, 22; Black, 39). At the University of Notre Dame also in 1986 there was again a vote on Mark 12:28-34 (Red, 4; Pink, 32; Gray, 28; Black, 36).
Paul (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:9, 10) and James (2:8) knew the saying, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but they do not cite Jesus as their source. It seems more likely that they were familiar with the saying through the Israelite Scriptures. Luke, however, seems to think that the saying fitted the attitudes of Jesus by associating it (Luke 10:25-29, 36-37) with the story Jesus told about a robbery and assault on the Jericho road (Luke 10:30-35). From my perspective Luke’s reading of the story is simply misguided. The story is an exaggeration of what it meant to be a righteous man in late Judaism: “a righteous man risks his life and living for the nobodies of the world.”3 The story has little to do with loving neighbors. But from Luke’s perspective the story reflected an attitude toward others similar with that found in the saying about loving the neighbor.
Surely it is not a wrong thing to love one’s neighbor, even defined as one’s “own people.” Paul even thought that loving the neighbor fulfilled the whole law (Rom 13:8-10)! But loving the neighbor, however defined, does not go far enough. Thus Paul (Rom 13:8a: “owe no one anything except to love one another”) and James (Jas 2:1-9: “show no partiality”) expanded the horizon of the saying “love one’s neighbor” to include one’s fellow human being (an attitude also shared by Jesus in Luke 6:32, which implies that love must be extended beyond one’s own kind); and Jesus expanded the horizon of the saying even further to include love for enemies (Luke 6:27b and Matt 5:43-44).4 Thus, these three ideas, loving one’s neighbor (narrowly defined), loving one’s fellow human being (broadly defined), and loving one’s enemy come together under the obligation to love others. It seems inevitable that Jesus would have taught all three concepts.
While the saying “love your neighbor as yourself” fails to meet the criteria of dissimilarity and multiple attestation, it may be considered a saying of Jesus under the criterion of coherence.5 “Love your neighbor as yourself” is an idea that is consistent with Jesus’ attitudes on love of others, and as such deserves a pink rating; that is to say: “Jesus probably taught something like this.”
Missouri State University
1The weighted averages ranged from a high of 0.42 to a low of 0.35: The Jesus Seminar, “Voting Records. Sorted by Group Parallels by Weighted Averages,” Forum 6.3-4 (September/December,1990), 299-352 (319).
2Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 36; Jesus Seminar, “Voting Records. Sorted by Gospels, by Weighted Averages,” Forum 6.3-4, 319.
3Hedrick, Parables as Poetic Fictions. The Creative Voice of Jesus (Peabody. MA: Hendrickson, 1994; reprint, Wipf and Stock, 2005), 116 (93-116).
4Hedrick, The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014), 87-88.
5The Criterion of Coherence states: “material from the earliest stratum of the Jesus tradition may be original, provided it coheres with material established as original by means of the criterion of dissimilarity.” For a short discussion of the criteria for determining authenticity see Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide. Studying Jesus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999; reprint, Wipf and Stock, 2013), 135-52 (143-44).