Sunday, September 6, 2020

Is "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself" Something Jesus taught?

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Paul (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:9, 10) and James (2:8) knew the saying, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but they do not cite Jesus as their source.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.”

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
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).

17 comments:

  1. Yes, that sounds about right. Thank you for the insights. Cheers.

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  2. Charlie,
    I have no hypothesis of whether Mk. 12.31 is one which helps to create a historical Jesus, but chapters 11 & 12 are a good look at the way the author of Mark combines Jewish scripture and irony to tell a good story, If one neglects the allusions or quotes from Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 24, Psalms 118 and the Torah, one has some distinct irony. Relationships between one another are at the heart of what Philo called “the second table” of the Decalogue, the second half. (That is what, if I recall correctly, he said the other laws of the Torah generally address, the first four the sphere of God, the fifth the boundary of God, the other five the sphere of humanity.) It seems it wouldn’t have been out of place for a Palestinian teacher to make that connection. Mark’s “problem” is that Jesus the Galilean didn’t show any “love” of his Jerusalemite “neighbors” in those chapters as he visits them, thus the irony. In other words, Jesus the neighbor to the north curses someone’s poor fig bush, causing it to die (I’d be very upset if a neighbor treated mine like that!), he stereotypes and curses the scribes, he accuses Sadducees of being ignorant of the scriptures and being deceived, he publically reworks an old parable of doom into one directed at the temple leaders and in fact terrorizes the temple causing destruction and the loss of money. None of that seems very “neighborly.”

    I reckon these days the processes of the writing interest me as much as historicity.
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.

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    1. Good Morning Dennis--from unusually cold Missouri.
      I would change one of your statements a bit: Jesus, the Galilean, is not depicted as showing any love to his Jerusalemite neighbors. As Gene says: the scenes [in Mark] are the products of the writers' imaginations. The second volume produced by the Jesus Seminar was The Acts of Jesus. The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. Chapters 11 and 12 of Mark contained a lot of Black, a little gray, and its little pink was restricted for the most part to certain sayings. The Fellows agreed, however, that there was an incident or commotion in the Temple in which Jesus likely chased vendors and shoppers out of some part of the temple area (pink). The rationale of the Fellows is interesting reading. At the time we were discussing the acts of Jesus I was skeptical of our ability accurately to rule on the kinds of things Jesus did precisely because the scenes are for the most part due to the imagination of the writers. I am still skeptical.
      Cordially,
      Charlie

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    2. Charlie,

      I look at the gospels as fictive (created by the authors), quite a bit more than The Acts of Jesus portrays them. I was just making the point that Mark 12.28 – 34a doesn’t fit in that scene. It produces irony. Whether this was the intent of the author, I’m not sure. The scribes were the most frequently mentioned antagonists throughout Mark, even later in chapter twelve.
      Dennis Dean Carpenter
      Dahlonega, Ga.

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    3. Hi Dennis,

      You raised my curiosity. The Markan appearance of Jesus' critics follow (NRSV):

      2:6 "the scribes" 2:16 "the scribes of the Pharisees"
      2:18 "John's disciples and the Pharisees"
      2:24 "Pharisees" 3:6 "Pharisees and Herodians"
      3:22 "scribes from Jerusalem" 6:3 "Hometowners"
      7:1 "Pharisees and some scribes from Jerusalem"
      8:11 "Pharisees" 8:15 "Pharisees and Herod"
      8:32 "Peter" 10:2 "Some Pharisees"
      10:13 "the disciples"? 10:28 "Peter" 10:41 "the ten"
      11:18 "chief priests and scribes"
      11:27 "The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders"
      12:13 "Pharisees and some Herodians" 12:18 "Sadducees"
      12:28 "One of the scribes"
      12:38-40 "Beware of the scribes..."
      14:1 "The chief priests and the scribes"
      14:10 "Judas"
      14:43 "Judas, the scribes, chief priests, and elders" 14:55 "Chief priests and whole council"
      14:63 "High priest"
      15:1 "chief priests, elders, and scribes"
      15:11 "the crowd" 15:15 "Pilate"
      15:24 "Soldiers" 15:29 "those who passed by"
      15:31 "Chief priests along with the scribes"

      My count: scribes - 10, Pharisees - 8, Priests - 7, Herodians -3, Elders - 3, Sadducees - 1, Other - 12.

      The priests were perhaps the primary culprits in the crucifixion, having the most to lose, if I'm correct that Jesus was anti-temple, at least the way it operated at that time.

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

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  3. Hu Charlie,

    I checked all the readings in Greek (OT Septuagint/LXX), and for all the OT and NT passages the word used for love is (agapao), love for God, fellow Jew, stranger in the land, and enemy. This is in contrast to the non-use of phileo (close friendship) and eros from which, of course, we get erotic.

    I agree with Dennis that, for the most part, the gospel writers do a poor job of depicting Jesus as showing love (except for the healings and exorcisms, forgiving a prostitute?). The scenes, for the most part of course, are the product of the writers' own imaginations.

    Where the synoptics do have Jesus showing "love" is his non-violent approach during his last week - but I don't think the actual word "love" is used is it? Mark uses the phrase, "I came to serve."

    GJohn of course has 15:9-10: "As the Father has loved me so have I loved you; abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love."

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

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  4. Good Evening Charlie- from warm humid Eastern Missouri,

    1) Then where do you think "love your neighbor as yourself" originated? Was that concept unheard of by the Pharisees?

    2) What is your understanding of a "Pharisee?" Do you believe they were legalistic and fundamentalist? Do you have a negative opinion of Pharisees?

    3) So which makes you a more spiritual person- loving your neighbor or loving your enemy? Does loving your enemy include loving Al Queda, Antifa, and the Ku Klux Klan? If I love the KKK, does that make me a more enlightened and spiritual person? (As opposed to the Jews who taught "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?")

    4) Why do you think most preachers look the other way when Jesus behaved differently from his moralizing- as Dennis astutely pointed out: "Mark’s “problem” is that Jesus the Galilean didn’t show any “love” of his Jerusalemite “neighbors” in those chapters as he visits them, thus the irony. In other words, Jesus the neighbor to the north curses someone’s poor fig bush, causing it to die (I’d be very upset if a neighbor treated mine like that!), he stereotypes and curses the scribes, he accuses Sadducees of being ignorant of the scriptures and being deceived, he publically reworks an old parable of doom into one directed at the temple leaders and in fact terrorizes the temple causing destruction and the loss of money. None of that seems very “neighborly.” "

    Would your Baptist bible teachers allow you to assert that Jesus himself wasn't very neighborly at times?? As always, thank you! Elizabeth

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    1. Good Morning Elizabeth,
      I will key my responses to your paragraph numbers.
      1. So far as I know the statement originated as part of the law code of ancient Israel.
      2. Some Pharisees had excellent reputations. And even Paul received training in the law from the perspectives of the Pharisees. Pharisees get bad press from the authors of the gospels.
      3. Certainly loving your neighbor will endear you to your neighbor as a devout person. Loving your enemy could get your neighbor killed and you arrested as one who collaborates with the enemy.
      4. I have no idea what "most preachers" do. There are a considerable number of them! I don't think anyone (including Jesus) can kill a fig tree by cursing it. And I would be careful about assuming the historicity of everything the gospels say about Jesus.
      5. In a Baptist Bible class I am free to say what I think within the bounds of propriety. If I thought Jesus was not neighborly at times, I would not hesitate to say so.
      Cordially,
      Charlie

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    2. Hi Elizabeth:

      Saying some more about your #2: Pharisees. Charlie can correct me if I've misstated some detail.

      https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/rabbis-seven-types-pharisees-talmud/

      "excerpt from rabbinic literature (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b – Soncino translation)"

      "1. The shikmi Pharisee — he is one who performs the action of Shechem [shechem = shoulder, i.e., the one who carried his deeds on his shoulder for everyone to see].
      2. The nikpi Pharisee — he is one who knocks his feet together [i.e., finds excuses to delay and not to do good deeds].
      3. The kizai Pharisee — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: He is one who makes his blood to flow against walls [walks into the wall to avoid looking at\contact with a woman].
      4. The ‘pestle’ Pharisee — Rabbah b. Shila said: His head is bowed like a pestle in a mortar. [displays humility constantly]
      5. The Pharisee who constantly exclaims ‘What is my duty that I may perform it?’ — but that is a virtue! — Nay, what he says is, ‘What further duty is for me that I may perform it?’ [constantly reckoning good deeds vs. bad ones].
      6. The Pharisee from love [serves God out of love]
      7. The Pharisee from fear [serves God out of fear of punishment]."

      Remember that the Pharisees were the religious enemy of the gospel writers. The Pharisees were in the business of reimagining Israel without the Temple (destroyed c. 70C.E.) and were a powerful counterbalance to the Christian movement. And when the gospel writers imagined scenes of Jesus and the "enemy" it's not unusual that the Pharisees came off in a stereotyped bad light.

      Interesting picture: Jesus accepted an invitation to eat at the home of a Pharisee when he let a woman of the street wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. The Pharisee got criticized for not providing hospitable behavior, and the woman got her sins forgiven. (Luke 7:36-50)

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

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    3. Going back earlier than the Babylonian Talmud, Gene, from the introduction of Neusner's translation of "The Mishnah" one finds that Pharisees are barely mentioned in The Mishnah. (Only Gamaliel and Simeon b. Gamaliel.) The Sages are the authorities of that second, early third century sacred scripture.

      One factor in Pharisees being marginalized in the second century by the Jews came, I think, from the fact that to Jews the author of Jewish Antiquities & Jewish Wars, Josephus, was a traitor during the war, even marching with Titus during the siege of Jerusalem and taking the Flavian name (the family who ruled Rome) and becoming a Roman citizen. He happened to be a upper classed Pharisee, apparently well-known in Judea and, during the war, in Galilee, where he had been in charge of Jewish forces before he became a turncoat. His books, incidentally, exist because of copies found in Christian monasteries. The books were copied by Christians.

      Dennis Dean Carpenter
      Dahlonega, Ga.

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    4. Hi Elizabeth,

      Regarding your #4: Jesus' moralizing vs. his actual behavior. Some thoughts follow:

      Jesus was probably a disciple of John the Baptist. John advocated a direct route from human being to God without the intervention of the temple. A person could make him/herself right with God through repentance signaled by baptism.

      The fig tree was the symbol of the Temple (e.g., Ezekiel). Jesus probably thought that the end-time of the temple had come as the intermediary between human beings and God.

      He possibly thought of prayer as fully taking the place of baptism and temple.

      As with many of his teachings "love your enemy" was possibly a radical way of making a point. His story about settling on the way to court had the element of seeing negotiable potential in an "enemy", but the motive included saving one's own skin, so to speak. In other words loving the enemy contains self-survival potential.

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

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  5. Concerning Deut. 19.18, Aqiva reduced the Torah to “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (The Talmud: A Selection, selected by Norman Solomon, Penguin Classic, p. 522). According to a list of Tannaitic rabbis from an essay in JPS Tanakh, Akiva (ca.40-135) Was a “second generation” rabbi, contemporary with ben Hananiah, and Gamaliel II. (There were five generations, from 1st c. bce. until 2nd c. ce.)
    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.

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  6. Thank you Gene, I do have a bit of Jewish perspective to throw out regarding the "temple" standing in between humans and God... Here's what you wrote: "Jesus was probably a disciple of John the Baptist. John advocated a direct route from human being to God without the intervention of the temple. A person could make him/herself right with God through repentance signaled by baptism.

    The fig tree was the symbol of the Temple (e.g., Ezekiel). Jesus probably thought that the end-time of the temple had come as the intermediary between human beings and God.

    He possibly thought of prayer as fully taking the place of baptism and temple."

    I spoke to a rabbi about this once, and his response surprised me... Because they see Jesus as standing in between God and humans! They don't understand why we need Jesus or the blood to ask God for forgiveness of sins, etc. He said, why don't you go straight to God? What do you need Jesus for?? (not his exact words) He further explained that God told his people in Ezekiel that they would be without a physical temple and that He himself would be their sanctuary... (again, not his exact words, I am paraphrasing) But the bottom line is- I certainly had no answer for his question regarding why Christians can't pray directly to God? Why do we have to go to him through an earthly figure such as Jesus? That stumped me.

    He compared Christians' view of God to the way Greeks viewed Zeus... Zeus was too big and too important to bother for small insignificant petty troubles... So like Apollo, Jesus was created for humans to have access to God and deal with their daily issues... So that God can stay focused on important matters like running the Universe. I thought that was interesting analogy.

    Do you see it differently? Elizabeth

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    1. Good Morning Elizabeth,
      Here is a comment on the last sentence of your next to last paragraph:
      In my view God (if God there be) hears all prayers. To assume that God's ears (so to speak) are shut to everyone who doesn't pray "in Jesus name, Amen" is nonsense. God of many names and beliefs (as I say, if God there be)is the "Father" of humankind and in the minds of his/her (God is genderless) children is only a thought away. How could it possibly be any other way?
      Cordially,
      Charlie

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  7. Elizabeth,

    I think that Christians do see Jesus as the necessary intermediary between humans and God, taking on the punishment humans deserve for sin.

    As I said above, I don't think that either John or Jesus advocated the need for an intermediary with God. Jesus seemed to advocate a supportive meal together.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

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  8. Per the temple:

    While the temple, the home of the patron god was important, one must remember that that was only readily accessible to those in and around Jerusalem. The majority of Jews would have worshipped in their homes and been taught there or in meeting places. If they could afford it, some might make it to the temple during a festival time. The writers of “The Community Rule (DSS, 1QS) considered the Council of the Community to be the true temple, the Community the atoning sacrifice for Israel’s sins. The Essenes (who might or not be the writers of Community Rule, did not, according to Josephus and Philo, consider the Sanctuary to be a valid place to make votive sacrifices. Josephus even added, “... because they have more pure lustrations of their own, on which account they are excluded from the common court of the temple, but offer their sacrifices themselves” (Ant. 18.19). Then, Philo speaks of the Therapeutae, who have a sacred shrine in their homes, where they don’t sacrifice but study, “... in that place the laws and sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets, and hymns, and psalms...” (On the Contemplative Life, 3.25). Galilee was a multi-cultural culture that was intensely Hellenized, after Alexander then a series of other foreign rules, culminating in 37 years of Jewish rule until the Romans took it in 63 bce. According to Josephus, who commanded troops in Galilee, many Galileans were opposed to the Jewish Roman war a hundred or so years later. To think of Judaism It would probably be a mistake to conflate it with Judea as far as temple traditions went. Between the two, Samaria, worshipping the same God and Torah traditions, had its own temple and only saw the Torah and I think Joshua as authoritative. Judaism wasn’t a matter of throwing a bird on the altar of the temple for some of the sects, and was too far to travel for many of the voluminous diaspora on a regular basis.

    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.

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  9. Hi Charlie... Yes, that was exactly the rabbi's point he was making: Why put someone in between God and human beings? He was responding to the scripture that most Christians take literally, John 14:6 "No one comes to the Father except through me." And also as Gene pointed out- Christians see Jesus as a necessary intermediary between humans and God because he took on their punishment.

    However, the rabbi pointed out that Judaism does not teach vicarious atonement for sin nor that an innocent person can be punished for a guilty person's sin. (I don't remember the scriptures off the top of my head that he gave to support his assertions.) Elizabeth

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