Sunday, February 11, 2007


I am currently reading Dawkins' The God Delusion when I stumbled across something I hadn't known, nor considered. I actually came across mention of McGrath here, and broke down and read the whole post (good ole copy 'n paste), after body-slamming some of the more...obtuse theistic blatherings.

Sir Richard cites one John Hartung (pg. 253) as saying that 'Love thy neighbor' is very much a localized phenomenon.

I blinked. What? Prior to going to this site, I dug around, testing the veracity of this claim.

First, I went to my hardbound KJV bible, and dug up a few nuggets. The word 'neighbor' used in both Matthew AND Luke is the word pelas, which my KJV gives the meaning in the lexicon as "pelas - Greek - (near); (adv.) close by; as noun, a neighbor i.e., fellow (as man, countryman Chr. or friend); near, neighbor", and the site linked to has this to say:

"RV wrote that palai originally meant 'a short time ago', so that it can be derived from the same root as Greek pelazo 'to ome near', pelas 'near', plesion 'near'."

(Reader, please note: I deliberately chose a linguistics site, so as to avoid the inevitable accusation of arsenic in the water table - hehehehe.)

I found this - well, startling:

Matthew 5:43 - 'love thy neighbor' is direct from Leviticus 19:18.

So of course, what's my motto, troops? Oh yeah - LOOK IT UP.

"NET You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge 1 against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself." NIV biblegateway Lev 19:18

"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself." NASB biblegateway Lev 19:18

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. NLT biblegateway Lev 19:18

"Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself." MSG biblegateway Lev 19:18

"Don't seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself." BBE SABDAweb Lev 19:18

Do not make attempts to get equal with one who has done you wrong, or keep hard feelings against the children of your people, but have love for your neighbor as for yourself." NRSV bibleoremusLev 19:18

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." NKJV biblegateway Lev 19:18

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself." - KJV

Six out of eight translations bear it out: the 'neighbor concept is a local phenomenon: it isn't meant to be construed on a global scope.

What does McGrath say about this?

"In the first place, Jesus explicitly extends the Old Testament command to "love your neighbor" to "love your enemy" (Matthew 5.44). Far from endorsing "out-group hostility," Jesus both commended and commanded an ethic of "out-group affirmation." As this feature of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is so well-known and distinctive, it is inexcusable that Dawkins should make no mention of it. Christians may certainly be accused of failing to live up to this demand. But it is there, right at the heart of the Christian ethic.

In the second place, many readers would point out that the familiar story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) makes it clear that the command to "love your neighbor" extends far beyond Judaism. (Indeed, this aspect of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth seems to have resulted in people suspecting Jesus of actually being a Samaritan: see John 8.48). It is certainly true that Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, gave priority to the Jews as God's chosen people, but his definition of who was a "true Jew" was radically broad. It included those who had excluded themselves from Judaism by intimate collaborators with Roman occupying forces. One of the main charges leveled against Jesus by his critics within Judaism was his open acceptance of these out-groups. Indeed a substantial part of his teaching can be seen as a defense of his behavior towards them. Jesus' welcome of marginalized groups, who inhabited an ambiguous position between "in" and "out" is also well attested in accounts of his willingness to touch those considered by his culture to be ritually unclean (for instance Matthew 8.3, Matthew 9.20-25)."

I can go along with all of this. My problem is (besides the fact that of C.S Lewis' alleged 'trilemma', I think the fourth option, 'Legend' is the default), is that this applied primarily out-groups within a specific culture. A valid point can be made that this was a parable only, as being illustrative. But the legendary Nazarene also claimed that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it?

Here, let me pitch a few curve balls here: first off, I agree with Holding, that the literature was written in the language of the times. Second off, I also agree with his (as well as others) stipulation that the Hellenistic viewpoint of the individual first, community second deeply influenced the culture of the Middle East of that time.

But we are talking about Jews of that time period. Fiercely insular. An exclusive worldview. Distinct tie-ins (I still say the author of Matthew was incompetent) to the Old Testament. The person he told the Good Samaritan parable to was a lawyer, supposedly skilled at interpreting the Torah. But this 'rabbi' didn't exclude the Gentiles! you cry.

Oh yes, he did:

"Jesus told his followers that they were to teach the word of God only to the chosen few: "Go not into the way of the Gentiles....but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10:7)

There are a variety of mixed messages that contradict one another, both in the gospels and the books that follow them, but I shan't go into that here.

The point is (and sorry if I belabor it) that in no way can that utterance, echoed both in Luke as well as Matthew be construed as loving everyone or being a global neighbor. It distinctly points to an individual or group of like mind, or more likely, someone of geographical proximity (I'd say I'm being fairly open-minded on the former).

Questions, criticisms, or just plain gossip? Discuss freely among yourselves.

Till the next post, then.

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Mesoforte said...

Tag you're it.

PS, I'll comment on the actual post later, work is calling. ^_~

Krystalline Apostate said...

D'oh! Okay, guess I deserve it, ey? ;)
I should be able to have it up this week.

beepbeepitsme said...

It's pretty obvious that Jesus supposedly came for the lost children of Israel, or for his "neighbours."

Paul was the one who decided to spread "Paulianism" into Rome and into the lands of the gentiles.

Krystalline Apostate said...

BBIM - it's hard to tell, ain't it? All them darned mixed messages - small wonder the xtians are so confused, no? ;)

Matt said...

I feel like I'm stating the glaringly obvious but have you ever heard of the great commision?

The most familiar version of the Great Commission is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."(NIV)

The phrase ''make disciples of all nations'' is clearly a call for the inclusion of everyone.

Krystalline Apostate said...

matt - be that as it may, Dawkins' quote of Hartung was correct. The translation is correct - it was a restrictive clause.
That quotation of Matthew, then, makes for a terribly mixed message, don't you think?

Matt said...


I take it as a call for loving and showing love to the people you come in contact with. Just as all government is local, all community is ultimately local.

(Or, nowadays, made local through technology)

Krystalline Apostate said...

I still find it intriguing, that it was post ex facto that alleged apostles were called upon to send the word to all '4 corners of the earth'. There's a distinct dearth of mention of the Noahide laws in re: gentiles. I would think that something of such magnitude would require instruction, seeing as the alleged apostles were none too bright.