Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Strawman" Truth or Fiction? Who To Believe!

I have to say, the last few days have been a little unorthodox for me. I actually got into a little bit of an argument with a non Christian, an Atheist in fact over his innuendo and comments that were misleading regarding a private exchange we had that he made public, and the negative comments towards two guests on my radio program last week, both who were atheists. He alluded that they were not fit to represent Atheist thought and ideals, even though the show was not about debate, it was about friendship and learning from people. Ill be frank, I came to the conclusion, even more so, that there are as many screwed up Atheists out there as there are Christians. I guess dogma, and rudeness is not exclusive to Christians.

This individual in a response to another Christian referenced that, “the word neighbor meant specifically just your tribe, not everyone.” He also stated, “In one part of the Bible (I forget which off hand) Jesus refuses to heal someone because they are of a different tribe. He later reluctantly does so, but isn't very happy about it. I don't have time to look it up on blueletterbible right now.” I was somewhat confused, since I have spent quite a bit of time on this subject in the past, so I decided to do some checking.

The first thing that bothered me about this is that the King James Version of the Bible is the version when using this verse, in that the quotation by the author looks at “Thee” for example as part of the word usage. In fact his original quote where this came up was, “Actually, the earliest copy of that part of the bible that I am aware of roughly translate love thee neighbor (of one's tribe) as you would love thee self. You can see "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Erhman for the exact reference and translation. I think you would get a lot out of that book. I highly recommend.” Now I have several issues with this, and a concern as I believe legitimate debate is started and finished with integrity. At any part of a debate if a lack of integrity is shown, then the value of debate is lost. I don’t presume to know all things regarding things I haven’t studied. I will comment on things I know about, but try to be careful as to the intent of what I say, and the legitimacy behind the thought and concepts. It is dangerous when one presents a point of fact, when in reality, a quick check can and often does show the reality that the person making the comment is off base, and more likely than not trying to present a point of their belief, when in reality it is not truth.

Let me be quick here to point out part of my concern when looking at the words of others. First, as one who uses words, (often times too many) I believe words mean things. I also believe whoever came up with the concept of “sticks and bones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was an idiot. Words do hurt; I could give myriads of examples. I have said, “The English language is too limited to not use the words that best fit the situation.” That said I must present my first point of contrast with one who would present Biblical concepts and teachings, when in reality they don’t believe the Bible and have issues with Christians. A point I don’t take offense at, but do take offense when they present their views as Biblical, when in reality they are not consistent with Biblical concepts.

My first point of offense; notice how the person uses language only contained in the King James Version, “thee.” Also notice how they use the wording of “neighbor.” The first point that led me to some examination of their comments is that the word “neighbor,” is never used in the King James Version. Did you hear that? The word is never used, and the example used by this person has right off the bat, a point of concern because they are misquoting scripture, which has to lead one to examine, are they also misquoting the concept and teachings of Scripture?

On the terminology of neighbor, let’s look at a few facts.

The word neighbor or a derivative of the word appears in the:
King James Version: 0 times
New King James Version: 142 times
New International Version: 137 times
New American Standard Version: 135 times
New Living Translation: 124 times
Contemporary English Version: 55 times
Today’s New International Version: 143 times

What is my point? It is actually twofold. First, the translation quoted, never uses the term neighbor, and the second purpose is to illustrate that different words are used in different translations for different purposes. In fact, just like today, when the Bible was written, there were different meanings for the word neighbor. This isn’t to debate the legitimacy of the Bible, Scripture, or any of those things as this is not the point of this article. The intent is to simply look at the reality that people can’t just use the language they want when trying to present their points. There has to be a measure of integrity when doing this, and I believe that without integrity on simple matters like this, one has to question the integrity of bigger issues when they come up. For example, if one will mislead, misquote to present their view on an issue like this, even if done innocently, then one is certainly within their rights to question intent on the bigger things, like the reality or teachings of Jesus Christ. This becomes a critical issue especially since so many are so quick to not only tear apart Christianity, but to tear apart the existence of Jesus Christ, and in a separate way, the integrity of The Bible.

I will now go to the second part of the attempt to tear down the concept of neighbor as is practiced by many Christians, that is, all people on the planet are neighbors according to Biblical teachings, and that Jesus practiced exclusivity, or selective neighbor practices, which is not a part of Biblical tradition.

We must see the importance of the contemporary definition of neighbor, since that definition is what many base their view on.

In order to have a contemporary understanding of the word neighbor, I went to Their definition follows:

Neighbor Pronunciation [ney-ber]
1. A person who lives near another.
2. A person or thing that is near another.
3. One's fellow human being: to be generous toward one's less fortunate neighbors.
4. A person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans: to be a neighbor to someone in distress.
5. (Used as a term of address, esp. as a friendly greeting to a stranger): Tell me, neighbor, which way to town?
6. Situated or living near another: one of our neighbor nations.
Verb (used with object)
7. To live or be situated near to; adjoin; border on.
8. To place or bring near.
Verb (used without object)
9. To live or be situated nearby.
10. To associate with or as if with one's neighbors; be neighborly or friendly (often fol. by with).

With this definition we can now look at Biblical definitions of neighbor. To do this I used the Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Since the concept of the word neighbor as used by Jesus is under question, I looked at the New Testament since the words and usage of the word by Jesus only occurs in the New Testament.

In the New Testament, there are only 3 definitions used for the word neighbor. I will look at word usage in the New Testament, and only the words used by Jesus. Their definitions and texts follow:

Then Jesus said to the man who had invited him:

When you give a dinner or a banquet, don't invite your friends and family and relatives and rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return, and you will be paid back. Luke 14:12


…and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, "Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep."

Jesus said, "In the same way there is more happiness in heaven because of one sinner who turns to God than over ninety-nine good people who don't need to."

Jesus told the people another story:
What will a woman do if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them? Won't she light a lamp, sweep the floor, and look carefully until she finds it? Then she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, "Let's celebrate! I've found the coin I lost." Luke 15: 6-9


The man's neighbors and the people who had seen him begging wondered if he really could be the same man. John 9:8

The Greek word used here is: geiton. It denotes and implies one living in the same land. This is obvious by looking at the context above. In other words, a contemporary application may imply that those living next to you on your street, those living in your town, or even those living in your country. It is clear from the usage of the word that in it is used here in the context of those that are close by,


Now let’s look at the second definition for the word neighbor and the passages where it is used:

…her neighbors and relatives heard how kind the Lord had been to her, and they too were glad. Luke 1:58

Interestingly enough the Greek word used here, perioikos, is only used this one time in the New Testament. It is used here as a noun and implies living around or being near. This isn’t a passage where Jesus used the word so wouldn’t be applicable to the argument being presented here.


Now let’s look at the third and final definition of the word used, and some of the passages where it is used.

Then Jesus asked, "Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?" Luke 10:36


…and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, "Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep."

Jesus said, "In the same way there is more happiness in heaven because of one sinner who turns to God than over ninety-nine good people who don't need to."

Jesus told the people another story:
What will a woman do if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them? Won't she light a lamp, sweep the floor, and look carefully until she finds it? Then she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, "Let's celebrate! I've found the coin I lost." Luke 15: 6-9 (notice this was used with an earlier term, it is easy to understand, as the word is used more than once, thus more than one definition of the word used. In other words, both definitions apply here.)


Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10, (see note above about not being the words of Jesus so not in question here.)


"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' Matthew 5:43


Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 19:19


And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Matthew 22:39


The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." Mark 12: 31-33


He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Luke 10:27

The Greek word used here is plesion and it means, near. This said, there is a much wider range than many may understand, especially so with the English understanding of the word neighbor. According to Strongs, and numerous others, there is a need to understand that in the culture and time the word is used, “There were no farmhouses scattered over the agricultural areas of Palestine; the populations, gathered in villages, went to and fro to their toil. Hence domestic life was touched at every point by a wide circle of neighborhood. The terms for neighbor were therefore of a very comprehensive scope. This may be seen from the chief characteristics of the privileges and duties of neighborhood…”

Several things have to be noted, only one seeking to prove a point, would add to the concept that Jesus was exclusive when in reality he was implying that your neighbor was all of those around you, your next door neighbor, your community, your region, your state, your world. This point is made no more clearly than the passages referred to as The Good Samaritan Story where Jesus went out of his way to call someone in another state, in fact someone often despised, as neighbor. It is in this context, with a understanding of the prejudice, hatred, and views of most Jews towards Samaritans that one can come to this obvious conclusion. One should also note that Jesus is talking about a total stranger in another land, perceived as a different nationality, a different religion, and a different race. He is taking the process of neighbor to new territory, one that is not inclusive to those living close by, or to those who are of the same belief. In fact, the Samaritan represents all people, even ones enemy.

Here is a challenge for all who follow Jesus, we have to be careful in the debate we engage in because of the falsehoods and misperceptions that others will present. It is important we know the truth, and when one states that “the word neighbor meant specifically just your tribe, not everyone,” we have to understand, we are being told a lie. The facts are, Jesus calls Christians to love all people, Atheists, Homosexuals, Methodists, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, all people. It is clear from looking at the Greek, and the actual words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, that Jesus gives clear understanding that your neighbor is all people.

There are other aspects of logic to be understood when engaging in debate or argument of this nature. You have to look at the contextual components of the Bible, and look for clear understanding. There are many examples that those who have issues with Jesus take certain verses of the Bible out of context. I won’t go into those as this discourse has been long enough and I haven’t addressed all points of disagreement here. For example the comment; “In one part of the Bible (I forget which off hand) Jesus refuses to heal someone because they are of a different tribe. He later reluctantly does so, but isn't very happy about it. I don't have time to look it up on blueletterbible right now.” There is an assumption that Jesus didn’t want to heal the person, but we don’t have the verse or passage to review the contextual aspect. In reality, the Bible is very clear, Jesus healed every single person who asked him. There is also clear indication that Jesus came to earth for ALL people, not just a select few. Anyone who would present otherwise has a position to present, when in reality there is ample teaching that much of the growth of the early Christian church took place because of the outreach to Gentiles. It is an aspect people like to nit pick around, but the reality is, not only Paul, but Jesus, was involved in extensive out reach, love, and compassion to those outside of the Jewish faith. While there is an instance where Jesus tells individuals to stay away from Gentiles, when looking at the entire context, it becomes clear this was done based on strategy, giftedness and so forth. It is also clear there were times Jesus specifically reached out to Gentiles and the “world” and times we see others reaching out to Gentiles (anyone who is not a Jew.)

A passage many use to condemn Jesus in this area, and one I think the person was referring to follows:

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."

He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."

The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.

He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."

"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Matthew 15: 21-28

While some are critical of Jesus because of his initial reluctance to heal this woman, they leave out several points, one, Jesus used this as a teaching illustration, and secondly, his comment towards the end where he tells her she has great faith and actually praises her.

There are more examples but this is a good place to start and hopefully, I have used a few facts, supported by textual examples and actual definitions of words used to show that we who follow Jesus have to be prepared, and that we who call ourselves Christians have to be aware of how the Bible is often misquoted. Bottom line, our neighbor is all people, even Atheists, and Jesus loves all people, even those who aren’t Jewish.

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