Who is My Enemy?  

April 18, 2023

by Barry Fike

Hate thine enemy-  The Greek word for enemy here is exopou.  In Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (no. 2190) the definition, for exopou, is someone who hates you.[1]  Similar definitions are found in Greek lexicons. The problem with the Greek definition is that it ignores the fact that this is Hebrew, not Greek, and the word is trying to convey a Hebrew idea.

          The LXX was translated in 285 B.C. during the classical period by 70 learned Jews.  During this particular period of time, the Jews had chosen certain Greek words to convey certain Hebrew ideas or concepts.  At this period the meaning of those Greek words was fixed.  But the language changes so quickly that by the time you come to the NT it already means something different.  To find out what it means you have to go back to Classical Greek.  For Classical Greek the word Ekthros means, “hatred, ekthros is one who has been a theos (friend)[2] but is alienated.”[3]  In the Mishnah, tractate Sanhedrin, chapt. 3, Mishna 5 it states, “A friend or an enemy is ineligible (to serve in a court of law).  By friend is meant one’s best friend, and by an enemy is meant anyone that has not spoken with him through enmity for three days.”[4]  This enemy is not some stranger, but a brother that has been alienated from you.

          An enemy in Judaism is something completely different.  In Mishnah, tractate Sanhedrin, “If one comes to kill you, anticipate it, and be first and kill him first.” (cite)  This is Jewish law on the subject.  Jewish law also states that if a man doesn’t protect his own person, family, personal property, he is a bad as a pagan.  He has a responsibility to protect his own person. 

          Some of the followers of Shammai, or his philosophy, followed a pattern of exclusivity (i.e., If you don’t follow my particular way of doing things, my particular experience of doing things, ritual purity, etc. then I cannot associate with people who do not follow my way of doing and thinking about things).   In the Gospels the ones who faulted Jesus for his association with the kinds of people whom he taught and loved were this latter group.

          In Judaism of that period of time, especially among the school of Shemmai, there was the idea that you should restrict your friendship, and that you should not have anything to do with people who did not believe the way that you did and were not following in the same religious path.  What Jesus may be saying is that even though you do not follow the same path that others follow, you should still love them and be friends with them.  Thus, you can still be in association with them.  In Judaism, of Jesus’ day and time, you have as many as 19 to 20 different sects of the Jews in the first century.  (Zealots, Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, etc.  Just among the Pharisees you could break it down into 7 to 8 groups)   The bottom line was that these different sects were not your enemies!  They may have an opinion that is different than yours, and you may argue with them and never agree with them, but you can still be in association with them.


Verse 44


Love your enemy-  (Lev. 19:18) this was considered to be the “great summary of the Torah,” both according to the Rabbinic view and also according to Jesus himself (Matt. 22:34-38).  It is very probable that this verse which teaches love for one’s neighbor was understood as summarizing the second part of the Decalogue.[5] 

          It also goes on to prove the point that you can overwhelm the sinner by a human approach.  You can make him better.   This idea is fully developed in a book which originates with semi-Essene circles known as the Testament of the Patriarchs, especially in the Testament of Benjamin.  “If anyone does violence to a pious man, he repents, for the pious man is merciful to his reveler, and holds his peace.  And if anyone betrays a righteous man, the righteous man prays; though for a little while he is humbled, yet not long after he appears more glorious, as was Joseph my brother” (Test. Benj. 5:4f).  By the undivided love toward the righteous and toward the sinners, the pious man overwhelms the evil in the sinner: “For the good man has not a dark eye; for he shows mercy to all men, even though they be sinners.  And though they devise with evil intent concerning him, by doing good he overcomes evil, being shielded by God” (Test. Benj. 4:2f).[6]

          According to the Testament of Benjamin you have to be undivided in your all-embracing love toward all, righteous and sinners; in this you will be different from the works of Belial, because they “are twofold, and there is no singleness in them.”  A similar idea is expressed by Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”  (Matt. 5:44-48).[7] 

          Those who listened to Jesus’ preaching of love might well have been moved by it.  Many in those days thought in a similar way.  Nonetheless, in the clear purity of his love they must have detected something very special.  Jesus did not accept all that was thought and taught in the Judaism of his time.  Although not really a Pharisee himself, he was closest to the Pharisees of the school of Hillel who preached love, and he led the way further to unconditional love - even of one’s enemies and of sinners.[8]  The esteemed one who demonstrates to his or her neighbor love is not based upon what a neighbor has done to earn or merit love.  God like love is for everyone, friend and enemy alike.  Divine love is more powerful than human hate.  Esteem for others mends the world.  Jesus valued other people by word and deed whether they were considered friends or enemies.  He taught his disciples to love their enemies.  Love demonstrates its force in action.  To love one’s enemy is to fulfill God’s will.  This is how one must translate the commandment from Lev. 19:18, “Love even your enemy as yourself”! 

          In order to understand the meaning of the term “neighbor,” first one must learn to behave like a neighbor.  One must assume the position of someone in need.  Each follower of Jesus must do something for an individual in need.  What would we want someone to do for us, if we had the misfortune of being in a difficult position?  To know what the word “neighbor” means, one must be a neighbor.[9] 


Hate your enemy- As far as we know this expression does not occur in the Old Testament or in Rabbinic Judaism.  The idea is found at Qumran.  The people of Qumran had withdrawn to the wilderness to await the end of the age.  They were the “sons of light,” equipping themselves through intense discipline, rituals of purity, and scriptural study to overcome their enemy, the “sons of darkness.”  The Manual of Discipline (1-9-11) reads: “to love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in the Council of God, and to hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt in the vengeance of God.” 

          In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus thus refutes this concept of vengeance - which at the very least was sectarian belief in his day - and emphasizes the need to pay back good for evil.[10]  While vengeance is never a concept entertained by Jesus, this does not mean that one cannot defend himself.  Our response to evil does have to be resistance – it is morally wrong to tolerate evil.  According to scripture, for example, a person who kills a housebreaker at night is not guilty of murder: “If a thief is seized while tunneling [to break into a house], and he is beaten to death, the person who killed him is not guilty of bloodshed” (Ex. 22:2).[11] However, we must also continue to show love for the evildoer.[12]

          The Jewish position on this issue is summer up in the rabbinic dictum, “If someone comes to murder you, anticipate him and kill him first” (B. Sanhedrin 72a).  The rabbis taught that if one is in danger of being murdered, he should defend himself, even if there is a measure of doubt about the intention of the attacker.  Furthermore, if another person’s life is threatened, one is obligated to prevent that murder, if necessary by killing the attacker (Lev. 19:16).  The rabbis rules that a person who is pursuing someone else with intent to murder may be killed (M. Sanhedrin 8:7).[13] 

          One is morally obligated to preserve life, including one’s own.  Jesus never taught that it is wrong to defend oneself against life-threatening attack.  However, he consistently taught his disciples to forgive and not to seek revenge against those who had insulted or wronged them.  As Proverbs 20:22 counsels, “Do not say, ‘I will repay the evil deed in kind.’ Trust in the Lord. He will take care of it.”  Our responsibility is not to respond in kind to offenses directed against us.  That only prolongs and perpetuates the evil.  We are not to “be overcome by evil,” but to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).[14]

          This is further evidenced in the parable of the good Samaritan where the neighbor is not the man in need of life-giving assistance but the enemy.  If one assumes the position of one in need is it possible to recognize that a neighbor is actually the enemy?  When a person is in need of life-saving assistance, even an enemy who behaves like a friend is welcome.  One discovers reciprocity in Jesus’ definition of neighbor.  The enemy becomes the neighbor in the story.  The Samaritan, who is viewed as an enemy, teaches what is meant by the word neighbor because he acted like a neighbor to someone who needed help.[15] 

          Since God continues to rain on the just and the unjust, his mercy is continuously shown far more than his justice. Shouldn’t this be the motto of those who follow him?  


              [1] Thayer, #2190, 265.

              [2] Liddell, 1939.

              [3] Liddell, 748.

              [4] Blackman, vol. 4, 248.

              [5] Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 494.

              [6] Ibid, 123.

              [7] Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 125.

              [8] Flusser, Jesus, 92.

              [9] Young, 169.

              [10] Wilson, 119, 120.

              [11] Bivin, 107.

              [12] Bivin, 106.

              [13] Bivin, 107.

              [14] Bivin, 106, 107.

              [15] Young, 168.