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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Friend, Friendship
Friend, Friendship

Most of the Old Testament words translated "friend, " "friendship, " or "be friendly" come from two Hebrew roots, rh and hb. The most common terms for friend are reeh, [רֵעֶה] "friend, " and oheb, [אֹהַב] a participial form meaning "one who loves." In the New Testament several words appear, including philos [φίλος], "friend, " hetairos [ἑταῖρος], "companion, comrade, " and plesion [πλησίον], "neighbor, " along with a variety of kinship terms such as "brother, " "mother, " or "child, " extended to refer to people outside one's family for whom one feels special affection. The terms used most include philos [φίλος], "friend, " and adelphos [ἀδελφός] / adelphe [ἀδελφή], "brother/sister, " the last of which becomes a technical term for a fellow believer.

In both Testaments the ideas of friend and friendship involve three components: association, loyalty, and affection. There are also three levels of meaning: friendship as association only; friendship as association plus loyalty; and friendship as association plus loyalty plus affection.

At the lowest level a friend is simply an associate or "the other fellow" (Judges 7:13; Rom 15:2; James 4:12). In Jesus' parables the vineyard owner addresses a laborer (Matt 20:13) and the host speaks to a wedding guest he does not know (Matt 22:12) using the term "comrade." Jesus addresses Judas in this way in the garden: "Friend, do what you came for" (Matt 26:50).

At a higher and theologically more interesting level the idea of friendship contains not only the component of association but also that of loyalty. The "king's friend" (2 Sam 15:37; 16:16; 1 Kings 4:5; 1 Chron 27:33) serves as a royal advisor or, in the Maccabean period, as a member of a favored class of nobles (1 Macc 2:18; 3:38; 6:10; 10:65). Hiram of Tyre's "friendship" with David (1 Kings 5:1) is actually a political alliance that may have little to do with affection but everything to do with treaty obligations. The "friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov 18:24) shows loyalty. When the Jews accuse Pilate of not being "a friend of Caesar" (John 19:12), they are questioning his loyalty to the emperor.

The highest level of friendship contains the components of association and loyalty along with affection. The friendship of David and Jonathan (1 Sam 18:1-4; 20:14-17) has all three components, as does the friendship between Paul and the Philippian church (see, e.g., Php 4:1, 15-20).

According to Scripture there are three possible objects of friendship: another person, God or his Son, or someone else who follows Jesus.

The first involves human friendship based simply on common humanity with all the joys and dangers associated with it. Human friendship brings help in time of trouble (Prov 17:17; 27:10; Luke 11:5-8) and advice in perplexing situations (Prov 27:9). A friend may provide consolation in trouble, as when Barzillai the Gileadite consoles the hunted David (2 Sam 19:31-39), or when the friends of Jephthah's daughter help her mourn her early death (Judges 11:37-38). A friend may offer help at the risk of death, as Hushai the Arkite does when he spies for David in the court of Absalom the usurper (2 Sam 15:32-37; 16:16-19; 17:5-16). A friend may rebuke in love, proving more faithful than a flatterer (Prov 27:6). Ecclesiastes develops the theme of friendship in the "two are better than one" passage (4:9-12).

One of the greatest biblical examples of the "friend who sticks closer than a brother" is the relationship between David and Jonathan. Jonathan's loyalty to David runs deeper than his loyalty to his father Saul or his own ambitions (1 Sam 18:1-4; 20:14-17). The dirge David sings when he hears of Jonathan's death marks their relationship as a high point of human friendship (2 Sam 1:17-27). Ruth's stubborn loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi stands as another display of human friendship at its highest.

In the New Testament Paul shows a talent for gaining friends. In his letters he names many people as his special friends in Christ. In the Book of Acts Paul's friends include even the pagan officials of Asia known as Asiarchs (Acts 19:31).

While friendship on the human level has its joys and consolations, it also has its dangers. Sometimes a friend can fail to dissuade one from an evil action, as Judah's friend Hirah the Adullamite does when he helps Judah make arrangements with a supposed prostitute (Gen 38:12-23). A friend can lead one into sin, as when Jonadab son of Shimeah persuades his cousin Amnon to rape his half sister Tamar (2 Sam 13:1-6). A friend can even lead one to worship other gods (Deut 13:6-11). Proverbs contains warnings about the dangers of bad company (1:10-19; 4:14-19).

Even if a friend does not lead one astray, the friend may cause grief through misunderstanding. Job's three comforters, although they try to be his friends, only make his suffering worse (2:11-13; 6:14-27; 19:21-22; 42:7-9).

Friends may prove false, pretending affection and loyalty from ulterior motives (Psalm 55:12-14; Prov 14:20; 19:4, 6-7). A friend may put one into debt by asking security for a loan (Prov 6:1-5; 11:15; 17:18; 22:26-27). Friendship can break down through gossip (Prov 16:28) or holding grudges (Prov 17:9). Friends may abandon one in trouble (Psalm 38:11; cf. Eccl 9:10). The disappearance of true loyalty to friends is one of the symptoms of social and moral breakdown addressed by the prophet Micah in eighth-century Judah (Mic 7:5-6).

As one can be a friend to another person, so one can be a friend of God or of God's Son. Abraham gains the title "friend of God" by his faith and obedience (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; James 2:23). Those who keep God's covenant are called his friends (Psalm 25:14). By contrast, one can be a friend of the world, which excludes the possibility of friendship with God (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15).

Many show they are friends of God by becoming friends of Jesus. His open acceptance during his ministry of all kinds of people displays not simply a tendency toward human friendship but portrays the possibility of divine-human loyalty and affection. The "disciple Jesus loved" (John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7) enjoys more than a human relationship with Jesus. Their friendship is more spiritual than social, as no doubt Jesus' friendship with Lazarus was (John 11:3,5,36). Jesus shows this kind of divine-human friendship by addressing his disciples as friends (Luke 12:4), by letting them know the inner meaning of his life and ministry (John 15:15), and, most clearly, by dying on the cross as the sacrifice for sin (John 15:13). When Jesus tells his disciples, "You are my friends if you do what I command" (John 15:14), the components of association, loyalty, and affection all appear.

If one can be a friend of God or of God's Son, this friendship can extend as well to others who are also friends of God. Christian friendship finds its basis in the friendship between each believer and God. When John refers to fellow believers simply as "the friends" (3 John 15), he implies the loyalty and affection for one another that spring from loyalty and love for God. Seven times in 1 John the writer addresses his readers as "dear children, " using the language of family to express this deep affection (1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21).

Paul expresses this loyal and affectionate relationship when he refers to or addresses several individuals with the language of family love. He speaks to Timothy and Titus as his true children (1 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4), and to Timothy as his "dear son" (2 Tim 1:2). Onesimus is not only Paul's "son" but his "very heart" (Philem. 10, 12). An unnamed woman in the Roman church is mother literally to a Christian named Rufus and figuratively to Paul (Rom 16:13).

The New Testament shows a certain "in-group" mentality by making a distinction between members of the household of faith and outsiders (Gal 6:10). But the writers never press this distinction, and they often make the point that Christian friendship should not appear only within Christian circles. While Paul, for example, encourages special concern for believers, he does so in connection with encouragement to "do good to all" (Gal 6:10). Jesus encourages his followers to invite needy strangers, not friends, to their tables (Luke 14:12-14), and in the parable of the Good Samaritan he extends the concept of neighbor to include anyone in need (Luke 10:25-37).

Carl B. Bridges, Jr.

Bibliography. D. A. Carson, NIDNTT, 1:259-60; U. Falkenroth, NIDNTT, 1:258-59; W. Gü ther, NIDNTT, 1:254-58; G. A. Lee, ISBE, 2:361-62; C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves; N. J. Opperwall and G. A. Lee, ISBE, 2:363.

 


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Friend, Friendship'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<http://classic.studylight.org/dic/bed/view.cgi?number=T277>. 1897.

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