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How have “love one another” and “love your neighbour” been traditionally compared or harmonized? The former occurs in the Gospel and Epistles of John, which never say “love your neighbour”. The latter is in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and James, which do not refer to “love each other”.

According to John 13:34, Christ said:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

If this is a new commandment, it must encompass something different from the old commandment in Leviticus 19:18:

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

In the early post-apostolic literature, only “love one another” appears in Second Clement, Minucius Felix, Aristides, and the Epistle of the Apostles, while the Didache, Justin Martyr, and Barnabas exclusively say “neighbour”.

Both expressions are found in the Pauline Epistles, in Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. The two appear closely together, in adjoining sentences, only in Romans 13.8-9 and Clement’s Stromata 2.15.

Complicating the issue were Polycarp, Irenaeus, and the Gospel of Thomas, who used neither expression, but say only “love your brother”. First John 2.10, 3.14, and 4.21 also say “love your brother” while other verses in the Epistle exhort “love one another”.

With such a wide usage of both phrases, how have they been traditionally compared and contrasted? Do they find harmony or are they different phrases commanding different things?

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  • I've made a slight edit to the wording of your question so that it asks for something more concrete than a simple poll.
    – user3961
    Jun 19, 2015 at 19:47
  • One minor aside: the variance in the emphasis can be instructive. "Love one another" implies loving people within the church because of shared union to Christ. "Love your neighbor" implies living the people whom you incidentally come in contact with. In both cases it is specific, actionable love rather than a vague universal love for mankind as such. Mar 30, 2017 at 15:58

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Wikipedia gives a brief overview of how the commandment has generally been seen as "new." It accords with what I've heard through the years:

The "New Commandment", the Wycliffe Bible Commentary states, "was new in that the love was to be exercised toward others not because they belonged to the same nation, but because they belonged to Christ...and the love of Christ which the disciples had seen...would be a testimony to the world".

One of the novelties introduced by this commandment – perhaps justifying its designation as New – is that Jesus "introduces himself as a standard for love". The usual criterion had been "as you love yourself". However, the New Commandment goes beyond "as you love yourself" as found in the ethic of reciprocity and states "as I have loved you", using the Love of Christ for his disciples as the new model.

The idea that Jews were only commanded to love one another, and not to love outsiders, doesn't seem to hold water. Sixteen verses after "love your neighbor," we read:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34 NIV)

Not to mention the fact that according to Luke's gospel, Jesus had already claimed that "my neighbor" in the context of the commandment is whomever you can show mercy to. So if you believe that John and Luke report the same Jesus, as Christianity has traditionally taught, that can't be what's "new" about Jesus' New Commandment.

John Piper helpfully expounds on what makes the New Commandment new in a sermon on John 13:

First, the command is new because it is a command to live out the love of Jesus. Second, the command is new because it is a command to live on the love of Jesus. The words “as I have loved you” contain a pattern for our love for each other, and they contain a power for our love for each other.

Loving each other is not a new command per se. It was already there in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). What’s new is that Jesus is now the pattern we live by and the power we live on. Let’s look at these two kinds of newness.

Piper quotes Jesus' words from earlier in John 13:

Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

What this seems to mean is that Jesus' disciples are to serve one another, regardless of their social status. Piper thus says that the "pattern we live by" according to the New Commandment is to "lay aside status and rank and prestige and privilege and take the form of a servant" and engage in "practical deeds of helpfulness."

So, "Love your neighbor as yourself" seems to involve loving everyone. "Love one another as I have loved you" seems to involve loving fellow believers. Obviously this is a subset of the old command, but it raises the standard, from "as you love yourself" to "as I (Jesus) have loved you," and it gives a new purpose, that "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples." This purpose is reminiscent of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount: "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

It doesn't appear that the old command was done away with either, since Paul says in a discourse on love:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So both commands are in effect, but they have different scopes and different purposes.

To recap:

  1. Love your neighbor as yourself

    a. Command: love all people

    b. Standard: love as you love yourself

    c. Purpose: to pursue peace on earth

    d. In effect: yes

  2. Love one another as I have loved you

    a. Command: love and serve fellow believers

    b. Standard: love in the ways that Jesus demonstrated

    c. Purpose: that non-believers will take notice

    d. In effect: yes

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The most obvious difference is that "Love one another" is a directive to those in the group, to respect those in the group, while "Love your neighbor" is a directive to love a larger number of people, not exclusively those in the group. One could be interpreted as internal, the other external.

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When the Old Testament speaks of "neighbour" it speaks of Jews, as opposed to Gentiles. So, when Leviticus 19:18 says to love your neighbour, it means other Jews, but not outsiders:

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Of course, the gospels transferred this meaning to other Christians and perhaps even more broadly to those around us.


The meaning of "Love one another" when used, quite frequently, in the Gospel and Epistles of John, can be found in John 13:34-35:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

John's Gospel is telling Christians to show affection for each other publicly, so that others will notice and realise there are Christians in their midst. No doubt some would enquire who the Christians were and perhaps consider joining.

When Paul said "Love one another" in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 he seems to mean the same as "Love your neighbour" meant, as explained above, with no suggestion that non-Christians were expected to notice the display of affection.

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  • I think "display of affection" suggests a fairly modern idea of what loving means. In both "love one another" and "love your neighbour", what is central is the good that is accomplished rather than the affection that is displayed. Jun 20, 2015 at 6:57
  • @WalterMitty Why not pot this as your own answer rather than posting your answer as a comment to my answer? I can support the statement that "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples" refers to love, whether we use the word 'affection' or any other, not just accomplishing good things. Jun 20, 2015 at 21:28
  • I don't think my comment is responsive to the question as asked. Also, I don't disagree with most of what you said. I just wanted to clarify one phrase. Jun 20, 2015 at 22:59
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The very nature of Christ love is what is being addressed here. "Love one another as I have loved you"

The idea that Christ died to Love and Serve believers singulary is contrary to everything he died for. When Christ died on the Cross, he died for all men not only believers or neighbors, but those who persecuted him, those who hated him, those who doubted him and those who betrayed him. Additionally he died for those who have yet to be born, and those who lived Previously. How much are we expected to love one another then? As Christ loved us, without condition and in order to accomplish the will of the Father, to love Completely, making a complete and total sacrifice of ourselves, Christ being our example. This self sacrificing love, this perfect demonstration of what it means to be "Holy" to be Perfect as our heavenly father is perfect is an example of the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To answer the question: What is the Difference between loving your Neighbor and loving one another? There is no difference.

The mission of the Church is to convert the world by being the body of Christ, offering ourselves up for the the entire world as examples of Christ's body on the Cross. Thereby being the "Light of the World" There is no person who is not our "neighbor", there is no person the falls outside the group of "one another". The very purpose of Baptized Christians is to put on Christ through Baptism and work towards the sanctification of all peoples through the powers given to his Church that flow from the Body of Christ. Powers being the Sacraments which unite us to the Grace poured out on the Cross.

All men are called to be Saints, when we emulate Christ in our actions, we are tools in the hand of the Lord, reaching out to one another, our Neighbors, our enemies, the lost separated Brethren, lost Catholics, lost everyone who do not know the gift Jesus made of himself for our salvation. These actions, living a life of complete self sacrifice for all, when done successfully, bring people closer to the God.

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Yes I agree with your statement. We have been bought with a price that our life is not our own. Our bodies are his temple so he can walk through us the same way he walked through Jesus of Nazareth. We are to be transformed into His image, and to walk as he walked by the Holy Spirit. Jesus wanted everyone to know the truth and repent, Even his long-suffering with the Pharisees and the things he spoke to them was to wake them up to there pour condition so they might repent and be saved. We are to love, all forgive all, and pray for all, from the depths of our heart for their salvation.

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The question should be placed in the context of the Law:

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12) [ESV]

The are two elements the scribes' answer lacked. The first was the new command:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

The Old Testament permits "little" love for a neighbor, if that is how one loves self. In the extreme case, if one hates oneself, then hate of neighbor is legal. The new command "raises the bar" by replacing love of self with Christ's love for us. The New Testament goes one step further:

5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5)

God's love is poured into the heart of the believer through the Holy Spirit. Thus, for the believer "love of self" is effectively God's love, which has been demonstrated by Christ dying for us.

The other element missing from the scribe's answer is the basis for the command:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

Baruch J. Schwartz gives the significance to what the scribe left off:

18: I am the LORD: In the Priestly worldview, ethical behavior is a religious act only when performed as an act of obedience to God.1

This also is changed by Jesus:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

When the Old Testament command was followed, others would know a person was obeying the LORD. When the believer obeys Jesus all people are able to identify His disciples and obedience demonstrates who is Lord (cf. Romans 10:9):

                 Old Testament     New Testament
Command:         Love neighbor     Love one another
Standard:        Love of self      Christ's love for us
Who is affected: Neighbors         All people
Impact:          I am the LORD     Jesus is Lord

1. The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 254

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