Friendship in the Bible

friendship, a relationship of mutual trust and congeniality. While many biblical writers realized that friendship enriches human life, as a subject of serious reflection the theme of friendship is not developed in the Bible—in sharp contrast to the Greek and Roman traditions. Thus, although Deuteronomy characterizes a friend as a person ‘who is as your own soul’ (13:6), the mutual affection and devotion of David and Jonathan strike the readers of the ot as extraordinary (see 1 Sam. 18:1; 19:1; 20:17; 2 Sam. 1:26). Where the covenant concept prevails, natural attraction and personal preference appear to be less important than covenant obligations as the bases of relationships between persons.

The benefits and requirements of friendship are among the subjects addressed by Israel’s wise men, especially in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus. The sage stresses loyalty and steadfastness as marks of the true friend (Prov. 17:17; 18:24; Ecclus. 6:14-16) but warns that poverty or adversity often reveals people to be friends in name only (Prov. 19:4, 6-7; Ecclus. 12:9; 13:21; 37:4-5). An irony of the book of Job is that Job’s three friends, in their frenetic attempts to effect his repentance, intensify rather than relieve his suffering. Because they are more loyal to their theological certainties than to Job, they are unable to attain the genuine sympathy that marks real friendship.
The special bond between God and a person chosen as his instrument is occasionally described as friendship. God spoke to Moses face to face, ‘as a man speaks to his friend’ (Exod. 33:11), and Abraham is called God’s friend (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; see also James 2:23).
In the nt, Jesus’ effort to mirror God’s love and mercy even to religious outcasts earns him the epithet ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7:34). In the Gospel of John, two persons, Lazarus and the unnamed ‘beloved disciple,’ are the objects of Jesus’ special affection (11:3, 36; 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Jesus says that his disciples are his friends if they do what he commands; he calls them friends because he has revealed to them what he heard from his Father (15:14-15). To be Jesus’ friend is to love one another (cf. 15:12-14). In a saying highly reminiscent of the Greek tradition, Jesus declares that the supreme manifestation of love is a person’s willingness to give his life for his friends (15:13).     S.K.W.
ot Old Testament
nt New Testament
S.K.W. Sam K. Williams, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Religion; Colorado College; Colorado Springs, Colorado
Achtemeier, Paul J. ; Harper & Row, Publishers ; Society of Biblical Literature: Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1985, S. 322