A Theology of Friendship

Until the return of our Lord, wisdom is necessary to discern what genuine friendship with others truly means. Friendship is not based on riches, befriending one another for benefit in return (Prov 14:2019:467). Friendship falters from dishonesty and disloyalty (Prov 16:28Ps 7:415:338:1141:955:13), especially if the offense occurs again and again (Prov 17:9). One friend does not mock, scorn, forget, or forsake the other, especially in trial (Job 12:416:2019:1419). Rather, friendship is marked by pure motives and gracious speech (Prov 22:11). True friendship sticks close in adversity (Prov 17:1718:2427:10), finds strength in mutual admonition (Prov 27:69), and enjoys fellowship when worshiping God together (Ps 55:13–14).

Who does the Bible identify as a friend? What is friendship?

Words like friendfriendship, or friendly in our English Bible stem from multiple words in the Hebrew and Greek. Below is a survey of these words, leading to a definition of friendship. Though this survey does not include every angle from which to view friendship (e.g., the “one another” passages), this survey does provide a fairly good idea of the Bible’s theology of friendship.1

Old Testament

New Testament

  • philos, 29x, always “friend.”
  • idios, 114x, only 2x referring to “friend”; a reflexive pronoun, literally, “one’s own,” referring to people (Acts 4:2324:23).
  • sos, 25x, 1x as “friend”; a second-person pronoun, literally, “yours,” referring to people (Mark 5:19).
  • eirēnē, “friendly” (Heb 11:31).
  • hetairos, “friend” (Matt 20:1322:1226:50); “a person who has someth. in common with others and enjoys association, but not necessarily at the level of a φίλος [philos] or φίλη [philē], comrade, companion.”2.

After his own word survey, Lee notes that the chief Old Testament characteristics of friendship are loyalty (e.g., David and Jonathan) and sharing, sometimes both expressed in a covenant (e.g., Ps 25:1455:20Prov 2:17Mal 2:14). Keener likewise identifies loyalty and sharing characteristics in the New Testament era. He explains sharing in terms of confidence and all resources, that is, sharing information and secrets with trusted friends and freely giving of one’s resources, even one’s life, for one’s friends.3 Christ is the best of friends who discloses (or promises to disclose) all things to his disciples, sharing with them all things, including himself and his very life (John 15:13–1516:12–15).

Gathering this data together, our initial survey of friendship includes notions of…

  • Loyalty to one another
  • Sharing with one another, even one’s own life for the sake of the other
  • Confidence in mutual commitment (covenant)
  • Love for one another
  • Peace with one another

So, here’s a rough definition for friendship: a loving relationship between two people in which they selflessly share with one another, remaining loyal to one another in the midst of conflict or suffering, striving for peace in all circumstances.

With this definition in hand, let’s consider friendship within the framework of the redemptive story.

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