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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Friends Friendship

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The terms themselves are rarely found in the apostolic writings. Acts 10:24 mentions the friends of Cornelius, Acts 19:31 the Asiarchs as friendly to St. Paul in an hour of peril at Ephesus, Acts 27:3 friends of the same Apostle at Sidon; Acts 12:20 reveals Blastus in the character of ‘a friend at court.’ James 2:23 reminds us that Abraham was called the friend of God, and no doubt inculcates the lesion that those who walk in the patriarch’s footsteps may attain the patriarch’s blessing; James 4:4 that ‘the friendship of the world is enmity with God,’ and that ‘whosoever would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God.’ The only other reference is 3 John 1:14, ‘The friends salute thee. Salute the friends by name.’

It has often been pointed out that friendship occupies an apparently much smaller place in the NT than in the OT or than in the writings of pagan antiquity. But this is only a superficial view. The name may not be conspicuous, but the reality is there. There are some who hesitate to speak of the relationship of Jesus to the Twelve and to the wider circle of disciples which included the household at Bethany, the goodman of Jerusalem at whoso house the Last Supper was eaten, and the women who so affectionately ministered to the Master, as one of friendship. To do this is to deny the humanity of Jesus-a loss that nothing can compensate. That there were elements in this relationship that transcended friendship as ordinarily conceived and experienced all will admit; but friendship as we know it was none the less there, and Jesus was not only giver but receiver. When, for example, Martha was feverishly busy with domestic cares, Mary was with Jesus, not saying much perhaps, nor even listening in that hour to parable or precept, but ministering to Him the ‘one thing needful’-the quiet, loving, sympathetic response to One who cased a heavy spirit to her as He could not do to His uncomprehending apostles.

When we pass from the Gospels to the passages enumerated at the beginning of this article there are only two that need even a brief comment. The ‘friends’ at Sidon whom St. Paul was permitted to visit probably mean Christians in that city; the more usual term would be ‘brethren’ (ἀδελφοί). In 3 John 1:14 the word may have the same force, but there is probably behind it an allusion to a more intimate and personal relationship. But ‘friends’ (οἱ φίλοι) did not become a technical name for Christians in these early days. As Harnack puts it (Mission and Expansion of Christianity2, 1908, i. 421), ‘the term οἱ φίλοι did not gain currency in the catholic church owing to the fact that οἱ ἀδελφοί was preferred as being still more inward and warm.’ The Gnostics of the 2nd cent., on the other hand, were more addicted to its use, and Valentinus wrote a homily ‘On Friends,’ while Epiphanius, the son of Carpocrates, founded a gild of friends on the Pythagorean model. Among the first generation of Christians the glow of love was cast, over all the old relationships of life, and family and friendly associations alike were sublimated in the sense of belonging to the household of God. The bond that held the soul to Christ held also all who were thus bound; and that which had hitherto been called friendship was so enriched and quickened that the old term was felt to be inadequate for its newly reinforced content. Thus instead of ‘friends’ and ‘friendship’ we read much of ‘brothers’ and ‘fellowship’ (κοινωνία).

As has been said, the reality was there-the kinship of spirit, the association in service, the giving and taking, the mutual self-sacrifice, the oneness of aim and purpose, the reciprocal opening of the heart-all that we associate with true friendship. The greatest of that generation might indeed have said of himself, as Myers has said of him in his St. Paul:

‘Paul has no honour and no friend but Christ,’

and that:

‘Lone on the land and homeless on the water

Pass I in patience till the work be done.’

But he would be quick to add:

‘Yet not in solitude if Christ anear me

Waketh him workers for the great employ,

Oh not in solitude, if souls that hear me

Catch from my joyaunce the surprise of Joy.

Hearts I have won of sister or of brother

Quick on the earth or hidden in the sod,

Lo every heart awaiteth me, another

Friend in the blameless family of God.’

We have only to think of the travelling comrades of the Apostle-of Barnabas and Silas, of Timothy and Mark, of Luke and Titus, of Priscilla and Aquila-to realize that, so far from being friendless, he enjoyed the richest resources of that relationship that were to be had in that age. So far as we know, he never laboured alone, except in Athens. In his letters he nearly always associates with himself one or more of his colleagues as joint authors, and those who have been named above were the ablest Christian thinkers and workers of the time. And when he speaks of others, like Urban, Epaphroditus, Clement, and Philemon, as his fellow-workers, or, like Andronicus, Junias, and Aristarchus, as his fellow-prisoners, or, like Archippus, as his fellow-soldiers, it would be very puerile criticism to say that because he does not term them technically his friends there was no friendship between him and them. In the vicissitudes of travel, in the new campaigns that were undertaken, in the different problems that each province and city presented, in the failures and successes that attended his mission, there must have been that close-knit sympathy and entire fellowship that mark the intercourse of friends. Nor can we hesitate to apply the word to the intimacy that existed between the Apostle and those who became responsible for the work of Christ and the guidance of the Church in every place where it was established. Wherever he worked there were those who delighted to be known as the friends of St. Paul and whom he was well pleased to call his friends.

In the churches themselves the term ‘brethren’ would be held to include all that was involved in friendship. Despite the shadows of the Apostolic Age and the imperfections of a nascent infantile Christianity, it is not hard to discern the signs of true friendship. The records of the 2nd cent. continue the tale, and the affectionate loyalty of Christians to each other in times of peril deeply impressed their enemies and persecutors. In some cases, as in earlier days with Peter and John, Andrew and Philip, the friendship preceded and was sanctified by the Christian tie, in others it grew out of that bond.

A. J. Grieve.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Friends Friendship'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/f/friends-friendship.html. 1906-1918.

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