Who is the Good Samaritan?

Who is the Good Samaritan?


When we approach the Scripture we must always keep context in mind. Untold harm is routinely done to the saints by those who wrangle impossible meanings from Scripture through their subjective fancies and mental imaginations, perceived as “God speaking to them.” The de-contextualized presentation of Scripture is an epidemic problem in Charismatic and prophetic circles where any notion that pops into someone’s head is given the same status as the disciplined presentation of the Scripture. It is one thing to have liberty and personal edification in our private devotional application of Scripture. It is another matter to teach others from our subjective musings, ignoring the explicit context of Scripture.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is routinely taught out of context from a spirit of human sentimentality. We miss the point.

In the account, Jesus gives a specific reply to a specific individual’s question. The individual and his original question must be kept in mind or we will invariably misinterpret and misapply the story. We will end up encouraging the opposite of what the Lord was trying to teach.  The question was: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The nuances and questions regarding eternal life were of great speculative concern to the Jews. It was a big topic of discussion among learned and spiritually minded people.

There are only two recorded occurrences in the New Testament where an individual was told to do something to inherit eternal life: here in Luke 10, and in the account of the rich young ruler.[1]

Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again to inherit eternal life,[2] but that’s not what he told the rich young ruler or the lawyer in Luke 10.  The Scriptures are clear elsewhere: eternal life is not gained by activity.[3] Why the different answers to the same question? Answering this will get us to the meaning of the parable. Let’s take a fresh look at it, keeping the context in mind: to whom was Jesus speaking, and why did He say what He said?

Luke 10:17-24

These are the context verses in which verses 25-37 must be interpreted. Key features of verses 17-24 are:

  • the seventy have just returned
  • they have been very “successful”
  • demons have been subject to them
  • they are given spiritual authority
  • the Lord rejoices in their success
  • their names are  in the book of life
  • Jesus teaches spiritual reality is hidden from the wise, and revealed to ‘babes’
  • Jesus claims exclusive revelatory rights with the Father
  • Jesus privately blesses them.

In the midst of this discourse, a “lawyer” stood up and challenged the Lord. The lawyer’s actions and responses are vital to interpreting and applying the parable.

The Lawyer

The term ‘lawyer’ (KJV) does not refer to a civil trial lawyer, but a scholar in the Mosaic Law, an expert in Torah observance and application. He was a man who had made religion his profession and matters of religion his expertise.  We know from the Greek sentence structure[4] and from Hebrew cultural norms[5] (something that English translations lose) that the lawyer aggressively and antagonistically reacted to what he heard. He attacked the Lord by his question, trying to publicly shame Jesus.

The word translated “tempted” (KJV) in verse 25 is a very strong word. It means to put on trial, to promote a dispute, or to see if approved of God. A very literal rendering of verse 25 could be (imagine a sarcastic and condescending tone): “Rabbi, what heroic deed must I continually be doing to inherit eternal life?” This is not a friendly exchange. It’s an attempt to “set-up” Jesus.

This question and the lawyer’s antagonistic reaction were prompted by what he had heard and seen in verses 17-24. His religious sensibilities, pride and self-sufficiency, were offended by several things:

  • the spiritual success of unlearned Galileans.[6]
  • the spiritual privilege of unlearned Galileans
  • the implication of Jesus’ privileges as the Son
  • eternal life that is given not earned
  • a Gospel of revelation rather than education and study

Verses 26-29 – Trapped

Jesus masterfully lets the lawyer ethically commit himself by agreeing to his responsibility to God and humanity under the  “Great Commandment.[7] Jesus let the full weight of the lawyer’s own words regarding the implications of it come crashing down on him. In effect, he told the lawyer — go ahead — try to live within your own self-defined paradigm of godliness and goodness.  Being astute and knowing he is philosophically trapped, the lawyer sought to justify himself and Jesus knew it and challenged him with this parable.

Verse 30 – The man on the road

Jericho was a cursed city.[8] Jerusalem was a city of blessedness. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was one of descent and was notorious for inhabitations of thieves.  It was a ‘drive-by-shooting’ zone of its day. The significance of these details would not have been lost on Jewish hearers of that time as they might be on modern readers.  They were designed for effect upon the lawyer: a traveler, of his own free will and probably against his better judgment, is on a descending path from a city of blessing to a city of cursing, and is nearly killed as a result. The message is: the “path” someone (hint, hint, Mr. Lawyer) is on, will end up getting him killed.  It is also not difficult to see a picture of humanity in general apart from Christ in this scenario.

The parable recounts that the traveler was beaten and left for dead. According to Romans 7, the law and trying to live under it, leaves us as good as dead, hopeless and helpless under its power to indict without power to deliver.  John 10:10 tells us that the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy.  The devil is a master at using the power of legal Christian religion, self-effort, and human religious sentiment to slay us and neutralize us for effective service unto God and humanity.

Verse 31 – The Priest

A priest is someone who supposedly represents God to humanity and vice versa. It’s possible to be so taken up with the vertical or God-ward aspect of our faith that we become immune to the wounded at our feet. Getting a “touch from Jesus” in a meeting is emotionally thrilling. Going and touching someone else may not be.  This is a particular snare for those Christians who pursue so called deeper-life teaching.  We can wallow in “revelation” to no purpose whatsoever. We can develop a perverse monasticism: our pursuit of God isolating us from the needy across the street, or in the pew next to us.

Much charismatic theology and practice is terribly narcissistic and psychologically addictive. We (ourselves) are the chronic center of attention and object of every blessing. We come to meetings to “get” something from God. That’s fine if you are a spiritual infant or a child. However, fewer things are more repulsive than watching 25 or 30 year veterans of church life continually gorge themselves every week on God’s manifestations, pout and complain when they aren’t adequately “touched by His presence,” and remain utterly disengaged from the needs of their neighbors.

We are blessed to serve others with what we have been given, not merely to enjoy more blessing. The true measure of spiritual maturity is not our subjective communal experiences with Him, our knowledge of Scripture and the mysteries of God, or whether we prophesy or have visions.  It is the state of our relationship with God, each other,[9] the world, and our obedience to His Word.[10]

Verse 32  – The Levite

The Levite was responsible for the “things” of the house: assisting in the practical duties associated with temple life. His ministry was to see that the religious affairs of the temple sacrificial system ran smoothly.   If we are so taken up with the things, activities, and accoutrements of the machinery of organized Christianity, that we lose passion for the needs of people around us, we are most deceived, and of little use. When “running the Church” is the all-consuming focus of our life’s energy and conversations, we must repent. When a broken sound system is a bigger crisis than a broken heart, we are in a bad place.

Jesus purposefully chose these two individuals because they were held in high esteem by the lawyer.  They were people of his class.  Christ sent a loud and clear signal — that the lawyer’s values and spiritual sensibilities, what he had given his life to excel in, were of no use nor merit whatsoever in the scale of eternal values.  Everything the lawyer put his hope in was of no avail in inheriting eternal life.  Trusting in the law rendered him as helpless as the man on the Jericho road: bruised, beaten, and nearly dead.  This was a direct and stinging rebuke.

The Good Samaritan

It is well known that Jews despised Samaritans. In John 8:48 (approximately only 1 month before this parable[11]) the Jewish religious leaders had called Jesus a Samaritan. This would not have been lost upon Jesus’ audience in Luke 10.  In Isa. 53:3, Christ is the despised and rejected one. The actions, attitudes, and responses of the Good Samaritan are a beautiful picture of our Lord’s ministry, not ours.

Verse 33 – The Samaritan came to where the wounded man was.

In His incarnation Jesus did the same for us.  We do not serve a distant God who merely threw us the divine rulebook out of heaven and told us to obey.  Rather, He became one of us. Our needy condition drew Him. The Samaritan had compassion on the man. Divine compassion moved Christ in the incarnation and in His earthly ministry.

Verse 34 – The Samaritan bound his wounds.

Isaiah 61:1 states explicitly this is Christ’s ministry unto humanity.  He poured in the wine and oil.  Wine and oil always speak of the Holy Spirit.  Christ not only came to where we are, He filled us with His precious Spirit. Upon His ascension, glorification, and investiture as the heavenly king-priest, Christ poured out the Holy Spirit into the earth. He took up His abode in us.

He set him on his own beast. According to Talmudic teaching, Jews were forbidden to ride a Gentile’s beast.  Think of the double effect this would have on the lawyer: not only a Gentile’s donkey, but a SAMARITAN’S donkey! It could not be a more offensive proposition to a committed, sincere, whole-hearted Jew. By setting the wounded man upon a Gentile’s animal, the Lord indicated that in order to experience full healing and the joys of eternal life, we will share in His reproach.  We must be willing to ride where the despised one has ridden, identifying with Him in His reproach.

Verse 35 – The Samaritan brought him to an inn.

An inn is a building with many resting places.  Christ brought us to his Father’s house that has many abodes or resting places.[12] I believe the resting places we have been promised are not golden mansions in the sky, but in the heart of the Father and placement in the Body of Christ. There is our rest. The inn is a picture of rest and a degree of healing that can only occur in a corporate dwelling.  Those who have been hurt by past relationships in local churches must be healed through new relationships in local churches.  Failure to commit to a local community because of past hurt and abuse is a condition plaguing many American believers.  Healing and rest are in the ‘inn.’

The Samaritan took care of the expense.

Christ paid our debt. The phrase translated in Greek as “it is finished” is literally a term used in business transactions of the day for “debt paid in full.”

The Good Samaritan leaves, but makes provision.

Jesus left the earth, but gave the Holy Spirit as His provision for care during His bodily absence.

The Good Samaritan will return.

At the Lord’s return unfinished business will be completed in absolute equity.  He will reconcile all accounts. Perfect righteousness will resolve apparent injustices.

Verses 36-37 –  Go and do likewise

If the premise of this newsletter is correct, why did Jesus tell the lawyer to live like the Good Samaritan?  He was simply saying this: go ahead and try. Like an accomplished master teacher, Jesus presented His response based on the heart condition or capacity of the person to whom He was speaking. He was not presenting an abstract theological doctrine concerning neighborly relations! He was trying to reach a man’s heart!

Jesus’ redemptive purpose in the Good Samaritan story was three-fold:  to convince the lawyer of his state of need, the impossibility of meeting God’s requirement, and to impel him to come to grips with Jesus’ claim to the sole rights of access to God and eternal life (v.22).

The correct interpretation and application of this story for believers and unbelievers today is the same: admit personal need and come to grips with Christ. Only He has the answer for our need, whatever it may be. Attempting to live by the law, moral goodness, the religion of good deeds, even Christian ‘religion’ (trying to be a “Good Samaritan”) are all works of the flesh designed by God to exhaust us, wear us out, and convince us of our own need of Him.  Trying to live by Christian principles instead of by the life of the Prince in us will eventually convince us that we are the ones bleeding on the Jericho road, and Christ is our Good Samaritan!

The whole point of this story is the impossibility of it,

not an exhortation to try to emulate it.


The secret of successful Christian living, living in the quality and joys of eternal life now, not merely in the sweet by and by, is learning the helplessness of our true state and allowing Someone who is despised and rejected of men, ridiculed by the wisdom and intellect of religious humanity, to minister to us. We need to stop trying to do heroic deeds for God. We must lie down and learn to be great receivers, not great achievers.

The Good Samaritan parable is Jesus’ response to a religious professional in reaction to Jesus, His authority, and the delegated authority and privileges of His followers. Before we apply this parable to ourselves, we need to ask: “Are we insincere religious professionals, purposely trying to shame Jesus?” If the answer is “NO,” then we need to give serious thought on how this parable is to be applied.  Jesus’ answer to the lawyer may not be our marching orders.

[1] (Lk. 18:18, Mt. 10:16, Mk. 10:17).

[2] This is not the place to go into the insulting nature of this comment made to Nicodemus.

[3] (Jo. 3:15-16, Jo. 6:54, Jo. 10:28, Jo. 17:2-3, Pauline doctrine, etc.)

[4] Word placement indicates emphasis.

[5] It was considered the height of rudeness to ask a Rabbi a question in public. To do so was to attempt to shame him, and potentially embarrass him or to cause him to lose honor if the question is not nimbly answered correctly.

[6] Devout Jews of Judea often held Galileans in contempt.

[7] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.

[8] Joshua 6:26

[9] 1 Jo. 4:20

[10] John 14:21-23

[11] Jesus took full advantage of the memory of those in the crowd in Luke 10 who were undoubtedly there in John 8:48.

[12] Jo. 14:2 — KJV mansions; Gr. mone — resting places


  1. Good stuff, SJ. Thank you for your insights!

  2. Steve, oh my word, this is amazing! This is wonderful; and I’ve never, ever, heard this taught like this before. It makes so much sense. I would have considered myself somewhat a \student\ of the scriptures, but do you know why this is also so frustrating for me? I trust the scriptures, that is to say, the translations that are widely published. I do understand that it’s the Holy Spirit that will guide me into all truth, rather than being an \expert in the law.\ Nevertheless, I’m still frustrated, because how is a guy like me, who does not know Greek and Hebrew, who hasn’t been to Bible school, supposed to understand all these nuances? How could I be aware of them? I could have told you in my heart that I understood on a spiritual level that Jesus’ interaction here didn’t mean I worked for salvation by being good, but I sure couldn’t have understood it like you just explained it.

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