Parable of the Good Samaritan: Wikis


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Stained glass window, France.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, a Jewish traveler is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured Jew. Jesus tells the parable in response to the question of who one's "neighbor" is.

Portraying a Samaritan in positive light would have come as a shock to Jesus' audience.[1] It is typical of his provocative speech in which conventional expectations are turned upside down.[1]

The colloquial phrase "good Samaritan," meaning someone who helps a stranger, derives from this parable.


The parable

The parable is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37.

The Gospel of Luke provides the context for the parable as:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then replied with a story:

“A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Levite walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.

Biblical Context

John Calvin harmonizes Luke 10:25-37 with Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34,seeing in those three gospels an attempt to induce Jesus to self-incrimination against the Law.

And yet I do not dispute that it may be the same narrative, though Luke has some things different from the other two. They all agree in this, that the scribe put a question for the sake of tempting Christ..It is because, being an expounder of the Law, he is offended at the doctrine of the gospel, by which he supposes the authority of Moses to be diminished...if he can draw any thing from his (Jesus) lips that is at variance with the law, he may exclaim against him as an apostate and a promoter of ungodly revolt."[2]

Historical contexts and modern recasting

In the time of Jesus, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho ran from the region of Trachonitus in the north, then along the Jordan River south through the region of Decopolis and Samaria.[3] The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for its danger and difficulty, known as the "Way of Blood" because "of the blood which is often shed there by robbers".[4]

Samaritans were hated by the story's target audience, the Jews, to such a degree that the Lawyer did not mention them by name but as "The one who had mercy on him." The Samaritans in turn hated the Jews.[5] Thus the parable, as told originally, incorporated the current religious and ethnic tension to teach, "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than burnt sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).

As the story reached those who were unaware of the oppression of the Samaritans, this aspect of the parable became less and less discernible: fewer and fewer people ever heard of them in any context other than as a description. Today the story is often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known to not interact comfortably. Thus cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behavior that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve. Many Christians have used it as an example of Christianity's opposition to racial, ethnic and sectarian prejudice.[6][7]

Allegory of the Fall and the Redemption

According to John Welch:[8]

"This parable’s content is clearly practical and dramatic in its obvious meaning, but a time-honored Christian tradition also saw the parable as an impressive allegory of the Fall and Redemption of mankind. This early Christian understanding of the good Samaritan is depicted in a famous eleventh-century cathedral in Chartres, France. One of its beautiful stained-glass windows portrays the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden at the top of the window, and, in parallel, the parable of the good Samaritan at the bottom. This illustrates “a symbolic interpretation of Christ’s parable that was popular in the Middle Ages.”[9] ... The roots of this allegorical interpretation reach deep into Early Christianity. In the second century A.D., Irenaeus in France and Clement of Alexandria both saw the good Samaritan as symbolizing Christ Himself saving the fallen victim, wounded with sin. A few years later, Clement’s pupil Origen stated that this interpretation came down to him from earlier Christians, who had described the allegory as follows:

The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. … The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.[10]

"This allegorical reading was taught not only by ancient followers of Jesus, but it was virtually universal throughout early Christianity, being advocated by Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen, and in the fourth and fifth centuries by Chrysostom in Constantinople, Ambrose in Milan, and Augustine in North Africa. This interpretation is found most completely in two other medieval stained-glass windows, in the French cathedrals at Bourges and Sens."

John Calvin was not impressed:

The allegory which is here contrived by the advocates of free will is too absurd to deserve refutation. According to them, under the figure of a wounded man is described the condition of Adam after the fall; from which they infer that the power of acting well was not wholly extinguished in him; because he is said to be only half-dead. As if it had been the design of Christ, in this passage, to speak of the corruption of human nature, and to inquire whether the wound which Satan inflicted on Adam were deadly or curable; nay, as if he had not plainly, and without a figure, declared in another passage, that all are dead, but those whom he quickens by his voice, (John 5:25.) As little plausibility belongs to another allegory, which, however, has been so highly satisfactory, that it has been admitted by almost universal consent, as if it had been a revelation from heaven. This Samaritan they imagine to be Christ, because he is our guardian; and they tell us that wine was poured, along with oil, into the wound, because Christ cures us by repentance and by a promise of grace. They have contrived a third subtlety, that Christ does not immediately restore health, but sends us to the Church, as an innkeeper, to be gradually cured. I acknowledge that I have no liking for any of these interpretations; but we ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning. And, indeed, any one may see that the curiosity of certain men has led them to contrive these speculations, contrary to the intention of Christ.[11]

The intention of the parable for Calvin was "...compassion, which an enemy showed to a Jew, demonstrates that the guidance and teaching of nature are sufficient to show that man was created for the sake of man. Hence it is inferred that there is a mutual obligation between all men."[12]

A late nineteenth century Jewish perspective

The Jewish Encyclopedia suggests that the parable was changed:[13]

One of these parables deserves special mention here, as it has obviously been changed, for dogmatic reasons, so as to have an anti-Jewish application. There is little doubt that J. Halevy is right ("R. E. J." iv. 249–255) in suggesting that in the parable of the good Samaritan (Mark x. 17-37) the original contrast was between the priest, the Levite, and the ordinary Israelite—representing the three great classes into which Jews then and now were and are divided. The point of the parable is against the sacerdotal class, whose members indeed brought about the death of Jesus. Later, "Israelite" or "Jew" was changed into "Samaritan," which introduces an element of inconsistency, since no Samaritan would have been found on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem (ib. 30).

From the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on parables[14]:

The parables of the New Testament refuse to be handled like Aesop's fables; they were intended from the first to shadow forth the "mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven", and their double purpose may be read in Matthew 13:10-18, where it is attributed to Christ Himself. Modern critics (Jülicher and Loisy) who deny this, affirm that the Evangelists have deflected the parables from their original meaning in the interest of edification, suiting them to the circumstances of the primitive Church. In making such accusations these critics, following the example of Strauss, not only reject the witness of the Gospel writers, but do violence to its text. They overlook the profoundly supernatural and prophetic idea on which all Scripture moves as its vital form--an idea certified to us by the usage of our Lord when quoting the Old Testament, and admitted equally by the Evangelists and St. Paul.

Appearance in popular culture

  • The parable of the Good Samaritan has been the theme for many collectors’ coins and medals. An example is the Austrian Christian Charity coin, minted March 12, 2003. The coin shows the Good Samaritan with the wounded man, on his horse, as he takes him to an inn for medical attention.
  • The term "good Samaritan" is used as a common metaphor:

    The word now applies to any charitable person, especially one who, like the man in the parable, rescues or helps out a needy stranger.[15]

  • Dramatic film adaptations of the Parable of the Good Samaritan include Samaritan[4], part of the widely acclaimed[16] Modern Parables DVD Bible study series[5]. Samaritan, which sets the parable in modern times, stars Antonio Albadran[6]in the role of the Good Samaritan.[17].

See also


  1. ^ a b Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. "Luke" p. 271-400
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Wilkinson, "The Way from Jerusalem to Jericho" The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Mar., 1975), pp. 10-24
  5. ^ Christianity by Sue Penney 1995 ISBN 0435304666 page 28
  6. ^ Karl Barth's theological exegesis by Richard E. Burnett 2004 ISBN 0802809995 pages 213-215
  7. ^ Prejudice and the People of God: How Revelation and Redemption Lead to Reconciliation by A. Charles Ware 2001 ISBN 0825439469 page 16
  8. ^
  9. ^ Malcolm Miller, Chartres Cathedral (1985), 68.
  10. ^ Origen, Homily 34.3, Joseph T. Lienhard, trans., Origen: Homilies on Mark, Fragments on Mark (1996), 138.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Jacobs, Joseph; Kohler,Kaufmann; Gottheil, Richard; Krauss, Samuel (1901). "Jesus of Nazareth". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, & Literary Allusions
  16. ^ See e.g., [1],[2], [3]
  17. ^ See IMDB


  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Doubleday, 1997. ISBN 0-385-24767-2.
  • Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice Hall, 1990. ISBN 0-13-614934-0.
  • Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Paulist Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8091-2928-0.
  • Miller, Robert J. The Complete Gospels. Polebridge Press, 1994. ISBN 0-06-065587-9.
  • Welch, John W. The Good Samaritan: The Forgotten Symbols. Ensign, February 2007. p. 40–47.
  • Welch, John W. The Good Samaritan: A Type and Shadow of the Plan of Salvation. BYU Studies, spring 1999, 51–115.


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