Is Jesus the Good Samaritan?

Don Carson preached on the Good Samaritan at New Word Alive and according to Adrian Warnock he said:

“The Good Samaritan is Jesus himself. He comes to us in our brokeness and despite the fact that people despise him, he is the one who pays the entire tab so we are paid. The real question is not “who is my neighbour” but “who has been neighbour to me in all my lostness” Jesus took up his cross for us and uniquely bore our sins in his bodies. Jesus does want us to also take up our cross. He left us an example. We are saved by faith alone, but as the reformers saw, genuine faith is never alone. Some people want our lives to be the ground on which we are entering. No, the grounds are only what Christ does. It is only that which qualifies us to enter heaven. Even as a forgiven Christian, I am a wretched failure. I will be changed by God, but that is not part of the reason for him deciding am acceptable to him. Newton says “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be. I am not what one day I will be but I am not what I was, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Well I guess Don is in good company – Luther and Augustine both thought that Jesus was the Good Samaritan. But they did also think that the whole parable was an allegory. What do you think? I don’t have enough time now to explain all the reasons why i struggle with this approach – but I will try and write more later…

Here are some quick reasons why i struggle:
1) I am wary abour allegorisation
– do we need to find Jesus in this parable? Is it enough to argue that this parable shows us
a) that it is impossible to live up to God’s standards of neighbour love and therefore to realise that Eternal life is not an “inheritance” that can be earned.
b) that God calls us to accompany our faith with works (ephesians 2:1 and James 2) not to earn our salvation but demonstrate it and this is the kind of loving life that God calls us to.

2) Do we go looking for Jesus in all the other parables too
– Is Jesus the “fattened calf” that gets killed in the prodigal son parable? Is he father Abraham in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? – I agree he is the son in the parable of the tennants in the vineyard and also the sower in the parable of the sower. But I think the context of these parables make that pretty clear. i don’t think the context of Luke 10 encourages us to think of Jesus as the good samaritan.

3) I can’t understand why Jesus would call himself a samaritan when he is clearly the true Israel. The temptations in the desert show us that Jesus fulfils the role that israel failed to. When talking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus is still clear that salvation is from the Jews so I think he would have confused the categories by calling himself the Good Samaritan. Besides the conclusion of the Good Samaritan is not … “Come to me the good Samaritan and i will save you” it is “Go and do likewise” which I also think would have been confusing if he was claiming to be the Samaritan.

About the author: Krish Kandiah

Founding Director: Home for Good Executive Producer: Books for Life Vice President: Tearfund Tutor: Regents Park College, Oxford University

17 comments to “Is Jesus the Good Samaritan?”

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  1. theologymnast - April 6, 2009 at 9:54 pm Reply

    I’d be interested to hear why you struggle with that approach… do blog it.

  2. gordonkennedy2 - April 7, 2009 at 5:11 pm Reply

    Dear Krish,
    Thanks for this. I didn’t hear what Don Carson said at this meeting and so can only respond to what you’ve posted.
    I’m very nervous about anything that could diminish the call of the Lord Jesus to us to consider whoever needs help from us as our neighbour.
    I think this way of interpreting the parable is an over reaction to any kind of works-righteousness, but it is an over reaction. Saved by grace alone in Christ alone we are then called to love our neighbour as ourself, and this parable very powerfully expands beyond all human limits our understanding of who is my neighbour.

    • krishk - April 7, 2009 at 5:25 pm Reply

      HI Gordon
      I agree that the allegorisation can be an over reaction fearing a social gospel – that is exactly what I tried to challenge when I had a chance to preach the parable at New Word Alive.
      I called my talk “Jesus the end of the line” because i was trying to argue that there are no boundaries in Christian compassion.
      But Carson does seem to be arguing that we are saved by works, but that works must accompany.
      Still I don’t get the need to find an allegory for jesus in the parable.

  3. coldfield - April 8, 2009 at 6:55 am Reply

    hi krish. good to see you last week. I discovered on sunday you know my friend Trisha, who works @Micah Challenge.

    I really appreciated your approach to social concern – carefully putting the doctrines in place – eg use of the law not only to convict (Luther) but to show what God is like, and therefore what godliness will be like.

    Jesus is clearly a character in some parables (i think he’s the father [king of Israel] in the parable of 2 sons), but I’m generally wary of allegorisation because it tends to become an allegory of whatever the preacher wants to make it (can be good or bad).

    I just wonder if Luke 1:1-4 give a context that wasn’t really alluded to in any of the talks, that Luke is a careful account of “the things which have been fulfilled among us”, and is written so that a gentile “might know the certainty of the things he’s been taught”

    so Luke 10 the shock is that the lost tribes of Israel, even the samaritans who hadn’t had the prophets, were coming back and showing what God was like… a bit like in Romans 2: when the gentiles show that the law is written on their hearts (promise of Jeremiah 31/Hebrews 8 etc), they convict the judgmental jews.

    so Luke 14 becomes a fulfilment of Isa 49v6-7, that when the pharisees hardened their hearts, the tax collectors and sinners were coming to the banquet, and there was still room for the gentiles…

    so Luke 15 becomes a story of Israel’s history – exile in a far off country, finding the homecoming king…

    Doesn’t then the application become, “look, the promises have all come true in Jesus, and people are flocking home, the winter’s over, spring is on its way, Theophilus, even if the people you thought should’ve been the first to get it are rejecting it.”, before it’s “right, go and evangelise, go and love the poor” (although they’re good and true things). What do you think?


  4. coldfield - April 8, 2009 at 6:57 am Reply

    oops. just realised i didnt stop the italic!

  5. pould - April 8, 2009 at 7:04 am Reply

    I’ve never had a problem with this approach to the parable.

    The traveller represents us. We set our back to God (heading away from Jerusalem) and then this rejection (sin) of YHWH is compounded by the way that a fallen world leaves us (the robbers).

    The priest who comes represents the sacrificial system – this can’t save us because we continue to fall into sin. The Levite represents holy living – this can’t save us because it is simply unachievable. The Samaritan represents Jesus because YHWH is the one from whom we are all estranged by our sin. He is literally our enemy, yet he condescends to save us. The sum that the Samaritan leaves with the inn-keeper is a wle year’s wages, a symbol of the entirety of life through the seasons and pointing towards Christ giving his life.

    And then there is the original question asked of Jesus – “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After Jesus’ answer we then get this follow-up, and the wording is crucial – But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

    It’s exactly the same Pauline usage of justify (which makes sense as it’s Luke). So the question is a soteriological one, it becomes one about how one might prove one’s self to YHWH, and Jesus turns the assumed answer on its head.


  6. theologymnast - April 8, 2009 at 8:22 am Reply

    Well, Jesus is ther in pretty much all of the other parables. He is the Father in the prodigal Son (Glenn Scrivener’s done some good blogging on that), Jesus is the one who sells everything he has to purchase the field with the treasure in it.

    I think it’s fair to raise questions about the clarity of scripture in these matters. Are we simply denying the plain teaching of scripture by hunting around for Jesus where it was never intended? And importantly is this just a way for us to ‘get off the hook’ of loving our neighbours?

    I’m sure it is a lot ot the time. And I don’t want to do that. However, when you look at the ways the writers of the new testament approached the old, I think it would be fair to compare it to the way the ‘allegorisers’ approach the good samaritan. I’d want to say that we should read the Bible the same way as the apostles read their Bible.

    Finally, on the typology- yes, Jesus is the new Israel but he was also an awful lot of other things (either fulfilling a type or as a theophany). E.g. The paschal lamb, the rock in the wilderness, the bronze serpent that was lifted up, the true Sabbath, the scapegoat, the way, the truth, the life, the shepherd, the door, the light, the word…

    Your point stands that Samaritan is a much more confusing one than those (apart from the bronze serpent). But I figure that if he was already pretty confusing, at least there’s precedent.

  7. krishk - April 8, 2009 at 8:43 am Reply

    Hey boys
    it could be time to crack open the commentaries.

  8. thathideousman - April 8, 2009 at 11:41 pm Reply

    Isn’t there a happy middle-ground here?

    The sinless perfection of the Lord Jesus is accepted by both sides. If Jesus was to tell a story about neighbourliness – he would either completely and fully embody that, or be a hypocrite!

    Therefore even if one doesn’t accept D.C.’s allegorical use of the Samaritan in a primary sense – it can still be shared in a secondary sense; that Christ is the only one to have fully lived out his own ethical teaching. In that sense, it all points to Him, if not by allegory, then by type.

  9. agyapw - April 10, 2009 at 4:37 pm Reply

    I think it’s just confusing to try and allegorise this one – some of the parables are clearly allegorical, like the Workers in the Vineyard (Mk. 12:1-12 //), but this one doesn’t “work” so well as an allegory. The point is rather to combat the lawyer’s assumption that he is keeping the Love commandment – by use of the hated Samaritan figure. By the time the Samaritan is introduced the audience is almost certainly expecting the parable to be an anti-clerical message where the good ordinary Jew comes to the rescue (as in the Jewish pseudepigraphal text ‘Joseph and Asenath’, 27ff., and the Mishnah text Eccl. Rab. 11.1.1) but the twist in Jesus’ parable is that it is an outcast, a Samaritan, who is the “hero”. The shock is that “love your neighbour” is not confined only to the lovable; for the lawyer, it is not confined only to the Jews. As you say, Krish, the explicit application “Go and do likewise” strongly implies this is about discipleship, and that no ethnic or social qualifications or limits attach to the command to love our neighbour.

  10. dbockdts - April 10, 2009 at 6:17 pm Reply

    Krish: Here is my take. This parable is about being a good neighbor. The exhortation is: go and be like the Good Samaritan and realize neighbors can come from surprising places. In this latter sense, there is a backhanded reference to consider Jesus, since he says and does and comes from a place they do not expect. But the core exhortation to the parable is be a neighbor and realize neighbors can come from places you do not expect. The concerns Carson has about works are sorted out for us in the exchange between the rich man and Jesus followed by Peter’s query. The rich man preferred money to following Jesus, but the disciples had responded to him in faith and trust. For this, see Luke 18:18-30. The key is the last exchange, not the first.

    Darrell Bock

  11. thebluefish - April 11, 2009 at 2:15 pm Reply

    I’d assumed that this is a parallel to the Rich Young Man since two very similar incidents come at the start and end of Jesus ch9-19 road to the cross… and so it’s a bit like ‘sell everything’ – designed to show the impossiblity of us doing that, though the questioner thinks they’re righteous they’re not and can’t be by their deeds…

    That said, plenty of reasons elsewhere for a gospel-life to outwork in love for others.

    • krishk - April 12, 2009 at 8:55 am Reply

      I agree there is a parallel with the rich young ruler – as they both ask the same question.
      interesting that both of them are set impossible standards of godliness in order to show the need of a saviour
      but god’s standards are not arbitrary – they reflect God’s heart – we are called to love neighbour and God
      Interesting that both the expert in the law and rich young ruler are pointed towards care for the needy: “sell all you have and give to the poor” and “go and do likewise”
      so once grace has been received there is a need to freely give as you have freely received

  12. todd - March 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm Reply

    i don’t know if you realize this, but jesus had a few gentiles in his genealogy (ruth, for one), which means he was not completely jewish. therefore, it doesn’t seem a problem that he would compare himself with a samaritan, a half jew. the man beaten on the road represents humanity; the robbers represent satan and his demons; jericho represents worldliness and sin and the kingdom of satan; jerusalem represents kingdom of God; the priests and rabbis represent the law and the teachings which can’t save; the samaritan represents jesus, both of whom the jews hated; the oil and wine represent the holy spirit and the blood of jesus which heals and saves; a denarii is a days wage, which represents two day (each of a thousand years) which represent the two thousand year church age and the payment for our salvation; the inn is the church; when jesus returns he will give us all we need and every things he has promised. jesus is the good samaritan, but the parable has dual meaning. we are also the good samaritan if we follow jesus example.

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