The Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-37

Theme: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

25. And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Lawyer: One who is an expert in the Law of Moses.  Often this individual was called upon to settle legal issues.  "He stood up."  This is a social courtesy and a greeting of respect.  Yet, in his heart he sought to test Jesus.  This is a contradiction between his actions and his words.
26. And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?"


Jesus asks the lawyer about what he knows best: the law.  He knows that keeping the law is the appropriate answer.  He brings the issue out into the open.  This is probably best since the Jewish leadership were probably concerned about Jesus' teachings on the Law.
27. And he answered and said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

It is interesting that this man of the law would quote something regarding love and not some ritual or set of rules.

The standard set here is one which no one could keep.

Perhaps he was testing Jesus by quoting what Jesus had taught before: love.

28. And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; Do this and you will live." Jesus, the man, instructs the man of the law, "You have answered correctly."
29. But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" The Lawyer does not show humility by saying something like, "How can I do this, since I am an imperfect and sinful man?" Instead, he seeks to justify himself.

This is often the case with experts in moral law; they think they have their own lives covered pretty well because they look at their actions, not their hearts.

The expected reply would be something like, "Your relative and your friend."  Then the lawyer would be able to say that he has done this and thereby enjoy honor among the people there listening; However, Jesus said...

30. Jesus replied and said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. Jesus expounds on the law of love.  True love is put into action.  It is not merely at concept or a feeling.

There is a road that goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  It is 17 miles long and drops about 3,000 feet in those 17 miles.  It has long been a hazardous trip due to thieves and robbers.

Jesus intentionally leaves the man undescribed.  The audience, being Jewish, would naturally assume that he was a Jew.  Being in this half dead state he would be unconscious.

Since he is stripped, he then is unidentifiable.  Historically, a person can be identified in one of two ways: his dress and his speech, i.e. dialect.  The man is any person: void of ethnic background, void of stature, void of position

31. "And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. The priest was most certainly riding because he was in the upper classes of society.

The poor walk.

Since he moves to the other side, probably the priest did not actually see it happen.  How can he be sure the wounded man is a neighbor since he cannot be identified?  If the person lying there is a non-Jew the priest could be risking defilement, especially if the person were actually dead.  If he defiles himself he cannot collect, distribute, and eat tithes. His family and servants will suffer the consequences with him. 

Priests were supposed to be ritually clean, exemplars of the law.  There would be immediate shame and embarrassment suffered by them at the expense of the people and their peers for such defilement.  Having just completed his mandatory two weeks of service, he would then need to return and stand at the Eastern Gate along with the rest of the unclean.  Furthermore, in addition to the humiliation involved, the process of restoring ritual purity was time-consuming and costly.  It required finding, buying, and reducing a red heifer to ashes, and the ritual took a full week.  The priest is in a predicament.  Moreover, he cannot approach closer than four cubits to a dead man without being defiled, and he will have to overstep that boundary just to ascertain the condition of the wounded man.

32. "And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. "Levites were descendants of Levi but not of Aaron, and they assisted the priests (Aaron’s descendants) in the temple."1

The road spoken of here is a long one.  It is very likely, according to those who have walked it, that a person traveling it, could see ahead of him a long way.  The Levite, who is of a lower social class, may have been walking.  He most probably saw the priest ahead of him and could have thought to himself, "If the priest may pass then so should I."

Perhaps they might fear for their own safety.  What if someone saw them with the naked and wounded person and reported to the officials that the priest and/or Levite committed a crime against the injured person?

33. "But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, The Samaritans were a mixed race between the Jews of captivity and the Samaritan people of the land they were captive in.  The relationship between the Jews and Samaritans was one of hostility because of some bad things that happened in the past.  According to the Mishna, "He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine" (Mishna Shebiith 8:10).  The Mishna is the oral traditions that developed about the law, containing interpretations and applications to specific questions which the law deals with only in principle.  Specifically, it is the collection of these traditions.

The Samaritan is not a gentile.  He is bound by the same law as the Jews.  The Samaritan would not be naturally from that area, so the half dead man would certainly not qualify as his neighbor.

"The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)" (John 4:9).

"The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me,'" (John 8:48-49)

34. "and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

The Samaritan risks defilement. He approaches this unidentifiable man and helps him.

Oil and wine were poured out on the high altar before God. Note how the usage is mentioned after the Priest and Levite have failed to do their duty.

Blood revenge: "Mosaic legislation established cities of refuge for people under the threat of death from blood vengeance retaliation. This legislation provided an escape valve for a custom it could not eradicate."
Often when the guilty cannot be reached, vengeance may be administered to a member of his family. Often the vengeance would reach even to the most distant relations of the offending party.

"Irrational minds seeking a focus for their retaliation do not make rational judgments, especially when the person involved is from a hated minority community."

35. "And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.' The Samaritan forfeits anonymity when he stays overnight and then says he would return.  This is an acceptance of the potential threat of blood vengeance.

The wounded man has no money.  When it is time for him to leave, if he cannot pay the debt he can be arrested, Matthew 18:23-35. The Samaritan knows this and volunteers money (two denarii is two days wages) and whatever else is needed to see to the needs of this unidentified man.  Additionally, the Samaritan had no way of insuring the return of his money.  Therefore, it is safe to assume he did not expect it to be returned.


The Robbers Priest and Levite The Samaritan
Rob him Harm him by inaction Pays for him
Leave him dying Leave him unhelped Leaves him cared for
Abandon him Neglected him Promises to return

The robbers hurt the man by violence, the Priest and Levite, by neglect.  All three are guilty.  "To the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin," (James 4:17).

Jesus was like the Samaritan.  He was willing to touch the unclean.  He was willing to go to the lost, the outcast, and the needy.  And, like the Samaritan, Jesus was an outcast in the eyes of the Lawyers, Priests, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.

36. "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" Jesus refuses to define who a neighbor is.  Instead He asks a question proving something greater than the exact answer anticipated.  Being a neighbor to someone is not limited to family relations or proximity.  It is showing the love of God to all who are in need, whoever they may be, where ever they may be.
37. And he said, "the one who showed mercy toward him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." The Samaritans were so hated by the Jews that perhaps this lawyer did not want to comment on a "Samaritan" and instead said, "the one who showed mercy toward him."

The discussion began with a question: what must I do inherit eternal life.  The conclusion is answered with what must be done.
If we are to do this, we will quickly find that we are incapable of completing so perfect a love.  Since the law requires perfect obedience, the doing of this lesson would be something most difficult for the lawyer.

  • This parable teaches the impossibility of earning one's salvation.  The standard, which is perfect love, is too high.
  • It holds up an ethical level for us to strive for, see Matthew 5:48.
  • It attacks racial prejudices.
  • It teaches that love is something you feel and do.
  • 1. Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.), 1983, 1985

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.