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Who was that masked man?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan

For Openers:

For Your Information:

Who's On First? - A Guide to the Players Involved in the Parable

Ancient Jewish World View

Social, Ethnic, and Status Designations

Note that this representation is extremely approximate and is only intended to show roughly how an early first century Jewish person might have perceived the various groups of people.

Israelites or Jews: From a Jewish perspective, all people can either be classified as Gentiles or Jews (i.e., inhabitants of the land of Judah/Judea: a geographic description) / Israelites (i.e., descendants of Israel=Jacob: an ethnic description). Without having either the national or ethnic background, however, someone could also claim to be Jewish as a religious designation. Thus a Gentile could convert to Judaism and be recognized as a member of Israel. In the New Testament, such Gentiles who convert (or are least sympathetic to and supportive of the Jewish faith) are called "God-fearers." (Cf. Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16, 26.)

Samaritan: A Samaritan, as a geographic description, was someone who lived in Samaria, the region in Palestine between Judea and Galilee. Samaritan is also an ethnic and religious description. According to the Samaritans, they were true Israelites, remnants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh who were left in the land after the fall of northern Israel in 722 B.C. According to Jews, however, they were never of Israelite descent but were foreign colonists brought into the land after 722 B.C. who picked up a little of the Jewish religion to ward off an invasion of lions. Besides the argument over heritage, Jews worshipped at the temple in Jerusalem, while Samaritans said that the temple at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria was the legitimate one. (Cf. the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42, especially verses 19-24.) There was great hostility between Jews and Samaritans, therefore, so much so that a Jewish proverb said, "He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one who eats the flesh of swine." (m. Sheb. 8.10)

Lawyer: It is a "lawyer" who prompts Jesus to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Lawyers were ones who studied the law of Moses and interpreted and applied it. "Lawyers" and "scribes" are probably the same group. In Luke, the lawyers are portrayed quite negatively and regularly are associated with the Pharisees . (Cf. Luke 5:17; 7:30; 11:45-54; 14:3.) The Pharisees were the group who were especially concerned about the written law and its traditional interpretations, and, an important detail for this study, they were not priests. The Pharisees were usually in tension with the Sadducees, an aristocratic priestly group whose attention was focused on the Temple. (Cf. Acts 23:6-10.) It appears, therefore, that the lawyers were the teachers and especially strict members of the Pharisee party.

Priest: A priest was a male member of the tribe of Levi who was specifically charged to serve in the Jerusalem Temple in the sacrificial ceremonies. Over them was the High Priest.

Levite: A Levite was a male member of the tribe of Levi who assisted the priests in the service of the Temple. They performed such functions as treasurers, musicians, gatekeepers, custodians, etc.

  • First read Luke 9:51-54. What attitude towards Samaritans is being established here?
  • Next read Luke 10:25-28 to get the context in which Jesus tells the parable. How does Jesus respond to the lawyer?
  • Now read the parable, Luke 10:29-37, especially noting the words referring to motion and sight.

"The distance between Jerusalem and Jericho is about 17 miles, and the route runs through desert and rocky hill country. Josephus, a first century CE Jewish author, describes it as wild and barren. The road between the two cities was a notorious hideout for bandits." (B.B.Scott, Hear Then..., 194)

For Your Consideration:

  1. How would Pharisees (who are not priests or Levites and probably in some tension with them) or lay people perceive this story up through verse 32?
  2. Why did the priest and Levite not help the person and go by on the other side? Read Leviticus 21:1-2, 10-11. Does this provide a legitimate reason for why they would avoid the "half-dead" man?
  3. The rabbinic interpretation of the law in Leviticus 21 (an interpretation which would probably have been rejected by Sadducees) states:

A high priest or a Nazarite [someone who has made a special religious vow to commit himself to holiness] may not contact uncleanness because of their [dead] kindred, but they may contact uncleanness because of a neglected corpse. If they were on a journey and found a neglected corpse, R. Eliezer says: The high priest may contact uncleanness but the Nazarite may not contact uncleanness. (Mishnah Nazir 7.1)

How does this affect the interpretation of the story?

  1. In respectable Jewish society, there were three main divisions: Priest, Levite, Israelite (i.e., a layperson). Given this expectation of how the characters in the story would appear, what response does the appearance of a Samaritan elicit? With whom does the hearer identify?
  2. What difference does it make to hear this parable as a Jew (a Sadducee or a Pharisee or an Israelite layperson) or as a Samaritan or Gentile? With whom in the parable do you identify?
  3. Compare the sense with which "neighbor" is understood in 10:27 and 29 with how it is understood in 10:36. What is the difference? Why is this difference important?
  4. With whom in the parable do you identify? Suppose for a moment that you are the person who is beaten and left for dead. Now answer the question, "Who would I want for my neighbor?" To put it in an even more pointed way, would you be willing to have a socially rejected outcast as your savior?

For Further Study: Note that the same question is asked of Jesus in Luke 10:25 and 18:18. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Compare Jesus' answer here in 10:25-39 with his answer in 18:18-25.

For Later:


Mark Vitalis Hoffman

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