14 Sep 2020

The Good Samaritan and the ‘Old Testament’

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Love, Luke

Luke 10.25-37, the Good Samaritan, is justly one of the most famous short stories in the world. But there is so much to this story. Over the last several years the contours of my understanding of the Good Samaritan has changed. It deepened because of Second Chronicles. That’s right Second Chronicles.

In the story, Jesus is responding to a “lawyer” (10.25). It is important to keep this term in its historical context, a lawyer is not the same thing as an attorney in our culture but a professional torah scholar (thus the NIV accurately says “expert in the law“). The scholar correctly answers (and cites from scripture) Jesus’s query “what is written in the torah?

He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind,’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself‘” (10.27)

Please note carefully it is the Jew who gets the answer correct. The lawyer (Bible scholar) says, correctly, we must love God and love neighbor (Deut 6.4; Lev 19.18). Most Jews, in fact, would have said the same thing (the rabbis certainly do). The problem was not being able to cite Scripture, the problem was having ears to hear what Scripture was saying (i.e. meant).

But then the scholar sought to “justify” himself. This is as much a problem with today’s “Church of Christ” ministers as it was a Jewish biblical scholar in Jesus’s day. Jesus told him a story.

But my interest today is actually elsewhere, what “inspires” Jesus? I believe the basis (that is the building blocks) of Jesus’s story is actually the Hebrew Bible that the lawyer was supposed to be an expert in. The “grist” for the Samaritan is the story of what the leaders of Samaria did (at the behest of a prophet) for the Judeans. We read the whole story, in 2 Chronicles 28.5-15, one of the last stories in the Hebrew Bible itself and quite familiar to the scholar standing in front of Jesus. (Jesus does not simply quote the text but uses the material in 2 Chronicles to tailor his response to a person who was an “expert” in Scripture.

Second Chronicles 28

In Second Chronicles 28, Ahaz (King of Judah) leads God’s people into gross apostasy. Yahweh delivers them into the hands of, first, the Arameans, and then Pekah, king in Samaria. In a single day a huge number of Judah’s warriors die and “two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters” were taken a war booty and into slavery.

Suddenly, the prophet Oded appears in 2 Chronicles. He confronts the army and its loot. Samaria, though given victory by God, is sinning by doing this. Oded commands that the enemy is really our “brothers” or “kindred” and were not to be treated in this fashion but instead to be returned to their homes.

Then some leaders joined Oded and said “we must not bring these prisoners here.” So they (the leaders) took the people and did this,

“they clothed the naked; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho … Then they returned to Samaria” (28.15).

What Jesus Did

What the Samaritan did in in Jesus’s story of Lk 10.34-35 is inspired by the the witness of the Scriptures he was raised on in 2 Chronicles 28.15ff. The contours, and even details, line up these text:

leaders of Samaria,
the care,
even the idea that “we” might be more righteous than “them.”

Both texts reflect on the meaning of Leviticus 19.18.

Jesus has turned the lawyer’s attempted self-justification with Oded’s question in 28.10, “aren’t you also guilty of sins before the LORD your God?” The best of us is in desperate need of God’s grace because we are guilty.

Wrapping Up

Jesus has taken a story from Scripture, one that recounts what love for neighbor really meant. In the parable, Jesus confronts us with the Bible itself. But it is not simply the case that the hated Samaritan is now my “neighbor” and I love that person. Rather the Samaritan is transformed into a “kindred” … a brother. The enemy is transformed into my (our) brother. Fellow human beings are “brothers/sisters.”

As God’s people we recognize that we have NO enemies. When we encounter a person in need – even if that person considers him/herself my enemy – we are not merely neighbors rather we are “kindred/brothers/family” and practice the family character trait of mercy.

Some Sources

Many older sources completely ignore the 2 Chronicles subtext of the Good Samaritan. Protestant scholars have, historically, wanted to divorce Jesus from his Jewish matrix, that is best done by simply not acknowledging it. And frankly (and sadly) many NT scholars simply do not know their “Old Testaments.”

Thankfully, a change is taking place though still among Evangelical scholarship there is hesitancy. Thus, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson’s Commentary on the NT Use of the Old Testament does not discuss 2 Chronicles at all in relation to the Good Samaritan.

Yet back in 1955, C.E.B. Cranfield drew attention to it in an article called “The Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) in Theology Today. F. H. Wilkinson published an insightful article in Expository Times called, “Oded: Proto-Type of the Good Samaritan.” The most extensive study was published by F. Scott Spencer in Westminster Theological Journal in 1984 called “2 Chronicles 28:5-15 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Since then there has been a turn. Finally, the most recent is the Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine in Short Stories by Jesus.

One Response to “The Good Samaritan and the ‘Old Testament’”

  1. David Hinckley Says:

    While I am now aware of this connection, it was not by my own effort. I got it from one of Ray Vander Laan’s lessons. Not sure if it was from recordings of one of his weekend seminars or from one of his 16 (so far) “That the World May Know” DVDs. These kind of connections are mind blowing, and as you often note critical to our really understanding the NT.

Leave a Reply