Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The parable of the Good Samaritan


Because the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) is often misused in political discourse, I'll make a few exegetical observations. 

The parable employs a reflection symmetry (i.e. left/right reversal), where the application of the story is the mirror image of the story. The immediate context involves the question of how members of the ingroup (e.g. Jews) should treat members of the outgroup. 

The historic setting involves a conversation between Jesus and a Jewish questioner. Of course, the audience for Luke's Gospel is Christian, so the parable has wider implications.

We'd expect Jesus to tell the story of a Jew showing neighborly love to an outsider. That would be a straightforward answer to the question.

Instead, Jesus flips it around by telling the story of an outsider showing neighborly love to a Jew. (I assume the default identity of the victim is a Jew.)

Why does Jesus do that? It's one thing for a Samaritan to need the assistance of a Jew, quite another thing for a Jew to need the assistance of a Samaritan. To receive help at the hands of a Samaritan would be humiliating. Something a Jew would normally avoid. But in his extremity, he has no choice. Since his countrymen refuse to come to his rescue, he must settle for the Samaritan.

The application is in reverse of the story. Although the immediate point of the story is to illustrate how religious insiders (Jews, Christians) should treat religious outcasts (Samaritans, pagans), the story itself depicts a religious outcast caring for a religious insider.

So when we attempt to apply the parable, we need to distinguish between analogues inside the story and analogues outside the story. Who stands for what inside the story in contrast to who stands for what outside the story. Because the structure is a reflection symmetry, you can't directly analogize from the story to the application. That's not how they match up. 

Here's one modern-day parallel. Suppose you have a white supremacist who normally avoids minority doctors. But he has a child who becomes deathly ill. The child requires medical intervention. But the only available physician at the ER is a minority (e.g. Black, Asian, East Indian). 

Ordinarily, the white supremacist would turn down assistance from a minority. But because the stakes are so high in this situation, he relents. On the one hand, the physician condescends to treat a patient whose father despises him. On the other hand, the father swallows his pride to accept assistance from someone who's "beneath" him. Now he finds himself in the subordinate position. 

The general point of the story is that true neighbor love obligates us to help someone in need regardless of customary markers that distinguish members of the ingroup (your own group) from members of the outgroup. But Jesus makes an additional point by skewering Jewish pride–which, of course, has many non-Jewish analogues.  

This is a radical ethic, because traditionally, many humans don't care about what happens to members of the outgroup. 

At the same time, we can't make the parable prove things it wasn't intended to prove. In the parable, the victim is not a terrorist. The muggers are the terrorists. 

The parable concerns our prima facie social obligations. In the parable itself, you don't have competing obligations. It's not a parable about how to treat muggers, but how to treat the victim of muggers. 

It doesn't address the question of what the Samaritan should do if he arrived on the scene at an earlier point when the crime was in progress. That might well demand a different kind of intervention.

In the parable, the victim's life was in danger because he was injured and incapacitated. But, of course, you can have a situation in which a potential victim is in danger, unless someone forcibly intervenes to protect him or her. Yet the parable is silent on that scenario. It doesn't address that question one way or the other.

17 comments:

  1. Is there a similar parallel of the Calvinist doctrine of "pass by" Preterition and the "pass by" activities of the priest and Levite?

    Here are a couple of non-Calvinists who think so, and also a series of quotes from Calvinists demonstrating "pass by" Preterition.

    Laurence Vance: “The God of the Calvinist is like the priest and the Levite who ‘passed by’ the ‘half dead’ man in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:31-32). And worse yet, God would also be like the thieves who ‘stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead’ (Luke 10:30). To say that because God came back and ‘had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds’ (Luke 10:33-34) that he should be praised for his grace and mercy is absurd. Concerning the Samaritan who ‘went to him’ (Luke 10:34), the Lord enjoined: ‘Go, and do thou likewise’ (Luke 10:37). Certainly the Lord practices what he preaches.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.300)

    Robert Shank: “But we must protest that a god who, while rescuing some, simply ‘passes by’ others in the same lost circumstance is so little like the Good Samaritan in our Lord’s parable and so much like the priest and the Levite that he cannot be the God who desires to have all men saved and none perish.” (Elect in the Son, p.193)

    Here are the Calvinist quotes of "pass by" Preterition:

    Westminster Confession of Faith: “III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.” Additionally, it states: “VII. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unreachable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to *pass by*; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III. Of God’s Eternal Decree)

    Charles Spurgeon cites the Waldensian creed: “That God saves from corruption and damnation those whom he has chosen from the foundations of the world, not for any disposition, faith, or holiness that he foresaw in them, but of his mere mercy in Christ Jesus his Son, *passing by* all the rest according to the irreprehensible reason of his own free-will and justice.” (Election)

    Canons of Dordt: “According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he *leaves* the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.” (The Canons of Dordt, I. Of Divine Predestination, Article 6)

    John Calvin: “Those therefore whom God *passes by* he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children.” (Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 23, Section 1)


    James White: “The wonder is not that God *passes by* rebel sinners and shows His justice in their condemnation; the wonder is that in eternity past He foreknew a people, chosen them in love, and decreed their eternal salvation in their perfect Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Debating Calvinism, p.152)


    RC Sproul: “In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, *passing them by* and leaving them to themselves.” (Double Predestination)

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    1. Richard, if your objective was to demonstrate that Arminians are logically challenged, you succeeded admirably. But if your objective was to undermine Calvinism, you failed miserably.

      i) Your contention is based on a verbal gimmick, as if mere use of the phrase "to pass by" has the same conceptual content regardless of the context.

      ii) You quote two Arminians who assert that there's a "similar parallel" (isn't that redundant?) between the Reformed doctrine of preterition and the priest/Levite in the parable. Yet neither one of them supplies a supporting argument to demonstrate how these cases are, in fact, relevantly similar.

      iii) Do you think there's a "similar parallel" between Yahweh revealing himself to Israel, while bypassing the vast majority of pre-Christian pagans, and the priest/Levite in the parable?

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    2. My guess, based on my experience talking to many, many Arminians on this very topic is that Richard holds to some form of post-mortem gospel "second chance" appealing to the spirits in prison verse vis a vis 1 Pet. 3:19, or else he just sweeps them all into heaven with a wave of his benevolent grace magic wand.

      I'm intrigued to see how - or if - Richard replies.

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    3. Steve,

      Your definition of having "failed miserably" is curious. Perhaps it is just part of the standard cut & paste that you use for all responses to your critics. You certainly never fail to live up to your reputation as one who preaches grace but demonstrates nothing of the kind. I also doubt that your "bluff and bluster" approach is unique to me alone. I simply posed a question, cited two independent critics of Calvinism and then supplied the Calvinist quotes to demonstrate what the critics may have had in mind. Truly, the failure is yours, since I've posted this before in other forums, and I have received far more engaging and intelligent dialogue than the reply offered by you. This is why I believe that you are vastly overrated. You are merely a hostile, obstinate and intransigent Archie Bunker type, who throws as much mud at the wall and hopes that something sticks. When it comes to intelligently discussing Scripture, I think that you are way out of your depth.

      A more intelligent Calvinist than yourself once replied: “The thrust of the entire passage of Luke 10:30-37, in context, is how a man should treat his neighbor.”

      In other words, their position was that God (as described by Calvinism) should not be held to the same standard as that of the good Samaritan, and that He is fully entitled to "pass by" people, should He choose to do so, as grace is not owed to anyone. However, I argued that if God should set a standard that He Himself does not wish to meet, then the result would be hypocrisy. Since God hates hypocrisy, the result is that Preterition is no longer a viable conception of God. Ultimately, if there is an exhaustive decree, then I agree with Vance that Calvinism's God is like the thief and robber who left the poor man wounded, as God (according to supralapsarian Calvinism) similarly leaves mankind mortally wounded in a state of universal total depravity, having unilaterally and singularly decreed the thoughts and intentions of all mankind. (You once conceded that your theology entails that God thinks all thoughts first and renders them certain via decree, without which, God could not infallibly know what anyone would think next, including all demonic thoughts as well, both Pre and Post Fall.)

      As for whether God "passes by" the pre-Christian pagans like the priest/Levite, so as to establish the practice of the priest/Levite as the Scriptural conduct of God, this follows a familiar theme of your argumentation in which you attempt to make God look as a bad as possible, and then ask: “The question at issue is whether Arminian theism can extricate itself from what it faults in Calvinism. ... Explain how that’s morally superior to what you find objectionable in Calvinism.” However, you fail to realize that God was *not* "bypassing the vast majority of pre-Christian pagans" like the priest/Levite, but rather (1) God raised up Israel to be a blessing to the world as a tesimony of God, (2) God sent prophets to the heathens, including Jonah to the Assyrians, Daniel to the Babylonians, Joseph to the Egyptians, on top of the fact of having provided the testimony to the world described at Romans 1:20.

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    4. "Your definition of having 'failed miserably' is curious. Perhaps it is just part of the standard cut & paste that you use for all responses to your critics."

      No, only to critics who reason as poorly as you do.

      "You certainly never fail to live up to your reputation as one who preaches grace but demonstrates nothing of the kind."

      And you're the kind of Arminian who preaches grace but demonstrates nothing of the kind in your introductory paragraph. As with most Internet Arminians of my sad acquaintance, you only love those you like (Mt 5:46).

      "I also doubt that your 'bluff and bluster' approach is unique to me alone."

      I didn't use a "bluff and bluster" approach. I provided you with a detailed, reasoned response. Sorry if that sailed right over your head.

      "I simply posed a question…"

      Now you retreat into sophistry.

      "In other words, their position was that God (as described by Calvinism) should not be held to the same standard as that of the good Samaritan…However, I argued that if God should set a standard that He Himself does not wish to meet, then the result would be hypocrisy."

      Let's see: God is the eschatological judge, the good Samaritan is not. Not to mention historical judgments (e.g. Sodom & Gomorrah).Therefore, by your logic, God is a big hypocrite since he doesn't treat everyone the way the good Samaritan did.

      "God is like the thief and robber who left the poor man wounded."

      The man in the parable is a victim, not a perpetrator.

      "You once conceded that your theology entails that God thinks all thoughts first…"

      So you're position is that God is initially ignorant. His mind is a blank slate regarding the idea of evil. He only learns the concept of evil from the behavior of his errant creatures. Is that it?

      "As for whether God 'passes by' the pre-Christian pagans like the priest/Levite, so as to establish the practice of the priest/Levite as the Scriptural conduct of God…"

      I didn't say that God did that to "establish the practice of the priest/Levite" in the parable. Are you just unable to follow the actual argument? Or did you willfully misrepresent my argument?

      "this follows a familiar theme of your argumentation in which you attempt to make God look as a bad as possible…"

      I'm just summarizing OT history, where God reveals himself to the Jews to the exclusion of the Gentiles (with few exceptions). Are you saying that according to Arminian theology, the OT makes God look as bad as possible?

      "but rather (1) God raised up Israel to be a blessing to the world as a tesimony of God, (2) God sent prophets to the heathens, including Jonah to the Assyrians, Daniel to the Babylonians, Joseph to the Egyptians…"

      And what about ancient India, China, Japan, Northern Europe, North and South America, &c.?

      "on top of the fact of having provided the testimony to the world described at Romans 1:20."

      Which, in context, is not a salvific revelation but a basis for judgment.

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    5. (1) God raised up Israel to be a blessing to the world as a tesimony of God, (2) God sent prophets to the heathens, including Jonah to the Assyrians, Daniel to the Babylonians, Joseph to the Egyptians, on top of the fact of having provided the testimony to the world described at Romans 1:20.

      I'm not interested in your beef with steve, he's a big boy and can respond or not as he wishes, but I'm curious about the ostensibly Arminian distictives outlined in your examples above.

      1. This isn't unique to Arminianism pace Calvinism insofar as I can tell, so no distinctive here.

      2. Again no distinctive is explicit, but implicitly one is left wondering about the generations of denizens of China, South America, Australia, Pacific Islanders, etc. that never even heard of Israel, much less the God of Israel. Were they passed over?

      You seem to anticipate this type of rejoinder with your appeal to Romans 1, but of course Calvinists agree with this passage, and its implications which is that everyone is rendered guilty before God, and no one can claim they had no witness because the force of the passage in context is that mankind (without exception) is universally without excuse, yet this natural knowledge of God that all men have is sufficient only to damn (without excuse or exception), not to save.

      So it's hard to see how this salvages Arminianism over and against Calvinism when all those folks end up in hell in either system.

      Am I tracking with your argument correctly?

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    6. Steve,

      You wrote: “By your logic, God is a big hypocrite since he doesn’t treat everyone the way the good Samaritan did.”

      Arminians reject the premise of your conclusion that God doesn’t treat everyone graciously. Even Calvinism teaches universal “Common Grace,” though which Arminians believe is betrayed by Pretertion. Arminians see the love of the good Samaritan exemplified in an Unlimited Atonement, meaning that God lives up to the standard of the good Samaritan to an infinite degree, rather than betraying it altogether by Preterition.

      Steve writes: “The man in the parable is a victim, not a perpetrator.”

      Vance’s point (and restated by me) is that Calvinism, in this parable, most closely exemplifies God as the perpetrator (thief and robber), who wounded mankind to begin with, through what John Calvin describes as “The Dreadful Decree,” resulting in the wound of universal total depravity for all mankind. Of course, Calvinists could legitimately say that Jesus exemplifies a type of good Samaritan to Calvinism’s elect, but for Arminians, that would only hold true in the gracious manner of the “Fireman” in the well-known “Wicked Fireman” analogy, and for the rest, utterly failing to exemplify any resemblance of a good Samaritan. Moreover, if everyone is our neighbor, and if this parable exemplifies the standard for which God desires that Christians uphold, then for people to truly follow in the footsteps of Calvinism’s God, means that we can be gracious to some of our choosing, while passing by the rest, meaning that the casual indifference of the priest/Levite can be perfectly in line with Christian conduct.

      Steve writes: “So your position is that God is initially ignorant. His mind is a blank slate regarding the idea of evil. He only learns the concept of evil from the behavior of his errant creatures. Is that it?”

      While I believe that God knows *everything,* I don’t know how He knows *anything,* no more than I know how He is eternal and uncreated, and yet exists. However, I don’t see this as a logical contradiction, but only a mystery that awaits simple revelation. For instance, I don’t know how electricity works, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a contradiction, but only something that awaits revelation through education. The difference between my view and Calvinism is that Calvinists believe that they know precisely how God infallibly knows everything: He decreed it! However, if God is the creative origin behind all moral wickedness then it makes the demon’s into God’s demons, and which is especially cruel if God first creates angels as good and innocent, and then decrees the thoughts which renders their Fall as certain. Denying that God is the “author of sin” in such instances inevitably results in Special Pleading.

      Steve writes: “Are you saying that according to Arminian theology, the OT makes God look as bad as possible?”

      Just the opposite. I contend that the OT makes God look good. You’re the one who contends that the OT makes God look bad, even as a “trickster” as you put it, so that you can then ask: “Explain how that’s morally superior to what you find objectionable in Calvinism.” (2/15/2012)

      Steve writes: “And what about ancient India, China, Japan, Northern Europe, North and South America, &c.?”

      At some point in their lineage, they came from the righteous family of Noah, and God will allow people to walk away, and their children then experience the consequence of not growing up in a godly heritage, as successive generations further deteriorate, but all the while, God still sends messengers to reach them.

      You wrote: “[Romans 1:20] in context, is not a salvific revelation but a basis for judgment.”

      Sure it’s salvific. Such astrological evidence was meant to point them to God, which ultimately they disregarded in favor of sin. Hence, they are “without excuse.”

      Until next time.

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    7. So natural revelation ("astrological evidence") alone is salvific, and the atonement of Christ is actually universally effective to cover (atone for) all the sins of all human beings who have ever lived, or will ever live in the future...yet according to the Bible people have been, and will continue to be cast into eternal conscious torments in unquenchable divinely sustained hellfire...why do you suppose that might be?

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    8. "Arminians reject the premise of your conclusion that God doesn’t treat everyone graciously."

      That's not what I wrote. You're doing a bait-n-switch. I wrote: “By your logic, God is a big hypocrite since he doesn’t treat everyone the way the good Samaritan did.”

      Many crime victims die due to lack of timely medical intervention. Therefore, God (including the Arminian God) doesn't treat everyone the way the good Samaritan did.

      That's where you chose to set the bar. Therefore, by your own logic, the Arminian God is a hypocrite.

      "Arminians see the love of the good Samaritan exemplified in an Unlimited Atonement"

      What Arminians would that be? I've read four prominent Arminian NT scholars (David Garland, I. H. Marshall, Joel Green, Ben Witherington) on the parable of the good samaritan. Not one of them said that parable exemplifies unlimited atonement. Indeed, Marshall says: "It would be possible for the early church to see in the Good Samaritan a picture of Jesus…but this was surely not the original meaning of the story, and the allegorizing involve is unnatural" (450).

      "through what John Calvin describes as 'The Dreadful Decree…'"

      Calvin wrote in French and Latin, not English. The English word in contemporary usage has different connotations. You need to acquire a modicum of linguistic sophistication.

      "Calvinism, in this parable, most closely exemplifies God as the perpetrator (thief and robber), who wounded mankind to begin with…resulting in the wound of universal total depravity for all mankind."

      And according to Roger Olson:

      "Classical Arminianism, as distinct from semi-Pelagianism and its popular folk religious expressions in contemporary American church life, DOES affirm original sin and total depravity."

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2010/09/arminian-teaching-regarding-original-sin/

      So classical Arminianism, in this parable, most closely exemplifies God as the perpetrator (thief and robber), who wounded mankind to begin with, resulting in the wound of universal total depravity for all mankind.

      "but for Arminians, that would only hold true in the gracious manner of the 'Fireman' in the well-known 'Wicked Fireman' analogy."

      And in Arminianism, God first breaks your kneecaps with the baseball bat of original sin (total depravity, hereditary guilt), then dons the cap of the orthopod who replaces the knee he busted with the prosthetic of prevenient grace–in the well-known Wicked Arthoplasty analogy.

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    9. Cont. "Moreover, if everyone is our neighbor…"

      In the parable, the victim is not the Samaritan's neighbor; rather, the Samaritan is the victim's neighbor.

      As even Arminian commentator David Garland notes,

      "When one is at ground zero and if one hopes to survive, one cannot be choosy about one's rescuers. This point has theological ramifications. The Jewish victim does not consent to the Samaritan's ministrations. He submits because he has no other alternatives. Scott says: 'Grace comes to those who have no other alternative than to accept it. He is so low he cannot help but receive it.' Funk avers, 'All who are truly victims, truly disinherited, have no choice but to give themselves up to mercy'" (448).

      So the parable is actually a nice illustration of irresistible grace.

      You then dodge the question of what the Arminian God initially knows.

      "Denying that God is the “author of sin” in such instances inevitably results in Special Pleading."

      You need to demonstrate that you know what "author of sin" means in historical theology.

      "You’re the one who contends that the OT makes God look bad, even as a 'trickster' as you put it."

      Not just how I put it, but how Bible scholars put it when exegeting certain OT passages. If you think that makes God look bad, then you must think Yahweh is bad.

      "but all the while, God still sends messengers to reach them."

      What evidence do you have that God sent messengers to ancient India, China, Japan, Northern Europe, North and South America, &c.? Did he teleport apostles or OT prophets to those locations?

      "Sure it's salvific." Not according to Arminian commentator Grant Osborne, who says "This is not saving knowledge, of course, for this entire passage centers on depravity, the absence of salvation" (48).

      I'd add that Romans in general is emphatic on salvation through faith in the Gospel. The fact, therefore, that there are so many unreached people-groups means that God is not a good samaritan, by your logic.

      Unlike you, I keep up with standard Arminian exegetical scholarship.

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  2. perhaps Richard, but of course, they'd be misapplying passages in the scripture that teach about God's free decision. They cannot apply that to their own decisions. That was Jonah's problem, it was James and John's problem.

    We do not reprobate, which is what "raca" translated into "fool" connotes ('worthless') , That is why Jesus poses a severe threat to those who do such things (Matt 5:22).

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  3. It's worth adding that in the parable, the Samaritan did not invite the injured man and his family into his home.

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    1. He was good, but he wasn't stupid :)

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  4. Steve it's just dawned on me the apologetic potential of this story, the parable has a Samaritan in good light, which links well with Johns retelling of Jesus's encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 and subsequent interactions with Samaritans. An undesigned coincidence if you will

    Good post btw

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  5. Actually the meaning of this parable is totally different.
    It is an answer to two successive questions: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Do we need to do something to inherit eternal life?) and: “And who is my neighbor?”
    And the last question help to understand this parable: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
    The neighbor one needs to love to inherit eternal life is the one who saves us. Who saves us? The one who is called a Samaritan by the Pharisees. “The Jews answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’John 8:48

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    1. Désiré,

      You're using a statement in John to answer a question in Luke. That's out of context.

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  6. Levite and Priest passed by because of purity rules (touching blood and dead man uncleanness), which they put above showing love to neighbour and saving life of a man.
    This Samaritan show true submission to the Law of God.
    But in the Law apart "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself", it also is written: "stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself". Scribes and Pharisee know about it and should do accordingly. Whay they even asked „Who is my neighbour?”!

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