Luke: 10:25-37 – A Brief Interpretation

The object lesson of these scriptural interpretations is to present a more adequate and clear interpretation of a passage by both adhering to fundamental hermeneutical skills that are rooted in the assumption of authorial intent and constrained by the domain of the passage being considered. While, of course, it is not always possible to provide a comprehensive interpretation of a selected passage out of any given book, it does provide some practice to be able to provide a rudimentary understanding of a passage while both being respectful to the passage and allowing for something to be understood in a daily Bible reading situation. I hope you enjoy a quick interpretation of Luke 10:25-37.

Luke 10:25-37 (AKJV – Authorized King James Version)

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? 30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. 36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? 37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

I. Genre of the Passage:

There are few genres that could be considered for this passage in relation to the whole and the parts. The overarching genre for this passage, because of its placement within the Gospel of Luke, is that of a Biblical Gospel. Therefore, emphasis will be on the good news of Christ for those who are lost. However, it could also be mentioned that this sub-passage, underneath the gospel arc, can be divided into two more controlling literary genres: dialectic (v. 25 – 28) and parabolic (v. 29 – 37).

The presentation of the passage, therefore, will be in-part augmentation and in-part parabolic in its presentation of the Gospel.

II. Generic or Intrinsic Conception:

The overarching, controlling idea is found in verse 25, by way of the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The following passage will ultimately be concerned with the question of salvation, or inheriting eternal life. This would be the generic conception of the passage.

This question is then sub-divided into further controlling concepts. First, the understanding of Old Testament Law (v. 26). And, second, understanding “who is my neighbor?” (v. 29), or “what is neighborliness?” The good Samaratin embodied what the mosaic law emphasized: not who qualifies as your neighbor, but are you being neighborly? These would be the intrinsic conceptions of the passage.

III. Observations about the literary, grammatical, historical, and cultural contexts of the passage:

A. Particularizations:
One should notice how this interaction possesses two moves from the general to the particular. First, the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” is answered by the person tempting Jesus in replying with the two great commandments (v. 27). This slightly narrows the scope of the topic.

The second particularization is when the person tempting Jesus asks, “And who is my neighbor?” A question concerning the scope and application of the second great commandment. The answer is contextualized by Jesus’ parable; the answer is provided by the lawyer – “He that shewed mercy on him.” A further narrowing of the topic from the two commandments to “who is my neighbor?”

B. Space:
It is worth noting that this temptation of Jesus is not sub-divided equally. Much more of the passage is focused on the parable of the good Samaritan than on the articulation of the two great commandments. This may not highlight importance of one over the other but the necessary complications arising when one moves from the abstract to the concrete, or the general to the particular.

C. Dialectic:
The flow of the argument appears to be entirely on the side of the tempter. Instead of simply answering the lawyer (such as with Satan’s temptation in the wilderness), Jesus leads the lawyer to provide the answers for himself – first, by appeal to his own expertise, and, second, by way of providing an example for him to analyze.

D. Historical Context and Social Expectancy:
In Christ’s parable, the first two people (the Priest and the Levite) are the ones people would expect to assist the wounded man. The third person, given the historical division between the Samaritans and the Jews, was the least expected to assist the wounded man.

Note: It is interesting to observe that we often assume that the Samaritan is helping a Jewish individual. If you read the text, there is no mention of what sort of person has fallen to the side of the road. It is often inferred that it is a Jewish person because the route between Jerusalem and Jericho would have most likely have been traveled by a Jewish person, the Samaritan, coming down from the far north, is the one who has traveled a great distance and would have been an outsider in that circumstance. Also, another interesting note, is that the priests would have been disinclined to assist the injured man because, in reflection of Mosaic Law, touching him could have caused them to be unclean. This paradigm of conflict between “helping others” versus “becoming unclean before God” typifies Christ’s ridicule of the “legalism” prevalent among the priestly class. A class originally institutionalized to be set apart for service was now claiming their “set-apartness” as a reason to prevent services from being rendered.

E. Climax/Pivot:
The climax, or pivot, of this passage appears to come at verses 34 and 35. It is at the point where the lawyer’s question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life,” (emphasis mine) is provided the answer – first by acknowledgement of the lawyer and then by Christ (v. 37).

F. Explanation/Analysis:
This passage structure appears to be an explanation and analysis of inheriting eternal life as follows: (1) The question of how one may inherit eternal life, (2) Follow the two great commandments from the Old Testament Law, and (3) the example of the good Samaritan showing mercy on the wounded man.

G. Philosophical Interest:
Something I’ve found of philosophic interest is how Christ can define “neighbor” without getting trapped in defining the scope of “society”. Christ is able to dodge the controversial element of any ethical relativism, or social constructivism (ie. what defines the limits of a society?), by appeal to not “who is your neighbor?” but by answering the question, “What is neighborliness?”.

IV. Interpret the meaning of the passage:

The meaning of this passage appears to be that eternal life hinges upon two commandments: Loving your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.  Both aspects of faith are being summarized: the dispositional aspect and the affirmational aspect. The clarification in the passage seems to make the case that “neighborliness” means “anyone you may meet” – a shift back to the original understanding of the mosaic law in how it emphasizes neighborliness (refer back to Deuteronomy).

V. Application of the Passage:

Two application points can be made with hopes of not trying to over-allegorize the text, but to maintain a conservative interpretation within the confines of this passage.

First, the implication, as I once heard from a Presbyterian minister, is that Neighborliness doesn’t appear to necessarily entail ministerial work across the world. Often, “the good Samaritan” is used as a justification for “the great commission”. Perhaps this parable provides less justification for the great commission (not that there is no justification) than one may have thought but, instead, highlights the immediacy of neighborliness. The good Samaritan is good for showing compassion to the wounded on the side of the road he was travelling, not for seeking-out the wounded beyond the mountains.

And second, the point could be made that neighborliness doesn’t necessarily entail being an “end of itself.” For all respects and purposes within the parable, it appears that loving one’s neighbor can be either one’s direct assistance (v. 34), passing one off to another appropriately (v. 34), or a combination of both, while one is on his way to some other end (v. 35) than that of helping the wounded.

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