The Good Samaritan and Two Kingdoms


The Reformed Logician is roaming the earth seeking whom he may devour, and lately he has a taste for two-kingdoms, saying:

And of course, a popular argument for the radical difference of NT ethics vs. OT ethics is the parable of the good Samaritan. Hart & Friends constantly put this parable forward as some kind of decisive proof of the radical difference between the OT treatment of enemies and the NT treatment.

It’s not clear to this friend where this parable is “constantly” being put forward in this way since it isn’t “constantly” read. Often given to overstatement, maybe when he says “constantly” he means “rarely.” Nevertheless, instead of it being about the radical difference between the OT treatment of enemies and the NT treatment, I’ve always understood the parable of the Good Samaritan to be all about justification, or more specifically about the radical difference between Christianity being about being right with God (Protestantism) instead being about ethics (Liberalism).

To that end, here is a re-post where a two-kingdom theologian makes that very point by way of the popularly misunderstood parable. 

Lately I have been taken to task, as in being “quite outside the Reformed pale,” for suggesting that the parable of the Good Samaritan is about the supernatural and counter-intuitive message of justification and really isn’t about the rather natural and intutitive message to help people left for dead in gutters. This latter one is the popular interpretation which lies behind the plot in the final episode of Seinfeld: the fab four fail to help a man being car-jacked and thus violate a small town’s “Good Samaritan” law and go to jail. But, as Reformed hermeneutics tell us to ask any interpretation, did Jesus really have to become incarnate and die to tell us what we already know by nature?

The good folks at the White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation have come to my exegetical rescue.

Nick Lannon concludes his piece on the parable by saying, “This is the gospel: that Jesus Christ gives his righteousness, his law-keeping, to us, and takes our sin, our law-breaking, onto himself. Jesus is the Good Samaritan because we cannot be. Hearing this word of grace, we can go out into the world, secure in our righteousness that comes, not from effort expended to ‘go and do likewise,’ but from the Savior of the world.” It is quite liberating to consider that Jesus is the Good Samaritan on our behalf instead of being told to do on behalf of others what only the Son of God himself can do, namely come down from heaven and save sinners left for dead by their own religious leaders and ancient enemies–the world, the flesh and the devil.

And Mike Horton explains that,

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) has often been treated as a call to go out of our way to help those less fortunate. There is plenty in Scripture to support this command. Indeed, love of neighbor summarizes the second table of the Law. However, this parable is far more subversive of our moralizing discourses. First, it’s important to note that it is provoked by the question of a lawyer—probably a Pharisee: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” We all, as Christians, long for the day when an unbeliever asks us that question so directly and simply! I would be inclined to jump right in with the gospel, but Jesus does not. He knows where the question is coming from and even the deeper assumption behind it. So Jesus answers, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” After the lawyer summarizes the two tables just as Moses and Jesus do elsewhere, Jesus replies, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” This is the exact language of the covenant of law that Israel swore at Mount Sinai. There is no time off for good behavior, no relaxation of its requirements or mitigation of its sanctions. The terms are clear, as God gives it to Adam in the Garden and to Israel at Sinai: “Do or die.”

Jesus has thoroughly diagnosed his patient. The lawyer replies not with repentance. He does not confess with David, “In sin my mother conceived me. Against you and you only have I sinned. Blot out my transgressions!” Rather, like the rich young ruler who said, “All this I have done from my youth” (Mat 19:20), this lawyer stands up for himself. He is not ready for the gospel. He needs to be judged by the law that he erroneously believes he has kept. In fact, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Lk 10:29). Ah, yes, just who exactly is “my neighbor”? As long as we can keep “neighbor” in the abstract, as a hypothetical case, or restrict it to our next of kin or at least close friends, we may be in the clear.

So Jesus tells him who his neighbor is, and ours as well, in the parable. A traveler on the violent highway between Jerusalem and Jericho (no less treacherous today) was beaten and robbed, left for dead. First a priest, then even a Levite, passed right by the man on the road. Yet one man had compassion: a Samaritan. A Samaritan? Yes, a Samaritan. The holiest of Israel’s leaders are villains and the hero is a Samaritan man who bound up his wounds with oil and wine and took him to an inn. He didn’t just drop him off at the hospital, but took care of them there. “And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go and do likewise’” (vv 30-37).

Like the rich young ruler who “went away sad” because he wasn’t willing to sell his possessions and give it to the poor, this lawyer was evidently just as unmoved. The Good Samaritan is not the parent, sibling, or even friend of this victim on the road. He isn’t even a fellow Jew, but is treated by Jews as an enemy. The victim cannot repay him and he isn’t even in any condition to cooperate in this rescue operation. He is, as they say, dead weight, lifeless. The half-dead Jewish traveler was not calling in a debt. It was pure mercy. The Good Samaritan, not the priest and Levite, was “the one who showed him mercy.”

This parable operates on two levels. In one sense, it is the purest articulation of the true intent of the law. It is not just a bunch of legislation for external purity, but stipulations that tell us what it means to love God and our neighbors truly, from the heart. A bad neighbor is not just someone who robs someone and leaves him half-dead (sins of commission), but one who fails to put his own life on the line for someone he could just as easily pass on the way (sins of omission). In another sense, it is the purest articulation of the gospel. Who among us can say that we fit the description of “neighbor” that Jesus illustrates here in the Good Samaritan? Yet there is one: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro 5:6-7). Although fully God, he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

The Pharisees did not understand the gospel because they did not really understand the law. That is the point of the Parable of the Children’s Song in Luke 7:31-35. Instead of being a parable of Christ’s kingdom, it is a parable of his generation.

They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come, eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is justified by all her children (vv 32-35).

Once more, Jesus is drawing on the familiar, everyday experience of his hearers. Children often played the funeral game and the wedding game. Like playing dress-up, they imitated adults in these social events. Preparing the way for Christ, John the Baptist represents the funeral game. He came in sackcloth and ashes, as it were, with lamentation and the warning of imminent judgment. However, the religious leaders thought he was a “downer.” “Judgment against the Gentile oppressors, sure, but what’s all this talk about God judging us? We’re children of Abraham. We’re in the right!” Then Jesus came as the bridegroom for his wedding day, bringing forgiveness of sins, and the Pharisees were standing in his way.

In their self-righteousness, they couldn’t accept the serious demands—and judgment of the law—or the joyful gladness of the gospel. As we will see in the last parable, “eating and drinking” in the presence of God was the vision of the everlasting Sabbath. This theme, which is replete in Exodus and Joshua, is especially underscored throughout Luke’s Gospel, with the emphasis on covenantal meals. Regardless of the Pharisees’ response, Jesus’ ministry will give birth to many children.

This entry was posted in Justification, Mike Horton, Parables, The Reformed Logician, The White Horse Inn, Two-kingdoms. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Good Samaritan and Two Kingdoms

  1. Zrim –

    We took down Mike’s Parables blog posts off the WHI blog today because of our local “daily show” will need those for a promotion soon. Sorry if this causes you any inconvienence! We haven’t had a pingback on those posts for awhile and you had to come along yesterday and link to it!

    Take care,

  2. Zrim says:

    That’s ok, Mark. Just send me some leftovers from the cruise and we’ll call it even.

  3. Pingback: The Good Samaritan and Two Kingdoms « Analytic Theology, et cetera.

  4. Eliza says:

    Thanks for pointing out Paul M.’s website. I will become an avid reader. They guy makes ultimate sense. As for the Good Samaritan and R2K or justification, I’m flabbergasted. I think for you and your comrades anything in the Bible proves R2K or relates to justification.
    Back to Manata…

  5. Zrim says:

    You’re welcome, Eliza. But like I said to you last year in the original post, you’re always welcome here.

  6. dgh says:

    Eliza, Paul may make sense to someone who is so hostile to 2k. But he really should get his facts right to avoid being wrong. I can’t remember the last time that Darryl Hart appealed to the Good Samaritan for anything, much less the difference between the OT and NT. What I do cite is that the OT has commands to kill the pagans and the NT does not. Odd that for those who want the Bible to speak to all of life.

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