Summary Luke Chapter 10

The most important section of this chapter, of course, was the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a landmark of Christian literature that has become so famous that it’s crossed into secular vernacular. While perhaps not quite as universally understood in English writing as it once was, it seems likely that a large majority of the English speakers in North America understand the reference to some degree. In some ways, it is perhaps the Christian morality tale par excellence. It very neatly sums up the Christian ethos of what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Funny thing about that.

No doubt my impression of this story was seriously–mayhap fatally–distorted by my upbringing. The town I grew up in was small and white and Catholic; that is, there were no Jews. And then I went to a Catholic school and was largely taught religion by Dominican nuns. The result was that I had no exposure to Jewish thought, or the Jewish heritage that lay behind Christianity. Oh, the Jewish roots were acknowledged, and a sanitized version of Judaism was taught, including the stories of Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, the Flood, the Exodus and…a few odds and ends. Looking back, I realize we were taught about Genesis ad Exodus and some stuff about the Prophets and basically nothing else. As such, I had no real sense of Judaism as a religion, only that it had become ossified and sclerotic by the time of Jesus, who swept it away for an internal religion of faith and love, rather than an external, formulaic, and overly ritualized shell.

Well, guess what. The story of the Good Samaritan is very Jewish. What’s more, given the other stories in the chapter, the setting is very Jewish. These aspects were mentioned in the commentary of the translation. The fact that the man who acted as a foil to allow Jesus to introduce the central story, was learned in the Law and repeated the two Great Commandments, the story of Satan, and the very concept of a Samaritan all require an understanding of Judaism if we are to grasp fully their import and the true meaning of the story. Luke is not introducing, or even just illuminating some novel aspect of Jesus’ teaching; he is providing context in which the second commandment–love your neighbour as yourself–is truly put into practice. Who is the man’s neighbour? The priest or the Levite? Or the despised other who stops and helps the man? The full impact of the story is missed unless we understand the level of animosity between the Jewish traveler and the Samaritan who helps the man. Luke even prepped us to a degree when he told us that Jesus and his disciples were not welcomed into the Samaritan town because the residents understood that Jesus was going to Jerusalem.

So the upshot is that this is a story of how Judaism should be practised. And throughout the HS, there are numerous instances where the author regales the audience with injunctions about social justice. There was the story in Mark, repeated in Matthew, about Jesus chastising the Pharisees for the way they declared their property korban, holy, as in dedicated to the Temple, when the Pharisees should have been honouring their mothers and fathers by assisting them financially with this property. Ezra and Nehemiah, which tell of the time when the Jews were allowed to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple are full of injunctions about social justice, admonishing the rich for trodding roughly on the poor. This would be another example of not “loving your neighbor as yourself”. So Luke is not introducing novel examples of how to behave with one another. He’s not even expanding on the teachings that undergirded the desired behaviour. He is providing an excellent and concrete example of what the desired behaviour looks like. This, he is saying, is how one love’s one neighbor as oneself.

This is not to say, however, that Luke might have something of a novel slant on the matter. Why does the lawyer want to know how to behave? What is his motivation? He wants to know what he must do to gain eternal life. By this point it should be clear that the idea of the immortal soul, more or less as Christians conceive of it, was not derived from Judaism, but from the Greeks. Now, by the time of Jesus, Judea had been ruled by Greek-speakers (this includes Romans; educated Romans, who were the governing class, were largely bilingual in Latin and Greek) since the time of Alexander the Great, more than 300 years. Greek thought and philosophy had been incrementally seeping into the educated class of Jews, who were learning Greek and abandoning the Aramaic native to Judea at the time. All major metropolitan centres had significant Jewish enclaves, the educated members of these expatriate populations learned Greek. The epitome of this is Philo of Alexandria, who was both a Jewish scholar and more or less a thoroughgoing Platonist. The result was that the idea of an immortal soul had penetrated into Jewish thinking. I suspect (but do not know for certain) that this is the root of the idea of the resurrection of the dead that the Pharisees held as a central tenet.

The point is, even the desire for eternal life had Jewish antecedents, even if those antecedents had Greek antecedents, which they certainly did. As a result, the idea the lawyer was asking how to gain eternal life is not a distinctly Christian thought process. The lawyer (or generic young man, as Mark called him) asking about gaining eternal life could represent someone fully within mainstream Jewish thought of the time.

All of this matters for various reasons. I was Googling for the answer to..something else, which led me to the question of whether this parable is considered authentic; that is, do scholars believe that this came directly from Jesus. According to the overwhelming number of scholars in the Jesus Seminar, the answer is a resounding YES!!! Apparently some 60% code it as red (definitely authentic) and another 29% code it pink (probably authentic). A quick calculation shows that puts us at 89% positive, against only 4% negative. I often criticise the Q proponents for not considering content when they consider authenticity. Apparently the Jesus Seminar only considers content. This group, however, is very vague about transmission. How did this parable kick around for 50+ years, totally evade Mark and Matthew, and then appear in Luke? IOW, there is no provenance for the parable. It simply appears. Yes, it resembles other Jewish/midrasnhic material, but that’s so general as to be pretty much meaningless. Parables do resemble each other; that’s how they get classified as parables. But there is another element. One blog I found said that, of course this is authentic, because it sounds so much like other stuff Jesus said. To which I respond: give me an example of this similarity from Mark or Matthew, or preferably both. To point: there are none. Mark’s parables include the Mustard Seed and the Sower; neither of these are similar to the Good Samaritan in either form or content. The parable of the Wicked Tenants does more closely resemble the form of the Good Samaritan, but the content is not at all similar. It’s not a description of proper behaviour; rather, it’s a tale of what has happened, and what will happen to those wicked tenants. There is no real morality tale. And I would seriously argue that the Wicked Tenants is much later than Jesus. After all, it presumes the understanding that the landlord’s son is Jesus, and that we all know Jesus died, was killed by other wicked tenants. More, this parable comes from the Christ section of Mark, which likely originated only after Jesus’ death, a belief propagated, if not created, by Paul. Other possibilities would be the Parable of the Vineyard workers, but that does not appear in Mark. So, the parable presents severe difficulties both on the question of provenance and content. I do not see how this can be considered authentic.

This requires a lot more discussion than is appropriate for a summary like this.

This discussion about the lawyer/young man has interesting implications for the Q debate. All three of the Synoptics contain a story where someone from the crowd asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. This person was described by Mark as a young man and by Matthew a lawyer. In those two versions Jesus responds by reciting the decalogue. When the man says he has done these things, Jesus then tells him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. Luke changes this; he alters the external circumstances and ends up making a slightly different point. These alterations suggest that this is another of those stories where Luke saw that M&M had covered the topic very well already, so he engaged his poetic license to provide a slightly different message. We have noticed that Luke does this when M&M tell essentially the same story in much the same way. That, to me, is a significant clue, a telling indication that Luke was, indeed, aware of Matthew, since he seems to know when to do this. In contrast, Luke has Jesus asking the man about the commandments; he’s turned the situation around. When the man answers with the Great Commandment, or the two Great Commandments, Luke uses the man’s answer as an entrée point to the Good Samaritan. Deucedly clever! However, the key aspect about this story is that only Matthew and Luke say that the man was a lawyer. So here we have a very clear case where Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark. The Q mantra is that this never happens. So how to explain this situation where it does? The answer is: they don’t. They ignore these situations and pretend that they didn’t happen.

We should at least mention the 70/72. Here again is something that obviously dates from a time much later than Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have stories about the sending of the Twelve; Luke alone has the Seventy. Why? As discussed, this serves two purposes. Perhaps the most important is that it allows Jesus’ direct disciples to cover a lot more ground than the Twelve could have done. As such, it allows all the different Christian communities scattered throughout much of the Mediterranean basin to imagine, to believe, that their community was, indeed, founded by a direct disciple of Jesus. The historical context here is doubtless key. As Acts proves beyond doubt, the story of Paul had become part of the background knowledge of an evangelist–assuming the identity of authorship of Luke and Acts. As such, there was likely to be greater scrutiny of who was saying what; recall Paul’s “different gospel”. As such, being able to trace one’s lineage back to the Mayflower, or to the Conqueror. This is important because it allows the disparate communities to have a sense of cohesion, that they are all the same group, that they share a common belief system. As the network of communities grew, and as they became aware of one another, this sense of unity would be desirable from both human and doctrinal standpoints. In addition, we have yet another occurrence of the need to dispense with Jewish dietary laws. Upon being sent out, they are told to “eat whatever is put in front of you”; IOW, if they serve you pork, eat it. We’ve come across three or four of these so far, and there will be at least one more in Acts. Giving permission to ignore this aspect of Judaism was very important for the early proto-Christian and Christian communities. Too strict an insistence on maintaining them would have greatly restricted the spread of the new religion. Indeed Paul had figured this out by the time he wrote Galatians. And yet, other subsequent writers felt the need to include their own version of Jesus giving the OK for this. Very important, indeed.

Finally there is the story of Martha and Mariam. As with the injunction about eating, we have a post-Jesus approval of women taking an active interest in matters of doctrine. Jesus himself reproves Martha’s remonstrance against her sister’s un-womanly behavior. This I think is an indication of the importance of the role women had assumed by the time Luke wrote. Otherwise, there would be no need for such an ex post facto from Jesus. The time when Luke is writing is perhaps an especially fluid time, the point where the forward momentum of the movement was creating a sense of how widespread the acceptance of Jesus had become–hence the 70–but it was before a true hierarchy had settled in and taken control. That would come in the next few decades.

About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 25, 2018, in Chapter 10, General / Overview, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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