Parable of the Good Samaritan

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. It is about a traveller who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveller. Samaritans and Jews despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man. Jesus is described as telling the parable in response to the question from a lawyer, "And who is my neighbour?". In response, Jesus tells the parable, the conclusion of which is that the neighbour figure in the parable is the man who shows mercy to the injured man—that is, the Samaritan.
Some Christians, such as Augustine, have interpreted the parable allegorically, with the Samaritan representing Jesus Christ, who saves the sinful soul. Others, however, discount this allegory as unrelated to the parable's original meaning and see the parable as exemplifying the ethics of Jesus.
The parable has inspired painting, sculpture, satire, poetry, photography, and film. The phrase "", meaning someone who helps a stranger, derives from this parable, and many hospitals and charitable organizations are named after the Good Samaritan.


In the Gospel of Luke chapter 10, the parable is introduced by a question, known as the Great Commandment:
Jesus replies with a story:

Historical context

Road from Jerusalem to Jericho

In the time of Jesus, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for its danger and difficulty, and was known as the "Way of Blood" because "of the blood which is often shed there by robbers". Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, on the day before his death, described the road as follows:
I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles—or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road.

, with Jerusalem to the west.

Samaritans and Jesus

Jesus' target audience, the Jews, hated Samaritans to such a degree that they destroyed the Samaritans' temple on Mount Gerizim. Due to this hatred, some think that the Lawyer's phrase "The one who had mercy on him" may indicate a reluctance to name the Samaritan. Or, on another, more positive note, it may indicate that the lawyer has recognized that both his questions have been answered and now concludes by generally expressing that anyone behaving thus is a "neighbor" eligible to inherit eternal life. The Samaritans in turn hated the Jews. Tensions were particularly high in the early decades of the 1st century because Samaritans had desecrated the Jewish Temple at Passover with human bones.
As the story reached those who were unaware of the oppression of the Samaritans, this aspect of the parable became less and less discernible: fewer and fewer people ever heard of them in any context other than as a description. Today, the story is often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known not to interact comfortably. Thus, cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behavior that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve. Christians have used it as an example of Christianity's opposition to racial, ethnic, and sectarian prejudice. For example, anti-slavery campaigner William Jay described clergy who ignored slavery as "following the example of the priest and Levite". Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, described the Samaritan as "a man of another race". Sundee Tucker Frazier saw the Samaritan more specifically as an example of a "mixed-race" person. Klyne Snodgrass wrote: "On the basis of this parable we must deal with our own racism but must also seek justice for, and offer assistance to, those in need, regardless of the group to which they belong."
Samaritans appear elsewhere in the Gospels and Book of Acts. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus heals ten lepers and only the Samaritan among them thanks him, although depicts Jesus receiving a hostile reception in Samaria. Luke's favorable treatment of Samaritans is in line with Luke's favorable treatment of the weak and of outcasts, generally. In John, Jesus has an extended dialogue with a Samaritan woman, and many Samaritans come to believe in him. In Matthew, however, Jesus instructs his disciples not to preach in or Samaritan cities. In the Gospels, generally, "though the Jews of Jesus' day had no time for the 'half-breed' people of Samaria", Jesus "never spoke disparagingly about them" and "held a benign view of Samaritans".
Many see as the model for the Samaritan's neighborly behavior in the parable. In Chronicles, Northern Israelite ancestors of Samaritans treat Judean enemies as fellow-Israelite neighbors. After comparing the earlier account with the later parable presented to the expert in Israel's religious law, Evans concludes: "Given the number and significance of these parallels and points of correspondence it is hard to imagine how a first-century scholar of Scripture could hear the parable and not think of the story of the merciful Samaritans of 2 Chronicles 28."

Priests and Levites

In Jewish culture, contact with a dead body was understood to be defiling. Priests were particularly enjoined to avoid uncleanness. The priest and Levite may therefore have assumed that the fallen traveler was dead and avoided him to keep themselves ritually clean. On the other hand, the depiction of travel downhill may indicate that their temple duties had already been completed, making this explanation less likely, although this is disputed. Since the Mishnah made an exception for neglected corpses, the priest and the Levite could have used the law to justify both touching a corpse and ignoring it. In any case, passing by on the other side avoided checking "whether he was dead or alive". Indeed, "it weighed more with them that he might be dead and defiling to the touch of those whose business was with holy things than that he might be alive and in need of care."


Allegorical reading

described the allegory as follows:
The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord's body, the , which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church.... The manager of the is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior's second coming.

John Welch further states:
This allegorical reading was taught not only by ancient followers of Jesus, but it was virtually universal throughout early Christianity, being advocated by Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen, and in the fourth and fifth centuries by Chrysostom in Constantinople, Ambrose in Milan, and Augustine in North Africa. This interpretation is found most completely in two other medieval stained-glass windows, in the French cathedrals at Bourges and Sens."

The allegorical interpretation is also traditional in the Orthodox Church. John Newton refers to the allegorical interpretation in his hymn "How Kind the Good Samaritan", which begins:

How kind the good Samaritan
To him who fell among the thieves!
Thus Jesus pities fallen man,
And heals the wounds the soul receives.

Robert Funk also suggests that Jesus' Jewish listeners were to identify with the robbed and wounded man. In his view, the help received from a hated Samaritan is like the kingdom of God received as grace from an unexpected source.

Ethical reading

was not impressed by Origen's allegorical reading:
Francis Schaeffer suggested: "Christians are not to love their believing brothers to the exclusion of their non-believing fellowmen. That is ugly. We are to have the example of the good Samaritan consciously in mind at all times."
Other modern theologians have taken similar positions. For example, G. B. Caird wrote:
The meaning of the parable for Calvin was, instead, that "compassion, which an enemy showed to a Jew, demonstrates that the guidance and teaching of nature are sufficient to show that man was created for the sake of man. Hence it is inferred that there is a mutual obligation between all men." In other writings, Calvin pointed out that people are not born merely for themselves, but rather "mankind is knit together with a holy knot... we must not live for ourselves, but for our neighbors." Earlier, Cyril of Alexandria had written that "a crown of love is being twined for him who loves his neighbour."
Joel B. Green writes that Jesus' final question :
Such a reading of the parable makes it important in liberation theology, where it provides a concrete anchoring for love and indicates an "all embracing reach of solidarity." In Indian Dalit theology, it is seen as providing a "life-giving message to the marginalized Dalits and a challenging message to the non-Dalits."
Martin Luther King, Jr. often spoke of this parable, contrasting the rapacious philosophy of the robbers, and the self-preserving non-involvement of the priest and Levite, with the Samaritan's coming to the aid of the man in need. King also extended the call for neighborly assistance to society at large:

Other interpretations

In addition to these classical interpretations many scholars have drawn additional themes from the story. Some have suggested that religious tolerance was an important message of the parable. By selecting for the moral protagonist of the story someone whose religion was despised by the Jewish audience to which Jesus was speaking, some argue that the parable attempts to downplay religious differences in favor of focusing on moral character and good works.
Others have suggested that Jesus was attempting to convey an anti-establishment message, not necessarily in the sense of rejecting authority figures in general, but in the sense of rejecting religious hypocrisy. By contrasting the noble acts of a despised religion to the crass and selfish acts of a priest and a Levite, two representatives of the Jewish religious establishment, some argue that the parable attempts to downplay the importance of status in the religious hierarchy in favor of the practice of religious principles.

Modern Jewish view

The story of the good Samaritan, in the Pauline Gospel of Luke x. 25–37, related to illustrate the meaning of the word "neighbor", possesses a feature which puzzles the student of rabbinical lore. The kind Samaritan who comes to the rescue of the men that had fallen among the robbers, is contrasted with the unkind priest and Levite; whereas the third class of Jews—i.e., the ordinary Israelites who, as a rule, follow the Cohen and the Levite are omitted; and therefore suspicion is aroused regarding the original form of the story. If "Samaritan" has been substituted by the anti-Judean gospel-writer for the original "Israelite", no reflection was intended by Jesus upon Jewish teaching concerning the meaning of neighbor; and the lesson implied is that he who is in need must be the object of our love.
The term "neighbor" has not at all times been thus understood by Jewish teachers. In Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xv. it is said: "Blessed be the Lord who is impartial toward all. He says: 'Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor. Thy neighbor is like thy brother, and thy brother is like thy neighbor.'" Likewise in xxviii.: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God"; that is, thou shalt make the name of God beloved to the creatures by a righteous conduct toward Gentiles as well as Jews. Aaron b. Abraham ibn Ḥayyim of the sixteenth century, in his commentary to Sifre, l.c.; Ḥayyim Vital, the cabalist, in his "Sha'are Ḳedushah", i. 5; and Moses Ḥagis of the eighteenth century, in his work on the 613 commandments, while commenting on Deut. xxiii. 7, teach alike that the law of love of the neighbor includes the non-Israelite as well as the Israelite. There is nowhere a dissenting opinion expressed by Jewish writers. For modern times, see among others the conservative opinion of Plessner's religious catechism, "Dat Mosheh we-Yehudit", p. 258.
Accordingly, the synod at Leipzig in 1869, and the German-Israelitish Union of Congregations in 1885, stood on old historical ground when declaring that Love thy neighbor as thyself' is a command of all-embracing love, and is a fundamental principle of the Jewish religion"; and Stade, when charging with imposture the rabbis who made this declaration, is entirely in error.


The Jesus Seminar voted this parable to be authentic, with 60% of fellows rating it "red" and a further 29% rating it "pink". The paradox of a disliked outsider such as a Samaritan helping a Jew is typical of Jesus' provocative parables, and is a deliberate feature of this parable. In the Greek text, the shock value of the Samaritan's appearance is enhanced by the emphatic Σαμαρίτης at the beginning of the sentence in verse 33.
Bernard Brandon Scott, a member of the Jesus Seminar, questions the authenticity of the parable's context, suggesting that "the parable originally circulated separately from the question about neighborliness" and that the "existence of the lawyer's question in and, in addition to the evidence of heavy Lukan editing" indicates the parable and its context were "very probably joined editorially by Luke." A number of other commentators share this opinion, with the consensus of the Jesus Seminar being that verses were added by Luke to "connect with the lawyer's question." On the other hand, the "keen rabbinic interest in the question of the greatest commandment" may make this argument invalid, in that Luke may be describing a different occurrence of the question being asked. Differences between the gospels suggest that Luke is referring to a different episode from Mark and Matthew, and Klyne Snodgrass writes that "While one cannot exclude that Luke has joined two originally separate narratives, evidence for this is not convincing." The Oxford Bible Commentary notes:
The unexpected appearance of the Samaritan led Joseph Halévy to suggest that the parable originally involved "a priest, a Levite, and an Israelite", in line with contemporary Jewish stories, and that Luke changed the parable to be more familiar to a gentile audience." Halévy further suggests that, in real life, it was unlikely that a Samaritan would actually have been found on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, although others claim that there was "nothing strange about a Samaritan travelling in Jewish territory". William C. Placher points out that such debate misinterprets the biblical genre of a parable, which illustrates a moral rather than a historical point: on reading the story, "we are not inclined to check the story against the police blotter for the Jerusalem-Jericho highway patrol. We recognize that Jesus is telling a story to illustrate a moral point, and that such stories often don't claim to correspond to actual events." The traditionally understood ethical moral of the story would not hold if the parable originally followed the priest-Levite-Israelite sequence of contemporary Jewish stories, as Halévy suggested, for then it would deal strictly with intra-Israelite relations just as did the Lev 19:18 command under discussion.

As a metaphor and name

The term "good Samaritan" is used as a common metaphor: "The word now applies to any charitable person, especially one who, like the man in the parable, rescues or helps out a needy stranger."
The name has consequently been used for a number of charitable organisations, including Samaritans, Samaritan's Purse, Sisters of the Good Samaritan, and The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong. The name Good Samaritan Hospital is used for a number of hospitals around the world. Good Samaritan laws encourage those who choose to serve and tend to others who are injured or ill.

Art and popular culture

This parable was one of the most popular in medieval art. The allegorical interpretation was often illustrated, with Christ as the Good Samaritan. Accompanying angels were sometimes also shown. In some Orthodox icons of the parable, the identification of the Good Samaritan as Christ is made explicit with a halo bearing a cross.
The numerous later artistic depictions of the parable include those of Rembrandt, Jan Wijnants, Vincent van Gogh, Aimé Morot, Domenico Fetti, Johann Carl Loth, George Frederic Watts, and Giacomo Conti. Vincent van Gogh's painting captures the reverse hierarchy that is underscored in Luke's parable. Although the priest and Levite are near the top of the status hierarchy in Israel and the Samaritans near the bottom, van Gogh reverses this hierarchy in the painting. He foregrounds the Samaritan, making him larger than life and colorful, while the priest and Levite are placed in the background, making them small and insignificant, barely distinguished from the drab landscape.
In his essay Lost in Non-Translation, biochemist and author Isaac Asimov argues that to the Jews of the time there were no good Samaritans; in his view, this was half the point of the parable. As Asimov put it, we need to think of the story occurring in Alabama in 1950, with a mayor and a preacher ignoring a man who has been beaten and robbed, with the role of the Samaritan being played by a poor black sharecropper.
The story's theme is portrayed throughout Marvel's Daredevil.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is the theme for the Austrian Christian Charity commemorative coin, minted 12 March 2003. This coin shows the Good Samaritan with the wounded man, on his horse, as he takes him to an inn for medical attention. An older coin with this theme is the American "Good Samaritan Shilling" of 1652.
Australian poet Henry Lawson wrote a poem on the parable, of which the third stanza reads:

He's been a fool, perhaps, and would
Have prospered had he tried,
But he was one who never could
Pass by the other side.
An honest man whom men called soft,
While laughing in their sleeves—
No doubt in business ways he oft
Had fallen amongst thieves.

John Gardiner Calkins Brainard also wrote a poem on the theme.
Dramatic film adaptations of the Parable of the Good Samaritan include Samaritan, part of the widely acclaimed Modern Parables DVD Bible study series. Samaritan, which sets the parable in modern times, stars Antonio Albadran in the role of the Good Samaritan.
The English composer, Benjamin Britten, was commissioned to write a piece to mark the centenary of the Red Cross. His resulting work for solo voices, choir, and orchestra, Cantata Misericordium, sets a Latin text by Patrick Wilkinson that tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was first performed in Geneva in 1963.
In a real-life psychology experiment, seminary students in a rush to teach on this parable, failed to stop to help a shabbily dressed person on the side of the road.

Legal presence

In the English law of negligence, when establishing a duty of care in Donoghue v Stevenson Lord Atkin applied the neighbour principle—drawing inspiration from the Biblical Golden Rule as in the parable of the Good Samaritan.