Friday, September 6, 2013

What if the Good Samaritan Had Seen the Man Getting Beaten?

The best class I took in seminary was Christian Ethics. Part of the reason for this was that the professor was excellent. The second reason was that ethics is basically applied theology. We were able to discuss what the bible has to say about all sorts of real world issues.

One day in class we were talking about what responsibility we have to defend others. The professor posed an interesting question. He asked what the Good Samaritan should have done if he had seen the man getting beaten. In the Luke 10 passage the Samaritan man happens across the beaten man well after the crime has been committed (click here to read the passage). We know that the Samaritan does the right thing in the situation: he sacrificially cares for the man. Jesus commends him for his actions.

But what if the Samaritan was walking along and stumbled across the beatdown in action? What then should he have done?

This is one of those tough questions because it is not directly addressed in scripture. On the one hand, Jesus was a man of peace. His teachings make this very clear. On the other hand, Jesus desires that we care for the poor and needy. Someone getting beaten up is certainly needy.

It has been ten years since I took that Ethics class. I've been pondering an answer to the question the entire time. Despite this, I'm still not sure of the right answer.

I've come to this somewhat shaky conclusion (which is open to change in light of better scriptural understanding on my part): if the Samaritan had come upon the beating taking place, he should have intervened. What would this look like? His first response should be to approach the situation and tell the criminals to stop. If they did not, he should begin yelling, calling for help, or anything else that would scare them away (for us today, we could call 911). If none of this worked, I believe the Samaritan should have tried to step between the criminals and the beaten man. This would probably require him to take a beating as well. If all other courses of action were extinguished, the Samaritan should intervene physically, but only in defensive manner to attempt to drive the men away.

I'm not thrilled with my own answer, but it's the best I've come up with so far.

What do you think? What should the Samaritan have done and why?


Robert Martin said...

Greg Boyd recently posted a series of tweets that told his own "Samaritan" story of which you described. In his case, he did what you suggested... he approached, confronting gently with words. He had his phone out to call 911. He got physically close so as to be present. He didn't actually have to physically intervene but I think you described an excellent alternative. We don't HAVE to use violence to stop violence. We can "stand in the gap" and give up ourselves for our fellow man. "No greater love" and all that...

Eric said...


Thank you for commenting. I agree that to show the love that may be needed, we ought to be willing to suffer for others. I hope I would actually do it in the moment though.

Jeffrey said...


You've repeatedly stated that Jesus was a "man of peace", and seem to be saying that this ends the debate. While in most situations, peace is his response and teaching, the fact remains that on at least one occasion, he acted violently (while purging the temple of the money changers, in John 2:15) and on another, when he instructed his disciples to arm themselves (in Luke 22:35-38). In the past, when we've corresponded on the second passage, you reasoned that he must have been referring to a farm implement to dig for potatoes, since he's a "man of peace". Why not let the scriptures speak for themselves. Is it possible that you've arrived at a preconceived notion.

I would argue that in the scenario you mentioned, the best course of action would be to verbally intervene, as you stated; if there's time, call 911, if all else fails and physical harm seems imminent, demonstrate your intention to use appropriate force. Of course that implies that you've previously taken responsibility for your own safety and that of your family, by arming yourself.

Eric said...


Jesus displays numerous examples in his life of being a man of peace. He tells us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. He also did not respond with any violence during his arrest and crucifixion.

The cleansing of the temple was his unique act as the Messiah cleaning his Father's house. I do not believe this applies to us whatsoever.

The swords passage is an interesting one. Unlike the cleaning of the temple, it does seem to apply to us. The key is determining what it means. I don't believe it is as clear as some folks do. When weighing the bulk of Jesus' teaching, I believe it clearly falls on the side of peace.

So what is our responsibility in defending others? That is the difficult part? I've stated what I believe in this post, but I can see how other believers could come to differing conclusions.

Frank said...

I believe that we cannot hope to make a right decision until we deal with the false concept of pacifism in the church.
Jesus is the God of the Old Testament also. Was Jesus ever violent? Just read the OT to see that nature. Just read revelation to see it in the NT.
Jesus has not changed one iota, so to depict him as a pacifist is outrageous. (He obviously didn't resist arrest because that was his overall purpose on earth).
The turn the other cheek passage was never meant to be applied. In fact that whole section was preached to people who thought they could be righteous by law keeping. It was a message about the hopelessness of self righteousness.
I am not trying to be rude, but if you believe turning the other cheek applies, you MUST also gouge our eyes out and chop our hands off for any failure. If you are still in possession of both hands and eyes, then you have two choices. You have really succeeded at self righteousness or are just plain lying.
Those passages were to show the impossibility of earning perfection by law. That's why the mutilation is there!!! Also the demand to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and be as good as their Father in Heaven.

Eric said...


Does Jesus instruct his followers to use violence?

Frank said...

Eric, you asked.
Does Jesus instruct his followers to use violence?

The answer is abundantly yes, repeatedly so in the appropriate circumstances. To reject this answer, you must reject Jn1v1 to Jn1v14 where it demonstrates that Jesus was God in the OT also. He has not changed.

If you insist that Matt5 should be adhered to, then there should be abundant mutilations and blind people in the church, unless you have already self perfected.
So how are your eyes and arms my brother?
Also you cannot call 911, because that is violence by proxy.
You cannot insure your house for burglary or fire, because that is not turning the other cheek, its just making someone else pay!
Matt5 is not a pick and mix!
Jesus preached law to law abiders. That is why he also told the rich man to give all his goods away. That man had asked what good deed must I do to inherit eternal life. So Jesus gave him a impossible good deed! He did it to prove the futility of doing good to get eternal life. That is the sole context.
In making Matt5 into law, we are rejecting what the apostles declared in the counsel of Jerusalem (Acts15. Why put God to the test, to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.
Whether it is the Ten Commandment, or Matt5 there is no difference. Its still law.

Eric said...


Thank you for answering my question. Here's another one: what of Jesus' teachings do you think we should follow?

Frank said...

Eric, Thanks for giving me space, but I can read the hidden accusation behind your question!
You have yet to respond to any of the points that I made. ie. Why are you still able to read this, and finger your keyboard? To believe as you do, and to still be fit and healthy, means that you have succeeded in perfection. Otherwise you are being a Pharisee, a hypocrite. Please don't take offense at that, I don't know how to make that point nicely!

You are seminary trained, can you not comprehend that Matt1v1 is not the start of the New Testament?
Jesus was ministering to OT believers during what was still the continuation of the Old Testament.
The New Testament did not start till his blood was shed. Jesus made that clear in Matt26v28.

That doesn't strike out any of his teachings prior to the crucifixion, but we have to discern what actually applies today, just as the council of Jerusalem made crystal clear. You are once again forcing law on the church.
O foolish Galatians.......etc.

You asked me what teachings of Jesus we should follow. The answer is obviously all!
So I shall ask you, which parts of Jesus's teaching do you reject. Starting with not gouging your eyes out maybe?

Eric said...


I appreciate your comments, but I disagree with your interpretation. Jesus was using hyperbole several instances to make a point.

Randi Jo :) said...

I think this is one of those things that is a case by case basis and such a great area... so obedience looks a little different each scenario..

but I do believe you are right in that obedience will mean you don't come into a scene with your fists swinging right away...

sometimes I believe the Lord will use us to talk to a bully verbally. call for help. sometimes, if we can't break through and calm the situation verbally - i do believe He would ask us to use our physical bodies to retrain the beating. we may hurt the bully in the process because of how they are attacking & not stopping. we wouldn't hurt them if they would stop when we stepped in.

like parenting... sometimes it really does take physically getting involved.... i would never let an older child of mine hurt one of the younger ones and not intervene. when i saw injustice like that with others whether they are my kids or not, I would intervene, physically and do everything I could to stop the confrontation.