Friday, June 14, 2013

Loving the Neighbour

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is not a lesson on how to love the neighbour.

εἰ μέντοι νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν κατὰ τὴν γραφήν Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν καλῶς ποιεῖτε 9εἰ δὲ προσωποληπτεῖτε, ἁμαρτίαν ἐργάζεσθε ἐλεγχόμενοι ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου ὡς παραβάται
James 2:8-9

Four posts ago, I embedded a video of David Pawson speaking about how John 3:16 is the most misunderstood and misapplied verse in the Bible. At the end of that post, after pointing out what I agreed with in the video, I mentioned that most of the things he said afterwards about God’s love were “unscriptural”. I was thinking specifically about his definition of agapē [ἀγάπη] “love” (the noun form of agapaō [ἀγαπάω] “to love”), and his mischaracterisation of the lesson being taught in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Here’s another look at the video. Note what he says from the 4:37 mark—the point where he starts to go wrong—to about 5:44:

As this video was simply a commercial for his book, some might say that Pawson was just oversimplifying for the sake of time, that he didn’t actually mean it when he defined agapē as “the love of action, of doing something about someone that needs help”. But, if that’s true, how would they explain his bolstering this facile definition by saying it was “why Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan”?

Pawson sums up his definition with:
“Who loved the man who had fallen among thieves and been mugged?”

The answer is, not the one who sympathised with him or felt sorry for him, but the one who picked him up and took him home to look after him. That’s love. That’s agapē love.
No, we have to accept it, he said what he meant, and meant what he said; that agapē means “doing something to help someone in need” and that that is the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Let’s begin our examination by looking at where Pawson goes wrong with regards to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And to be kind, we will take his misquotations as general citations—after all, the poor man has had a stroke, which is bound to affect his memory….

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is only found in Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel. The scene begins in verse 25, when a supposed expert of the Mosaic Law seeks to test1 Yeshua by asking Him what he should do to inherit eternal life. Notice that the basis of the question is what action is to be taken, what does he need to do. From the KJV:
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.
So, Yeshua has just made the man answer his own question. To inherit eternal life, one must love (agapaō) God and the neighbour: that is what is to be done. But then the man asks another question, the answer to which he believes will show how righteous he is—"he asked," the Greek text tells us, "wanting to show his own righteousness"—because he thinks he already knows the answer.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said…
It is in answer to this second question that Yeshua tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Therefore, it is an explanation of who a neighbour is, of how to recognise the neighbour you are to “love”; it is not an illustration of how to “love” the neighbour! That this is obviously the case, is seen in verse 36 where, again getting the lawyer to answer his own question, Yeshua asks:
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
The lawyer, no doubt shocked at the idea that a neighbour could be a Gentile2, had to concede that, appearances to the contrary, the neighbour was the Samaritan, the one who “showed mercy” (not agapē, Mr Pawson) on the injured man:
37And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Now, I realise that nearly everyone believes, like David Pawson, that that last commandment of the Lord’s, to go and do likewise, means “to go and be the neighbour and help everyone you see who is in trouble”. But that makes no sense at all given the two questions asked by the lawyer: “What to do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbour?”.

In context, asking “who was the neighbour to the man?” was the same as asking "who would be the object of the injured man’s 'love'”? So what Yeshua was commanding the lawyer to do was to go and do the same as the injured man and “love” the merciful neighbour even though he was a non-Jew.

The point being that those who “love” God are also to “love” those who exhibit internal godly qualities, who behave like neighbours to us, even though they don’t look like us. It is a question of judging righteously, by judging the fruit a person produces, rather than judging unrighteously, by judging the appearance.

This is made even clearer when we look at the Greek epigraph at the top of this post. It’s from the Book of Jacob.3 Here are the verses from the KJV with the same words in yellow:
2:8If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
Notice that the “royal law” (meaning it comes from the King), “loving” your neighbour, is contrasted with “having respect to persons”. This means that the opposite of “loving” the neighbour is having respect to persons. If you look at the Greek text above, you’ll see that the phrase “having respect to persons” is a translation of just one word, prosōpolēmpteō [προσωπολημπτέω]. This is a compound word made up of the Greek word for “face” and the word for “receive” or “take”; it literally means “to receive the face of”, or, in other words, “to judge by the appearance”.

So, we now know that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not a manual on how to “love”, but a way to judge who to “love”. But what about agapē? How do we agapaō?

Well, the best definition we have of agapē, the most relevant to Christians, is the one the Apostle John gives us in 2 John 1:6:
And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.
The Greek preposition translated “after” here can also mean “according to”, so the sense is of walking as per His commandments.Therefore agapē is a love of obedience to the Lord.

That’s how we “love” God; we follow His instructions, we do everything He says in order to keep on the narrow Way to eternal life. He “loves” us by giving us His commandments—He never tells those He hates, like the Pharisees, to follow Him—we love Him by doing them.

Therefore, once we identify a neighbour, we “love” him by sharing God’s commandments with him and showing him how to follow them. This is the very same thing we do for one another; which is the point. We treat a neighbour just like a member of the family.


1. The word translated “tempted” in the KJV is ekpeirazō [ἐκπειράζω], meaning to prove or test thoroughly. Throughout the Gospels the religious leaders sought to test the Messianic claims about Joshua of Nazareth.

2. For a fuller explanation of what constitutes a Biblical neighbour, see the post Who Is My Neighbour.

3. As Jesus is to Joshua, so too is James to Jacob, Hebrew יעקב (Ya’aqov). See Wikipedia James (name): The name came into English language from the Old French variation James[1] of the late Latin name Iacomus. This was a dialect variant of Iacobus, from the New Testament Greek Ἰάκωβος (Iákōbos), from Hebrew יעקב (Ya’aqov)

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