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What Does It Mean to Be a “Good Samaritan”?

The Bible’s answer

The expression “Good Samaritan” is commonly used to describe a person who acts to help others who are in need. The term originated from a story, or parable, that Jesus told to show that a good neighbor mercifully helps others regardless of the other person’s nationality or background. *

In this article

 What is the parable of the “Good Samaritan”?

Here is a brief summary of the story that Jesus told: A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Along the way, he was robbed, beaten, and left for dead.

A Jewish priest and later another Jewish religious leader walked past the wounded traveler. Even though they were of the same nationality as the traveler, neither of them stopped to help the man.

Finally, a man of another nation came along. He was a Samaritan. (Luke 10:33; 17:16-18) Moved with pity, the Samaritan treated the man’s wounds. Then he took the injured man to an inn. There he cared for the man overnight. The next day, he paid the innkeeper to care for the man and offered to cover any additional expenses that might arise.—Luke 10:30-35.

 Why did Jesus tell this parable?

Jesus told the story to a man who thought that only people of his own race and religion were his neighbors. Jesus wanted to teach the man an important lesson—that he needed to expand his concept of “neighbor” to include more than just his fellow Jews. (Luke 10:36, 37) This account was included in the Bible for the benefit of everyone who wants to please God.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.

 What is the lesson of the parable?

The story teaches that a good neighbor demonstrates compassion by action. He or she responds to the needs of a person who is suffering—regardless of that person’s background, race, or nationality. A genuine neighbor acts toward others as he would like to be treated himself.—Matthew 7:12.

 Who were the Samaritans?

The Samaritans lived in the land directly north of Judea. They included the descendants of mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

By the first century C.E., the Samaritans had formed a distinct religious sect. They accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures but generally rejected the rest.

Many Jews in Jesus’ day despised the Samaritans and avoided contact with them. (John 4:9) Some Jews used the term “Samaritan” as an insult.—John 8:48.

 Did the story of the “Good Samaritan” actually happen?

The Scriptures do not indicate whether the parable of the Samaritan was based on an actual event. However, Jesus often used well-known customs and locations in his teaching so that his listeners could easily understand the point he was making.

Many details of the story’s setting are historically accurate. For example:

  • The road from Jerusalem to Jericho—over 20 kilometers (12 mi) long—steeply descended 1 kilometer (0.6 mi). The account correctly states that travelers heading toward Jericho were “going down from Jerusalem.”—Luke 10:30.

  • Priests and Levites who lived in Jericho regularly traveled to Jerusalem on this road.

  • Robbers often hid along the isolated road, waiting for unsuspecting travelers—especially those traveling alone.

^ The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is also known as the parable of the “Neighborly Samaritan.”