Posts Tagged Ambrose

On Neighborliness

Domenico Fetti - Parable of the Good Samaritan...

Domenico Fetti, "Parable of the Good Samaritan" (c. 1610–1623; photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–35) is unique to Luke and contributes to the third Gospel’s general emphasis on socially marginalized characters and groups.1 Introducing the parable proper is an exchange between Jesus and a νομικός (lawyer), which the lawyer begins by inquiring τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω; (Luke 10:25b; what shall I do to inherit eternal life?). Both this question and the exchange that follows resemble some later rabbinic texts, not least in the lawyer’s concern to define proper Torah obedience.2

Following on their mutual agreement that loving יהוה with all one’s being and one’s neighbor as oneself (Luke 10:27–28) is key to gaining eternal life,3 the lawyer’s next inquiry is τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29; who is my neighbor?). Although asked to vindicate the lawyer’s own thoughts about the matter (Luke 10:29a), this question follows naturally enough on the preceding discussion: it seeks Jesus’ opinion on the definition of the category of other people toward whom the key command(s) demands love to be exercised.4

Jesus’ answer to this inquiry is to tell a parable in which the main characters include two Jews, one Samaritan, and one ἄνθρωπός τις [ὃς] κατέβαινεν ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλὴμ εἰς Ἰεριχὼ καὶ λῃσταῖς περιέπεσεν (Luke 10:30; certain person [who] was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among bandits). Provocatively, Jesus proceeds to make out the Samaritan to be the hero of the story and inquires: τίς τούτων τῶν τριῶν πλησίον δοκεῖ σοι γεγονέναι τοῦ ἐμπεσόντος εἰς τοὺς λῃστάς; (Luke 10:36; who of these three [passers by] seems to you to have become the neighbor of the one who had fallen among the bandits?; cf. John 4:9b).5 Within Jesus’ narrative, the answer is clear: ὁ ποιήσας τὸ ἔλεος μετʼ αὐτοῦ (Luke 10:37; the one who acted compassionately with him)—that is, the Samaritan.6

There is, then, likely a bit of a double sense to Jesus’ πορεύου καὶ σὺ ποίει ὁμοίως (Luke 10:37; go and do likewise).7 In the first place, the lawyer should imitate the Samaritan in Jesus’ story and act compassionately.8 To say only this much, however, leaves the discussion quite at the place where the lawyer originally inquired τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29; who is my neighbor?). So, in the second place, the lawyer should consider as neighbors even those who stand beyond traditional boundary lines of neighborliness (Luke 10:36), even to the extent of removing such boundary lines altogether.9


1. R. T. France, “Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” in A Theology of the New Testament (ed. Donald A. Hagner; rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 237, 242–43.

2. Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables (New York: Scribner and Sons, 1966), 159; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977), 76–81, 112–14, 129; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 306.

3. On the joining of these two commandments, see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 305n234.

4. Ibid., 306.

5. Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 231; Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 160.

6. Cf. Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 160–61.

7. Blomberg, Parables, 231–32; Chrysostom, Hom. Heb., 10.8 (NPNF1, 14:417); cf. Augustine, Doctr. chr. , 1.30.31 (NPNF1, 2:530–31); Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 43.2 (NPNF1, 7:240); Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 161.

8. Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 2:55; cf. Ambrose, Paen., 1.11.52 (NPNF2, 10:338).

9. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 306–7.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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Faithful Rahab

Foster Bible Pictures 0084-1 Rahab Helping the...

Rahab Helping the Two Israelite Spies (Image via Wikipedia)

After assuming leadership over Israel (Josh 1:10–18), Joshua commissions two men to survey Jericho and the surrounding area (Josh 2:1a). Rather tersely, then, the menוילכו ויבאו בית־אשׁה זונה ושׁמה רחב וישׁכבו־שׁמה (Josh 2:1b; went and entered the house of a prostitute, whose name was Rahab, and they lodged there). For onlookers, such an action might not have been unusual in itself,1 but by some means or other, the king became aware of these Israelite’s intent to survey Jericho ahead of some forthcoming military action (Josh 2:3).

Even before the king’s messengers had arrived, however, Rahab had apparently become aware that they were coming and hid the Israelite spies (Josh 2:4a, 6). While the spies are hiding (Josh 2:8),2 Rahab engages them in a brief exchange that solidifies both her promise of protection to them and their promise of the same to her and her family on certain conditions (Josh 2:9–14). When Rahab describes the background for her actions, she twice acknowledges Jericho’s broad recognition of יהוה’s greatness (Josh 2:9, 11a) because of what he had recently done for Israel in helping them against other peoples they had encountered before arriving at Jericho (Josh 2:10, 11b).3 Yet, only in Rahab’s case is this fear of יהוה said to translate into חסד (Josh 2:12; kindly) acts,4 to which the spies respond חסד ואמת (Josh 2:14; kindly and faithfully; cf. Josh 2:17–20; 6:22–23, 25).

Rahab thus constitutes an example of one who both hears the report about יהוה’s mighty deeds and rightly credits that report, δεξαμένη τοὺς κατασκόπους μετʼ εἰρήνης (Heb 11:31b; receiving the spies with peace; cf. Heb 4:2). Yet, alongside Abraham (Jas 2:21–23), James sets forth Rahab as an example of one who is ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται . . . καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως μόνον (Jas 2:24; justified from works and not from faith only; cf. Jas 2:25–26). It is difficult to assess whether James sees Rahab’s deception of the king’s men (Josh 2:3–5) as an endemic component of her kindness toward the spies (cf. Josh 2:14) or as deception that יהוה presumably forgave within the context of her faith in him (cf. Gen 20:1–13; 26:6–11).5 What is clear, however, is that, in Jas 2:14–20, δικαιοῦσθαι ἐκ πίστεως μόνον refers to something like “being justified for fine words while sitting on one’s hands.” Fine words acknowledging יהוה’s greatness Rahab certainly does have (Josh 2:9–13), but James holds her forth as an example because her fine words, as faithful words, are a genuine testimony of one piece with her ὑποδεξαμένη τοὺς ἀγγέλους καὶ ἑτέρᾳ ὁδῷ ἐκβαλοῦσα (Jas 2:24; having received the messengers and sent them out by another way).6 Indeed, in so doing (cf. Josh 6:25), Rahab the sinner received the Israelite men and kept them from harm,7 and thus, Rahab came to stand in the line of the Israelite man who receives sinners and keeps them from harm (cf. Matt 1:5; Luke 15; John 9:110:18).8


1. Bird, “The Harlot as Heroine,” Semeia 46 (1989): 128; Keil, Joshua, 26.

2. First Clement 12 (ANF, 1:8); Keil, Joshua, 27, regard Josh 2:8 as a reference to the spies’ going to sleep. Yet, because the preceding context says that the men had gone to the roof to hide (Josh 2:6), Josh 2:8–14 might be understood as a flashback or as Rahab’s later discussion with the men in which she discloses convictions she had already held (cf. McCartney, James, 171).

3. Chyrsostom, Hom. Heb., 27.3 (NPNF1, 14:487–88), suggests that the spies themselves brought to Rahab the news of what יהוה had done for Israel. If such were the case, then their possible communication of this news to others also might have been the reason that they attracted such unfavorable attention and that the king became aware of their presence at Rahab’s house. Yet, such a reading would present a difficulty with Joshua’s original commission of the men to perform their reconnaissance חרשׁ (Josh 2:1; secretly).

4. Cyril of Jerusalem, Paen., 9 (NPNF2, 7:10); Ephraim Syrus, The Pearl, 7.1 (NPNF2, 13:299), suggest Rahab as a model of Christian repentance. See also Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 87.5 (NPNF1, 8:421–22); Cyprian, Epist., 75.4 (ANF, 5:398); Jerome, Epist., 52.3 (NPNF2, 6:91).

5. Augustine, C. mend., 32 (NPNF1, 3:495–96), strongly prefers this later possibility.

6. Cf. 1 Clem. 12 (ANF, 1:8); Ambrose, Fid., 5.10.127 (NPNF2, 10:300); Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology, 520–22.

7. Westcott, Hebrews, 377.

8. Cf. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 264–74.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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Worthy of More Glory

Moses, confronted about his Cushite wife

Image via Wikipedia

In Num 12:1, Miriam and Aaron confront Moses because of his marriage to a Cushite woman, and in so doing, they attempt to claim equal prophetic status with Moses (Num 12:2a). Apparently, on this occasion, Moses’ meekness constrains him from responding (Num 12:3; cf. Rom 12:191 Clem. 17 [ANF 9:234]; Socrates, Hist. eccl., 7.42 [NPNF2 2:176]), but יהוה hears the conversation and summons all three siblings to the tent of meeting (Num 12:2b, 4). יהוה then summons Aaron and Miriam for a special rebuke (Num 12:5): however high may be their claim to apparently equal prophetic status with Moses, Moses own status still surpasses that of prophet (Num 12:6–9). The status that Aaron and Miriam claim for themselves gets them only so far—only to dreams and visions (Num 12:6). By contrast, Moses is not limited to dreams and visions, but פה אל־פה אדבר־בו ומראה ולא בחידת ותמנת יהוה יביט (Num 12:8a; with him, I [יהוה] speak mouth to mouth, plainly, and not in riddles, and he looks upon the form of יהוה). More than a prophet, Moses is a faithful servant in all יהוה’s house (Num 12:7; Heb 3:5).

So much the greater, then, is he with whom Moses the faithful servant and Elijah the prophet appear on the mountain (Matt 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30–31; cf. Irenaeus, Haer., 4.20.9–11 [ANF 1:490–91]). Yet, far from contending with this Jesus for their own status, Moses and Elijah discuss with him ἡ ἔξοδος αὐτοῦ, ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ (Luke 9:31; his departure, which he was about to complete at Jerusalem; cf. Leo the Great, Serm., 51.4 [NPNF2 12:163]; Origen, Comm. Matt., 12.38 [ANF 9:470]). Not being sufficiently sensible of the situation, however, the newly awakened Peter does suggest a certain equality of status among the three glorious individuals he sees before him (Matt 17:2–4; Mark 9:2b–6; Luke 9:29–33; Leo the Great, Serm., 51.5 [NPNF2 12:163–64]). The divine response again comes in a cloud (Num 12:5; Matt 17:5a; Mark 9:7a; Luke 9:34). Nevertheless, the heavenly voice does not answer by assigning Jesus to the category of “servant,” however noble or faithful, but acknowledges him as the so much superior son (Matt 17:5b; Mark 9:7b; Luke 9:31–32, 35; cf. Hippolytus, Noet., 18 [ANF 5:230]; Jerome, Epist., 46.13 [NPNF2 6:65]; Leo the Great, Serm., 51.6 [NPNF2 12:164]; Rufinus, Symb., 4 [NPNF2 3:544]; Tertullian, Praescr., 22 [ANF 3:253]), who is himself deserving of all allegiance and honor (Matt 17:5–8; Mark 9:7–8; Luke 9:35–36; Heb 3:1–19; Augustine, Serm., 28.3–5 [NPNF1 6:347–48]; Clement of Alexandria, Paed., 1.11 [ANF 2:234]; Cyprian, Epist., 52.14 [ANF 5:362]; Leo the Great, Serm., 51.7 [NPNF2 12:164]; cf. Ambrose, Epist., 43.57 [NPNF2 10:464]; Chrysostom, Hom. Heb., 5.4 [NPNF1 14:390]; Cyril of Jerusalem, Lectures, 10.7–9 [NPNF2 7:59–60]; Hilary of Poitiers, Trin., 6.24 [NPNF2 9:106]).

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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