Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Reformed exegetical whopper on The Parable of the Good Samaratan (plus a bonus Papacy Proof)

From the What in the world was he thinking? File comes a link that Bryan Cross shared a little over a month ago on his blog, but I didn't have a chance to re-share it until now. The link is to a January 2014 blog post by Tullian Tchividjian, who teaches at Reformed Seminary (and is Billy Graham's grandson). In his post, Tullian "interprets" the parable of the Good Samaritan - that famous parable from Luke 10:29-37 where Jesus teaches us what it means to 'love our neighbor'. This is pretty straightforward stuff, and yet, astonishingly, Tullian ends up turning the simple lesson of Jesus on it's head. 

Here are some key excerpts (see the main article for the full story) from Tullian's article: 
This parable is perhaps the best known story Jesus ever told after the parable of The Prodigal Son. It is, however, also the most misunderstood.
Jesus tells the story to answer a lawyer’s question about who his neighbor is. . . . Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was asked a vertical question (a question about a person’s relationship to God) rather than a horizontal one. The lawyer was, after all, seeking to “justify” himself. This parable must, therefore, be interpreted vertically. It’s about justification, not sanctification.
What Jesus is saying in the parable of The Good Samaritan is that, to inherit eternal life, you must keep God’s law perfectly—which includes loving your neighbor as yourself. No wiggle room. . . . “Go and do likewise” is, therefore, not a word of invitation to be nice. It’s a word of condemnation in answer to the laywer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Far from telling the story to help us become like The Good Samaritan, Jesus tells this story to show us how far from being like The Good Samaritan we actually are! Jesus’ parable destroys our efforts to justify ourselves.
Jesus intends the parable itself to leave us beaten and bloodied, lying in a ditch, like the man in the story. . . . But then Jesus comes. Unlike the Priest and Levite, He doesn’t avoid us. He crosses the street—from heaven to earth—comes into our mess, gets his hands dirty. At great cost to himself on the cross, he heals our wounds, covers our nakedness, and loves us with a no-strings-attached love. He brings us to the Father and promises that his “help” is not simply a one time gift—rather, it’s a gift that will forever cover “the charges” we incur.
Yes, Jesus and Jesus alone is the Good Samaritan.
Just like Martin Luther, this pastor comes along and tells the Church we've all been reading the Bible completely wrong all these centuries. It turns out the story isn't a lesson in Christian living at all, but just the opposite: how a Christian is not really able to love their neighbor. And yet despite his theological 'haughtiness' of sorts, Tullian's argument makes sense in it's own way.

The truth is, Protestants have historically had trouble with the teachings and parables of Jesus in the Gospels because many of these teachings directly contradict key Protestant teachings - particularly their doctrine of justification by faith alone. As a result, Protestants have tended to generally ignore the Gospels or twist the teachings contained in them in order to subconsciously "protect" their erroneous teachings. And this example is no exception: Jesus is talking about attaining eternal life by Christian living rather than by faith alone, so Tullian (understandably) sees the need to get around this. And as is plain to everyone, his "solution" is so absurd that it's obvious that the real problem must be with his Protestant theology on how man is saved.

With that said, there is a strong tradition in the Catholic Church of recognizing a second-level meaning of this passage: some of the Church Fathers saw that Jesus was indeed the Good Samaritan par excellence, and we sinners are the ones laying in a ditch half dead in need of His help - a help which  the Old Covenant (signified by the Priest and Levite who pass by) couldn't provide us. Tullian did not invent this 'allegorical' interpretation. What Tullian did do though, which Catholic tradition never has or would do, is make the parable mean the exact opposite of what Jesus intended to teach. And there is nothing mutually exclusive about Jesus being the Good Samaritan and us being called to be Good Samaritans ourselves: "Go and do likewise" is plainly referring to the duty of all Christians to model after the Good Samaritan. 

Lastly, I don't think Tullian was correct to say that when the Samaritan brought the man to the Inn (Lk 10:35), the Innkeeper is God the Father. Rather, some of those same Church Fathers noted the Inn represents the Church, and thus the Innkeeper most logically represents Peter, whom Jesus leaves in charge while He is "away" (i.e. until the Second Coming). Admittedly, in looking this up the best I could, I wasn't able to find any Church Fathers who really paid attention to the innkeeper detail, except St Augustine who viewed the innkeeper as Paul because Paul went above and beyond his talents, cf 1 Cor 9:14-15. I don't think that makes the most sense though because Peter was put in charge in a very clear way throughout the Gospels, and given the keys and told to feed Christ's sheep. And I believe Peter fits best in other parables, such as the Chief-Steward that Jesus leaves in charge of His estate. Given that there's no substantial patristic testimony on this innkeeper point (that I was able to find), I feel I've come to the most reasonable conclusion, as have other Catholics. Interestingly, the Greek word for "take care of" appears only in this parable (Lk 10:35) and only in 1 Timothy 3:5, speaking of a bishop's duty of "taking care of the Church," in which Peter would be the head bishop. As for the two coins given to the innkeeper, from what I've found they can represent many things: two Sacraments of healing and sustenance, namely Eucharist and Confession (or Baptism); the Old & New Testament Scriptures; grace and the Holy Spirit; etc. Take your pick.


Anonymous said...

Nick, How about a work up on the way the Reformers addressed the Lord's Prayer "... forgive us as we forgive..."
Did they have a similar reversal of what the passage actually said? Such as, "since no one can really forgive 100%, why try?"

John Smith said...

"The truth is, Protestants have historically had trouble with the teachings and parables of Jesus in the Gospels because many of these teachings directly contradict key Protestant teachings - particularly their doctrine of justification by faith alone."

Jesus explicitly teaches justification by faith alone in Luke 18:9-14.

Anonymous said...

John -

Jesus and the Apostles don't use the words "faith alone" anywhere except in James. Please tell us who in history from 100 AD to 1,500 AD specifically taught that man is justified by faith alone outside of the Catholic Church?

You can interpret scripture however you want. I want to know who interpreted scripture like you throughout history.

Anonymous said...

Paul taught that we are justified by faith alone. Rom 3:28, Eph 2:8

Anonymous said...

Why won't anyone show me someone in history from 100 AD forward teaching justification by faith alone? I'm not asking for someone's personal interpretation of the Gospel. If this interpretation of the Gospel is the correct one, it would and should have played out in history. Or, was everyone wrong for 1,400 years. It's one or the other and I never get an answer to this question. Just give me names of non-Catholics who believed in justification by faith alone after 100 AD.

John Smith said...

@Anonymous "Why won't anyone show me someone in history from 100 AD forward teaching justification by faith alone?"

Here you go.

“All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 32).

“For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” the second and third century writer Origen stated, “Who has been justified by faith alone, without works of the law? Thus, in my opinion, that thief who was crucified with Christ should suffice for a suitable example. . . . In the gospels nothing else is recorded about his good works, but for the sake of this faith alone Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’. . . . by his confession alone, the One who was about to begin His journey to paradise received him as a justified traveling companion with Himself” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 3.9.3).

“How then can the Jews imagine that through the works of the law they are justified with Abraham’s justification, when they see that Abraham was justified not from the works of the law, but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law, since an impious person is justified with God through faith alone” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, on Romans 4:5 PL 17:86).

David Brainerd said...

Scripture does not support the papacy anywhere, ever. But even if it did, I would still only need one disproof of the papacy: Pope Francis. Its over morons. "who am I to judge?" Its over. Catholicism is dead.

David Brainerd said...

Faith alone is false doctrine. The only "church father" who taught it was Pelagius. He's the only one to literally use the phrase "faith alone"! And he said plainly "justification is by faith alone." See his commentary on Romans (its available on amazon, but pretty expensive). But he didn't mean it the Protestant way, of course. He meant that the novice, the new convert, is justified by faith alone, as a sort of grace period, but once you become a veteran Christian you had better be living right. He explains this with regard to Paul's statement in Romans 4 about God justifying the "impious" (Vulgate). He claims that impious does not mean morally wicked, but merely a novice. It would be the height of wickedness for God to justify the wicked, so nay, he only justifies the "impious" meaning the "novice" by "faith alone" and that only until such a time as they are no longer a novice.

David Brainerd said...

Undoubtedly Origen and Ambrosiaster would put the same meaning on "impious" and probably do, but you've taken them out of context.

Anonymous said...

John Smith -

So how do you reconcile the fact that Clement of Rome believed in the Mass and a priesthood and yet you use him to support "justification by faith alone"?

Clement of Rome was the third Pope.

Hymenaeus said...

Dear John,

The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee in no way teaches the Protestant doctrine of faith alone. It does not teach that salvation cannot be lost, it does not teach that Christians will not enter into judgment on the basis of their works, it does not teach that the publican's faith alone (i.e. all by itself) made him righteous, it does not teach justification by some fantastical double "imputation," and it does not teach anything else uniquely characteristic of Protestant doctrines. On the contrary, you and the author of your video misrepresent the nature of the parable. It is not at all about faith vs. good works but about humility.

The whole point of the story is that the Pharisee was not as righteous as he thought he was. While he had done things that were otherwise good, they were a source of pride to him and he went to the temple not to praise God but to exalt himself above others, belittling the publican who was near him. That is not Christian behavior. Meanwhile, the publican humbled himself, acknowledging his sinfulness, and pleaded for God's mercy. Thus, Christ's summary: "every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Let me illustrate a current example. I have met many OSAS Protestants who believe that they are godly Christians and belittle others who they esteem to be less than themselves and proclaim the sinfulness of others rather than themselves. These are the sort of people that Christ's parable is speaking about. Even though they believe in "faith alone" and "accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior," they become the prideful pharisees the Savior is criticizing. Thus, the issue does not even concern the doctrine of faith alone.

Furthermore, the parable is not about the translation of the unrighteous into the state of unrighteousness before God. It would be reading much into the parable that is not present. When it says the publican went away "justified," it signifies the righteousness of his actions before God. The term "justification" is not used in the Gospels the way it is used in St. Paul's epistles. Therefore, it would be a mistake to try and read the parable as speaking about the "imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ to the publican's account and the imputation of the publican's sins to Jesus Christ on the cross." Rather it is saying that the publican was vindicated by his works and the pharisee was condemned by his works.

Hymenaeus said...

None of the Church Fathers who used the phrase "faith alone" meant what Protestants teach. Thomas Aquinas said that the hope of justification was not in any the observation of any moral precepts, but faith alone. Was St. Thomas Aquinas a Protestant? Obviously not, since he is the pre-eminent representative of Latin Catholic theology. I commented in the combox of an earlier post on the letter of Pope St. Clement. The fact is that there is nothing in his letter that is distinctively Protestant regardless of whether Protestants cannot conceive how "justified by faith" could mean anything other than their novel 16th Century doctrines.

Nick said...

Hello Everyone,

Sorry that I've been behind on catching up with comments. If anyone has specific questions for me, please remind me by asking again.