Why is the Bible so Mysterious?

This topic of the use of parables or cryptic revelation in the text has been on my mind for a long time. It seems to me redemptive revelation needs to be cryptic for several reasons, not all of them apparent. Much of the O.T. is parabolic as was much of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus explained to His disciples why He spoke in parables but His answer may have been partial since it only dealt with “why He spoke to people.”

Immediately after the fall the language turns metaphorical in the curse on the serpent: the Seed of the woman will have his heel crushed (substitutionary atonement at the cross) while the serpent and his seed will be crushed in a future setting.

During the temptation of Jesus, the devil quoted scripture of this promised Seed and angelic protection. The devil understood the Genesis curse since in that section the next thing is about trampling on the (false) lion and serpent (Ps.91.12). The devil is quite interested to know about his demise and how he can thwart individual’s and humanity’s redemption, I believe.

Eph. 3.9-10: and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan—a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms.

Peter the “Rock”?

Matt. 16.13-18:

When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

Despite what many Christians think, neither Peter nor his confession was the “rock” that Jesus referenced since He changed the term from the Greek “petros” to “petra” indicating a difference. After all, Jesus had just changed his name from “Simon, son of Jonah” to “Peter.” Therefore, it is best to think of the feminine noun (Petra) as indicating distinction from the disciple. Also, contra to those who want to refer to Aramaic wordplay spoken between Jesus and Peter, the text was given by the Holy Spirit in Greek.

Peter himself, later writing his epistle (I Pet. 2.4-8), possibly links the Matthew passage and says Christ is the “Rock” (Cornerstone or maybe capstone) and us as “living stones” built to line up with this all-important “Cornerstone” as was the practice of running a line off the template Stone. Additionally, Jesus may have been primarily a stonemason along with Joseph, His adopted father, as the term “carpenter” (Mk. 6.3) referred to both artisans. The houses in first century Israel were mostly stone with wood used mainly for windows and doors along with their frames which the same tradesmen most likely would fit when they got to that point in the wall. So now, the former stonemason, Jesus, is going to build a spiritual temple for God through the Spirit.

Another antecedent possibility to “petra” could be the revelation of the Father that Peter received to know who Jesus truly was. This is my view and presents The Loving Father electing Peter as a foundation stone (see Eph. 2.20: “being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone”). Future disciples would be subsequent stones, without the need for the office of vicar, since the apostolic foundation is already laid. Therefore, the Triune Godhead is at work: The Father electing, The Son building, and The Spirit indwelling this spiritual temple.

In either case the picture presented of the church is not a human institutional hierarchy built on Peter, but an organism (“one body” Eph.4.4, “living” I Pet. 2.5) that is known and built exclusively by Christ instead of a human church or denomination, which is an organization. Jesus made it clear exactly how His church would function in Mark 10.42-44: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.”

(all Scripture: NET Bible)

Jesus was the Jewish Messiah NOT The Good Samaritan


Tullian Tchividjian contends the context of this parable speaks of the vertical relationship to God instead of a horizontal one between people and how Christians have failed to understand it historically. Despite my initial acceptance of his view, upon further reflection, I must disagree with his thoughts here and maintain that the parable does speak to interpersonal relationships. I will leave his post but answer why I do not agree with his interpretation.

Jesus says that He came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 15.24) when the Canaanite  woman asked for her daughter’s healing; so how could He self-identify with a “Good Samaritan?” Further, He tells the woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar: “Salvation is of the Jews.” The woman notes that Jews and Samaritans have no dealings among themselves when Jesus, the Jew asks her for a drink of water. It would be a strange connection then in our parable for Jesus to liken Himself a Samaritan when He is addressing this Jewish lawyer. For these reasons I feel the parable speaks to human horizontal relationships.

Here is Tullian:

Who is the Good Samaritan?

For every good story in the Bible there’s a bad children’s song. This is the one I remember for the Good Samaritan:

The man who stopped to help, right when he saw the need; he was such a good, good neighbor, a good example for me.

On the surface, this little ditty may seem harmless. The problem, however, is that Jesus wants us to identify with every person in the parable except the good Samaritan. He reserves that role for himself.

“You should be like the Good Samaritan.” If you grew up in church or Sunday School, you probably heard this a thousand times. In fact, even outside the church, the parable of the Good Samaritan is used to exhort neighborly love and concern for the downtrodden. 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.

You know the story: a man is walking down the road when he is set upon by robbers, who mug him, beat him, and leave him for dead. As he lies, suffering, in the roadside ditch, a priest and a Levite, in turn, pass by on the other side of the street, preferring not to get their hands dirty. It is the hated half-breed—a Samaritan—who comes to the man’s aid, setting him on his donkey, taking him to an inn, paying the inn-keeper to take care of him and promising to return to see that his needs are attended to.

You also know the common interpretation: don’t be like the priest and the Levite, too concerned with themselves to help another. Be like the Good Samaritan – be a good neighbor. In other words, our preachers want us to (at least eventually) identify with the Good Samaritan, the hero of the story.

The parable of The Good Samaritan is the second of the great commandments in narrative form: love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, Jesus tells the story to answer a lawyer’s question about who his neighbor is. The lawyer, trying to trick Jesus, asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the laws he already knows so well: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Then, “seeking to justify himself,” the lawyer asked Jesus a follow-up question: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers him by telling the parable of The Good Samaritan…and we miss the point completely.

If Jesus had been asked, “How should we treat our neighbors?” and had responded with this story, perhaps “Be like the Good Samaritan” would be an acceptable interpretation. Instead, 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.

The context puts Jesus’ final exhortation to “go and do likewise” in perspective. Remember, this is the same Jesus who told his audience at the Sermon on the Mount that they “must be perfect, as [their] Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). 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. You must always love perfectly, sacrificially, selflessly—not just on the outside, but on the inside too. You must, in other words, always want to love perfectly, sacrificially, and selflessly. You must never hurt anyone—physically, emotionally, relationally. And you must always help everyone—physically, emotionally, relationally. You must never harbor grudges. Never. You must never seek retribution. Ever. You must never want to seek retribution. When someone cheats you, instead of trying to get your stuff or money back, you have to give them more. You have to turn the other cheek to your most aggressive enemies. You must love perfectly.

“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; to find a class of people we can call “neighbors” that we actually do love. In destroying our self-salvation projects, the story of The Good Samaritan destroys us. Jesus brings the hammer of the Law (“Be perfect…”) down on our self-justifying work.

In a rich irony, we move from being identified with the priest and the Levite who never perfectly love our best friends “as ourselves,” much less our enemies, to being identified with the traveler in desperate need of salvation. Jesus intends the parable itself to leave us beaten and bloodied, lying in a ditch, like the man in the story. We are the breathless bruised. We are the needy, unable to do anything to help ourselves. We are the broken people, beaten up by life, robbed of hope.

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.