WHO ARE THE “SAMARITANS?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
The “Samaritans” (people) appear by name some 10 times in the Authorized Version (King James Bible), with “Samaria” (northern/central Israel, both a city and a region) found some 115 times. Who are these “Samaritans?” What is their significance in God’s Word? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
So as to understand the Samaritans, we must ascertain some basic political facts of ancient Israel. Firstly, one of the curses or punishments of the Law of Moses was Israel’s political destruction: “And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power…” (Leviticus 26:18-19). This “power” is governmental strength (cf. Romans 13:1-3). During the administration of King Solomon (David’s son), an idolater with nearly 1,000 heathen female lovers, the LORD God promised to bring about the division of Israel’s government. No longer would the 12 tribes of Israel share one king and one dynasty. Upon Solomon’s death, the 10 northern tribes would go to Jeroboam (Solomon’s servant) and only the two southern tribes would remain with David’s house (Solomon’s son Rehoboam). Be sure to read 1 Kings 11:1-13: the northern tribes take the name “Israel” while the southern tribes are designated “Judah.”
Jump ahead 200 years. The Northern Kingdom, isolated from the Jerusalem Temple for so long, has deteriorated spiritually to the point of pagan idolatry being the official state/national religion. Another curse of the Mosaic Law is about to fall: “ And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me;  Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins….  And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.  Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths” (Leviticus 26:27-28,33-34). Here is the Fifth Course of Chastisement, and the Northern Kingdom will be deported from the Promised Land approximately a century before the Southern Kingdom (less idolatrous) will be removed to Babylon.
In 2 Kings chapter 17, verses 6-19, the armies of the Assyrians (Gentiles) took the northern tribes of Israel captive back to Assyria (in modern Syria and eastern Turkey). This occurred circa 722/721 B.C. Notice: “ And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.  For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the LORD, and made them sin a great sin.  For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them;  Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.”
Keep reading from chapter 17 of 2 Kings: “ And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.  And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.  Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land….  Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.  And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima,  And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.  So they feared the LORD, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places.  They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence.”
When the northern tribes of Israel were forced out of the Promised Land because of the Assyrian Captivity, the King of Assyria replaced them with Gentile (non-Jewish) idolaters who also defiled Samaria with false religion (Satan worship). If necessary, read verses 24-25 above again. Also, re-read verse 33, observing how the Promised Land was corrupted with syncretism (combining Judaism with heathen systems). These Gentiles subsequently intermarried with the Jews who remained in the land, producing a mixed ethnic group (genetically and religiously different from pure-blooded Jews). Here is the origin of the Samaritans, who existed even in New Testament times and New Testament Scriptures.
During Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, He commissioned His 12 Apostles with the following words: “ These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Although they were half-blooded Jews, the Samaritans were still considered Gentile (non-Jewish) because of their non-Jewish blood and non-Jewish religious beliefs. In keeping with the Abrahamic Covenant, Israel was to be converted to JEHOVAH God first, then redeemed Israel was to share God’s words with the Gentiles in the Millennial Kingdom (see Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23). Since Christ has come to Israel only—and not the Gentiles (Matthew 15:24; Romans 9:4-5; Romans 15:8; Ephesians 2:11-12), including the Samaritans (John 4:22)—He orders His Apostles not to preach to Samaritans either. (More will be said about this commission later.)
Even though His earthly ministry is restricted to Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrates the wider purpose of Father God in John chapter 4. Whereas Israel is mainly in unbelief (refusing to convert by believing the Gospel of the Kingdom), Christ deliberately passes through Samaria to reach out to the Samaritans whom converted Israel would have been destined to teach! Sitting on Jacob’s well because He is tired, the Lord Jesus meets a Samaritan woman who has come to draw water. “Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). She cannot fathom why Jesus, a Jew, would interact with her, a Samaritan! It is also noteworthy how she claims “Jacob” (father of the 12 tribes of Israel) is also her forefather (verse 12): again, the Samaritans have some Jewish DNA in them. Whereas the Jews worship in Jerusalem, the Samaritans worship in Mount Gerazim (verse 20): again, the Samaritans and Jews have vastly different religious views.
If you keep reading John chapter 4, you will discover how even this Samaritan woman (despite her and her people’s gross spiritual ignorance and darkness) is waiting for Messiah/Christ (verse 25)—in contrast to Israel who has mostly rejected Messiah Jesus who has been ministering to them! Moreover, not only does that Samaritan woman come to trust Jesus as Christ, verse 39 relays the following: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.” Finally, verse 40: “So when the Samaritans were come unto him [Jesus], they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days.” Although Israel could not care less about Jesus, the Samaritans welcome Him and He remains with them for two days!
As mentioned earlier, because the Samaritans were half-Gentile by blood and religion, they detested how the full-blooded Jews traveled down to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. The Samaritans preferred to worship at Mount Gerazim (John 4:20). Furthermore, when the Jews from Galilee (north) passed through Samaria (north/central) for the three annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem (south)—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—the Samaritans refused to lodge the Jews for the night or two required to cross through Samaria. When Jesus went through Samaria (toward the end of His ministry, long after John chapter 4), the Samaritans did not welcome Him.
Luke 9:51-56 reports: “ And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,  And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.  And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.  And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?  But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.  For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” Apostles James and John, Jews, were quite eager to see the Samaritans destroyed. You can just sense their aggression in their plea, can you not? To their disappointment, the Lord said He would not punish these irreverent Samaritans. (For the fascinating reason, see our related study linked at the end of this article, “Was Jesus Christ a dispensationalist during His earthly ministry?”)
For more insight into the “strained” relations between the Jews and the Samaritans, notice this interesting fact. Israel’s apostate religious leaders were certainly not complimenting Christ in John 8:48 when they declared: “Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” To call a Jew a “Samaritan” would be to utter a racial slur, a religious slur (“you devil worshipper/apostate!”). Obviously, saying a Jew was possessed by a “devil” was an extra insult (“you are under Satan’s control!”). So as to humble these prideful Jews (who saw themselves are immune from the Devil’s influence), the Lord was careful to point out two inconvenient truths. Firstly, in His famous Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Lord Jesus Christ deliberately made the story’s hero a Samaritan—much to the dismay of His Jewish audience!! Secondly, in Luke chapter 17, verses 11-19, when He healed 10 lepers (those afflicted by various infectious skin diseases), only one turned around to glorify God and thank Jesus—and, the Bible adds, “he was a Samaritan!” This too disturbed His Jewish audience, for the ungrateful nine were Jews! Here were two believing Samaritans obedient to God, but where were Jews?!
When the Book of Acts opens, another commission to Israel’s believing remnant is given as the Lord Jesus speaks the following words: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Whereas the 12 Apostles had been ordered not to enter and preach in any Samaritan cities (Matthew 10:5-7), now they were authorized to evangelize the Samaritans. The order here, of course, was “Jerusalem” first (see Luke 24:47-49), followed by Judaea (southern Israel, region around Jerusalem), then Samaria (north/central Israel), and, finally, “the uttermost part of the earth” (full-blooded Gentiles).
It is important to see how, with Israel’s fall in Acts chapter 7, and Saul of Tarsus’ persecution of the Jerusalem Church in Acts chapters 7–8, the Little Flock begins a ministry to the Samaritans. A year has passed since chapter 1, and Jerusalem and its surrounding region (Judaea, southern Israel) have mostly refused to believe on Jesus Christ as urged in those early Acts sermons (see chapters 2–5). Ultimately, they stoned Stephen, filled with the Holy Ghost, in chapter 7. Therefore, the next area to reach in Acts 1:8 is Samaria (northern/central Israel). Remember, the Samaritans have been engaged in devil worship for centuries, so watch how there is a spiritual battle waged between Satan (using Simon the sorcerer) and God (using Philip the evangelist) here.
Chapter 8 of Acts: “ And Saul was consenting unto his [Stephen’s] death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles….  Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.  And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.  For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.  And there was great joy in that city.
“ But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:  To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.  And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.  But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.  Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:  Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:  (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)  Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost….  And they [Peter and John], when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.” As for the Apostles Peter and John laying hands on the believers in Samaria so they receive the Holy Ghost, refer to our companion study linked below.
While much more could be said about the Samaritans here, our other related articles are useful supplements to continuing in-depth discussions of this topic.
» Why did Peter and John need to lay hands on the Samaritans for them to receive the Holy Ghost?
» Was Jesus Christ a dispensationalist during His earthly ministry?
» Did John 10:16 predict the Church the Body of Christ?
» How could “wise” King Solomon let foreign women deceive him?
» Was Israel’s fall a secret?
» Is Israel “cast away,” or not? Has Israel “fallen,” or not?
» When did Paul know about Israel’s fall?