One parable we all misinterpreted

I say to you, although he will not get up and give them to him because he is his friend, because of his shamelessness, at any rate, he will rise and give him as many as he wants. (Luke 11:8) 

Here is something to think about.  What if the manner in which we have been interpreting this passage of Scripture is wrong?  What if we have all missed the point Jesus was really making in this parable about a midnight request for bread from a neighbor?  As a teacher of the Word of God, I am embarrassed to admit that I may have missed this one completely.  And sadly, so may have every other teacher I have ever heard teach on this parable. 


The key to the parable is the word shamelessness.  It comes from the Greek word “anaideia” which is also rendered in other translations of this verse: boldness, importunity, persistence and impudence.  It is noteworthy that this is the only use of this Greek word in the entire New Testament.  That should be a clue to the uniqueness of the meaning Jesus is purposing to convey. 

The accepted teaching from this passage, heralded as the key to answered prayer, is the emphasis on the shameless, persistent boldness of the midnight visitor.  In other words, we have concluded from this parable that we must be persistent and bold in our praying to the point of literally badgering the Father if we want to get an answer.

Let’s step back and look at the context of this verse.  It is the defining verse of a parable that is sandwiched in the middle of what arguably might be the two most important teachings that Jesus ever did on prayer.  This discourse was in response to Jesus’ disciples asking Him to teach them how to pray.  It has three parts, all of which focus the disciples on praying to the heavenly Father.  First, Jesus teaches them the topical outline of prayer to follow which has come to be known as the Lord’s prayer. (Luke 11:1-4) Then He tells the parable in question. (Luke 11:5-8)  And finally He concludes with His famous ask, seek, knock exhortation on prayer with an emphasis on the Father’s desire to give good gifts to His children.  (Luke 11:9-13) 

Now let’s examine what Jesus was purposing to emphasize in telling the parable.  First we need to ask ourselves who the master of the house being awakened at midnight represents.  Without question the man in bed has to represent the heavenly Father.  It flows naturally with the context of the two bookend teachings to this parable.  Therefore a major theme of this entire passage on prayer is about the nature of the Father and His response to prayer. (It is noteworthy also that food is mentioned in all three sections of this teaching.) 

This strategically placed parable must then hold a key to understanding the type of Father we have who answers our prayers for daily bread.

From our human perspective we are often more prone to make more about the type of person praying than the type of God answering – putting more emphasis on our persistence rather than His faithfulness.  I believe that is why we all may have missed what the true message of the parable is.

First off, isn’t it strange that the word “anaideia” found in the middle of a sentence describing the reaction of the friend in bed is applied to the person knocking at the door?  And yet that is what we all have done with this word translated shamelessness.  But if we look carefully at the verse, the word shameless really is describing the man in bed, not the man knocking at the door.

What then does that mean?  How could the man in bed or our Heavenly Father be shameless?  The Greek word “anaideia” literally means “no-shame.”  In Middle-Eastern culture hospitality was a highly valued and regarded quality.  A person’s name and reputation were at stake when called upon to open one’s home and share one’s possessions with a person in need.  If word got out that a man had denied his neighbor help in time of need it would be a shame to him and his name.  Any self-respecting householder would choose “no-shame” in answer to pleas for bread.  This is the case for the man in his bed, and even more importantly our Father who is in heaven.

So this is the insight that we have missed in truly understanding this parable.  We thought it was a challenge to be shameless in our persistence in prayer.  But it is much more about our heavenly Father being true to His name and nature.  We thought it was all about our faith when really it is all about God’s faithfulness.  That is good news!  Does it make your soul glad to know answer to prayer is more about God than you?

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3 thoughts on “One parable we all misinterpreted”

  1. One day many years ago, while in conversation with my dad, relating my surprise to something I had just learned . He said to me “son just keep on living”. what he meant was there is more you will learn in life and about life. this is truly an example of what he meant by just keep on living there is more you’ll learn. I have been reading my bible, and books on or about the bible since 1971. I have never saw in my reading nor heard anyone give this interpretation of this vs. Wow! I want to re-post this on my blog for my readers (as soon as I figure out how to re-post). With your permission and giving full credit of course. Kudos my friend.

  2. This interpretation is not something original with me. The first inkling I had of it was a recent reference in a podcast which sent me searching the scriptures. To my amazement for the reasons listed above I came to the conclusion that this indeed is the most logical understanding of the passage. New discoveries from the Word of God always excite me. Glad your were blessed by it as well!

  3. William H. McLaughlin

    Dennis Hamm, S.J., in the relatively new Paulist Scripture Commentary, makes exactly the same point (this passage is in the Catholic, et al. lectionary for this weekend). The new understanding makes preaching really fun this week.

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