The teachings of Messiah, 9:51-19:44

4. Who enters the kingdom? 13:22-16:13

v] Repentant sinners - the source of God's joy. 15:1-32

b) From death comes life - the parable of the lost son


In the context of the Pharisees complaining that Jesus "welcomes sinners and eats with them", Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son.


In the parable of the Prodigal Son Luke makes the point that repentance prompts God's joyous acceptance. Two sons, lost to a father's love, one in body and one in mind, are confronted anew by their father's unlimited love and acceptance, but only one chooses to repent and experience it.


i] Context: See 13:22-30. Jesus' teaching on the repentant sinner, 15:1-32, is the fifth episode in the section dealing with the question, Who enters the kingdom?, 13:22-16:13. The episode is made up of three teaching parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the two sons. In the third parable, the parable of The Lost Son / The Prodigal Son, better titled the parable of The Righteous Brother / The Reluctant Brother / The Forgiving Father, or even better, The Lost Brothers, Luke makes the same point as the first two parables, , namely that repentance is the means for God's joyous acceptance. Yet, in the parable of the Prodigal Son / Lost Brothers, the focus shifts from "the tax collectors and sinners" to "the Pharisees and scribes.", those who have, "for all these years ... been working like a slave for you, and ... never disobeyed your command" (Well! They put in the time, let's say!).


ii] Structure: This passage, The repentant sinner, the source of God's joy, presents as follows:

Setting, v1-2:

Teaching parable - the lost sheep, v3-6;

Teaching parable - the lost coin, v8-9:

The parable of the lost son / two brothers / forgiving father, v11-32.


iii] Interpretation:

The commentaries on Luke display a diverse range of interpretations of this parable. Ellis argues that "the father's love represents God's attitude toward both religious Judaism (the elder son) and non-religious Jews (the prodigal)." For Ellis, this boils down to the simple message "that God loves the world." Bock takes the view that chapter 15 "is designed to illustrate heaven's receptivity toward a sinner's repentance, as well as to condemn the protest of those who react against such divine generosity." Nolland observes the equal weight given to the lost son and the "righteous" son, but sees this parable building on the previous two. The parable "invites the righteous not to stand upon their own dignity and be preoccupied with their own claims upon God, but rather to enter into the joy of welcoming these desperately needed sinners home into the family of God." Plummer follows an unconvincing classical interpretation in that all three parables serve to reveal God's grace ("the value of an individual soul to God", Manson), the third showing the human response to God's grace, namely, of publican's and sinners, as compared to Pharisees, and thus, Gentiles, as compared to Jews.

Of all the commentators, Caird's oft overlooked Penguin commentary may well unlock the point Jesus is making (although Caird's conclusions are not so convincing). Caird observes that this is a story of a man who lost both sons, "one in a foreign country, the other behind a barrier of self-righteousness." Although "the selfishness of the older brother was less obvious" than the younger son, in that he "devoted himself dutifully to his father's service, never disobeying a command of his father, .... yet he himself was the centre of his every thought, so that he was incapable of entering sympathetically into his father's joys and sorrows." Danker in his commentary similarly observes that the parable speaks "of the waywardness of a young man whose body stayed home, but whose heart was lost in misunderstanding of a father's love." If Caird and Danker are right, then what we have here is a story, not of one lost son, but of two lost sons, both subject to a father's unwavering love and both needing to repent. Only one repents and so accesses the father's bounty.


Form: We are tempted to allegorize the individual elements of this parable, but it is worth remembering that the parable is nothing more than an illustration used by Jesus to teach and apply a particular truth. As is the case with sermon illustrations, the illustration can long outlive the sermon. Some teaching parables still retain their didactic context, but many, as with this parable, don't. There is some indication that the parable has been shaped by its hortatory use over thirty + years of oral transmission, but essentially the context provided by Luke is what must control its teaching and therefore it is this context which we must address, namely that God's grace is accessed by repentance and faith.


iv] Synoptics:

The parables is unique to Luke.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 15:11

The parable of the Lost Brothers, v11-32. In the parable of the Prodigal Son we are introduced to a farming family, a father and his two sons. The younger son decides to take his share of the property (about one third) and make his own way in the wide world of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll! The wayward son ends up blowing all his cash and so, now starving, has to undertake an "accursed" job as a pig handler. He is so down on his luck he is willing to eat the pig slops to survive. He soon recognizes his stupidity, both against "heaven" (ie. God) and against his father. So, he heads home. On his return, the father welcomes his wayward son back into the family. The father rejoices because the "dead" son is "alive". The elder brother doesn't take to kindly to all this affection toward a brother now "dead" to him. He claims his father hasn't even given him a "young goat", a fairly worthless animal. Like the wayward son, the stay-at-home son is also lost, lost in himself (note how the elder son calls his brother "this son of yours", whereas the father describes him as "this brother of yours"). Irrespective of the elder brother's tantrum, the father does not withdraw his love from either son. So, repentance brings forgiveness, fellowship and joy, but sadly, for only one son.

de "Jesus continued" - and [he said]. Transitional, introducing a new literary unit, although with links to what precedes, particularly v1-2.


tw/ patri (hr roV) dat. "to [his] father" - to the father. Dative of indirect object.

autwn gen. pro. "his" - of them. Not actually "his father", possessive genitive, rather "the younger of them said to the father", ie. a partitive genitive.

moi dat. pro. "[give] me" - [give] to me. Dative of indirect object.

to epiballon (epiballw) pres. part. "share" - the falling to [a share of the property] = [the portion of the property] which falls to [my] share. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "part / portion"; "Give me the share of the property that falls to me", Moffatt.

thV ousiaV (a) gen. "of the estate" - Partitive genitive.

de "so" - but, and. Variant kai may well give a consecutive sense, as NIV, although the oJ de construction is common to discourse.

oJ "he" - Serving as the subject of the verb dielen, "divided". A stylistic feature used in discourse to identify a shift in the speaker, cf. Culy, Lk.1:29.

dielen (diairew) aor. "divided" - he separated, distributed. It would be unusual to divide an estate between the sons before the father's death, but it is only a story. It is, of course, possible that the son is taking a share of the family property (one third) and so foregoing his inheritance. The parable serves to illustrate the father's generosity, his grace, and leaves us wondering whether the younger son will show himself worthy of the father's trust.

bion (oV) "property" - The root meaning is "life", but here the word is being used in the sense of "means of family income", that which gives life to the family.

autoiV dat. pro. "between them" - to them. Dative of indirect object; "so he apportioned to them his means of living", Berkeley.


met ou pollaV hJmeraV "after a few days" - after not many days. Temporal. A litotes.

newteroV adj. "the younger [son]" - Comparative adjective.

sunagagwn aor. part. "got together" - having gathered together. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "went on a journey." Possibly meaning cashing up the inheritance; "soon after the young son realized the whole lot into money", Barclay.

makran adj. "[a] distant [country]" - [a country] far away. A distant land. It is typical in Luke for the adjectival modifier to follow its noun.

dieskorpisen (diaskorpizw) aor. "squandered" - scattered, squandered.

aswtwV adv. "wild" - reckless, loose [living].

zwn (zaw) pres. part. "living" - The participle is adverbial, probably instrumental, expressing means; "he squandered his means by loose living."


dapanhsantoV (dapanaw) gen. aor. part. "after he had spent" - having spent [of him everything]". The genitive absolute participle is temporal, as NIV.

kata + acc. "in [that] whole [country]" - throughout [that country]. Distributive.

uJstereisqai (uJsterew) pres. pas. inf. "[he began] to be in need" - to lack, need, go without. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "began".


poreuqeiV (poreuomai) aor. pas. part. "so he went" - having gone [he became joined with]. The participle is adverbial, probably consecutive expressing result, "so as a result he went ...." He is forced to work for a Gentile in a job that compromises his faith.

ekollhqh (kollaw) aor. pas. "hired himself out" - he became associated with, joined with. "Took service with a citizen of that country", Barclay.

eni dat. adj. "a" - one. Dative of direct object after the verb ekollhqh, "joined with."

twn politwn (hV ou) gen. "a citizen" - of the citizens. The genitive is adjectival, partitive; "joined with one of the citizens."

thV cwraV ekeinhV gen. "of that country" - This genitive phrase is adjectival, attributive; "one of the citizens who lived in that country", Culy.

boskein (boskw) pres. inf. "to feed [pigs]" - The infinitive is adverbial, final, expressing purpose; "he sent him into his fields in order to feed his pigs."


cortasqhnai aor. pas. inf. "to fill his stomach" - to be fed. The infinitive may be classified as complementary, completing the sense of the verb "he desired / longed", although properly forming a dependent statement of perception after a cognitive verb, expressing what he desired. Variant gemisai thn koilian autou, "to fill his belly", as NIV, "satisfy the pangs of his hunger", Barclay, is possible, but "he would have been glad to eat", CEV, is better.

ek + gen. "with" - from, out. Expressing source; "he was longing to be filled from the pods."

twn keratiwn (on) "pods" - pods. Possibly St. John's Bread, a sweet meal, but with little nourishment, even the wild carob, bitter with even less nourishment. These were used for famine food. Yet, it is more likely that the pods, possibly corn cobs, were edible.

autw/ dat. "[no one gave] him [anything]" - no one gave to him. "Anything" is assumed so dative of indirect object, "anything" being the direct object of the verb edidou, "was giving." "He was so hungry that he would have eaten the corn cobs in the pig slop, but no one gave him any", Peterson.


elqwn (ercomi) pres. part. "when he came [to his senses]" - [but] having come [to himself]. The participle is adverbial, temporal.

artwn (oV) gen. "[have] food [to spare]" - [have abundant] food, bread. The verb "abundant" is probably expressing the idea of excess, so "leftovers of food", in which case the genitive "of food" is adjectival, partitive.

limw/ (oV) dat. "[starving] to death" - by a famine [here I am perishing]. The dative is probably instrumental. "Perishing" is later used in the sense of "lost", but here obviously "dying".


anastaV (anisthmi) part. "I will set out" - having arisen. Still expressing what he said, v17; "when he came to his senses he said ..". Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "I will go"; "I will arise and go."

mou gen. pro. "my [father]" - [the father] of me. The genitive is adjectival, relational.

autw/ dat. pro. "[I will say] to him" - Dative of indirect object.

eiV ... enwpion "against [heaven and] against [you]" - to .... before. "Against" is probably the best sense for both prepositions here, ie. expressing disadvantage, but possibly "against heaven and before you", Moffatt.

ouranon (oV) "heaven" - Meaning "God", since "heaven" is used out of deference to the divine name/person.


ouketi eimi axioV "I am no longer worthy" - no longer am I worthy. The phrase carries a sense of repentance.

klhqhnai (kalew) aor. pas. inf. "to be called" - The infinitive is epexegetic explaining the adjective "worthy"; "no longer worthy that I be called your son." "I no longer deserve to be spoken of as your son", Cassirer.

wJV "like" - Comparative.

twn misqiwn (oV) gen. "[one] of [your] hired servants" - [one] of the hired laborers [of you]. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.


kai "so" - and. A consecutive sense expressing result seems best, as NIV, BDF 442[2]; "so as a result he got up ...."

anastaV (anisthmi) aor. part. "he got up" - having arisen. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "went"; "he got up and went to his father."

eJautou gen. reflex. pro. "his [father]" - The emphatic use of a personal pronoun is sometimes expressed by the use of a reflexive pronoun, as here. Culy suggests "his dear father",cf. Zerwick #208.

apecontoV (apecw) pres. part. "while [he] was [still a long] way off" - [and still he] being away [a distance]. The genitive absolute participle is obviously temporal, as NIV; "when he was still a far distance away", Cassirer.

esplagcnisqh (splagcizomai) pas. "was filled with compassion" - was with compassion. The parable underlines the Father's immediate and unrestrained mercy.

dramwn (trecw) aor. part. "he ran" - having run. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he fell / threw his arms around", as NIV.

epi + acc. "[threw his arms] around [him]" - [he fell] upon [the neck of him]. "Hugged him."


autw/ dat. pro. "[said] to him" - Dative of indirect object. The syntax of the rest of the verse is the same as v19.


stolhn thn prwthn "the best robe" - Possibly the son's former robe or one of the father's robes, or a robe kept for an honored guest.

daktulion (oV) "ring" - Possibly the father's signet ring, but at least a ring whereby the father bestows authority on his wayward son.

uJpodhmata (a atoV) "sandals" - The mention of sandals is somewhat strange, but, given that servants tend not to wear anything on their feet, the parable is probably making the point that the father is not treating his son as a servant.


ton mascon ton siteuton "the fattened calf" - Meat was only prepared for extremely important (usually religious) occasions. This is about preparing a banquet in celebration for the lost son's return to the family.

fagonteV (esqiw) aor. part. "let's have a feast" - having eaten. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the hortatory subjunctive "let us be merry"; "let us eat and celebrate", ESV.

eufranqwmen (eufrainw) aor. pas. subj. "let's ..... celebrate" - let's be merry. Hortatory subjunctive.


oJti "for" - because. Expressing cause/reason, introducing a causal clause explaining why there should be a celebration.

nekroV adj. "[was] dead" - The adjective serves as a substantive. "Dead" in the sense of "assumed dead and lost forever to the family." Commentators will often push for "spiritually dead", but this only serves to allegorize what is but a story about two lost sons, one lost in body and the other lost in mind. Both have the right of access to the father love, v31, but only one receives the bounty of his grace, and this through repentance. The story serves to illustrate how lost humanity can receive the bounty of God grace.

anezhsen (anazaw) "is alive" - he lived again. The language implies the restoration of a lost relationship; "present again in the family", Stein.

h\n apolwlwV (apollumi) perf. part. "he was lost" - The imperfect of the verb to-be with the perfect participle forms a periphrastic pluperfect construction probably serving to emphasize aspect; "he was forever lost, but now is found."

eufrainesqai (eufrainw) "to celebrate" - to rejoice, make merry. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "began".


de "Meanwhile" - but, and. Transitional; "now his older son ..."

en + dat. "in [the field]" - Expressing space/sphere; Plural, "in the fields".

wJV + part. "when" - coming. Here temporal, introducing a temporal clause, as NIV. "When he came near to the house on his way home", Barclay.

ercomenoV (ercomai) pres. part. "he came [near]" - coming. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he drew near to"; "when he came and drew near to"

th/ oikia/ (oV) "the house" - Dative of direct object of the verb hggisen, "he drew near to."

sumfwniaV (a) gen. "music" - As with "dancing", genitive of direct object; "he heard music and dancing." Possibly "orchestra", "band."

corwn (oV) gen. "dancing" - singers, choir, chorus, performers


proskalesamenoV (proskaleomai) aor. part. "so he called" - having summoned. The participle is adverbial, probably consecutive, expressing result, as NIV; "so, calling one of the workers he asked what the commotion was all about."

twn paidwn (iV idoV) gen. "[one] of the servants" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

ti an eih "what was going on" - what might be [these things]. The particle ti indicates a question, "what", an expresses an indefinite sense, and the optative of the verb to-be is being used to form an indirect question (the actual question would be "what seems to be going on?"), BDF#299.1. "He called one of the servants to him to enquire what the meaning of this could be", Cassirer.


oJti - This conjunction is used twice in the verse, first to introduce a dependent statement of direct speech after the verb eipen, "he said", and the second to express cause/reason, "because."

uJgiainonta (uJgiainw) pres. part. "[he has him back] safe and sound" - [he received him back] being sound, healthy. The participle serves as an object complement, stating a fact about / predicating the direct object auton, "him", of the verb apelaben, "he received"; "he received him being healthy" = "he got him back in good health", Berkeley. Both the object and its complement are accusative thus producing an object-complement double accusative construction, cf. Culy.


de kai "-" - A common coordinative construction although it is unclear how to properly translate it. Plummer suggests it is used for emphasis; "as for the brother, he got angry", Cassirer.

wrgisqh (orgizw) "became angry" - he was angry. The sense is that the elder brother is angry with the father's eager acceptance of his wayward son, particularly as the father is about to practice usufruct, ie., the property that is to rightly belong to the older son is being taken by the father and given to the younger son. The impression is not given of the elder brother rejecting his father, but rather that he does not understand his father and is therefore unable to enter into his father's joy. The elder brother, like the younger brother, is lost to his father's love, although, unlike his younger brother, his loss is within.

eiselqein (eisercomai) aor. inf. "[refused] to go in" - [he did not want] to enter. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "he did [not] want / wish / will".

exelqwn (erxercomai) aor. part. "so [his father] went out" - having come out. The participle is possibly adverbial, consecutive, expressing result, "so as a result", as NIV, or simply attendant circumstance, expressing action accompanying the verb "pleaded"; "his father came out and entreated him", ESV.

parekalei (parakalew) imperf. "pleaded" - was pleading, exhorting, urging. The father exhorts his eldest son to share the joy of his brother's restoration.


apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "-" - having answered [he said]. Attendant circumstance participle, a long-winded Semitic construction.

autou gen. pro. "his" - [the father] of him. The genitive is adjectival, relational.

tw/ patri (hr roV) dat. "father" - to the father. Dative of indirect object.

soi dat. pro. "[I've been slaving] for you" - [I served] you. Dative of direct object / interest, advantage.

oudepote entolhn "and never disobeyed" - never a commandment. The elder brother is offended by the fuss made of the wayward brother, particularly as the elder brother regards himself as a faithful son.

sou gen. pro. "your [orders]" - the commandments, instructions [of you]. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, in that the instructions belong to the father, or ablative, source/origin, in that the instructions issue from the father. Of course the instructions are also given by the father so the genitive may be classified as subjective, so Culy.

kai "and yet" - Here with an adversative sense, as NIV.

emoi dat. pro. "[you never gave] me" - Dative of direct object. The older brother served his father loyally, yet no celebratory feast was prepared for him.

iJna + subj. "so [I could celebrate]" - that [I may celebrate]. Forming a purpose clause, "in order that I may celebrate."

meta + gen. "with [my friends]" - Expressing accompaniment / association.


de "but" - but, and. Here adversative, as NIV.

o{te "when" - Introducing a temporal clause.

oJ uiJoV sou auJtoV "this son of yours" - The language distances the elder brother from the wayward brother.

oJ katafagwn (katesqiw) aor. part. "who has squandered [your property]" - the one having devoured. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting / describing "son". "But when your son, who took your money, and spent it on prostitutes, comes dragging in, what do you do? You butcher the beef that we have been fattening to feed us all", Junkins.

meta + gen. "with [prostitutes]" - Expressing association / accompaniment.

autw/ dat. pro. "for" - Dative of interest, advantage.


teknon "my son" - child. The words here describe an affectionate, but offended response by the father. How could the elder son think that mercy toward the wayward son has in any way affected the standing of the elder son?

oJ "the father [said]" - he [said]. Used to identify a change of speaker.

autw/ "-" - to him. Dative of indirect object.

su pro. "you [are always with me]" - Emphatic by use and position.

panta ta ema sa estin "everything I have is yours" - everything mine is yours. The elder brother's status is unchanged by the father's welcome of the wayward son; the father's bounty is freely available to the elder son as it is to the wayward son.


de kai "but" - but, and. See v28; adversative seems best, as NIV.

edei (dei) imperf. "we had" - it was necessary. The imperfect verb here would suit better as an imperative, although in a sense the father is enjoining the elder son to join him in the restoration of his wayward brother. The two infinitives, eufranqhnai, "to celebrate", and carhnai, "to be glad", function as the subject of the verb "was necessary". The sense of the words is that the necessary restoration of the lost son is now proceeding, and that by implication, the elder son should join in the welcome. "We should be glad and celebrate", CEV.

oJti "because" - Here expressing cause/reason; "For this is your brother. I thought he was dead - and he's alive. I thought he was lost - and he is found!", Phillips.

sou gen. pro. "[this brother] of yours" - [this the brother] of you. The genitive is adjectival, relational.

apolwlwV (apollumi) perf. part. "he was lost [and is found]" - having been lost. Variant readings have the imperfect verb to-be h\n indicating that early copyists assumed a periphrastic pluperfect construction; "he was lost and has been found again."


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