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Luke 15

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
    Parables About the Lost
(15:1-32)
  Three Parables of God's Mercy
(15:1-22)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep The Parable of the Lost Sheep The Lost Sheep The Lost Sheep The Lost Sheep
15:1-7 15:1-7 15:1-2 15:1-3 15:1-3
    15:3-7    
      15:4-7 15:4-7
The Parable of the Lost Coin The Parable of the Lost Coin The Lost Coin The Lost Coin The Lost Drachma
15:8-10 15:8-10 25:8-10 15:8-10 15:8-10
The Parable of the Lost Son The Parable of the Lost Son The Lost Son The Lost Son The Lost Son (The Prodigal) and the Dutiful Son
15:11-24 15:11-32 15:11-24 15:11-20a 15:11-13
        15:14-20a
      15:20b-24 15:20b-24
15:25-32   15:25-32 15:25-32 15:25-30
        15:31-32

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Luke 14:25-35 sets the stage that many in the crowd, on hearing the cost of discipleship, ceased to follow Jesus. Luke 15 shows that the religious and social outcasts continued to come to Him.

 

B. These three parables have four foci:

1. the lostness of man

2. God's active love for all men (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9)

3. the Savior's mission of seeking and saving (cf. Mark 10:45)

4. the self-righteous reaction of the religious leaders (cf. Luke 15:2, typified in the older brother, 25-32)

 

C. Notice the main characters in the parables were people who were looked down on by the religious authorities: shepherds, women, and rebellious children.

 

D. Three parables, which are unique to Luke (Matt. 18:12-14 uses the "lost sheep," but in a context referring to disciples, not Pharisees), disclose Jesus' understanding of God's seeking and saving character and purpose (the restoration of all fallen, sinful humanity to full fellowship with Himself, cf. John 4:23; Luke 19:10).

 

E. Luke 15 and 16 have a series of five parables. Remember chapter divisions are not inspired.

 

F. There is one resource I have found especially helpful in the interpretation of the parables in Luke: Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, Eerdmans, 1983. It is not so much the author's supposed chiasms as his knowledge of Near Eastern society and customs that has brought such insight to this eastern genre.

 

PRINCIPLES FOR INTERPRETING PARABLES

(for a full discussion, see Introduction to Chapter 8)

A. Look to the context that precedes and follows to determine the purpose of the parable.

 

B. Determine the major theme (occasionally themes).

 

C. Do not press minor details into theological interpretations.

 

D. Avoid allegorizing and spiritualizing unless something in the text demands it.

 

E. Do not build doctrine on parables.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 15:1-2
 1Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. 2Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."

15:1 "all" Luke often uses hyperbole (i.e., use of "all" in Luke 3:16; 4:15; 9:1) to accentuate the impact that Jesus had on the outcasts of Palestine. Surely not every outcast and sinner approached Jesus, but many did (cf. Luke 1:65,66; 2:1,38,47; 3:15,20; 4:5,15; 6:26; 7:16,17,29; etc.).

▣ "tax collectors" These Jews worked for the Romans (or Herod) and their salary usually came from over-taxing their countrymen. They were hated and ostracized by the local people. Jesus even called one of them to be an Apostle, Levi ( cf. Matt. 9:9-10).

▣ "sinners" This refers to either

1. openly immoral persons

2. persons who were outcasts because of their occupation

3. common villagers who did not completely follow the Oral Traditions

It was very difficult for common people to fully observe all the rabbinical rules.

These two groups characterized all those rejected by the religious elite of Jesus' day (cf. Luke 5:30; Mark 2:16). The sects (Pharisees, Sadducees, zealots, Essenes) of Judaism even excluded each other as acceptable to God. Religion had become a status based on performance or exclusive party affiliation.

▣ "were coming near Him" This PERIPHRASTIC IMPERFECT implies this was a normal occurrence. They found acceptance with Jesus, which they never found with the other religious leaders. It is interesting that this same Greek VERB is used for approaching God in Heb. 7:19 and James 4:8. These people were seeking God (cf. 2 Chr. 15:2); the Pharisees were claiming to seek Him, but in reality, they were clinging to their traditions (cf. Isa. 29:13) and leading people away from God (cf. Matt. 23:16,24; Rom. 2:19).

"to listen to Him" This is a present infinitive. These outcasts wanted to hear Jesus' teachings.

15:2 "the Pharisees and the scribes" This is the same order as Luke 5:30; usually the order is reversed i.e., Luke 5:17,21). They were probably part of an official delegation sent from Jerusalem to spy on Jesus. They were hoping to find something to officially charge Him with in court. In Jesus' day most scribes (Mosaic lawyers) were Pharisees. See Special Topics: Pharisees at Luke 5:17 and Scribes at Luke 5:21.

▣ "began to grumble" This is an imperfect active indicative, which denotes repeated action in past time (cf. Luke 5:30).

This is a compound (dia + gogguzō) used only here and in Luke 19:7. Both involve the grumbling of the religious elite. In the Septuagint this compound was used of the Israelites who grumbled at Moses and even YHWH during the Wilderness Wandering period (cf. Exod. 15:24; 16:2,7,8; Num. 14:2).

"This man" This is often used in the Gospels in a derogatory sense as a way to not use the person's name (cf. Mark 14:71).

▣ "receives sinners" This present middle (deponent) indicative means Jesus continuously made the choice to include these people. He may have sponsored this meal and specifically invited them. This same criticism is seen in Luke 5:27-32 (cf. Luke 7:34).

Jesus' reception of the outcast, needy, and sick is one of the OT Messianic signs these religious leaders should have recognized (see note at Luke 14:13). The surprising aspect of these three parables is not only the type of people addressed (shepherds, women, rebellious children), but also the implication that Jesus receives and forgives sinners. This is the unique domain of God (cf. Mark 2:1-12)! This is a powerful evidence of Jesus' self-understanding (i.e., Incarnated Deity).

▣ "and eats with them" This is a present active indicative. Often wealthy Jews fed the poor of their community by giving alms to the local synagogue (see Special Topic at Luke 11:41). However, they never ate with them. To eat with someone in this culture showed full acceptance and fellowship. Jesus loved/loves sinners and tried/tries to reach them for God, which changes them from being sinners to guests and friends. In a sense these eating events foreshadow the Messianic banquet. Some who think they will be there, will not.

This is the theological setting of all three parables in Luke 15. The parallel in Matt. 18:12-13 also shows the heart of God.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 15:3-7
 3So He told them this parable, saying, 4"What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' 7I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."

15:4 "What man among you" Jesus is referring to herdsmen. These were some of the vocations ostracized by the Pharisees because their jobs prevented them from observing all the rules and regulations of the Oral Traditions. Those rejected by the religious leaders were welcomed by Jesus. As a matter of fact, it was to shepherds that the first announcement of the birth of the Messiah was made (cf. Luke 2).

▣ "leave the ninety-nine" This is a very specific number. The shepherd would count the sheep as he put them in an enclosure for the night. Every sheep was important to the shepherd. A flock of one hundred sheep was considered a medium sized flock. The ninety nine were not left alone, but with other shepherds or still in the enclosure. The metaphor of God as Shepherd is common in the OT (cf. Psalm 23; 80:1; Isa. 40:10,11). It is also used of false leaders (cf. Ezek. 34:1ff; Isa. 56:9-12). There is even a wounded Messianic shepherd in Zechariah 13. Jesus calls Himself "the Good Shepherd" in John 10.

▣ "in the open pasture" This term means uninhabited pasture land.

▣ "the one which is lost" This may be an allusion to Isa. 53:6. Sinful Jews are identified as lost sheep (cf. Jer. 50:6; Matt. 9:36; 10:6).

15:5 "lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing" One of the beautiful works of art depicting Jesus is of a shepherd with a lamb on His shoulders. This shows the loving care of the shepherd.

15:6 "Rejoice with Me" This aorist passive (deponent) Imperative is repeated in Luke 15:9 and is paralleled in Luke 15:23 (literally as "be merry," aorist passive subjunctive). This command reflects the desire of God who wants to accept and rejoice over all who return to Him through a repentant faith response to His Messiah, His Son.

15:7 "repents" This is a present active participle denoting ongoing action. The Greek term metanoeō means "a change of mind." The matching Hebrew term means a "change of action." Both are involved in repentance. It is interesting that Matthew and Luke mention "repentance" so much more than Mark and John, who do not mention the word at all. See Special Topic at Luke 3:3.

The gospel can be summarized as (1) repent and (2) believe/faith/trust (i.e., Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21). Luke mentions the need to repent often (cf. Luke 5:32; 10:13; 11:32; 13:3,5; 15:7,10; 16:30; also notice Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 20:21; 24:47; 26:20).

▣ "joy in heaven over one sinner" This shows God's heart and the priority of people being saved. In the three parables of this chapter the gospel's purpose is clearly revealed (the restoration of the image of God in humanity, cf. Gen. 1:26-27, and humanity's restored fellowship with God, cf. Gen. 3:8).

▣ "who need no repentance" This is irony, not doctrine, like Luke 5:31-32; Matt. 9:12-13 and Mark 2:17. Those who knew they were in spiritual need readily came to Jesus, but the religious elite felt no such need. Jesus eats, fellowships with, and forgives those who came (and come) to Him in faith and repentance.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 15:8-10
 8"Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!' 10In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

15:8 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence, which means potential action.

▣ "ten silver coins" This Greek word drachma, is used only here in the NT. It was a day's wage for a soldier or laborer (similar to a dēnarius). These were this woman's status symbol and possibly her dowry. Near Eastern custom informs us that this may have been a headdress.

SPECIAL TOPIC: COINS IN USE IN PALESTINE IN JESUS' DAY

"and search carefully until she finds it" This is not meant to denote a universalism (in the end all will be saved). The details of a parable cannot be forced into theological doctrine. As Rom. 5:18 must be interpreted in the context of Romans 1-8, so too, small phrases cannot be used to teach truths that are clearly denied in the immediate context (cf. "sinner who repents," Luke 15:7, 10). If all exercised repentance and faith, all could be saved, but the mystery of evil is that even in the presence of great light, many will not respond (i.e., the Pharisees). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE UNPARDONABLE SIN at Luke 11:19.

I believe that Jesus' death covers all sin, but the gospel demands an initial and continuing faith response.

▣ "light a lamp" The poorer homes of this time had no windows and thus no natural light.

15:9 This repeats the theological emphasis of Luke 15:6-7.

15:10 "the angels of God" This is a rabbinical way of referring to God (as is "joy in heaven" in Luke 15:7). Matthew has many of these phrases that refer to God without mentioning His name (circumlocutions).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 15:11-24
 11And He said, "A man had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them. 13And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."' 20So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate."

15:11 "two sons" These will typify the Jews who heard Jesus: (1) the common people and (2) the religious leaders. Their response to the lostness of all humans (in this context, Israelites) before God will be very different. One group rejoices in the potential salvation of all humans, but the other is offended by God's love for all humans.

15:12 "give me the share of the estate that falls to me" This did not belong to him until his father's death. It would involve one-third of the estate with two thirds going to the oldest son (cf. Deut. 21:17). This shows a rebellious, unloving, independent spirit. This very question would have been unheard of in eastern culture. This implies a desire for the father's death (cf. Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, pp. 142-206).

"So he divided his wealth between them" There are several cultural and legal reasons for an early inheritance to be given, but not at the request of a son! The father's actions in allowing this inappropriate and culturally unheard of request does not denote God's character, but is a literary device to accentuate God's undeserved and overwhelming love and forgiveness later in the parable.

As for the older son, his silence at both the brother's request and the father's action would be unforgivable in eastern culture. He should have vigorously protested. He also will be singled out for censure at the conclusion of the parable. As a matter of fact, he represents the attitudes of the Pharisees. (Will they accept sinners like God does, or will he reject his brother?)

15:13 "gathered everything together" To transfer the farm assets into cash meant to (1) disrupt the farm and even jeopardize its future existence and (2) sell them at a very reduced price.

If land was involved, the buyer did not take possession until after the father's death. The father would have use of it until then.

"and went on a journey" This represents the younger son's seeking independence from the family. He will do it his way!

NASB"there he squandered his estate with loose living"
NKJV"there he wasted his possession with prodigal living"
NRSV"there he squandered his property in dissolute living"
TEV"where he wasted his money in reckless living"
NJB"where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery"
PESHITTA
(Syriac)"there he wasted his wealth in extravagant living"

This is from the verb sōzō (save) with the alpha privative (one who cannot save). All English translations translate asōtōs, an adverb which occurs only here in the NT, as immoral, godless, riotous living (cf. Luke 15:3 and the LXX of Pro. 7:11; 28:7). However, the fifth century Syriac (Aramaic) version denotes one who is careless or thoughtless with his resources (German Bible Society's Greek - English Lexicon of the Septuagint, lists "wastefulness" as a translation option for asōtia, p. 69), but not necessarily immoral (cf. Kittel, vol. 1, p. 507 and Louw and Nida, vol. 1, p. 753).

15:15 "he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country" The key interpretive issue is the word "hired" (kollaō). It is used predominately by Luke and Paul. It can mean "associate with" (cf. Acts 5:13; 9:26; 10:28), "cleave to" (cf. Matt. 19:5; Luke 10:11), or "join" (cf. Acts 8:29; 17:74). It originally meant "to glue." Did this young foolish Jew hire himself out for wages or did he cling desperately to a local, non-Jewish farmer for life? The question is one of desperation. How desperate was the young man? How much in need?

Possibly "the citizen" was trying to get rid of the Jewish young man by asking him to feed pigs! Perhaps he was so hungry, so desperate, so in need, that he would do anything just to survive.

15:16

NASB, NKJV"he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods"
NRSV"he would have gladly filled himself with the pods"
TEV"he wished he could fill himself with the bean pods"
NJB"he would willingly have filled himself with the husks"

The first two translations follow the ancient Greek manuscripts P75, א, B, D, L, and Augustine's Greek text, which has the verb gemizō and the word "stomach." However, the last three follow the ancient Greek manuscript A and the Old Latin Vulgate and Syriac versions, which have the verb chortazō and excludes the word "stomach." Usually when א and B agree over A, modern textual critics follow the former manuscripts. However, the UBS4 gives the second option a "B" (almost certain) rating. It is somewhat surprising that the NASB (1995) follows KJV.

As usual, this variant does not affect the meaning of the passage.

▣ "the pods" There were apparently two types of this carob bean (cf. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, pp. 171-172). One is found in Syria, which is sweet and eaten by the general population. The other is a wild carob which is a short plant with black, sour berries. It does not provide enough sustenance for life. It is these wild berries that the young man wanted to eat, but he knew they would not help his hunger.

"and no one was giving anything to him" In context this may mean that other servants would not let him eat the pigs' food. Here is the problem of a cruel world. This is a situation that this young man did not plan for, now he was in life-threatening need (cf. Luke 15:17).

15:17

NASB, TEV,
NJB"he came to his senses"
NKJV, NRSV,
PESHITTA"he came to himself"

This is a Hebraic idiom of (1) acceptance of responsibility and repentance or (2) a person's internal thought process, an epiphany (cf. Luke 18:4, the exact Greek phrase). Verses 18-19 imply meaning #1.

"hired men" There were several levels of servants in rural village life of the Near East (cf. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, p. 176):

1. doulos, a domestic servant who lived with the master

2. paides, slaves who performed menial tasks but lived on the farm

3. misthos, temporary, hired workers who did not live on the farm

In context #2 fits best as the desire of the son.

15:18 "against heaven" This is another circumlocution which refers to God. See note at Luke 15:10.

15:20 "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. . .and ran. . .and embraced him and kissed him" The father's expectancy and unusual actions reflect the intensity of his love.

The last two actions, "embraced him" and "kissed him," may reflect the Septuagint of Gen. 33:4; 45:14-15, which denotes reunion. The last action, "kissed him," could be a sign of forgiveness from 2 Sam. 14:33. This compound term, kata + phileō, implies fervent affection (cf. Luke 7:38; Acts 20:37).

When interpreting parables one must look for the central truth (usually in what would be culturally shocking or unexpected) and not push (allegorize) all the details. The father's actions in allowing the young man's initial request which jeopardized the whole family, was morally and culturally inappropriate. They must not be attributed as characteristics of God. God will not give us what would destroy us! He does, however, give us the freedom to destroy ourselves! However, the father's unconditional forgiveness and gracious restoration of such an undeserving person is surely a characteristic of God. Remember the parable's larger context is the unforgiving and non-accepting attitude of the Pharisees (i.e., the older brother, Luke 15:25-32, especially Luke 15:28).

15:21 There is a Greek manuscript variant in the verse. Some ancient texts at the end of the sentence have "your son," but others add the remaining phrase from Luke 15:19 ("make me as one of your hired men"). Scribes tended to fill out phrases, therefore, UBS4 gives the shorter text an "A" rating (certain).

15:22 The intensity of the moment is carried by the three aorist active imperatives. The slaves are commanded to do these things immediately!

▣ "best robe" This was a sign of position in the family.

▣ "a ring" This was a sign of his restored family position and authority.

▣ "sandals" This was a sign of a son of the owner, not a hired servant.

15:23 "the fattened calf" The Jews ate red meat only at very special occasions. This was the most valuable meat available.

Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant/Through Peasant Eyes, makes the comment that by implication the killing of the fatted calf involved the whole community. There would be too much meat just for the estate. If so, this implies that the father solves the problem of the young son's acceptance back into the community by this feast (cf. pp. 181-187).

Also notice that this lavish banquet for the rebellious son is the unexpected element of the parable. Table fellowship was a Jewish metaphor for heaven (eschatological banquet). The shock is that the younger son (symbolizing the tax collectors and sinners) is the object of the feast, while the older son (symbolizing the religious leaders) refuses to attend and makes the point that there is no feast for him. This role reversal is typical of Jesus' teachings.

15:24 This parallels Luke 15:6-7 and 9-10. Heaven rejoices at the restoration of sinners!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 15:25-32
 25"Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' 28But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began imploring him. 29But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.' 31And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"

15:25 "older son" If the prodigal represents lost and fallen humanity, then the older son represents the self-righteous attitude of religious leaders.

This parable has two main truths:

1. God's joy over one who repents

2. God's pain when part of His spiritual family will not forgive and accept other parts of the sinful family

In many ways nothing has changed. Sin and unforgiveness still live in the church building! There are two types of estrangement:

1. open rebellion

2. hidden superiority and jealousy

Each of these sons, for opposite reasons, was out of fellowship with the father.

15:28 God loves Pharisees also!

15:29 "I have been serving you" This shows the son's pent-up anger and resentment, possibly even jealousy and envy. The older son feels he deserves the father's love because of his obedience and continuance (i.e., self-righteous legalism, cf. parable at Matt. 20:1-16).

▣ "never given me a young goat" This was a less expensive animal than the fattened calf. He feels neglected.

15:30 "this son of yours" This phrase shows the depth of the older sons anger and continued rejection of his brother.

▣ "with prostitutes" This was only speculation on the elder son's part.

15:31 "all that is mine is yours" The remaining inheritance belonged completely to this son. The life and livelihood of the younger son was, in reality, in the hands of the older brother. The younger son was completely at the older brother's mercy once the father died.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the major thrust of these three parables?

2. Which son represents you?

3. Why is there no conclusion to the last parable?