22 comments on “Scriptures That Bother Me — Luke 15:11-24

  1. Very interesting take on this! Interestingly, I’ve been musing over the prodigal story lately as well. 🙂 I’m gonna have to chew on this interpretation some… I do like your bottom line… that love is never wasted.

    I think it’s my study of the word “asotia” that gives me pause in placing Christ as the prodigal, though. It’s the same word used for “dissipation” or “debauchery” in Ephesians 5:18. It’s a combination of two things — “a”, which equals a negative, and “sotia”, which means “save.” Basically, the idea is that of something devoid of saving quality. It is the picture of having no hope of safety, then describing the act of one who has abandoned himself to such reckless behavior. Asotia conveys the idea of waste that is irretrievable.

    I suppose, since not all are chosen in Christ, there is an idea of irretrievable waste… but I still have a hard time thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice as being “devoid of saving quality”… because in the end, it was His leaving the Father and coming to earth that brought about salvation. Seems contradictory, doesn’t it? Then again, Scripture is full of paradoxes isn’t it? The first shall be last… He who loses his life for My sake will find it… Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled… Jesus turns it all upside down. I love that.

    Thanks for making me think… and analyze… and meditate. I love reading your blog!

  2. I feel the need to point out that when Christ came to earth it was the father that sent him.

    This is nothing like the parable. In the parable the son makes lots of sinful choices and chooses to leave his home in favor of the world. His father doesn’t send him anywhere.

    You are right for looking for Christ in the parables. In my humble estimation Christ is the robe. It was the robe that had true value not the son. Much like the Christian who is in Christ Jesus.

    Sola Scriptura,

  3. Reformed,

    I understand your hesitancy to see Christ as the wasteful son. However, every parable breaks down when we try to find a Christ-like example of every minor point. Therefore, I stand by the major point that Jesus is a type of the prodigal son, who went to a distant country and spent His inheritance with unsavory people — which is one of the points the Pharisees were so fond of making. This is no way eliminates the teaching that WE are all prodigal children who have, in many ways, wasted our gifts and need to return to our Father. It reminds me that Jesus was like us in all ways, yet remained without sin.

    As for Christ being the robe, that is a new interpretation for me. But then, so was Christ as the prodigal until I started seeing it in other writers, such as Henri Nouwen. If Christ is the robe, then returning to God and receiving the robe could be compared to putting on Christ. Very good.

    Thanks for your comments. Even those who don’t always agree with us, but do so agreeably, can teach us many things.



  4. yes, yes, yes. You have said plenty here. It is a parable about the waiting father—or as you say—the prodigal father.

    Thanks Jim.

  5. With all due respect, I think you are totally off-base. To be sure, yours is a novel reading of the parable, but misses the point completely.

    The parable is about the ruling Jewish class (pharisees, chief priests, elders of the people, Mat 21:23) and those they have excluded (the blind, lame, widows, etc. Mat. 21:14, tax collectors, prostitutes Mat. 21:31). The Jews are represented by the Elder Brother, those who’ve been excluded are represented by the Prodigal Son. By the way, this line of thinking is reflected in many, if not most, of Jesus’ parables.

    Mat 21:43 For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

  6. Wyatt,

    I completely agree with your take on the parable. However, it wasn’t the point I was making. Can I agree with you and still show a different perspective? I was simply challenged to think of Jesus as leaving His heavenly home and spending all His love on us, only to return to the Father absolutely depleted. In my mind, it brings John 3:16 into a wonderful new light.

    Thanks for the comment.


  7. @Wyatt:

    It is so good to see someone who uses the Scriptures as their evidence in debate. However, the verses that you cited have nothing to do with Luke 15:11-24. Using your method of Scripture citing Jim or anyone for that matter can claim that the characters in the parable are anyone they choose. Now being “whole Bible Christians” as we are; we can notice a few parallels between Luke 15:11-24 and the story of the Bible.

    Notice the characters in the parable. First we have the rich Father who we know without a shadow of a doubt is God the Father. We have the elder brother, who you have correctly identified with the Jewish people. And we have the younger son who I believe you incorrectly identified with the excluded (by the Jewish Elders/teachers).

    I don’t think this fits within the context of the parable because the elder son doesn’t kick the younger out of the house. The younger son chose to leave. He chose the world over his father. I believe for this reason Jesus is talking about those like Lot who have wandered.

    Sola Scriptura,

  8. Steve,

    You make some good points. The only one I would add to is your last point. Jesus isn’t talking just about wanders like Lot; He is talking about wanders like Jim. I, too, have left the Father is so many ways and endeavored to use my inheritance (gifts, talents, etc.) for my own pleasure. However, where Jim uses the Father’s resources for his own selfish gain, Jesus uses the Father’s resources for the good of others. It is a lesson I am still learning and growing in.

    Thanks for your comments.



  9. Thanks for you comment, Jim. I’m glad we have some common ground.

    As for your implication, ReformedSteve, that I am twisting scripture so I may “claim that the characters in the parable are anyone they choose,” I respectfully disagree.

    First of all, my reading of the parallel story in Matthew is entirely consistent with Luke’s version.
    Who are those coming to hear Jesus in Luke 15:1? It’s tax collectors and sinners! Though I may not have been clear about this in my original post, they — that is, Gentiles as a whole — would have also been in the group of those who were excluded by the Jewish leaders. And lo and behold, we find in verse 15:2 that the aforementioned group (as represented by the Elder Son) — that is, the Pharisees and the experts in the law — are none too happy about it. In fact, they are downright indignant about it. Why? Because they’ve been faithfully, in their opinion at least, there with the father “working like a slave, never disobeying his commands.”

    Now, I understand your observation about the fact that the “elder son doesn’t kick the younger out of the house. The younger son chose to leave. He chose the world over his father.”

    However, I believe for one to truly grasp the point Luke is trying to make by arranging this passage as he did, one need not concern oneself with parsing every minute detail of each individual parable, but
    look at the overall point Luke (and, of course, Jesus) was attempting to convey. It is, simply, that the Jewish elders have abdicated their responsibility, failed in their mission, and are about to be relieved of their duty as tenants in God’s vinyard. They have excluded the very ones who Christ came to save, both of the household of Israel, the lame, the blind, the poor, the crippled, as well as the Gentiles.

    This theme is reflected in this entire section of Luke, from Chapter 13 to (at least) the middle of Chapter 17.

    Luk 13:6-7 Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the worker who tended the vineyard, ‘For three years now, I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and each time I inspect it I find none. Cut it down! Why should it continue to deplete the soil?’

    Luk 13:10-17 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely. When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water…When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.

    Luk 13:19 [The Kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the wild birds nested in its branches.”

    Luk 13:28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God.

    Luk 14:1-5 Now one Sabbath when Jesus went to dine at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely. There right in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. So Jesus asked the experts in religious law and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “Which of you, if you have a son [Yea…a SON]or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

    Luk 14:12-13 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. But when you host an elaborate meal,38 invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

    Luk 14:21 So the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the master of the household was furious and said to his slave, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’

    Luk 14:34-35 “Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how can its flavor be restored? It is of no value for the soil or for the manure pile; it is to be thrown out. The one who has ears to hear had better listen!”

    Luk 15:7 I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.

    Luk 15:29-30 but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

    Luk 16:15 But Jesus said to them, “You [the Pharisees] are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable50 in God’s sight.

    Luk 16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus likewise bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish.

    Luk 17:18 Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

  10. Mr. Roberts,
    I never said you were twisting Scripture. You have proven so far to give much respect to the Word. I disagreed with your methodology not your theology.

  11. Steve — thanks for the reply.

    I meant no disrespect. I said that your IMPLICATION was that I was twisting scripture, not that you actually used that word. You stated that “Using [my] method of Scripture-citing Jim or anyone for that matter can claim that the characters in the parable are anyone they choose.” Now, I would call that “twisting,” but you might use a different word, which is fine.

    I appreciate the fact that you believe I respect the Word of God. To my way of thinking, we loose sight of the big picture when reading Scripture. I think that all too often, we’re walking around with a microscope, trying to make sense of every little detail, desperately trying to shoehorn the text into some far-removed 21st century life application lesson, when what we really need to do is hop on a plane and get a view from 35,000 feet.

    My 2 cents, anyway. Blessings!

  12. I agree to an extent. I agree that it easy to try to find the significance of the text over the meaning of the text. In other words I agree that it is easy for us to ask what does this text mean to me over and above what did this text mean to the original recipients.

    what we really need to do is hop on a plane and get a view from 35,000 feet.

    Are you suggesting a general understanding of Scripture? I don’t follow your train of thought. So, I’m asking and mean no disrespect.

    Solus Christo,

  13. Steve:

    Thanks for the question. No, I’m not suggesting “a general understanding of Scripture” as I take your meaning. I am saying that much of what passes today as interpretation of Scripture (“exegesis”) is the result of what I would describe as an ego-centric reading of Scripture. No disrespect to Jim, but that is EXACTLY what he’s doing when he responded to your comment above:

    “Jesus isn’t talking just about wanders like Lot; He is talking about wanderers like Jim. I, too, have left the Father is so many ways…”

    I understand his point. However, to “personalize” the parable in this way obscures the point Jesus (and Luke) were trying to make. The fact is, that passage is NOT about Jim, or you or me. It is about the referents in Jesus’ story (who were indeed standing in his presence as the words left his lips). Jesus’ reason for telling these parables was NOT, primarily, so that Jim or anyone else could read themselves into the text some 2000 years after the fact. Jesus had a reason at that very point in history in telling these parables (which, BTW, is why he repeatedly said things like “he who has ears better listen;” it’s also why you find the Gospels making frequent reference to the fact that the Jewish Elders/Pharisees became angry because they realized Jesus was referring to THEM in these stories.

    SO…when I talk about getting a 35,000 foot view, I’m not really talking about a “general understanding” of Scripture. What I mean is that one needs to back up from the text, if you will, and read it in context. You can take it one verse at a time, certainly, but for those individual verses to make any sense whatsoever, for them to have any cohesion and work in the larger context, you have to first understand the theme/point that the author and/or the speaker was trying to make at the time. One way to do that, I believe, is to read entire passages (which may be comprised of several chapters, or even an entire book), rather than trying to “proof-text” one’s way to a systematic theology (which, in my opinion, has much in common with Phariseeism). Romans, for example, is a proof-texters paradise, but also, paradoxically, one that makes very little sense if one does not understand the larger themese that Paul is trying to layout.

    Hopefully, I’m explaining myself in a way that makes sense.

  14. Mr. Roberts,
    Although the text was written in a particular time to a particular people their is still a significance to those who read it today. Do you believe that it is possible to know what the author’s motivations were when they wrote? Of Jesus when he taught?

    Solus Christo,

  15. It is interesting that you respond that way — “there is still a significance to those who read it today.”

    What does that mean, exactly? I’m not sure the “significance” should be anything more or less than just what Jesus intended it to be at the time. Contexualization is important, but not at the expense of a right understanding of Scripture.

    For example, we can adapt the story of the prodigal son to preach a sermon about God’s forgiveness, and how we should also forgive. But if that is primarily what you’re getting out of it, you’re missing the point. It’s not a “moral lesson” about how we ought to behave. It’s not all about “application.”

    If you are insisting that you must be able to read yourself into the story, and

  16. When I use the word significance I mean “an importance” and not “meaning”. I personally separate meaning from significance. Significance comes from understanding and understanding from meaning. Meaning is the willed understanding of the Holy Spirit. Significance is the reader’s response to what was understood. Note that in order to understand correctly you must grasp the meaning.

    Although, I understand and agree with you in regards to your example of the prodigal; I think you and I are one the same page but use different terminology.

    Sola Scriptura,

  17. I agree (I think). Meaning is distinct from significance. I guess I tend to look at it this way: What are the *implications* of such and such a passage? I want, as far as is humanly possible, to understand the precise meaning the writer(s)/speaker(s) were attempting to convey. Then, I ask myself: What are the implications of this? There is plenty in Scripture that can be contextualized (adapted into a 21st century mission), but the Bible is not primarily a collection of “moral truths,” life lessons, or proscriptions about particular behaviors.

    The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is not about Jesus teaching us that we should be meek so we’ll inherit the earth. It is evocative of the blessings and cursings pronounced by Moses on Israel(Deuteronomy 28), and a description by Jesus of what the Kingdom of God REALLY looks like (and a shocking one at that). It’s not a “how-to” list, if you will — it’s a pronouncement of sorts, a Kingdom declaration — not a guide to successful living (though one could, of course, read it that way and benefit to some degree from doing so).

  18. Spot on with exactly what I believe.

    I would add that implications as I use the word mean the unintended meaning of a passage. In other words Paul when he said “do not get drunk with much wine” meant not only wine but beer, vodka, cocaine, lsd. Paul having no idea what cocaine was still means, “don’t do anything that will disable your mental facilities”.

  19. Dunno about that laundry list, Steve. I tend to view Paul’s focus in general to be more on what we SHOULD be doing — loving God and loving our neighbor — rather than on compiling a list of all the things we SHOULD NOT be doing. But hey, you may have a point.

  20. Steve and Wyatt,

    Mind if I jump in here? I must say I’ve been enjoying your discussion. It has been informative, meandering, entertaining and at times, a bit over my head. But I like it.

    At this point you may not be interested, but I read Scripture in two ways. First, I read it for its initial meaning. As for the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I know Jesus was referring to the Pharisees, for they are mentioned in verse 2. However, once I understand the context and the initial meaning of a passage, portion, chapter or even book of the Bible, I must next ask, “How does this apply to me?” Or more accurately, “How can I apply this to my life?” To read Scripture for merely academic or intellectual reasons and not find a way of allowing it to change my life would be, for me, a waste of time. I’m seeking to have a relationship with the living God, and the primary way I learn about God is through His Word, living and active, judging the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

    I remember teaching a Sunday school class when a man asked me about Jesus forgiving His executioners at Calvary. He said, “Do you think it was effective in their lives?” I said, “I don’t know about them, but I know it is effective for me.” Yes, I understand that I did not literally put nails into Jesus’ body and attach him to a cross. But He died for my sins too, so in effect, I did crucify my Savior, and yes, His prayer of forgiveness extends to me even today. This is also why I can say that I, too, am like the prodigal who has left the Father in so many ways. Without admitting that, there is no repentance, and without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins.

    Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. Keep up the good dialogue. I’m enjoying what I’m learning from both of you.



  21. Jim:

    I’m not denying that there are many things in Scripture that we need to contextualize in order to live out the Gospel. It’s often necessary to do so. My experience has been, however, that most of what passes as “teaching” today in really just contextualization that is not rooted in understanding. Basically, the Church today begins and ends with the question: “What does this verse mean to me?” In my view, reading Scripture in this fashion reaffirms our tendency to think that, in some way, this life is all about our “personal” relationship to Jesus, and ignores what it really means to be “in Christ” which is a corporate concept, and requires us to be outward focused, focused on others, rather than pursuing some romantic, ethereal goal of “growing closer to Jesus” — whatever that means.

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