In the Bible, one can find many different ways in which the text of the Bible demonstrates basic principles and standards through stories, poetry, narratives, prophecy, and apocalyptic literature. The most common in the Gospels, of the teachings of Jesus Christ, is the parable. What is a parable? A parable is a fictitious story designed to teach a lesson through comparison or contrast. For this paper, we will examine the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. In this paper, we will explore the theme of the theme the chapter in which the Parable of the Prodigal son is found, as well as the parable’s interpretation, and practical applications.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son taught by Jesus was proclaimed to teach forgiveness. However, before we can further examine its theme, a historical and literary analysis of the Gospel of Luke must be conducted to enhance the reader’s approach to how one comprehends this book’s message.
The dating of the third Gospel is important in grasping the historicity of it. While the exact year of authorship is not known, many scholars believe it was written between 60-85 A.D. One may also note that “the third Gospel does not directly identify its author.” (Roberts). We are left to examine the internal and external evidence in order to draw the most plausible conclusion. The piece of evidence, which drives some to Luke’s authorship of the third gospel, is that the author presents himself as Paul’s companion and is pointed out in Paul’s writings in Philemon 24 and Colossians 4:14 as one of Paul’s traveling companions.
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While the dating and authorship of the third gospel have been established, the context for the parable of the prodigal son and the elder brother in Luke 15:11-32 in Jesus’ ministry seems “â€¦to be a story designed by Jesus to put in perspectiveâ€¦what God was doing as he consorted with sinners.” (Nolland). By the time the reader arrives at the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, they have already seen Jesus experience encounters with numerous situations of confronting sinners including: the angered people in the Temple on the Sabbath day in Nazareth in Luke 4:28-29, the judgmental Pharisees watching Jesus heal the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath in Luke 6:6-11, the sinful woman with an alabaster flask of ointment in Luke 7:36-50, and a Samaritan village which rejected Jesus in Luke 9:51-56. These events, which lead up to Jesus telling the parable of the prodigal son, seemed to build up to a strategic location of order for this parable for God to speak through the author of the importance of forgiveness. While historical background of the Gospel of Luke is important, the literary background of it is equally exigent.
The passage of Luke 15:11-32 is “an allegorical, realistic story, which is rich in homely detail and characterization.” (Drury). If the parable is read or heard as solely anecdotal, it may be entertaining, but it does not do accomplish the goal of the speaker. While the overall purpose of this parable is mainly to offer the reader or hearer a new understanding of the situation and to lead them to make a decision, the story also forms together to break into two separate stories of one family which ties together at the end of the parable. The first focuses on the prodigal son in verses 11-24, and second on the elder brother in verses 25-32. In both parts of the story “the focus is first on the son and then on the father.” (Talbert). Historically and literarily viewing what is commonly known as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” is imperative in journeying through an examination of this parable.
Author’s Interpretation of the Parable
Since the purpose of this paper is to express how Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal Son to teach forgiveness, this portion of this paper will concentrate on verses 11-32 of Luke. This section of the paper will show the detailed specification of how Jesus taught people with relevant topics in every person’s life, namely forgiveness.
The parable’s beginning is one that shows the choices of the younger son. Verses 11-13 begin this parable. Verse 11 begins the parable by stating, “A certain man had two sons.” (The Holy Bible, KJV/AMP). This verse gives the reader the facts of the people involved in this story. There was a certain man, and this man had to have two sons. After the reader is introduced to the basic facts of the story, verses 12-13 show the choices of the younger son. The key portion of verses 12-13 is shown in the latter portion of verse 13 where the text states, ‘there wasted his substance with riotous living” The word “riotous” shows the sinful act of the younger son. This portion must be where the younger son first sinned in the story due to his ignoring that his “father had a moral claim on his property, that his father, so long as he lived, had a right to call, in case of necessity, upon the son’s labour and his savings.” (Derret).
Verses 14-16 shows the dilemma of the younger son. Verse 14 expresses the difficult dilemma the youngest son finds himself in is two-fold: he squandered the money, and a famine ensued. This famine is no ordinary famine. The famine is a “severe famine.” (The Holy Bible, NIV). As a result, the younger son is forced to feed pigs in verse 15. Because the feeding of pigs was highly frowned upon in the Jewish culture as is shown in Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8, this act continues to lead the son further away from the father
The next verse, verse 16, shows a true act of desperation and shows how quickly the younger son came to the realization that pigs were eating better than he did. Verses 17-19 express the younger son coming to his senses as to what is truly wise for his life not only for food, but also for seeking forgiveness and mending a relationship he had previously injured. Although he made a major mistake in his life, he finally came to the point of realization that he was wrong, and he must go to his father to seek forgiveness.
Verses 18 and 19 represent what the younger son says he will say when he seeks his father’s forgiveness. Verse 19 shows where the prodigal son feels he has burnt his bridges, and he is literally no longer worthy to be called his father’s son.15 He is so humbled at this point that he asks for the opportunity to even be a “hired servant.”
Verse 20 represents a reunion between a father and son who, despite conflict in their relationship, sought reconciliation beginning in this verse. The father was so excited about the return of his son that he “ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” (The Message). This action by the father was “contrary to all custom; in the near East, a mature man loses all dignity when he runs.” (Schweizer). This greeting from the father running to the younger son was one of warmth and forgiveness. Verse 21 contains the deliverance of the rehearsed speech from verses 18 and 19. The younger son finally asked for forgiveness after so much time of disobedience. The father did not interrupt the son to cause him to fail conclude the previously rehearsed speech of forgiveness.
Not only was a kiss on the cheek a sign of forgiveness, but also a sign of reconciliation. As this action from the father represented the forgiveness and reconciliation, the robe represented a sign of honor, the ring represented a sign of authority, the shoes a sign of a free man, and the feast a sign of joy.
Verses 27-30 show the older brother with an opposite response than the father pertaining to the return of his brother. Instead of excitement, he was bitter and jealous. During this bitterness the older brother was just as sinful as his younger brother who sinned in other ways. Verses 31-32 conclude the parable of Luke 15:11-32 and marks the response by the father to the elder brother. The father reminds his eldest son “all that I have is thine,” signifying that all that is left is his to inherit. (The Holy Bible, KJV/AMP) Nevertheless, he also reminds him about his brother, who was thought dead, has returned alive to them.
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I believe Jesus included this parable in his ministry to remind the people that God, the Father, like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is willing to allow his children to venture off and explore the world. When his children make a mess out of their situation and are not worthy to come back Him, God stands waiting and watching for his children to return. And when they do, He is there to embrace them with open arms, clothe them with honor, and celebrate their return.
Practical Application of the Parable
The Parable of the Prodigal son is a story that expresses the reality of giving into temptation, the jealousy that comes as a result of sibling rivalry, the forgiveness of a loving father.
The reality of giving into temptation is one that occurs by all people as all have sinned and fallen short of God glory. This story began with the younger son giving into temptation in verse twelve by saying, “Father, give me the part of the estate that lays upon me.” As Enron employees saw an easy opening of temptation cross their paths, they, too gave into temptation, and faced consequences for that. Although the parable of the prodigal son is a story which was told over 2,000 years ago, it still teaches the same lesson in the twenty-first century which was intended back then. Not only does the parable of the prodigal son and the elder brother teach the reality of giving into temptation, but it also teaches the reality of being jealous because of sibling rivalry.
The jealousy the elder brother showed in verses 29 and 30 of Luke chapter 15 was apparent when the elder brother said to his father, “I have been serving you for so many years and I have never passed by a command of yoursâ€¦but when this son of yours cameâ€¦you sacrificed the fattened calf for him.” These verses are similar to any sibling rivalry of children growing up and the situation occurs where one child receives more attention, a nicer Christmas present, or is just simply not favored as much as their sibling. This is present to different extents in many siblings’ relationships. As this was true in this parable, it is also true today. The parable of the prodigal son and the elder brother concludes by the father teaching the elder brother through his fatherly wisdom that its important to look past the previous mistakes of his younger brother and to celebrate the repentance and return of a fellow family member.
Just like then, the Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates the forgiveness of the Father in Heaven. When his children slip and fall from the grace of God, God does not turn his back on his children and forget about them. Instead, God is always waiting for us to return. Moreover, when we do return, He will welcome us into his arms and place us back at the table where we belong.
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