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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 15

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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Nothing is gained by insisting anxiously on historical connection here. The introduction of these beautiful parables of grace at this point is a matter of tact rather than of temporal sequence, so far as the conscious motive of the evangelist is concerned. They are brought in as a set-off to the severe discourse in the closing section of the previous chapter, in which Jesus seems to assume a repellent attitude towards those who desired to follow Him. Here, in happy contrast, He appears as One who graciously received the sinful, regardless of unfavourable comments. The parables of the Lost Sheep , the Lost Coin , and the Lost Son are here given as a self-defence of Jesus against Pharisaic faultfinding. Whether they were first spoken in that connection, or uttered in that connection alone, cannot be determined. So far as their main drift is concerned they might have been spoken to any audience; to critical Pharisees, to disciples (the first is given in Matthew 18:12-14 as spoken to the Twelve), to synagogue audiences, or to a gathering of publicans and sinners like that in Capernaum (Luke 5:29-32 ); controversial, didactic, or evangelic, as the case might be. Quite possibly the original setting of these parables was a synagogue discourse, or better still the address to the Capernaum gathering. That they are all three authentic utterances of Jesus need not be doubted. The first has synoptical attestation, being found in Mt. also; the second has value only as a supplement to the first, and was hardly worth inventing as an independent parable; the third is too good to have been an invention by Lk. or any other person, and can only have proceeded from the great Master. Wendt (L. J.) accepts all three as authentic, and taken from the Logia of Mt.

Verses 1-2

Luke 15:1-2 . Historic introduction . ἦσαν ἐγγίζοντες : either were in the act of approaching Jesus at a given time (Meyer), or were in the habit of doing so. The position of αὐτῷ before ἐγγίζοντες in [124] [125] favours the latter (Schanz). On the other hand, it is not improbable that the reference is to the Capernaum gathering. We may have here, in fact, another version of that story taken from the Logia , the occasion slightly described, the words spoken carefully reported. In that case we may take πάντες following somewhat strictly, and not as a mere exaggeration of the evangelist’s. There were many at the feast. The aim was to have all the outcasts of the town present ( vide on Matthew 9:9-13 ). True, they came to feast according to the other report, whereas here stress is laid on the hearing ( ἀκούειν ). The festive feature is referred to in the complaint of the Pharisees ( συνεσθίει , Luke 15:2 ). Of course there would be hearing as well as eating, and probably what the guests heard was just these same parables in slightly different form. In that case they served first as a gospel and then as an apologia .

[124] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[125] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

Verse 2

Luke 15:2 . διεγόγγυζον : the διὰ conveys the idea of a general pervasive murmuring. This is probably not an instance illustrating Hermann’s remark ( ad Viger. , p. 856) that this preposition in compound verbs often adds the notion of striving ( διαπίνειν , certare bibendo ). οἵ τε φ .: the τε ( [126] [127] [128] ) binds Pharisees and scribes together as one: as close a corporation as “publicans and sinners” (equivalent to “sinners” in their conception. ἁμαρτωλοὺς , Luke 15:2 ). Note the order, Pharisees and scribes; usually the other way. Pharisees answers to sinners, scribes to publicans; the two extremes in character and calling: the holiest and unholiest; the most reputable and the most disreputable occupations. And Jesus preferred the baser group! προσδέχεται , receives, admits to His presence; instead of repelling with involuntary loathing. καὶ συνεσθίει : not only admits but also eats with them . That was the main surprise and offence, and therefore just the thing done, because the thing which, while offending the Pharisees, would certainly gain the “sinners”. Jesus did what the reputedly good would not do, so winning their trust.

[126] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[127] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[128] Codex Regius--eighth century, represents an ancient text, and is often in agreement with א and B.

Verse 3

Luke 15:3 . τὴν παραβ . ταύτην : the phrase covers the second parable ( Lost Coin ) as well as the first. The two are regarded as virtually one, the second a duplicate with slight variations.

Verses 3-7

Luke 15:3-7 . The first parable ( cf. Matthew 18:12-14 ).

Verse 4

Luke 15:4 . ἐξ ὑμῶν , what man of you . Even the Pharisees and scribes would so act in temporal affairs. Every human being knows the joy of finding things lost. It is only in religion that men lose the scent of simple universal truths. ἑκατὸν πρ .: a hundred a considerable number, making one by comparison insignificant. The owner, one would say, can afford to lose a single erring sheep. Yet not so judges the owner himself, any owner. Losing only one ( ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν ) he takes immediate steps to recover it. ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ , in the unfilled, unfenced pasture land; but of course not so as to run the risk of losing the whole flock: it is left under the care of an assistant, the master taking the more arduous task to himself. ἐπὶ after πορεύεται indicates not only direction but aim: goeth after in order to find. (Schanz; Kypke remarks that ἐπὶ with verbs of going or sending often indicates “scopum itionis” and is usually prefixed to the thing sought. Similarly Pricaeus.) ἕως εὕρῃ : the search not perfunctory, but thorough; goes on till the lost one be found, if that be possible.

Verse 5

Luke 15:5 . ἐπιτίθησιν , etc., he places the found one on his shoulders; not in affection merely or in the exuberance of his joy, but from necessity. He must carry the sheep. It cannot walk, can only “stand where it stands and lie where it lies” (Koetsveld). This feature, probable in natural life, is true to the spiritual. Such was the condition of the mass of Jews in Christ’s time (Matthew 9:36 , cf. “when we were without strength,” Romans 5:6 ). χαίρων : the carrying necessary, but not done with a grudge, rather gladly; not merely for love of the beast, but in joy that a thing lost has been found , making the burden, in spite of the long way, light. He is a very poor shepherd that does not bear the sheep that stands still, unable to walk ( vide Zechariah 11:16 , margin).

Verse 6

Luke 15:6 . συγκαλεῖ : the point here is not the formal invitation of neighbours to sympathise, but the confident expectation that they will. That they do is taken for granted. Sympathy from neighbours and friends of the same occupation, fellow-shepherds, a matter of course in such a case. This trait hit the Pharisees, and may have been added to the original parable for their special benefit.

Verse 7

Luke 15:7 . ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ , in heaven, that is, in the heart of God. Heaven is a synonym for God in Luke 15:18 ; Luke 15:21 . ἢ = more than, as if πλέον had preceded, so often in N.T. and in Sept [129] = Hebrew מִן . The comparison in the moral sphere is bold, but the principle holds true there as in the natural sphere, even if the ninety-nine be truly righteous men needing no repentance. It is rational to have peculiar joy over a sinner repenting, therefore God has it, therefore Christ might have it. This saying is the third great word of Christ’s apology for loving the sinful. For the other two vide on Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 7:36-50 .

[129] Septuagint.

Verse 8

Luke 15:8 . ἅπτει λ ., lights a lamp. The verb used in this sense in N.T. only in Lk. No windows in the dwellings of the poor: a lamp must be lighted for the search, unless indeed there be one always burning on the stand. σαροῖ : colloquial and vulgar for σαίρει , vide on Matthew 12:44 . ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς : the emphasis in this parable lies on the seeking ἅπτει , σαροῖ , ζητεῖ ; in the Lost Sheep on the carrying home of the found object of quest.

Verses 8-10

Luke 15:8-10 . The second parable , a pendant to the first, spoken possibly to the Capernaum gathering to bring the experience of joy found in things lost home to the poorest present. As spoken to Pharisees it is intended to exemplify the principle by a lost object as insignificant in value as a publican or a sinner was in their esteem. A sheep, though one of a hundred, was a comparatively precious object. A drachma was a piece of money of inconsiderable value, yet of value to a poor woman who owned only ten drachmas in all; its finding therefore a source of keen joy to her .

Verse 9

Luke 15:9 . συγκαλεῖ : this calling together of friends and neighbours (feminine in this case, τὰς φ . καὶ τὰς γ .) peculiarly natural in the case of a woman; hence perhaps the reading of T.R., συγκαλεῖται , the middle being more subjective. The finding would appeal specially to feminine sympathies, if the lost drachma was not part of a hoard to meet some debt, but belonged to a string of coins worn as an ornament round the head, then as now, by married women in the East, as Tristram suggests ( Eastern Customs in Bible Lands , p. 76). This view, favoured by Farrar, is ignored by most commentators.

Verse 10

Luke 15:10 repeats the moral of Luke 15:7 , but without comparison which, with a smaller number, would only weaken the effect. ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τ . θ .: the angels may be referred to as the neighbours of God, whose joy they witness and share. Wendt ( L. J. , i., 141) suggests that Luke uses the expression to avoid anthropopathism, and because God has no neighbours.

Verses 11-13

Luke 15:11-13 . The case put . δύο υἱου̇ς : two sons of different dispositions here as in Matthew 21:28-31 , but there is no further connection between the two parables. There is no reason for regarding Lk.’s parable as an allegorical expansion of Mt.’s Two Sons (Holtzmann in H. C.).

Verses 11-32

Luke 15:11-32 . The third parable , rather an example than a parable illustrating by an imaginary case the joy of recovering a lost human being . In this case care is taken to describe what loss means in the sphere of human life. The interest in the lost now appropriately takes the form of eager longing and patient waiting for the return of the erring one, that there may be room for describing the repentance referred to in Luke 15:7 ; Luke 15:10 , which is the motive for the return. Also in the moral sphere the subject of the finding cannot be purely passive: there must be self -recovery to give ethical value to the event. A sinning man cannot be brought back to God like a straying sheep to the fold. Hence the beautiful picture of the sin, the misery, the penitent reflections, and the return of the prodigal peculiar to this parable. It is not mere scene-painting. It is meant to show how vastly higher is the significance of the terms “lost” and “found” in the human sphere, justifying increased interest in the finding, and so showing the utter unreasonableness of the fault-finding directed against Jesus for His efforts to win to goodness the publicans and sinners. Jesus thereby said in effect: You blame in me a joy which is universal, that of finding the lost, and which ought to be greater in the case of human beings just because it is a man that is found and not a beast . Does not the story as I tell it rebuke your cynicism and melt your hearts? Yet such things are happening among these publicans and sinners you despise, every day.

Verse 12

Luke 15:12 . ὁ νεώτερος , the younger, with a certain fitness made to play the foolish part. The position of an elder son presents more motives to steadiness. τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος , the portion falling or belonging to , the verb occurs in this sense in late authors (here only in N.T.). The portion of the younger when there were two sons would be one third, the right of the first-born being two portions (Deuteronomy 21:17 ). διεῖλεν : the father complies, not as bound, but he must do it in the parable that the story may go on. βίον = οὐσίαν , as in Mark 12:44 , Luke 8:43 .

Verse 13

Luke 15:13 . μετʼ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας : to be joined to ἀπεδήμησεν : he went away as soon as possible, when he had had time to realise his property, in haste to escape into wild liberty or licence. μακράν : the farther away the better. ἀσώτως ( α pr. and σώζω , here only in N.T.), insalvably; the process of reckless waste, free rein given to every passion, must go on till nothing is left. This is what undisciplined freedom comes to.

Verse 14

Luke 15:14 . λιμὸς , a famine, an accident fitting into the moral history of the prodigal; not a violent supposition; such correspondences between the physical and moral worlds do occur, and there is a Providence in them. ἰσχυρὰ : the most probable reading if only because λιμὸς is feminine only in Doric and late Greek usage. ὑστερεῖσθαι : the result of wastefulness and prevalent dearth combined is dire want. What is to be done? Return home? Not yet; that the last shift.

Verses 14-19

Luke 15:14-19 . The crisis : recklessness leads to misery and misery prompts reflection.

Verse 15

Luke 15:15 . ἐκολλήθη , he attached himself (pass with mid. sense). The citizen of the far country did not want him, it is no time for employing super. fluous hands, but he suffered the wretch to have his way in good-natured pity. βόσκειν χοίρους : the lowest occupation, a poor-paid pagan drudge; the position of the publicans glanced at.

Verse 16

Luke 15:16 . ἐπεθύμει , etc., he was fain to fill his belly with the horn-shaped pods of the carob-tree. The point is that he was so poorly fed by his new master (who felt the pinch of hard times, and on whom he had small claim) that to get a good meal of anything, even swine’s food, was a treat. γεμίσαι τ . κ ., though realistic, is redeemed from vulgarity by the dire distress of the quondam voluptuary. Anything to fill the aching void within! οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου , no one was giving him: this his experience from day to day and week to week. Giving what? Not the pods, as many think, these he would take without leave, but anything better. His master gave him little famine rations, and no other kind soul made up for the lack. Neither food nor love abounded in that country. So there was nothing for it but swine’s food or semi-starvation or home!

Verse 17

Luke 15:17 . εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἐλθὼν = either, realising the situation; or, coming to his true self, his sane mind (for the use of this phrase vide Kypke, Observ. ). Perhaps both ideas are intended. He at last understood there was no hope for him there, and, reduced to despair, the human, the filial, the thought of home and father revived in the poor wretch. περισσεύονται : passive, with gen. of the thing; here only in N.T. = are provided to excess, have more given them than they can use.

Verse 18

Luke 15:18 . ἀναστὰς : a bright hope gives energy to the starving man; home! Said, done, but the motive is not high. It is simply the last resource of a desperate man. He will go home and confess his fault, and so, he hopes, get at least a hireling’s fare. Well to be brought out of that land, under home influences, by any motive. It is in the right direction. Yet though bread is as yet the supreme consideration, foretokens of true ethical repentance appear in the premeditated speech: Πάτερ : some sense of the claims that long-disused word implies ἥμαρτον , I erred; perception that the whole past has been a mistake and folly εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν , against heaven, God ἐνώπιόν σου , in thy sight, in thy judgment (Hahn) he knows quite well what his father must think of his conduct; what a fool he must think him (Psalms 73:22 ) οὐκέτι εἰμὶ , etc. (Luke 15:19 ), fully conscious that he has forfeited all filial claims. The omission of καὶ suits the emotional mood.

Verses 20-24

Luke 15:20-24 . Return and reception . ἦλθεν , etc., he came to his father; no details about the journey, the fact simply stated, the interest now centring in the action of the father, exemplifying the joy of a parent in finding a lost son, which is carefully and exquisitely described in four graphic touches εἶδεν : first recognition at a distance, implying, if not a habit of looking for the lost one (Göbel, Schanz, etc.), at least a vision sharpened by love ἐσπλαγχνίσθη : instant pity awakened by the woful plight of the returning one manifest in feeble step, ragged raiment possibly also visible δραμὼν , running, in the excitement and impatience of love, regardless of Eastern dignity and the pace safe for advancing years κατεφίλησεν : kissing fervently and frequently the son folded in his arms ( cf. Matthew 26:49 , Luke 7:38 ; Luke 7:45 ). All signs these of a love ready to do anything to recover the lost, to search for him to the world’s end, if that had been fitting or likely to gain the end.

Verse 21

Luke 15:21 . The son repeats his premeditated speech, with or without the last clause; probably with it, as part of a well-conned lesson, repeated half mechanically, yet not insincerely as if to say: I don’t deserve this, I came expecting at most a hireling’s treatment in food and otherwise, I should be ashamed to be anything higher.

Verse 22

Luke 15:22 . δούλους : their presence conceivable, the father’s running and the meeting noticed and reported by some one, so soon drawing a crowd to the spot, or to meet the two on the way to the house. To them the father gives directions which are his response to the son’s proposed self-degradation. He shall not be their fellow, they shall serve him by acts symbolic of reinstatement in sonship. ταχὺ , quick! a most probable reading ( [130] [131] [132] ), and a most natural exclamation; obliterate the traces of a wretched past as soon as possible; off with these rags! fetch robes worthy of my son, dressed in his best as on a gala day. ἐξενέγκατε , bring from the house στολὴν τ . πρώτην , the first robe, not in time, formerly worn (Theophy.), but in quality; cf. the second chariot, Genesis 41:43 ( currus secundus , Bengel). δακτύλιον (here only in N.T.): no epithet attached, golden, e.g. (Wolff, golden ring for sons, iron ring for slaves); that it would be a ring of distinction goes without saying. ὑποδήματα , shoes; needed he is barefoot and footsore; and worn by sons , not by slaves. Robe, ring, shoes: all symbols of filial state.

[130] Codex Sinaiticus (sæc. iv.), now at St. Petersburg, published in facsimile type by its discoverer, Tischendorf, in 1862.

[131] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[132] Codex Regius--eighth century, represents an ancient text, and is often in agreement with א and B.

Verse 23

Luke 15:23 . τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν : always one fattening for high-tides; could not be used on a better occasion.

Verse 24

Verse 25

Luke 15:25 . ἐν ἀγρῷ , on the farm; of course there every day, doing his duty, a most correct, exemplary man, only in his wisdom and virtue so cold and merciless towards men of another sort. Being at his work he is ignorant of what has happened: the arrival and what followed. ἐρχόμενος , coming home after the day’s work is over, when the merriment is in full swing, with song and dance filling the air.

Verses 25-32

Luke 15:25-32 . The elder son , who plays the ignoble part of wet blanket on this glad day, and represents the Pharisees in their chilling attitude towards the mission in behalf of the publicans and sinners.

Verse 26

Luke 15:26 . τί ἂν εἴη ταῦτα , not contemptuous, “what all this was about” (Farrar, C. G. T.), but with the puzzled air of a man in the dark and surprised = what does this mean?

Verse 27

Luke 15:27 . In simple language the servant briefly explains the situation, showing in his words neither sympathy nor, still less, the reverse, as Hofmann thinks. ὑγιαίνοντα , in good health; home again and well, that is the whole case as he knows it; no thought in his mind of a tragic career culminating in repentance, or if he has any suspicion he keeps it to himself; thoroughly true to nature this.

Luke 15:28 . ὠργίσθη , he was angry, a very slight description of his state of mind into which various bad feelings would enter: disgust, chagrin that ail this merriment had been going on for hours and they had not thought it worth while to let him know an impolitic oversight; a sense of wrong and general unfair treatment of which this particular neglect was but a specimen. ὁ δὲ πατὴρ , etc.: the father goes out and presses him to come in, very properly; but why not send for him at once that he might stop working on the farm and join in the feasting and dancing on that glad day? Did they all fear he would spoil the sport and act accordingly? The elder son has got a chance to complain, and he makes the most of it in his bitter speech to his father.

Verse 29

Luke 15:29 . ἔριφον , a kid, not to speak of the fatted calf. μετὰ τῶν φίλων μου : he would have been content if there had been any room made for the festive element in his life, with a modest meeting with his own friends, not to speak of a grand family demonstration like this. But no, there was nothing but work and drudgery for him.

Verse 30

Luke 15:30 . οὗτος : contemptuous, this precious son of yours. μετὰ πορνῶν : hard, merciless judgment; the worst said and in the coarsest way. How did he know? He did not know; had no information, jumped at conclusions. That the manner of his kind, who shirk work and go away to enjoy themselves.

Verses 31-32

Luke 15:31-32 . The father answers meekly, apologetically, as if conscious that the elder son had some right to complain, and content to justify himself for celebrating the younger son’s return with a feast; not a word of retaliation. This is natural in the story, and it also fits well into the aim of the parable, which is to illustrate the joy of finding the lost. It would serve no purpose in that connection to disparage the object of the lesser joy. There is peculiar joy over one sinner repenting even though the ninety-nine be truly righteous, and over a prodigal returned even though the elder brother be a most exemplary, blameless, dutiful son.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 15". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/luke-15.html. 1897-1910.
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