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Bible Commentaries
Luke 15

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

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Verses 1-10

2. The Lost Sheep and the Lost Piece of Money (Luke 15:1-10)

(Gospel for the 3d Sunday after Trinity.—In part parallel with Matthew 18:12-14.)

1Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with 3them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, 4What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilder ness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found mysheep which was lost. 7I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just [righteous] persons, which need no [have no need of] repentance.

8Either [Or] what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth notlight a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? 9And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours [τὰς φίλας καὶ γείτονας, fem.] together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.10Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.


Luke 15:1. All the publicans and sinners.—ΙΙάντες, not in the sense of all manner of (Heubner, a. o.), but a popular way of speaking, with which the collective mass of all the there present publicans and sinners is designated. Comp. Luke 4:40.—Drew near unto Him.—The common explanation: were wont to draw near unto Him (De Wette), is grammatically not necessary, and has this disadvantage, that thereby the connection with that which precedes is unnecessarily given up. Better: They were at this moment occupied with this matter of coming to Him, and that with the distinct intention of hearing Him. We have therefore to represent to ourselves an audience which, at the time of the Saviour’s departure from Galilee, had apparently streamed together in a public place, and the majority of which consisted of publicans and sinners, who, at the moment, had pressed before the Pharisees, and by that fact excited their bitterness.

Luke 15:2. Murmured, διεγόγγυζον. Διά indicates the murmuring of a number among themselves, which for that reason became also plainly audible to others. The cause of this dissatisfaction is, in general, that the Saviour benevolently receives and accepts men of evil name and repute (ἁμαρτωλούς without article). (ΙΙροςδέχεσθαι in the sense of comiter excipere. Comp. Romans 16:2; Philippians 2:29.) This is the general accusation, while the following συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς states a special grievance. He receives not only, but permits Himself also to be received. We need not assume that the Saviour on this very day had taken part in a feast of publicans, as, e. g., Sepp will have it, who, without any ground, l. c. ii. 169, asserts that the parables here following were delivered immediately after the calling of Matthew, at the feast given by him on that occasion. The Pharisees are now thinking of what the Saviour was often wont to do, and utter their dissatisfaction with it publicly. By such a course of conduct they believed the Master lowered Himself, inasmuch as He showed to the worst part of the nation an undeserved honor, and at the same time injured the Pharisees, who previously had, indeed, now and then, allowed Him the distinction of being received at their table, but who now would have to be ashamed of such a guest.

Luke 15:3. And He spake this parable.—When we consider that the chief parable, Luke 15:11-32, is introduced only by a simple εἶπεν δέ, and that the two examples from daily life, Luke 15:3-7 and Luke 15:8-10, bear less than the narrative of the Prodigal Son the character of a thoroughly elaborated parable, we are then disposed to assume that Luke 15:3-10 constitute only the introduction to the actual parable, παραβολή, which is announced in Luke 15:3, but not begun until Luke 15:11. On the other hand, however, it is not to be denied that Luke uses the word παραβολή in a wider sense also, and that to designate not only an invented narrative, but also a parabolic expression, or an example from daily life; see, e. g., Luke 4:23; Luke 5:36; Luke 6:39; Luke 14:7-11. It will therefore probably be simplest to assume that the παραβολή announced in Luke 15:3 is actually uttered, Luke 15:4-7; that the Saviour immediately after that expresses the same thought, Luke 15:8-10, in a second παραβολή, and finally, Luke 15:11, after a brief interval, takes up the word again in order once more to present this cardinal truth in more perfect parabolic form.

Luke 15:4. What man of you.—From this commencement, as also from Luke 15:8, it immediately appears that the Saviour appeals to that universal human feeling which impels, as well the man as the woman, to seek what is lost, and to rejoice with others over what is found again. With this He introduces the first of the three parables contained in this chapter—that of the Lost Sheep. It cannot well be doubted that this triplet belongs together, and that we have, therefore, here no chrestomathic combination of parabolic discourses of the Saviour, but a well-connected didactic deliverance, which has as its purpose to express the same main thought in different ways. As to the question whether the first of the here-given parables and that communicated by Matthew, Luke 18:12-14, are one and the same, see Lange, ad loc. We do not know what there could be against the opinion that the Saviour may have repeatedly availed Himself of the same image, once for the instruction of His Apostles, another time for the shaming of His enemies. The two parables are different: 1. In form. In Matthew the ninety-nine remain on the mountains; in Luke, in the wilderness. Luke 15:5-7 also is very different from the parallel passage in Matthew, and serves as a proof that Luke communicates the more elaborated and later developed—Matthew, on the other hand, the originally simpler, form of the parable. 2. In purpose and meaning. With Luke it is God’s infinite love for yet lost sinners; but with Matthew, Christ’s labor of grace on wandering believers, that is the main thing. According to the connection then, the purpose of the discourse is a different one in Matthew and Luke. Besides this, the image itself is so natural, so taken from life, that it cannot surprise us to learn that even in later Rabbins an analogon of this parable is found. See Sepp, ii. p. 169.

Having a hundred sheep.—Ἐκατόν not only used as a round number, but also to bring into view the comparative smallness of the loss in opposition to what yet remains to Him. In the most striking way the Saviour now portrays the faithful love that seeks the lost, so that even on account of the freshness of the portraiture, this parable belongs, with very good right, in the Gospel of Luke. The Good Shepherd at once leaves the ninety-nine ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, the accustomed pasturing-place of the sheep, and leaves them for the moment with entire unconcern as to the great danger to which he exposes the majority. He goes after the lost one (ἐπί), with a definite intention to fetch it back. Not speedily does he give up his efforts. His love is therefore a persevering and continually renewed effort for the deliverance of the lost one; and when it is finally again within His reach, he does not chase the wearied sheep unmercifully back, nor commit it even to the most trusted of his hirelings, but lays it on his own shoulders (ἑαυτοῦ). He bears it joyfully home, and now calls as well his neighbors as also his more distant friends together. Having heard of his loss, the well-known lost sheep, to τὸ�, they must now also share his joy, which even exceeds his thankfulness for the undisturbed possession of that which is not lost.

Luke 15:7. Likewise joy shall be in Heaven.—Here as yet quite general. Afterwards, Luke 15:10, with more special mention of the angels. It is noticeable how here the Saviour designates the joy in Heaven as something yet future (ἔσται), while He afterwards, Luke 15:10, speaks of it as of something already actually beginning (γίνεται). We can scarcely avoid the thought that here the prospect of that joy hovered before His soul which He, the Good Shepherd, was especially to taste when He, after finishing His conflict, should return into the celestial mansion of His Father, and should taste the joy prepared for Him. John 14:2; Hebrews 12:2.

More than over ninety and nine.—The question whom we have now to understand by these δίκαιοι, has been at all times differently answered Luther, Spener, Bengel, interpret it of those already become righteous through faith, since they have already repented, and stand in a state of grace with God, such as Manasseh, a. o.—De Wette: The actually righteous, that is, more righteous than publicans, and the like.—Meyer: δίκαιοι characterized from the legal point of view, not from that of inward ethical character.—Grotius: Only an anthropopathic element of the picture, quia insperata et prope desperata magis nos afficiunt. According to our opinion, passages like Matthew 9:13; Luke 18:14, are particularly to be brought into the comparison. If we consider, moreover, that the hearers of the Saviour consisted partially of Pharisees, and in what way these had, a little before, manifested their inward spite (Luke 15:12), we can then no longer doubt that we have to understand fancied righteous ones of a legal type, who, however, if one applied a higher standard, must appear yet more sinful than others. Comp. Matthew 21:31-32. We know not what should hinder us here also, as often already, to assume a holy irony in the words of the Saviour, nor why He should only in the third parable have indirectly attacked the Pharisaical pride of virtue. The comparison of the greater joy over one, with that over the ninety-nine, over whom, strictly speaking, there can be no joy at all, is then to be taken just as the declaration Luke 18:14.

Luke 15:8. Either what woman.—In order to indicate that not the material worth of what is lost, in itself, but the worth which it has in the eyes of the possessor, is the cause of the carefulness of the love which seeks it, the Saviour takes a second example from daily life, but not now from something so valuable as a sheep, but from a δραχμή, in itself rather insignificant. For the woman, however, this loss is of great importance, since her whole treasure consists of ten such drachmæ.—Δραχμή, the common Greek coin which, at that time, was in circulation among the Jews also. The Attic drachma was = ¼ stater, [17.6 cents]; the Alexandrian twice as heavy. It appears that we have here to understand the first, which, not seldom even somewhat lighter, was in circulation at the time of the Saviour. The ten drachmae are then about equal to $1 76.1 See Winer, in voce.

Doth not light a candle.—In the most practical manner the labor of the woman to come again in possession of the lost drachma is now sketched after the life. It is as though one saw the dust of the broom flying around in sweeping, until she succeeds in discovering in a dark corner the lost piece, and immediately picks it up. The coin, which was originally stamped with the image of the Emperor, but had been thrown into the dust and become almost unrecognizable, is the faithful image of the sinner. “Sum nummus Dei, thesauro aberravi, miserere mei.” Augustine. As to the rest, the lighting of the lamp, the sweeping, and the seeking, belong, in our eyes, so entirely to the pictorial form of the representation, that it appears to us almost arbitrary to see therein (Stier) the indication of the threefold activity of the preacher, the eldership, and the whole Church for the saving of the lost one. “If we would attribute to every single word a deeper significance than appears, we should not seldom incur the danger of bringing much into the Scripture which is not at all contained in it; for as the artist, for the beautifying of his picture, does much that is not indispensably necessary, so has Christ also spoken many words which stand to the main matter which is to be imaged forth by the figure in only a remote, often, indeed, in no relation at all.” Zimmermann.

Luke 15:10. Likewise … there is joy, γίνεται.—Here the Saviour speaks not comparatively, but absolutely; not only in general of joy in Heaven, but ἐνώπιον τῶν�. τ. Θ. It is, however, not entirely correct, if this word is used as a direct proof of the opinion that the angels rejoice over the conversion of a sinner, for the Saviour is not speaking directly of the gaudium angelorum, but coram angelis. As the Shepherd and the Woman rejoiced before and with their friends, so does God rejoice before the eyes of the angels over the conversion of the sinner; but as the friends and neighbors rejoice with the Woman and the Shepherd, so can we also conceive the angels as taking part in this Divine joy. But if it is God, in the whole fulness of His being, who is represented, it is then inadmissible to understand it exclusively, either of the Holy Ghost (Stier, Bengel), or of the Church of the Lord (Luther, Lisco). The applicability of the parable to both is willingly acknowleged by us, but that the Saviour’s intention was here to refer to the munus, either of the spiritus sancti, or of the ecclesiœ, peccatores quœrentis, can hardly be proved. Equally rash does it appear when Bengel, in the friends and neighbors of the Shepherd and of the Woman, finds an intimation of the different ranks and classes of the angels, vel domi, vel foris agentes.


1. Not without reason does the eye rest with continually new interest on the picture: Jesus among the publicans and sinners. It is the Gospel within the Gospel, like John 3:16; Romans 1:17, and some other passages. This of itself is remarkable, that the greatest sinners feel themselves drawn, as it were, with a secret attraction to Jesus; what an entirely unique impression must His personality have produced upon these troubled and smitten hearts! Thus does He reveal Himself at the same time as the Prince of Peace, of whom Psalms 72:12-14, and so many other passages of the prophetic Scriptures, speak; and what the Pharisees impute to Him as a trespass, becomes for faith an occasion the rather for praise and thanks. The feast which He keeps with publicans is a striking symbol of the feast in the kingdom of God, Luke 14:21-23, and at the same time the happy prophecy of the heavenly feast which He will hereafter share with His redeemed in the fulness of bliss.

2. The parable of the Good Shepherd sets forth for us, in a striking manner, the image of the pastoral faithfulness of God’s searching for the sinner. Israel had already been compared, even under the Old Testament, to a strayed sheep, Isaiah 53:6; Ezekiel 34:5; Psalms 119:176, etc., and Jehovah also was, even from ancient time, represented under the amiable figure of a shepherd, Ezekiel 34:0, and Psalms 23:0; Isaiah 40:11; as in Homer also, the best kings are designated as ποιμένες λαῶν. But inasmuch as this pastoral faithfulness of God reveals itself most admirably in the redeeming activity of Christ (comp. John 10:0), we may at the same time, in the first parable, see an image of the earthly activity and of the heavenly joy of the loving Son of Man. But certainly it is going too far to find even the atoning death of the Saviour (Melanchthon) indicated in the shepherd with his sheep on his shoulder: “Ovem inventam ponit in humeros suos, i. e., nostrum, onus transfert in se ipsum, fit victima pro nobis.” Such an allusion would then at least have been as yet understood by no one of the hearers of our Lord, and yet they had no farther to look than upon Him in order to convince themselves that the Good Shepherd in the parable was no ideal, but a reality; and surprised we cannot be that even the most ancient Christian art laid hold of this symbol with visible affection. See the examples, e.g., in Augusti’s Beiträge zur christlichen Kunstgeschichte und Liturgik, ii. Even the present moment proved how much the Saviour had at heart the seeking of the lost. “Ideo Jesus Christus secutus est peccatores usque ad victum quotidianum, usque ad mensam, ubi maxime peccatur.” Bengel.

3. What the Saviour relates of the Woman and the Shepherd was at the same time an admirable model of pastoral prudence and Halieutics for His first apostles. Only when they should care for the wandering and lost with so much pleasure and love would they be fitted for the work of their calling. That they did not forget the teaching appears, among other things, from the beautiful narrative of the aged John and the young man Theagenes, which Clemens Alexandrinus communicates to us in his Quis Dives Salvetur, cap. 42,—the best practical commentary on the parable of the Good Shepherd.

4. These two parables, as in particular the third, that of the Prodigal Son, are a palpable proof of the falsity of a one-sided fatalistic deterministic view of the world, according to which the lost coin and the lost sheep must absolutely be found again, and therefore we can scarcely speak of any trouble in seeking, or of a joy in finding.
5. What the Saviour declares of the joy in heaven over that which is found again on earth, deserves to be named one of the most striking revelations of the mysteries of the life to come. To the Saviour the angel-world is more than a poetic dream—more than an æsthetic form; it is to Him a community of self-conscious, rational, and holy beings. These are acquainted with that which goes on in the moral world on earth; they take lively interest in the saving of the sinner; they rejoice as often as in this respect the work of love succeeds: this joy springs from their knowing how, even through the conversion of one sinner, the honor of God is exalted, the kingdom of Christ is advanced, the blessedness of mankind is increased, the future reunion of heaven and earth is brought nearer. The Saviour in this leaves to our faith the reckoning how high their joy, since the foundation of the kingdom of God on earth must have already risen, and what a height it shall hereafter reach when all converted sinners shall have been fully prepared and sanctified. Comp. Eph 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12; and the whole imagery of the Apocalypse.

6. Were anything more necessary for the removal of any doubt in so glorious a revelation, it would be the remembrance that, according to this parable, the joy over the finding of the lost is, in God and His angels, quite as natural as in the Woman and the Shepherd. Even in an extra-ecclesiastical sphere, the striking character of this thought has been already recognized and uttered with emphasis, e.g., by Goethe, when he in the ballad, The God and the Bayadere, says:

“Es freut sich die Gottheit der reuigen Sünder,
Unsterbliche heben verlorene Kinder
Mit feurigen Armen zum Himmel emper.”

[The Godhead rejoices over repentant sinners; the immortals raise lost children with fiery arms upward to heaven.]
7. See below on the following parable.


How much attractiveness Jesus has for publicans and sinners. In Him they see, 1. The highest ideal of mankind realized; 2. the highest revelation of the Godhead manifested.—Jesus, even as Friend of the publicans and sinners, is sent for the fall of some and the rising of others.—The joyful message of salvation proclaimed by the blasphemers of the Saviour. See further the ideas in Luke 7:34.

The Good Shepherd, the image of the love of God in Christ for sinners: 1. Its unexampled compassion; 2. its persevering patience; 3. its forbearing tenderness; 4. its blessed joy.—“Till he find it,” the highest goal of Divine love: 1. How much is requisite before it is reached; 2. how heartfelt its joy when it is reached.—Rejoice with them that do rejoice!—Human feeling the best pledge of the riches of the Divine compassion.—The sinner’s salvation, the angels’ joy.—The worth of a single soul.—Grounds for the joy of heaven when the lost sheep is found.—The angels rejoice then, 1. For God’s sake; 2. for Jesus’ sake; 3. for the sinner’s sake; 4. for their own sake.—The joy of the angels on its practical side: the Saviour’s declaration hereupon contains, 1. A striking revelation of the blessed love in heaven; 2. a powerfully rousing voice to conversion; 3. a strong impulse to the work of seeking love; 4. a ground for quickening the longing of the Christian for the life in heaven.—How much the greatest unrighteousness has, on the platform of the Gospel, the advantage above self-righteousness.—The Lost Coin: 1. What the loss of it has to surprise us; it is lost, a. out of a well-guarded treasure, b. lost in the house, c. lost, almost without hope of finding again; 2. What this loss has to quicken us. It impels a. to kindle a light, b. to sweep, c. to seek till it is found.—The Lost Coin the striking image of the sinner: 1. Its original brilliancy; 2. its present deterioration; 3. its worth when it shall hereafter be found again.—The soul of the sinner the object of the greatest sorrow, labor, and joy: 1. No loss so great as when the soul is lost; 2. no trouble too great if only the soul is preserved; but 3. no joy so blessed as when the soul is saved.—The human heart needs the sympathy of others in its own joy.—No sinner so mean but that he may become an object of the joy in heaven.—Jesus’ love of sinners: 1. The objects (Luke 15:1); 2. the adversaries (Luke 15:2); 3. the ground (Luke 15:3-9); 4. the preciousness of the same (Luke 15:7-10).

Starke:—Quesnel:—The main thing that we have to do in this life is to draw near to Jesus.—The company of bad people one does well to avoid, yet he must not wholly withdraw himself from them.—Hypocrites are harder to convert than open sinners.—What a blessing it is for an evangelical preacher when even the greatest sinners like to hear him.—Osiander:—The world puts the worst interpretation on everything in faithful preachers.—Christ’s whole discharge of His office is a good summary of pastoral theology;—let us therein diligently study and imitate it.—Brentius:—Returning sinners are to be received with much love and friendship, and all previous evil of theirs to be thrown into forgetfulness.—Philemon Luke 15:10; Ezekiel 34:16.—Quesnel:—The church triumphant and the church militant are one heart and one soul.—Nova Bibl. Tub.:—A lost sinner cannot be found again so easily but that there needs a heavy besom of law and discipline thereto.—Peccatorum lachrymœ sunt angelorum deliciœ.

Heubner:—The living intercourse of a pastor with his church is more than literary activity, at which the world is agape.—The beginning of conversion is: to hear Christ’s word.—The holier thou art, so much the milder art thou too.—Even yet the world delights to mock at the conversion of the sinner.—Everywhere does Jesus show the inconsistent self-contradictions of man in earthly and in spiritual things.—As the shepherd knows his sheep and tells them, so does God His children.—God waits not till the lost one returns of himself, He seeks him.—Never has God shown Himself as love more than when He redeemed man.—“Nothing weighs too heavy for love; he is willing to take all costs who for God’s sake loves souls, and knows what Christ has done for them.”—Quesnel:—The business of men in the search of temporal, stands in contrast with their negligence in the search of spiritual, things.—By the amendment of a single sinner others again may be saved.

On the Pericope:—Heubner:—Christian care for the deliverance of lost souls.—Lisco:—How important to Jesus the saving of every sinner is.—The saving love of the Christian a copy of the pastoral faithfulness of Christ: 1. A copy which is like the model; 2. but which never equals the model.—Palmer:—1. Jesus receives sinners when they come to Him; 2. Jesus seeks sinners even before they come to Him.—Fuchs:—The different hearts of those who are mentioned in this Gospel: 1. The repentant heart of the sinners; 2. the envious heart of they Pharisees; 3. the loving heart of the Lord.—Ahlfeld:—The Son of man comes to seek what is lost:1. His toil; 2. His success; 3. His joy.—Reichhelm:—Seeking love: 1. Whom it seeks; 2. how; 3. why it seeks.—Souchon:—Jesus will make the righteous sinners, the sinners righteous.—Von Kapff:—The joy over a sinner that repents: 1. The joy of the repentant sinner himself; 2. the joy of the saints; and 3. the joy of God over him.—W. Thiess:—Jesus receives sinners: this word Isaiah 1:0. The one centre of the Bible; 2. the true centre of Christian preaching; 3. the chiefest jewel in life.—Rautenberg:—Who is found? 1. Whoever is drawn back from wandering; 2. carried by Christ; 3. and brought into the fellowship of His people.—Höpfner:—How great is the compassion of the Lord! 1. He seeks the lost; 2. brings again the straying; 3. binds up the wounded; 4. tends the weak; 5. guards what is strong. (Numbers 3:5 are, however, hardly to be deduced from the text.)—Burk:—The blessed experience in spiritual things: 1. I am lost; 2. God seeks me; 3. God has found me.

The whole Pericope is, either as a whole or in part, admirably fitted to be the foundation of a communion sermon.


[1][Of course then worth at least ten times its present value.—C. C. S.]

Verses 11-32

3. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

11And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks 17[pods] that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him [therefrom]. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish [am perishing here2] with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before 19thee, And [for “And” read “I”3] am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had [or, was moved with] compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and Amos 4:0 no more worthy to be called thy Song of Solomon 2:0; Song of Solomon 2:02But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe [a robe, the best5], and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

25Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore [and] came his father out, and entreated him. 29And he answering said to his6 father, Lo, these many years do I serve [so many years have I served] thee, neither transgressed I [have I transgressed] at any time thy commandment; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever 32with me, and all that I have is thine. It [But it] was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.


Luke 15:11. A certain man.—The simple, unpretentious beginning of the most beautiful of all the parables, is even in and of itself a beauty. The man is here the image of God; the Son anthropomorphizes the Father in a very unique manner. The two sons denote not exactly the Jews and the Heathen, (Augustine, Bede, and the Tübingen school), nor yet angels and men (Herberger), but the mass of men, as divided at this moment before the Saviour, into Publicans and Pharisees. Strictly speaking, both the sons here sketched are lost,—the one through the unrighteousness that degrades him, the other through the self-righteousness which blinds him.

Luke 15:12. The younger.—The most light-minded, and as such the most easily led astray. The goods which come to him only after the death of the father, he wishes to possess already in his father’s lifetime, in order to be entirely free and his own master.—Τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος, somewhat singular, but yet a genuinely Greek expression (see Grotius), to indicate what he of right can demand as his property out of his father’s possessions.—And he divided unto them, αὐτυῖς.—Therefore not only to the younger, but also to the elder, with the distinction however that the younger now received in hand his own portion, while the elder could regard his as his property, although the father yet administered it, and he still remained as the child in his father’s house.

Luke 15:13. Gathered together.—It very soon appears what the youngest one really meant to do. The false craving for freedom, which the father does not suppress by violence, drives him to seek his fortune abroad. All that he has received he gathers together, partly, probably, in natura (De Wette), and journeys as far as possible away. The far-distant land, an image of the sinner’s deep apostasy from God. The beauty of the parable is heightened still more by this fact, that with forbearing tenderness, the depth of his degradation is not depicted in many strokes, but afterwards, Luke 15:30, is for the first time learned somewhat more in detail from the mouth of the elder son. His mode of life is plainly enough characterized, as ἀσώτως, a word which is found only here, but which is sufficiently explained by the use of the substantive, Ephesians 5:18; Titus 1:6; 1 Peter 4:4. Then does the inward separation from the father become quite as great as the outward was. “Qui se a Christo separat, exul est patriœ, civis est mundi.” Ambrosius.

Luke 15:14. And when … a mighty famine.—The natural consequences of such a mode of life are only hastened by the famine that arises (ἰσχυρὰ λιμός, here feminine according to the Doric dialect and the latter usage; Luke 4:25, it still appears as masculine, and the reading of the Recepta, ἰσχυρός, is only an emendation, according to the customary usage). The external want which he now begins to suffer, becomes a transition to the turning-point of his inner life. But he does not yet come to this turning-point without a last desperate endeavor to remedy his own distress from his own means.

Luke 15:15. Joined himself, ἐκολλήθη, attached himself, as it were, to him by force, that he might assist him in his necessity. He has therefore remained a stranger in the land in which he has consumed all. “Quem reditus ad frugem manet, is sœpe etiam in medio errore suo quiddam a propriis mundi civibus distinctum retinet.” Bengel. But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. The citizen of the strange land sends him (ἔπεμψεν, change of the subject of discourse) to his fields, (ἀγρούς in the plural), in order there to keep swine, where he should by no means lack the necessary sustenance: perhaps an intentional insult which the rich heathen put upon the suffering, necessitous Jew, but certainly a striking image of the inconceivable wretchedness into which sin drags man down. And yet this very deep leads up to the height, and among the χοίροις it will soon fare better with the unhappy man than with the πόρναις.

Luke 15:16. Have filled his belly.—An uncomely expression in itself, but entirely agreeable to the uncomeliness of the fact, and so far an additional beauty of the parable. Somewhat of (ἀπό) the swine’s fodder is now his highest desire, without however his being able even to obtain a part of that.—With the pods, κεράτια, a wild fruit, found in Syria and Egypt, which was used for swine’s fodder. Perhaps the sweetish fruit of the Caratonia siliqua (Linnæus), which, on account of the great abundance of them, was of the least possible value, and although they tasted sweet were not wholesome. “The hull of the marrowy pod, one foot in length (κεράτια), was thrown to the swine; but the kernel (Gerah, grain) passed for the smallest weight among the Hebrews.”—And no one gave unto him (therefrom).—“Either because the feeding of the swine was committed to others than him that pastured them, or because he saw the access to the swine-trough closed to him; perhaps because the steward under whom he served was avaricious and malicious.” De Wette. At all events, the only thing that could have reconciled him to his degrading employment, the satisfaction of his raging hunger, he saw still withheld from him in this way.

Luke 15:17. And when he came to himself.—An admirable expression for the inward change in the heart of the man who had been hitherto beside himself, but now awakes from the dream. Εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθών, Luther: da schlug er in sich. The sinner must first return unto himself, if he will be truly converted to God. He first compares his external condition with that of the more highly privileged. The μίσθιοι have bread, and indeed περισσεύουσιν ἄρτων. He, the son of the family, has not even κεράτια. By the μίσθιοι, we have to understand laborers that are engaged from day to day. Among the παῖδες. Luke 15:26, we have to understand the meanest of the permanent domestic servants, who stand without, without taking part in the feast; among the δοῦλοι, Luke 15:22, on the other hand, servants of higher rank, overseers of farms, vineyards, and the like, who personally took part in the joy of the feast. It appears therefore, that the Prodigal Son actually envies the good fortune of those who stood on the last step. Now, when the pride of his heart is broken, no false shame holds him longer back from considering his condition in its true light.

Luke 15:18. I will arise.—Not precisely the primordia pœnitentiæ (Bengel), for these are already indicated in the εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἐλθών, but the transition from the inward to the now also outward change. In this especially is shown the sincerity of his repentance, that it is joined with the not yet extinguished trust in the love of his father, that he seeks not a single excuse, and without delay arises to carry out the resolution taken.—Against heaven and before thee; ἐνώπιον σοῦ, that is, “in relation to thee.” Since however this relation is ordained by heaven (general indication of the dwelling-place of the higher spiritual world), he feels at the same time how this holy, heavenly world is injured by the fact, that he on earth has infringed in such a way upon the inalienable rights of his father. It is ever a token of the sincerity of repentance, when one views even the sins committed against others, as transgressions against the Heavenly Father.—Make me as one.—He wishes not only tractari tanquam mercenarius, but to be accounted on a level with such in every respect; on ὡς an emphasis is to be laid. He wishes that there may be no distinction between him and the least of the day-laborers, and promises thereby that he will diligently serve, and be obedient as a day-laborer. That he however hopes in this way once more to deserve the name of a son, he does not say a word of, and it is therefore perhaps much too refined (Stier) to remark in this entreaty a trace of self-righteousness. He wishes simply to be released at any price from his wretched condition, and with deeds to prove the sincerity of his confession of sin.

Luke 15:20. But when … his father saw him.—The father is represented as daily expecting the return of the strayed one, with longing desire; he is moved with compassion for the unfortunate one, at the view of the wretched garment, and the pitiable condition in which he sees him coming at a distance. The kiss which he impresses on his lips, comp. Genesis 33:4; Matthew 26:48, is the token of the prevenient love which is shown even before the confession of sin, which the father reads in the heart of the returned son, has had time to pass over his lips. The conclusion of the previously meditated address: “Make me,” &c., is in fact kept back “by the demeanor of fatherly love; the agitated son cannot bring these words out in view of such paternal love; a psychologically tender and delicate representation.” Meyer.

Luke 15:22. But the father.—Ταχέως may certainly be added in though, even though it should not be inserted in the text.—See notes on the Greek text.—The father assures the son of his forgiveness, not by replying to his address, but by giving in his presence a definite command to the servants standing by. First, there must a garment, and that the best (see notes on the text), be brought out; the father cannot look on these hateful beggar’s rags. Thus is he again brought into his former position of honor; for the Talar was the long and white upper garment of the principal Jews, see Mark 12:38. The seal-ring and the shoes are to show that he was recognized as a free man (slaves went commonly barefoot). The (τό) fatted calf, which stands in the stall already prepared for slaughter, can be destined for no more joyful occasion than this. Without delay must all the members of the family assemble at the feast-table, and it is as if now the inventiveness of love exhausted itself to prove to the returned wanderer how welcome he is to the happy father’s heart. The ground for all this is indicated in the assurance: For this my son, &c. Death and life is in the usage of the Scripture the designation of sin and conversion, see Ephesians 2:1; 1 Timothy 5:6, and other passages. The father means not only that the son has been dead for him (Paulus, De Wette), but that he in himself has risen in a moral respect from the condition of death to a new and higher life. What he has been and now is in the view of the father—once lost, now found,—is expressed in the second antithesis. The parallelism of the expression is therefore not to be taken tautologically.

Luke 15:24. And they began to be merry.—Of course at the feast, although, in itself, εὐφραίνεσθαι is not to be taken in the sense of epulari (Kuinoel). The parable has here reached the point which is designated in the first parable in Luke 15:7, and in the second in Luke 15:10; for the joy in the father’s house corresponds perfectly to that in heaven and before the angels of God. Not impossible is it, however, that it was especially this third intimation of the same chief thought, which awakened a visible displeasure among the Pharisaic hearers, and that the Saviour therefore felt impelled so much the more to set forth yet more in detail, in the person of the second son, an intimation already given, Luke 15:7, by portraying his unloving selfishness. Here also we owe to human opposition and malice one of the most beautiful pages of the Gospel.

Luke 15:25. His elder son.—The less the Pharisees could recognize in the description of the younger son their own image, so much the more must their conscience hold up before them a mirror in the image of the eldest son. Even at the very beginning, the vividness and beauty of the representation is heightened by the fact, that the eldest son at the return of the youngest brother is not in the house, but has spent the day in hard, self-chosen, slavish service, and now first returns home at even-time, when the feast was already in progress.—Music and dancing.—Without the article. As to the customariness of this at the feasts of the ancients, comp. Matthew 14:6. Even this fact, that such a thing had taken place in the dwelling entirely without his knowledge, secretly angers him, and with an astonishment which betrays displeasure, he calls one of the servants to him.

Luke 15:27. Thy brother is come.—Entirely without reason have some found (Berl. Bibl.) in the answer of the servant something secretly malicious. He gives to the returned son, after the example of his master, the rank befitting him & he does not relate in what condition the brother had come home, but only that he had returned in good health.—The slave speaks of ὐγιαίνειν undoubtedly in the physical sense, as the father had before spoken of death and life in the moral sense; and at the same time mentions the fatted calf, which he had perhaps slaughtered with his own hand, and which was for him, as a servant, very likely the chief matter. In so good-natured an answer there lies nothing at all, in and of itself, which could have given the elder brother just ground for bitterness. It is rather the state of the case itself that is sufficient (in his temper of mind) to fill him with anger. This last stroke of the pencil also proves satisfactorily the unreasonableness of the singular interpretation, that by the elder brother we are to understand unfallen angels.

Luke 15:28. His father … entreated him, παρεκάλει. Luther: Begged him. Kuinoel: Called him to him. Meyer: Summoned him to come in. Only the last is somewhat too strong, since then the refusal of the son would have been, in contradiction to his own declaration, Luke 15:29, a direct disobedience. We prefer explaining it in the sense that the father with soft words sought to move him to judge otherwise, and then also to act otherwise, comp. Acts 16:39. So much the more strikingly does the not-to-be wearied and long-suffering love of the father, who for his sake even leaves for a moment the feast of joy, contrast with the refractory and selfish disposition of the elder son.

Luke 15:29. These many years.—He addresses the father, yet the youngest son’s tender πάτερ does not pass his lips. On the other hand, he brings up to him his external obedience and service for reward, with as little modesty as possible. Reward for it he has, according to his own opinion, never yet received, and indeed has not yet enjoyed the only true reward in his heart. It is noticeable (see the notes on the text) that his highest wish appears to have concentrated itself in a kid, ἐρίφιον. (the he-goat, the image of lewdness) [There is not the slightest reason to suppose that any such reference is implied in ἐρίφιον.—C. C. S.], while he looks down with contempt upon the immoral conduct of his brother. Ὁ υΐός σου οὗτος. He visibly avoids giving him the brother’s name, which, however, the father does, Luke 15:32, but he tears the veil which was spread over his sinful life. For him the paternal love also concentrates itself in the fatted calf, that had far higher value than the vainly wished for ἐρίφιον.

Luke 15:31. Son, thou art.—Although self-righteousness has already condemned itself by its own words, it is now even to redundance rebuked by the mild answer of the father. With an affectionate τέκνον, he seeks once again to bring him to a kinder disposition, and show him that his uninterrupted dwelling with his father and his prospect of the whole paternal inheritance, Luke 15:12, should have raised him above so unloving a judgment. An entirely different disposition was now the natural one, and required by the course of events. To make merry and be glad was what one must now do, instead of bringing bitter imputations. The father does not say definitely that the eldest son also should now do this. The σέ is now omitted; but he speaks in general of the ethical necessity that it now must be just thus, and not otherwise. In no event, therefore, will the feast of joy be for his sake interrupted, but he himself must judge whether he, after the explanation received, will yet longer stand without in displeasure. The father has the last word, and it is as if the Saviour asked therewith His Pharisaical listeners: Decide yourselves how the parable shall end; will you still refuse to take part in the joy of heaven over the conversion of sinners?

In relation to the parable as a whole, we must remark, in addition, that it belongs perfectly in the Pauline Gospel of Luke. “The Pauline representation of the incapacity of the νόμος to confer the true δικαιοσύνη, and of the necessity of another way of salvation through the πίστις and χάρις, constitutes the best commentary on these parables.” Olshausen. But in a pitiable way has the Paulinistic and liberal character of this teaching of the Saviour been misused by the Tübingen school, to the support of their understanding of original Christianity, and of the peculiarity of the third Gospel. Ritzschl (formerly), Zeller, Schwegler, nor least, Von Baur, have, with different modifications, insisted on finding here a symbolical representation of the distinct relation in which Jews and Gentiles stood to the Messianic kingdom. The Prodigal Son then represents heathenism in its degeneracy, return, and restoration; the eldest son, on the other hand, represents the proud and hostile disposition of the Jewish Christians against these later-called and highly privileged. “Who does not here see the behavior of the Jewish Christians towards the Gentile Christians and the Pauline Christianity which we know from the Epistle to the Romans?” It is impossible to read this whole construction of the oldest church history without doing justice to the extra ordinary talent and the brilliant gift of combination of which it is the undeniable fruit. But even the noblest building must fall in ruin when it lacks the firm foundation. The latter is here the case, and it has, therefore, been justly remarked that Hilgenfeld and others confound the applicability of the parable to their darling theme, with its original occasion and intention. That a noticeable agreement exists between the Jewish Christians and the eldest son, between the Gentile Christians and the youngest, is plain, and should be willingly conceded; but that the Saviour’s design was to direct attention to this is in direct conflict with Luke 15:1-2; Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10. With the same right we might be able to find the antitype of the two sons, in the Catholic and in the Evangelical Church in their mutual relations. As to the rest, we already find a trace of the Tübingen idea in Vitringa and others.


1. There is no parable of the Saviour whose beauty and high value has been so generally and openly acknowledged as that of the Prodigal Son. Nothing would be easier than to collect a Chrestomathy of enthusiastic eulogies on this parable, even from rationalists and unbelievers. “In the style of Lavater, whoever loves this style might speak long and much; might exclaim and wonder: How simple and how deep, how unforgettably retainable in its words, unfathomable and inexhaustible in its sense; related with what dramatic life, this parable of the Saviour, the crown and pearl of all His parables, is!” Stier. But mindful that the Divine, least of anything, needs our human praise, we will rather direct the eye to that which is here portrayed, and to the somewhat more particular consideration of the great antithesis of Sin and Grace, which appears in this so popular and yet so profound instruction.
2. Sin appears here before us not only in one but in a twofold form, as it develops itself not only in the widely wandering but also in the self-righteous man, who remains outwardly within the limits of obedience required by God. Against every theory which explains sin from the metaphysical imperfection of human nature, or interprets the fall as a kind of moral progress (Schiller), this parable utters the sentence of condemnation.

3. The essence of sin presents itself to us in the younger son as Self-seeking. This awakens in him discontent with the good that he enjoys in the house of his father, impels him to seek independent freedom, sensual enjoyment and honor, and makes him a wretched slave of his unfettered, passions. From the root of self-seeking grow two different branches, the sins of sensuality on the one hand and those of pride on the other. The former we see coming to mournful development principally in the younger, the latter in the elder, son. Sensuality degrades man, blinds him and leads him finally to the brink of the abyss, but God is far from abridging the sinner’s use of his freedom; He permits him, on the other hand, to walk his own ways, and makes even the bitter fruits of evil serviceable to his healing and recovery. Through false craving for freedom the Prodigal Son falls into unhappy wandering; through wandering into wretched slavery; through slavery into an unspeakable depth of misery.

4. Quite otherwise does moral corruption reveal itself in the elder son. Outwardly he remains in the house of his father and serves him, yet he is guided only by a mechanical obedience, to which the impelling power of love is wanting. He seeks his reward not in his father’s recognition, but in the kid for which he longs and for which he vainly hopes. He vaunts in his vain pride of his fancied fulfilment of duty, although to this there was lacking the heart, and with this everything, and betrays his inner character by his anger at the gracious reception of his deeply-fallen brother. He believes himself, in his blindness, never to have transgressed a commandment, and yet forgets precisely that which is weightiest in the law, mercy and love. Neither his father nor his brother does he love, and yet believes that he may demand all for himself. How self-righteousness stands related to God and mankind is here drawn from life. On the other side, the Saviour shows also how God demeans Himself towards such fools and blind. He endures them in His long-suffering; He addresses them kindly; He excludes them not at once from the enjoyment of His fatherly favor, but yet lets them feel that they are on the way to exclude themselves therefrom, and that if they persist in their error, the joy of heaven over the conversion of the lost sinner can, on their account, be by no means disturbed or postponed.

5. The nature of the conversion of which no one repents, is in the image of the younger son sketched for all following ages. Its beginning is to be found where the sinner comes to himself, and becomes acquainted, not only with his deep wretchedness, but, above all, with his inexcusable guilt. The consciousness of guilt is, according to this parable, by no means a subjective illusion of the sinner, but the expression of an everlasting truth of the voice of God which is heard in the conscience, and which the father in no wise contradicts, which he, on the other hand, answers with the overwhelming revelation of his forgiving love. The knowledge of the nature of sin—that it is not a weakness but an infinite debt—brings about an inward sorrow, 2 Corinthians 7:10; this sorrow impels to the confession of sin; this confession is joined with longing after immediate return. It is precisely in this that the nature of true repentance is here revealed; that it joins the deepest humility with not yet extinguished faith in the love of the Father; that the good resolution, how much soever it may cost, is without delay put into execution, and that the son will rather, if it is possible, take the last place in the house of his Father than even for a moment longer look around for a better lot outside of the Father’s house. With undoubted justice, it is true, the remark could be made that in this parable it is especially “human activity in the work of conversion that is portrayed.” (Olshausen.) However, it is also true, on the other side, that “the Divine activity also is not lacking in this parable.” Lange.

6. The grace of God for the Prodigal Son comes in this parable in its compassionate and all-restoring side before our eyes. The father does not this time seek for the lost son as the shepherd had sought for the sheep and the woman for the coin. For neither is it here an irrational being but a rational man, who must be brought himself to choose the way of conversion. Mediately the father has labored for his delivery, for while he has permitted him to bear all the consequences of the evil committed, he has, moreover, patiently waited and kept his house and heart open to him. Scarcely does the son take the first step homeward, when the father regards him with compassionate look, goes kindly towards him (prevenient grace), and refuses not, it is true, the confession of sin, but remits to him whatever it has of pain and humiliation. Ha not only testifies his joy over the returned wanderer, but he gives it active expression, and not only pardons the wanderer, but restores him again to the full possession and enjoyment of his forfeited filial rights. It is not, however, necessary to see in every feature of the parable, on this point, the intimation of a definite saving truth of the Gospel. Whoever (Olshausen) finds signified in the ring the seal of the Holy Spirit; in the sandals, the being shod as in Ephesians 6:15; in the Talar, the garment of the perfect righteousness of Christ, easily loses out of mind the distinction between parable and allegory—a point of view where nothing could reasonably withhold us from going a step farther, and, with Jerome, Augustine, and Melanchthon, seeing in the fatted calf the image of Christ. For other examples of arbitrary interpretation, see Lisco, ad loc. Here also we are carefully to distinguish between the practical applicability and the historical intention of the parable.

7. It is well known what consequences have been drawn from the fact that in this parable the Prodigal Son is received by the father without the intervention of any mediator. “All dogmatical imaginations of the supralapsarians and infralapsarians, nay, even of the demanders of bloody satisfaction, who have no sense of the heaven-wide distinction between Divine and human righteousness, vanish like oppressive nightmares before this single parable, in which Jesus reveals the heavenly secret of human redemption, not according to a mystical or criminal theory of punishment, but anthropologically, psychologically, and theologically to every pure eye that looks into the law of perfect liberty.” Von Ammon, L. J., iii. p. 50. But, with the same right, one from this parable might have been able to deduce a proof against the biblical Satanology, since, forsooth, the young man is allured and misled by sin alone; or against the doctrine of sanctification, since the parable adds nothing concerning the new life of the grateful son in his father’s house. Quod nimium, nihil probat. Silence is not necessarily contradiction, and it is entirely natural that the Saviour, months before His atoning death, before an audience of Pharisees and publicans, should have left this wholly a mystery. It is well known how little He, especially according to the Synoptical Gospels, spoke of the highest goal of His suffering and death even to His familiar disciples; it belonged to the things which He described, John 16:12, concerning which the Paraclete should afterwards instruct His church. Whoever uses this parable as a weapon against the Pauline doctrine of atonement, acts as foolishly as he who, pointing to the friendly morning light, would prove thereby the uselessness of the full mid-day sun. The demand that the Saviour must in a single parable have described the whole way of salvation, is excessively arbitrary; nor does the Gospel teach anywhere that the Father had to be, by the death of His Son, first moved to be gracious to sinners. “One parable cannot exhaust the whole truth; but in the parable of the Prodigal Son we may say that the Saviour and Mediator is concealed in the kiss which the father gives the son.” Riggenbach.

If we now, in conclusion, direct once again our view to this triad of parables, we find a rich variety, and yet an admirable agreement. The first parable depicts to us the sinner in his pitiable folly: the sheep exchanges voluntarily the green meadow for the barren waste. The second portrays to us the sinner in his wretched self-degradation: the coin falls down upon the earth, and lies, although the stamp is not erased, yet buried under the dust, from which it comes, only after much seeking and sweeping, again to the light of day. The third teaches us to know the sinner especially in his unthankfulness: the free love of the father is requited by the Prodigal Son with the squandering of his inheritance;—the sheep in the wilderness, the coin in the dust, the son at the swine-trough, all show us the image of the sinner’s deep wretchedness. But since that which is lost is a man only in the third parable, it is implied in the nature of the case that only here can a wandering soul’s conversion be placed before us in different gradations and transitions. The Divine love of sinners, on the other hand, is vividly portrayed to us in all three parables, although each time under a somewhat different character. In all it is God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who, even in the Old Testament, is compared with a Shepherd and a Woman, Ezekiel 34:28; Psalms 23:0; Isaiah 40:11), from whom the revelation of this love proceeds. But the shepherd is yet especially the image of seeking love, the woman that of restlessly laboring and careful love, while in the father this love comes before us as a prevenient, compassionate, and all-restoring love. In the representation of the value of what is lost there is an unmistakable climax: first one of a hundred, then one of ten, finally one of two: first a beast, then a coin, finally a man. [But the coin, according to the author’s own showing, is worth much less than a sheep. In the relative proportion of each to the wealth of the possessor, however, there is undoubtedly a climax.—C. C. S.] Even so there is found a beautiful harmony in the representation of the persons who rejoice with the finder: the neighbors who rejoice with the shepherd, the female friends who rejoice with the woman, the servants of the house who rejoice with the father, are necessary figures of the picture, and all represent the angels who take part in the joy of God in the conversion of even one that is lost. In the first and second parable all that the Divine love adventures and effects in order to find the lost is represented as on its own plane entirely natural. But on the other hand again the benignity, the beneficence, the sublimity of the Divine love to sinners strike the eye most strongly in the third, as it is here a man, whom love can adorn with robe and ring and sandals: features which in the two other parables could find no place. While, finally, coin and sheep are only passive towards the grace that seeks and recovers them, in the image of the Prodigal Son, on the other hand, the spontaneity of the sinner in his return to God comes into the foreground; yet so that it is by no means in a Pelagian sense the fruit of an isolated act of will, but in the sense that this resolution to return is occasioned by the course of circumstances into which he has come entirely against his own will under higher guidance, and in which he feels the bitterness of sin. The conclusion of the third parable not only adds to this a component part of admirable value over and above the first and second, but by it at the same time the whole triad of parables is applied to the shaming and rebuking of the Pharisaical hearers.


The parable of the Prodigal Son as it represents to us the history: 1. Of each man; 2. of all mankind. —The parable of the two lost sons, or the two main forms of the essence of sin.
The younger son: 1. The descending way of destruction: a. pride, b. wandering, c. servile bondage, d. wretchedness. 2. the ascending way of redemption: a. humility, b. return, c. freedom, d. life.—The younger son: 1. In his father’s house; 2. in a far country; 3. among the swine; 4. on the homeward way; 5. at the feast.—Self-seeking as it reveals itself: 1. In false craving for freedom; 2. in shameless covetousness; 3. in unbounded craving for enjoyment.—The Prodigal Son first inwardly, soon outwardly also, separated from his father.—Selfishness desires only God’s gifts, true love God Himself.—The enjoyment of sin is short, remorse for it long.—The associates of sinful joy remain no longer than the soon-squandered goods.—Often external calamities have the work of hastening the revelation of the inward wretchedness of sin.—The child of the house constrained: 1. To attach himself to one of the citizens of the far country; 2. to keep the swine; 3. to crave their fodder; 4. to find that he cannot even get this.—To “come to himself”: 1. The end of the old sinful, 2. the beginning of the new penitent, life.—The awakening: 1. Of the conscience; 2. of the understanding; 3. of the sensibility; 4. of the will.—How infinitely better it fares with the meanest day-laborer of the Father than with the sinner at the swine-trough, and even at the riotous banquet.—He “began to be in want,” the last word of the wretched history of every sinner. He suffers lack: 1. Of that which he once enjoyed; 2. of that which the world enjoys; 3. of that which the meanest hirelings of his Father enjoy.—The decisive resolve: “I will arise”: 1. How much it says; 2. how hard it is to carry out; 3. how richly it rewards.—The consciousness of guilt no fancy, but the expression of a terrible truth; happy he who has learned at the right time to impute to himself his sins as so many debts to God.—Even sin against others is still as ever sin against God.—The confession of sin before God a necessity of the repentant child.—The first step on the way to conversion.—Even when we are yet far from Him the Father sees us.—God’s love to sinners: 1. A compassionate; 2. a prevenient; 3. a forgiving; 4. an all-restoring, love.—God Himself longs not less for the wandering sinner than the sinner for Him, and tears down all the walls of division.—Many a humiliation which the sinner deserves, and which the penitent will impose upon himself, is remitted to him by God’s love.—The Prodigal Son reinstated: 1. In the former possession; 2. in the old rank; 3. in the lost happiness.—The best in the father’s house is for the lost son not too good.—The children of God and members of His family must rejoice with the Father over the return of the sinner.—The service of sin, death; conversion, a birth unto life.—The joy in the Father’s house over the returned son is perfect, even though the self-righteous take no part therein.

The elder son: 1. How much better he appears than the younger: a. the younger forsook the father, he remains; b. the younger squandered the father’s goods, he administered and increased them; c. the younger sought the company of harlots, he contents himself with his friends even without a kid; d. the younger comes even now from the swine, he from the field. 2. How wretchedly lost he is: a. he serves the father with a selfish, not with a childlike, mind; b. he has enjoyed the father’s love, and complains of having received no reward; c. he asserts himself never to have transgressed a commandment, and has never yet fulfilled one; d. he vaunts himself of his virtue, and in the same moment his transgression has increased. 3. How immeasurably wretched he becomes: he is on the way to lose, a. the love of his father, b. the heart of his brother, c. the joy in the parental dwelling, d. nay even the repute of his seeming virtue.—Did he also forsake his father’s house, and how have we then to represent to ourselves the end of his history? Michaelis thinks that we might continue the image so: he forsook his father with indignation, went into a strange land, became there much more unhappy, more despised, more vicious than ever his brother had been; he was held as a slave, and finally captured in company with bands of robbers. [If the Saviour meant us to understand all this, we have a right to believe that He would have expressed it. It is quite as fair to suppose that the son might have been brought to a better mind by this tender admonition. But what He leaves ambiguous here, He probably meant to remain uncertain.—C. C. S.]—How the self-righteous man stands related to God, and how God stands related to the self-righteous man.—“My child, what is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine.”—There exists a moral necessity of rejoicing over the conversion of the sinner, which the proud Pharisee despises.—Whom, therefore, does the image of the elder son represent, and which is better, to be like him or like the youngest?

Starke:—Dissimilar brothers.—Quesnel:—How dangerous when one will live for himself on his own account, to be subject to no one and rule himself.—If the soul has departed from God, it departs more and more from Him.—Nova Bibl. Tub.:—Many a young man goes adventurously into strange lands to make his fortune, but let him look well to it that he does not come to harm.—Let one learn to manage frugally; times change; how good is it then to have a penny in need!—Voluptuous swine belong among the swine.—How holy are God’s judgments!—Whoever will not be called God’s child may become a swine-herd and slave of the world.

Hedinger:—Distress furthers self-knowledge, misfortune sharpens the wits. Jeremiah 2:19.—Brentius:—God disciplines through love and sorrow. If love cannot help, distress and all manner of plagues must come.—To true repentance belongs especially a spirit in which there is no falsehood; tempt God not.—A penitent man holds himself unworthy of the grace of the Heavenly Father.—Bibl. Wirt.:—The door of grace stands ever open, and God is much more disposed to forgive us our sins than we to pray for grace.—Cramer:—God’s grace is great, but not so great that a sinner can be partaker of the same without repentance.—Canstein:—Joy in the Lord should be common to all true Christians when they hear of true conversions.—Whoever repents becomes living again and dies never, but lives unto eternity—Anger makes enmity and finally separation.—Nova Bibl. Tub.:—Hypocrites are ever imagining that wrong is done them.—To those that are penitent one must not be bringing up their former sins or troubling them anew.—Quesnel:—Let us have a brother’s heart towards our brother, as God has a Father’s heart towards His children.

Heubner:—The original relation of man to God is that of a son to the father.—God lets men try to live without God, that it may be for them a memorial to eternity.—“Omnis locus, quem patre incolimus absente, famis, penuriœ et egestatis est.”—Out of God everything is husks, though it is tendered thee in gold and silver vessels, and even though it were poundcake.—The sinner finds from the world and its lords no compassion.—No repentance is nobler, even though bitterer, than repentance for having contemned love.—The son, from shame and fear, went timidly; the father ran.—The conversion of the sinner a high feast of joy.—Pride of virtue is hard towards the fallen.—Even in long service for the kingdom of God there may creep in a lukewarm, reward-craving temper.—God’s grace is never exhausted or diminished.

We may compare the explanations and the homiletical expositions of the parable by Ewald, Arndt, Eylert, Lisco, as also an excellent Dutch one by M. Cohen Stuart, Utrecht, 1859.—Massillon, an excellent sermon upon Unchastity in his Lent sermons.—Palmer:—The parable contains, a. the history of us all, b. an admonition for us all, c. a consolation for us all.—The miracle of grace wrought on the sinner.—Beck:—The sinner’s way to life.—Maier:—That light hearts must become heavy heavy light.—Ahlfeld:—The Prodigal Son: Seven Sermons for the season between Easter and Whitsuntide, 1849, Halle, 1850.—Heubner:—Three Sermons upon the parable of the Prodigal Son, Halle, 1840.—Couard:—Sermons.—Carl Zimmermann:—Four Special Sermons.—Van Oosterzee:—(upon the three parables together) The worth of a single soul: 1. The harm that is wrought on a single soul; 2. the compassion that is felt on account of a single soul; 3. the care that is expended on a single soul; 4. the grace that is glorified in one soul; 5. the joy that is experienced on account of one soul.—From this follows: 1. That carelessness of our soul is the most terrible transgression; 2. care for the good of others’ souls the highest duty; 3. glorifying of the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls the most fitting thank-offering.—N. B. Luke 15:18 an excellent text preparatory for the communion, or for New Year’s Eve.


Luke 15:17; Luke 15:17.—With Griesbach, Scholz, and Meyer, (Lachmann, Bleek, Tregelles, Alford, Cod. Sin.,] we believe that we must receive ῶ̓δε into the text, but place it before λιμῷ.

Luke 15:19; Luke 15:19.—Rec.: καὶ οὐκέτι εἰμὶ, κ.τ.λ., without sufficient grounds; καί may be omitted, and then the broken character of the soliloquy forms a beauty the more.

Luke 15:21; Luke 15:21.—See note 2.

Luke 15:22; Luke 15:22.—Τὴν before στολήν should he expunged, see Tischendorf; this makes the first mention of στολήν quite indefinite, with τὴν πρώτην afterwards added as apposition; see Winer, Grammatik, § 204. Although ταχύ (D., ταχέως) has some authorities of weight for it, B., [Cod. Sin.,] L., X., &c., yet it is probable that this word was interpolated later, in order to heighten yet more the force of the father’s word. [Lachmann, Meyer, Alford retain ταχύ; Tregelles brackets it. Found in B., D., Cod. Sin., L., X.—C. C. S.]

Luke 15:29; Luke 15:29.—Αὐτοῦ ought, on the authority of A., B., D., P., and others, to be received in the text, as by Lachmann and Tischendorf, [Meyer, Tregelles, Alford.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Luke 15". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/luke-15.html. 1857-84.
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