Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Luke 15

Verse 1

All the publicans and sinners (παντες οι τελωναι και οι αμαρτωλοιpantes hoi telōnai kai hoi hamartōloi). The two articles separate the two classes (all the publicans and the sinners). They are sometimes grouped together (Luke 5:30; Matthew 9:11), but not here. The publicans are put on the same level with the outcasts or sinners. So in Luke 14:2 the repeated article separates Pharisees and scribes as not quite one. The use of “all” here may be hyperbole for very many or the reference may be to these two classes in the particular place where Jesus was from time to time.

Were drawing near unto him (ησαν αυτωι εγγιζοντεςēsan autōi eggizontes). Periphrastic imperfect of εγγιζωeggizō from εγγυςeggus (near), late verb.

For to hear (ακουεινakouein). Just the present active infinitive of purpose.

Verse 2

Both  …  and (τε καιte  …  διεγογγυζονkai). United in the complaint.

Murmured (διαγογγυζωdiegogguzon). Imperfect active of διαdiagogguzō late Greek compound in the lxx and Byzantine writers. In the N.T. only here and Luke 19:7. The force of ουτοςdia here is probably between or among themselves. It spread (imperfect tense) whenever these two classes came in contact with Jesus. As the publicans and the sinners were drawing near to Jesus just in that proportion the Pharisees and the scribes increased their murmurings. The social breach is here an open yawning chasm.

This man (προσδεχεταιhoutos). A contemptuous sneer in the use of the pronoun. They spoke out openly and probably pointed at Jesus.

Receiveth (προσδεχομαιprosdechetai). Present middle indicative of the common verb υπεδεχατοprosdechomai In Luke 12:36 we had it for expecting, here it is to give access to oneself, to welcome like και συνεστιει αυτοιςhupedexato of Martha‘s welcome to Jesus (Luke 10:38). The charge here is that this is the habit of Jesus. He shows no sense of social superiority to these outcasts (like the Hindu “untouchables” in India).

And eateth with them (αυτοιςkai sunesthiei autois). Associative instrumental case (συνautois) after πιλοςsun - in composition. This is an old charge (Luke 5:30) and a much more serious breach from the standpoint of the Pharisees. The implication is that Jesus prefers these outcasts to the respectable classes (the Pharisees and the scribes) because he is like them in character and tastes, even with the harlots. There was a sting in the charge that he was the “friend” (philos) of publicans and sinners (Luke 7:34).

Verse 3

This parable (την παραβολην ταυτηνtēn parabolēn tautēn). The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7). This is Christ‘s way of answering the cavilling of these chronic complainers. Jesus gave this same parable for another purpose in another connection (Matthew 18:12-14). The figure of the Good Shepherd appears also in John 10:1-18. “No simile has taken more hold upon the mind of Christendom” (Plummer). Jesus champions the lost and accepts the challenge and justifies his conduct by these superb stories. “The three Episodes form a climax: The Pasture - the House - the Home; the Herdsman - the Housewife - the Father; the Sheep - the Treasure - the Beloved Son” (Ragg).

Verse 4

In the wilderness (εν τηι ερημωιen tēi erēmōi). Their usual pasturage, not a place of danger or peril. It is the owner of the hundred sheep who cares so much for the one that is lost. He knows each one of the sheep and loves each one.

Go after that which is lost (πορευεται επι το απολωλοςporeuetai epi to apolōlos). The one lost sheep (απολωλοςapolōlos second perfect active participle of απολλυμιapollumi to destroy, but intransitive, to be lost). There is nothing more helpless than a lost sheep except a lost sinner. The sheep went off by its own ignorance and folly. The use of επιepi for the goal occurs also in Matthew 22:9; Acts 8:26; Acts 9:11.

Until he find it (εως ευρηι αυτοheōs heurēi auto). Second aorist active subjunctive of ευρισκωheuriskō common verb, with εωςheōs common Greek idiom. He keeps on going (πορευεταιporeuetai linear present middle indicative) until success comes (effective aorist, ευρηιheurēi).

Verse 5

On his shoulders (επι τους ωμους αυτουepi tous ōmous autou). He does it himself in exuberant affection and of necessity as the poor lost sheep is helpless. Note the plural shoulders showing that the sheep was just back of the shepherd‘s neck and drawn around by both hands. The word for shoulder (ωμοςōmos) is old and common, but in the N.T. only here and Matthew 23:4.

Rejoicing (χαιρωνchairōn). “There is no upbraiding of the wandering sheep, nor murmuring at the trouble” (Plummer).

Verse 6

Rejoice with me (συνχαρητε μοιsuncharēte moi). Second aorist passive of συνχαιρωsunchairō an old and common verb for mutual joy as in Philippians 2:17. Joy demands fellowship. Same form in Luke 15:9. So the shepherd calls together (συνκαλειsunkalei note συνsun again) both his friends and his neighbours. This picture of the Good Shepherd has captured the eye of many artists through the ages.

Verse 7

Over one sinner that repenteth (επι ενι αμαρτωλωι μετανοουντιepi heni hamartōlōi metanoounti). The word sinner points to Luke 15:1. Repenting is what these sinners were doing, these lost sheep brought to the fold. The joy in heaven is in contrast with the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.

More than over (η επιē epi). There is no comparative in the Greek. It is only implied by a common idiom like our “rather than.”

Which need no repentance (οιτινες ου χρειαν εχουσιν μετανοιαςhoitines ou chreian echousin metanoias). Jesus does not mean to say that the Pharisees and the scribes do not need repentance or are perfect. He for the sake of argument accepts their claims about themselves and by their own words condemns them for their criticism of his efforts to save the lost sheep. It is the same point that he made against them when they criticized Jesus and the disciples for being at Levi‘s feast (Luke 5:31.). They posed as “righteous.” Very well, then. That shuts their mouths on the point of Christ‘s saving the publicans and sinners.

Verse 8

Ten pieces of silver (δραχμας δεκαdrachmas deka). The only instance in the N.T. of this old word for a coin of 65.5 grains about the value of the common δηναριυςdēnarius (about eighteen cents), a quarter of a Jewish shekel. The double drachma (διδραχμονdidrachmon) occurs in the N.T. only in Matthew 17:24. The root is from δρασσομαιdrassomai to grasp with the hand (1 Corinthians 3:19), and so a handful of coin. Ten drachmas would be equal to nearly two dollars, but in purchasing power much more.

Sweep (σαροιsaroi). A late colloquial verb σαροωsaroō for the earlier σαιρωsairō to clear by sweeping. Three times in the N.T. (Luke 11:25; Luke 15:8; Matthew 12:44). The house was probably with out windows (only the door for light and hence the lamp lit) and probably also a dirt floor. Hence Bengel says: non sine pulvere. This parable is peculiar to Luke.

Verse 9

Her friends and neighbours (τας πιλας και γειτοναςtas philas kai geitonas). Note single article and female friends (feminine article and πιλαςphilas). εως ου ευρηιHeōs hou eurēi here as in Luke 15:4, only ουhou added after εωςheōs (until which time) as often.

Which I lost (ην απωλεσαhēn apōlesa). First aorist active indicative of απολλυμιapollumi She lost the coin (note article). The shepherd did not lose the one sheep.

Verse 10

There is joy (γινεται χαραginetai chara). More exactly, joy arises. Futuristic present of γινομαιginomai (cf. εσταιestai in Luke 15:7).

In the presence of the angels of God (ενωπιον των αγγελων του τεουenōpion tōn aggelōn tou theou). That is to say, the joy of God himself. The angels are in a sense the neighbours of God.

Verse 11

Had (ειχενeichen). Imperfect active. Note εχωνechōn (Luke 15:4), εχουσαechousa (Luke 15:8), and now ειχενeichen The self-sacrificing care is that of the owner in each case. Here (verses 11-32) we have the most famous of all the parables of Jesus, the Prodigal Son, which is in Luke alone. We have had the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and now the Lost Son. Bruce notes that in the moral sphere there must be self-recovery to give ethical value to the rescue of the son who wandered away. That comes out beautifully in this allegory.

Verse 12

The portion (το μεροςto meros). The Jewish law alloted one-half as much to the younger son as to the elder, that is to say one-third of the estate (Deuteronomy 21:17) at the death of the father. The father did not have to abdicate in favour of the sons, but “this very human parable here depicts the impatience of home restraints and the optimistic ambition of youth” (Ragg).

And he divided (ο δε διειλενho de dieilen). The second aorist active indicative of διαιρεωdiaireō an old and common verb to part in two, cut asunder, divide, but in the N.T. only here and 1 Corinthians 12:11. The elder son got his share also of the “substance” or property or estate (της ουσιαςtēs ousias), “the living” (τον βιονton bion) as in Mark 12:44, not “life” as in Luke 8:14.

Verse 13

Not many days after (μετ ου πολλας ημεραςmet' ou pollas hēmeras). Literally, after not many days. Luke is fond of this idiom (Luke 7:6; Acts 1:5).

Took his journey (απεδημησενapedēmēsen). First aorist active indicative of αποδημεωapodēmeō (from αποδημοςapodēmos away from home). Common verb. In the N.T. here and Matthew 21:33; Matthew 25:14; Mark 12:1; Luke 20:9. He burned all his bridges behind him, gathering together all that he had.

Wasted (διεσκορπισενdieskorpisen). First aorist active indicative of διασκορπιζωdiaskorpizō a somewhat rare verb, the very opposite of “gathered together” (συναγογωνsunagogōn). More exactly he scattered his property. It is the word used of winnowing grain (Matthew 25:24).

With riotous living (ζων ασωτωςzōn asōtōs). Living dissolutely or profligately. The late adverb ασωτωςasōtōs (only here in the N.T.) from the common adjective ασωτοςasōtos (αa privative and σωζωsōzō), one that cannot be saved, one who does not save, a spendthrift, an abandoned man, a profligate, a prodigal. He went the limit of sinful excesses. It makes sense taken actively or passively (prodigus or perditus), active probably here.

Verse 14

When he had spent (δαπανησαντος αυτουdapanēsantos autou). Genitive absolute. The verb is here used in a bad sense as in James 4:3. See note on dapanē Luke 14:28.

He (δαπανηautos). Emphasis.

To be in want (hustereisthai). The verb is from αυτοςhusteros behind or later (comparative). We use “fall behind” (Vincent) of one in straitened circumstances. Plummer notes the coincidences of Providence. The very land was in a famine when the boy had spent all.

Verse 15

Joined himself (εκολλητηekollēthē). First aorist passive of κολλαωkollaō an old verb to glue together, to cleave to. In the N.T. only the passive occurs. He was glued to, was joined to. It is not necessary to take this passive in the middle reflexive sense.

The citizens (των πολιτωνtōn politōn). Curiously enough this common word citizen (πολιτηςpolitēs from πολιςpolis city) is found in the N.T. only in Luke‘s writings (Luke 15:15; Luke 19:14; Acts 21:39) except in Hebrews 8:11 where it is quoted from Jeremiah 31:34.

To feed swine (βοσκειν χοιρουςboskein choirous). A most degrading occupation for anyone and for a Jew an unspeakable degradation.

Verse 16

He would fain have been filled (επετυμει χορταστηναιepethumei chortasthēnai). Literally, he was desiring (longing) to be filled. Imperfect indicative and first aorist passive infinitive. ΧορταστηναιChortasthēnai is from χορταζωchortazō and that from χορτοςchortos (grass), and so to feed with grass or with anything. Westcott and Hort put γεμισαι την κοιλιαν αυτουgemisai tēn koilian autou in the margin (the Textus Receptus).

With the husks (εκ των κερατιωνek tōn keratiōn). The word occurs here alone in the N.T. and is a diminutive of κεραςkeras (horn) and so means little horn. It is used in various senses, but here refers to the pods of the carob tree or locust tree still common in Palestine and around the Mediterranean, so called from the shape of the pods like little horns,

Bockshornbaum in German or goat‘s-horn tree. The gelatinous substance inside has a sweetish taste and is used for feeding swine and even for food by the lower classes. It is sometimes called Saint John‘s Bread from the notion that the Baptist ate it in the wilderness.

No man gave unto him (ουδεις εδιδου αυτωιoudeis edidou autōi). Imperfect active. Continued refusal of anyone to allow him even the food of the hogs.

Verse 17

But when he came to himself (εις εαυτον δε ελτωνeis heauton de elthōn). As if he had been far from himself as he was from home. As a matter of fact he had been away, out of his head, and now began to see things as they really were. Plato is quoted by Ackerman (Christian Element in Plato) as thinking of redemption as coming to oneself.

Hired servants (μιστιοιmisthioi). A late word from μιστοςmisthos (hire). In the N.T. only in this chapter. The use of “many” here suggests a wealthy and luxurious home.

Have bread enough and to spare (περισσευονται αρτωνperisseuontai artōn). Old verb from περισσοςperissos and that from περιperi (around). Present passive here, “are surrounded by loaves” like a flood.

I perish (εγω δε λιμωι ωδε απολλυμαιegō de limōi hōde apollumai). Every word here counts: While I on the other hand am here perishing with hunger. It is the linear present middle of απολλυμιapollumi Note εγωegō expressed and δεde of contrast.

Verse 18

I will arise and go (αναστας προρευσομαιanastas proreusomai). This determination is the act of the will after he comes to himself and sees his real condition.

I did sin (ημαρτονhēmarton). That is the hard word to say and he will say it first. The word means to miss the mark. I shot my bolt and I missed my aim (compare the high-handed demand in Luke 15:12).

Verse 19

No longer worthy (ουκετι αχιοςouketi axios). Confession of the facts. He sees his own pitiful plight and is humble.

As one (ως εναhōs hena). The hired servants in his father‘s house are high above him now.

Verse 20

To his father (προς τον πατερα εαυτουpros ton patera heautou). Literally, to his own father. He acted at once on his decision.

Yet afar off (ετι αυτου μακραν απεχοντοςeti autou makran apechontos). Genitive absolute. ΜακρανMakran agrees with οδονhodon understood: While he was yet holding off a distant way. This shows that the father had been looking for him to come back and was even looking at this very moment as he came in sight.

Ran (δραμωνdramōn). Second aorist active participle of the defective verb τρεχωtrechō The eager look and longing of the father.

Kissed (κατεπιλησενkatephilēsen). Note perfective use of καταkata kissed him much, kissed him again and again. The verb occurs so in the older Greek.


Verse 21

The son made his speech of confession as planned, but it is not certain that he was able to finish as a number of early manuscripts do not have “Make me as one of the hired servants,” though Aleph B D do have them. It is probable that the father interrupted him at this point before he could finish.

Verse 22

The best robe (στολην την πρωτηνstolēn tēn prōtēn). ΣτοληStolē is an old word for a fine stately garment that comes down to the feet (from στελλοstello to prepare, equip), the kind worn by kings (Mark 16:5; Luke 22:46). Literally, “a robe the first.” But not the first that you find, but the first in rank and value, the finest in the house. This in contrast with his shabby clothes.

A ring (δακτυλιονdaktulion). Common in classical writers and the lxx, but here only in the N.T. From δακτυλοςdaktulos finger. See χρυσοδακτυλιοςchrusodaktulios in James 2:2.

Shoes (υποδηματαhupodēmata). Sandals, “bound under.” Both sandals and ring are marks of the freeman as slaves were barefooted.

Verse 23

The fatted calf (τον μοσχον τον σιτευτονton moschon ton siteuton). The calf the fatted one. ΣιτευτονSiteuton is the verbal adjective of σιλευωsileuō to feed with wheat (σιτοςsitos). The calf was kept fat for festive occasions, possibly in the hope of the son‘s return.

Kill (τυσατεthusate). Not as a sacrifice, but for the feast.

Make merry (ευπραντωμενeuphranthōmen). First aorist passive subjunctive (volitive). From ευπραινωeuphrainō an old verb from ευeu (well) and πρηνphrēn (mind).

Verse 24

And is alive (και ανεζησενkai anezēsen). First aorist active indicative of αναζαωanazaō to live again. Literally, he was dead and he came back to life.

He was lost (ην απολωλωςēn apolōlōs periphrastic past perfect active of απολλυμιapollumi and intransitive, in a lost state) and he was found (ευρετηheurethē). He was found, we have to say, but this aorist passive is really timeless, he is found after long waiting (effective aorist) The artists have vied with each other in picturing various items connected with this wonderful parable.

Verse 25

As he came and drew nigh (ως ερχομενος ηγγισενhōs erchomenos ēggisen). More exactly, “As, coming, he drew nigh,” for ερχομενοςerchomenos is present middle participle and ηγγισενēggisen is aorist active indicative.

Music (συμπωνιαςsumphōnias). Our word “symphony.” An old Greek word from συμπωνοςsumphōnos (συνsun together, and πωνηphōnē voice or sound), harmony, concord, by a band of musicians. Here alone in the N.T.

And dancing (και χορωνkai chorōn). An old word again, but here alone in the N.T. Origin uncertain, possibly from ορχοςorchos by metathesis (ορχεομαιorcheomai to dance). A circular dance on the green.

Verse 26

Servants (παιδωνpaidōn). Not δουλοιdouloi (bondslaves) as in Luke 15:22. The Greeks often used παιςpais for servant like the Latin puer. It could be either a hired servant (μιστιοςmisthios Luke 15:17) or slave (δουλοςdoulos).

He inquired (επυντανετοepunthaneto). Imperfect middle, inquired repeatedly and eagerly.

What these things might be (τι αν ειη ταυταti an eiē tauta). Not “poor” Greek as Easton holds, but simply the form of the direct question retained in the indirect. See the direct form as the apodosis of a condition of the fourth class in Acts 17:18. In Acts 10:17 we have the construction with αν ειηan eiē of the direct retained in the indirect question. So also in Luke 1:62: See Robertson, Grammar, p. 1044.

Verse 27

Is come (ηκειhēkei). Present indicative active, but a stem with perfect sense, old verb ηκωhēkō retaining this use after perfect tenses came into use (Robertson, Grammar, p. 893).

Hath killed (ετυσενethusen). Aorist active indicative and literally means, did kill. Difficult to handle in English for our tenses do not correspond with the Greek.

Hath received (απελαβενapelaben). Second aorist active indicative with similar difficulty of translation. Note αποapo in compositions, like re- in “receive,” hath gotten him back (απap -).

Safe and sound (υγιαινονταhugiainonta). Present active participle of υγιαινωhugiainō from υγιηςhugiēs to be in good health. In spite of all that he has gone through and in spite of the father‘s fears.

Verse 28

But he was angry (ωργιστηōrgisthē). First aorist (ingressive) passive indicative. But he became angry, he flew into a rage (οργηorgē). This was the explosion as the result of long resentment towards the wayward brother and suspicion of the father‘s partiality for the erring son.

Would not go in (ουκ ητελεν εισελτεινouk ēthelen eiselthein). Imperfect tense (was not willing, refused) and aorist active (ingressive) infinitive.

Entreated (παρεκαλειparekalei). Imperfect tense, he kept on beseeching him.

Verse 29

Do I serve thee (δουλευω σοιdouleuō soi). Progressive present tense of this old verb from δουλοςdoulos (slave) which the elder son uses to picture his virtual slavery in staying at home and perhaps with longings to follow the younger son (Robertson, Grammar, p. 879).

Transgressed (παρηλτονparēlthon). Second aorist active indicative of παρερχομαιparerchomai to pass by. Not even once (aorist) in contrast with so many years of service (linear present).

A kid (εριπονeriphon). Some MSS. have εριπιονeriphion diminutive, a little kid. So margin of Westcott and Hort. B has it also in Matthew 25:32, the only other N.T. passage where the word occurs.

That I might make merry (ινα ευπραντωhina euphranthō). Final clause, first aorist passive subjunctive of the same verb used in Luke 15:23, Luke 15:25.

Verse 30

This thy son (ο υιος σου ουτοςho huios sou houtos). Contempt and sarcasm. He does not say: “This my brother.”

Came (ηλτενēlthen). He does not even say, came back or came home.

Devoured (καταπαγωνkataphagōn). We say, “eaten up,” but the Greek has, “eaten down” (perfective use of καταkata -). Suggested by the feasting going on.

With harlots (μετα πορνωνmeta pornōn). This may be true (Luke 15:13), but the elder son did not know it to be true. He may reflect what he would have done in like case.

Verse 31

Son (ΤεκνονTeknon). Child.

Thou (συsu). Expressed and in emphatic position in the sentence. He had not appreciated his privileges at home with his father.

Verse 32

It was meet (εδειedei). Imperfect tense. It expressed a necessity in the father‘s heart and in the joy of the return that justifies the feasting. ΕυπραντηναιEuphranthēnai is used again (first aorist passive infinitive) and χαρηναιcharēnai (second aorist passive infinitive) is more than mere hilarity, deep-seated joy. The father repeats to the elder son the language of his heart used in Luke 15:24 to his servants. A real father could do no less. One can well imagine how completely the Pharisees and scribes (Luke 15:2) were put to silence by these three marvellous parables. The third does it with a graphic picture of their own attitude in the case of the surly elder brother. Luke was called a painter by the ancients. Certainly he has produced a graphic pen picture here of God‘s love for the lost that justifies forever the coming of Christ to the world to seek and to save the lost. It glorifies also soul-saving on the part of his followers who are willing to go with Jesus after the lost in city and country, in every land and of every race.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Luke 15". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.