The Parable Of The Prodigal Father An Interpretative Key To The Third Gospel (Luke 15:11-32) -- By: Trevor J. Burke

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 064:2 (NA 2013)
Article: The Parable Of The Prodigal Father An Interpretative Key To The Third Gospel (Luke 15:11-32)
Author: Trevor J. Burke

The Parable Of The Prodigal Father
An Interpretative Key To The Third Gospel
(Luke 15:11-32)

Trevor J. Burke


Agreement on a title for the parable in Luke 15:11-32 has proved problematic for interpreters: is this primarily a story about the ‘son’ or ‘sons’ or a ‘family’? While such descriptions are viable, they are insufficient and the view taken in this essay, along with that of an increasing number of scholars—not discounting the role of the two sons—is to approach the story from a paternal perspective. Moreover, this parable is about a ‘prodigal father’ for his extravagant generosity and liberality is highly unusual and unexpected. Such conduct, however, is no less a part of the evangelist’s wider agenda of ‘prodigality’ in the third Gospel, where the same munificence and largesse are characteristics consonant with those who belong in the kingdom of God. It is concluded that if the father is representative of God in his reckless beneficence then another legitimate designation for this narrative should be ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Father’.1

1. Introduction

The debate over the title of the last of the trilogy of parables in Luke 15—arguably the best known and certainly the longest in the Gospels—has at times proved contentious and inconclusive. This is due in part to the interpreter’s perception concerning the main character(s) in the narrative. By far the most common approach adopted by

commentators and scholars alike has been to focus on the filial dimension of the storyline and the reckless behaviour of the younger son, prompting Howard Marshall, among many others, to designate this ‘the parable of the prodigal son’.2 Others have taken issue with this rather narrowly-driven agenda. For example, Frederick Danker concentrates his efforts not on one but the two sons, since both are understood to be acting in a profligate manner, and prefers to view this as a story of ‘the prodigal sons’.3 Still others take a broader holistic tack, concluding that the parable is not about the individual characters in the storyline but more about a community—an ancient household—and is therefore a tale about ‘a dysfunctional family’.4

These are all legitimate ways of looking at the narrative; nevertheless, over the years and currently this has not prevented an increasing number o...

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