Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.Chap. 15. Parables, setting forth God’s mercy to sinners.
1-7.] The lost sheep. It does not appear where or when this [gathering of publicans and sinners to hear him] happened,—but certainly in the progress of this same journey, and, we may well believe, consecutively on the discourses in the last chapter. This first parable had been spoken by our Lord before, Matthew 18:12-14: but, as Trench has remarked, (Par. in loc.,) with a different view: there, to bring out the preciousness of each individual little one in the eyes of the good Shepherd; here, to shew that no sheep can have strayed so widely, but He will seek it and rejoice over it when found. The second is peculiar to Luke.
1.] ἦσαν ἐγγ., were busied in drawing near—were continually about Him, struck perhaps with penitence,—found, by His seeking them:—having come from the husks of a life of sin, to the bread of life;—so the three parables seem to imply.
πάντες, a general term, admitting of course of exceptions, see ch. 13:33 and note.
2.] προσδέχ., into His circle of adherents—συνεσθ., allows them to sit at meat with Him;—on the journey, or at entertainments, as in Matthew 9:10. Stier remarks (iii. 214, edn. 2) that this ἁμαρτ. προσδέχ. is an important and affecting testimony, from the mouth of the enemies of our Lord, to His willingness to receive sinners.
The διεγόγγ. implies either throughout the journey;—or rather, one to another,—responsively. 3-7.
3-7.] The man having the hundred sheep, is plainly the Son of God, the Good Shepherd. This had been his prophetic description, and that in this very connexion,—of seeking the lost, Ezekiel 34:6, Ezekiel 34:11 ff. This it is which gives so peculiar an interest to David as a type of Christ—that he was a shepherd: ibid. ver. 23. Our Lord plainly declares then by this parable—and that I take to be the reason why it is placed first (see below)—that the matter in which they had found fault with Him was the very pursuit most in accordance with his divine Office of Shepherd.
4.] It is the Owner Himself who goes to seek, see Ezek., ver. 11—God in Christ.
The ἑκατὸν πρόβ. are the house of Israel, see Matthew 10:6; but in the present application, mankind (not, ‘believers in Christ:’ see on ver. 7).
The argument is to their self-interest: but the act on the part of the good Shepherd is, from the nature of the case, one of love: or, as Stier remarks, also human love for his own; for in Him, Love, and His glory, are one and the same thing.
καταλ. τὰ ἐνν.] These pass altogether into the background, and are lost sight of. The character of the good Shepherd is a sufficient warrant for their being well cared for. The ἔρημος is not a barren place, but one abounding in pastures (John 6:10, compared with Matthew 14:15).
5.] Not mere self-interest, but love comes forward here: see Isaiah 40:11. No blows are given for the straying—no hard words; mercy to the lost one,—and joy within himself,—are the Shepherd’s feeling; the sheep is weary with long wanderings,—He gives it rest, Matthew 9:36; Matthew 11:28.
6.] In this return to His house, must be understood the whole course of seeking and finding which the good Shepherd, either by Himself or His agents, now pursues in each individual case, even until He brings the lost sheep home into heaven to himself—not in reality, so that it should not take place till the death of the penitent—but proleptically,—till the name is written in heaven;—till the sinner is penitent. This is clear from the interpretation in ver. 7. The φίλοι καὶ γείτονες = the angels (and spirits of just men made perfect?).
τὸ πρόβ. τὸ ἀπολωλός breathes a totally different thought from τ. δραχμὴν ἣν ἀπώλεσα. There is pity and love in it, which, from the nature of the case, the other does not admit of.
7. λέγω ὑμῖν] In these words the Lord often introduces His revelations of the unseen world of glory: see Matthew 18:10.
On these δίκαιοι, see note at Matthew 9:12, Matthew 9:13. They are the subjectively righteous, and this saying respects their own view of themselves. (Or if it be required that the words should be literally explained, seeing that these ninety-nine did not err,—then I see no other way but to suppose them, in the deeper meaning of the parable, to be the worlds that have not fallen;—and the one that has strayed, our human nature, in this our world.) But we have yet to enquire, what sort of sinner this parable represents: for each of the three sets before us a different type of the sinner sunk in his sin. Bengel, in distinguishing the three, says, ‘Ovis, drachma, filius perditus—peccator (1) stupidus,—(2) sui plane nescius,—(3) sciens et voluntarius.’ This one is the stupid and bewildered sinner, erring and straying away in ignorance and self-will from his Shepherd, but sought by the Shepherd, and fetched back with joy.
8-10.] The lost piece of money. In the following wonderful parable, we have the next class of sinners set before us, sought for and found by the power and work of the Spirit in the Church of Christ. It will be seen, as we proceed, how perfectly this interpretation comes out, not as a fancy, but as the very kernel and sense of the parable. The γυνή cannot be the Church absolutely, for the Church herself is a lost sheep at first, sought and found by the Shepherd. Rather is the οἰκία here the Church—as will come out by-and-by,—and the γυνή the indwelling Spirit, working in it. All men belong to this Creator-Spirit; all have been stamped with the image of God. But the sinner lies in the dust of sin and death and corruption—‘sui plane nescius.’ Then the Spirit, lighting the candle of the Lord (Proverbs 20:27: Zephaniah 1:12), searching every corner and sweeping every unseen place, finds out the sinner; restores him to his true value as made for God’s glory. This lighting and sweeping are to be understood of the office of the Spirit in the Church, in its various ways of seeking the sinner—by the preaching of repentance, by the Word of God read, &c. Then comes the joy again.
9.] αἱ φίλαι κ. γείτονες are invited—but there is no return home now—nor in the explanation, ver. 10, is there any ἐν οὐρανῷ, because the Spirit abides in the Church—because the angels are present in the Church, see 1Corinthians 11:10:—nor is it ἔσται (as in ver. 7 at the return of the Redeemer then future), but γίνεται—the ministering spirits rejoice over every soul that is brought out of the dust of death into God’s treasure-house by the searching of the blessed Spirit.
In this parable then we have set before us the sinner who is unconscious of himself and his own real worth; who is lying, though in reality a precious coin, in the mire of this world, lost and valueless, till he is searched out by the blessed and gracious Spirit. And that such a search will be made, we are here assured.
11-32.] The Prodigal Son. Peculiar to Luke. ‘If we might venture here to make comparisons, as we do among the sayings of men, this parable of the Lord would rightly be called, the crown and pearl of all His parables.’ Stier, iii. 227, edn. 2.
We have here the glad and welcome reception of the returning sinner (sinner under the most aggravating circumstances) in the bosom of his heavenly Father: and agreeably to the circumstances under which the discourse was spoken, the δίκαιοι who murmured at the publicans and sinners are represented under the figure of the elder son: see below. The parable certainly was spoken on the same occasion as the preceding, and relates to the same subject. Bp. Wordsworth, who for the sake of upholding the patristic interpretation denies this, seems to me to have entirely missed the scope of the parable: see below.
11.] ἄνθ. τις—our heavenly Father, the Creator and Possessor of all: not Christ, who ever represents Himself as a Son, although frequently as a possessor or lord.
δύο υἱούς, not, in any direct or primary sense of the Parable, the Jews and the Gentiles: that there may be an ulterior application to this effect, is only owing to the parable grasping the great central truths, of which the Jew and Gentile were, in their relation, illustrations,—and of which such illustrations are furnished wherever such differences occur.
The two parties standing in the foreground of the parabolic mirror are, the Scribes and Pharisees as the elder son, the publicans and sinners as the younger;—all, Jews: all belonging to God’s family. The mystery of the admission of the Gentiles into God’s Church was not yet made known in any such manner as that they should be represented as of one family with the Jews;—not to mention that this interpretation fails in the very root of the Parable; for in strictness the Gentile should be the elder, the Jew not being constituted in his superiority till 2000 years after the Creation.
The upholders of this interpretation forget that when we speak of the Jew as elder, and the Gentile as younger, it is in respect not of birth, but of this very return to and reception into the Father’s house, which is not to be considered yet. Bp. Wordsworth’s objections (in loc.) do not touch the reasons here given. The relations of elder and younger have a peculiar fitness for the characters to be filled by them, and are I believe chosen on that account; νεώτερον δὲ ὀνομάζει τὸν ἁμαρτωλὸν ὡς νηπιόφρονα καὶ εὐεξαπάτητον.
12-20.] The part of the parable relating to the prodigal himself divides itself into three parts—1. his sin: 2. his misery: 3. his penitence. In vv. 12, 13 his sin is described. It consists in a desire to depart from his Father’s house and control, and to set up for himself,—to live a life of what the carnal man calls liberty.
12.] τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος is classical Greek—ἀπολαχόντες τῶν κτημάτων τὸ ἐπιβάλλον, Herod. iv. 115.
Such a request as this is shewn by Orientalists to have been known in the East, though not among the Jews.
βίος = οὐσία:—no distinction is implied, as some (Paulus, Stier) have thought. The first-born had two-thirds of the property, see Deuteronomy 21:17. The father, as implied in the parable, reserves to himself the power during his life over the portion of the first-born, see ver. 31.
The parable sets before us very strikingly the permission of free will to man.
13.] μακράν—probably not adverbial (Stier), but agreeing with χώραν, see reff., and Æsch. Prom. 814: Xen. Cyr. v. 4. 47: compare however ἔθνη μακράν, Acts 22:21.
The images of both the preceding parables are united here:—in ἀπεδήμησεν we have the straying sheep; in his state when he got into the far country, the lost piece of money. But in this case the search is to be carried on within him—we are now on higher ground than in those two parables.
‘Regio longinqua est oblivio Dei,’ Augustine. (Trench, in loc.)
ἀσώτως] The old English word retchlessly expresses perhaps best the meaning, which is not ‘unsparingly’ (in which sense of ‘saving money’ I doubt σώζω ever being used), but incorrigibly, past hope of reclaim:—ἄσωτος, ὁ διʼ αὑτὸν ἀπολλύμενος, Aristot. Eth. iv. 1.
14-16.] His misery is set forth in these verses. He soon spends all:—there is a fine irony, as Stier remarks, in δαπανήσαντος, as compared with διεσκόρπισεν before—he spent his money for that which was no bread.
14. λιμὸς ἰσχ.] On λιμός fem., see note on ref. Acts.
This famine is the shepherd seeking his stray sheep—the woman sweeping to find the lost. The famine, in the interpretation, is to be subjectively taken; he begins to be in want (no stress on αὐτός, which is inserted on account of the change of subject from the last clause),—to feel the emptiness of soul which precedes either utter abandonment or true penitence.
15.] He sinks lower and lower—becomes the despised servant of an alien (is there here any hint at the situation of the publicans?) who employs him in an office most vile and odious to the mind of a Jew.
ἐκολλήθη—no emphasis, see reff., he attached himself. Notice the abrupt change of subject, ἐκολλήθη … ἔπεμψεν. See ch. 19:4.
16.] ἐπεθύμει—not merely he desired, see ch. 16:21, where the fact is surely implied that Lazarus did eat of the crumbs. The mistake has arisen from supplying a wrong object to ἐδίδου, and that from misunderstanding κεράτια. ‘These are not the husks or pods of some other fruit, as of peas or beans, but themselves a fruit, that of the carob (or caruba, found not only in the East, but in sough Europe, e.g. in abundance on the Riviera between Nice and Genoa. H. A.) tree (κερατωνία).… They are in shape something like a bean-pod, though larger and more curved, thence called κεράτιον or little horn, … they have a hard dark outside and a dull sweet taste … the shell or pod alone is eaten.’ Trench, Par. in loc. His appetite even drove him to these for food;—for—καί (implying his state of destitution)—no man gave (aught) to him. Meyer, De Wette, Greswell, and others supply κεράτια after ἐδίδου, but wrongly, I think; the absolute use of δίδωμι being very frequent, and the other construction harsh and unusual.
We see him now in the depth of his misery,—the sinner reaping the consequences of his sin in utter shame and extremity of need.
17-20.] His penitence. And here we have a weighty difference between the permitted rational free will of man, and the stupid wandering on of the sheep, or the inanimate coin lying till it is picked up,—both these being however true, did not God seek and save the sinner: ‘the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.’ Article X. of the Church of England.
17. εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἐλθών] Similar expressions seem to occur in the Heb. Deuteronomy 30:1 (where . renders “Redi in temetipsum;” but Gesen. understands an accus. “si revocabis ea”); 1Kings 8:47: Isaiah 46:8. Before this, he was beside himself. The most dreadful torment of the lost, in fact that which constitutes their state of torment, will be this εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἐλθεῖν, when too late for repentance.
He now recalls the peace and plenty of his Father’s house.
μίσθιοι, for he now was a μίσθιος, but in how different a case!
18. ἀναστάς] See ver. 24, νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἀνέζησεν [it was truly a resurrection from the dead]. This resolution is a further step than his last reflection. In it he no where gives up his sonship: this, and the πάτερ, lie at the root of his penitence:—it is the thought of having sinned against (in the parable itself, Heaven and) Thee, which works now in him. And accordingly he does not resolve to ask to be made ἕνα τῶν μισθ. but ὡς ἕνα τ. μ.:—still a son, but as an hireling. “And what is it that gives the sinner now a sure ground of confidence, that returning to God he shall not be repelled, nor cast out? The adoption of sonship which he received in Christ Jesus at his baptism, and his faith that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance or recall.” Trench, Par. in loc.
20-24.] His restoration.
20.] What he has resolved, he does: a figure not of the usual, but of the proper course of such a state of mind.
μακρ. ἀπέχ.] Who can say whether this itself was not a seeking? whether his courage would have held out to the meeting?
21.] The intended close of his confession is not uttered;—there is no abatement of his penitence, for all his Father’s touching and reassuring kindness,—but his filial confidence is sufficiently awakened to prevent the request, that he might be as an hired servant.
22.] All these gifts belong to his reception, not as a servant, but as a son: the first (best) robe, for him who came in rags,—Isaiah 61:10: Revelation 3:18:—not—the robe which he used to wear—his former robe—this would not be consistent with the former part of the parable, in which he was not turned out with any disgrace, but left as a son and of his own accord: but a robe, (yea) the first and goodliest. The ring,—a token of a distinguished and free person, see James 2:2: Genesis 41:42.
The shoes, also the mark of a free man (for slaves went barefoot), see Zechariah 10:12: Ephesians 6:15. These are the gifts of grace and holiness with which the returned penitent is clothed by his gracious Father, see Zechariah 3:4, Zechariah 3:5.
23. τ. μόσχ. τ. σιτ.] So, Judges 6:25, Gideon is commanded to kill τὸν μόσχον τὸν ταῦρον ὅς ἐστιν τῷ πατρί σου (τ. μ. τ. σιτευτὸν τοῦ πατρός σου Α):—some calf fatted for a particular feast or anniversary, and standing in the stall. No allusion must be thought of to the sacrificing of Christ:—which would be wholly out of place here,—and is pre-supposed in the whole parable.
εὐφρανθ.] So ver. 6, ‘joy in heaven;’—all rejoice.
ἤρξαντο, a contrast to the ἤρξατο in ver. 14.
25-28.] As far as regards the penitent, the parable is finished:—but those who murmured at his reception, who were the proud and faultless elder son,—always in the house and serving, but not, as will appear, either over-affectionate or over-respectful,—they too must act their part, in order to complete the instruction. As regards the penitent, this part of the parable sets forth the reception he meets with from his fellow-men, in contrast to that from his father: see Matthew 18:27, Matthew 18:30.
25.] ἐν ἀγρῷ—probably working, in the course of his δουλεύειν, as he expresses it, ver. 29.
ἐρχόμ., at meal-time.
συμφ. κ. χορ.] This is one of those by-glances into the lesser occupations and recreations of human life, by which the Lord so often stamps his tacit approval on the joys and unbendings of men. Would these festal employments have been here mentioned by Him on so solemn and blessed an occasion, if they really were among those works of the devil which He came into the world to destroy?
28-32.] Stier well remarks (iii. 255, edn. 2) that this elder is now the lost son: he has lost all childlike filial feeling; he betrays the hypocrite within. The love and forbearance of the father are eminently shewn—the utter want of love and humility in the son strongly contrasted with them.
29.] ἰδ. τοσ. ἔτη δουλ. σοι, the very manner of speech of a Pharisee: as is the continuation—οὐδέπ. ἐντ. σου παρ. Could the Jewish nation be introduced saying this, even in the falsest hypocrisy?
ἐμοὶ οὐδέποτε ἔδωκας answers to the younger son’s δός μοι in ver. 12;—it is a separation of the individual son from his father, and, as there pointed out, the very root and ground of sin.
ἔριφον, of less value than a calf.
τ. φίλ. μου—who are these? this elder son also then has friends, who are not his father’s friends: see Matthew 22:16, τ. μαθητὰς αὐτῶν μετὰ τῶν Ἡρωδιανῶν.
30.] ὁ υἱ. σου οὗτος, the last degree of scorn and contempt,—just such as was shewn by the Pharisees towards the publicans and sinners (see ch. 18:11). ‘I will not count such an impure person my brother.’
σου τ. βίον, a covert reproach of his father for having given it to him.
μετὰ τῶν πορνῶν, a charitable addition on the part of the elder brother, such as those represented by him always take care to make under similar circumstances. Even supposing it a necessary inference from the kind of life which he had been leading, it was one which nothing but the bitterest jealousy would have uttered at such a time.
ἔθυ. αὐ. τ. σ. μ. parallel with ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται, καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς, ver. 2. ‘Thou hast not only made him equal to me, but hast received him into superior favour.’
31.] πάντοτε μ. ἐμ. εἶ, as a reason why no extraordinary joy should be shewn over him; other reasons might be assigned, and lie indeed in the background, suggested by his tone and words: but this is the soft answer to turn away wrath.
πάντα τὰ ἑμὰ σά ἐσ., because the portion of goods which remained was his.
32.] ἔδει—not σε, but generally—it was right. The Father still asserts the restored sonship of his returned prodigal—ὁ ἀδελ. σου οὗτος. We may remark that the difficulties which have been found in the latter part of the parable, from the uncontradicted assertion in ver. 29, if the Pharisees are meant,—and the great pride and uncharitableness shewn, if really righteous persons are meant,—are considerably lightened by the consideration, that the contradiction of that assertion would have been beside the purpose of the parable; that it was the very thing on which the Pharisees prided themselves; that, besides, it is sufficiently contradicted in fact, by the spirit and words of the elder son. He was breaking his Father’s commandment even when he made the assertion,—and the making it is part of his hypocrisy.
The result of the Father’s entreaty is left purposely uncertain (see Trench, Par. in loc.):—is it possible that this should have been the case, had the Jewish nation been meant by the elder brother? But now, as he typifies a set of individuals who might themselves be (and many of them were) won by repentance,—it is thus broken off, to be closed by each individual for himself. For we are all in turn examples of the cases of both these brothers, containing the seeds of both evil courses, in our hearts: but, thanks be to God, under that grace, which is sufficient and willing to seek and save us from both.