Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Prodigal Son and the Slave Brother

Much is said of the (so called) parable of the Prodigal Son, yet not nearly enough if you ask me! In fact the common name for the parable itself is a big part of the problem. It leaves out half the story!! It leaves out the part about slavery! Perhaps we should call in international conspiracy theorist Dr. MacArthur (Dr. Jones of the Bible perhaps??) who keenly picked up on how there had been an international, near double millennia conspiracy to coverup the concept of slavery in the New Testament scriptures. See The Bible X-Files? and my Final Thoughts on Slave (the doctor's latest book). 

Perhaps there has been a conspiracy to cover up the slavery concept that is clearly portrayed in the original Greek but not often revealed in the English translations of the New Testament? Let's crack the case by going to the source! 

The whole parable is found in Luke 15:11-32, but let's start with a few English translations of verse 29. In this verse we find the complaint of the elder brother to the father who had just accepted his lost son back into the warmth of the family with a celebration! I have bolded the words which are rendered from the Greek word douleuĆ³ which is a from the word doulos which Dr. MacArthur claims to have uncovered 'a conspiracy of biblical proportions' to cover up the true meaning of "slave." douleuĆ³ means "I am a doulos" or "I have been a doulos." Check out Strong's Numbers Greek 1398.

NKJV - which is my preferred preaching & teaching version because of its readability. 
29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 
NIV (2011 - I'm not sure how the previous version rendered it) 
29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.

ESV - The version Dr. MacArthur heaps praise on.
29but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.
OK so what's my point? I have to admit I have more than one. Least important is the obvious incongruence between MacArthur's video about his new book Slave, and his video about his new ESV Study Bible. The ESV is said to be an accurate word for word translation, but it calls slavery service? 

More important is the fact that the elder brother had served his father like a slave, and the prodigal son had not - yet the father welcomed him as a son he was delighted with! Read the whole parable again. Luke 15:11-32

The younger son is horrendous to the father, takes off with his wealth and squanders it on his fleshly desires. No one can deny that this was a horrible thing for him to do. Things quickly got miserable for him. He was a Jew and it got so bad that he had to try to feed himself by looking after pigs - unclean animals according to Levitical Law; Lev 11:7 (for example). 

Then the ESV says that the young man "came to himself" Luke 15:17, and decided that even his fathers slaves/servants were more prosperous than he was! Much is said about the son's intent to serve his father, but he never actually said that to his dad. He only managed to say that he was not worthy to be called his son. At that point the father, who had already ran out to meet the young man before he could return home, sent his servants for the finest robes and put a ring on his hand. Then they had a huge celebration! 

Now there is much debate about the application of this parable to salvation. Is this about restoration of fellowship or is it about a sinner getting saved? Is it a son who was always a son who went away and was welcomed back or is it about a son who "was dead, and lost, but now is alive and found"? I actually tend to think of it as a salvation message, he was dead and is now alive.... but it really doesn't matter for the point of this article. 

The elder son had slaved for his father, and the younger son didn't and was not required by the father to do so. They both had full fellowship, and sonship. The only difference is that the younger prodigal one enjoyed the celebration because he knew he was not worthy to be called a son.  Luke 7:47 comes to mind.

God the Father doesn't require slavery for one to be saved. He requires us to see ourselves as we are, and see our need for reconciliation to Him met fully in His Son Jesus Christ. We are not worthy to be called sons and daughters, but He runs out to us and cloths us in the finest Robe anyway. 

Galatians 3:26-29 
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. 


Jan said...

Least important is the obvious incongruence between MacArthur's video about his new book Slave, and his video about his new ESV Study Bible. The ESV is said to be an accurate word for word translation, but it calls slavery service?

Good catch.

I notice in the prodigal son account that the father never even lets the idea of the son serving him as a slave enter the conversation. That was the prodigal son's idea. Clearly, his father took a different view.


Kevl said...

Hi Jan,

Exactly - the father didn't even let that be part of the "deal" because to let it be would make it a "deal" or an "exchange" or "doing business with..."