The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Of all the parables Jesus told, one of the most familiar is the Parable of the Prodigal Son recorded in Luke 15.  It is a wonderful story of God’s forgiveness as the father rushes out and welcomes home his wayward son.

But, as we place it into its context, we see that the point Jesus was really making was the joy we are to experience whenever we see a lost soul saved.  H makes that emphasis in direct response to the Pharisees’ murmuring against him.  “And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:2).  In response, Jesus tells three parables about the lost – the parable of the Prodigal Son being the last of the three.  And all three emphasize the joy we are to feel when we see the lost saved.  (See Luke 15:5-7, 9-10, 22-24)

In that setting it is obvious that the complaining elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son represents the Pharisees.   His anger over his father throwing a feast for his brother mirrors the murmuring of the Pharisees over Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners.  I’m sure that the Pharisees listening to Jesus as he unfolded this parable felt as if he had hit them with a two by four over their heads!  In essence, Jesus was telling them that, instead of murmuring, they should be rejoicing that he was reaching the lost.

Therefore I found it interesting to see how Mormonism interprets this parable.  In the New Testament manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, it talks about the mercy and forgiveness of the Father.  But what I found interesting is that it talks more about the two sons than it does the father.  The point it emphasizes is that the father “did not have the younger son restored to all the privileges he had forfeited.”  He was received back but now “the farm” is gone.  “The ‘father’ himself cannot undo the effect of the foregone choice.”

In striking contrast, the older son becomes the role model.  He is described as the “more dutiful” son.  “The father consoled him with the statement: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”   In other words, for him “the farm” was not gone.  Unlike the younger son, he did not forfeit his privileges.  There is not one mention made of the Pharisees and their ungodly murmuring against Jesus.

A beautiful story of forgiveness is turned into a story of making choices.  “Every choice one makes either expands or contracts the area in which he can make and implement future decisions.  When one makes a choice, he irrevocably binds himself to accept the consequences of that choice.”  So much so, that “the ‘father’ cannot undo the effect of the foregone choice.”

The Bible teaches about a Heavenly Father who can undo the effects of foregone choices and has done so in Jesus Christ.  Through the saving work of Christ he has restored all the privileges that we have forfeited through sin.  Because of Jesus I’m looking forward to living eternally with Heavenly Father.

13 Responses to “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”

  1. 1 joshtried
    May 4, 2012 at 2:42 am

    “In that setting it is obvious that the complaining elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son represents the Pharisees.
    A beautiful story of forgiveness is turned into a story of making choices.
    The Bible teaches about a Heavenly Father who can undo the effects of foregone choices and has done so in Jesus Christ.”

    I am curious about a few of these statements. First, through reading scripture, i do not remember this parable being directly linked to the Pharisees. I am not saying that you can not make that leap, i am saying that i do not believe this to be the sole interpretation. If I am wrong that this should in fact be the sole interpretation, please let me know.
    Second, isnt the whole point of the Bible that we have 2 main choices in life? Arent those choices obey God, or obey Satan? Again, i am not saying that the message of forgiveness should be set aside, but it is also unfair to say that this parable speaks ONLY to the forgiveness of the son by the father.
    Third, we do believe God has the power to restore to us our spiritual life through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus Christ, I am also looking forward to my life in and through the eternities.

  2. 2 joshtried
    May 4, 2012 at 2:43 am

    Just curious, but wasnt this exact same thread posted 3 years ago?

  3. 3 shematwater
    May 4, 2012 at 3:28 am


    It was posted three years ago. Word for word. curious.

    Speaking of the parable, I think the leap to the elder son being the pharisees is not a vary logical leap, and one that requires a lot of twisting.
    First of all, the father tells the Elder son that “thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” If the elder son is supposed to represent the Pharisees than Christ would be saying that the pharisees are already saved, and that they are with Christ. This makes no sense.
    Second, if you actually pay attention to the Elder son’s complaint you will see that it is nothing like what the pharisees were sayng. “these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” The elder son was not upset that there was a party for the younger, but that there was not a similar party for him. His fear, and thus his anger, was that he thought the Father was going to take from his inheritence to give to his brother, who had wasted his own. It was a sense of injustice. This is the reason for the Father’s reply that “all that I have is thine.” It is also what we like to point out about the parable.

    Third point is that this parable is not directed to the pharisees specifically, but to the crowds. This would have included the publicans and sinners, and thus the message of this parable should not be thought of as exclusivley pertaining to the Pharisees.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. 4 shematwater
    May 4, 2012 at 3:46 am

    I also find it interesting that if you actually read the full entries in The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, which Mark quotes, there is an equal amount written about the forgiveness and joy of the Father as there is about the relationship of choices and consequences. This doesn’t seem to mesh with Mark’s statement that “it talks more about the two sons than it does the father.”

  5. 5 markcares
    May 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Josh and Shem:
    You are right. This is the same post from three years ago. I was on vacation for a week and since there are many different people reading this blog then three years ago – most of whom don’t go back and read stuff posted three years ago – I thought I would repost it.

  6. 6 markcares
    May 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    I said this was spoken to the Pharisees because of the introduction to these parables in Luke 15:1-3 where Luke says he was speaking to the Pharisees.. Only in Luke 16:1 does the audience switch to his disciples.

  7. 7 Kent
    May 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    It seems Mormons have things backwards, that the parable of the prodigal Son is about the son who stayed home, how he made the correct decisions, instead of being about the father’s forgiveness for the son who left.

    But it figures that they have this backwards as they also have it backwards that the fall was a good thing and that salvation has anything to do with what we do, as in grace is after all we can do, instead of putting our faith completely in Christ and what he alone did by dying on cross and rising again on the third day to save us, sinners who can never ever save ourselves.

  8. 8 shematwater
    May 5, 2012 at 12:36 am


    Have you read the manual that Mark cites?

    The parable of the prodigal son is about more than one thing; among them are the father’s forgiveness, the youngest son’s repentence, and the elder son’s diligence. We deny no aspect of the parable, nor do we give any one more preference than the others.


    As I said, verses 1-3 do not state that the Pharisees were the target audience, but that all who were present were. As the first two parables have nothing to do with the pharisees, and the Prodigal son does not really describe the pharisees, I do not believe that the pharisees were his primary audience.
    Actaully, I think that after the pharisees made their comment Christ addressed the publicans and sinners to reassure them that God was forgiving, unlike the pharisees.

  9. 9 choosethechrist
    May 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    It’s certainly not a surprise that the LDS would focus their attention on the elder son as being diligent and obedient as it fits their theology regarding their goals toward their eternal rewards and I am sure they view themselves as the elder son.

    However, Jesus often addressed the self righteous.

    Luke 15:2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

    Mark 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    The parable of the prodigal son is a picture of God. The younger son symbolizes the lost and the elder brother represents the self-righteous and both are sinners:

    Luke 15:21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

    Luke 15:22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

    Luke 15:28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

    This is an awesome story of restoration for those who have wandered away from the Father that illustrates the true mercy, love, patience, and forgivenness of our Lord for those who will return to Him.

    As Christians, we understand the joy that we feel everytime a soul is restored to the Lord even if it takes an entire lifetime for it to occur i.e. the thief on the cross who was saved just before his death.

    The joy of the LDS is for those who diligently worked their whole lives in obedience. There is no joy from the LDS for the thief on the cross because the thief did not spend his entire life in diligent submission to the Lord. There is just no way God would give the thief the same reward because the thief did not earn it in their eyes.

    Both brothers are sinners, both brothers are loved by the Lord, both brothers are forgiven, both brothers are saved:

    31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

  10. 10 joshtried
    May 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    It’s certainly not a surprise that the LDS would focus their attention on the elder son
    Choose, why do you blatantly disregard what Shem said.. We do not put more clout on the many aspects of this parable. we discuss EACH part of this parable, instead of focusing on merely one aspect of this parable. You decide to limit your view on scripture, and we view all parts of it.

    However, Jesus often addressed the self righteous.
    We dont claim to be self righteous, you claim we are self righteous. You are wrong. There are going to be people of both Christian and LDS faith that are self righteous, though this does not make up the majority in either group.

  11. 11 shematwater
    May 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I really wish Choose would stop trying to teach us our own doctrine.

    We have great joy in the Thief on the Cross. He will be saved, and he will inherit Celestial Glory. He has been promised that. I am overjoyed that he was able to secure such for himself at such a late point in life. (This, or course, is the meaning of the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20: 1-16; in which those who worked only one day receive the same reward as those who worked all day.)

    There is great joy in heaven over every sinner that repent. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God…And if it so be that you should labor all your days…and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me…how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18: 10, 15-16)

  12. 12 choosethechrist
    May 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Shem, Don’t you mean the thief will be saved if some faithful Mormon does the “work” for him? I am glad to hear you are different than most LDS people who dislike the idea of deathbed salvation with the implication that those who have not been faithful in this life will be entitled to the same Celestial Glory inheritance that any faithful mormon might receive.

    I also find it interesting that by LDS doctrine the thief on the cross will receive celestial glory through proxy baptism, but I will not be able to receive celestial glory through proxy baptism simply because I rejected the LDS gospel in this life. According to LDS doctrine, it is more rewarding to live a sinful life in ignorance of the LDS gospel than to live a righteous life while rejecting the LDS gospel.

    I like God’s way better. The thief and I both get salvation/celestial glory through the blood of Jesus Christ without the need of a middle man like the LDS church.

    I also find it interesting that you choose to focus on my thief on the cross analogy rather than my main point which was that both brothers are sinners.

    LDS teachings tend to present the elder brother as obedient and faithful with disregard to his sin:

    “As Jesus taught about repentance, He told the story of a man who had two sons. The older son was obedient and faithful. The younger son asked for his share of his father’s property and left home. He soon wasted all his money in sinful living, and he became very hungry. Realizing he had been wrong, the younger son decided to return home and beg forgiveness. As the son neared home, his father saw him coming and was overjoyed. The father celebrated his son’s return with a feast. This made the older son angry. The father explained to the older son that he would be given all the father had but that it was right to rejoice over the younger son’s repentance.”

    The elder brother may have been obedient and faithful to the Father, but he was also sinful toward his brother and Father with his jealous and angry behavior.

  13. 13 shematwater
    May 5, 2012 at 11:51 pm


    I see no jealousy in the elder brother, and the anger was easily passified. You seem to be missing the point. The parable does not lay any blame on the elder son, and so we do not lay any blame. It is a figurative narrative, and should not be taken literal.
    And I want to know how this was to be considered your main point when only a small portion of your post actually discussed it. If it was yur main point it should have been the focus, not the side note.

    As to the thief on the cross, I believe in his salvation because we read of that promise in the Bible. If God had not declared this to be the case I would be very sceptical. I do not believe in deathbed repentence as most people choose to think of it. I do not believe that a person can live in sin with the expectation of being able to repent on his deathbed. This is not possible, and never has been. If one lives in sin than at their deathbed they will not in the right spirit to repent, and thus they will not be able to. However, I do believe that it is possible for a person to repent on their deathbed, given the proper circustances, frame of mind, and spirit. It is not common, but the thief on the cross does prove it is possible, just not very likely.

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May 2012

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