The New Testament is a fundamental text of human history. With its help, Christianity has shaped the behavior and experiences of many men and women over 2,000 years. By reading it, from ancient times, members of other religions have gained information about the foundations of Christianity. Only for about 300 years it has been subjected to scholarly investigations, often wish sharp historical criticism that has confused the church and theology and has become a characteristic of modern culture.
Over this period, many issues have been clarified. Today we know very much more about these 27 short writings from a little religious sub culture in the Roman Empire than ever before. Nevertheless, the risk of being forgotten, partly because the link with the Christian history which they have influenced has been broken, partly because the results of historical – critical research are so complex that many people are deterred from trying to grasp them.
The New Testament is a collection of the writings of a small religious sub culture in the Roman Empire which was formed as a result of a new interpretation of the Jewish religion. This new interpretation was promoted around AD 27 – 30 by the activity of the Jewish charismatic Jesus of Nazareth, who was executed by the Romans as a troublemaker (Theissen, 2003). In the New Testament writings, his figure comes to stand alongside with God.
Even now, one challenge in interpreting these writings is to explain how within the monotheistic world of Jewish faith a human being could come to be associated with the one and only God in this way; how as a result this variant of Jewish religion opened up to non Jews and why many Jews had to reject it (Butz, 2005).
A first attempt to understand the New Testament as literature can begin either from the title of the whole collection of books or from the literary forms of the writings brought together in it (Marshall, Travis, & Ian, 2002). The title ‘New Testament’ derives from the Hebrew term new covenant and appears for the first time as a promise in the book of the prophet Jeremiah (31. 31 – 34).
This new relationship was regarded as the new covenant which God will make with Israel. Inspired by this vision, in the second century BC, in reaction to tendencies towards Hellenization in Judaism, some Jews founded a new covenant in the land of Damascus – a group which later resulted in the Essenes. Jesus of Nazareth left no writings. Nevertheless, the language of the forms of his preaching has found its way into the gospels.
We find it here as a unique combination of poetry in parables, wisdom in sentences and prophecy in promises and threats. In addition, he has indirectly helped to stamp the recollection of his activity in brief anecdotal narratives (apophthegms) and miracle stories (Stein, 1994). Everything that is said by Him and about Him in the gospels is bathed on a mythical aura, yet it is molded by a concrete history which fits only into the Jewish world of the 1st century AD (Theissen, 2003).
Jesus Christ of Nazareth used many illustrations to put across the points which he had. Essentially, many religious tales serve as lessons for the faithful. Although they may be based on actual events, they do not have to be, because their importance is not how factual they are (Wenham, 2001).
These stories are important because they reaffirm a religion’s beliefs and expectations and offer guidelines for living. The parable of the prodigal son is a story about a man who had two sons. The elder worked very hard on his father’s farm, the younger boy was a happy-go lucky child who helped out occasionally. One day, the younger son approached his father and said that he needed his inheritance.
Upon receiving his inheritance, the young boy hit the road to the city where he spent all that he had got from his father of life luxuries. Within a short duration, what he had run out. Desperate and hungry, the young man took a job as a pig feeder. One day, as he was taking care of the pigs, he realized how far he had fallen behind. He had started out as a wealthy young man with big dreams; now he was feeding pigs and envying them for the food they had. Then, he though longingly of home and his father, he decided to return home.
Ashamed by his behavior and selfishness, the son approached his father’s house. The father saw his younger son in the distance and ran to greet him. Overjoyed, he drew his wayward son in an embrace and kissed him. When the contrite son could catch his breath, he said that he had messed up and he did not deserve to be called his son. The father ignored the plea and told his son to come in.
About the same time, the elder son came in and found the younger son back. Angry and hurt, the elder son felt that all the years that he had spent with the father nothing of that nature had been done to him. However, despite all that the father reminded him that he did not do anything of that nature for him because he was always with him and all that he had was his. But the younger son had gone away for a while and he had returned. That is why there was the necessity to celebrate (Gellman & Hartman, 2011 ).
This portion of scripture is marked by a series of literary features which Jesus uses to deliver or convey his concerns to the people of Israel and in this case, it is Joshua. This portion of scripture begins with the reminder of the fact that the sons of Israel had sinned. Owing to the sin, they became cursed. Through this, the writer uses some literary features which give a lot of insight into what he wishes to convey. First, it is quite evident that the writer captures the mind of the reader through his ability to bring out the dialogue.
Dialogue is a literary feature which captures the communication between persons with the intention of bringing out a given idea or meaning. Essentially, writers use this approach when their goal is to bring to light a character of the persons in the literature to the interest of the readers. As a consequence of this feature, Jesus is depicted as a man who seeks purity and firm in matters of principle.
This is most evident when he is told of the cause of the defeat being a result of sin which has been committed by one of the Israelites he quickly embarks of finding out who the culprit is and eventually the culprit is killed. This is a classic example which confirms of his authority and astute behavior when it comes to issues of principle. Second, there is a conflict in this scripture.
Conflict is a struggle between two or more forces or parties which oppose each or one another as a result of sharp differences. These differences might be internal or external which at times hinder the achievement or the realization of challenges which are imposed. Theses struggles might be internal or external depending on the state of affairs which might be prevailing at a given point in time outside the character.
These different forces which are antagonistic may be out of customs, values, traditions or even principles. In this case, the conflicts that arise in this scripture where the Christians are fail because of their sinful character. What is portrayed in this scripture is the nature if God’s holiness whereby He does not want anything to do with impurity. Thirdly, there is the aspect of foreshadowing. This is an aspect which is used by writers to give the reader a clue about the events which are about to happen, in this case, prodigal son.
Fourthly, there is the aspect of what is known as the point of view. In this case, the writer portrays the plot of the story from a point of view in which it is seen. This can be done or achieved through three main aspects which include being omniscient, which is in this text, the writer presents God as omniscient, all knowing and all loving. The other aspect within this literary device is the limited or the objective third person.
For instance, the writer has limited some aspects of the story within the text so that the reader can come out and try to make sense of what is happening. And lastly, this aspect has the limited first person whereby the on goings in the text are purely based on one character who is responsible for revealing what is taking place within the story or the text. Lastly, the writer presents a certain tone to the reader.
The reader is able to note God’s tone towards sin as well as Joshua. The reader is also well aware of the impact and consequences of sin in the land of Israel. The lesson from this illustration is that we fail to fulfill what God expects from us in our lives.
He will forgive us, his children, if we ask him to. Just as the father always loved his prodigal son, God the Father always loves us – no matter what we do. In the current world, this illustration reminds us not to feel dismayed in any way. Rather whatever we need we should ask from the father. In addition, there is the subject of the right attitude. The son that remained home had the right conduct, but had no character.
He stayed. He obeyed his father. He worked. He did not wrongfully use any use of his father’s possessions, though he was an heir. However, we also find that his attitude was bad. He was not happy when he discovered that his brother returned home. He did not even attend the festivities. He defamed his brother to his father (Evans, 2002). Essentially, this lesson teaches Christians in the current world to have a positive attitude in all matters.
If we wonder what Jesus says about forgiveness, we come to see that we are obliged as Christians to do all we can to help everyone understand that they have dignity and value, that they deserve respect and reverence, that the Father loves them just as much as the Father loves Jesus. We need to do everything in our power, in other words, to lift shame from others.
This obligation also means that we must open to God and others for our own shame to be lifted. Shame is the opposite of healthy elf – love. It is a sense of personal worthlessness, an inner alienation that leaves a person feeling negated, valueless, without dignity. The most profound image of shame in literature is the prodigal son in the pigsty. He is alienated from his father and family as squanderer of his inheritance, from his God and religious tradition as he feeds pigs, from his body and himself as he stands, starving an ankle deep in mud.
The words of his shame are these: “Father, I no longer deserve to be called your son.” With these words, he proclaims his alienation from the core of his identity and dignity, the one thing that can never be changed is that he is his father’s son. When he returns, it is at precisely these words that the father breaks in and calls for the robe, ring, shoes and party.
Because shaming another person is the essence of hate, the father pleads with the older son, too, to lift his brother’s shame – to acknowledge his brother’s worth, honor his value, respect and reverence his human dignity, and extend him the tender love that he himself knows. Jesus calls all who would follow him to do the same for everyone. The parable of the prodigal son is a healing of wounds deep within the soul. If healing does not take, then the father’s role in the family is of no avail. That is how it is with the kingdom.
The kingdom is seen as an act of healing. To deny its healing power is to reject and destroy it. The audience has come to the realization that the father’s offering of forgiveness and grace to his sons is the way it is in the kingdom. Essentially, the parable of the prodigal son is juxtaposition to the kingdom. Exegetically, on finds both mytheme and narrative, finding expression. This parable subverts a mytheme by which the kingdom decides between the chosen and the rejected. In the parable, the father does not reject his sons.
The kingdom is not something that decides between but something that unifies. That implies that the Kingdom is universal and not particularistic. The parable of the prodigal son attempts to show that Luke 15 in its contents and structure is modeled after Psalm 23. The author of Luke 15 seems to have reflected on Psalm 23 and decided to reuse the material by turning its main metaphors into stories.
There are eight common motifs which are identified in this scripture. These motifs include the shepherd, repentance, lost sheep, restoration, love, banquet, female imagery, and Christology which are between these two passages. Some of them are related to the parable of the prodigal son.
In essence, this parable has been used in many Christian settings to present the theology of forgiveness and tolerance. In this case, it is worth noting that this is an important aspect with regards to Christianity and the value of forgiveness. Jesus exemplified this through his self less love and death on the cross. Lastly, he exemplified it through his teachings which were succinct and clear.
Butz, J. The brother of Jesus and the lost teachings of Christianity. Vermont: Inner Traditions / Bear & Co, 2005.
Evans, R. L. Kingdom Practice, Power, and Principle: A Guide to the Kingdom of God . Lincoln,NE: iUniverse, 2002.
Gellman, R. M., & Hartman, M. T. Religion For Dummies. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
Marshall, I. H., Travis, S., & Ian, P. Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Letters & Revelation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Stein, R. H. The method and message of Jesus’ teachings. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.
Theissen, G. The New Testament: history, literature, religion. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003.
Wenham, D. Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts (Vol. 1). Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2001.