Parable of the Prodigal Son: Arland Hultgren

This post is part of our ongoing series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Arland Hultgren

Arland Hultgren

Arland J. Hultgren’s interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in The Parables of Jesus offers a commentary style interpretation that will function within this paper as an example of several facets of the “traditional” Christian interpretation.[1] Before examining his interpretation of this narrative, we must first note several methodological factors in his hermeneutic. Within the context of his commentary, Hultgren write that “the primary interest within this volume is exegesis and theological reflection on the parables of Jesus as transmitted within the Synoptic Gospels.[2] In examining Luke 15:11b-32, Hultgren employs a variety of historical-critical tools, including textual criticism, philology, a contextual understandings of words and phrases during the Greco-Roman period, literary examination of the parable, and theological engagement of the narrative.[3] Hultgren’s overarching approach to the parables of Jesus lies with his declaration that underlies the perspective that parables are to be considered one of the two undisputed facets of historical datum (the other being his crucifixion), which makes their interpretation central for understanding the message of the historical Jesus and early Jesus movement.[4] Within this interpretation, the Parable of the Prodigal Son can only be understood within its context,[5] especially the literary context of Luke 15, in which Jesus is responding to the Pharisee’s and this parable follows those of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin.[6] As a final note concerning Hultgren’s methodological perspective, he affirms that his interpretations are but one of many possible interpretations, though adding the caveat that a parable should not be understood to mean just anything.[7] Thus Hultgren approaches this parable from a typically Protestant interpretative framework that places emphasis on the theological implications of the parable, as well as the surrounding contextual and especially socio-historical concerns. Continue reading

Cultural Differences and Biblical Interpretation

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum, Rome

One of the biggest challenges for those studying the Bible involves reading and interpreting the scriptures in a manner consistent with their original context. Modern readers are distanced from the earliest written messages of the Christian tradition not only by time and space, but also by key cultural differences. In their book Understanding the Social World of the New Testament, Dietmar Neufeld and Rochard E. DeMaris compile a number of sources from scholars concerned with discovering the cultural understanding and context of the social world from which the writings of the New Testament came.[1] In this post, we outline some of the most important differences between ancient Mediterranean culture and the modern North American life, as well as some examples of how this cultural understanding can contribute to the interpretation of the New Testament. Continue reading