Nearly every Christian I know likes the story of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32) Who wouldn't? It's a beautiful story of love and forgiveness, illustrating that God is always willing to take us back in should we leave the fold.

(Of course, the obvious implications of God's willingness to forgive can also cause problems for those who want to spend their life in riotous living and only come back to God before they die. Stories and verses about God's love and mercy can make sinners comfortable in their sin because it makes them believe that they can always ask forgiveness before they die. A potentially catastrophic error in judgement, to say the least.)

I was thinking about it a little while ago, and I realized (read as: "formed an opinion") that there's a flip side to this story.

If the prodigal son had not come back to his father before he (the son) died, he wouldn't of ever restored his relationship with his father.

Similarly, we cannot go to Heaven unless we get right while we still have time.

If we wait to get saved until we join the ranks of those who are in the nursing home, we may never get saved because we'll always think we still have time.

Anyways, I pointed this out to a friend and he wasn't very favorable towards my potential sermon idea. He appears to be concerned about the fact that I'm using one of Christ's parables for something He didn't intend, which he believes to be rather dangerous.

I feel like it is perfectly acceptable since this sermon idea, conversation starter, etc. is in step with the rest of the Bible. It's not a contortion of the truth; it is true.

My friend, however, went to Bible College and I did not. He's a licensed pastor and I'm just someone who needs to get a sermon-ette together for a youth service at my church.

So my question remains:

Is it appropriate (at least in this case) to use a parable (or any Bible passage) for a purpose other than its original intent?



I'm not asking whether its acceptable to twist the Scriptures. I'm asking whether it's acceptable (at least in this case) to illustrate a truth with a Bible passage that was not intended on being used to present that point.


Here's another example of what I'm talking about.

Recently, I heard a thought provoking message on Moses holding up his hands in Israel's battle with Amalek in the valley of Rephidim. (Exodus 17:8-16)

(Before I tell you about what he preached, I feel it is my duty to let you know that he didn't present this message as truth straight from the Bible. He presented it as something to thing about and something he wanted our opinion on. Please don't think that he just pulls passages from the Bible and adds his own interpretation to them. That's not at all what happened.)

In this message, the preacher tied in the responsibility Moses had in the battle's outcome to the responsibility we, as Christians, have in the salvation of our friends, family, and fellow-man.

He then opened it for discussion -- a rare thing at our church. :)

  • 1
    I would suggest God isn't limited in his use a parable and wouldn't use a parable that only had 1/2 truth to it. There is no falseness in God, he cannot lie. I would suggest every angle of the parable is open to use, not just the popular. On the other hand please understand that parable doesn't discuss anything about what would have happened if the prodigal son died. You preaching on that topic from that exact passage is speculation. More specifically, your 'flip side' appears to be your opinion and not what is written. I advise you to continue to ask for input, I'm glad you posted here.
    – Adam Heeg
    Sep 4 '16 at 21:48
  • @AdamHeeg: Thanks for your input. I'm glad I asked here, too. Your view sounds similar to what PastorShane said ... It seems like I may need to think through this, while also waiting for other's input as well. Thanks, again, for your comment.
    – J. Allan
    Sep 5 '16 at 0:19
  • Is it acceptable under what? I think you need to specify some particular hermeneutic context, or else the question is too broad.
    – user15733
    Sep 5 '16 at 1:24
  • @TheNonTheologian: Wait. Not sure what you mean by "some particular hermeneutic context..." Do you care to explain?
    – J. Allan
    Sep 5 '16 at 1:28
  • Exegesis requires a hermeneutic system of some sort, i.e. a particular system for interpreting Scripture. The rules of such a system should provide the answer as to whether or not it is "acceptable" to interpret a parable as you suggest. Not all faiths hold to the same hermeneutic principles. (Eastern) Orthodox hermeneutics, for example, rely heavily on how Scripture was understood by the Church Fathers; on the other hand, an Evangelical Christian hermeneutic may rely more on a grammatical-historical approach. Each approach could yield, I think, a different answer to your question.
    – user15733
    Sep 5 '16 at 1:39

Naturally original intent is a the ultimate goal of the interpreter of Biblical truth and one to which the interpreter of sacred Scripture is obligated to seek out.

However, there are many cases where a different aspect of truth or light on a particular truth does indeed shine through apart from the author's original intent. Seeing the multiple truths in a particular passage is certainly innocent enough, and can provide an interesting study if done correctly.

Think for example of OT prophecy. The prophets were foretelling what would happen to the nation of Israel in their future. Much of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets apply in their immediate sense to the nation of Israel. On the other hand there also happens to be a futuristic sense which we often interpret as prophecy related to the end times.

In a case like that above we must be careful to apply those prophesies correctly in their immediate context and use caution when attempting to apply to the distant (or not so distant) future.

The parables of our Lord were generally given with a particular purpose in mind. Christ had a point he wished to make. It therefore behooves us to use the parable in its original intent. On the other hand we can certainly see other truths in a parable, but must be careful not to stretch them too far. For instance I have personally seen the parable in Matthew 18 about forgiveness used to teach some bizarre ideas about redemption, imputed righteousness, and the concept of Christ not paying the debt for our sins when this parable is intended to show the importance and necessity of sharing the forgiveness God extended to us with those who have done us wrong.

Care and reverence should always mark our interpretation of the Bible.

  • Thanks. In this instance, however, the ... opinion I reached is in line with the rest of the Bible (unlike that contortion of Matthew 18). What, then, is the appropriate way to remind people that God's mercy and love aren't a free ticket to Heaven? How do you know when it is appropriate to use a Bible passage for something other than it's original purpose and when it isn't?
    – J. Allan
    Sep 5 '16 at 1:32

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