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In Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God, he stated on page 30 and 45 that beyond simply being restored to the family, the younger son also has his inheritance restored further diminishing the elder son’s estate. (No citations provided by Keller)

Luke 15:31, the second to last verse of the parable, the father tells the elder brother “...all that is mine is yours”

Is Keller correct about the younger son’s inheritance being restored?

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  • b a, What changes to the question or post would you recommend that might solicit an answer from source outside the New Testament (which does not appear to answer my question directly)? Nov 12, 2018 at 15:20
  • What do you want to know? Whether Jewish law would require him to restore it? (Since you already got an answer, it would be better to ask a new one so that the answer isn't invalidated.) But the sources Frank Luke quotes in the other answer (excepting Sirach) are not Second Temple era
    – b a
    Nov 12, 2018 at 15:47
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    No it is not restored acc to the Parable. But if the Father wants he can give him something. The Parable doesn't show anything new given to the younger son except the great feast. The claim of your book is baseless and based on misguided premise of trashing and maligning the elder son.
    – Michael16
    Mar 11, 2022 at 4:47

4 Answers 4

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+50

An article in Jewish Encyclopedia sheds a little light on this topic.

My summary of the information combined with information from the parable is:

  1. The father can do what he wishes with his property
  2. The father's property belongs to him and him alone until after he dies
  3. The father did not have to give the younger son anything, the son made a request and the father granted the request (Luke 15:12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.).
  4. The younger son - according to custom - would have been given 1/3rd of the father's wealth.
  5. If Tim Keller means that the younger son got another 1/3 of the estate after the father died that conclusion is deeply suspect. (Luke 15:31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.) Meaning that when the father dies the whole estate will belong to the older son.
  6. Custom decided what should happen. There were no inheritance police to enforce rules so there is a little fuzziness in what actually happened in ancient times.
  7. The story is a parable with a message for us from God about the character of God. It is not meant to be authoritative on inheritance law/customs.

Among the early Hebrews, as well as among many other nations of antiquity, custom decided that the next of kin should enter upon the possession of the estate of a deceased person. The first-born son usually assumed the headship of the family, and succeeded to the control of the family property (see Primogeniture).

Even when there were children, it was within the right of the father to prefer one child to another in the disposition of his property. Sarah, not wishing Ishmael to share in the inheritance with her son Isaac, prevailed upon Abraham to drive Hagar and her son out of her house (Gen. xxi. 10); and Abraham later sent away his children by concubines, with presents, so that they should not interfere in the inheritance of Isaac (Gen. xxv. 6). Jacob, however, as it appears, made no distinction between the sons of his wives and those of his concubines (Gen. xlix.), and included his grandsons Ephraim and Manassch among his heirs (Gen. xlviii. 5,

Each of the sons of the deceased receives an equal share of the estate of his father or of his mother, except the first-born of the father, who receives a double share (see Primogeniture). A son born after the death of his father (Yeb. 67a), or one born of illegitimate connections ("mamzer"; ib. 22b), is also a legal heir to his father's estate, but the son born of a slave or of a non-Jewess is excluded (ib.; Naḥalot, i. 7, comp. iv. 6; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 276, 6; comp. ib. 279, 6, and "Be'er ha-Golah," ad loc.). An apostate Jew does not lose his right of inheritance, although the court , if it sees fit, may deprive him of his share (Ḳid. 18a; Naḥalot, vi. 12;

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  • Great Answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Mar 10, 2022 at 21:12
  • "All that I have is yours" is the response to "you've never killed the fattened calf for me" and means more like "you could have had the fattened calf any time you wanted it" rather than "the eldest son now has possession of the entire estate". If bullet point number one is true then we simply don't know because we are not told. +1 Mar 11, 2022 at 12:43
  • @David - Hagar was his wife - Genesis 16:3 - common to have more than 1 wife. Inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:15-17 - The Right of the Firstborn. regardless of what Sarah may have wanted. Genesis 22:2, “…Take now thy son, thine only son…”.. There seems to be serious discrepancies with Genesis, appear in favour of those who wrote it. see blessing of Ishmael - hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/74455/33268 Mar 15, 2022 at 13:07
  • @anothertheory Please help me understand how your comment relates to the parable.
    – David D
    Mar 15, 2022 at 13:18
  • @DavidD i was making the point that IMO, not sufficient evidence to support that part of your answer or the conclusion made. Mar 16, 2022 at 10:22
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The parable does not indicate that the younger son's inheritance was restored to him.

The beginning of the parable explains that at the time the younger son asked for his inheritance, he divided his goods at that time among both sons:

There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of property that falls to me. And he divided his living between them.

For this reason the father later says to the older son, all that is mine is yours. In no place does Luke say that the father restored the younger son's inheritance.

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  • Thank you user33515, for your answer, this is the conclusion I came to reading the parable but I am hoping to gain some cultural insight perhaps from extra biblical sources that may support Tim Keller’s conclusion by looking into the Hebraic culture of the day. Keller does add many of these type of insights (though the book does not include many citations) conclusion/insights I.e. a father would not normally run out to a son, the significance of a son asking for his inheritance while the father is living, the elder son refusing to enter the party, etc Nov 12, 2018 at 15:11
  • If this is true then the Father threw a party using his older son's resources without permission. Mar 10, 2022 at 13:42
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I like @DavidD 's answer. However, without detracting from that answer, let me add some further details and support.

The parable of the prodigal son is a very deep vein of teaching and spiritual lessons about which much has been written. There are numerous lessons to be gains from this masterfully crafted story, as one would expect from the Master!

  1. The text clearly explains that the father says to the older son, "and all that is mine is yours" (Luke 15:31). This suggests that the younger son's inheritance had already been received and that as a result of his profligate life, no more money would be inherited at the father's death
  2. This also suggests Jesus is teaching that the party to celebrate the son's return was not the reinstatement of the son's money but the RELATIONSHIP with the father. Recall that the primary reward of the righteous is to see the face of God (Rev 22:4, Job 19:26, 27).
  3. Sinners who waste their God-given lives and resources, but who come to God late in life are offered free grace and forgiveness. However, that wasted life cannot be recovered - this reformed sinner may die within a short time and cannot recover the wasted years.

That is, sin has consequences and David knew all too well - David was forgiven his great sin but suffered the consequences and lost four sons as a result.

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“All that is mine is yours” is an ironical statement of the father (who symbolizes God), because, first of all his possessions and belongings, to the father belongs his younger son as son, but the elder brother does not regard him as brother any more (for he already calls him not a warm “my bro”, but a chilly “your son”) so, he is no more his. Therefore, the father’s words to the elder son is an ironical reprimanding, as if saying: “all that is mine, is yours also, but you yourself, through your grudge and ungenerous, uncompassionate heart, deprive yourself of my most cherished possession - the love of my hapless son; thus, not only he needed repentance, but you too need it, and in fact even more than him you need it, for then you would also embrace him and only then indeed what is mine would also be yours, for I have nothing more valuable than all-forgiving love”.

As to restoring younger son’s inheritance at detriment of the older son’s share...oh, NO! And how, if they creep at all, such calculative, petit bourgeois and mercantilistic thoughts can even be entertained for more than a few seconds?! They are to be repelled outright even through a simple logic: that father gives to each their share, it does not mean he himself divests himself from all of his property, at least until he lives. Thus, he, out of gladness for the returned son, gives him not only the same share but even more - for before he was not given such a costly vestment and such a precious golden ring on his finger - but not at detriment of the older brother, for, as said above, the father wants also the latter to abandon his callous, judiciary attitude towards his flesh and blood and take share of his, the father's most precious possession - love of the son, his brother, and the father's joy for his repentance and return.

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