Where is the cross in the parable of the prodigal son? For centuries, Muslims have called attention to the father’s forgiveness in this parable in order to question the need for a Mediator between humanity and God. In The Cross and the Prodigal, Kenneth E. Bailey—New Testament scholar and long-time missionary to the Middle East—undertakes to answer this question.
Drawing on his extensive knowledge of both the New Testament and Middle Eastern culture, Bailey presents an interpretation of this parable from a Middle Eastern perspective and, in doing so, powerfully demonstrates its essentially Christian message. Here Bailey highlights the underlying tensions between law and love, servanthood and sonship, honor and forgiveness that grant this story such timeless spiritual and theological power.
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- Interprets the parable from a Middle Eastern perspective
- Highlights underlying tensions
- Questions the need for a mediator between humanity and God
Praise for the Print Edition
The Cross and the Prodigal is a little book that changed the minds of Gospel scholars throughout the world. . . . Over 60 years of life in the Middle East (from Egypt to Iraq) bequeathed to [Bailey] a discerning knowledge of peasant life; fluency in Arabic; the ability to work in Syriac, Coptic and Aramaic; and an intimate acquaintance with Rabbinic literature. These skills he now applies to the three parables of Luke 15 in order to unlock cultural insights that have eluded scholars for centuries. This approach deserves a name—Middle Eastern New Testament Studies—and today Bailey’s legacy belongs with scholars such as Joachim Jeremias: leading parable interpreters whose work has been a watershed for the rest of us.
—Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College and Graduate School
Dr. Kenneth Bailey's unique perspective as one who has spent the better part of his life living in the Middle East unlocks the parables and teachings of our Lord Jesus in remarkably fresh ways. In the unfolding of the prodigal son Bailey demonstrates there is no forgiveness without great cost on the part of the forgiver. This revised edition is a wonderful update and expansion of an already excellent book. I am delighted to commend it.
—John W. Howe, bishop, The Episcopal Church Diocese of Central Florida
In The Cross and the Prodigal, Kenneth Bailey uses his rare and intimate familiarity with the peasant culture of the Middle East to illuminate three beloved parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Bailey rightly believes that Christian communities with close connections to the biblical world have many things to teach us about the cultural background of biblical narrative. This classic work, newly revised, provides fresh perspectives for understanding the love of God the Father, and for seeing how the compassion of the cross is present already in the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ.
—Philip Graham Ryken, president, Wheaton College
This book is for those of us who long to know what Jesus was saying to his audience then, so that we can know what the Bible is saying to us now. Ken Bailey’s work is very nourishing, spiritually and theologically. And if you like to be surprised with new insights, you will love The Cross and the Prodigal!
—Marian McClure, director, Worldwide Ministries, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
It is an extremely rare event in New Testament studies when the historical expertise of the scholar is combined with the poetic imagination of the storyteller. Ken Bailey's The Cross and the Prodigal unites the professor and the playwright. In the first section of the book the author's unique familiarity with Christian literature of Near Eastern provenance and his intimate knowledge of Near Eastern village life produce a fascinating explanation of the parable of the prodigal son, which emerges not as the sentimental account of the pilgrimage of a sorry sinner, but as the portrayal of God as a Father who pays every price possible in the search of two lost sons, a portrait contrary to all expectations associated with a patriarch. The book’s second section is a play in four scenes in which this understanding of the parable is placed on the stage. Thus, exegetical theology is transformed back into its original medium, the telling of a story.
—Ulrich Mauser, Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary
- Title: The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants
- Author: Kenneth E. Bailey
- Edition: 2nd
- Publisher: IVP
- Publication Date: 2005
- Pages: 151
About the Author
Kenneth E. Bailey is an author and lecturer in Middle Eastern New Testament studies. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he also serves as Canon Theologian of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. He holds graduate degrees in Arabic language and literature, and in systematic theology; his ThD is in New Testament. Bailey spent 40 years living and teaching New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus, still holding the title of research professor emeritus of Middle Eastern New Testament studies at the Ecumenical Institute (Tantur), Jerusalem.