In the "Parable of the Prodigal Son," what does prodigal mean and who is the prodigal brother?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Prodigal Son" there are two nameless brothers. The elder brother stays with his father to work the land and stay close to God, while the younger brother asks for an early inheritance and leaves his father and brother in search of his fortune. His "riotous living" lasts until his money runs out and a famine hits the country, driving him first to work at pig farm and then eventually back to his family.

Prodigal means spending money recklessly or giving lavishly, and in the parable the younger son fulfills both definitions. After spending his inheritance, he returns home offering himself to his father as a servant.

‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

His father sees his son "was lost and is found" and so he rejects his offer and welcomes him back into the family. In celebration the father orders his servants to kill and cook his fattened calf.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "prodigal" means someone who wastes what they have, someone who is very wasteful.  From that, you can see which son it was that was prodigal.  It was the younger son who is referred to in the "title" of this parable.

If you remember, it was the younger son who wanted his inheritance right away.  He went off and he spent the inheritance in really stupid ways -- he totally wasted it.  Meanwhile, his older brother stayed at home doing everything just the way he was supposed to.  So he was definitely not prodigal.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial