prodigal son

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a figure in a parable of Jesus (Luke 15:11–32); a wayward son who squanders his inheritance but returns home to find that his father forgives him.
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Origin of prodigal son

First recorded in 1545–55

Words nearby prodigal son

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

How to use prodigal son in a sentence

Cultural definitions for prodigal son

Prodigal Son

A character in a parable Jesus told to illustrate how generous God is in forgiving sinners who repent. The Prodigal Son was a young man who asked his father for his inheritance and then left home for “a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” As his money ran out, a famine occurred, and he went to work tending pigs, but even then he could not get enough to eat. He returned home, knowing that he had given up his right to be treated as his father's son, but hoping that his father would accept him as a hired servant on the farm. Seeing the Prodigal Son coming from a distance, the father rejoiced and ordered the fatted calf to be slaughtered for a feast to celebrate the son's return.

The Prodigal Son's elder brother returned from the fields while the feast was going on and was angry. He complained that he had never been treated to such a feast, though he had remained and worked diligently for his father while the Prodigal Son was away. The father reassured him, saying that the elder son would still get his inheritance, but it was right to celebrate the return of the Prodigal Son: “For this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.