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Lots of noise in heaven (δεῖ; Luke 15:32)

I was reading Luke 15 this morning and concluded that heaven is a “happening place.” Celebration. Shouting. Rejoicing.

Luke 15 is the primary biblical passage for the joy God feels when someone repents. But not only God but also the angels. This is the happy side of the spiritual realities in which we live. True, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). But there is more than struggle in the spiritual realm. There is joy.

Just like the joy of finding a loss sheep, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (v 7). Just like the joy of the woman who found her lost coin, “when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (vv 9–10). And when the prodigal son returns, the father runs to meet him, embraces him, kisses him, gives him a robe and a ring, and throws a party with the fattened calf. The father tells the elder son, “we had (ἔδει) to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (v 32).

The translation of ἔδει is interesting. I love the NIV’s translation, “we had to celebrate and be glad.” The father was under compulsion to respond with joy. He had to; it was the only way he could respond.

δεῖ does have a semantic range. BDAG give these two meanings.

  1. to be under necessity of happening, it is necessary, one must, one has to
  2. to be something that should happen because of being fitting

This is an interesting decision. The second is the more vanilla option — the right thing to do is to celebrate. The ESV has, “fitting.” The KJV has, “It was meet that we should make merry,” but I have no idea what “meet” means. Google’s dictionary has, “fulfill or satisfy (a need, requirement, or condition),” so I assume this agrees with the vanilla option. The NET has “appropriate” but footnotes the possibility, “necessary.”

But given that the overall thrust of the entire chapter is joy, and that this parable is specifically about the joy at the son's resurrection (”this brother of yours was dead and is alive again“); I prefer the first — the father was under compulsion to do the right thing. He had to celebrate (so the NASB, HCSB, NRSV). Bock agrees: ”The father affirms the necessity of celebration, not just its appropriateness, by the use of ἔδει. It is morally right to rejoice, given the circumstances of the return“ (2:1319f.).

The writer of Hebrews says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (1:14). But while they are “sent out,” Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matt 18:10).” I understand that there is some theology that abuses the role of angels (cf. Col 2:18), but that should not dissuade us from recognizing that they along with God throw parties of joy when a sinner repents.

They have to. It is the only appropriate response.

The questions is, do we celebrate when we should?