Luke 15:2

ESV And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
NIV But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
NASB And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to complain, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'
CSB And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
NLT This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people — even eating with them!
KJV And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
NKJV And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

What does Luke 15:2 mean?

A crowd of spiritual outcasts has swarmed Jesus (Luke 15:1). We don't know if they have repented of their sins or not—it's probably a mix. A "sinner," in this situation, is someone who does not follow societal mores. They are those considered blatantly out of fellowship with God, such as prostitutes, thieves, and open non-believers. Pharisees place tax collectors in the same category as the "extortioners, unjust, [and] adulterers" (Luke 18:11). Tax collectors were hired by the occupying Roman government to collect a minimum amount from their fellow Jews. If they took more, they were allowed to keep it—many were deeply corrupt.

That doesn't stop Jesus from associating with them. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to be His disciple. In turn, Matthew invited Jesus to a formal banquet with his friends, many of whom were also tax collectors. When the Pharisees and scribes condemned Jesus' attendance, He responded, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:27–32).

To eat with someone is to publicly show fellowship with them. Jesus doesn't condone their sin, but He knows the best way to bring someone to repentance isn't to stand off to the side and insult them (Luke 18:9–14). It's to invite them into a relationship. It's to show them a better way. The Pharisees value perfection to the exclusion of repentance; often we do, too.

"This man" or "this one" is a derogatory, dismissive term. "Receive" doesn't just mean to accept into one's presence but to greet warmly. Paul will later use the word to refer to how we should interact with other believers (Romans 16:2; Philippians 2:29). The Pharisees believe Jesus is breaking the Old Testament tradition of disassociating from anyone who is a known sinner (Psalm 1; Isaiah 52:11); they interpret Jesus' actions to mean He is indifferent to sin.

In response, Jesus gives three parables. Jesus is not only willing to seek those who have strayed from God through foolishness or ignorance, He will even happily welcome the return of open rebels who repent. In any of these cases, reconciliation is cause for celebration (Luke 15:3–32). May we have the same grace.
What is the Gospel?
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