Was the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus a Parable or a Real Story?
First let's look at it as it is written in Scripture:
LUKE 16:19-31 "There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom; the rich man also died and was buried; and in hell (Hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in the water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they who would pass from here to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from there. Then he said, I pray thee, therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house (For I have five brethren), that he may testify unto them, lest they also come to this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham; but if one came from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
Parable or Literal - Metaphor or Real Story?
If it's literal, it fits nothing popular preachers tell us. If it's literal, it fits nothing else in Scripture. If it's a Parable, it fits perfectly and causes no discrepancies. The following are silly questions, nevertheless each has a bearing on whether or not the Parable is literal or figurative:
- Are the righteous dead forced to watch lost souls in Hell?
- Do the righteous dead communicate with souls in Hell?
- Are the righteous dead confined to someones bosom?
- How long do the righteous sit in someone bosom?
- How big is Abraham's bosom? Could it hold the millions of righteous dead since creation?
- Whose bosom did Abraham sit in? Possibly Adam's bosom? Where did Able sit?
- Do the wicked dead have intelligent conversations? We're told they bellow for mercy as they're continually dunked in molten liquid fire.
- If only the spirit is transferred to Hell at death, a spirit has no body. The rich man was thirsty. Would a spirit drink water?
- Inhabitants of Hell are described with red-hot blood flowing in veins, eyeballs melting from the heat, (but strangely still having perfect vision), blistered tongues, mouths bellowing and screaming day and night forever and ever. Every nerve is continually brought to its highest possible pain level. This looks nothing like the rich man Jesus described.
Promoters of "Never-Ending Torture" Defend Their Case:
Popular Preachers say Paradise and Hell were moved when Jesus died. Supposedly there was a two-compartment "Sheol" up until then. Afterwards Hell stayed where it was, but Paradise was moved to Heaven. Some Popular preachers tell us that throughout eternity the saved will be shown Hell from time to time in order to insure that no saved persons sin again. Some even go so far as to say the saved will continually see Hell; continually see their loved ones screaming for mercy. Again, this is supposed to prevent any more rebellion. Such exposure is supposed to show God as a loving God. Other popular preachers, those with better reasoning ability, tell us that when God "wipes away the tears" of the saved, they have no memory of their lost loved ones. The reasoning ability of such preachers seems better, but not really. They make it appear that, throughout eternity, God hides this dark side of Himself; a side that takes pleasure in torturing people.
If the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is an illustration, it's completely understandable and presents no problem. If however, it is a real event that has actually happened, dozens of Scripture passages must be completely removed from the Bible.
Every parable from Jesus can be twisted into mockery and made to look like it contradicts Scripture, if common sinse is hurled to the wind. Were it not for the background of the parable, we'd wonder why Jesus told something completely contrary to all other Scriptures pertaining to death. If, however, the parable came from a Jewish illustration very familiar to the wicked Pharisees who were harassing Him, we will know why He used it. This is exactly what happened and there's documented proof. Let's look.
Josephus was a Pharisee and Jewish historian born around A.D.37. He joined the Pharisee party at age 19. In his writings there's a section titled, "Josephus`s Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades". His description of Hades is the same as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We'll reproduce the parts similar to the parable. Following is from his work published by Baker Book House Publishers. We will embolden phrases for emphasis.
"Now as to Hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine, it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness. This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to every one's behavior and manners. In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire, whereunto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared for a day, aforedetermined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust and those that have been disobedient to God…shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment,... while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never fading kingdom. These are now confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined. For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments,...there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor any briers there; but the countenance of the fathers and of the just, which they see always smiles upon them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham. But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good-will, but as prisoners driven by violence; to whom are sent the angels appointed over them to reproach them and threaten them with their terrible looks, and to thrust them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls, drag them into the neighborhood of hell itself; who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapor itself; but when they have a nearer view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and exceeding great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expectation of a future judgment, and in effect punishment thereby: and not only so, but where they see the place (or choir) of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust if he were brave enough to attempt it, pass over it."
"This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined, when He will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again of those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe (their resurrection): but not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato, and this in time, be not incredulous; but believe that God is able, when He hath raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God, that He is able to do some things, and unable to do others."
As far as can be verified, the works of Josephus are true documents. Most Bible scholars believe he was a genuine historian and the documents passed down to us are as he wrote them. If they are genuine, we can see why Jesus would relate the parable as He did. It doesn't mean He endorsed their doctrine, but rather, made a parable by using symbols with which they were familiar. When speaking to farmers, He used parables of seeds and harvest. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus was an answer to the Pharisees who "derided Him" (vs.14).
Was Jesus saying the Old Testament prophets were wrong? Did the, "holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2Pt.1:21), write in error? The Psalmist wrote, "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Ps.146:4), and, "For in death there is no remembrance of Thee; in Sheol (Hades) who shall give Thee thanks" (Ps. 6:5). "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence" (Ps.115:17). Wouldn't those in "Abraham's bosom" praise the Lord for not being in the Hell portion of Sheol?
Bible passage with a DIRECT bearing on the parable:
"The living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy are all perished" (Ecc.9:5-6).
Things that CANNOT happen in Sheol or Hades:
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is NO work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave (Sheol) whither thou goest" (v.10).
NO Memory, Love, Knowledge, Device, Envy, Hate, or Wisdom.
The rich man had ALL of these. He REMEMBERED his brothers and LOVED them. He had KNOWLEDGE that they must change or share his fate. He DEVISED a method to save them. Obviously he ENVIED Lazarus and HATED himself for being foolish in his life. Through all this, he developed WISDOM.
If Jesus is telling us that the parable is literal, then He's is saying the following Scripture is wrong:
"His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Ps.146:4).
"For in death there is no remembrance of Thee; in Sheol (Hades) who shall give Thee thanks" (Psalms 6:5).
"The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence" (Ps.115:17).
Did Jesus tell a parable that reversed all the previous information the Holy Spirit had given to Old Testament prophets? Silly question!!
The above question is much worse than silly or Foolish! It is BLASPHEMOUS!! To accuse Jesus of Reversing the Work of the Holy Spirit during Old Testament times is to accuse Jesus attacking the Holy Spirit. Satan does this, and Satan would have us believe the members of the God Head disagree.
Satan infiltrated the Early Church with the Gnostics. These Gnostics claimed Christ's whole purpose for coming to earth was to launch an attack against the God who created earth; attack the God of the Jews; attack the God who gave the 10 Commandments! Obviously Satan is pleased for us to accuse Jesus of attacking and disagreeing with the God of the Old Testament! Where is our outrage?
Jesus used metaphoric language. What was the point of the parable? The Pharisees believed that wealth and health represented God's favor, while poverty and sickness represented disapproval and punishment. By using terms familiar to those miserable, stiff-necked Pharisees, He got their attention.
Jesus expects us to compare Scripture with Scripture and use common sense. If we do, the Bible has NO Contradictions! If we try to insert man-made Theories and pre-conceived notions, we make Christianity look foolish and ridicules. Satan wants this, so he has invented ridiculous and foolish doctrines hoping Christians will spread such, which they have. Let's NOT!!
Thank you, Dear Reader, for your time. Please make this subject a matter of prayer and Bible Study.
Yours in Christ
Walter C. Martin Jr.
Check Our Other Websites: