The portion of Scripture
which is examined and interpreted in this study is certainly not the most
important passage in the Word of God. Nevertheless, it is apparent that many
make Luke 16:19-31 to be the preeminent passage of all Scripture because of the
great number of doctrines which they found upon it and which they establish by
When a passage is appealed
to again and again in support of ideas that are held or are being declared, that
passage automatically becomes one of great importance. And there is no single
passage in the Bible that is appealed to in support of as many beliefs as the
one that is now before us for consideration. The commonly accepted and popular
belief that is held by the self-styled orthodox concerning man's nature and
destiny has entrenched itself within this story. From this supposedly
impregnable fortress it calls upon all to drop arms and surrender if they dare
to believe or teach contrary to the generally accepted views. For many centuries
ideas have been read and preached into this passage so that now men are reading
them back out as if they were actually there. Many preachers are no longer able
to distinguish between their sermons on the rich man and Lazarus and the record
written in the Word of God, even though they are poles apart.
Over a period of many
years it has been my happy and fruitful labor to examine with microscopic
exactitude every one of the 859 passages in the sacred Scriptures that give
testimony concerning the soul. Careful analysis of every one of these passages
has resulted in the inescapable conclusion that the Bible teaches that man is a
soul-not that he has a soul as is generally believed. That man has a soul
is the Platonic theory; that man is a soul is the Biblical testimony.
Furthermore, these studies have demonstrated that there is no such thing in
Scripture as an immortal soul or a never-dying soul. However, in seeking to
present these findings to others I discover that with many the effort is
useless, for they firmly believe that the story of the rich man and Lazarus,
which does not even mention the word soul, stands in opposition to all
that I have found to be true and try to teach.
Over the same period of
time I have given much thought to the task of discovering all the truth that God
has revealed concerning human destiny and future punishment. But all that I have
found is considered by many to be of no value, and the labor expended is
regarded as being wasted effort, for they feel that all we need to know about
these subjects is presented in condensed form in the story of the rich man and
Lazarus. This passage is their vade mecum, a passage which they allow to
dominate and control the interpretation of the greater part of Scripture.
Out of a collection of literature that deals with this portion it can be seen
that this passage is constantly appealed to prove that man has a soul, that the
soul is immortal, that death is another form of life, that death is simply life
in another place, that death is the continuation of life, and that at the moment
of death a man is ushered into ineffable bliss or frightful woe. It is used to
prove that punishment begins the moment a wicked man dies, that the punishment
is by means of literal fire, and that the lost are tormented by fire eternally.
It is used to describe the nature of punishment between death and resurrection,
and is also used to show the nature of punishment after resurrection. It is
supposed to show the punishment a man undergoes before he is judged, and it is
also used to portray his punishment after he has had his day in God's court. It
is used to prove that the dead are not dead at all, but alive and fully
conscious. In fact this passage is used to deny all that the
Old Testament says about death.
This story has constantly been used to flay the rich and glorify the poor. It
has been used by the clergy to keep the poor in subjection so that they will not
desire the things enjoyed by the rich. By it men have proved that there is
inherent evil in riches and great virtue in poverty.
This story is the basis of the idea that hades is the place of disembodied
souls, and the theory of hades as a place of two compartments is founded
entirely upon it. It is appealed to show that paradise is one compartment in
hades, even though the word paradise is not found in it. It is used to
prove that paradise and "Abraham's bosom" are one and the same. In fact this
passage is the basis of almost every idea held today concerning the intermediate
state, that is, the state of men between the time of death and resurrection.
Many there are who insist that in this story we find the one place where our
Lord drew aside the veil and permitted men to see the conditions that exist on
the other side of death-that here we have a record of the condition, the
experiences, and even the conversation of those who have died.
I repeat, there is no single passage in all the Word of God that is used to
support as many different doctrines and ideas as the story of the rich man and
Lazarus. And if all these various doctrines and ideas are taught here, then all
must agree that without doubt this stands as the most important and far-reaching
revelation of truth in the Bible. Indeed, then this should be the veritable
vade mecum of the Christian, something that should be committed to memory so
that it is always with him and never out of his thoughts. But, of course, if we
accept this judgment as to the importance of this portion it will leave us in
the quandary that the greatest revelation of truth in the Word of God was given
by Christ to men who were unwilling to do His will, for this message was
delivered to the covetous and mocking Pharisees. This fact alone should cause
every lover of truth to be somewhat hesitant in accepting the confident
assertion of many that in this story the Lord drew aside the veil and gave men a
glimpse of the experiences of men on the other side of death.
As one whose life is devoted to understanding, believing, and teaching the
Word of God, I can say in all sincerity that if the story of the rich man and
Lazarus teaches all the things that have been set forth above, then I too want
to be found believing and teaching them. If, as so many claim, this passage is
to be understood literally and regarded as a narration of actual events, then I
want to accept as facts every idea it sets forth. However, long and careful
study of this passage has brought the conviction that these things are not
taught in it, and that it is not a narration of actual events that had taken
There are many who use this passage as a buttress, using it only in support
of what they believe. Yet if they actually went to it to find the truth, as they
claim to do, they would find that if this is a narration of actual history, then
it teaches many things which they would quickly reject. This story, if it is
actual history, makes future blessings to depend upon present poverty, and not
upon one's relationship to God through Jesus Christ. And if a man should desire
to teach that positions in the life to come will be just the reverse of those in
this life, he could find ample support for it by appealing to verse twenty-five
of this portion.
It is a simple matter for one to adopt a doctrinal position and then go to
the Bible to find support for it. The last place to which men turn is to the
Bible. And, if upon turning to it they find that it speaks contrary to what they
think, they will turn to it again and again in the hope of finding something
that can be used to sustain their opinions. This is the Balaam spirit in Bible
study. They consult the Scriptures as Balaam consulted God. His own prejudices
led him to try once more "what the Lord will say," to see if he could not find
something more in line with his preference in the matter. Those who are of this
spirit cannot refrain from imposing their own conceptions upon the Word of God.
They soon convince themselves that a passage contains certain things the are not
even remotely intimated in it. In view of this it will be well at this point for
us to read carefully and honestly the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and
fared sumptuously every day:
( NOTE: The words "fared sumptuously every day" need to be more accurately
translated to avoid the idea of feasting or banqueting which is not in the
Greek. It has been better rendered as follows: "who every day lived in pleasure
and luxury," Fenton; "lived sumptuously every day," Moffitt; "making merry day
by day, brilliantly," Rotherham; "living luxuriously and in a magnificent style
every day," Wuest. The word beggar in verse 20 should be "poor man"; the word
"hell" in verse 23 should be "hades'; and "Son" in verse 25 should be "Child.")
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid a his gate, full
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's
table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 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;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar
off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am
tormented in this flame.
25 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
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed so
that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to
us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him
to my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also
come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead,
they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither
will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
God's Word is a rock-indeed a precious stone that will stand any amount of
scrutiny. It is a lamp unto our feet, and it is not extinguished by examination.
It welcomes investigation It calls upon men to think upon it. If men will cease
taking themselves so seriously and accept God's statement that "we can do
nothing against the truth, but for the truth" (2 Cor. 13:8), they will not be so
fearful of the task of plunging into the study of the Word of God. It may be
deep, but if need be, I prefer to drown in it rather than to be battered to
death by the waves of human ignorance, error, superstition, and opinion. Those
who meditate upon the Word of God day and night are called blessed.
Inasmuch as the story of the rich man and Lazarus is, by most Christians,
allowed to negate the entire Old Testament revelation as to man's destiny, this
passage demands the most minute examination and prolonged meditation. It is
dishonest to build upon this passage if this is not done. Many who permit this
portion of God's Word to dominate and control the interpretation of the
remainder of Scripture seem at times to show an amazing unfamiliarity with just
what is said in it.
All who honestly examine this passage will find that innumerable questions,
problems, and difficulties arise as a result. These demand full consideration
before we can rest assured that we have discovered the true interpretation of
this portion of the Word of God.
In this story we have the written record of the spoken words of the Lord
Jesus. There can be no doubt concerning this. The translation, with a few
exceptions, is acceptable; therefore, if we use only the King James Version
we can rest assured that we have before us what our Lord said.
Our task then is to discover what the Lord meant by the things He said, just
what His purposes were in relating this story. These words express His thoughts
on this occasion, and from them we must discover what He was thinking.
Most men feel that this is an exceedingly simple task, for they hold this
story to be the simple, straight-forward, matter-of-fact history of actual
events that took place before the birth of Jesus, and which He witnessed before
His incarnation. They insist that this story is literal history, reported by the
Lord for the purpose of revealing the conditions that exist beyond death.
Yet, those who take this position will never go through with it. They dare
not follow their position out to all its conclusions and accept all its
consequences. They will not carry their idea of "historic reality" into every
detail. There is always a lapse into the figurative or assumptive. Their
position breaks down when they face the actual reality of the poor man being
carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. They know not what to do with the
statements which indicate that the rich man had eyes and a tongue and that
Lazarus had a finger. They cannot fit these bodily parts in with their ideas of
The Rich Man
In many sermons that are preached on this message this rich man is presented
as being exceedingly vile, and is set forth as a representative sinner. There is
no such picture here, and our Lord exercised care that no idea of great
wickedness is set forth. That would have spoiled the picture He is drawing. All
that we know of this man is that he was rich, that he wore expensive clothing
and that he lived luxuriously every day. This is all we know of him, and it is
very little. There is not enough here to form any true estimate of his
character, since the facts given deal with his state. They reveal nothing of his
character. As Trench says: "He was one of whom all may have spoken well; of whom
none could say worse than that he was content to dwell at ease, would fain put
far from himself all things painful to the flesh, and surround himself with all
In our smug self-righteousness we are apt to think that these statements
describe a great sinner like Ahab or Judas Iscariot, but this is wholly
imaginary. The average middle-class American of today probably dresses better,
eats better, and enjoys comforts far beyond what this man ever dreamed. We do
not judge a man's character to be bad when we discover that he is rich. Neither
do we judge a man as wicked because he dresses well. And while we may question
the wisdom of living luxuriously and splendidly, we do not question its
morality. Why then should the man in this story be judged as flagrantly wicked'?
Do we dare to calumniate one whom our Lord did not? True it is that he may not
have fed the beggar, but even of this we cannot be sure.
We are not told how this man gained his wealth, so, if we desire to be among
those who "impute not evil" let us not say that his riches were gained
dishonestly. Our Lord gave no revelation concerning this, and Abraham made no
such accusation when he spoke to him. In view of this, a simple quatrain fits
Be sure that you have Scripture, For all you say or do;
And where God's Word is silent, May you be silent too.
It is evident that our Lord desired to set forth a composite picture of the
rich and powerful men in Israel at that time, especially the Pharisees, but also
the Sadducees, the Scribes, Lawyers and Priests. Let us not be guilty of taking
from or adding to His picture.
The Poor Man
The next character set before us is a poor man, a man in desperate need. In
many studies this poor man is represented as being a godly man, a devout man, a
saint. But there is no such portrayal in the words of our Lord. He sets him
forth as a poor man, one afflicted all over his body with ulcerating sores, but
nothing more than this. Our Lord seems to have exercised care in avoiding any
such picture of this man. There is not one single fact revealed about this poor
man that would bring forth admiration or compliment. His condition arouses our
sympathy, but we see nothing about him that is worthy of emulation. We would not
dare to advise anyone to pattern their life after his, nor can we point to him
and say "Go thou and do likewise." We would feel more rapport with him if we had
been told that he looked to God to supply his needs, rather than looking to a
rich man for crumbs. We wonder if God's provision of prayer had a place in his
life. From what we are told we know only that his expectation was in the rich
Some who read these lines will feel that I am treating this poor man somewhat
harshly. I admit this, but hasten to say that this does not arise from lack of
feeling and sympathy for him. It springs only from my desire to maintain the
true picture the Lord gave of him, and to counteract the false picture of great
godliness that men are so prone to paint of him.
It must be admitted that there are some things about the rich man that
deserve censure. He dressed too well and lived too luxuriously, but, all in all,
he was not a bad character. But while there are things about him we might
condemn, there is not one thing about the poor man we can commend or admire.
There is no known fact about him that suggests a righteous man or a man of
faith. If he had lived in David's time, David could not have written his great
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous
forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. Psalm 37:25.
The reader can confirm all that has been said about these two men by
carefully reading the words of the Lord. The honest seeker for truth cannot
accept the idea that this is a story in which the righteous and wicked are set
in contrast. There is nothing revealed concerning the rich man that even
suggests great wickedness, and nothing revealed about the beggar that suggests
righteousness. The rich man is no picture of a sinner. The beggar gives no
picture of the saint.
As the story continues we find that in course of time the poor man died, and
was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. Here greater questions present
themselves. Is this an actual historical record? Are we to understand this
literally? If not, then how is it to be understood? Did the angels actually
carry the dead Lazarus? If one should say, "A man died in the street and friends
carried him home" what would this mean? Shall we understand this to mean one
thing and the statement concerning "the poor man" to mean another thing?
It is just at this point that those who insist on the historical reality of
this passage want to inject the ideas of a "soul" or a "disembodied spirit." But
how does one carry a soul and why would a soul need to be carried? No such idea
is conveyed by the words of our Lord. It was the poor man who was laid at the
rich man's gate, it was the poor man who died, and it was the poor man who was
carried by the angels.
This is the first and only reference in the Bible to "Abraham's bosom." This
term presents a new problem-one which many solve by saying that this is a new
name for heaven or for paradise. But if this is true, why is it never used
again? And if, as many insist, it speaks of some compartment in a mythological
hades where the spirits of the righteous dead are supposed to be between death
and resurrection, then why is it suddenly given this name? Further more, what
was it called for several thousand years before the time of Abraham? Even the
superficial student must admit that there is something strange about this term
and its sole appearance in this passage.
Next, we are told that the rich man died and was buried. There are many who
feel that the words of our Lord here need some polishing. They insist that it
was not "the rich man" who diedó that it was the rich man's body, and that the
rich man was not buried only his body was buried.
After the declaration that the rich man died and was buried, we get a picture
of his condition. "In hades he lift up his eyes, being in torments." As the
story continues we find that he is in the same general locality as Abraham and
Lazarus, and that his sufferings are greatly intensified as he looks across a
gulf and sees Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. From this it is seen
that even though the distance between them was great, yet it was within seeing
and speaking distance, since he saw them and carried on a conversation.
If the rich man could see them in bliss, then they must have been able to see
him being tormented. And if, as some hold, his torments were shut off from their
view, they could still hear him. In view of this can anyone believe that Abraham
and Lazarus were supremely happy while they looked upon a man being tormented
and heard his pleadings for a few drops of water. To hear a tormented man
pleading for water would cause supreme distress to any sensitive person.
Callused indeed would be the man who could be in bliss under these conditions.
No wonder that those who hold to the literal interpretation of this portion
conveniently arrange to close out hades as the place of both good and bad, and
move the good to heaven within a few months after these words were spoken.
Those who can get joy out of the sufferings of others, those who can find
pleasure in a scene of suffering, are sadistic. Sadism is one form of insanity.
Can we believe that Abraham's nature had been so changed that he could be in
bliss while witnessing the sufferings of another and hearing his plea for some
slight relief? I fully believe that my own nature is such that if I had been
there, I would have made some attempt to alleviate this man's suffering even if
I had plunged into the great gulf in the attempt. I trust that I will always be
willing to risk the loss of my own comforts if by so doing I can alleviate the
sufferings of another.
The conversation between the rich man and Lazarus is one of the strangest to
be found in the Bible. The rich man seeing Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his
bosom called to him, addressed him as "Father Abraham" and pleaded with Abraham
to have mercy on him. This causes many questions to arise: Why did he appeal to
Abraham? Was Abraham the chief man in that place? Was Abraham tormenting him?
Was Abraham withholding water from him? Did Lazarus have a finger that could be
dipped into water? Did the rich man have a tongue that could be cooled by it?
The rich man did not cry out to God. His plea was to Abraham, and his strange
plea becomes even more strange when it is considered in the light of Abraham's
answer. Abraham addressed the rich man as "Child", and bade him remember that
during his lifetime he had received his good things and that Lazarus had
received his evil things, with the result that he is now comforted while the
rich man is tormented.
This reply of Abraham presents a major problem. How strange it is that when
this man appealed for mercy he was not reminded of any sin, wickedness or
unbelief. He is not charged with idolatry, with having oppressed the poor, of
being a robber of other men's goods, of being a spoiler of orphans, or a
persecutor of widows. The only reply that is made is that the rich man had
received his good things during his lifetime so he is tormented now.
If Abraham's statement means anything, if it teaches anything, then what else
can it say but that positions are surely reversed in the life to come? But this
is repugnant to every passage in the Word of God that sets forth the things that
affect a man's destiny. From Abraham's lips came no accusations against the rich
man, neither were there any words of praise for the beggar. Their cases are
summed up in the statement that one got his good things during his lifetime
while the other got his evil things. This statement of Abraham should cause some
serious thought. It cannot be lightly brushed aside as having no bearing upon
the suffering and bliss being experienced by these two. If it has no bearing
upon the matter, Abraham should not have said it. If it is an "answer" that is
"no answer", our Lord would not have reported it.
As I consider it, I consider my own life, which I must regard as one that has
been filled with good things. I would be ungrateful and unthankful to consider
it otherwise. I was born in a good home, of good parents who loved me and cared
for me. I did not have it as easy as children do today, yet my childhood was a
happy one. My life as an adult has been filled with innumerable good things. I
have enjoyed good health. My marriage has been a benediction. My testimony is,
"Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life." Now, does
it follow that since my life has been filled with good things, the life to come
must be filled with evil things? And, if my life had been just the reverse,
filled with sorrow and evil from the day of my birth, would this indicate that
the life to come will be filled with good things?
I am sure that if my reader is instructed in the Word of God he will agree
that the good things we have during this life, or the lack of good things, have
no bearing upon the life to come. Our future is settled by our relationship to
God through Jesus Christ. If a man enters into life, it will not be because of
poverty, and if he goes into destruction, it will not be because he was rich.
Yet, this is what Abraham told the rich man in answer to his plea for mercy.
But Abraham said, Child, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy
good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou
art tormented. Luke 16:25.
We have every right to question why Abraham said this. Was he wasting words
on such a solemn occasion? Why did he remind the rich man of something that had
no relationship to his suffering? Why did he refer to something that had no
bearing upon the bliss of Lazarus? The problem of why he said what he did is a
major one, but it all becomes even more puzzling when we realize that these
words were spoken by one who in his lifetime had been very rich (Genesis 13:2),
and whose life had been filled with good things, even including personal
dealings with God. Does it not seem absurd for a man whose life has been filled
with good things to answer a manís request for a few drops of water by reminding
him that he had received his good things during his lifetime. If the rich man
was to be reminded of the good things he had enjoyed, Abraham was the last one
who should have assumed the task.
The rich manís plea was refused on two
grounds. The ground of previous good things and the ground of impossibility.
Abraham points out that in addition to the fact that he had received
good things, a vast chasm exists between them, "put there in order that those
who desire to cross from this side to you may not be able nor any be able to
cross from your side to us."
After this refusal the rich man entered a plea to Abraham that Lazarus should
be sent to his father's house to testify to his five brothers lest they should
come into this place of torment. Abraham answered this by telling the rich man
that his five brothers had Moses and the prophets, that is, the Old Testament,
and that they should hear them. The rich man objects that this is not
sufficient, they require more than this; that they will believe if one return
from the dead. Abraham answered that if they would not hear Moses and the
prophets, they would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead. And so ends
No Portrayal of God or Christ
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a familiar story. When it is
referred to, the average Christian has some knowledge of it. It would be well if
each one would ask himself just how this knowledge was gained. Did it come from
prolonged meditation upon this passage? Or was this knowledge gained from
sermons that were heard? It is often true that we are quite ignorant things with
which we are quite familiar. We are inclined to form certain conceptions which
afterwards are superimposed upon that which we may be observing or reading.
The statements that have been made so far in this study will probably open
the eyes of many for the first time as to the real character of the story of the
rich man and Lazarus. They have long imposed their own conceptions upon it and
read their own ideas into it.
They vision it as presenting a great picture of God and Christ, of the home
of the redeemed and the abode of the damned, of heaven and hell, of a great
sinner and a great saint, of the great sinner in torment because of a life of
evil, and the great saint in heaven because of a life of righteousness.
This is the picture which many seem to have pasted on their eyeglasses, and
they put these on their eyes each time they read or speak upon this portion. But
this picture is not in this story. It contains no hint of God, and there is no
one in it who represents God. It contains no word concerning Christ or the work
of Christ. No one in the story stands for or represents Christ. There is no
sinner in it and there is no great saint. There is nothing in it that sets forth
redemption or salvation, and no teaching as to how a man can be justified in the
sight of God. The only doctrine it contains in regard to the cause of the rich
man's torment or the poor man's bliss is repugnant to every revelation of God's
righteous dealings with mankind. It sets forth Abraham, himself a rich man,
giving an irrelevant and meaningless answer to the rich man as he attributes his
sufferings to be the result of a life of good things, of which Abraham's own
life was parallel.
These are the problems and difficulties that arise from prolonged meditation
upon, and penetrating study of this passage. They demand that we discover some
understanding of this portion so that they no longer exist. It is imperative
that we discover the true character of this story and the real purpose of Christ
in telling it. When we do, all difficulties and problems will vanish and this
portion will shine forth with all the glory that God has given to His Word. This
is the task that is now before us.
What is the Bible?
The Bible is the Word of God. I accept without question and fully believe in
its plenary and verbal inspiration. I take second place to no man when it comes
to believing that the Bible is God's inspired Word. The more than forty years I
have given to assiduously searching its pages permits me to speak with some
authority in regard to its character. This Book is God's thoughts reduced to
When thought is reduced to writing it becomes literature. Therefore, the
Bible is literature-literature in its highest and best form. It must always be
treated as a literary production. Those who ignore this are either ignorant, or
else they desire this to be a book that can be made to say what they desire it
to say. That the Bible is literature can be seen from this simple illustration.
If one should visit the largest library in the
world! there would be thousands of volumes in many languages. Yet, there are
only eight kinds of words in all these books. Even so it is with the Bible.
Every word in it is a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition,
conjunction, or interjection. These words are arranged in sentences according to
established rules. This is called syntax. Every sentence has a subject and a
predicate. In other words, the Bible says something. In doing so it uses the
means of communication that are common to man.
In communicating ideas there are many ways of saying a thing. These ways of
saying things are usually called literary forms or rhetorical devices. For
example when things are said poetically, the literary form is poetry. If they
are said ironically, the literary form is irony, and if they are said
satirically, the literary form is satire. Then there are also such forms as
fable (used so cleverly by Aesop), parable, allegory, humor, proverb, and many
others. All of these rhetorical devices are found in the Bible. Some of them
(like parable and allegory) are named in the Word itself. Most of them (such as
poetry) are so evident that they can hardly be missed. Nevertheless, many of
these are flagrantly ignored because someone wants to use a figurative passage
in support of some doctrine which has no other support in the Word of God.
In the interpretation of any passage it is essential that we determine what
literary form, if any, is being used. If we do not we will go astray. We must
know how the Bible says things in order to know what is being said. With this
end in view let us examine a few of the literary forms found in God's Book.
First, and probably the most abundant of all, is the actual historical
narrative. An example of this is seen in the record of the raising of Lazarus as
set forth in John 11. Another is the slaying of Goliath by David as set forth in
1 Samuel 17.
Next there is poetry. David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all used the poetical
method to give their massages. The Psalms are quickly recognized as poetry, but
many do not see this in Isaiah and Jeremiah. Much of the poetic character of
these books is lost in the translation.
Then there is the parabolic method of speaking. "All these things spoke Jesus
unto the multitude in parables," is the divine description of this literary
method (Matt. 13:34). The writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke abound in examples
of this rhetorical device.
The Bible shows that some men spoke their message by means of fables. There
are fables in the Bible. By "fable" I mean a narration intended to enforce a
truth or precept, especially one in which animals, plants, or even inanimate
objects speak and act like human beings. Jotham's fable of the trees is the
oldest in all literature (Judges 9:8-15). In fact both satire and fable come
together in this narration6 . And even though it is told as though it actually
happened, anyone who takes it to be literal history would come under the censure
of Proverbs 26:7, which while spoken of a parable, is also true of fable, satire
The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools .
On one occasion Paul used the allegorical method to give his message, as
Galatians 4:22-31 will show.
There is both humor and irony in some of the statements made by Christ. But
as J. B. Phillips, the translator, has said: "the unvarying solemnity of
language makes it almost impossible for us to realize either the irony or the
humor of some of the things Christ said." Some of these ironical statements will
be pointed out later.
That many literary forms are found in the Bible, none can deny. Our question
is, therefore; What literary form is used in the story of the rich man and
Is Luke 16:19-31 Historical Narration
My conviction has already been stated that these words of Christ cannot be
treated as a narration of actual history. Nevertheless, there are those who
strongly insist that since our Lord said, "There was a certain rich man" and
"there was a certain beggar named Lazarus" that these two men must have existed
and that everything said about them must have happened.
In the Bible a narration or parable told for the purpose of pointing out an
important truth can begin with the words "There was" without the speaker
actually vouching for its literality. Several parables begin with these words,
as can be seen in Matt. 21:33 and Luke 18:2. Furthermore, there is nothing in
the Greek to support the words "there was" at the beginning of this story. It
should read, "Now a certain man was rich."
These words of our Lord could be a parable, a satire, a fable, or a
suppositional story, but it is impossible for them to be a narration of actual
history. Those who insist upon this will back down the moment they come to the
details of the story.
Some will insist that if we do not accept this narrative as being literal
history, we will be guilty of making void and destroying a portion of the Word
of God. This reasoning is false, as can be easily demonstrated.
A man would be foolish indeed to accept the fable of the trees, as told by
Jotham (see Judges 9:8-15) as being literal history, even though Jotham told the
story as if it actually happened. Some may believe that the story told to King
David by Nathan (2 Sam. 12:1-4) was actual history, but I do not. In fact David
was quite sure that Nathan was reporting an actual occurrence until he called
for the man to be put to death who had done this foul thing, and then Nathan
said "Thou art the man."
It does not dishonor the Word of God in the least to hold that these two men
narrated events that never took place. Therefore, it does not dishonor the Word
to hold that the events narrated in the story of the rich man and Lazarus never
occurred. Let the diligent student read once again Judges 9:8-15, 2 Samuel
12:1-4 and Luke 16:19-31 and he will see the truth of this. Jotham told a
suppositional story about trees and a bramble bush, and Nathan told a story
about a poor man, a rich man and a lamb. These were told for the purpose of
indicting and exposing the ones at whom their words were directed. The story of
the rich man and Lazarus is a suppositional story told by our Lord in order to
indict, expose Pharisees and all in league with them.