This study was originally published in 1941. It
has long been out of print. Even though it was well received and widely
circulated I have steadfastly refused to reissue it until the whole matter
could be carefully reconsidered and rewritten. This has now been done, and
it is sent forth with the prayer that it will continue to be a help
to many students of God's verbally inspired and infallible
The writer has copyrighted this
in order to protect its message.
Permission to reproduce or to translate it in other languages will be freely
given on request.
Printed in United States of America
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
Otis Q. Sellers, Bible Teacher
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 pre-eminent passage of all Scripture because of the great number of
doctrines which they found upon it and which they establish by it.
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 Ward 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 ward 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,
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
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, 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 place.
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 preferences 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 that 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:
20 And there was a certain beggar named
Lazarus, which was laid at
his gate, full of sores,
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.
2; 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.
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 1 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 them.
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
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 place.
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
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 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."].
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 "disembodied spirits."
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 things pleasurable." ( notes on
“The Parables of our Lord”, by Richard Chenevix Trench, D.D. [Fleming H.
Revell, New York], page 346)
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 db 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 well here:
Be sure that you have Scripture,
you say or do;
And where God's Word is silent,
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 man.
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
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 testimony:
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? Furthermore, 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 died, but that it
was the rich man's body, and that the rich man was not buried only his body
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. Calloused 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.
See Scofield Reference Bible
notes on "Hades since the ascension of Christ"
(page 1099) for a brief summary of this teaching
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 (Gen. 13: 2 ), and whose life had been filled with
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 man's 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 man's 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 returns 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 the story.
[ I have collected a great number of pamphlets,
magazine articles, and primed sermons which deal with this story. With one or
two exceptions these all bear the same title, The Rich Man and Lazarus'.
This is ideal, as no title could be more appropriate. But most of these
studies have subtitles, and these reveal definite bias in the handling of this
passage. They are usually in harmony with that which the author of the
treatise is trying to prove by this portion. They announce in advance that the
story is going to be made to teach a certain thing. It would be just as honest
to say that this story is what Christ taught about the fate of the
rich, or about the future home of the poor, or about the penalty of getting
good things in this life. Why see just one teaching in this passage? Does it
not teach about bliss as well as about torment?]
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 of 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
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 writing.
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. [ An
illustration of this is seen in the action of the disciples when the Lord
said: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of
sleep," John 11: 11. They ignored His use of metaphor and turned figure into
fact, saying, "Lord, if 'he sleeps, he shall do well." They did this because
this was the way they wanted it to be, that he was asleep, not dead, Our Lord
straightened them out by saying plainly, "Lazarus is dead," In this time of
God's silence we do not have the Lord at our side to correct us when we turn
figures into facts or facts into figures.]
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 messages. 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
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 narration. 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 or allegory.
[ Dr. E. W. Bullinger says that Judges
9:8-15 would be a fable, were it not explained in verse 16. I do not agree
with this. The explanation is not needed if one has read the seven verses that
precede this fable. Would any want to say that the parable of the tares among
the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30) would be a parable only if the Lord had not
explained it in Matt. 13:36-43? I agree with Joseph Addison, the English poet
and essayist, that "Jotham's fable of the trees is the oldest extant," A study
of this narration will show that Jotham was an outstanding satirist and
The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a
parable in the mouth of fools.
fool can never make a parable fit what it was intended to illustrate. Thus,
even though the Lord erected safeguards by saying, "Unto what is the kingdom
of God like, and whereunto shall I resemble it?" as a preface to His parable,
men ignore this and find likenesses of the church, the gospel, Christendom,
and numerous other things, but never any likeness of the kingdom
On one occasion Paul used the allegorical method
to give his message, as Galations 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 Lazarus?
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
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
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 and rebuke the
Pharisees and all in league with them.
Is Luke 16:19-31 A Parable
Suppositional stories can be parables, but I
do not believe that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable.
However, I would at this point repudiate the many foolish arguments that are
advanced by some who also insist that this is not a parable. There is a
marginal note in the Scofield Reference Bible (page 1098)
that declares this is not a parable because, "In
no parable is an individual named." Yet as a chapter heading for Ezekiel 23
the Scofield Bible gives, "The parable of Aholah and Aholibah." If there is
any single passage in the Word that is manifestly a parable it is Ezekiel
23:1-4, and yet two names are given in it. "Thus were their names; Samaria is
Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah." I think it would be well for all to read this
portion, then cease forever the puerile argument that Luke 16:19-31 cannot be
a parable because a man is named in it.
I have carefully considered the position, set
forth by many teachers, that this story is a parable. Some have corresponded
with me concerning this, and I have ever been sympathetic to their arguments.
It is evident that they are seeking some honest method of understanding this
story. They cannot accept this narrative as literal history, since this
conception throws it into conflict with the entire Old Testament revelation
concerning death, sheol, and the state of men between death and resurrection.
However, many of them err in their attitude that if this is not literal
history, then it must be a parable. They assume that there are only two
literary forms in the Word of God.
Those who declare that this is a parable are
forced to interpret it as a parable. Every attempt that has been made to do
this has been wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases doctrines and manufactured
to fit the things set forth. The Greek word parabole means to cast
alongside, that is, a placing beside for the purpose of comparison. The story
in a parable must be in all main points parallel to that which it is
illustrating. Not everything in a parable needs to be a representation, and
some things are inserted for the purpose of carrying along the story and
linking together the points that do represent. This can be seen in the parable
of the tares among the wheat where the men who slept, and the servants who
inquired about the tares are passed over in the interpretation given by our
In seeking to interpret the story of the rich
man and Lazarus as a parable, a great number of meanings have been set forth
for the figures and actions in it. A composite of these interpretations would
seem to be that the rich man represents faithless and selfish Israel; the fine
clothing and sumptuous living is made to represent God's great provision for
that people, and Lazarus is made to stand for the publicans and sinners who
were thrust outside of Israel's blessing by those in control. The deaths of
these two men is regarded as being Israel's national death which affected
alike all classes of the nation. The flames and torments are regarded as
representations of Israel's present sufferings.
Other interpretations follow different lines or
differ in details. I have tried to consider all of these in my study of this
portion, but find them to be inadequate, incomplete, forced, and quite often
contrary to divine revelation. It is my conviction that to treat Luke
16:19-31 as a parable will only increase our difficulties, leave all our
questions unanswered, and all our problems unsolved. It forces upon us the
task of trying to show what each main character, event, action, and place
represents. This is utterly impossible, especially when we come to the
conversation between Abraham and the rich man, and the "five brethren" who
were still on earth and not being tormented.
Again let it be said that if we reject the idea
that this story is literal history, and also reject the idea that it is a
parable, we have not yet exhausted all methods of interpreting it. There are
many other rhetorical devices used in the Word of God.
Is Luke 16:19-31 A Satire
The word satire is a broad term and its
meaning is hard to encompass in a brief definition. As used in this study
satire means a literary form or rhetorical device, a type of writing or
speaking, wherein a suppositional story is told the object of which is to hold
up vices, follies, ideas, abuses or shortcomings to censure by means or
ridicule. It is a literary form which is by most feebly understood, and it has
fallen into disrepute due to those who have grossly abused the use of it.
Nevertheless there are excellent examples of satire in its most exalted form
in the Bible, and our knowledge of this rhetorical form can be greatly
advanced by examining several of these. [
My own interest in the satirical method
in literature was greatly quickened in 1946 when my daughter Jane was
approaching her final year in college and was casting about for a theme upon
which to write her graduation thesis. I suggested that she write on "The
Satirical Method of Lewis Carroll", an idea which she adopted. Later her
faculty advisor suggested that she enlarge the subject to "The Satirical
Method in Literature." It was at this time that I began a study of satire in
literature for my own purposes, especially in the Bible]
The Satirical Fable in Judges 9:8-15
In order to appreciate any satire one must
be completely familiar with the thing that is being satirized. This is a
simple matter in the case of Jotham's satire, for the actual event that caused
it to be spoken as well as the background for the event is given in detail in
The man Gideon had placed the people of Israel
forever in debt to him because of his deliverance of them from the bitter
bondage of the Midianites. His grateful countrymen offered to make him king
but he declined. Nevertheless, he served Israel as captain and judge
throughout his life. At the time of his death he had forty sons for he had
many wives, also one son, Abimelech, by a concubine. After his death his good
works were quickly forgotten and his house and family were sorely neglected.
Soon after his death Abimelech went to his
mother's brethren in Shechem and intimated that the forty sons of Gideon were
going to take over the government of Israel. And, as is so often the case, he
had a prearranged solution for the false alarm he had raised. He asked if it
were better to be reigned over by forty or by one, and at the same time he
suggested himself as the one who should be sale ruler in Israel.
His words that accompanied this suggestion -
"remember also that I am your bone and your flesh" - were nothing more than a
promise that they would all enrich themselves at public expense when he became
So the men of Shechem supplied him with money
with which he hired some worthless and reckless followers, and in true
dictatorial fashion he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed
thirty-nine of his brethren upon one stone. Only one, Jotham by name, was able
to hide himself and escape. Following this the men of Shechem made Abimelech
king, and a report of this was brought to Jotham.
Upon hearing it Jotham went and stood in the top
of mount Gerizim and cried aloud, "Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that
God may hearken unto you." This man had something to say. His purpose was to
hold up their sin to exposure, ridicule, and condemnation. The method he chose
to do this resulted in one of the oldest and one of the finest satirical
fables to be found in all literature. Consider his words:
trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the
olive tree, Reign thou over us.
But the olive tree said unto them, Should I
leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to be
promoted over the trees?
And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou,
and reign over us.
But the fig tree said unto them, Should I
forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Then said the trees unto the vine. Come thou,
and reign over us.
And the vine said unto them, Should I leave
my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Then said all the trees unto the bramble,
Come thou, and reign over us.
And the bramble said unto the trees, If in a
truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow:
and if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
It can be seen that if this satirical fable is
treated as a parable, then we would need to find parallels for each symbol in
it, the olive tree, the fig tree, the grape vine, and the bramble. Of course
we will have no problem concerning the bramble as it points powerfully and
directly to Abimelech, but the rest of this fable fits nothing in history as
far as is known. However, if we consider this to be a suppositional story!
told in a satirical manner then we are not required to find parallels for the
leading actors and events in the story.
In fact this story in no way fits the course of
Abimelech. The men of Shechem had not gone out looking for a strong and good
man to be king over them, then upon being refused by three such men, offer the
kingship to an incompetent as a final resort. It was Abimelech that sought the
position; the position did not seek him. It was not a case of the bramble
being asked by the trees, but just the reverse. Therefore, we cannot treat
this as a parable, as Scofield suggests in his marginal notes; it must be
recognized as a satiric fable. Some will even be able to detect a humorous
strain in it when the bramble bush is made to say to the trees, "then come and
put your trust in my shadow." Imagine, if you can, a cedar of Lebanon finding
refuge from the hot sun in the shade of a bramble.
Nathan's Satirical Narration We read of this
is 2 Samuel 12:1-4:
And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came
unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and
the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds; but the poor
man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had brought up and
nourished up: and it grew together with him, and with his children; it did eat
of his own meat, and drank
of his own
cup, and lay in his
bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And. there came a traveler unto the
rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress
for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb,
and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
This story is mild satire, told to expose and
rebuke King David. It is not harsh like Jotham's fable as its purpose is to
correct and bring about improvement. Scofield states that this also is a
parable, but such a conception creates impossible difficulties. In this story
the outstanding event is the killing of the poor man's lamb. Without
this there would be no story, but there is nothing in the great sin of
David that is parallel to this. It is a simple matter to say as some do that
the rich man represents David, the poor man represents Uriah, the "exceeding
many flocks" of the rich man represents David's numerous wives, and that the
one little ewe lamb represents Bathsheba, the only wife of Uriah. However, at
this point in the story all representations go awry since it was Uriah (the
poor man) who was killed, and Bathsheba (the little ewe lamb) became the wife
of David. 1£ this were a parable then the story would probably have been that
the rich man murdered the poor man, stole his lamb and added it to his
A very important principle is seen in this.
The flow of a parable must always be in harmony with that to which it is
parallel, but in satire there is no such need.
A satire is more free since it is not illustrating. Since it points to things
but does not represent, it is at liberty to take off in any direction. It does
not need to run parallel with that which it is exposing. Once we recognize
that in the story of the rich man and Lazarus our Lord was speaking
satirically, all difficulties will disappear. However, before we give this
detailed consideration, several other principles related to our Lord's words
must be established.
Elijah on Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 18:17-41
An important principle in divine revelation
can be found in the record of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount
Carmel. Elijah seems to have been amused at the great physical efforts put
forth by the prophets of Baal in order to stir up their god and cause him to
act. He taunted them with these words of mockery and sarcasm:
And it came to pass at noon that Elijah
mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he
is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be
awakened. 1 Kings 18:27.
Would anyone care to say that Elijah was serious
in this advice, that he actually believed that Baal may have been in
conference, on a hunting trip, or taking a journey? Could his statements be
used to show that he believed that a god called Baal actually existed, and
that he would answer if he were aroused from his preoccupation? Of course not!
These are words spoken in mockery, and they
demonstrate that one of the greatest of all God's prophets made effective use
of this sharp weapon to cut down the pretensions of those who worshipped Baal
and who rejected the true God. And since it is true that Elijah used the
verbal weapons of sarcasm and mockery to demolish these false prophets, then
it presents no problem when we find that our Lord used weapons like these
against those who loved money, who served mammon, and who made the Word of God
void by their traditions. Correct handling of the Word of God means that we
must recognize the true character of Elijah's statements. How unjust to him
it would be to label his words, "Elijah's conception of BaaL"
Careful study of the rhetorical devices used in
the Word of God will show that when men deal in sarcasm, irony, or satire they
may say things which are not at all expressions of what they believe.
The Ironical Statements of Christ
In the words of Christ we find certain
statements that are sarcastic, ironical, and satirical and should not be
regarded as expressions of what He believed or taught. [
Irony is a kind of humor or light sarcasm
in which the intended implication is the opposite of the literal sense
of the words used. The distinguishing feature of irony is that the meaning
intended is contrary to that seemingly expressed.]
For example, the Pharisees came to the Lord in
Perea, Herod's country east of Jordan, and said: "Get thee out and depart from
thence for Herod will kill you." (Luke 13: 31). They represented this
information as coming straight from Herod, and their purpose was to frighten
Him from Galilee into Judea where He would be more in the power of the
Sanhedrin which they controlled. In reply He told them to go tell that fox
that He had three days of beneficent works yet to do and would remain in
Perea until His purpose had come to a full end. Then He added:
For it cannot be that a prophet should perish
anywhere except in Jerusalem. Luke 13 :33.
This statement is ironical. Its humorous sarcasm
should not be missed. Actually a prophet could perish anywhere if people
turned against him. But so many prophets had been slain in Jerusalem, that our
Lord infers that this city has a virtual monopoly on killing prophets. Thus
our Lord states that He feels safe as long as He is in Herod's country, since
prophets have a place where they perish, namely Jerusalem. How it must have
stung the self-righteous Pharisees who controlled everything in Jerusalem for
our Lord to say He felt secure in Herod's country since the only place a
prophet could perish was in a city controlled by them
[ Other examples of ironical statements from the lips of our Lord will be
found in Matt. 23:32 and Mark 7:9. Of Matthew 23:32, A. T. Robertson says:
"The keenest irony in this command has been softened in some MSS. to the
future indicative (plerosete). Fill up the measure of your fathers; crown
their misdeeds by kil1ing the prophet God has sent to you, Do at last what has
long been in your hearts. The hour is come! (Bruce)." Concerning Mark 7:9,
Robertson again says: "One can almost see the scribes withering under this
terrible arraignment. It was biting sarcasm that cut to the bone, The evident
irony should prevent literal interpretation as commendation of
Pharaisaic pervasion of God's Word,"]
conceptions of Christ, based mostly upon the stylized character depicted in
stained-glass windows and religious pictures, have caused many to feel that He
was a listless man who never showed real physical or mental energy. But He who
lashed the money changers with a scourge or cords, lashed the Pharisees again
and again with a scourge of words.
There were times when our Lord took the very
words of men, even though false, and turned them back upon them. If men are to
be held responsible for their words, then He who will hold them responsible
has the right to use these words against them.[
He took false positions and principles as well as words and turned them back
against them, He did this by putting their principles and positions into
words, It is easy to find a hundred men holding false positions and acting on
false principles which not one of them would dare to put into words.]
This is seen in one of His parables.
Parable of the Pounds - Luke 19 :11-27
As the Lord traveled toward Jerusalem, His
disciples knew that His presence in that city would create a major crisis.
Hopefully they supposed among themselves that the kingdom of God would
immediately be manifested, solving all their problems. In view of this He
spoke a parable about a certain nobleman who went into a far country to
receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Upon his departure he called
his ten slaves and delivered to them equal sums of money with the instruction
that they should engage in some business enterprise until he returned.
There can be no doubt but that this nobleman
represents the Lord Jesus. Passing over some of the details in this parable,
let us consider the case of the slave who kept his pound wrapped in a
handkerchief. His explanation of his failure to transact any business with the
money trusted to him was:
For I feared thee, because thou are an
austere (harsh) man: thou takest up that thou layest not down and reapest that
thou didst not sow. (Luke 19:21)
The slave's estimate of his lord was that he was
mean and grasping, also a thief; for he who picks up what he did not lay down
or reaps what he did not sow ignores the simplest requirements of honesty.
His lord did not deny the accusation or bother
to refute it. He accepted the slave's declared estimate of his character and
Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee,
thou wicked slave. Thou knewest that I was a harsh man, taking up that I laid
not down, and reaping what I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my
money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required my own with
usury? Luke 19 :22, 23.
It is evident that we can build no doctrine
concerning the character of Christ upon this statement. Even though the
nobleman in this parable is a representation of our Lord, we repudiate any
conception of Him that might be based upon these words. Did He not declare in
another place that He was meek and lowly in heart? Did He not instruct His own
disciples to "lend, hoping for nothing again" (Luke 6:35)? Did He not say that
He came not to get but to give? It is from statements such as these that we
form our conceptions of His character, not from Luke 19:22, 23.
These words were not spoken for teaching. They
were spoken to reveal the utter falsity of the wicked slave's position. His
master was not this kind of man, and the slave did not believe him to be. He
claimed he acted out of fear, but the truth is that he was lazy. If he had
really believed his lord to be grasping and dishonest, he would have felt
assured that he would welcome the opportunity to get some exorbitant interest.
In this parable the nobleman is made to speak
with sarcastic irony. From it we learn that we can expect Christ to take the
words of others, even though they be false, and turn them back upon the one
who uttered them. There is much of this very thing in the story of the rich
man and Lazarus.
Prolonged study of this portion which has
extended over a period of many years, during which I have read and considered
most of the available material that has been written on this portion, has
resulted in the following three convictions:
1. This story is not a record of literal history, not even of literal
history couched in figurative language.
2. This story is not a parable. My reasons for this conviction have
already been stated.
3. This is a suppositional story. The events set forth here never happened.
The literary device used by our Lord here is pure satire. In fact we have in
this story one of the finest pieces of satirical speaking to be found in all
literature. Furthermore, it is a scrupulously fair satire -- something which
can hardly be found, if at all, in secular writings.
As suggested before, a basic necessity for
successful satire is that the reader or hearer be familiar with that which is
being satirized. This satire of our Lord was instantly intelligible to His
hearers in the days when these words were spoken. They were quite familiar
with their own wicked principles and purposes even though these were hidden
from others. They knew they were being scourged with their own rods. Yet any
objection they might have raised or any answer they might have given would
have served only to show openly that they understood what the Lord was
rebuking and that the truth had reached its goal.
However, while this satire was instantly
intelligible to those at whom it was directed, it is not at all intelligible
to the average reader today. His complete unfamiliarity with and
misunderstandings about the conditions that existed and the things taught by
the Pharisees in that day will mislead him into thinking that this story is a
historical narrative, or a parable. [
I remember as a boy reading and
delighting in "Gulliver's Travels" because of its fantasy, never once knowing
that it is a satire on man and his institutions. This was to be expected since
I knew nothing about the things being satirized by Jonathan Swift. However, I
did think he must have been poking fun at someone when he described the
scientists on Lagado trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers.]
Since appreciation of any satire depends upon
some degree of familiarity with the thing being satirized, it is evident that
the satirical story about the rich man and Lazarus cannot be understood by
those who are ignorant of the situations and conditions that caused these
words to be spoken. Steps must be taken to correct the ignorance that exists
concerning these. Since many of these
same conditions still exist today, this
satire has not lost its message of exposure and rebuke.
It will be helpful if we fix in our minds
certain well defined groups to whom the words of Christ were spoken. These can
be listed on the basis of their nearness to (or, distance from) Christ.
1. THE THREE. This group was made up of Peter,
James, and John. It was to them that the Lord granted the most intimate
revelation and visions. See Luke 9: 28.
2. THE TWELVE. These were His disciples who
became apostles. They represent all who were learners in the school of
Christ. To these he gave revelations that were simple and expedient. If He
used a parable in teaching them, He gladly explained it at their request.
3. THE PEOPLE. As described by Luke, this group
was made up of those who listened to His words and considered them
diligently. They were taught by Him, and they heard Him gladly, but they were
never given as much as were the disciples. Further light for them depended
upon them taking their place as disciples.
4. THE MULTITUDE. This was the careless,
confused mob. They were the sensation seekers of their day. They trailed after
Christ to see His miracles, to be with the crowd, to get a meal, or just to
see what might happen. They accepted no teaching, they rejected no teaching.
They did not know what they desired. To them our Lord never spoke without a
parable (Matt. 13:34).
This does not mean that every word spoken to
them was a parable, but that in speaking to them He always included a parable
in the message. It is as if we should say of a speaker: "He always
uses illustrations, and never fails to use an
illustration when speaking."
5. THE PHARISEES. This party dominated and
controlled a group in Israel which included the Sadducees, scribes, and
priests. They formed the aristocracy in Israel. This group controlled all life
and thought in Israel. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were doctrinally
opposed to each other, but they were united in their enmity toward Christ.
Since the story of the rich man and Lazarus was pointed at the Pharisees and
their associates, it is essential that consideration be given to their
beliefs, practices, and character if we expect to understand this satire.
Of the three sects in Judaism at the time
of Christ, the Pharisees were the most powerful. The actual group is
believed to have numbered only about six thousand, but this was the inner
circle. In the Gospels the scribes and Pharisees are constantly mentioned in
the same connection, and in such manner as to imply that they formed the same
party. The strength of their influence was such that they dominated everything
in Israel. They controlled the Sanhedrin, the priesthood, the civil courts,
and all Jewish society. The Sadducees opposed them, but their
opposition was so weak that the Pharisees tolerated it, knowing that
the conservative Sadducees would not push it too far, and that they
had sufficient power to crush it at any time.
The Pharisees had arrogated to their party all
the right and authority that God had vested in the kings of Israel. They were
a plutocratic oligarchy exercising all the kingly powers. This explains why
the royal family was so insignificant when Christ was born in the household of
Joseph. The Pharisees had taken to themselves the real work of the priests,
that of teaching the people, leaving the priests to carry on the empty ritual,
which without true instruction was devoid of any meaning.
The inspired record in the four Gospels tells us
much about the Pharasaic character. They were described by John the Baptist as
being a generation of vipers (Matt. 3:7); they made use of calumny in dealing
with those whom they opposed (Matt. 9:34); they did not hesitate to murder to
accomplish their ends and maintain their power (Matt. 12:14); they rejected
all signs given by the Lord then demanded a special sign be given to them
(Matt. 12:38); they transgressed the commandments of God by their traditions
(Matt. 15:2); they were hypocrites (Matt. 23:3); all their works were done to
be seen of men (Matt. 23: 5); they devoured widow's houses, then made long
prayers in pretence (Matt. 23:14); they were lovers of money (Luke 16:14); and
they rejected the commandments of God in order that they might maintain their
own traditions (Mark 7:9).
Having made void the Word of God, the Pharisees
had adopted most of the platonic philosophy concerning the nature of man. From
a mixture of Greek ideas and old Egyptian and Babylonian myths they had
developed a doctrine of purgatory and of prayers for the dead. Josephus
declares that the Pharisees taught that every soul is incorruptible, that only
the souls of good men pass over into another body, while those of the wicked
are punished with eternal suffering. They held that there is an immortal vigor
in souls, and that under the earth there are rewards and punishments for
those who have lived virtuously or viciously in this life.
Their shameful treatment of the poor in Israel
shows that they loved only themselves and not the people or the country of
Israel. Long before the time of Christ the wealthy and ruling classes were
taken to task by the prophets for their cruel and unjust treatment of the
poor. The Pharisees held that the distinctions between poor and rich were
part of God's plan, and they made poverty to be a virtue that would' be
rewarded with wealth in the life to come. The Sadducees on the other hand had
worked into their beliefs the idea that poverty was a crime, and that to be
poor was evidence of the displeasure of God.
One of the worst features of the Pharasaic
system was the expulsion or excommunication from the life of Israel of those
who had transgressed. At times their acts may have had some justification, but
the Pharisees had carried it so far that once a man came under their
strictures, there was no possible way for him to get back again into the life
of Israel. These were the "sinners", so often mentioned in the gospel
record's. As a rule they were guilty of nothing more than refusal to bow down
to the despotic power exercised by the ruling clique of the Pharisees.
Once a man brought down upon himself the wrath
of the Pharisees, there was no hope of pardon. They never forgave him. Once
excluded and branded as a sinner, no one dared to help him, or to do business
with him. The testimony of "sinners" was not valid in courts, and if anyone
wronged them, they had no recourse to law. They stood, in their miserable
condition, as examples of what happened to any who challenged the position or
claims of the Pharisees.
their distress many of them were forced to do business with or collaborate
with the Roman occupation forces. This paid them well, especially if they
became tax-collectors (publicans). This explains why publicans and sinners are
often linked together in one group. They were shunned as traitors in Israel.
Nevertheless, their real character is seen in the fact that many of them
became the first disciples of John the Baptist and of. Jesus Christ.
When Christ came and started to teach the
people, He, in so doing, challenged the Pharisees assumption that they alone
were the teachers in Israel. When He presented His credentials, which were the
gracious miracles He performed, they stepped into the arena to challenge Him.
They could not match His wisdom so they plotted to destroy Him (Matt. 12:14).
They refused to yield to anyone even one grain of the authority they had
gathered to themselves. Their attitude toward Him was summed up in the words
spoken by Christ:
But those husbandmen said among themselves,
This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.
Mark 12 :7.
When the Pharisees appeared at the baptism of
John, he wasted no time trying to change them, but branded them immediately as
a "generation of vipers." Jesus Christ called them whitewashed graves,
hypocrites, serpents, children of Gehenna, thieves and murderers.
One important principle that must be kept in
mind in studying the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that these words
were spoken to the implacable enemies of Christ, the Pharisees.
They were spoken to men whose doom was sealed when they charged that Christ
performed His miracles by the power by Beelzebub the prince of devils. In
doing this they blasphemed the Holy Spirit and committed the sin that had no
forgiveness (Matt. 12: 2232) . These words were spoken to men who were
rigidly set against the will of God. Therefore, no revelation of truth was
given to them (John 7:16, 17). And since this story is not a revelation of
God's truth, it has to be an answer to, a rebuke, an expose of the Pharisees.
In other words, it is not a revelation of truth about future life, of
the state of the dead, of future punishment or future bliss; but
it is an expose of the base and warped ideas, principles, and practices of the
Pharisees. Since satire is a type of writing or speaking, the object of which
is to hold up vices and follies for ridicule and reprobation, then this
is satire pure and simple. With these facts in mind we are ready to resume
consideration of the story spoken by our Lord in the presence of the
The Occasion of the Story
It has been said that this story has always
erroneously been considered "as a sort of an island in the Lucan narrative,
cut off from the mainland of the Gospel, and having no necessary
connection with its surroundings." Those who regard it as such exclude all
light that the context may throw upon the passage.
The key to the character of this story and to
its meaning and purpose is found in the material that precedes it.
When a speaker announces that the story of the
rich man and Lazarus is to be the text of his message, it would be well if
someone would arise and say, "Now that we know your .text, will you tell us
what your context will be," This story is as a rule placed in a context of
human opinion and traditions about heaven, hell, death, life, and future
punishment. It is seldom if ever left in the context that God has given
We must eliminate all man-made fences, such as
chapter divisions and paragraph headings, from this portion of Scripture and
begin our studies at the point where the Lord began to speak, then follow
through to His last word on this occasion. The record begins at Luke 14:25 and
continues without interruption to Luke 17: 10. Every word spoken has a bearing
upon the meaning, character and purpose of the story. It is evident that our
Lord never moved out of His place while He spoke the words recorded between
the two references just mentioned. It was the longest battle our Lord ever
fought with the Pharisees.
As the scene opens in Luke 14.:25-35 our Lord is
seen speaking to the multitude that followed Him. His words to them consisted
of one dark saying,
I refer to this as a dark saying (or, enigma)
because a message about hating father,
mother, wife and children, also about bearing his cross is bound to be quite a
puzzle to any who hear it unless their minds have been enlightened by the
Spirit of God , and three parables.
The closing words of His last parable spoken to
the multitude were, "men cast it out." While these words were spoken of the
savorless salt, they seem to have caught the ear and made an impression upon
the publicans and sinners, for this was what the despotic aristocracy in
Israel had done to them. And since these words were followed by an invitation
to those who had ears to make use of them, all the publicans and sinners drew
near to Him in order to hear.
This scandalized and enraged the Pharisees since
Jesus was receiving men whom they rejected and ostracized. They had assumed
all the rights of kings and priests in Israel, but in no way did they accept
the responsibilities toward others that were set forth in the shepherd and
mediator character of kings and priests. The Pharisees never sought a sinner,
and never brought one back to God. Between the aristocracy and the sinners
there was a vast chasm that none of the people could cross and none of the
Pharisees would cross. They maintained this irrevocable separation by their
teachings. They insisted God had given them their place and only God could
take it away. Our Lord ignored this caste system and went to the aid of those
they had branded as sinners. This brought out their deepest hatred. They could
not tolerate anyone alleviating the harsh punishments they had imposed upon
certain men. They justified their lack of mercy by claiming that God was
harsh, therefore they had to be.
When the publicans and sinners drew near to hear
the Lord, the Pharisees and scribes began to murmur and to hurl their
accusations (Luke 15:1, 2). And it seems that the publicans and sinners, long
used to deferring to the Pharisees and desiring to spare the Lord any
embarrassment that their nearness might cause, began to withdraw themselves
from His presence. But His great love for the lost could not permit this, so
our Lord spoke a parable to the Pharisees in the hearing of the publicans and
sinners. This parable had two purposes -
to rebuke and expose the Pharisees and to
offer encouragement and hope to the publicans and sinners.
This parable is in three parts. There is a
story about a lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and a lost
son (Luke 15: 12- 32). Each part rebukes and exposes the Pharisees and offers
encouragement and hope to the sinners in Israel.
While the story of the lost sheep is a parable,
we should not miss the fact that the story is satirical. Many will never see
this, since this parable is usually treated in a superficial manner. Hundreds
of ideas have been preached into this passage, resulting in the most
astounding importations. Every statement and every word has been loaded with
extravagant fancies, many of which have their origin in Dr. Sankey's
well-known hymn about the "ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of
the fold." This line has no real foundation in this parable. The importation
of such ideas blinds the minds to the satirical character of this story which
so effectually exposes the sordid miserliness of the Pharisees. To expose and
rebuke their inordinate love for material possessions is the purpose of this
parable. The word shepherd does not occur in it.
The question, "What man of you having an hundred
sheep?" is directed at the Pharisees. When faced with the loss of one sheep
their greed is so aroused that they leave the ninety-nine shepherdless in the
wilderness and open to the attacks of wild beasts. Sheep were common in
Israel. They were an article of commerce, and any man that risked ninety-nine
to get back one that had strayed revealed a cupidity that cannot tolerate the
thought of losing one bit of anything already possessed. Furthermore, the idea
of a man calling together his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him over
the recovery of a lost sheep is amusing,
to say the
least. Such actions would be quite proper if a
child had been lost and found, but they are preposterous in the case of sheep,
A covetous man would think that all should respond to his invitation to
rejoice, but there must have been one who said, "If that is all the party is
about, I'm not going,"
Our Lord used a parable somewhat like this in
Matthew 18: 11-14, and it is to this that we should go for a great picture of
the seeking Savior. In this parable all satirical elements are omitted, This
was spoken to His disciples, not to the Pharisees.
However, in Luke 15 the statement about "ninety
and nine just persons, which need no repentance" is pure satire which borders
an sarcasm. There was no such thing in Israel as a just person who needed no
repentance, but the Pharisees regarded themselves as such. The Lord Jesus
took their assumed position, put it into words, then used these words in His
satire against them.
The story of the last coin is a further rebuke
to the Pharisees (Luke 15:8-10). It emphasizes what He has already said. Their
attitude toward a lost animal or a lost coin was one thing, Their attitude
toward a lost sinner was something quite different. The addition of the story
about the lost coin demonstrates that their search for the lost sheep was not
due to their love for dumb animals since they showed the same care toward a
piece of money. It was preposterous far the woman in this story to invite her
friends and neighbors to rejoice with her over the recovery of a lost coin. It
is normal for anyone to seek a lost coin, even to seek for it diligently if
the value warrants it, but to call for people to rejoice over it is absurd.
But it is only by a preposterous story that preposterous acts and attitudes
can be satirized.
There could be no joy among the Pharisees over a
sinner that repented, but there was joy in the presence of the angels of God.
The Pharisees made diligent search for lost animals or lost coins, but never
for a man. They esteemed animals and coins to be of more value than men.
The story of the prodigal son portrayed the
sinners in Israel. In it there is no condoning or excusing of their sins. All
satire and sarcasm is left out, as it would be out of harmony with His
expressed attitude toward them. His statement about the prodigal "joining
himself to a citizen of that country" in order to avoid starving is probably a
veiled reference to the fact that some in Israel were forced by want to take
the demeaning labor of collecting the burdensome taxes imposed by the Romans.
No greater or more positive words of encouragement could have been
given to the publicans and sinners than those contained in the story of the
The record of the elder son (Luke
15:25-32) sets forth the attitude of the Pharisees. The younger son was
lost in the far country but this one is lost in his own father's house.
The reception given the younger son caused all the hardness of
the selfrighteous brother to boil to the surface. From boasting about himself
he turns to blame for his father.
The parable ends abruptly, and rightly so. No
application is made. It is left to the Pharisees to make their own
application. One is prone to wish they had asked the Lord, "What did that
brother do in answer to his father's appeal?"
All these words were spoken to the Pharisees in
the hearing of the publicans and sinners. But our Lord is not yet
through with the Pharisees. Without leaving His place He turned to His
disciples and spoke to them in the presence of the Pharisees. [
This is characteristic of the satirical method.
Satire is not as a rule addressed to those whose foibles it exposes. It is
pointed at them ]The story He told them
is one of the strangest to be found in the Bible, but it is the real key to
the character of the story of the rich man and Lazarus which follows
it. Therefore, it must be examined with care.
1 And He said also unto His disciples, There
was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him
that he had wasted his goods. .
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How
is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou
mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What
shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to
beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am
put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord's
debtors unto him, and said
unto the first, How much
owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil.
And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another,. And how much
owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him,
Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the Lord commended the unjust steward,
because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their
generation wiser than the children of light.
This strange story has perplexed Bible students
throughout the entire Christian era. It is quite reasonable and believable as
fal: as the seventh verse, but when the eighth verse is added, it becomes
unbelievable, preposterous, and absurd. However, this is what our Lord
intended it to be since absurd ideas and principles can be satirized only by
means of an absurd story. The absurdity is all the more glaring if the
story is paraphrased so that it appears in modern dress.
A certain man of great wealth and many
holdings had a business manager who was in charge of all his affairs, and a
report was brought to him that this manager was wasting his possessions. So he
summoned him, questioned him concerning this, and finally told him to prepare
a complete audit of his dealings, as he did not consider him fit to manage his
affairs any longer. This greatly troubled the manager, for he did not, know
what he would do for future employment. His record of dishonesty would follow
him and bar him from a like position, he was not physically able to do hard
labor, and he was too proud to beg. The future seemed entirely black.
Thinking it over he hit upon a scheme to make
quickly some friends and put them under obligation to him, all at his
employer's expense, so that when he was discharged, they would have to find a
place for him in their establishments.
Putting his plan into action, he called in
everyone that owed his employer money. The first one who came owed ten
thousand dollars, so the manager told him to take his contract and write a new
one for five thousand. The second one owed four thousand, so he told him to
take his contract in exchange for a new one showing an indebtedness of two
thousand, and so on down the entire list. They were very glad to do this, and
they thanked the manager for it, telling him that they would be glad to return
the favor if they could ever do so.
When the wealthy man discovered what his
crooked manager had done, he commended him for acting so shrewdly in looking
after his own interests and continued him in his position at a good increase
Whether we read it in the King James Version
or recast it into modern language, the story is still absurd. Such a thing
never happened, and it never will happen. This steward worked these creditors
into a position where he would be able to blackmail them into supplying all
his needs when his position was gone. They are parties to a crime, a
conspiracy to defraud, to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of
another. No employer will ever commend a man for such crooked dealings. A man
of the world would never believe that such a thing would happen.
Nevertheless, there were some who were supposed to be "the children of
light" who were actually believing that such a thing was going to happen in
their dealings with God. How true it is that the children of this world are in
their generation wiser than the children of light.
The Lord's story about the dishonest steward was
told in order to expose the preposterous and absurd position of the scribes
and the Pharisees. They controlled everything in Israel, but they used their
position and power to bring gain to themselves. They discounted every
requirement of God in order to make friends for themselves and to perpetuate
their own systems and powers. They looked with pride and satisfaction upon
their accomplishments, and actually thought they were commended by God since
they were commended by men. They were out of favor with God, so they
used the things of God to secure favor with men.
Our Lord laid bare their ridiculous position by
telling a ridiculous story. It is a masterpiece of satire. No stronger rebuke
could have been spoken. He summed it all up by calling to their attention the
obvious fact that even men of the world would not believe that an employer,
who planned to discharge a man for unfaithfulness, would change his mind and
commend him when he became guilty of still greater unfaithfulness. No man of
the world would ever believe this, but the scribes and Pharisees, who
regarded themselves as children of light (John 9:41), acted as if they
believed it. He put their principles into words and lashed them with this
This is then followed by one of the most
ironic statements in the Bible.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves
friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail they may receive
you into everlasting habitations. Luke 16 :9.
Many and varied have been the attempts to
explain these words. Ingenious translations have been worked out in
order to try to bring this statement of our Lord into harmony with His later
statement, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." There is no need to do this. The
difficulty here is man-made. This passage does not set forth a moral precept.
Failure to recognize that
mode of expression here is irony has caused much
confusion. In irony the meaning of the words is directly opposite to that
which is literally stated. These words are parallel in character with the
declaration of God found in Judges 10: 14.
Go and cry unto the gods which ye have
chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.
The disciples did not take His words as a moral
precept. They knew they had already made friends of the One who alone could
receive them into everlasting habitations (John 6:68).
The Lord continues speaking to His disciples,
but the character of His words change to literal truth. All satire and irony
is dropped, but every statement is a barbed shaft pointed at the Pharisees.
They are to hear what He literally taught His disciples. This is what He says
He that is faithful in that which is least is
faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in
much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who
will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in
that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? No
servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the
other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve
God and mammon. Luke 16:10-13.
Luke informs us that "the Pharisees also, who
were covetous heard all these things," (Luke 16:14). He was not even speaking
to them, yet they got the meaning of His satirical and ironical remarks. They
knew better than anyone else the things He was satirizing. They could not deny
the truth of His words so they sought vain relief in bitter derision of the
One who spoke them.
It was their love of money that prompted this
derision of Him. In fact the love of money was behind most of their acts.
Their love of praise was strong, their love of attention was stronger
(Matt. 23: 5), but their love of money was
strongest of all. Love of God, love of parents, or love of mankind would never
move them, but love of money would cause them to act every time. There were no
appeals that could cause them to untie the strings of their purses. Many of
the teachings were devised for the purpose of getting more money or holding
on to what they had. A Scriptural example will illustrate this.
The law said "Honor thy father and thy mother;
and who so curseth (dishonors) father and mother, let them die the death." In
view of this it would seem that if the parents of a Pharisee were in want that
parental love would rise above their love of money. But this was not so. To
keep from supporting their parents they had promulgated a teaching where all
they had to do was say to their parents "It is Corban", that is, that all
their money was dedicated to God and therefore could not be used to relieve
destitute parents. According to their teaching this freed them from all
obligation to their parents. See Mark 7:9-13.
This derision of Him by the Pharisees as stated
in Luke 16: 14, caused the Lord to interrupt His message and to speak directly
to them. Luke records. His words which I will paraphrase in order to expand
them. This is what I believe He meant (Luke 16: 15-17).
deride me and scoff at me, but you cannot
deny the absurdity of your teachings, neither can you deny the charges
I have brought against you. You have perverted the Word of God in order
to justify yourselves and your acts before men, hut God knows your hearts. By
dealing unjustly with the oracles of God you have gained the esteem of
men, but your acts which are highly esteemed among men are detestable in the
sight of God. The law and the prophets were God's means of dealing with Israel
until John, but you have made the commandments of God ineffective by your
traditions. Since John the Baptist the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and
everyone is showing great enthusiasm for it, but not you. You lock the
doors of the kingdom of God against men. You will not go in
yourselves, neither will you allow those who purpose to enter to go in
(Matt. 23:13). But I tell you it is easier for heaven and earth to pass
than for the minutest part of the law to fail. Consider this one example. It
is true that God through Moses permitted divorce and gave the grounds for it.
But you have degraded this in order to fulfill your own desires.
You have worked out a system to get around God's law and in your own
eyes be free from the sin of adultery. Nevertheless the law stands and all who
accept your teachings concerning divorce, then enters into relationship with
another woman is guilty of adultery.
The interruption caused by their sneerings did
not bring an end to His message. His words to His disciples are only
momentarily suspended. After His direct rebuke to the Pharisees the onward
flow is resumed. Other things are yet to be exposed and rebuked.
By the preposterous story about the unjust
steward our Lord exposed the ridiculous practices of the Pharisees who
discounted the righteous claims and requirements of God. They did this in
order to make friends for themselves and to perpetuate their own system. But
this was only one of their absurd actions. Our Lord referred to these when He
said in Mark 7:13: "And many such like things ye do." In continuing His
discourse our Lord exposes and lays bare a number of these things. They are
quite evident in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Some of these are:
1. Their assumption of the position and rights
that God had ordained for the king in Israel.
2. Their intrusion into the priest's office.
They had taken over the chief work of the priests
- that of
leaving the priests to perform the empty ritual.
3. The luxurious and magnificent style in which
they lived at a time when most of Israel was suffering great hardship due to
the Roman occupation.
4. Their shameful neglect of the poor in Israel
in direct violation of God's instructions in Deuteronomy 15:7-11. They
justified this by their teachings.
5. Their harsh treatment of the sinners in
6. Their teaching that at death certain angels
carried good men to a place which they called "Abraham's bosom," while
others were taken to a place where "temporary punishments" were meted out
to them "agreeable to everyone's behavior and manners." They held that
poverty and hunger were God's punishments upon men while they were upon earth,
and if men accepted their punishment without complaint they would not need to
pay for these sins in the future. They held that riches were a sign of God's
favor, and that poverty was evidence of His displeasure. They claimed that if.
they helped the poor they would be acting contrary to God.
7. The caste system which they had established
in Israel and which they rigidly maintained.
8. Their idea that God would speak to them in a
special way, and not in the manner in which He spoke to the common people.
They were so exalted in their own minds that they rejected the idea of God
speaking to them in the same signs He gave to others. This is seen in their
actions of demanding a sign from heaven immediately after the Lord had fed
four thousand from a supply that was hardly enough for one man.
9. Their teaching that if a man received evil
things in this life, he would receive good things in the life to come. This
teaching was concocted by the rich rulers in order to keep the poor in
subjection. It was a "pie in the sky" sort of doctrine which was intended to
keep the hungry from demanding bread here and now. The Pharisees never
followed this teaching out to all its conclusions. Our Lord in His satire made
this teaching a "two - way" street.
These are some of the things taught and
(whenever convenient) practiced by the Pharisees. They are woven throughout
the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. Many of them will be found in
the history written by Josephus [ The
thirteen volumes of the collected writings of John Lightfoot, especially
volumes 11 and 12, give the best record of things believed and taught in
Israel before and during the times of Christ ].
Many of them will be seen in the things censured
and condemned by our Lord. These are the things exposed, ridiculed, and
rebuked by our Lord in the satirical story of the rich man and Lazarus.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
There was a certain rich man.
This character in the Lord's story
points to the aristocratic ruling class in Israel. This was composed of
Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, and scribes. The word rich in Scripture
does not refer exclusively to those who had money. It described a class of
men, a definite caste. A place in it was usually hereditary. An idea of the
general character of those in this caste can be gained from such passages as
James 2:5, 6 and 5:1-6. This caste system was rigidly maintained in Israel.
The gulf between rich and poor had no bridges, and the rich would permit none
to be built.
Which was clothed in purple.
The word purple describes a
cloth which was customarily worn by kings. The kingly claims of our Lord were
mocked by clothing Him in purple (John 19:2). The statement that this rich man
was clothed in purple points to the fact that an aristocratic class in Israel
had assumed the place of .
kings. They had assumed the authority while
disregarding altogether the responsibilities that God had laid upon rulers in
Israel. "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." 2
Sam. 23:3. The ruling class in Israel was tyrannical and oppressive. They
were not just, they did not rule in the fear of God, and they lacked entirely
the shepherd character that God expected of those who governed His people.
And fine linen.
This was the garment worn by the
priests in Israel. It points to the fact that a clique in Israel controlled
the priesthood and had assumed the chief perogative of the priests, that of
teaching the people. "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat," was
the Lord's words concerning them (Matt.23:2). His words stated a fact, but
they do not admit the right of these men to Moses' seat. They were not called
to this seat as Moses had been. He assumed that seat reluctantly, but these
men had assumed his seat of their own accord and were determined to hold it.
They were self-appointed usurpers and acted as though their pronouncements
were as binding as the revelations God gave to Moses. They taught precepts
and bound them upon others but would not apply them to themselves. "They say,
and do not" (Matt. 23:3).
And fared sumptuously every day.
This points to the splendid manner in
which the rich ruling class in Israel lived. Their position shielded them
from the oppression and sufferings which most Israelites had to bear because
of the Roman occupation. .
And there was a certain beggar.
This character is brought into the
story to point to the poor in Israel. In English the word poor is used'
to emphasize the poverty of the person or persons so described, but in the
Hebrew and Greek the prominent idea is that of the ill-treated or miserable.
Even though the poor were often, no doubt, persons in need, they were
primarily those suffering from some kind of social disability or distress.
Passages such as Amos 8:4; Isa.3:14-15; 10:1,2; 32: 7, Ezek. 16:49; 22:29,
show the poor to be those who were oppressed by a high-handed and cruel
aristocracy. In the writing of the prophets we find that the wealthy, ruling
classes are constantly taken to task for their cruel and unjust treatment of
the poor. This had not changed in the least in our Lord's day.
The fact that this name is used is a
definite part of our Lord's satire. This name means "God a help" and
it has reference to a practice that seemed to be
common in Israel
that of the rich referring to God all requests
by the poor for help. They would answer all requests for food and clothing
with the stock phrases "Go in peace, be ye warmed, and be ye filled" and yet
do nothing to fulfill these needs (Jas. 2:15, 16). These words actually mean
"God will warm you, God will fill you", but the word God does not appear due
to the fact that the Jews would not use His name in ordinary conversation.
Was laid at his gate.
A gate in Scripture was the symbol of
authority. The poor in Israel were the rsponsibility of the rich, but the rich
threw the responsibility back upon God. They would devour a window's property,
then make long prayers to God for her help.
Full of sores.
A further description of their
miserable condition, as is ever the case of the poor in an occupied and
oppressed country. They suffered many wounds from the tyrannical and
oppressive Roman conquerors. They also suffered deprivation from tax-gathers
and lawless neighbors, and heaped upon this were the wounds they suffered from
the aristocratic class in Israel. Indeed they were full of sores.
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs
that fell from the rich man's table.
There is no record of a revolt of the
poor in Israel against the rich. All they ever asked for was a little easing
of their hard lot, a thing well within the power of the Pharisees to grant.
But they refused to fulfill the directive of God as set forth in Deuteronomy
15: 7, 8.
Moreover the dogs came and licked his
There can be no doubt but that this statement
points to the fact that many merciful acts were performed for the poor in
Israel by individuals in the Roman army of occupation. Cornelius was one who
gave much alms to the people (Acts 10: 2) .
Up to this point in His story our Lord has set
the stage and placed the characters upon it. Now He is going to take these
characters, move them about and cause them to speak, but in harmony with the
principles and teaching of the Pharisees.
All teaching in Israel was rigidly controlled by
the Pharisees. No one could teach without their authority. No matter how
preposterous or unfair their teachings became, none dared to question or
criticize them. What they bound upon others, none dared to bind upon them. The
scribes took their precepts and repeated them parrot-like to the people. This
is why they spoke as those having no authority (Matt. 7: 29) . The scribes did
not believe what they taught, but they had to teach it or risk the anger of
When the Lord appeared upon earth He took their
doctrines and turned them back upon them. He exposed their principles by
putting into words the things they practiced. By so doing He incurred their
Among their teachings was one that implied that
if a man were poor and needy in this life, he would be rich in the life to
come. This kept many satisfied to be poor, helped maintain the gulf between
rich and poor, and spared the Pharisees the task of helping them. They
intimated that if this life were filled with evil things, the life to come
would be filled with good things. But this was as far as it went. They never
allowed this idea to go so far as to say that if a man were rich in this life,
he would be poor in the next; or if a man enjoyed good things in this life, he
would receive evil things in the life to come.
The motive behind their lopsided teaching is
evident. No commands in the Word of God could be plainer than those which made
it the duty of the rich in Israel to care for the poor. Even the crafty
Pharisee would have difficulty in explaining away such plain statements as
those found in Deuteronomy 15: 7 -11. So they made these words void by a
tradition that made poverty to be a virtue that carried a guarantee of great
bliss in the next life. By getting the people to accept even gnawing hunger
as being the will of God, they saved themselves from the unpleasant duty of
untying their own purse strings.
While it is only surmise it may have been that
by some such teaching as this the Pharisees had committed some grave offence
against one whose name was Lazarus, and this could be another reason why the
Lord gave this name to the character in His story. There may have been a man
who was wretchedly poor and pitifully sick. Day after day he lay upon the
streets, too weak to help himself in any manner. His condition may have
touched the hearts of many, but they were in no position to help. Their
sympathy and pity for him called for something to be done
- but what
could be done. Someone may have suggested that in view of this man's desperate
need, his case should be brought to the attention of the rulers in Israel.
Certainly in view of their wealth and power they would not refuse the few
crumbs required to relieve this poor man's distress.
It may have been that a committee was sent to
the Pharisees. We can imagine the fear and hesitancy that accompanied such a
task, but their sympathies drove them on. So this man's case was laid before
This placed them in a difficult position. They
could not deny that the poor man needed help, and they could not say they
lacked the means to help him. If they bluntly refused, it would hurt them in
the eyes of the people. It appeared that for once they would have to open
But the Pharisees were masters of every
situation, always ready with some teaching that would relieve them of their
obligations. They probably expressed their deep compassion for the poor man,
wiping away a few tears as they did so. This always made a good impression.
They recounted with sorrow how his whole life
been one of poverty, filled with evil things.
But, said they, better times were sure to come soon for him. He had received
his evil things in this life, and this signified that he would get his good
things in the life to come. Why, then, should they go against God, and change
the wretched state of this man when that very state presaged a better state in
the next life.
If the people saw the contradictions in teaching
such as this, they dared not state it, for the Pharisees were in authority and
the common people never questioned or answered back. They may have reasoned
within themselves that if evil things were the guarantee of good things in the
future life, then good things in this life must signify evil things in the
life to come. However, if they did reason after this manner they never
expressed it. Few there were who dared to brave the wrath of a Pharisee
(see John 12 :42, 43). Thus the Pharisees protected their wealth and position
by leading the people to believe that poverty was a cardinal virtue. But it
was a virtue which no Pharisee cared to possess.
When the greatest of all teachers appeared upon
earth, He was not afraid of them. They demanded to know of His authority to
teach, but He refused to tell them. In His censure of them He took their own
teachings, held them accountable for their idle words, judged them out of
their own mouths, and bound upon them what they had laid upon others. He, by
means of satirical stories, developed their teaching to all its logical
conclusions and forced upon them all its consequences. If one position was to
be reversed in the life to come, then all positions were to be reversed. If
the poor were to be rich, then the rich should be poor. If a man on the good
side of a great gulf in this life, then he should be on the evil side in the
life to come. This is the situation we find in the second part of the story of
the rich man and Lazarus. Our Lord caused all actors to move and be in
complete harmony with the teachings and principles of the Pharisees. The
result is most startling, especially so when dead men begin to act and talk.
And it came to
pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the
angels into Abraham's bosom.
This is the way it would take place
according to the traditions held by the Pharisees. To keep this idea from
being preposterous, men have been forced to insert here the idea of a
disembodied soul or a disembodied spirit. But such things are unknown to the
Word of God. There is no hint of soul or spirit in the words of our Lord. That
which lived, died, and that which died was carried by the angels. Our Lord was
not revealing here what happens at death. He is exposing
of the Pharisees about the angels carrying the dead to a place they called
Abraham's bosom. This is a thing and a place that is unknown in the Word of
God. But it was not unknown in the traditions of the Pharisees, as the Talmud
and the writings of Josephus give abundant witness.
The rich man also died, and was buried;
and in hell (hades) he lift up his eyes being in torments.
The one who died was buried, and the
one who was buried is set forth as being tormented in hades. Since no one has
been able to tell us how he got out of the grave and into a place of torment,
men are forced to insert here some vague idea about a soul. This statement
makes no more sense than if I should say "that a certain man died, and was
buried, and in the penitentiary he was found in solitary confinement:' This
cannot be true. And our Lord is not presenting the story of the rich man in
harmony with the truth, but in full harmony with the traditions of the
Pharisees about the transmigration of souls. From Genesis 1 to Luke 16 there
is no Biblical record anywhere of a man being anywhere after death except in
the tomb. God's word to Adam was:
In the sweat of your face shall you eat
bread, until you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken; for you
are dust, and unto dust you shall return. Gen. 3:19.
In view of these words anyone who believes that
Adam is anywhere except in the dust of the earth does not believe this
declaration of God.[One grows weary of the bold claims made by many that they
believe the Bible to be the Word of God, yet refuse to believe when pointed to
a specific statement made in God's Word. They take refuge in the statement
that "it is a matter of interpretation:' Very well - but let them interpret
this passage, without rewriting it to bring in ideas about Adam's body, and
see ,how they come out.]
And seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in
This is the way it would be according to the
teaching of the Pharisees, so this is the way that the Lord presents it in His
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.
This presents a conclusion which the
Pharisees never included in their teaching. Since on earth Lazarus begged for
crumbs, then, in hades the rich man is seen begging for a drop of water. And
the ideas about Abraham's bosom, the rich man's eyes, Lazarus' finger, the
rich man's tongue all serve to heighten the satirical story told by our Lord.
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy
lifetime receivedst 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 which would pass from hence
to you cannot/ neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
In answer to his plea for a few drops
of water, Abraham is presented as setting forth all the Pharasaic traditions
about the poor becoming rich in the life to come. His answer is pure
gibberish. It could have no possible bearing upon why the poor man was where
he was or why the rich man was in his condition. It is completely foreign to
the truth about the grace of God which alone fits a sinner for blessing in the
life to come. And it denies the justice of God, since is presents a man
suffering simply because in his lifetime he received good things. Yet it is
all in harmony with Pharasaic teaching. Furthermore, if the caste system were
God's will for earth, it should continue after death. So, our Lord presented
it in this manner, but He placed the rich on the evil side of the gulf. This
is the way it would have been if the Pharasaic tradition about the reversal of
positions in regard to the poor were true.
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 into this place
This request by the rich man points to another
attitude assumed by the Pharisees which also needs to be exposed and rebuked.
Their place as a privileged class in Israel caused them to feel that they were
not required to believe the evidences given to ordinary men. "A sign from
heaven", was the demand they made of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 16:1). They imply
the signs He has hitherto wrought are insufficient, and their position
requires that they be granted some special sign which in outward grandeur will
exceed all other signs that He has wrought. This false attitude is exposed by
the words the Lord puts upon the lips of Abraham.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses
and the prophets; let them hear them.
This was the divine provision for all
in Israel, high and low, rich and poor. If men believed Moses, they would have
believed Christ (John 5:46).
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if
one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
The rich man declares that the
written word is not sufficient, but if one comes to them from the dead, they
And he said unto him, If they hear not
Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from
The Pharisees are here exposed for their
superstitutions. This man knows that while his brothers do not believe the
Word of God, he is sure they will respond if one returned from the dead. There
will always be those who will give credence to every strange portent, but
refuse to give any credence to the sacred Scriptures. As in the case of a
woman who attended a seance and claims her dead husband materialized as a
bubble, telling her many wonderful things. She readily believed this bubble,
but refuses to believe the Bible. There are many who would gladly listen to a
ghost, but who will not listen to the Word of God. Superstition and unbelief
always go hand in hand.
With the statement that since they had failed to
hear the written Word, no miracle would persuade them to believe, our Lord
ended His long battle with the Pharisees. His satirical story has reached its
end. The Pharisees are stripped naked by it. Their exposure is complete. They
can make no answer. Any attempt to reply will only reveal that His satire is
understood, that it has reached its mark. Their sole hope now is to retire
from the open field of battle, then seek more devious ways of silencing Him.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a divinely inspired satire. Its study
is the study of a satire that was spoken by God. It is as much the Word of God
as any other portion of Scripture. It was not given for the purpose of
teaching men about the ways and works of God. Its purpose was to turn the
light upon the Pharisees. It is not the place to go to find what our Lord
taught about death, the state of the dead, future punishment, or future bliss.
It Is Not the Gospel
An objection is anticipated. Some will say that
to treat this portion as a satire is to offer an interpretation that is so
complex that it puts it beyond the reach of the simple, unsophisticated seeker
of God's truth. But is not this also true when Luke 16 is treated as
This story is not "the gospel." The gospel
concerns "His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1: 3) and Christ is not even
referred to in this story. This is not the place to bring an honest seeker who
is looking for the Savior, neither is it the place to bring the simple
believer who desires to learn more about God and Christ. This story was aimed
at the sneering, unbelieving, self-righteous Pharisees. When handled rightly
it still carries a powerful message to all such today.