Section 9B .. The Future
The Problems With The Traditional View of Hell

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What and Where is Hell?
Part VI... Lazarus and The Rich Man

This parable is usually believed to be Jesus' vivid and very graphic description of conditions in hell. However, on closer examination...

Carol Brooks

Introduction and Index To All Chapters

The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus

The Greek Words basanos and odunao
Although odunao is translated "agony", it conveys mental anguish, distress or sorrow, rather than physical pain. Basanos can be taken either way

Literal or Allegorical?
We have to decide whether this story told by Jesus is literal or not. Because if it is literal, we are faced with numerous serious difficulties.

The Overall Context of This Parable
The Development of Thought...

The Nationalities Of The Two People In The Parable.
Following The Many Clues

Origins of The Concept of The 'Torments of Hell'
The Apocalypse of Peter, The Apocalypse of Paul, Dante's Inferno - you name it. There were more than enough of these fiery underworld stories to go around


The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus
The word parable comes from the Greek parabole, which means a likeness, illustration, or comparison. In other words, a parable is a short and simple story that uses the familiar to illustrate a spiritual point. One of Jesus' parables, that of the rich man and Lazarus, is found only in the book of Luke. 

    (19) "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment (Gr. basanos), and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony (Gr. odunao) in this flame.' (25) "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony (Gr. odunao). (26) 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' (27) "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house-- (28) for I have five brothers - in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment (Gr. basanos).' (29) "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' (30) "But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' (31) "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'" ( Luke 16:19-31)

This parable is usually believed to be Jesus' vivid and very graphic description of conditions in hell. That He was warning unrepentant sinners that they would be sentenced to extreme torment, engulfed forever in a unquenchable fire.

But is this so?

The Greek Words basanos and odunao
The word 'torment' in the parable is translated from the Greek basanos that, according to Strong's is a black, silicon-based stone used as "a touchstone" to test the purity of precious metals like silver and gold. However the only other time basanos occurs in the New Testament is in Matthew 4:24 where it could mean physical pain or distress,

    The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains (Gr. basanos), demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. (Matthew 4:24)

On the other hand, the Greek verb odunao translated "agony" conveys mental anguish, distress or sorrow, rather than physical pain. It is the word Luke used to describe the distress felt by Mary and Joseph when, on their way home from the Passover feast in Jerusalem, they discovered that the young Jesus was missing.

    When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously (Gr. odunao) looking for You." (Luke 2:48 NASB)

He also used odunao to describe the sadness felt by the elders of the Ephesian Church when they realized that they would probably never see Paul again.

    And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving (Gr. odunao) especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship. (Acts 20:37-38 NASB)

Literal or Allegorical?
I have absolutely no idea how those that take this parable literally account for
the numerous anti-Biblical details it contains.

    a) A man is condemned to hell, with no reason given other than he is rich, well clothed, and well fed. Another man (Lazarus) is sent to Heaven, with no other reason given other than he was poor, hungry, and covered with sores. Nothing is said about the rich man being a sinner, or the poor man being righteous. It is simply stated that the rich man had received good things in his lifetime, and Lazarus nothing but misfortune in his.

    If this parable is meant to be literal, then all of us who look forward to the coming of the kingdom, need to get rid of all our possessions and go live under a bridge somewhere. It would serve us even better if we manage to acquire some horrible disease in the process. This particularly applies to believers in the West who have so much in the way of material goods

    b) Good people are carried away by angels into Abraham's bosom, where they stay. The problem being that Jesus did not come to bring about people's reconciliation to Abraham, but to God.

    c) The Bible is very clear that not many will find their way to Heaven (Matthew 7:13-14). Therefore, it stands to reason that virtually everyone that makes it to Heaven will know one or more person suffering in hell -  spouse, parent, sibling, child, friend or acquaintance. Although the "great gulf" is impassable, it is not so wide that people in Paradise cannot hear the entreaties of those in hell. In fact, they can even look across this chasm and see their loved ones in torment, and hold conversations with them. Someone is going to have to explain to me how, under these circumstances, it will even be possible to get a good night's sleep, much less enjoy the rewards of Heaven. Let me very blunt - heaven could not possibly be heaven in any sense of the word, if one is able to watch and hear ones loved ones suffer for all eternity.

Thanks, but no thanks.

d) After they die, people in hell can pray to Abraham, who actually answers instead of directing the person to pray to God.

e) The rich man does not plead with Abraham to help him get out of the terrible situation he found himself in, but simply for a drop of water to cool his tongue... for all the good that would have done.

I can almost hear the reader protesting that of course none of the above points are literal. Jesus, as He always did, was using a parable to teach His hearers something. My point exactly. 

    If people do not go to heaven or hell based on their financial status in this world

    If good people do not pray to Abraham, nor reside in his bosom

    If people can not converse, or see each other, across the gulf between heaven and hell

Then how exactly are we justified in claiming that the rest of the story is factual?

The fact is that we are using preconceived ideas as a basis to decide which parts of the story are literal, and which are not. Preconceived ideas that, as shown in this article, have absolutely no foundation in the Scriptures.

The Overall Context of This Parable
So how do we interpret the parable? As always, the answer lies in the immediate context. Neither Jesus nor any other of the Biblical authors, were given to stringing together a bunch of thoughts, totally disconnected from one another. In order to correctly understand what the author was trying to say we have to look not at single verses (as is our tendency) but the overall message of the section that each verse contributes to.

In this case, this particular parable was part of the four others that immediately preceded it - ALL five were part of the overall point that Jesus was making to the Pharisees. Therefore, bearing in mind that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original manuscripts which were added later for convenience, we have to go back at least as far back as the beginning of chapter 15 to grasp what He was saying.

Saving The Lost
Chapter fifteen begins by telling us that tax collectors and sinners came to listen to Jesus which caused the scribes and Pharisees to "murmur" against Him for associating with these undesirables. Jesus then related three parables - that of the lost sheep (15:3-7), the lost coin (15:8-10), and the prodigal son (15:11-32), all designed to emphasize that God's concern was (and is) for those that are lost, rather than those who need no repentance.

The Failure of The Sons of Light
Chapter sixteen, begins with another parable, the point of which was that we need to learn a lesson from the unprincipled scoundrel who dishonestly used the resources available to him ingratiate himself with his master's debtors. Although Jesus did not approve of what the man did and called him unrighteous, He also said the steward was wiser than many "sons of light" inasmuch as he knew what was coming and prepared for it. As Jesus asked ""Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? (Luke 16:11)

That this parable is directed at the Pharisees is obvious from the fact that the very next verse (16:14) says... "the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him". Jesus then tells them that, although they justified themselves in the eyes of men, God knew their hearts, and it was an abomination to Him. (16:15)

The Opportunity Given The Gentiles
Jesus' next statement is particularly instructive. He said (Vs. 17) that although not one stroke of the Letter of the Law would fail, since John's time the gospel of the kingdom of God was being preached. The end of the law had come and it was futile to keep following it. For an explanation of this rather confusing statement. See Jesus And The Law.

    "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16) 

He then said that everyone was forcing their way into the kingdom. In other words, although the Pharisees considered the Gentiles no better than dogs, all men would have the opportunity to seize the proffered mercy of the Gospel. They would take the kingdom as by force from those who thought it was reserved for them. Jesus also spoke of the Gentiles coming to faith in Matthew 8. Note His wording 

    "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:11-12)

Note however that there was also a warning issued to the Gentiles See Romans 11:17-23.

Summary of the Development of Thought...
The Pharisees murmured against Jesus for associating with sinners, which led to three parables about the value of a single saved sinner. He then told another parable about how God does not entrust His riches to someone who is not faithful in small matters. Jesus then told them that every man now has the opportunity to enter into the kingdom. (Note Jesus' next brief comment on divorce and adultery (16:18) appear to be part of the sermon on the mount).  However, without further ado, He immediately launched into the Lazarus parable.

Are we really to believe that Jesus simply flitted from one subject to another, without the slightest indication that He was about to do so. Or, does it make more sense that He was continuing with His line of thought begun in chapter fifteen, and that He was not speaking of an after life, but continuing His indictment of the Pharisees.

And there are other reasons to believe this was the case.

The Nationalities Of The Two People In The Parable.

That The Rich Man Was a Jew is evident from the fact that he recognized Abraham and called him "Father Abraham", in response to which Abraham called the rich man "Son".

And there is another clue to his identity.

Originally, the term Yehudi referred specifically to members of the tribe of Judah, one of Jacob's twelve sons who was the head of the tribe named after him. However, after the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms - Judah and Israel (I Kings 12; II Chronicles 10). At the time 'Judah' consisted of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, and the Israelites who abandoned their idolatry and joined them.

    After the northern kingdom of Israel were carried away into exile (2 Kings 17:23) by the Assyrians, only the southern kingdom of Judah (Vs. 18) remained to carry on Abraham's heritage. After which they were generally known to themselves and to other nations as Yehudim (Jews), a that name that is still used. [07]

What is interesting is that Judah had five full blooded brothers - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, and Zebulun (See Genesis 30:20, 35:23). The significance of the rich man of the parable having five brothers would not have escaped the notice of the Pharisees and scribes to whom Christ was speaking. They were very well acquainted with their history, and extremely proud of their heritage.

That The Rich Man Was a Pharisee is evident from the fact that he...

    1) Wore Fine Clothes: The Pharisees who were wealthy ate and dressed well.  The Pharisees considered wealth a sign of God's blessing and approval and that the fact that they were wealthy meant that they were esteemed by God and would occupy a place of honour in the Kingdom. (See Footnote 4 for the significance of the color purple in the Bible)

    2) Did Not Care About The Poor: The fact that Lazarus did not even receive the crumbs from the rich man's table fits the attitude of the Pharisees perfectly. They did a great job at keeping the ceremonial aspects of the Law, but ignored the spirit of it. For example, they seemed to completely overlook the fact that one of the basic precepts of the laws of Leviticus was that the widows and orphans be protected. As Jesus told them...

      "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Matthew 23:14)

    3) Finally, Abraham told the rich man that he would not go to warn his five brothers because, as he said, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them". In other words, there was ample evidence in the Old Testament writings that clearly pointed the way to Jesus as the Messiah. And if they did not heed all the prophecies that had been fulfilled in the birth and life of Jesus, then they would not believe even if someone actually rose from the dead.

Lazarus was, Very Possibly, a Gentile
While Lazarus was a Hebrew name, this Lazarus may not have been a Jew.

The story of the woman who came to Jesus asking for help for her daughter who was demon possessed (Matthew 15: 22-28) supports the idea that Lazarus was a Gentile. Jesus told her that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, and it was not fitting that He take their bread and feed it to dogs. To which she answered that "even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." While His choice of words may have been a great test of her faith, the point we are concerned with here is that, at that point in time, the Gentiles did not even have the crumbs from the table of the children, a situation that was to change very soon.

 So, if not from the Bible, where did the idea of eternal torment come from?

Origins of The Concept of The 'Torments of Hell'
The Apocalypse of Peter (Revelation of Peter) is a text dating back to at least the 2nd century, written under an assumed name. It is supposedly a vision of heaven and hell, granted to Peter by the Risen Christ. The text goes into lurid detail about the punishment in hell for each type of crime, and briefly touches on the pleasures of heaven. For example, in the vision, people in heaven have pure milky white skin, curly hair, are generally beautiful, and wear shiny clothes made of light. The earth blooms with everlasting flowers and spices, and everyone sings in choral prayer. On the other hand, the punishments of hell closely correspond to the past sinful actions, in a version of lex talionis, an "eye for an eye". 

Blasphemers are hung by the tongue.  Women who "adorn" themselves for the purpose of adultery, are hung by the hair over a bubbling mire. The men that had adulterous relationships with them are hung by their feet, with their heads in the mire, next to them. False witnesses had flaming fire in their mouths. While those that trusted in their riches, had no pity for orphans and widows, and despised the commandment of God, rolled about on pebbles sharper than swords, clad in tattered and filthy raiment.

And so on, and so forth.

    The Apocalypse of Peter exists in two incomplete versions of a supposed lost Greek original. While the Ethiopic translation has been known since 1910, the Koine Greek version was discovered in the grave of a Christian monk in the 19th century. What is interesting is that both versions frequently diverge from each other. [08]

Although the book was eventually excluded from the Canon, it apparently had significant influence on Christian thought, quoted by several ancient writers, including Clement of Alexandria, who twice quoted chapters 4 and 5.

The Apocalypse of Paul
This 4th century text was supposedly found in the basement of Paul's own house in Tarsus, sealed in a marble box. It is essentially a description of a vision of Heaven and Hell, and appears to be an elaborate expansion and rearrangement of the Apocalypse of Peter, although it adds a prologue describing all creation appealing to God against the sin of man, a detail that is not present in Peter's Apocalypse. The Ethiopic version of Paul's Apocalypse features the Virgin Mary as the receiver of the vision in the place of Paul (the Apocalypse of the Virgin). At the end of the text, Paul manages to persuade God to give everyone in Hell a day off every Sunday.

    "In the Ethiopic Apocalypse of the Virgin, which copies that of Paul very literally, the end comes at ch. 44, when the Virgin procures rest from Friday evening to Monday morning for the lost". [09]

 Paul's apocalypse was immensely popular in Western Europe, and by the Middle Ages...

    the concept of a fiery underworld had become a dominant element in people's minds. To the medieval faithful, hell was a place of suffering and despair, of wretchedness and excruciating pain. The medieval Church used fire-and-brimstone rhetoric to its fullest to keep believers under control. The Church considered hell a useful prod to piety, a strong incentive to refrain from evil. [10]

 Besides which, the Apocalypse of Paul may have helped inspire ...

Dante's Inferno
the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, the Inferno (Italian for "Hell") describing the recognition and rejection of sin.

In the InfernoDante is guided through the nine circles of Hell by Virgil the Roman poet. "The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the centre of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed.

    In the First Circle (Limbo) are found the un-baptized, and the virtuous pagans who, though not sinful, did not accept Christ. Whereas, people who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths, are found not in Hell but in Purgatory, where they labour to be free of their sins. Those in hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant". [Wikipedia]

The idea of hell as a nightmarish place of eternal torment presided over by Satan stemmed from Dante's fertile imagination. Yet to this day, many assume that this frightful imagery comes from the Bible.

I have heard that although the position on hell was taught before his time, it was Augustine who apparently systematized and popularized the traditional viewpoint. I don't know if this is true but nothing would surprise me about that man.


End Notes
[07] Origins of the Words "Jew" and "Judaism" Judaism 101! http://www.jewfaq.org/whoisjew.htm

[08] Greek Version... http://www.21stcenturysaints.com/resources/APOC_PETER.pdf.
 Ethiopic version... http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-roberts.html

[09] Apocalypse of Paul. Scanned and Edited by Joshua Williams Northwest Nazarene College, 1995. Wesley Center Online.

[10] Keith Stump. The Battle Over Hell. Grace Communion international - https://www.gci.org/prophecy/hell
 Or  Plain Truth Ministries - www.ptm.org/01PT/SepOct/battleHell.htm

Continue on To PART VII- Making Excuses For God - How Christians Justify Their Misinterpretation of Scripture
Most Christians accept the traditional doctrine of hell because they believe that it is taught in the Bible. However, the doctrine of 'hell' as taught by the church isn't some elevated, high-minded, spiritual principle, but boils down to "God loves you, but He is quite prepared to torture you in hell forever".  This probably makes many believers very uneasy. Thus their only option has been to come up with some excuses for God, no matter how illogical, bone-headed, and anti-biblical they might be.  HERE

Footnote 4.. The Colour Purple
In Acts 16:14, the "purple" which Lydia sold was cloth that had been stained with a dye obtained from a shell fish found in the Mediterranean… expensive, difficult to produce and undoubtedly a prized commodity.

Exodus 26 describes the making of the curtains of the taberbacle and the veil in front of the Holy of Holies both made of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material. as were the priests garments.

The color purple has long been associated with royalty.

    Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a large crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. (Esther 8:15 NASB)

    But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler in the kingdom." (Daniel 5:16 NASB)

In mockery, the Roman soldiers “dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (Mark 15:17-18 NASB)

End Notes
[07] Origins of the Words "Jew" and "Judaism" Judaism 101! http://www.jewfaq.org/whoisjew.htm

[08] Greek Version... http://www.21stcenturysaints.com/resources/APOC_PETER.pdf.
Ethiopic version... http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-roberts.html

[09] Apocalypse of Paul. Scanned and Edited by Joshua Williams Northwest Nazarene College, 1995. Wesley Center Online.

[10] Keith Stump. The Battle Over Hell. Grace Communion international. https://www.gci.org/prophecy/hell OR
 Plain Truth Ministries www.ptm.org/01PT/SepOct/battleHell.htm



Chapter 5 - Symbolism in The New Testament

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