Section 9B .. The Future / Hell Part Six

003white  Index to Section 9B... The Future     >      Index to Hell     >      Hell Part VI... Lazarus and The Rich Man


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

How Parables Were Used

The Rich Man and Lazarus - Literal or Allegorical?
Interestingly, because a factual interpretation fits our pre-biases, this is the only one of Jesus' parables that we take literally in spite of the fact that doing so presents us with numerous serious, insurmountable and anti-Biblical difficulties.

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

Who Did The Two People In The Parable Represent?
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 word parable comes from the Greek parabole, which means a likeness, illustration, or comparison. In other words, a parable is a short, simple, and and easily remembered story that uses the familiar to illustrate a spiritual point. They are both interesting and compelling and usually leave no gray areas. The point of the parable is that the listeners apply the events in the story to their own lives. Above all parables are not meant to be taken literally.

For example, when He related the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus was not speaking about literal virgins, a literal groom, or a literal wedding. The story was simply a way to get people to realize that because Christ will return at an unknown time, His followers need to be always ready.

And most of the time this is exactly how we understand the parables the Saviour UNTIL it comes to the the one about Lazarus and the rich man - the ONLY ONE commonly taught as being literal.

The Rich Man and Lazarus - Literal or Allegorical?
Only Luke relates this parable. 

    (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)

    Note: Although odunao is translated "agony", it conveys mental anguish, distress or sorrow, rather than physical pain. Basanos can be taken either way.  See Footnote I

Perhaps because it best fits our ideas, this parable is usually taken as 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?

I have absolutely no idea how those that take this parable literally can 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 set up house under the nearest bridge. 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.

      Jesus did not come to bring about people's reconciliation to Abraham, but to God.

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

    d) 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.

    e) 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. If the parable is to be taken literally, 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. I have no idea how it will be possible to get a good night's sleep, much less enjoy the rewards of Heaven if one is able to watch and hear ones loved ones suffer for all eternity. Thanks, but no thanks.

    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 context. Neither Jesus nor any of the Biblical authors were given to stringing together a bunch of thoughts that were totally disconnected from one another. Thus in order to correctly understand the point any of them were trying to get across, we have to look not at single verses (as is our tendency) but the overall message of the section. See CONTEXT is Crucial

Luke combined several of Jesus' teachings for a reason which means the parable of Lazarus and the rich man cannot be separated from the four others that immediately preceded it (remember that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original manuscripts but were added later for convenience). ALL five were part of the overall point that Jesus was making to the Pharisees.

The First Three (Ch. 15)

The Common Thread Running Through Chapter 15 Is God's Love For Lost Sinners.

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, regardless of who they are. 

The Fourth - (Ch. 16)

The fourth parable that begins in chapter sixteen was also directed at the Pharisees - their love of money, their self-proclaimed authority, and their rejection of God's word.

The parable is about an 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's master praised the man  because he had acted shrewdly. He was wiser than many "sons of light" inasmuch as he knew what was coming and prepared for it.

Jesus then asked 'who would entrust the true riches to someone that had not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth (Luke 16:11) He was telling them that money is one of the least things. And if a person wouldn't faithfully manages what was least, how could they be entrusted with things that are infinitely more valuable? (For obvious reasons, this is Jesus' most difficult parable. See Footnote 2)

That this parable was 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 said to them,

    "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.  (Luke 16:15 NASB)

Jesus' very next statement was

    "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. "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. (Luke 16:16-17 NASB)

As said by Steven J. Cole on Bible.org

    To paraphrase and give the flow of thought in 16:14-18, Jesus is saying, "You Pharisees pride yourselves on keeping the Law, but God knows your hypocritical hearts. What you're missing is that since he introduced the good news of the coming of God's king and kingdom. Ironically, while you are scoffing at Me and My kingdom, the very ones you despise - the poor and the notoriously sinful - are stampeding to get in. When I say that there has been a transition from the Law to the Gospel, I don't mean that the Law is set aside. Rather, it has been fulfilled in Me. For example, I uphold the true intent of God's Law regarding divorce and remarriage, but you Pharisees neatly set it aside with your liberal interpretations. [01]

 See Jesus And The Law.

In other words, although the Pharisees considered the Gentiles no better than dogs and were very scornful of anyone they considered beneath contempt, 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.

The Fifth - (Ch. 16) - Lazarus and The Rich Man

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. Then, 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.

There are plenty of other reasons to believe this was the case.

Who Did The Two People In The Parable Represent?

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.

    After the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms - Judah and Israel (I Kings 12; II Chronicles 10). However, after the northern kingdom of Israel was carried away into exile by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:23), 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. [02]

It is especially significant that 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.

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 opening statement of the parable was "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day". The Pharisees considered wealth a sign of God's blessing and approval and that the fact that they were well to do meant that they were esteemed by God and would occupy a place of honour in the Kingdom. They certainly ate and dressed well (See Footnote 3 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)

Lazarus Possibly Represented the Gentiles
Although Lazarus was a Hebrew name, this Lazarus had something in common with the story of the Gentile woman who came to Jesus asking for help for her daughter who was demon possessed (Matthew 15: 22-28). 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."

    The Lazarus in the parable "longed to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table".

While Jesus' choice of words may have been a test of the Gentile woman's faith, the point I am 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. [03]

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 sealed in a marble box in the basement of Paul's house in Tarsus. 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". [04]

 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. [05]

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

Dante's Inferno
is the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy.  His purpose was to warn his readers that reward or punishment would surely meet them hereafter.

In the Inferno Dante 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 center 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]

    According to Dante, hell is divided into nine rings or circles, descending conically into the earth. Within this multi-leveled chamber of horrors, souls suffer punishments appropriate to their sins. Gluttons, for example, are doomed to forever lie like pigs in a foul-smelling sty under a cold, eternal rain of filth and refuse. The lustful -- driven by their passions during this lifetime -- are forever whirled about in a dark, stormy wind.

    Although the fruit of Dante's fertile imagination, The Inferno is generally in keeping with the theology of his age. His picture of hell as a gigantic concentration camp -- a nightmarish place of eternal torment presided over by Satan -- became fixed in the popular imagination. It continues to represent the thinking of some Christians to this day -- and of some critics of Christianity who mistakenly assume that Dante's frightful imagery comes from the Bible. [06]

Although the position on hell was taught before his time, it was Augustine who is said to have systematized and popularized the traditional viewpoint. I don't know if this is a fact but nothing would surprise me about that man. See The Sins of Augustine

Footnote I - 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. Because pure gold rubbed on it left a peculiar mark it was used for examination by torture. 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) {PLACE IN TEXT}

Footnote 2 -
As said in David Guzik's commentary on the New Testament,

    For obvious reasons, this is Jesus' most notorious parable. How could Jesus use such an obviously dishonest man as an example for His disciples?

    i. God uses evil things that we are familiar with to illustrate a particular point, without praising the thing itself. Other examples of this principle are when Paul used things like war and slavery as illustrations of the Christian life.

    e. Yet, the dishonest steward is a praiseworthy example on several points. First, he knew he would be called to account for his life and he took that seriously. Christians should take seriously the idea that they will be called to account, and that idea can be a joy if we are about our Master's business! Second, he took advantage of his present position to arrange a comfortable future.

    f. Jesus' assessment is still true: the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. If we pursued the Kingdom of God with the same vigor and zeal that the children of this world pursue profits and pleasure, we would live in an entirely different world.

    i. It is to the shame of the Church that Coca-Cola is more widely distributed than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Simply, it is because the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. {PLACE IN TEXT}

Footnote 3 - 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 (Jesus) 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) {PLACE IN TEXT}

End Notes
[01] Steven J. Cole. Lesson 75: Scoffing or Submitting? (Luke 16:14-18).

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

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

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

[05] The Battle Over Hell. Grace Communion international. https://www.gci.org/articles/the-battle-over-hell/

[06] ibid.


Chapter 5 - Symbolism in The New Testament

"Artwork © by Duncan Long. Used with permission. All rights reserved"