A Parable is Not Literal [From scripture not opinion]
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
WHEN interpreted as a parable, the story of the rich man and Lazarus offers no opposition
to the teaching Of the Old Testament
concerning the death state. When read
as literal history it negates the entire volume of Hebrew revelation. The alternative
that presents itself to the student is that of allowing this passage to dominate and control the
explanation of the remainder of Scripture, or else to interpret these verses in such a way as will not conflict
with, or contradict it. To the student who adopts the latter course a grave difficulty immediately presents itself. The
problem is how may we interpret as a parable that which is not called such?
THE OMISSION OF
The advocates of what has often been
termed the Platonic philosophy are quick to take advantage of the omission of the word "parable" from
the sixteenth of Luke, and the strength of
their objection must be conceded by
every lover of truth. The evils of "spiritualizing"
Scripture are all too painfully manifest in the standard commentaries of Christendom, and
are sufficient in themselves to deter
us from following their example.
A Parable is Not Literal - THE
EVIDENCE OF THE CONTEXT
first step to be taken in our examination of this passage is to remind ourselves
that the chapter headings of our English Bibles are entirely of human origin,
and, as factors in the division of Scripture, are sometimes mechanical rather
than logical. And while we thoroughly appreciate these divisions as helps to
locate Scripture, we must at the same time depreciate them as so many
hindrances to the understanding of it.
In consequence of the isolation of
Luke 16 into a separate chapter its contents have often, if not always, been
examined as a sort of island in his narrative, cut off from the mainland of the
account, as if they were words which had no connection with their surroundings.
The consequence is, of course, that the interpreter by so doing excludes
whatever light the contextual subject matter might throw upon the passage. That
this surrounding material is most helpful and suggestive we shall see as we
proceed. As it is our present desire to test the claim that Luke 16 contains no
parable, we shall do well to begin our study by eliminating the manmade fences
from this portion of Scripture, and commence our investigation at the point
where the Master began to speak, rather than at the point where our theological
instructors would have us begin to read. This will, in a sense, broaden the
field of inquiry, and though at first sight it may seem to make the problem more
difficult of solution, eventually it will prove to furnish the key to its
We are confidently assured in the
name of generations of Bible scholars that the account given to us in Luke 16 is
to be literally and historically understood; that here we have a picture of the
world existing on the other side of death’s dark veil; that there it is
Death is Figured by Sleep
definitely proved by One Who knows that the dead are not dead, but, if anything,
more alive than ever; and that the death state is one of intense consciousness
for the departed, rather than one of “sleep” as represented in other scriptures.
This view, of course, is largely dependent on the absence of the dreaded word
‘parable” from its immediate vicinity. How false the foundation of this
conception is may be easily shown.
many parables have we in the fifteenth of Luke? Every Sunday school scholar will
at once reply “three,” for so they are always told. But let us go slowly, and
apply the rule of interpretation commonly used in Luke 16, to this chapter!
Where does it say we have three parables in Luke 15? Is the story of the
lost coin called a parable? Is that concerning the prodigal son called one? We
search the chapter in vain for the use of such a term in immediate connection
with these latter stories. Therefore—let us be logically consistent—we have no
parable of the Lost coin, and no parable of the prodigal son, no more than we
have a parable of the rich man and Lazarus Such confusion must always flow from
that species of myopia which hinders the Bible interpreter from seeing any more
than the immediate context, and indeed sometimes hinders him from perceiving
even that. The truth is that the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and
the lost son of Luke 15; as well as the stones of the unjust steward and the
rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, are not parables in themselves. Instead, each
is a fractional part of the complete parable which includes all five pictures
within it, commencing with the fifteenth chapter and ending with the sixteenth,
it is therefore incorrect to say that in these two chapters we have parables,
but correct to say that in them we have one parable in five parts.
A Parable is a Symbol-Picture
When, in verse three of Luke 15,
we read, “Now He told them this parable,” this is not to be confined, and does
not refer, merely to the story of the lost sheep, but embraces the entire
collection of symbol-pictures which in their completeness constituted the
parable which He spoke.
The first important result of thus
perceiving our Lord’s characterization of this story as a “parable” is that we
find the chief defense of the usual interpretation to be made of straw, and the
way opened up to a study of the parable as such, The second result of importance
will be that we shall not study the story of Lazarus by itself, but will rather
examine it as grouped with, and affected by, its fellow members in the entire
parable. And they will be found, we think, one with it, not merely through
juxtaposition, but because they sustain a logical relationship to its
contents. Further on we hope to point out some of the affinities between the
two chapters. For the present we must content ourselves with drawing attention
to that which occasioned the utterance of their contents.
SPOKEN TO THE PHARISEES
The Laodicean ecclesia in the book of
Revelation is Pharisaic in its boast, “of nothing have I need!” (Rev.3:17). That
utterance embodies in a simple phrase the abominable attitude of the Pharisee
towards God and man. It echoes the language of him who thanked “the God within”
that he was not as “the rest of men, . . . or even as this tribute collector”
(Luke 18:11). Little did he glimpse the truth of his real state, one who was
even as the Laodiceans, in all their vain self-complacency. Such was the proud
boast of, and the real truth about, the Pharisees whose narrow beliefs on the
associations of the Master called forth this parable in its entirety.
Two Classes Mentioned in Luke 15
On the other hand we find the “tribute
collectors and sinners,” downtrodden and despised, the objects of contempt and
loathing from the Pharisaic aristocrats. Both classes are grouped together in
Luke 15:1, 2, and it is the angry murmur of disapproval from one of these
classes that furnished the suggestion for the parable. Meeting these two
distinct classes on the threshold of the narrative, it is no wonder that the
entire parable is colored by their presence. In the first part of the parable,
the “tribute collector and sinner” is the principal subject, the Pharisaic
class being, at best, in the background. In the second the sinner alone is seen,
without any reference being made to his self-righteous opponents. The fourth
section parallels the second inasmuch as there the Pharisaic class is also seen
by itself without any reference to their group. And as the lost piece of silver
showed forth the utter helplessness of the sinner in the most absolute of all
the symbols used, so in the case of the Unjust Administrator the true character
of the Pharisee, with his utter disregard of true righteousness, is most vividly
portrayed. The third and fifth sections group together both of the classes
mentioned, and fitly bring to a climax through their impressive symbolism the
great disparity which existed between them, first in a moral, and then in a
dispensational way. That the fourth section of the parable, in which the
Pharisaic character alone was portrayed in all its hideous hues, brought home a
stinging truth to its hearers, is plain in verse fourteen which shows how,
unable to longer bear the scorpion lash of presented fact, the lips that cannot
deny the charge seek vain relief in bitter derision of the speaker. The
interruption by those, whose souls had withered beneath
the scorching words of Him who was Truth, draws forth the parenthetical remarks of verses fifteen to
Pharisees and Needy Sinners
The interruption here does not bring the parable to an
end; it merely suspends it until the digression is consummated, when its onward
flow is resumed. And it may as well be argued that the words "Now He said" in 15:11 break off the
parable at that point, as that the words
"Now He said to His disciples also" in 16:1 break off the symbolism there.
Indeed on this point we think we may confidently claim that the contents of these two chapters are so
obviously run in the same mold, and
possess so many indications of being
suggested by the same occurrence (the grumbling of 15:2), that they may
best be understood as a variegated
presentation of the same subject.
The relation of
the different parts of the parable may be displayed structurally as follows:
(A) the shepherd—The Divine Attitude
Towards the Lost.
(B) the lost coin—The
Tribute Collector Alone.
(C) the prodigal (and his brother)—The Moral Difference between Publican and Pharisee.
The "Far Away" One Brought Near.
(B) the unjust steward—The Pharisee
(C) the rich man (and Lazarus)—The
Dispensational Difference between Pharisee and Publican. The "Near" One Cast Far Away.
We must now give some attention to the details of the parable. As the spiritual wealth of each of its
sections has been well explored, and as the reader is well acquainted with
the many beautiful applications which have been taken from them, there is no necessity for
us to enter into endless repetitions of the practical truths deducible from these
chapters. We shall, however, draw attention to the dispensational atmosphere which pervades the string of symbols
employed by the Master.
The figure of the sheep is
peculiarly associated with Israel. It saturates Old Testament thought, is
prominent in the imagery of the Gospels, is employed by Peter in his epistles to
the dispersed kingdom believers, and colors the contents of the book of
Revelation. It is not, however, used by the apostle Paul in any of his writings.
The "members" to whom he ministers are not members of a flock, but of a body. In
keeping with this, while in "Old Testament" type, and "New Testament" teaching,
the Lord is represented as the "Lamb," in the Pauline revelations He is not so
seen, but rather as the Christ. And the Body which God is now creating is always
termed the Body of Christ, while the Bride, the product of Israel's
kingdom, is ever referred to as the Bride of the Lambkin.
As this is a parable which
we are considering, a study of the usage of this word will determine from the
nature of the symbol employed that it must be a kingdom parable—one that has to
do with Israel and not the nations, and which must not be interpreted into it.
That impudent determination to pass unnoticed the inspired discriminations of
God's Word, so observable today, is the cause of more confusion in the church
than is the learned ignorance of the Higher Criticism.
In Isaiah 53 when the repentant nation speaks, it does so with a united voice. "All we like sheep have gone astray" is a confession that knows nothing
of a ninety-and-nine which never starved from the Shepherd's
Figure of Irony
of irony would seem to be
present in the reference to those "just ones having no need of repentance." That those needing the shepherd-ministry of Messiah amounted
to but a mere percentage of the nation is obviously untrue. The idea that the number of those who knew their lost
condition, and so were prepared to use the great national confession of Isaiah fifty-three, was a negligible quantity,
Scripture shows to have been the case. The connection between this item and the remainder of the parable seems to consist in its exposure of
the false valuations of the Pharisees, for the sheep that seemed to be the nearest to destruction proved to be
the closest to salvation, the supposedly "safe" ones missing the
security which the shoulders of the shepherd
provided. Similarly, in the story of the Prodigal, it was the one away from home who was nearest the father's heart, the real prodigal being the
stay-at-home who could praise his own
virtues while he derided his parents'
stinginess. And this line of constructive thought runs into the texture
of Luke 16, for there we find the rich man
poor, and the poor man rich.
COIN AND THE UNJUST STEWARD
The first element of disproportion which strikes us, when we
compare the second and fourth sections of the
parable, is that which exists between the values represented in them. The
fractional value of the coin which the
woman seeks, is dwarfed by the larger amounts
in which the administrator deals. Naturally this deepens the intended contrast
between the two characters
symbolized, and helps to better display the
crookedness of the one who trifled so callously with the
principles of righteousness, while the other's solicitous
search is magnified thereby.
The Unfaithful Administrator
"administrator" is a fit personification of Israel's
corrupt officialdom. Nor need we wander beyond the limits of the "Gospels" to learn
of their corrupted state (cf Mark 7:1-13). They yield ample testimony to the manner in which the Jews discounted the righteous
claims of the law, as the administrator in Luke 16 discounted the just
claims of his master. The administrator had no more authority for thus reducing
his master's claims than the various sects had for daring to alter the demands
of God's holy law. In this comparison we have
a strong suggestion as to who it is we find shadowed in the conduct of
the rich man's representative. And, as we shall see later on, the unrighteous
servant had the approval and praise of his
unrighteous lord, showing forth that priests and people, rulers and
ruled, teachers and taught, were all alike in
One cannot read "Hebrew" history and fail to notice how at
various times the ministry of women received the seal of divine approval. In Judges
the history of failure on the nation's part is lightened by the contrastive successes of
feminine valor. And does it not seem in place
in Luke that the administrator's
failure (the collapse of official Israel) should be offset by a woman's faithfulness? The strength and
pretentiousness of official position
belonged to those who failed; the weakness belonged to those who shared the shepherd's attitude to the sheep that
was lost. The irony of the reference to "ninety-nine just persons who have no need of repentance" is not repeated
in this section, hence the entire action and meaning of the symbol centers around the patient
shepherd-like search on the woman's
part for the lost silver coin. And as the Pharisees are not found here,
so neither are the "tribute collectors and
sinners" to be found in the story of the unjust administrator, the
"debtors" in the latter portion being introduced merely as necessary, though not
typical, actors in its movement.
The Pharisees Represent Israel
ANOTHER RICH MAN
The fourth section of the parable
demands a little careful attention on our part. In it we have "a certain man,
who was rich" introduced to us who, by similarity of descriptive phrases at
least, seems linked up with the other "certain man [who] was rich" spoken of in
the next and last section. There is similarity in more than descriptive phrase
also, for the rich man of the fourth section is as calloused to the demands of
righteousness as the other rich man of the fifth section is hardened to the
demands of charity in regard to Lazarus. This has often been called the parable
of the Unjust Steward, but with equal justice it might be named the parable of
the Unjust Lord, as the servant merely reflected the unrighteous character of
the master who commended his servitor's cunning in guarding his own interests.
The "steward" was the official representative of the rich man, even as the
Pharisees were representative of the nation, insofar as they reflected in
themselves the self-centered condition of the people.
That any should read the "lord"
mentioned in verse eight as being the Son of God is astounding, especially when
such a view would make God's Holy One to speak in approval of the dishonest
servant's conduct. If understood as being the latter's master, in other words
the "certain man, who was rich," the difficult vanishes, and the Spotless One is
saved from even the shadow of the stain the alternative view would suggest. The
Lord Jesus does not counsel His disciples to
"make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness"
(Luke 16:9, A.V.)
Who Love Money more than God
The passage is
rhetorical, and should be translated as a question. When it is thus considered, the unity of the
passage, and the
infinite purity of the Messiah, will both be very evident. The difficult portion is:
"And am / saying to you, make for yourselves friends with the mammon of
injustice, that, whenever it may be defaulting, they should be receiving you into the eonian tabernacles? He who is
faithful in the least is faithful in much
also, and he who is unjust in the least is unjust in much also" (Luke 16:9,10, C.V.). "The parable of the unjust steward confines itself to the Pharisees and scribes, the stewards of
Israel's wealth. They were dissipating His treasures and were fond of money and served their own greed for
gain rather than ministering to the glory of God. They were prudent in the things of this life to the
extent of jeopardizing their prospects in the eons to come. The emphatic / shows that there is a contrast
intended between the lord of the unjust
steward and Christ. This cannot be expressed in the indicative. Moreover,
the Lord does not commend unrighteousness, and advise
deceit. Besides, the sentiment immediately following is quite opposed to such double
dealing. Faithfulness, not shrewdness, is the requisite for honors in the kingdom.
"Money or means of any kind are only trivial
and temporary factors in the
life of faith, unless we view them as tests
with a view to the acquisition of the true riches. Those who are faithful
stewards of material wealth, which is theirs
only to use for a time, and not to possess forever, may expect a reward in kind in the kingdom. The Pharisees died rich, and will
have no place in the glories of the
Messianic reign. Christ died in the
most abject poverty, yet He will be weighted with the wealth of all
earth's highest glories.
A Vegetable Kingdom
Even in this day of sovereign grace, present riches
are too often a hindrance to future
reward, when they may well be a means
of preferment by their faithful and gracious dispensation.
Neither the most conservative investment nor the most fortunate speculation will yield as safe or as profitable proceeds as a share in the
concerns of God. It yields, not only
temporary returns, but eternal
dividends" (concordant commentary,
That the recording of what is called "Jotham's Parable" in Judges 9, which he used
against the men of Shechem, is the fruit of inspiration we fully believe, though it is
not equally obvious that the words spoken by him were inspired. His incorporating in his speech the great symbols of the fig, the olive and
the vine— so prominent in later
Scripture—would suggest that he "builded
better than he knew." The main point to which the writer would draw attention is that historical actuality is not absolutely necessary to a parable. Timeless truth may be taught in
graphic fashion by personifications which appear impossible of actual occurrence. Language may be attributed
to mute and sometimes inanimate objects: "If the foot should be saying, 'seeing that I am not a hand, I am not of the body.'
“That which is molded will not protest to the molder, 'Why do you make me thus?'
“(1 Cor.l2:15; Rom.9:20). In Jotham's parable, language, thought, and
some form of governmental order, are
ascribed to the vegetable kingdom without any suggestion of impropriety
on the speaker's part. We wonder how many
champions of orthodoxy there are who as strenuously insist on the literalness of the events in
Judges 9 as they do on those of Luke 16, since the basis of their literal interpretation is common to both, the
word "parable" being as absent from Judges 9 as it is from Luke 16. Consistency, however, is one of the
marks of truth, and its absence is one of the distinguishing features of Platonized theology.
The objection that the Master would hardly
draw truth from that which could have nothing
more than a fictitious existence, or from experiences which could
have no experimental reality, must fall flat, for it may be brought with equal force against
any of the figures of speech used by the Holy
Spirit throughout the Word. Indeed, is
not the supposition of the clay speaking to its molder, or of one member of the body individualizing itself
in pride against another member, somewhat
removed from the sphere of experience? Our parable is mainly a collection of just such figures as those referred to, as when
a tongue is imputed to the one whose
fleshly member has corrupted in the grave, or as when the supposedly disembodied Lazarus can still enjoy the
physical relief which water bestows on a
parched tongue. When understood as figures these matters occasion no difficulty; when understood literally they breed unanswered questions, and propound riddles to which no solution
may be found. That other parables are historically possible cannot be denied, but he who would lay down as a
principle of interpretation that every
parable must be drawn from the real happenings of everyday life,
while entitled to his opinion, must
nevertheless produce solid proof to
support it before we can accept it as unquestionable.
attention must be devoted to the two chapters which contain the five-fold parable
he is considering. He will be forgiven, however, if he pauses for a moment to suggest that the five pictures presented here by Luke have not merely a reciprocal relationship between them, but have a direct bearing on other portions of this account. For instance, in the twelfth chapter the coloring of Luke's narrative reminds us strongly of the parable presented later in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters. In 12:15 the Master enunciates the truth that "one's life
is not in the superfluity of his possessions."
that is all that life meant to the rich man of Luke 16. The truth which the Lord declared
is pointed with a parable, which contains much that links on to
the latter chapter. The phrase "a certain* man who was rich" again confronts us;
the similarity between the two "certain" rich men does not end in the parallelism of their
descriptions, but continues in the character
which both are shown to possess in common. Here, too, is wealth and wealth alone. Here is a man who may
be described more fitly by what he has, than by what he is. But to this rich man as well as to the other, does disaster come. In both
parables we have rich, self-centered fools, to whom total loss occurs by reason of "death" (cp the prodigal widow, who, "though living is dead," 1 Tim.5:6; and
the profligate son who "was dead and
[yet] revives," Luke 15:24).
In Luke 16 our attention is directed to two
Verse 22 of chapter twelve seems to bridge the gap that lies between these two
portions of Scripture by directing the disciples not to worry about what they should
eat, or what they should wear.
into the Kingdom
In considering the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, it would seem as if
the "prodigal son" obtained what the "rich
man" was deprived of. In the parable of the rich fool in chapter twelve, attention is not at first
directed as to who should obtain the wealth the poor blind miser would leave behind him, but the approach to
that aspect of the matter is prepared
in the question asked of him, "Now,
what you make ready, whose will it
be?" (Luke 12:20). There the question is asked but not answered, but in verse 31 we find these words addressed to the despised disciples: "Be seeking the kingdom of God, and all these things
will be added to you." Note also that there the kingdom is advised to be sought, but in 16:16 it is described as
being opposed. Immediately preceding
the story of Lazarus we have a reference to divorce (16:18), but here we
seem to be in a different sphere, for the
thought of a bridal feast, and wedding festivities, is made to illustrate
the truth (12:36). The fourth section of the
parable in chapters 15 and 16 dealt with a servant's unfaithful service; but if we have an unfaithful
servant there, we have here the
administrator who is both faithful and
Luke 16 may be
briefly summarized in three words: Deprivation; Divorce; Death. The shadow of coming removal of the unjust administrator from his
office, the removal of the unfaithful
wife from her relationship, and the removal of the unthankful miser from his riches.
In this reference to divorce, an
illustration is probably given of the manner
in which the stewards of Israel were
lowering the high standards of their divinely given laws.
* "certain" represents the Greek indefinite relative pronoun tis; its standard is any. Unlike some usages of the
English word "certain,"
the Greek word "tis" never denotes specificity; instead
it points the reader to generality or indefiniteness.
They were reducing them to the low levels of their
conveniences. In contrast to such an attitude, we find the holiness and
unchangeableness of those laws not diminished, but if anything increased, magnified, and
emphasized, by the utterance of Messiah, "Not one serif shall fall."
In a parable so essentially
dispensational as this, the reference to divorce is evidently not without its special meaning.
The laws of wedlock and of social purity were being relaxed in their severe
requirements by the nation. The sullied purity of the marital relation within the
nation was but a shadow of the loosening of the bond which bound Yahweh's wife to Himself.
And indeed the difference between the divorced one in chapter
sixteen and the harlots of chapter 15 is but one of degree, consisting mainly in
the fact that the harlots had not necessarily ever known the marriage covenant, and thus perhaps stand
more for the nations with whom Yahweh had never entered into covenant relationship, and to none of whom He could
cry: "I am married unto you." Israel's
coming degradation as the Harlot of
Antichrist is shown in the book of Revelation. But God is not man, and so
the weakness of man is not copied by Yahweh in His dealings with His unfaithful wife. God honors His own law of separation, and puts upon it such a
glory as only He could bestow. He
does not look to man for a pattern of
His ways (cf Jer.3: l).
With out unduly pressing the point, the close grouping
of these two well-known symbols of divorce and death is suggestive of a dispensational
connection between the two. National divorce, or the separation of Israel from its covenant union with
Yahweh, was a national death. In
Ezekiel 37 the well-known vision of
the Valley of Dry Bones carries us forward to the time when Israel's
night of death shall vanish in the morning
of resurrection, as Hosea 2 brings us on to the time when the straying wife of Yahweh returns once
more to the bridal freshness and joy of
union with her covenant Husband.
THE MEANING OF
We must now
endeavor to interpret the symbolism of the last portion of the parable. The absence of any divine, or inspired
explanation of the typical persons who figure in the action of the parable, may
best be accounted for by considering the meaning of them as being so obvious and so well known to its
original hearers as to render their interpretation superfluous. The absence of such a commentary in the
fifteenth chapter has led many to the conclusion that the father who is there seen welcoming his returning
child is the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ. There is nothing in the parable itself which would
definitely warrant such an interpretation. If,
however, we note the parallelism between this section and the last part of Luke 16, it will be acknowledged that as
in both we have the portrayal of a father and his two sons, and as the
father of these two sons is plainly called Abraham in the sixteenth chapter, so the father of the two sons in chapter
15 is in all probability the same personage.
clothing of the rich man, to which attention is specially called, needs no explanation. The royal
purple of the king mingles with the linen garment of the priest. And this is
what Israel was called out to be, what Israel failed to be, and what Israel will
yet be through grace: a kingdom of priests unto God (Exodus 19:6).
well-stocked table, at which the rich man dines, reminds us of God's unstinted provision for
His earthly Pharisee was all
too conscious of his robes of purple and fine
linen; but the tribute collector saw himself clad in the tattered rags of his unrighteousness.
When we come to
the mention of "death" in connection with the Rich Man and Lazarus, we touch on the vital spot
of the parable's interpretation. If it refers to the physical death of two
specific individuals, then the teaching of
Christendom touching on the intermediate
state is correct, and the speculative guesses of Plato, the heathen theorist, were in advance of Scriptural revelation. We need but to
remember, however, the unity of the
entire five-fold parable, and the fact
that it was employed by the Master to illustrate
the difference between the two classes into which the nation could be divided, to recognize the "death" as
national and dispensational, instead of individual and physical. The "death"
which came upon the nation necessarily involved the nation in its entirety,
and affected each and all of the different classes within it.
died he is said to have been carried by the messengers into "Abraham's
bosom." Though God did not leave them without comfort, when the place and priority of blessing was taken
away (for the present) from Israel,
the kingdom believers necessarily lost it too, even as the unbelieving
bulk of the nation. They then became
associated with Abraham, and identified with him in his faith and expectation.
To Abraham the kingdom was cast in the future tense. Its glory, to him,
lay on the horizon of hope. It was not a
present possession. It lay "beyond." He was one of those who "died in faith, not being requited
with the promises" (Heb.ll:13). With
Abraham, then, in his faith and
expectation, the Lazarus class must hereafter be linked. But what of the rich man's words in "hades"*
("hell," A.V.), "I am pained in this flame"(Luke 16:24)? Has Israel's lot
during the centuries of its dis-pensational
death (cf Rom.ll:7-15; Acts 28:25-27) been other than this? What country has not
been drenched with Jewish blood? The
flame of torment has ever pursued the tribe of the weary foot. The wandering Jew,
weary and worn, has found but few havens of
rest, and but short respite from the tyrant's lash. History, then, interprets the rich man's doom. The story of Israel is the story of the flame
Again we would
point out a parallelism between the story of the Prodigal and that of Lazarus. In both cases
a certain relationship is claimed, and acknowledged to exist. In
chapter 15 the father addresses the elder brother as "son," so also does Abraham acknowledges the relationship to which the rich man laid
And let us
deplore the persistent attempt to add to the divine words. The Abrahamic utterance that
chasm had been established which made it so that those wanting to cross hence "may
not be able"**
term hades (un-pehceived) in modern
English is "unseen." The old English equivalent for "hell" was "hel," and simply referred to that which was unseen. In
the Scriptures, hades refers not to an unseen place (as in Greek mythology), but
to the unseen state, whether of a city (Matt. 11:23) or of the human soul (Acts 2:27, 31). Likewise, in the Scriptures,
"soul" (psuchS, cool) refers not to some supposed noncorporeal form of life, but to the
sensation resulting from the combination of an organic body with breath or "spirit" (cf Gen.2:7).
(Luke 16:26), must not be warped into declaring
that it can never be crossed. The employment of such careless and
ignorant assertions when handling the inspired Scriptures involves not merely an
adding to the Word itself, but a subtracting from one's proper respect for it.
Let it be
carefully noted as well that if inability is taught, as it certainly is, in this
twenty-sixth verse, it is
man's inability and not God's. What man can, or cannot
do, is not the measure of divine might or weakness. If Abraham in the unwise goodness of his heart did
desire to bridge the gulf in order to alleviate the torments of his son, he would be but similar to many modern saints
who, in the largeness of their hearts,
would seek to convert the world before its time. It is too large a work for weak humanity to do. It is a divine work
which God alone may successfully perform.
THE PRAYERS OF THE PRODIGAL AND THE RICH
Another parallelism between these
two portions of the parable may be found in
the fact that prayer is prominent in both. The prodigal prays in the fifteenth chapter. The rich man prays in the sixteenth. But with the fact of prayer
the parallelism ceases. In character the two
petitions differ immensely. The prodigal in his rags is burdened with his sin.
The rich man—so lately clad with
purple and linen—thinks only of his suffering. "I sinned" is the prodigal's plea. "I am pained" is the rich man's cry. In his plaint
no word of guilt, no consciousness of demerit, is to be found. The flame was all
without, there was none within. Was not this moral blindness on the rich man's part the real gulf between him and Lazarus?
*"me' dunontai, a present (or incomplete), active,
subjuntive phrase, employing the relative negative, not the absolute.
It certainly is the gulf existing now between the world and
God. And until Israel cries, "All we like
sheep have gone astray," the gulf will
also remain fixed between Yahweh and His chosen people.
The contrast of
a drop of water with a crumb of bread is apparent. It is employed here to point up the moral
of the story. Not even a drop of relief could be had from Lazarus, for while the opulence of the rich man's estate had vanished, the hardness of the
rich man's heart remained. While it
does, the gulf must also remain established. Between the prodigal (who confesses his sin rather than his
suffering) and his father, there is no chasm. When sin is confessed distance
is removed. And the contrast is heightened by comparing the impossibility of the father
(Abraham) in the sixteenth chapter
even sending Lazarus, with the father
in the fifteenth chapter who himself runs to greet his repentant son. Lazarus' finger is
denied to one, while the father's arms
are bestowed upon the other.
The rich man's plea for his brethren
is not so much that they should be saved from his sin as his pain. He mentions the fact that his brethren were five
in number. But why five? If this is
not a parable we can hardly see the reason why the number of his brethren should be so definitely enumerated. If it is a
parable then the number given is as symbolic, and pictorial, as any other
item in the story. It has been suggested that as the people of Palestine were mainly composed of the two tribes of Judah
and Benjamin, and were symbolized in
the parable as the rich man himself, that the five "brethren" mentioned here must stand for the ten remaining tribes, who are
supposed to have been more largely
found outside of the land. One thing,
however, seems plainly taught concerning them: they were in the same callous,
hardened state as that of the rich man.
LIFE FROM THE DEAD
To those who do
not look upon this section as a parable, but as a literal account of the
happenings of the
intermediate state, Abraham's reference to the result, should one be allowed to arise
from the dead, is interpreted as referring to a physical resurrection. Having determined its parabolic
character, and consequently interpreting the
"death" referred to as being dispensational, we must consequently interpret the "resurrection" here as being of the same
nature. And if the allusion to the five brethren does have reference to the Israel scattered abroad, how the
history and ministry of Paul in its
kingdom aspect, as given in Acts,
suggests itself here! Not that he is mentioned, or even typified, but the
passage, if it does not bring him in,
at least makes room for him. Abraham does not say either that one will or will not be raised
from the "dead," but contents himself apparently with stating the result should such an event take place.
"Neither will they be persuaded" was the Abrahamic prophecy which verified itself in Israel's treatment
of the Pauline ministry. And we must
also remember that no direct mention
of this "resurrection" ministry was possible at the time the Master spoke, for it was largely, if not altogether, a hidden one.
parable comes to an end. It bears the marks of being an unfinished picture. The revelation of truth
concerning the rich man's future rests, so to speak, while waiting the further unfolding of
divine will concerning him. That unfolding takes place elsewhere in Scripture. This particular passage does not contain the entire history of this
unhappy nation. It is but the darker
side of it. There is glory beyond the gloom, as Romans 9 to 11 makes
clear: "what will the taking back be if not
life from among the dead?" (Rom. 11:15).
In conclusion, may we ask those who
interpret the death of Luke sixteen as being physical and literal, because it is not called symbolic in the
immediate context, to give us an equally literal interpretation of the
father's words in Luke fifteen: "this your brother was dead and lives again"? Was this death and resurrection
physical? A consistent interpretation of both passages would be interesting to read.
It is important
to perceive the setting of this story concerning Lazarus and the Rich Man. It is not
some sudden and disconnected literal revelation concerning the state of the
dead, certainly not one which is contradictory to the law and the prophets!
juncture, the Lord was at the summit of His condemnation of the Pharisees for invalidating the word of God by
their traditions. He avails Himself of some of those very teachings, adapting them
own purpose, judging them out of their own mouths (cf Luke 19:22). When
the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is read in the light of the rest of the Scriptures,
and especially in the light of the context, we may readily perceive in it the
traditions of the Pharisees, which were "high among men," yet "an abomination in
the sight of God" (Luke 16:15).
words, the Lord declares, "The law and the prophets are unto John; thenceforth,
evangel of the kingdom of God is being brought, and everyone is violently forcing into it,
and the violent are snatching it. Yet it is easier for heaven and earth to pass by
than for one serif of the law to fail. Everyone dismissing his wife and marrying her, who has been dismissed from a husband, is committing
adultery" (Luke 16:16-18; cf Matt. 12:39).
These are the
words which immediately precede those concerning Lazarus and the Rich Man. "God's revelation was
made by many modes, each appropriate to the time when it was used. 'The law and the
prophets,' a title of the Hebrew Scriptures, which we now misname the 'Old Testament,' was
His means of dealing with
Israel until John the baptist, the greatest
of all the prophets. He was the forerunner of a new method of divine
revelation through the incarnation of
Christ. The proclamation of the kingdom did not receive the response of contrite hearts, according to the law, but rather awakened a desire for
its establishment by carnal means. At one time they would have taken Christ by force, because He had
satisfied their hunger, and would have made Him king. This would have meant a revolt and war and
"Not only does He intimate that the
Pharisees are to be dismissed from the
stewardship, but this apparently
unconnected statement [concerning adultery and divorce] suggests that the nation is to be
divorced from Yahweh, and left desolate. This is a fitting link to lead us up to the final section of this five-fold
parable, in which Israel's fate during her divorce is discussed" (concordant
commentary, p. 122).
(Hebrew, Talmud, "instruction") is the traditional, uninspired, body of Jewish
civil and religious laws (and related commentaries and discussion).
In it "we have those very traditions gathered
up which the Lord refers to [through the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man] in His condemnation
[of the Pharisees]. We can thus find
out exactly what those popular traditions were.
carrying away by ange' 'Abraham's bosom,' etc., were the popular expressions
constantly used. Christ was not the first Who used these phrases, but He used the language of the
Pharisees, turning it against themselves.
Take a few examples from the Talmud:
"(1) In Kiddushin (Treatise on Betrothal), fol. 72, there is
quoted from the Juchasin, fol. 75, 2, a long story about what Levi
said of Rabbi Judah: 'This day he sits in Abraham's bosom,' i.e. the
day he died.
"There is a
difference here between the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmuds—the former says
Rabbi Judah was 'carried by angels;' the
latter says that he was 'placed in Abraham's bosom.'
"Here we have again the Pharisees' tradition as used against
them by our Lord.
"(2) There was a story of a woman who had seen six of her sons
slain (we have it also in 2 Mace. vii.). She heard the command
given to kill the youngest (two-and-a-half years old), and running into the embraces
of her little son, kissed him and said, Go thou, my son, to Abraham my father, and tell him:
Thus saith thy mother. Do not thou
boast, saying, I built an altar, and offered my son Isaac. For thy mother hath built seven
altars, and offered seven sons in one day, etc. (Midrash Echah, fol.68. 1).
"(3) Another example may be given out of a host of others
(Midrash on Ruth, fol. 44, 2; and Midrash on Coheleth (Ecclesiates) fol.
86, 4): 'There are wicked men that are coupled together in this world. But one of them
repents before death; the other doth not; so
the one is found standing in the assembly of the just, the other in the assembly of the
wicked. The one seeth the other and saith, Woe! and Alas! There is accepting of
persons in this thing: he and I robbed together, committed murder
together; and now he stands in the
congregation of the just, and I, in the congregation of the wicked. They
answered him: O thou most foolish
among mortals that are in the world! Thou wert abominable and cast forth
for three days after thy death, and they did
not lay thee in the grave; the worm was under thee, and the worm covered thee; which, when this
companion of thine came to
understand, he became a
penitent. It was in thy power also to have repented, but thou didst
not. He saith to them, let me go now, and become a penitent. But they say, O thou
foolishest of men, dost thou not know, that
this world in which thou art, is like the Sabbath, and the world out of which thou comest is like the evening of the Sabbath? If thou dost not provide
something on the evening of the Sabbath, what wilt thou eat on the Sabbath day?
Dost thou not know that the world out of which thou earnest is like the land;
and the world, in which thou now art,
is like the sea? If a man makes no
provision on land for what he should eat at sea, what will he have to eat? He gnashed his teeth, and gnawed his
"(4) We have examples also of the dead discoursing with one
another; and also with those who are still alive (Berachoth, fol.
18, 2—Treatise on Blessings). 'R. Samuel Bar Nachman saith, R.
Jonathan saith, how doth it appear that the dead have any discourse
among themselves? It appears from what is said (Deut.xxxiv.
4), And the Lord said unto him, this is the land, concerning
which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob, saying: What is
the meaning of the word saying? The Holy Blessed God saith unto Moses, Go thou and
say to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the oath
which I sware unto you, I have performed unto your children. Note that: Go thou and say to Abraham,' etc.
"Then follows a story of a certain pious man that went and
lodged in a burying place, and heard two souls discoursing among themselves. 'The
one said unto the other, Come, my companion,
and let us wander about the world, and listen behind the veil, what kind of plagues are coming upon the world.
To which the other replied, O my companion, I cannot; for I am buried in a cane
mat; but do thou go, and whatsoever
thou hearest, do thou come and tell
me,' etc. The story goes on to tell of the wandering of the soul and what he heard, etc.
"(5) There was a
good man and a wicked man that died; as for
the good man, 'he had no funeral rites solemnized'; but the wicked man had. Afterward, there was one who saw in
his dream, the good man walking in
gardens, and hard by pleasant springs; but the wicked man 'with his tongue trickling drop by drop, at the bank of a river, endeavoring to touch the
water, but he could not.' (Chagigah, fol.77. Treatise on Exodus xxiii.
(6) "As to 'the great gulf,'
we read (Midrash [or Commentary] on Coheleth [Ecclesiastes], 103. 2), 'God hath
set the one against the other (Ecc. vii. 14)
that is Gehenna and Paradise. How far are they distant? A hand-breadth.'
Jochanan saith, 'A wall is between.’ But the Rabbis say 'They are so
even with one another, that they may see out
of one into the other.'
"The traditions set forth above were widely spread in many
early Christian writings, showing how soon the corruption spread
which led on to the Dark Ages and to all the worst errors of Romanism. The
Apocryphal books (written in Greek, not in Hebrew, Cents.!, and ii.B.c.)
contained the germ of this teaching. That is why the Apocrypha is valued by
Traditionists, and is incorporated by the Church of
Rome as an integral part of her Bible.
"The Apocrypha contains prayers for the dead; also 'the song of
the three Children' (known in the Prayer Book as the Benedicite),
in which 'the spirits and souls of the righteous' are called on to
bless the Lord.
"The Te Deum, also,
which does not date further back than the
fifth century, likewise speaks of the Apostles and Prophets and Martyrs as praising God now."*
From all this it is clear that the
Lord was not giving a special revelation of
His own as to the death state, but was
taking the current, false teachings of the Pharisees, and using them against themselves.
The testimony of God's Word is clear
concerning the state of the dead. In all cases, reference is not made merely to man's body, but to
man himself. All such passages are words of
faith, and are "beneficial for
teaching, for exposure, for correction, for discipline in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped, fitted out for every good
act" (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Since we have
need of them, God has given them to
us. Let us freely and unreservedly accept them, and intensely believe
them. It is ideal to be like the apostle Paul,
"believing all that is written, according to the law and the prophets" (Acts
24:14). There are many passages of
Scripture which are concerned with the state of the dead. Here are a few examples:
"I will praise Yahweh in my life, I will make melody
to my Elohim in my future. You must not trust in patrons, in a son of
humanity in whom is no salvation. His spirit will fare forth,
He will return to His ground, in that day all his reflections perish" (Psalm
"The dead are not praising Yah, Nor any descenders to stillness"
"Return, Yahweh! Liberate my soul! Save me on account of Your kindness! For
in death there is not remembrance of You. In the unseen, who is acclaiming You?"
"This evil is in
all which is done under the sun, for one
happening is for all. And, moreover, the heart of the sons of humanity is full of evil, and
blustering is in their heart in their
lives, And after them—to the dead! For anyone who is joined to all the living, forsooth, has trust,
for a living cur, it is better than a dead lion. For the living knows that they will die, and for the dead there is no knowing aught" (Ecc.9:3-5a).
"All that your hand is finding to do, do it with your vigor, For no doing or
devising, or knowledge, or wisdom, is in the unseen, where you are
*selected whitings, "The Rich Man and Lazarus,"
pp.135-137, E. W. Bullinger: Bagster.
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