The Rich Man and Lazarus

Posted by David Barron September - 29 - 2009 - Tuesday

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the meaning of Jesus’ parable, but pose a series of questions regarding its derivation.  I will not defend that this is a parable other than to note the context of Luke 15-16 as but one, and preceding this parable is a succession of three other parables.

Is there Scripture prior to Jesus’ words that teach the poor who are not wicked (apparently) go to Abraham’s bosom upon death?

Is there Scripture prior to the New Testament that teach torment in fire for the wicked as a departed soul/spirit?

If the answer to the above two questions is no, did any sect of the Jews in Jesus’ time maintain the opinion that these things were true regardless of the scriptural silence?

If yes, from where was that opinion derived?

If the opinion was derived from a pagan source rather than God’s inspired word, are we to take Jesus’ use of this language to affirm that pagan religions taught a truth God did not reveal?

If his language came from pagan religions that had truth God did not reveal and certain Jews rightly adopted this, what other truths can we find among their teachings and how can we determine, as certain early Jews apparently did, which of their teachings are true?

6 Responses to “The Rich Man and Lazarus”

  1. Mike Felker says:

    1. Is there Scripture prior to Jesus’ words that teach the poor who are not wicked (apparently) go to Abraham’s bosom upon death?

    -Not to my knowledge

    2. Is there Scripture prior to the New Testament that teach torment in fire for the wicked as a departed soul/spirit?

    -I would say probably not, though there are some places where this is questionable at worse but probable at best.

    3. If the answer to the above two questions is no, did any sect of the Jews in Jesus’ time maintain the opinion that these things were true regardless of the scriptural silence?

    -Though i’m unfamiliar with ancient Jewish thought, i’d say probably not.

    4. If the opinion was derived from a pagan source rather than God’s inspired word, are we to take Jesus’ use of this language to affirm that pagan religions taught a truth God did not reveal?

    -Well, I don’t think anyone who believes the Bible is going to argue that this was derived from paganism, even if the above are answered in the affirmative. However, even if pagans taught something that is actually true before it was revealed by God, one would commit the fallacy of guilt by association in submitting that one was derived from the other.

    As a matter of fact, liberals do this all the time in submitting that the details of Jesus’ life, his virgin birth, resurrection, etc. are all derived from pagan myths. Though most of these examples are completely without merit, I would submit that even if there are parallels between pagan myths and Christianity, it would have no bearing on whether Christianity is true or false.

    5. If his language came from pagan religions that had truth God did not reveal and certain Jews rightly adopted this, what other truths can we find among their teaches and how can we determine, as certain early Jews apparently did, which of their teachings are true?

    -I still think this begs the question that this came from pagan religions. Even if this is true, it would be difficult to prove.

    For me, the bottom line is not the so-called “pagan connections.” Liberals like Bart Ehrman are all about finding pagan connections with early Christianity. But I think Ehrman misses the boat because no matter what connections he may find with paganism, gnosticism and Christianity, they don’t matter because Christianity has already been proven to by its claims.

    Even as a JW, anyone can find whatever connections they want to if they search hard enough. I just think its better off to stick with what the Bible teaches and exegetically determine what it says rather than to solidify your own position based on some “pagan connections” you might see towards the contrary viewpoint.

  2. David Barron says:

    Mike,

    Good to hear from you and thank you for your comments. As you may be able to tell from the post I’m not looking to debate this matter. Rather, I’m just trying to get some other perspectives related to certain question. I do want to bring one thing to your attention some Jewish parallels as this may impact some of your thinking on the matter (or it may not!!).

    “A similar account is found in the Talmud, which was a body of Jewish tradition. Lightfoot renders it as follows: ‘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 saw in his dream, the good man walking in gardens, and led by pleasant springs ; but the wicked man, with his tongue trickling, drop by drop, endeavoring to touch the water, but he could not.’ (Jerusalem Talmud, in Chagigah, fol. 77, col. 4.) With this compare the following, taken by Hammond from the Babylonian Talmud (ad cod. Berachoth): ‘A king made a great feast, and invited all the strangers ; and there came one poor man, and stood at his gates, and said unto them, Give me one bit or portion ; and they considered him not. And he said, My lord, the king, of all the great feast thou hast made, is it hard for thee to give me one bit or fragment, among them?'” – C.F. Hudson,The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: Does it Imply Eternal Future Suffering? (1860), 5.

    That the language was existing Jewish tradition. In addition to the above, this is confirmed by the first century BC/AD text The Apocalypse of Zephaniah. Consider a few references:

    9:1 Then a great angel came forth having a golden trumpet in his hand, and he blew it three times over my head, saying, “Be courageous! O one who hath triumphed. Prevail! O one who hath prevailed. For thou hast triumphed over the accuser, and thou hast escaped from the abyss and Hades. 2 Thou wilt now cross over the crossing place. For thy name is written in the Book of the Living.” 3 I wanted to embrace him, (but) I was unable to embrace the great angel because his glory is great. 4 Then he ran to all the righteous ones, namely, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Enoch and Elijah and David. 5He spoke with them as friend to friend speaking one with another.

    The above confirms the notion of crossing over. The wicked are in hades, the righteous are in heaven. This is a bit different than the common interpretation of two divisions of hades, though Jesus’ parable never expressly presents such either. In fact, and you may agree with this, the two places are expressly distinguished. Consider further:

    10:3 I saw the sea which I had seen at the bottom of Hades. Its waves came up to the clouds. 4 I saw all the souls sinking in it. I saw some whose hands were bound to their neck, with their hands and feet being fettered.

    Here, I would suggest, is the notion of seeing from one domain into the other. With this, it would seem that some Jews had notions similar to what Jesus’ said. So that does take us back to one of my questions: Where did they get these ideas? Another question comes to mind after reflecting on the above.

    Jesus distinguished between the place of Abraham’s bosom and hades. If we follow Jewish tradition, this distinction would be between heaven and hades. If this is the meaning, what do we make of the texts that plainly teach of both the righteous and the wicked in hades? Are they indeed in Abraham’s bosom, be it heaven or merely somewhere other than hades, as Jesus’ teaches if his words are literal, or are they in hades?

    I also want to mention that I agree that liberals often attempt to tie biblical teachings to pagan sources, and I too agree that this is fallacious. My point here was not such a direct connection, but rather that it went from pagan to Jewish to Jesus. It is the intermediate step that has my attention, how it came about and the implications it has for Jesus’ use of this language.

  3. Vlad says:

    Since the Talmud post-dates the NT I don’t think it helps answer the issue of intertextuality. I don’t have the text of The Apocalypse of Zephaniah to take a closer look, but there’s no doubt the idea of souls in the afterlife, or netherworld, was current pan-culturally.

    I have no doubt that Jesus used culturally bound tropes, and it would seem that the parable in question does so. This does not mean that Jesus affirmed a corresponding theology.

    As to truth in paganism, I would say that there’s lots of truths to be found everywhere since I don’t think truth is limited to revealed truth. But perhaps you’re asking if God revealed truths in other religions, to which I would say no. Even this I might qualify by saying that pagan religious thinking and mythology can reveal something about their origin and primeval issues.

  4. Ricky W says:

    I greet you all and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I just wanted to point out a few things to help us in our understanding of the parable of the rich and Lazarus. Let’s note that parables are told to reveal significant or spiritual truths unperceived by the flesh but understood in the Spirit of our Father. Secondly, Jesus almost all the time spoke to the multitudes in parables so that in seeing they see not, and in hearing they hear not. Thirdly, in order for us to understand what Jesus is talking about or who he is talking about, we have to look at what is going on in the chapter. I don’t have a bible with me but if we are familiar with the passage, we see that the Pharisees, scribes and high officials of that back-in-the-day “church” were systematically keeping the sinners and outcasts out of the “kingdom of heaven” without regard to their own hypocritical condition. I’ll explain more later.

  5. Ricky W says:

    Hi, I greet you and peace be upon you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I just want ed to share a feww points to help us to understand the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus a little more. First, we note that parables are symbolic tales that expose, reveal or convey a spiritual truth and are also used to broaden our understanding of circumstances,rewards, consequences,and they are used to help us understand essential means to daily living. Secondly, we note that Jesus never spoke to the multitudes without a parable fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that “in seeing,they see not and in hearing, they hear not”. Now with these points in mind, we now get a better scope of how to view this parable. Jesus always relayed things of the Spirit because in John chapter 6, we learn that the flesh profits nothing. Also, remember that Jesus was the Spiritual Man who was introducing something “new” to the earthly man. So with what we have here, we are now forced to review this “parable” in a way that is unperceivable unless we are in the Spirit to DISCERN what Jesus was pointing out in the passage.
    Now in understanding this parable and understanding why Jesus used a rather controversal(pagan) topic to relay a significant truth, we have to look at the context or subject of the passage leading up to the parable. We need to know what was going on. Now what we see in this passage, similar to previous passages, is Jesus was continuously exposing the hypocritical ways of the Pharisees and scribes, the high officials of the back-in-the-day “church”. And we also get a close look at how these high officials categorically tried to shut out the outcasts and sinners from their synagogues and find ways not to associate with these people because they thought too high of themselves. These high officials loved to be called the highest names and wanted to seat in the best seats, but no one, nor the heathen, nor the outcasts, nor those who were under the command of these scribes and Pharisees knew of their spiritual catastrophe until Jesus entered the picture. Jesus was that Light that exposed the evil motives and intents of the heart and these high officials panicked. Jesus, the Spiritual Man was a threat to their “earthliness”. You see, these officials were trying to keep the multitudes from hearing the spiritual truths of Jesus because it exposed their spiritual “blindless”, and this constantly happens throughout the passages we read. The outcasts, sinners, the sick constantly try to get into “the kingdom of heaven”, but the “violent” scribes and Pharisees would take the opportunity away from them by force. Do we see what is happening? I don’t have a bible with me, so correct me if make any mistake. Now with all this info, we are now forced to look at the parable of the Rich Man(who doesn’t have a name hmmmm?)and Lazarus in a way unperceivable to the flesh but understood in the Spirit of our Father. Now notice that the poor Lazarus is full of sores and eats crumbs from the rich man’s table. If we have not picked up that the Rich Man in this parable is the scribes and the Pharisees, we will miss the significance of the whole parable. So if the rich man represents these hypocritical officials, then it makes sense that Lazarus represents the outcasts and sinners who tried but were only able to “eat crumbs falling from the rich man’s table”. So now we understand the atmosphere, but why does Jesus use this controversal topic? Is it because he condoned paganistic beliefs? No, not at all. Jesus used it for the same reason He told the Pharisees to render “to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s” and render “to God what is God’s”, for the same reason He told Peter to pay the temple tax even when they didn’t have to. He did not come to “condemn” anyone nor “offend” anyone, but He simply engaged their attention with something that they were all familiar with but sadly for them, He was not teaching of a “hell of eternal torture”, nor was he teaching of a physical view of any afterlife or reincarnation of any sort, nor of anyone immediately going to heaven upon death. This is why this topic is so hard to understand if not spiritually discerned. Jesus was not even close to talking about any subject of that sort, but just as the scriptures had spoken,”He come into the ‘world'(with all of its religions,paganistic beliefs,stereotypes,special holidays etc.),but the ‘world’ did not know Him”. He came not to “condemn”, but that the ‘world’,through Him (His way,His impact,His parables,His life,His death, His RESURRECTION) would be saved. So, instead of condemn the “adulterous woman”(the paganistic beliefs) and cast stones at her, (and under the Law, He certainly had a right to do it because He was sinless) He uses the parable to “convert” the “adulterous woman”(the paganistic beliefs)into a truth having a whole new meaning. The ‘world’ just doesn’t see it and we don’t see it until the Spirit of our Father God opens our eyes and understanding. Jesus could not just by pass that the nation was engulfed with all this paganistic beliefs, but Paul states it best,”I am free from all these things but I became as them to win them”. So Christ, our Lord, had to come into the ‘world’ and fulfill all things.

    Now we look into the parable, and we notice that the rich man ends up dying. Notice how this ties in with the passage. The Pharisees and scribes and the high officials of those days wee living merry and they continued to belittle the sinners and the outcasts. The rich man apparently with no name is treating the poor man exactly the same. The rich man has no name because even though he’s rich on the outside, he is spiritually empty on the inside. He doesn’t have any rights to being CALLED a “son of God”. Are we seeing the picture? So upon Jesus’s arrival, the Pharisees and scribes get exposed and consequently lose out to receiving the promises of God’s covenant with Abraham. For further understanding, go to Romans chapter 10. Blindless has come to Israel unil the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to explain further, but I will explain in another blog.

  6. I am definitely bookmarking this page and sharing it with my friends.

    🙂

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