The Rich Man and Lazarus

“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” – Luke 16:19-31


A parable is defined as such according to Webster’s dictionary:

PAR’ABLE, n. [L. parabilis.] Easily procured. [Not used.]

PAR’ABLE, n. [L. parabola; Gr. to throw forward or against, to compare to or against; as in confero, collatum, to set together, or one thing with another.] A fable or allegorical relation or representation of something real in life or nature, from which a moral is drawn for instruction; such as the parable of the trees choosing a king, Judg 9; the parable of the poor man and his lamb. 2 Sam 12; the parable of the ten virgins, Mat 25.

PAR’ABLE, v.t. To represent by fiction or fable.

Parables are a fictitious narrative. They are representations or illustrations used for the purpose of teaching moral lessons. Jesus frequently used parables as a means of camouflage, seeking to cloak messages so as to evade arousing unnecessary contention from hostile ears. For a similar reason, we find much of the prophecies of scripture coded in cryptic symbolism so as to protect their messages.

Parables are not meant to be taken literally. No one would deny that taking a parable to the literal extreme of what it says would be as foolish as interpreting many of the symbolic texts of the book of Revelation literally. If we are to take parables literally, than we should believe that CNN will cover a story about a dragon attempting to devour a woman at the end of time.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. There is an abundance of evidence to support this conclusion within the parable itself. Immediately upon dying, Lazarus is carried by angels to “Abraham’s bosom.” If we were to take this thought to the literal extreme, than we are left with the ridiculous and unappealing thought of spending eternity crowded with many people in a man’s chest.

Where exactly does this term come from and what does it mean? A search through E-Sword as shown below reveals that the term “Abraham’s Bosom” appears only once throughout the entire Bible. There are no scriptures from Genesis to Revelation from which to draw a comparison, thereby causing the term to stand entirely on its own. The phrase does not hold any meaning other than what is obvious in the parable itself.

Luk_16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

1 verse found, 2 matches
Luke1 verse found2 matches

The term “Abraham’s Bosom” is meant to reflect the thinking of the Pharisees and many of the Jews. As are other details in the parable. Many of the Jews held Abraham in high regard, and even trusted in their heritage for their salvation. Jesus sought to meet the Pharisees on their own ground. This is why we see the Rich man calling out to “Father Abraham”, as well as the obvious use of the term “Abraham’s Bosom.”

It can easily be shown from the rest of scripture that “Abraham’s Bosom” is not heaven. This term is only used to represent such in the parable, however Jesus never meant to teach that we would be going to “Abraham’s Bosom” at death. If we were to come to this conclusion, this would be taking the parable to the literal extreme of what it says. Each of the passages below define exactly what heaven is.

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God.” – Hebrews 11:8-10

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” – Hebrews 11:13-15

“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” – Revelation 22:14

In Hebrews 11:8-10, we read about Abraham. The passages speak of his journey by faith, where he went out without having a clue as to exactly where he was going. In the tenth verse, we find a very interesting statement which reads “For he looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God.” Hebrews 11:13-15 speak of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all dying in faith without having received the promises. They never found this city spoken of in the tenth verse, and later referenced again in the fifteenth verse.

What city is here being referenced in the book of Hebrews? Since the fifteenth verse mentions “an heavenly” country, the most likely scenario is that these statements are a reference to the New Jerusalem. Revelation 22:14 expands on this fact, where we read about those who do his commandments gaining the right to the tree of life and being given access to the city. With this as the reward of the righteous, it should be obvious that the city referenced in Hebrews is the same as that which is referred to in the book of Revelation.

With these facts in mind, it is clear that heaven is not “Abraham’s Bosom.” After all, where would he himself go when he died? Would Abraham find himself instantly transported by angels into his own chest? The thought is of course pure ridiculousness. It should be therefore apparent to us that the use of the term “Abraham’s Bosom” is one of the many fictional elements of the parable.

The Rich man’s communication with “Father Abraham” is yet another fictional element of this parable. During their communication back and forth, he makes a very interesting request of Abraham. He asks for Lazarus to be resurrected, so that Lazarus can go before the Rich Man’s brothers and warn them. While the request is denied, it should stick out like a sore thumb to us and generate massive questions.

I find myself lead to inquire, just exactly who does the rich man think Abraham is? Since when does Abraham have the power to grant the Rich Man’s request? Although we have record of the followers of our Lord raising the dead, it is ridiculous to conclude that when he himself is dead he would be able to pull this off, or that he would even possess the power to send Lazarus back so that he could warn the Rich Man’s family. Additionally, the Rich Man requests that Abraham would have mercy on him. Why is he not asking that God would have mercy on him? This fact again reflects the thinking of the Jews at the time and their trust in their heritage for salvation, yet it also shows the pure fictional nature of the parable as I don’t think I would be calling to Abraham for help at this time.

The fact that they are even communicating with each other should cause any thinking Christian to stop and contemplate what they are reading. Are we to believe that the lost will be able to see and communicate with the saved? The thought of having to watch your unsaved loved ones shrieking and writhing in the flames should generate horror and revulsion beyond description. Previous details in the parable indicate the obvious fictitious nature of the story and demonstrate how this detail is not to be taken literally, for such would create a very horrifying ordeal for the saved. The following promise would never find its fulfillment, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

Yet during these communications back and forth, there was another request made. The Rich man requests that Abraham “send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water” and cool his tongue. I find myself scratching my head as to how a single drop of water is supposed to be helpful in this situation. If you were tormented in flames that were burning your entire body, do you really believe that a single drop of water dropped on your tongue would really help? The fact that this would never be helpful in real life shows the pure fictional nature of what is going on in the parable.

The final fictional element of the story is found when Lazarus died. Take careful note of the means by which he is transported into Abraham’s Bosom. The text reads that “the beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom.” Searching up the phrase “Angels Carried” in E-sword’s Bible search engine as shown below reveals that this is literally the only text in which this kind of phenomenon appears in connection with a man’s death. A sound principle of Bible study is not to base entire doctrines off one or a few Bible verses, but to ensure that you have a thorough knowledge of a subject across the entire Bible, lining up every single verse which speaks about the subject.

Luk_16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

1 verse found, 2 matches
Luke1 verse found2 matches

There is no evidence present in the parable that Christ was seeking to teach that when a man dies, angels carry him to Abraham’s Bosom or even heaven for that matter. Not one statement can be produced indicating that this was the primary point of the parable. This in combination with the fact that no other statements throughout scripture can be produced demonstrating that angels carry people to heaven when they die, should be sufficient evidence to show that this concept is completely fictitious.

Additionally, we find the following statement in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Matthew 24:31. An examination of the context [see Matthew 24:29-30] shows us that these passages are speaking about the second coming of Christ. The only time that Angels are ever recorded as gathering God’s elect and taking them to heaven is at the time of his second coming. This does not take place anywhere else in scripture, and we are never once told of it happening at a man’s death outside of an obviously fictional narrative.

In view of all of these facts, the parable cannot be taken as anything other than pure fiction. It is therefore not legitimate to read this as though it is evidence of an eternally burning hell, or even the conscious state of the dead. Taking it this way would create serious problems for the Christian, one of which being contradictions in scripture. Do we as Christians run around with a contradictory Bible, which teaches one point and then turns around and teaches the exact opposite? If that were the case, so many millions of atheists would exult.

John 5:28-29 reads, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” So many questions cross my mind as I compare the parable of the rich man and Lazarus with this text.

Note that these passages mention two resurrections, one of life and the other of damnation. If we are to take the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to the literal extreme of what it says, this causes the concept of Resurrection to become obsolete. Think about this very carefully. What exactly is the purpose of these resurrections as outlined in these two passages of John? It can all be found in their names. The purpose of the Resurrection of life is to take dead individuals to heaven, so that they may receive their reward. The purpose of the Resurrection of damnation is so that an individual may receive punishment.

Taking the parable of the rich man and Lazarus literally would mean that people are already receiving their reward as soon as they die, whether it be punishment or eternal life. This does away with the necessity for a Resurrection. Why does your body need to be resurrected when you are already in either heaven or hell? As noted previously, it is sheer confusion to imagine oneself brought up from hell only to be sent back.

These passages also state “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice.” This statement in of itself implies that those who were to be Resurrected were neither in heaven nor were they in hell at the time that they would be hearing the voice of Christ. Reading the statement very carefully, it is important to point out that the exact words are “in the graves.” This statement indicates the position of the individual who is to be Resurrected, and targets the whole person. In other words, unless one is attempting to bitterly cling to traditions it is impossible to read this passage as though it refers to just the individual’s body.

People who have died reside in their graves according to John 5:28-29, not in heaven or hell. Interpreting the parable in an extreme literal sense would also completely throw off the chronology of events of when men are supposed to receive their rewards. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” – Revelation 22:11-12

According to these passages from the book of Revelation, the reward is to be received at the coming of Christ. If we combine this with what we previously saw in Matthew 13:39-42 [the fact that the punishment of the wicked takes place at the end of this world], than it should be very clear to us that men are rewarded at the end of time and not when they die. This is a fact which presents a massive contradiction to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, provided we interpret the passages in the extreme literal sense.

Yet something which hammers this fact in even harder are several passages from the book of 2 Peter. The first one reads, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” – 2 Peter 2:9. This passage indicates that the wicked are “reserved”, implying that no one has yet received punishment. If men are to be punished immediately when they die, how is it that this can be the case? When one considers the implications of taking the parable of the rich man and Lazarus literally, this is a fact which by itself creates apparent contradictions in the scriptures which are only resolved by acknowledging the pure fictional nature of the parable.

Comparing 2 Peter 2:9 with 3:7, we find much more light shed on the subject. “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” – 2 Peter 3:7. The phrase “reserved unto fire against the day of judgment” connects the punishment of the wicked with the destruction of the earth by fire at the end of time, placing this event at the end of this world. It is important to note that both the wicked and the earth are referred to as being “reserved”, indicating that these events have yet to take place.

If we line up all of the passages discussed from Revelation 22:11-12 to 2 Peter 3:7, than we come to several irrefutable conclusions. The “perdition of ungodly men” has yet to occur, because both the Earth and the wicked are reserved for that event. All rewards are given at the coming of Christ or rather the end of this world, which is when Matthew 13:39-42 states the wicked will be punished. It is therefore impossible for anyone to be punished or rewarded immediately when they die.

In addition, there is a powerful fact which very few people have considered when reading this parable. The story portrays both individuals [the rich man and Lazarus] as dying and receiving their individual rewards. In order for this to happen, this requires a part of you to be immortal. People traditionally interpret this as the “immortal soul”, something which we will later see is not a biblical concept. If we pay close attention to the rich man in particular, it is clear that he is tormented in flames. Fire is something which naturally consumes and destroys. It is impossible for anyone to be engulfed in fire without being burned up over a period of time. This also requires an individual to posses natural immortality.

In the book of 1 Timothy we read, “Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the king of Kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 6:15-16. According to these passages, only God is naturally immortal. The only way for humans to receive immortality is through the tree of life, which is not mentioned in this parable and as we saw previously is not in the lake of fire. It is therefore impossible for the Rich man to burn for ever, or for any length of time beyond what the average human can endure, or even to be there after death.

This parable is not designed to teach that men go to heaven or hell immediately at death. It is not meant to convey the idea that there is an eternally burning hell, period. There is a particular term related to the way we study our Bibles which properly defines interpreting this parable in that light. That term is Eisegesis. This is what you call it when some one takes their own ideas or concepts which are not present in the passages, and begins to read them into the text. The definition from an online dictionary below states that these types of interpretations express the interpreter’s own bias.

Word Origin
noun, plural eisegeses

jee-seez] (Show IPA)
an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text.

This is what people have done with the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. They have read the traditions of man into this text, placing a construction on these passages which they do not originally hold. It is important that we study our bibles properly, and examine everything the scriptures have to teach on any given subject, rather than basing whole doctrines off one or a few misunderstood passages. We need to examine texts properly and allow the scriptures to interpret themselves rather than reading things into Bible verses which are not there.

The question then remains, if this parable does not teach an eternally burning hell, than what does it teach? We find details that answer this question in making careful observations about the text. The Rich man is represented as going to hell, while the beggar is sent to heaven. Noting the conditions which took place prior to their deaths, it would seem that their circumstances were immediately reversed as soon as they died. This is designed to teach the idea that contrary to the popular beliefs of the hearers, riches are not an indicator of divine favor.

In addition, the portrayal of the futility of calling out to “Father Abraham” is a direct attack on their trust in their heritage for salvation. Jesus also sought to teach that it is impossible to secure salvation after death. In the parable Abraham is recorded as saying, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” – Luke 16:25-26

Abraham is also recorded as saying in the parable, “If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though on rose from the dead.” – Luke 16:31. Miracles would not be sufficient to convince a man of the error of his way if he will not heed scripture and make changes to his life accordingly. Therefore the teaching here is that only God’s word can prepare you to enter eternal life.

The parable of the Rich man and Lazarus was never meant to teach that people are rewarded at death, that an individual has an immortal soul, or that there is an eternally burning hell. Taking this parable as though it supports this kind of thinking is completely missing the point, and is absolute full-blown eisegesis.


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