Bits in the Rich Man & Lazarus

Dives & Lazarus, Bonifacio de Pitatica, ca 1540.

Some Bits in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus ·
Luke 16:19-31

With help from a variety of commentaries, we note a few interesting bits in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which Luke (and only Luke) gives us in Luke 16:19-31. Here’s the full parable, from the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’

25 “‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’

27 “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’

29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’” (HCSB)

Here are our bits of interest:

• This Lazarus is not the same Lazarus who was a brother of Mary, friend of Jesus, and friend of the disciple women and Bethany circle of Jesus.  This is not the Lazarus who died and was raised back to life by Christ (John 11:1-16). This Lazarus is however the only named person in all the parables of Jesus, which is curious in and of itself, and a contrast to ancient parabolic writings which might have provided names for important characters, but not for the poor and lowly. We are further intrigued that both Lazarus characters in the gospels die and, more or less, both return to life.  We suspect that the name coincidence is not actually coincidence.

• That dogs would have licked the sores of a crippled man might bring comfort to us today, if we were somehow in Lazarus’ scarred condition, but the physical approach of an unfriendly, feral animal and then contact with the unclean beast would not have been desirable to the suffering first century Jew.

• There is no Jewish or Christian doctrine suggesting that the dead in Hell (or Hades) can see their counterparts in heaven. Do not let this narrative device be an invention of such doctrine.

•  Translations differ in their translation of the Greek ᾅδῃ (hadē / Hades). Some choose the English “hell.” Most choose the English “Hades.” Others do not use a word but cleverly substitute a descriptive phrase. Bible Bits is not going to jump into the debate over Hades and Hell.  🙂

•  “Old fashioned” translations following the Latin-language Vulgate use the personal name “Dives” in their English product.  Whether by tradition or mistaken translation of the latin “dives” (= “rich”), the personal name “Dives” remains in these old-school Bibles.  This parable is therefore often referred to as “Dives and Lazarus.”

<sup>19 </sup>homo quidam erat dives et induebatur purpura et bysso et epulabatur cotidie splendide (Vulgate)

•  In 23, the contemporary Holman translation (we used above) might have done better to choose the old-fashioned “at Abraham’s bosom” instead of “at his side.” The increased sense of intimacy of being in the coat pocket, or at the κόλπῳ (kolpō / bosom) of a protective master or father is important. Compare verse 23 with:

John 13:23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. (KJV)

But we understand the need to modernize Bible translations, and we like them.  While at the same time we study the really old-fashioned Hebrew and Greek.  This reminds us that now would be a good time to listen to the old spiritual song, Rock-a My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.

•  The Rich Man violates Mosaic law requiring leftover or overlooked wealth to be left for the poor and needy. See Lev 19:9-10; Lev 23:22 and Deut 24:19-22. The Rich Man should have allowed the missed and overlooked crumbs of his table to be eaten by begging Lazarus, a fellow Jew, and not be given instead to unclean dogs.

By the way, the scripture passage doesn’t actually say that the dogs ate the crumbs. Nor does it actually state that Lazarus was refused the crumbs. Does the wording of verse 21 imply this however? We suggest that it does, and that it carries the added insult that the dogs who ate the leftovers then came and used those unclean dog tongues to further abuse hungry Lazarus.

•  The rich man does not ask that he himself do the labor of being sent back to earth to meet with his brothers, but instead asks Abraham to send Lazarus as his servant. He is still blind to the law of neighborly love.

•  Who is Jesus referring to in verse 30 and 31?

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’” (HCSB)

This last item isn’t really a Bible “bit” because it is no small thing.

We at Bible Bits think of ourselves as evangelical Christians, and as such, we see it as our duty (like every other category of Christian) to go out into the world and make disciples. Concomitant with this charge and view is a certain amount of fretting that we, as individuals, as members of the Bible Bits team, have a very high failure rate at converting the unsaved to the elect for salvation. We fret. We despair. But we should temper our self-flagellation: thousands of persons saw Jesus in the flesh, and saw the Lord do some rather impressive things, and heard him preach some pretty good sermons, and even most of these thousands chose not to follow him.  Jesus himself had a high failure rate.

To paraphrase verse 30:  “If they won’t listen to Jesus himself, they won’t be impressed by Bible Bits, or even someone rising from the dead.”

Dives-Lazarus Leandro Bassano 1595
Dives & Lazarus.  Leandro Bassano.  ca 1595.

God’s merciful blessings to you!

Please join us in reading the actual Bible and studying the many hundred years of solid Jewish and Christian commentary on our wonderful scripture.