Is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus a Fable about the Afterlife?

Luke’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is remarkable for several reasons. It is the only Gospel parable in which a character is named. It seemingly has no parallel in the other Synoptics. It is often thought to be based on a pagan folktale. And it presents a view of the afterlife that is utterly unique in the Bible.

Figuring out the author’s intent with this parable has been a challenge, and many differing opinions have been offered. I’d like to look at some of the sources Luke may have drawn upon, and what message I think the parable is intended to convey. There are also some connections with the other Gospels that might get overlooked by most readers.

The Story

The parable can be found in Luke 16:19–31. The context is somewhat vague, and the story is told by Jesus in response to ridicule by some Pharisees, whom the narrator tells us were “lovers of money”.

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus in his bosom. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Fresco from Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
Fresco from Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Initial Observations

Several items of interest stand out. The poor man is named, but the rich man is not. The two men are described in brief but colourful detail. Lazarus is borne by angels upon his death. The Greek netherworld of Hades is mentioned, as well as “Abraham’s bosom” — an expression not known from any earlier text. The two men each receive a reversal of fortunes in the afterlife — comfort for the poor man, and torment for the rich man. Though they are separated by a chasm, they are close enough to communicate. The rich man suffers from fire and thirst. Returning from the dead to warn the living is a request that Abraham refuses, but does not reject as impossible.

(Also, having dogs lick your sores sounds totally gross. Thanks for including that detail in your story, Jesus.)

The Story of Setme and Si-Osiris and the Reversal of Fortunes in the Afterlife

In terms of plot, Luke’s parable is similar to an Egyptian story known from a document that dates to the first century CE. In this story, an Egyptian in Amente, the realm of the dead, is permitted to return to life in order to defeat a powerful magician. He is reborn as a child named Si-Osiris to a man named Setme and his wife. On one occasion, he and his father observe the funerals of two people — a rich man buried in sumptuous clothing with much mourning, and a poor man buried without ceremony or mourning. Si-Osiris then takes his father on a tour of Amante to show him how the fortunes of the dead are reversed. They see the rich man being tormented, for his bad deeds outweighed the good ones; but the pauper is elevated to high rank near Osiris, because his good deeds outnumbered his bad deeds.

The German scholar Gressmann drew attention to the parallels in a book published in 1918, and also noted several Jewish versions of the story. One appears in the Palestinian Talmud, and tells of a rich tax collector and a poor Torah scholar who die the same day. In a dream to the poor man’s friend, it is revealed that the rich man is tormented by thirst in the afterlife, while the poor scholar enjoys the gardens of paradise. These stories share at least three elements with Luke’s: (1) the deaths of a rich man and a poor man; (2) the reversal of their fortunes in the afterlife; and (3) the possibility of returning from the netherworld to reveal this truth to the living.¹

It is very possible that the author of Luke knew either the Egyptian story or one of the Jewish versions. If so, the reversal motif is probably what drew him to it. This is a theme that is specifically focused on by Luke throughout his Gospel:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
…But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. (Lk 6:20–21, 24–25)

Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. (Lk 13:30)

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Lk 14:11 and 18:14b)

Frans Francken the Younger - Lazarus and the Rich Miser (1601-1650)
Lazarus and the Rich Miser by Frans Francken the Younger (1601-1650)

The Parable’s Moral Problem

Luke’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is missing a crucial feature that its Egyptian and rabbinical parallels have: a moral justification for the reversal. In the story of Setme and Si-Osiris, the rich man is punished for his wickedness, and the poor man is rewarded for his righteousness. It is the same in the Talmudic tale. The moral of both stories seems to be, “Pursue goodness rather than riches, for only the former carries eternal value.”

But in Luke’s story, nothing is said of the rich man’s evil deeds or the poor man’s piety that earn them their respective rewards. In fact, it seems to be the rich man’s wealth itself that damns him, and Lazarus’s poverty that earns him comfort. That is certainly the rationale given by Abraham in verse 25. Nevertheless, this reasoning is so hard to accept for some readers that they look for an implicit crime that the rich man has committed. Richard Bauckham cites examples of scholars who insist that the rich man must have misused his wealth, acquired it wrongly, or neglected to give Lazarus charity; and that Lazarus must have been pious in addition to poor.

But the claim that the parable does not explain the reversal of fortunes is untrue. The reason is clearly stated in verse 25, where Abraham justifies the reversal to the rich man. …What has to be put right is the fact that one man lived in luxury while another was destitute. The next world compensates for this inequality by replacing it with a reverse inequality.…In effect, therefore, it is true that the rich man suffers in the next life just because he was rich in this life, while the poor man is blessed in the next life just because he was poor in this life. (See Bauckham, 232–233, for the quote and aforementioned citations.)

It is hard to imagine today’s Prosperity Gospel churches acknowledging the fairly obvious implications of this parable, let alone agreeing with them. Indeed, even scholars shy away from the moral conclusions of the parable, and Ronald Hock chides them for letting “their own moral sensitivities, not to mention their own tacit approval of wealth” affect their exegesis (Hock, pp. 452-454).

Admittedly, the topic of repentance is raised in verse 30, but only long after the reason for the rich man’s misfortune has already been explained. I think that if Luke wanted to emphasize repentance and ethical behaviour through this parable, he should have brought them up sooner.

So what is the point of the parable, then? Is it simply to tell the reader about the reversal of fortunes after death?

That would seem to be at odds with the normal parabolic method used in the Gospels, which is to allegorize a message using an unrelated setting. The Parable of the Sower is not about agriculture, so we should not assume Lazarus and the Rich Man is about the afterlife. (It might be consistent with the author’s beliefs about the afterlife, but that’s not quite the same thing.) Is it meant to warn against accruing wealth, or to encourage faithfulness to “Moses and the Prophets”? Maybe there’s more to it than that.

Codex Aureus Epternacensis (Golden Gospels), Illuminated Manuscript; Parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus, 1035-1040
Codex Aureus Epternacensis (Golden Gospels), Illuminated Manuscript; Parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus, 1035-1040

Luke’s Afterlife Imagery

Before I go into other interpretations, I’d like to look at Luke’s unique portrayal of the afterlife.

Ancient Israelite religion had no concept of a conscious afterlife where the immortal souls of the deceased were punished or rewarded. On the whole, the Hebrew Bible shows a near-complete lack of interest in what happens after death.

During the Persian and Hellenistic periods, however, new ideas from Greece and Persia influenced the way Judeans thought about death. In the Greek-speaking world, Plato’s story of Er in Republic was particularly influential in convincing people that the spirits of the dead would be judged according to their earthly lives and earn either bliss in Elysium or punishment in the netherworld. Many other Greek philosophers taught similar views.

For Luke, however, we’re looking specifically for a source in which departed souls go to the same place but are divided by the wicked and righteous, with some receiving comfort and others torment. It turns out we have just a text: our old friend 1 Enoch, which I have already written about as a source for the Catholic epistles.

In 1 Enoch 22, Enoch is given a tour of a mountain in the West where the spirits of the dead go to await judgment. This mountain has four caverns by which the dead are separated into groups. One cavern is for the spirits of the righteous, and it contains a bright fountain of water. Another is for sinners who were not punished during their lives; they are to suffer torment until the Judgment.

Not only is this a reasonable match for Luke’s description, but it also explains some other curious details. For example, we may speculate that when the rich man asks for Lazarus to bring him a drop of water, he is referring to the fountain that the righteous enjoy.² And though these abodes are not separated by a chasm in En 22, the phrase “great chasm” (χάσμα μέγα) does appear in nearby chapter 18, in a similar context. En 22 (in Greek) also has parallels to some of the terminology used in Luke that is otherwise rare in the New Testament, like the use of the word zoe (ζωῇ) to mean “lifetime”, the word basanois (βασάνοις, “torment”), and the mention of the rich man’s burial. (Grensted, p. 334) The Enochic model confirms that “Abraham’s bosom” is not a separate location as some Christian interpreters think, for Lazarus and the rich man are both in different compartments of Hades — used here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, as an equivalent to the Old Testament (and Enochic) Sheol.

The term “bosom” (κόλπος) was sometimes used in Greek and Latin epitaphs to describe something like Gaia’s embrace of the departed, and had little to do with postmortem life (Lehtipuu, p. 216). It is hard to say if this is significant to Luke’s usage. Where the term is used in the New Testament (mainly John’s Gospel), it suggests a position of intimacy or honour with respect to someone else.

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

Luke frequently depicts the kingdom of God as an eschatological banquet in which God’s chosen people feast with the Jewish patriarchs — particularly in the Great Supper parable — and scholars generally think this image is what Luke has in mind with the reference to “Abraham’s bosom”.³

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.  Then people will come…and will eat in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:28–29)

Lazarus and Abraham

One element has yet to be explained: the insertion of a named character into a parable. This is the only place in the Gospels where this occurs. After all, parables function as allegories; the reader (or listener) is not supposed to think that Jesus is talking about a real event and real individuals, so there is no reason to give the stereotyped characters names. Most of the explanations I have seen strike me as half-hearted and unconvincing. For example, Bauckham suggests that the “poor man” had to be called something else since he was not poor in the afterlife — though the rich man does fine without a name (p. 244).

There’s one generally overlooked⁴ explanation that I do find compelling, however, and it was proposed in 1969 by C.H. Cave (see bibliography). Lazarus is the Latin/Greek equivalent of Eliezer, and we must remember that stories in the Gospels are frequently derived from or allusive to the Hebrew Bible. There is, in fact, a significant character in the Pentateuch named Eliezer: Eliezer the Damascene, Abraham’s steward and heir prior to the birth of Isaac who appears in Genesis 15. If we have a unique parable with the named characters Abraham and Eliezer, surely it follows that the existence of two closely linked characters named Abraham and Eliezer in the Pentateuch might be of relevance.

An interesting thing about Luke’s parable is that the rich man is clearly depicted as a Jew (he calls Abraham “father”, and Abraham calls him “child”), but Lazarus is not. Is it possible that Luke is trying to convey the eschatological reversal of the Jewish and Christian (Gentile) communities? In the first century, the Israelites believed they were assured salvation as the heirs and children of Abraham (Forbes 191; Cave 322f); but here, the child of Abraham is damned, and the Gentile Eliezer — representing the Christian community — becomes the true heir of Abraham, the one who will feast with the patriarchs in God’s kingdom. Explaining how the Christians have become the true heirs of Abraham is a theme explored elsewhere in the New Testament, notably Galatians 4.

Jewish tradition has more to say about Eliezer. Though he was a Gentile, he was taken to paradise while still alive as a reward for his faithfulness to Abraham, according to the Palestinian Targum and Bereshith Rabba. Furthermore, Cave states that Genesis 15 was originally read in synagogues at Shavuot, which had the gathering in of Gentiles as one of its themes; and one of the Haphtaroth (prophetic readings) assigned to it was Isaiah 1, in which the prophet laments Israel’s rebellion against God. Considered in the context of these scriptures, the parable of Lazarus takes on new meaning.

It’s conceivable that the parable of Lazarus (Eliezer) and Abraham was intended as commentary on these same scriptures — perhaps even read on the same occasions by Gentile God-fearers who would eventually become known as Christians. As Cave explains:

If such was the original setting of the parable, based upon Gen. xv read with Isa. i, and read at Shabuoth, then it has…nothing to do with the reversal of fortune in the after life, but rather teaches of the severity of the judgement that threatens Israel if she persists in her unrepentant state. ‘Gentiles putting Israel to shame… the unconceivable thing will come to pass… Israel will undergo the bitter experience of seeing Gentiles find mercy.’

I would go further and say that, based on this parable and the Great Supper — in which the guests who refuse the host’s invitation clearly represent the Judeans — Luke’s Jesus sees this reversal as inevitable. Israel has rejected Moses and the prophets, and now the blessings intended for her will be inherited by another community.

If this interpretation is correct, then the opportunity for the rich man’s brothers (Israel) to repent probably passed when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, and when Jesus says they wouldn’t even listen to someone raised from the dead, my hunch is he means himself.

Illustration from the The Picture Bible for Children
Illustration from the The Picture Bible for Children (source)

Relationship with the Other Synoptics

Neither Mark nor Matthew contains this parable, and it was probably absent from Q, if such a document existed. But there is  in fact a parallel passage in Mark (and Matthew): the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, which Luke omits. Compare the following verses:

[Lazarus] longs to satisfy his hunger with [things that] fall from the table of the rich man; even the dogs come and lick his sores. (Lk 16:21)

But she answered him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs of the children.”(Mk 7:28)

But she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.” (Mt 15:27)

Though Luke’s story is completely different, we have references to dogs, food falling from the table, and satisfying hunger in all three verses, with a few identical or near-identical phrases. Luke clearly has the episode about the Syro-Phoenician woman in mind as he writes, yet he chooses not to include it. Possibly, he rejects its premise — that Jesus came primarily for the Jews, and only secondarily for believing Gentiles — because it is incompatible with his own view that the Gentile God-fearing community is the primary audience of Jesus, having replaced Israel as the heirs of God’s kingdom.

The fact that this pericope in Mark and Matthew is connected to, and replaced by, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man would suggest that the purpose of the latter is to communicate the eschatological reversal of Israel and the Gentile church. Luke provides a lens through which his audience can understand both the Roman destruction of Israel — Abraham’s original heirs — and the special purpose his own community must now fulfill.


  1. Communication of the dead with the living, urging them to repent, also occurs in the Jewish Book of Jannes and Jambres. According to Jewish tradition, “Jannes” and “Jambres” were the names given to the Egyptian magicians who competed with Moses in Exodus. (We see them mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:8, for example) In the aforementioned story, which survives only in fragments, Jambres uses magic to conjure the spirit of his dead brother from Hades. His brother tells him of the terrible underworld and urges Jambres to lead a good life to avoid such a fate.
  2. The idea of a spring of water in the otherworld does not originate with 1 Enoch, but is common in Greek depictions of the afterlife, including that given by Plato in Republic. (Lehtipuu, p. 218) A similar idea is found in Revelation 22:1. The “great chasm” of 1 Enoch 18:10 and Luke’s parable also find their origins in Greek descriptions of Hades. (Lehtipuu p. 222)
  3. The idea of feasting with the gods after death was also commonplace in pagan beliefs and is described in Plato’s Republic. (Lehtipuu p. 217) Luke’s eschatological banquet motif may be rooted in this Greek view of the afterlife.
  4. Not only overlooked, but also misunderstood. Thomas E. Phillips states (in Reading Issues of Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts, p. 156 n. 261) that Cave argues for Deuteronomy as the source of the parable. In fact, that is the very opposite of what Cave argues.


H. Gressmann, Vom reichen Mann und armen Lazarus: eine literargeschicktliche Studie, 1918.

Richard Bauckham, “The Rich Man and Lazarus: The Parable and the Parallels”, New Testament Studies 37, pp 225-246.

Ronald F. Hock, “Lazarus and Micyllus”, JBL 106/3 (1987)

C. H. Cave, “Lazarus and the Lukan Deuteronomy”, New Testament Studies 15, pp 319-325.

Grensted, “The Use of Enoch in St. Luke xvi. 19–31,” Expository Times 26 (1915) 333–34.

Greg W. Forbes, The God of Old: The Role of the Lukan Parables in the Purpose of Luke’s Gospel, 2000.

Outi Lehtipuu, The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, 2007.

36 thoughts on “Is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus a Fable about the Afterlife?

  1. The parable can be found in Luke 14:19–31.

    I know that you mean Luke 16. Have you pursued the possible relationship between the Lazaruses of Luke and John? As The Anchor Bible Dictionary states (volume 4, page 265):

    …the Johannine story is a conflation of various material in Luke, particularly the parable of Luke 16:19-31 and the Mary and Martha story of Luke 10:38-42, along with the stories of the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-56; par., Matt 9:18-25; mark 5:21-43) and the widow of Nain (7:11-17).

    At the old BCH forum, Ben C. Smith made these observations:

    1. The Lucan parable of Lazarus is the only one in the canonical gospels that names its protagonist; the Johannine story of Lazarus is one of the relatively few that names its recipient.
    2. In both the protagonist, named Lazarus, dies.
    3. In the parable the rich man requests that Lazarus be sent back from the dead; in the story Lazarus actually comes back from the dead.
    4. The Lucan parable asserts that, if one disbelieves Moses, one will disbelieve a resurrection; this is thematically similar to John 5.46.

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    • I think Luke knew of John’s story about Lazarus and rejected it. He left in Mary and Martha in Bethany but the drying of Jesus feet with her hair was moved out of Bethany to a Pharisee’s house.

      I think John derived the story from the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead, or borrowed a story from them, and melded it with the Woman with the Ointment pericope in Mark 14.

      The Pyramid Texts tell of two sisters weeping and lamenting the death of their brother, who was resurrected by Horus. Later myths have Horus being conceived after the resurrection but those stories come to us from Greek writers who lived about 500 years closer to our time than they did to the time of the Pyramid Texts.

      Osiris would be something like Azar before being transliterated to Greek but, being a god and transliterated into a Semitic language, the name comes out El-Azar, which becomes Lazarus when transliterated to Greek. Likewise, the city near the pyramids where the Pyramid Texts are found is Eunu or Anu, which becomes Beth-Anu with a Semitic transliteration, and Bethany when transliterated to Greek.

      One of the hieroglyphs for Nephthys is the feminine form of master or lord. Martha is the feminized form of the Aramaic word for master or lord.

      John 11:1
      Utterance 307
      483a N. himself is a Heliopolitan, who was born in Heliopolis,

      John 11:2
      Utterance 576
      1511a anointed with the best ointment, clothed in [purple],
      Utterance 685
      2065a Behold N., his feet shall be kissed by the pure waters,

      John 11:3
      Utterance 593
      1630a Two sisters, Isis and Nephthys, come to thee;
      Utterance 670
      1973b [at the voice of we]eping of Isis and at the lamentation of Nephthys,

      John 11:11-14
      Utterance 670
      1975a They say to thee, Osiris N., “thou art gone, thou art come;
      1975b thou art asleep, [thou art awake]; thou art [dead (lit. thou landest)], thou art alive.

      John 11:25
      The Book of the Dead 64
      I am Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, for I am born again and again ; mine is the unseen Force, which createth the gods and giveth food to those in the Tuat at the West of Heaven ; I am the Eastern Rudder, the Lord of Two Faces, who seeth by his own light; the Lord of Resurrections, who cometh forth from the dusk and whose birth is from the House of Death.

      John 11:21
      John 11:33
      Utterance 619
      1750c Isis weeps for thee; Nephthys calls thee;
      1751a as for ’Imt.t she sits at the feet of thy throne.
      Utterance 667A
      1947b (Nt. XXX 780). as the mourning-women of Osiris call for thee.

      John 11:38-39a
      Utterance 665A
      1914c (Nt. 735). This is this N. (for whom) thou, Osiris, shalt open the six doors.
      Utterance 676
      2009a The tomb is open for thee; the double doors of the coffin are undone for thee;
      According to Randel McCraw Helms, Who Wrote the Gospels (p.125), R. O. Faulkner’s translation has:
      The tomb is opened for you, the doors of the tomb-chamber are thrown open for you.

      John 11:39b
      Utterance 412
      722a Flesh of N.,
      722b rot not, decay not, let not thy smell be bad.
      Utterance 419
      746b Horus has exterminated the evil which was in N. in his four day (term);
      Utterance 670
      1978c After he had exterminated the evil [which was in N. on] his fourth day,

      John 11:43
      Utterance 620
      1753a To say: I am Horus, Osiris N., I will not let thee sicken.

      John 11:44
      Utterance 662
      1878a Let them who are in their graves, arise; let them undo their bandages.
      Utterance 703
      2201c O N., live, thou shalt not die.
      2202a Horus comes to thee; he separates thy bandages; he casts off thy bonds.

      I think the “N” in the Utterances represent the name of whoever was buried with saying. No pyramid had all the Utterances and many are found in more than one pyramid.

      John 1:1-18 discusses the Logos similarly to the way Philo borrowed it from the Greek philosophers. I would expect that the Library of Alexandria might have Philo’s writings and copies of the Pyramid Texts.

      This leads me to believe John wrote the story and that Luke rejected it. After all, Luke 1:1-4 tells us that he is referencing other writings and is going to edit them.


      • Thanks for the comment, Greg. I will check all that out. At this point, I think John knew Luke rather than the reverse, but I believe there are scholars on both sides, and I’ll look at the evidence in a future article.


      • Luke does not say that Mary and Martha were in Bethany. John takes “Bethany” from the head anointing tale in Mark.

        The Lazarus tale in John reuses specific terms, people and places seen in Mark and Luke: “nard, Bethany, anoints feet, wipes them with hair, Mary and Martha”:

        Mark 14:3 — An unnamed woman anoints Jesusʼs head with “nard, an expensive spikenard ointment” at the house of Simon the Leper in “Bethany.”
        Luke 7:37-38 — An unnamed female sinner anoints Jesusʼs “feet and wiped them with her hair” at the house of a Pharisee in Nain.
        Luke 10:38-39 — “Mary,” the sister of Martha, listens at Jesusʼs feet without anointing them, nor any mention that the sisters had a brother, nor in what town this took place.

        Note the different circumstances surrounding Mark and Luke’s tales, but in John we find the same terms and names used to create a new anointing story, damned be the differing circumstances in which those terms and names appeared in Mark and Luke. (Reminds me of the Diatesseron.) John’s miracle story/sign involves a character who dies in a Lukan parable (forbidden to return from death, and his Greek name, “Lazarus” comes from the Hebrew name “Eleazar, which meant “God is my help,” a purposeful word play since nobody helps this poor beggar but God, part of Luke’s literary plot). The Lukan parable assures readers that a resurrection miracle would change no one’s point of view, and in John that point is hammered home harder. The Pharisees hear of the fabulous new miracle Jesus has performed and are determined to have Jesus put to death. T‪he Lazarus miracle/sign in John takes the place of Jesus’s table turning & teaching incident as the final straw for the Pharisees. That is why John moved the table turning incident to the beginning of his Gospel, to make room for a big new miraculous finale that incites the Pharisees to have Jesus executed.‬

        ‪Compare Mark with John:‬

        Mark 11:15 ‘He entered the temple and began to drive out those… 17 And He began to teach… 18 The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.’

        John 11:45 ‘Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did [the raising of Lazarus], believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done… 48 “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” 49 Then… Caiaphas… spoke up,… 50 “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”… 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his [Jesusʼ] life.’

        In Mark the Pharisees sought Jesus’s execution because of the popularity of Jesus’s “teaching” in the Temple.

        In John they sought it because of what Jesus miraculously “did” [the raising of Lazarus].

        One might add that in the Gospel of Mark there are no miracles seen in Jerusalem (an empty tomb is not a miracle since it involves no appearances of a dead man, and the “young man” found in the empty tomb is an ambiguous figure, perhaps the same “young man”–mentioned only in Mark–who was the last to flee and abandon Jesus on the night of his arrest). Therefore there are no miracles seen in Jerusalem per the earliest Gospel. Mark also repeats twice that Jesus has gone on before his disciples to Galilee to appear to them there, not in Jerusalem. Matthew adds a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the women, but only in order to have Jesus repeat the same message in Mark, cf. Matt. 28:10, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Luke-Acts and John are later-written Gospels and have Jesus appear in and near Jerusalem soon after being raised, and even have Jesus tell his disciples to remain in Jersualem.

        Therefore I agree with Goodacre, we see John employing Markan and Lukan materials rather than the other way round. See my post on the Lazarus tale that includes a discussion of how tales about Jesus resurrecting people during his ministry grew over time. (Speaking of tales growing over time, the number of words allegedly spoken by the resurrected Jesus from Mark to Matthew to Luke-Acts and John, grew over time


        Resources concerning the origin of the Lukan Parable of Lazarus the Beggar

        Cave, C. (1969). Lazarus and the Lukan Deuteronomy. New Testament Studies, 15(3), 319-325. doi:10.1017/S0028688500019172

        The Biblical Tour of Hell (The Library of New Testament Studies)


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    • I know that you mean Luke 16.

      Whoops! Fixed. (At least the link was correct.)

      Have you pursued the possible relationship between the Lazaruses of Luke and John?

      Yes indeed. I thought adding that aspect here would distract from the point I wanted to make, but I will follow that up in another article. The case is stronger if we can show John used Luke elsewhere, and I think we can.


  2. I don’t recall where I read it, but I saw an interesting hypothesis that the rich man, his five brothers, and his father, are meant to be represent the high priest’s family: Caiaphas (the rich man), his father-in-law Ananus (the father), and Ananus’ five sons Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias, and Ananus (the five brothers), all seven of whom served as high priests at some point prior to the temple’s destruction. The parable, in addition to all you described above, was also a jab specifically at them for rejecting the claims of Jesus’ resurrection.

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    • Josephus gives the order and details of those sons in Antiquities of the Jews and in Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1, he specifically points out Ananus and his five sons who were also high priests. He continues on to say that the youngest was responsible for the death of James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”. Since Luke apparently used Josephus for many stories, it is likely he read that paragraph. John 18:13 says Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Ananus. I think Luke knew John and Matthew but rejected John’s resurrection of Lazarus as well as Matthew’s genealogy and nativity.

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    • Very interesting, Mark. That could well be. On the other hand, things often come in fives in Luke’s Gospel, so it’s hard to be certain. Let me know if you remember where you saw that.


  3. Here is my view. The story is an criticism of the Pharisees. The man Lazarus is one of the poor and is handicapped. He is a man born of woman, like John the Baptizer (who was abused by Herod). He is not a saint, and is not likely learned or respected by men, as a man begging in a park today. No relatives are likely to be taking care of him. Yet, the rich man pictures a Pharisee (dressed in royal purple and benefiting from the sacrifices and the tithes of the temple). He has the scriptures but is not doing his duty. By neglecting his duties to take care of widows and orphans, he is condemned by God. To whom much is given, much is expected, This can be associated with Babylon the Great of Revelations sitting as a Queen on top of the governmental beast. Jesus is telling him that the poor Lazarus will be resurrected (is taken by angels to the Bosom of Abraham) to paradise on earth, after New Jerusalem comes down to earth. Lazarus did not ascend to heaven, but the condition of the Pharisees is much worse, They are cut off from life forever, in Gehenna. They are not suffering forever, but opportunity to repent is gone. Lazarus never had the breaks gets a chance at life on earth, perhaps even to join the saints in time.
    John the Baptist is the Greatest man born of woman. “Born of woman” means you are not a saint, as the saints are the brothers in Christ who rule as kings and priests with Jesus and come down to earth with the true Temple to New Jerusalem. Nicodemas was not a saint either, as he had not yet been “born again.” But he could be a repentive Priest of the Temple, who might have been at Pentacost (and became a saint). Jesus told him, it was to the Father (the choice determined by the Holy Spirit (which represents God’s choices, because He(It) knows God and is not fickle (but chooses according to God’s will). The story applies to Christians today and relates to those who are paid as religious leaders (who have duties due to contributions, book sales, and position to help the poor who do not understand the scriptures because of Satan or greed or nepotism or corruption of the priesthood), As to taking care of the sick and poor, much is done via governmental programs in North America. As to Nicodemas, we do not know from the Bible if he became a saint, but he did help Jesus and that means he may be resurrected. Heaven is not some paradise of pleasure in the clouds, but mansions (dwellings i heaven( where kings and priests are
    selected from the earth for jobs in heaven or later on earth). The Bible does not go into detail about the nature of the dwellings in heaven (though assumes that they are desirable)..


    • Thanks for the comment, Murrell.

      The story is an criticism of the Pharisees.

      Yeah, especially since the setup involves the Pharisees, it at least provides a hook for the story. And it seems likely that Pharisaic Judaism contended with the “Christ cults” (as Mack and some others call them) for influence in the diaspora synagogues of the first and second centuries.

      I think the genre of the story has to be taken into account when interpreting it. Is it meant to be a parable, a story about something that really happened, or a story about a fictional person that nevertheless tells us what the afterlife is really like? If it’s a parable, it’s not necessarily informing us about the afterlife at all, which is something I wanted to get across.

      I also don’t think we can get a very specific afterlife doctrine out of Luke. His ideas are more Hellenized than, say, Matthew, and when he does mention the resurrection in 20:35–37, he describes it in odd terms.


    • Hi Murrell, it would be more likely a criticism of the Sadducees than the Pharisees. The Sadducees were known for enjoying the finer things in life whereas the Pharisees seemed more austere. Also especially poignant was that the Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife and the consequent accountability.


  4. “when Jesus says they wouldn’t even listen to someone raised from the dead, my hunch is he means himself.”

    I’m sure you would agree that Jesus likely never said any such thing and what you mean is that the author meant that her Jesus said it. I think you are on the right tractate here that the purpose of the pericope is the conclusion of non-believing “The Jews”. I think the purpose though is broader and later than what you have written. It is a later apologetic that “The Jews” did not believe that Jesus was resurrected because that was supposedly consistent with their supposed consistent disbelief of “The Prophets”. The positive Abraham is consistent with orthodox Luke (as opposed to Marcion Luke) so I think it is c. middle second century.


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    • Yes, I mean “Jesus” at the narrative level. At the discourse level, it is the author (or implied author) who is using the words of Jesus to remind the reader of Jesus’ own resurrection, and it assumes the destruction of Jerusalem as a past event.

      The positive Abraham is consistent with orthodox Luke (as opposed to Marcion Luke) so I think it is c. middle second century.

      Could you explain a bit more what you mean here? The parable isn’t significantly different in reconstructions of Marcion’s Gospel.


    • “I’m sure you would agree that Jesus likely never said any such thing and what you mean is that the author meant that her Jesus said it.”

      Do you actually think that Luke was a woman or is this PC grammar-nazism run amock?


  5. As always a very interesting post. Thanks.

    Paul D. wrote:
    “But in Luke’s story, nothing is said of the rich man’s evil deeds or the poor man’s piety that earn them their respective rewards. In fact, it seems to be the rich man’s wealth itself that damns him, and Lazarus’s poverty that earns him comfort.”

    James 5 seems to express a similar thought “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. … You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.”

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  6. One of the most interesting comments I read on another message board was an observation (which supports your general premise about the inheritance being flipped) that the rich man represents Judah based on the wealth of the kingdom and the fact that he had 5 brothers. Of course Judah had 5 blood brothers from his parents Jacob and Leah, along with his 6 half-brothers which make up the 12 tribes.


  7. […] Is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus a Fable about the Afterlife? (Is that in the Bible?) Ein Blog, das ich auf Empfehlung von Max Melzer (@maxmelzer) inzwischen regelmäßig lese. In englischer Sprache und nicht ohne die ein oder andere Spitze gerade gegen die an deutschen Fakultäten vorherrschenden exegetischen Überzeugungen bereitet Paul Davidson hier exegetische Hinweise und Probleme zu einzelnen Bibeltexten auf. „Figuring out the author’s intent with this parable has been a challenge, and many differing opinions have been offered. I’d like to look at some of the sources Luke may have drawn upon, and what message I think the parable is intended to convey. There are also some connections with the other Gospels that might get overlooked by most readers.“ […]


  8. At Prince Khamuas and Si-Osiri, I found:

    Si-[Osiri did] not answer Setme even with one word. Setme marvelled (?) at the words that he had heard, saying: “He will (?) be able to become (?) like the noble spirits as a man of God.

    That made me think of:

    Mark 15:4-5
    4 Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they testify against you!”
    5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate marveled.

    Probably just coincidence.


      • I would think aMark was more likely thinking of:

        Isaiah 53:7
        7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
        yet he did not open his mouth;
        like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
        and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
        so he did not open his mouth.


        • Two quick thoughts.

          1. How does the LXX render the name of Abraham’s steward? Besides the name Lazarus, and maybe the presence of Abraham in paradise, is it certain that a reference to Eliezer is intended in the parable?

          2. The law and prophets routinely condemn Israel’s rich for failing to provide for Israel’s poor. They are duty-bound to do so. While Israel is also to care for the sojourner in their midst, there is no biblical command to care for non-Jews in general. (I would rule out the idea that Jesus intends to criticize Israel for failing to provide for Gentiles at large).

          And so, given this longstanding biblical critique of Israel’s failure in brotherly love, does the fact that Lazarus sits at the rich man’s gate suggest he is a poor Jew, not a Gentile?


        • Thanks for the comment. To address your questions:

          1. The LXX spelling of Eliezer is ᾿Ελιέζερ. However, Josephus renders the names Eliezer and Eleazar as Eleazaros and Lazaros. A study by Tal Ilan shows that the names, which were often conflated, had the following Greek variations among diaspora Jews: Eleazaros, Elazaros, Eleazar, Lazar, Lazaros, Leazaros, Eleaz, Elaios, Iōazaros, Eliezros, Eleiezros, Eliezeros, Eliazer, Eliezaros, Eliezēr, and Lazarus (in Latin). Curiously, the LXX spelling is not attested outside of the LXX. According to Yoder (see below), this leaves Lazar and Lazaros as the only choices for an abbreviated Greek rendition of Eliezer.

          2. Because this is a parable, I think treating it merely as a moral fable to care for the poor is the wrong approach. I remain convinced that (1) the fact that Lazarus is specifically named, unlike all other parables, and (2) only the rich man is explicitly identified as a Jew are both significant keys for interpretation.

          Furthermore, since my article was written, a fascinating article titled “In the Bosom of Abraham: The Name and Role of Poor Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31” by Keith Yoder has come out, arguing for the same connection with Eliezer of Damascus but with far more biblical parallels that strengthen the case. Here’s the abstract:

          This study examines the name and role of the poor man in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. An intertextual reading through the lens of Septuagint Genesis and Job reveals the character of Lazarus to be a seamless weave of suffering Job and Eliezer the Servant of Abraham. The testings, death and burial, thigh oath, and long journeys in Genesis 22–24, involving the closely bound Abraham and Eliezer, with supplementation from sore-covered Job who experienced sequential reversals between rich to poor, converge as the base literary template for Luke’s Abraham and Lazarus.


  9. Mark Goodacre speaks briefly about John’s knowledge of the Synoptics

    Goodacre’s overview of topics concerning John’s knowledge of the Synoptics
    ” Goodacre is currently working on a book on John’s knowledge of the Synoptic Gospels, as well as articles on Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel burial and resurrection accounts.”


    Statement by Paul N. Anderson, who favors the reverse view, that Luke reworked John’s grand miracle tale reducing it to a mere parable: “Goodacre engaged my Bi-Optic Hypothesis, appreciating John’s augmentation of and plausible correction of Mark, as well as some presence of ‘interfluentiality’ between various stages of the traditions. He took issue with my following Lamar Cribbs in seeing Luke’s access to John’s formative tradition, arguing John’s dependence on Luke rather than Luke’s departures from Mark, coinciding (agreeing?) with John.”

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  10. I think its reasonable that the rich man, like his brothers, did not heed Moses and the prophets, which is implied to be the reason the brothers will share the same fate as the rich man


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