Luke 16:19-31

One of the most extensive passages on hell is found in Luke 16:19-31, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. On this page we will seek to accumulate as much relevant information and as many worthwhile perspectives as possible to allow us to understand most fully this particular parable and its implications for our understanding of hell.

A.B. Bruce:

  • “In the teaching of Christ the unpardonable sins are Inhumanity and Implacability. It is the selfish worldling who cares for nothing but his own comfort that goes to the place of woe; it is the unforgiving man whom the Father in heaven does not forgive.” -pg. 376.
  • “In the interpretation of this parable much depends on the view taken of the connection between it and the preceding portion of the chapter in which it occurs. If the connection is supposed to be with the immediately preceding context, then the main drift of the parable will be found in the concluding verses, in which the importance of Moses and the prophets as means of grace is emphasised.[1]” – pg. 378.
  • “If, on the other hand, these miscellaneous observations contained in vers. 14-18 be passed over as a kind of parenthesis interrupting the train of thought, and the present parable be connected with the one going before, then we shall discover the didactic significance not in the appendix, but in the main body of the story viewed as a fictitious history invented to illustrate the moral with which the parable of the unrighteous steward ends. We have no hesitation in deciding for th latter view.” – pg. 378.
  • “Some have in it a proclamation…of the general doctrine of future rewards and punishments for the good and evil deeds of the present life, with sundry items of information concerning the states of the saved and the lost respectively, the most momentous being that the separation between the two classes is absolute and final–the dialogue between Abraham and Dives having for its chief aim to proclaim this fact. And it is is quite conceivable that our Lord might have spoken a parable bearing on such a topic. but then in such a parable we should have expected….those…future lots…more clearly indicated than they are in the one before us, in which Dives, though rich and living luxuriously, is not represented as wicked, and Lazarus, though poor and spending a wretched existence, is not represented as pious.[2]” – pg. 379.
  • “…it was not to teach…truths generally believed…that Christ spake in parables, but to express doctrine more original, more distinctively Christian, more pecular to the kingdom of God.” – pg. 384.
  • “Lazarus represents opportunity for the exercise of humanity. That is the chief if not the sole purpose for which he appears in the first scene.” – pg. 385.
  • “He [Jesus] affirms the existence of opportunities of the most obtrusive sort, forcing themselves on men’s attention, and not to be escaped; not needing to be sought out, but seeking them out and compelling them to realise their responsibilities.” – pg. 386.
  • “What He [Jesus] desired to do in the present instance was to hold up the picture of an average man of the world, living a self-centered life, coming utterly short of the true ideal, while not without such small virtues as men of the world ordinarily practise.” – pg. 387.

Bob Utley:

  • This is a highly unusual parable b/c it includes no introduction, has no explicit moral application, and names a specific individual. – pg. 216.
  • “…the context demands that it be interpreted in light of vv. 8b-13.” – pg. 216.
  • “Calling it a parable does not imply that it is not true to reality, but one cannot force the details to give believers theological answers in the area of the intermediate, disembodied state of the dead or a description of hell (because the text has “hades”).”[3] – pg. 216.
  • “It is not stated why the poor one is accepted and the wealthy rejected, but in the larger context it is related to how they used their wealth (or lack of it). Their spiritual lives were not revealed by the physical circumstances (cf. Deut. 28 vs. Job and Ps. 73). The rich man’s lack of concern for the poor illustrated his selfish, earthly priorities.” – pg. 216.
  • “This is a parable, not a teaching passage on heaven or how one gets there! This parable has nothing to say about heaven or hell. It uses the concept of sheol or hades (the holding place of the dead which the rabbis said was divided into a righteous section called “paradise” and a wicked section called tartarus).”” – pg. 217.
  • “Abraham’s bosom was an idiom for eating next to Abraham at a feast. This would be a reference to a welcoming meal for Jews into the righteous side of hades (paradise, cf. 23:43).” – pg. 217.
  • “The only vocabulary that biblical authors had was earthly. The Bible does not discuss or describe the afterlife, either heaven or hell, in specific terms, probably because they are beyond our ability to comprehend. The best thing about heaven is not its splendor but the presence of the Triune God and the possibility of fellowship with Him.” – pg. 217.
  • “16:26 This verse expresses the pain and surprise that many will feel when they discover who is with God and who is not! It also denotes the permanency of the division at death (“fixed,” PERFECT PASSIVE [implication by God] INDICATIVE). There are no second chances. Jesus is surely addressing this to Pharisees who trusted so confidently in their supposed religious standing
    with God.”” – pg. 218.
  • “This is the only place in the NT that speaks of the torment of the unbelieving dead before Judgment Day. Since the details of parables are often just part
    of the story, one cannot use parables as the only source for a biblical doctrine.” – pg. 218.

William Barclay:

  • “The sin of Dives was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted him as part of the landscape and simply thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger while he wallowed in luxury.” – pg. 214.
  • “It is a terrible warning that the sin of Dives was not that he did wrong things, but that he did nothing.” – pg. 214.

Resources:

  • Bruce, A.B. The Parabolic Teaching of Christ: A Systematic and Critical Study of the Parables of Our Lord. New York, NY: A.C. Armstrong & Son, 1886. Chapter VIII, “Dives and Lazarus, and the Unmerciful Servant; or, Inhumanity and Implacability the Unpardonable Sins”, pg. 376ff.
  • Utley, Bob. Luke. Bible Lessons International. Notes: Very useful commentary, fairly extensive, intermediate in technical detail.
  • Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975. Notes: Very short commentary, not particularly useful in understanding the conception of post-mortem punishment in this passage.
  1. [1]The spelling of emphasized is maintained from the original.
  2. [2]I find this argument lacking in merit. Christ oftentimes used instances in which individuals were not particularly of such and such a character to demonstrate (a) the horrific nature of sin and (b) the abundance of God’s grace. See for example, Jesus’ warnings (Matt. 5:21ff) against being thrown into hell for saying demeaning words to another.
  3. [3]I must admit that I was quite surprised upon reading Utley’s interpretation of this passage. His boldness in stating that the passage is parabolic and not literal in its depiction of hell is surprising for someone with his conservative background and credentials.

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