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Rich man and Lazarus

It has been generally argued by Christadelphians that Jesus, in Luke 16:19-31, is deliberately using false ideas in a sort of parody. Truth be told, we are often reluctant -- when preaching to others -- to be drawn into a discussion of the "rich man and Lazarus." Our reluctance testifies to the difficulties inherent in this approach, and maybe also a little discomfort at the thought of such a large portion of the words of Jesus being -- fundamentally, even if ironically or sarcastically -- erroneous!

In the absence of any more reasonable explanation, this approach would have to do. But perhaps there is a "better way" to read the parable.

Watch the punctuation

First of all, some background. The Greek language has a system of punctuation marks somewhat similar to ours. Originally, this was not so; there was no punctuation, and moreover, the writing was not separated into words. ("The oldest Greek manuscripts had no chapter and verse divisions, no punctuation marks and hence no separation into sentences, and not even any separation between words. All they have are line after line, column after column, page after page, through a whole book of the New Testament": Earle, "NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation"). Punctuation marks were first introduced in the days of Jerome (c. 400 AD), who translated the Bible into Latin.
The best-known example of such "repunctuation," at least to Christadelphians, is Luke 23:43, which the KJV translates: "Verily I say unto thee, Today thou shalt be with me in paradise," but a much more appropriate translation might be "I say to you today (or even, 'Today I say unto you'), you shall be with me in paradise."

But other instances may be found. For example, the KJV translates Luke 16:22,23 as: "The rich man also died and was buried. And in hell he..." But William Tyndale (1525) translated this as: "The rich man died and was buried in hades." Likewise, even the Douay (Roman Catholic) version (1582) reads: "The rich man died also, and was buried in hell."

The Greek also has a "kai" ("and") between "buried" and "in Hades." So perhaps the most literal translation would be: "The rich man died and was buried, EVEN in Hades" (the "kai" used for emphasis, and here translated "even"). Or, alternatively, "The rich man died and was buried AND was in Hades" -- i.e., "he died and remained in Hades" -- until -- when? The resurrection, of course!

The repositioning of this one period (English "full stop") changes, at a single stroke, the whole tenor of the parable. Now it is no longer Jesus' (ironic, but also false) description of what happens immediately after death. Rather, it is his description -- in a perfectly Biblical fashion -- of what will happen some considerable time after death and burial, when he returns to raise, judge, and either reward or punish all the responsible.

A couple of other points may clarify this:

V 22: "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side (or 'Abraham's bosom')." "Abraham's bosom" is supposedly a specific place in the underworld of Jewish mythology, where immediately after death the "immortal souls" (!) of the righteous are joined together with those of Abraham and all the faithful fathers.
We know already that Jesus did not believe this. The question is: did he speak in a parable as though he did?

Consider an alternative: (1) First, the phrase could mean: "the beggar died, and (in the resurrection) the angels carried him to Abraham's bosom." (2) Second, to lie in another's bosom is to occupy a special place of favor at a meal, something like a "guest of honor" -- as John did with Jesus in the upper room (John 13:23). There are, in this same section of Luke, several references to eating meals (cp. Luke 13:28-30; 14:7-24; 15:16,17,23,28), so the idea of Lazarus reclining at a meal with Abraham is perfectly suitable to the overall context.

Lazarus enjoying a meal with Abraham provides a striking contrast: in his previous life, he was denied even the crumbs that might fall from the rich man's table (Luke 16: 20), but now (ie, after the resurrection?!) he sits down to a sumptuous banquet (cp Luke 13:29! In fact, the whole of Luke 13:24-30 is remarkably parallel to Luke 16:19-31, seen in a "repunctuated" light: proud Jews cast out of the kingdom, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, while Gentiles and "sinners" are welcomed in.)

Likewise, being previously denied access to the "table," Lazarus had been treated as a "Gentile," an unclean "dog" (cp Mat 15:27). His closest companions were other "dogs," who licked his sores (Luke 16:21). These sores were not bound up, as were the wounds of the man who fell among thieves (Luke 10:34). But later (v 22 here) they will be!

V 23: "In hell (Hades) -- (the preceding goes with v 22; a new sentence begins here) -- When he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus in his bosom." Very significantly, the "hell" here is Hades, not Gehenna. Hades (literally, "the unseen place") is equivalent to the Hebrew sheol, the grave! Throughout the New Testament it is invariably Gehenna that is associated with the fire of eternal destruction at the last day (Mat 5:2,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; Jam 3:6). Conversely, Hades -- if we set aside Luke 16:23 for the moment -- is never associated with burning and destruction, but always with the grave (Mat 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; Acts 2:27,31; 1Co 15:55; Rev 1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14)!
Therefore, to separate Hades/grave from torment/Gehenna, as is done by the insertion of a period (and an implied passage of time between death and resurrection), is to give both Hades and Gehenna their proper meanings as in other New Testament usage. First comes the grave, and only after a resurrection and judgment is there (the possibility of) the judgment of Gehenna!

"Torment" is the Greek "basanos". It is a word the meaning of which seems to have developed, or evolved, over time: (a) first of all, it was the black rock an assayer would use to test whether gold or silver coins were real or forgeries (he did this by rubbing the coin against the stone, and then checking the color); (b) second, by implication, it came to mean checking any calculation in a financial transaction; and from thence to (c) any type of testing; and finally (d) testing by means of torture. With basanos and related words the general concept would seem to be that of judgment, with perhaps the accompaniment of pain.
Here the "torment" of the rich man would be the self-inflicted bitterness and recrimination of knowing that it is too late to set right one's past life, and the witnessing (for some brief time after resurrection and judgment) of the beginnings of God's glorious kingdom, knowing that one will be excluded.

Also, the "looked up" of v 23 is, literally, to lift up one's eyes. Especially, with reference to Abraham, it suggests one's eyes surveying the land of promise, with a view to the kingdom (Gen 13:14; Deu 3:27).

A suggested summary

With all the above in mind, and with the suggested punctuation, the parable might now be summarized thusly:

"There was a rich, finely-robed, well-fed man -- who ignored the needs of the poor, especially a beggar named Lazarus. But after the beggar died (and was resurrected!), the angels carried him to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried in the grave. Then, later (after his own resurrection!) he was in torment, as he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side, reclining in his bosom.
"So the rich man called to 'Father Abraham,' begging for mercy. But Abraham reminded him that in his previous life he received good things, while Lazarus received only bad things, and now their fortunes were reversed. And now also, their lives being ended, it was too late to make amends!

"(Returning from this vision of the future, back to the present...) Seeing now that such is the fate of all who live their lives in ease and disregard for the mercies of God, the rich man begs that his family be warned. 'Cannot someone return from the dead to bring them to repentance?' But Abraham replies that even the resurrection of the dead (even, we might suppose, the resurrection of the Son of God!) will not be sufficient!"

The conclusion: While Jesus may well be referring in passing to the (erroneous) doctrine of "Abraham's Bosom," his own direct teaching in the parable may now be seen to be perfectly in harmony with the truth of the gospel. It is as if Jesus were saying:

"Yes, there is a place known as 'Abraham's bosom,' but it will be the table (the 'Marriage supper of the Lamb') in the resurrection and the kingdom of God, and you Pharisees and Sadducees, unless you repent, will have no part in it."

And, "Yes, there will be fiery torment for the wicked after death, but it will not be in a shadowy underworld. Instead, it will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth involved in seeing others --especially those whom they held to be unclean and sinners -- enter into the resurrectional kingdom, while they themselves are thrust out! And then, ultimately, it will be the fire of eternal destruction -- the 'second death.' "

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