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What’s the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man All About?

In my previous post I summarized an Egyptian story about a rich man and a poor man who both die, with the poor man having a fantastic afterlife and the rich man suffering horrible torture.  The poor man was righteous and so was rewarded, the rich man was a sinner and so was punished.  Is that what the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 is also all about – rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked?  So that it’s a story that tries to stress that you need to live a good life or you’ll pay the consequences later?

It is indeed possible that this biblical story also contains an implicit teaching about righteous living.   But since, unlike the Egyptian tale, this parable says nothing about sin and righteousness, some interpreters have suggested different ways of understanding it.

Maybe the problem with the rich man in Luke’s parable is not that he is generally wicked, but that, more specifically, he hasn’t used his wealth in order to help those who were poor.  That would be suggested by the fact that Lazarus lay right outside the man’s gate, starving to death, while the man feasted every day in great luxury.  The man had no heart.  In support of this view is the fact that the rich man knew all about famished Lazarus.  When he is in Hades, he calls him by name.

Moreover, this understanding makes sense of the rest of the story.  The rich man is clearly a Jew: he calls Abraham “father,” and it is implied that he, like his brothers, should have paid attention to “Moses and the prophets.”  The Law of Moses tells people to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).   The rich man allowed Lazarus to starve to death when he easily could have done something about it.

Other scholars have argued a more …

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Mapping the Diversity of Earliest Christianity
The Fate of the Rich and the Poor: Another Story



  1. tompicard
    tompicard  October 13, 2018

    i am trying to make sense of

    “it should be clear that the historical Jesus himself did not tell the story. . .. The ending itself is the dead giveaway. ”

    maybe I am dense but it isn’t clear to me

    Abraham said ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’

    Doesn’t that mean that resurrection from the dead and/or being witness to a resurrection form the dead [even if that resurrected person is Jesus Christ] will have NO BEARING on whether someone is saved or NOT.

    Thus implying the story was created by Christians after Easter?
    wouldn’t it be the opposite?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 14, 2018

      No, it means that if an individual comes back from teh dead, many people will still not believe. That makes sense only in a context where teh readers believe/think an individual *has* come back from the dead and yet many do not still believe — i.e. in a post-Easter context.

  2. Avatar
    Eric  October 19, 2018

    “Poor in spirit”

    I have never understood what this is supposed to mean.

    Poorly endowed with personal spirit/holiness? or with the Holy spirit (I know the gospels aren’t relying on later concepts of the trinity, but some kind of immanent spirit)

    Poor, but richly endowed with personal spirit, of the Holy Ghost himself?

    As odd as this phrasing is, I don;t htink I’ve ever heard it even considered in a sermon or what have you.

    Maybe meaning is clear in the Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2018

      It’s usually taken to mean something like “humble” or “meek” or “having something other than an exalted view of oneself”

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