To be or not to be, that is the question. Not life however but instead a parable.
A frequented target for the defense of an eternal place of punishment for the wicked is found in what seems a pretty straightforward story.
Those who use this text for this purpose though are met with a challenge from those who question the author’s intended genre.
Is the story Jesus told of a certain rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus the recount of an actual event, or is it a parable put forth with meaning hidden to the uncircumcised heart?
This is a very important question, for the answer determines whether Jesus is acknowledging an actual eternal place of torment with His words, or communicating another symbolic Kingdom truth.
It is in the sixteenth chapter of Luke’s account of the gospel where we find Jesus sharing of these two men who both die and awaken, one at Abraham’s side, and one in great torment in Hades.
W. Edward Bedore of the Berean Bible Society, a proponent of this being an actual event makes these points:
1. Parables are true-to-life, but hypothetical, illustrative stories. The names of specific individuals are never given in them, but here the names of three men are given; Lazarus, Abraham, and Moses. Also mentioned are the “prophets” who were also real people. (“Moses and the prophets” is a general term for the whole Old Testament that refers to its human authors).
2. It does not have the normal form of a parable with an introduction, analogy story, and application. Instead it is in the form of the narration of a real-life story given for the purpose of illustration.
3. It does not use the principle of comparison in a way that is characteristic of parables.
4. The discussion between the rich man and Abraham is not consistent with the parabolic style found in the Scriptures.
5. It seems obvious that in relating this particular story when He did, the Lord Jesus was using a real-life account that many of those listening to Him that day could readily relate to it because they actually knew, or at least knew of, the two men involved. The rich man’s brothers may have even been in the audience.
There are those who strongly disagree with Mr. Bedore’s conclusion. These would argue that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable because:
1. It is included with other parables. The theme is the same as the previous parable. It is a parable about unjust stewards wrongly handling the riches of God.
2. It was told to a crowd. When speaking to crowds, Matthew tells his readers that Jesus always spoke in parables (13:34).
3. Abraham nor Lazarus could be in Heaven. Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man (John 3:13).”
4. The immediate audience, even Jesus’ closest friends, would never have interpreted this story as about two men actually dying and waking up in heaven and hell. Through the lens of Jewish history and theology, this parable was Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ accusation, “This man receives and eats with sinners (Luke 15:2),” and the condemning words against them, “The Pharisees were lovers of money (Luke 16:14).”
Point four from the latter list interests me enough to pursue it a little more. Just as ccragamuffin recently shared, “It is of great importance to hear what the original recipients heard.” It may be taking advantage of one of Alice’s rabbit holes, but what could this story mean if it is a parable, as some suggest?