2009-07-15 - Summer Questions
2009 #2 ~ Lazarus and the Rich Man
Luke 16:19, 20, "Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, daily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores."
Question: "Is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man a true story or a parable?"
It is an interesting question, because if you read the account in Luke 16:19-31, it sure seems like a true story. There may be elements of truth in it, and there may be aspects of the story that are true, but we have to say that this is one of the parables of Jesus. I was not sure when I was asked, because it is a different kind of parable than the mustard-seed, barren fig tree, or lost sheep. It tells a story, and it is a lot like the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), which is also a parable. I examined some commentaries that I trust, and they all say that it is a parable. Some add that it may have aspects that are true about it. I will add a question here: "What commentaries do I trust?"
The answer is that for each particular book of the Bible, it varies, but there are three whole Bible commentaries that I find myself using often -- besides individual commentaries on various books of the Bible. The first of the three I use is Matthew Henrys (6 volumes). He gives a running examination of Scripture, divided into chunks, maybe 10-15 verses at a time. It is very helpful to get the overall flow. I use Matthew Pooles (3 volumes) also. His commentary also goes through the whole Bible, but he does it verse by verse. This can often have advantages to Matthew Henry, but loses the overall flow that Henry is able to give. The verse-by-verse format can be more useful at times. The other commentary that I frequently use, that is also verse-by-verse, and on the whole Bible, is John Trapps (5 volumes). This is the commentary Charles Spurgeon most used, and while I find it less helpful most of the time, there are times that Trapp gives an insight that everyone else misses, or has a way of saying things that drives the meaning of the text home, like no other can. Those are the three that I find I use the most, that are commentaries on the whole Bible.
We have responded to the question that the account of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable, but there are other things we could also say. A parable is a figurative representation of truth. Men of wisdom, commonly in the past, would speak their wisdom in the form of a parable. We see the Prophet Nathan using a parable in 2 Samuel 12, to reprove David for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. The parable can be other than spoken, as we see in Isaiah 20, where the prophet walked around almost naked and barefoot for three years. We see Jesus taking the use of parables to an unsurpassed level. He often uses parables as allusions to real facts. The parable is not trying to communicate things about the individual matters in the parable itself. The parable is looking beyond itself to a larger truth. Sometimes the actions in the parable are unjust, Luke 16:1-8, but the truths of the parable are beyond elements it uses.
One last comment on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man: Consider that the rich man goes unnamed. It is interesting, because the rich seem always to wish to be remembered, but here is a rich man who lived in splendor every day, but he is not remembered by name. It is the poor and despised man, Lazarus, who is remembered by name. So it is with those who try to build a name for themselves on Earth. The Earth is passing, and we ought not to try to build up a name for ourselves here, but rather in Heaven. It is a side teaching of this parable, showing us whose name is remembered. It is not the one who sought great things for himself. Let us all remember that in 100 years, it is very unlikely that anyone will remember us -- even our name. Only that which is done for Christ will last.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Editor's Note: The questions in this series are stated in the exact form sent by the readers - unedited, unproofed, in order to remain true to the reader's original wording.