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There are people who understand this text to express Jesus warning the hearers of the potential torment of the lost directly following their death.

1. Explain why that is, or isn't the intended purpose.

2. What specifically is the intended purpose?

The Rich Man and Lazarus — LUKE 16:

19 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And [r]besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Potential Inclusions:

  • Is Jesus telling an actual occurrence or is it just a parable for teaching purposes?
  • Do you know of any historically pertinent information surrounding Luke 16:19-31 that sheds light on the interpretation of this text?
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Did you read that book by Welch, the link to which I gave you? If not, he is talking there about it, challenging the whole point of validity of this story about Lazarus and the rich man. Or... are you asking this question because you've just read that book and want to get a broader scope of views? – brilliant Feb 1 '14 at 7:25
No I haven't read it but plan to check it out. What do you mean "challenging the validity"? I am asking the question because I want people to defend there view against the text! I believe for some views to hold water they have to do away with this text. Maybe you should give an answer and defend your view, and include some of the book. Take a stab at it - I challenge you. – JLB Feb 1 '14 at 7:33
@JLB Be careful not to bring theological and cultural assumptions to the text, namely that Hades and heaven are separate places (and the corresponding ideas about what they are). The notions of 'heaven' and 'hell' in Western culture were foreign in the mindset of first-century Judea, and thus reading these ideas back into the text is anachronistic. Note that both men went to Hades in this passage. Also note that death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:14. – Dan Feb 1 '14 at 9:04
@JLB and I know I should answer the question rather than throw controversial fodder into the comments :P - if I only had more time! – Dan Feb 1 '14 at 9:12
"What do you mean "challenging the validity"?" - If I got it right, he says there that this whole story about Lazarus and the rich man is a kind of product of a wrong belief that Jews used to hold (he uses Flavius Josephus' words as a proof of that), but of which no part of the OT is supportive, so Jesus used that wrong-belief story as a contrast to what He was teaching. Same approach is for the parable of the unjust steward earlier in the same chapter. – brilliant Feb 1 '14 at 9:26

I may not fully understand your question, and it's difficult to parse what you're seeking, but the evidence would indicate that this story was actually a "stock trope" that Jesus leveraged to teach his audience about how to value people above possessions. In the below answer I attempt to address (Luke's) "authorial intent" in the way that he organized the material (with other parables) as well as a potential explanation as to the origins of the trope that Jesus leveraged.

The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Specific Context

Analysis of the context of this section of Luke would indicate that this parable at the end of chapter 16 is the conclusion of a “parabolic discourse” begun in chapter 15, which contains the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost (Prodigal) Son.[1] Each parable highlights the value of people (specifically those who are labeled as outcasts) in God’s eyes and is delivered in the presence of the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling against him (Luke 15:1-2). With the parable of the Steward, Jesus addresses his disciples but is then ridiculed by the Pharisees because they were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). In response, Jesus begins to address the Pharisees regarding the Law and chips away at the Pharisees’ claim to strict observance. He briefly addresses divorce and then moves on to the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Apart from the context of the parable there is another interesting literary feature surrounding it. There is a noted shift within the text itself from narrative (vv. 19-23), to dialogue (vv. 24-31) as well as a notable change in the perspective of the rich man from concern for himself to concern for his family in verse 27. These shifts may indicate transition within the parable from a common folk story that would have been known by the audience to Jesus’ unique teaching on the characters’ reversal of fortune.

The potential origins of this story have been widely discussed. Parallels between Lucian’s Gallus and Caplus have been identified, but it is difficult to force the satirist’s purpose in his writing upon Luke’s story.[2] Another common suggestion is that of a Jewish folk story of the Torah scholar and the tax-collector whose deaths occur nearly simultaneously. The parallels between Luke and this rabbinic story are closer in the post-death accounts of torment and desire for relief than in the characters themselves. Instead of wealth, this Jewish tale focuses on the relative piety of the scholar and tax-collector. Finally, there is an Egyptian tale which focuses on the interactions and fate of a rich and poor man whose ultimate fates parallel those of Luke’s story. However, the character of these fates is decidedly different than that of Luke’s story. While each of these stories feature a reversal, none of them parallel each other with any significance and the importance of identifying the origin is debatable. However, those in the audience who were familiar with both the Egyptian and Jewish tales would have been able to identify them by their distinctive parts in Jesus’ parable.[3]

(excerpt from my master's thesis)

[1] Olubiyi Adeniyi Adewale, “An Afro-Sociological Application of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31),” Black Theology 4 (2006): 27.

[2] Outi Lehtipuu, The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 33-34.

[3] Ibid, 35-37. Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 203-4; Adewale, 29.

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Purpose of the parable

The story of the rich man and Lazarus appears in Luke's Gospel directly following the parable of the Unjust Steward, demonstrating by association and by its content that the purpose was to warn against the love of wealth.

As a footnote to this story, the New American Bible (NAB) says:

12 The parable of the rich man and Lazarus again illustrates Luke's concern with Jesus' attitude toward the rich and the poor.

Historically pertinent information

This was not an actual occurrence, as can be seen by the fact that the parable has close parallels to the rabbinic parable of Bar Majan, which does seem to have been the source for this parable. If it is possible the Jewish parable is no older than Luke's Gospel, it would be technically possible that the Bar Majan story was derived from Luke but unlikely, whereas the gospels made much use of Jewish traditions. The Jewish parable is said to have evolved from the ancient Egyptian story of El-Azar.

Douglas Welker Kennard (Messiah Jesus, page 93) says this parable is similar to the Jewish parable of a rich tax collector named Bar Majan and a poor teacher of Law who reversed fortunes in the afterlife. Kacy Madsen ('The Rich Man and Lazarus') summarises the story of Bar Majan and its Egyptian source.

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+1 for your information about the source of the parable. I was actually looking for that and about to ask a question specifically about the parable's source or format as I had also heard it was a common type of story. Back to this question though, i don't really get how the story is just about wealth. I would think having the knowledge that the story was a common one used and known by the Pharisees would strengthen the conclusion that Jesus was using the story against them specifically for their unbelief. He often twists things against them like that. – Joshua Feb 13 at 14:22

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