I'm investigating all the avenues that explain the story as a parable and not a real event.

One thought that occurred to me is that an early scribe added Lazarus to the story to point to similarities with the story in John about Lazarus's resurrection. Immediately after, the Pharisees plot to kill Jesus, rather than believe.

What is the evidence to suggest that the story of Lazarus and the Rich man is close to the original? What is the evidence to suggest that it has been altered?

Reference: Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)


1 Answer 1


There are so many similarities between the stories of Lazarus in Luke and John that you are right to recognise that there is evidence of copying. The usual scholarly position is that the story in Luke is original to Luke and that the author of John was inspired by this parable and by the Lukan story of Mary and Martha.

Even if the name 'Lazarus' were a later addition to Luke's parable, we would still have Mary and Martha, who appear only in Luke and John, in the first case as poor villagers (Luke 10:38-40, including that Martha alone was overworked serving the guests) who were friends of Jesus and in the second case as wealthy residents in the town of Bethany (John 11:1-2, cf 12:1 including that she anointed Jesus' feet with a pound of spikenard, very costly) and sisters of Lazarus. It would not be plausible to say that they also were added later to Luke's Gospel.

Keith L. Yoder, from University of Massachusetts, demonstrates that the relationship between these texts was was literary in origin and cannot be explained by shared oral traditions, here. He concludes with a finding that on literary grounds the relationship is best understood as running from Luke into John. Although it is theoretically possible, although unlikely, that Lazarus was added to Luke's parable, the name was certainly there before the author of John's Gospel wrote his account.

  • That last sentence is probably the most helpful here. I thought, also, perhaps that the whole Lazarus resurrection story in John was a fabrication or at least exaggeration, but I didn't want to offend anybody here. You are saying that some scholars, even among believers, believe it is a fabrication? It does seem a bit Gnostic to me.
    – user2055
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 22:23
  • @fredsbend Although they rarely say so, it seems to me that many biblical scholars are not (no longer?) believers - perhaps they spend too much time reading the Bible. Of course, many others are, and I see no difference in position between scholars who are believers and non-believers. As to John's Gospel being a bit Gnostic, that is a common scholarly view. It is thought that the original Johannine community was mildly gnostic before the split identified in 1 John and 2 John. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 22:33
  • The more I study the less I believe. Or rather, I'm at a state where the more I study the more I'm affirmed in my non-belief.
    – user2055
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 23:22

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