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I'm delving into the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 (Luke 16:19-31), and a particular detail caught my attention. In verse 28 (Luke 16:28), the rich man mentions that he has five brothers. This specific number intrigues me, and I wonder about its potential significance.

Is there a deeper meaning or symbolism behind the number five in this context?

Could it be a reference to a particular group of individuals or a notable figure from the scriptures or Jewish tradition? I am interested in any historical, cultural, or scriptural insights that might shed light on why Jesus chose to include this specific number of siblings in the parable.

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    I want to thank you for raising this question. I had not considered it before, and I have enjoyed looking into it. Dec 23, 2023 at 21:57
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    Jesus also uses the number five to count the wise virgins as well as the foolish ones in the parable. Dec 24, 2023 at 4:48
  • @DanFefferman why of course! Thank you for your insightful and well researched answer. I’m actually surprised you’d even mention that but indeed I often struggle to convince people here (and elsewhere) that my questions are genuine. So happy this one helped in some way.
    – grammaplow
    Dec 24, 2023 at 13:58
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    I mentioned it because I learned something new as a result of your asking. I'm also reconsidering the issue of the identity of Luke's patron, Theophilus. I am now open to the possibility that he was indeed the youngest of the high priests descended from Annas - and that Christians may have had important allies among the Sadducees at the time of Luke's writing. Dec 24, 2023 at 14:21

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Several commentators have speculated that the rich man represented the high priest Caiaphas, while his brothers were five high-priests who were, in fact, his brothers-in-law. Josephus lists these brothers as sons of Annanas, Caiaphas' father-in-law, who is called Annas in the NT. Moreover, according to these scholars, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is directly connected to the story of the raising of Lazarus, both because of the coincidence of names and because these high priests (as Sadducees) denied the resurrection. The hellish fate of the rich man, of course, is connected to Caiaphas' role in the death of Jesus in this scenario.

Arguments include:

  1. The rich man is said to be "clothed in purple and fine linen" (Luke 16.19). This is a description of the high priestly garments, according to Exodus 39.27-29.

  2. Caiaphas had five brothers[-in-law], all sons of his father-in-law Annas and all of whom would go on to become high priests themselves. Thus they were both his "brother" high priests and his brothers-in-law.

  3. In Jesus' story, Lazarus was laid "at the rich man's gate" (Luke 16.20). This could refer to the gate that guarded the temple. Perhaps not coincidentally, Luke mentions another beggar at the temple gate in Acts 3.2, 10.

  4. The parable is thought to have close ties to the story told in John 11, in which Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. If so, the parable presents a supreme irony. In John, Caiaphas sought to retaliate against Jesus the aftermath of Lazarus' resurrection. (11.49ff.) Also, as a Sadducee (Acts 5.17), Caiaphas denied the resurrection.

  5. Abraham's reply to the rich man also supports this scenario: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." (Lk. 16:32) In John's account, Jesus indeed raised Lazarus from the dead and, in the same chapter, Caiaphas expressed skepticism regarding Jesus' supposed power.

Conclusion: whether this explanation is correct or not, it certainly raises an intriguing possibility: namely that the five brothers of the rich man symbolized the historical brothers-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas - all high priests themselves. If so, the rich man would be the very man who convicted Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65) and was most responsible for his death. Thus, the story represents not only a vindication of the righteous poor, but a condemnation of Caiaphas and the wealthy dynasty of Sadducean high priests related to him.


NOTE: Writers who have expressed this hypothesis include Larry Wilson, Taylor Marshall, Steven Cox, L.T. Dahn and others. Some commentators see one of Caiaphas' historical brothers-in-law, the high priest Theophilis, as identical with the patron of that name addressed by Luke at the beginning of his gospel. If so, Luke (or Jesus), hints that Theophilis can avoid Caiaphas' fate only if he repents.

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This is yet another of Jesus’ parables which condemn the leadership of the Jews. The rich man was dressed in purple, signifying royalty, and fine linen, signifying the priesthood. Both Judah, the royal tribe, and Levi, the priestly tribe had five brothers. The reversal of fortune occurred when the Jewish leadership rejected Jesus and had Him crucified. The temple curtain was torn and entrance to fellowship with God came through faith, not the law. Lazarus had faith, like Abraham. The Jewish leaders clung to the law and their rituals. The chasm was the rich man’s inability to accept Christ and Lazarus couldn’t cross it because it represented rejecting Christ and returning to the law.

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    Thank you for your input! However, it is best to reference your answer with Scriptures, to make it easier for the readers to see the resources. This would tie "the 5 brothers" in with the Answer more clearly. Keep studying the Bible; it will bring you closer to Jesus!
    – ray grant
    Apr 4 at 20:43

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