Luke Chapter 16:19-31

This section will conclude the chapter. It is the story of Dives and Lazarus, which is another that is unique to Luke. This is to say, the author of this story was most likely Luke. Why ascribe it to some vague “L source” when we have a very capable author at hand? Well, there is one answer: because if we attribute this to Luke, then we are denying that Jesus actually told this story, and that it was made up after Jesus died. If that happened, then who’s to say that other stories weren’t made up after Jesus died? That opens a whole can of worms: if Jesus didn’t say half the things he said, can we call ourselves Christians? Possibly– probably?– not. Obviously, that carries some grave and enormous implications. Hence the unwillingness to debate Q in a true, scholarly fashion. Hence, what I am doing here, the process I am using is darn close to unique, even though it’s basic historiography, stuff i was doing as an undergrad in Greek & Roman history. And the parallels are strong: limited original source material, and so the need to milk every word for implications. Such basic analysis, as far as I can tell, simply is not done in Biblical Studies.

As for the text itself, at first glance there has been a break in the continuity in the theme of the chapter. We started with the story of the Wicked Steward, which led into the pronouncement being unable to serve both God and Mammon. Now we get to Dives & Lazarus, which is a great cautionary tale to illustrate what happens when we choose Mammon. So the break came in the verses covered in the previous section, Verses 14-18. In fact, Verse 18, prohibiting divorce, was so far off-topic that I completely forgot to comment on it in the last section; I ended with Verse 17. Now we return to the true them of the chapter.


19 Ἄνθρωπος δέ τις ἦν πλούσιος, καὶ ἐνεδιδύσκετο πορφύραν καὶ βύσσον εὐφραινόμενος καθ’ ἡμέραν λαμπρῶς.

20 πτωχὸς δέ τις ὀνόματι Λάζαρος ἐβέβλητο πρὸς τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ εἱλκωμένος

21 καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν χορτασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τοῦ πλουσίου: ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες ἐρχόμενοι ἐπέλειχον τὰ ἕλκη αὐτοῦ.

22 ἐγένετο δὲ ἀποθανεῖν τὸν πτωχὸν καὶ ἀπενεχθῆναι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἰς τὸν κόλπον Ἀβραάμ: ἀπέθανεν δὲ καὶ ὁ πλούσιος καὶ ἐτάφη.

“There was a certain man who was wealthy, and he dressed in purple and linen, and he feasted sumptuously every day. (20) There was a certain poor man named Lazaros, covered in sores, who was thrown out of the gate (21) and he yearned to eat from the scraps from the table of the rich man. But the dogs coming licked his sores. (22) It happened that the poor man died and carried him to the bosom of Abraham; the rich man died too, and was buried.

A bit of a cliff-hanger there; what will happen to the rich man?

Note that the poor man has a name, but the rich man does not. Hence, this is usually referred to as the story of Dives and Lazarus. “Dives” is the Latin word for “rich”, so it’s “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. Why does the wealthy man not have a name? He can certainly afford one. Luke made an editorial choice on this. You’ll have to ask him. While we’re talking about names, why does one suppose that John chose Lazaros as the name of the man Jesus raised from the dead? It’s not like he actually existed, so that this was actually his name. Is this some sort of homage to Luke? Also, note that I’m being fairly lax with my translation; this is a case where, for the most part, the words don’t make that much difference. It’s a story. There may come a point where it does, and I will point this out, but it’s a story. The lesson lies in the moral, rather than in the story itself. And nice detail about the dogs coming to lick his sores. Yuck. But gives you a good sense of the situation, no? This is why I say Luke was a novelist. He’s got an eye for those sorts of details to drive a point home.

19 Homo quidam erat dives et induebatur purpura et bysso et epulabatur cotidie splendide.

20 Quidam autem pauper nomine Lazarus iacebat ad ianuam eius ulceribus plenus

21 et cupiens saturari de his, quae cadebant de mensa divitis; sed et canes veniebant et lingebant ulcera eius.

22 Factum est autem ut moreretur pauper et portaretur ab angelis in sinum Abrahae; mortuus est autem et dives et sepultus est.

23 καὶ ἐν τῷ ἅ|δῃ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις, ὁρᾷ Ἀβραὰμ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν καὶ Λάζαρον ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ.

24 καὶ αὐτὸς φωνήσας εἶπεν, Πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἐλέησόν με καὶ πέμψον Λάζαρον ἵνα βάψῃ τὸ ἄκρον τοῦ δακτύλου αὐτοῦ ὕδατος καὶ καταψύξῃ τὴν γλῶσσάν μου, ὅτι ὀδυνῶμαι ἐν τῇ φλογὶ ταύτῃ.

25 εἶπεν δὲ Ἀβραάμ, Τέκνον, μνήσθητι ὅτι ἀπέλαβες τὰ ἀγαθά σου ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου, καὶ Λάζαρος ὁμοίως τὰ κακά: νῦν δὲ ὧδε παρακαλεῖται σὺ δὲ ὀδυνᾶσαι.

“And in Hades, lifting up his eyes, he being in torment, he saw Abraham from the blessed, and Lazaros in his bosoms. (23) And he, calling out, said ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazaros in order to dip the top of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, that I am tormented in this flame’. But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you received the good things in your lifetime, and Lazaros (received) equally the bad. Now, he is comforted and you are tormented’.

Well. How about that? This is probably the first description of Hell; at least, the first to give us the damned-eye view of what goes on. We have had references to the fiery pit, and other such allusions, but nothing quite this graphic. Admittedly, there may be this sort of description in some of the Apocryphal writings that date to the inter-testamental period, or the last/first couple of centuries either side of the start of the Common Era. There was a lot of stuff written, and I do not claim to be familiar with most of it. But this is the first we’ve encountered this in the canonical works of either Testament.

Now that is all very academic. Much more interesting is the attitude of Father Abraham. A bit cold, no? So much for a merciful God, eh? Which causes me to speculate if we don’t have Abraham standing in for God for precisely that reason: because Abraham can be a bit standoffish in a way that God cannot be. Of course, this is the same device used for Job: it’s not God, but the adversary who proposes the trial. Or the Adversary. This outsources the bad stuff away from God, so that the bad stuff can be blamed on Not-God. Of course, this involves a certain amount of sleight-of-hand, since an all-powerful God can prevent its agents from doing harm. That such a God chooses to allow harm indicates that the harm is part of the will of this God. The alternative is to consider a Principal of evil to have an identity separate from the Principal of good, but this implies that God is not all-powerful. There is no logical alternative. Of course, one can argue that God is not bound by logic, but then we have, essentially, a kosmos based on divine whim. This actually creates more problems than it solves. At least logically. 

One point that seems a bit odd. At first, in Verse 22, Lazaros is carried to the “bosom” of Abraham. Then, the second time, in Verse 23,  Dives sees Lazaros in the “bosoms” of Abraham. How we go from singular to plural is a bit beyond me. Checking the Latin, it is singular in both cases. That’s part of the interest here. The second is the Greek word, κόλπος. If pronounced aloud, perhaps you can see how it’s the root of our word ‘gulf’. The basic sense is that the kolpos is the hollow space between the breasts. From there, the idea was transferred to mean most any other similar hollow area, such as the fold in a gown or a robe. From there, we transfer it to a landform, the hollow between two extensions of land that hold an inlet– a ‘gulf’– of the sea. Checking the Latin, it’s sinus; yes, just like the areas above your eyes that get clogged. The base sense of the Latin is the fold of a toga around the breast; hence, the bosom. It is also a geographical term meaning– wait for it– ‘gulf’. If you look at a map of the moon, you can find the Sinus Medii, the Gulf of the Middle. The term would also be found on an old map of earth, like, 16th Century old, where the labels are in Latin. 

23 Et in inferno elevans oculos suos, cum esset in tormentis, videbat Abraham a longe et Lazarum in sinu eius.

24 Et ipse clamans dixit: “Pater Abraham, miserere mei et mitte Lazarum, ut intingat extremum digiti sui in aquam, ut refrigeret linguam meam, quia crucior in hac flamma”.

25 At dixit Abraham: “Fili, recordare quia recepisti bona tua in vita tua, et Lazarus similiter mala; nunc autem hic consolatur, tu vero cruciaris.

26 καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τούτοις μεταξὺ ἡμῶν καὶ ὑμῶν χάσμα μέγα ἐστήρικται, ὅπως οἱ θέλοντες διαβῆναι ἔνθεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς μὴ δύνωνται, μηδὲ ἐκεῖθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς διαπερῶσιν.

27 εἶπεν δέ, Ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν, πάτερ, ἵνα πέμψῃς αὐτὸν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου,

28 ἔχω γὰρ πέντε ἀδελφούς, ὅπως διαμαρτύρηται αὐτοῖς, ἵνα μὴ καὶ αὐτοὶ ἔλθωσιν εἰς τὸν τόπον τοῦτον τῆς βασάνου.

29 λέγει δὲ Ἀβραάμ, Ἔχουσι Μωϋσέα καὶ τοὺς προφήτας: ἀκουσάτωσαν αὐτῶν.

30 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Οὐχί, πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἀλλ’ ἐάν τις ἀπὸ νεκρῶν πορευθῇ πρὸς αὐτοὺς μετανοήσουσιν.

31 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ, Εἰ Μωϋσέως καὶ τῶν προφητῶν οὐκ ἀκούουσιν, οὐδ’ ἐάν τις ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ πεισθήσονται.

” ‘And in all these things between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those wishing to descend to you are not able, nor from thence (may) they cross over to us.’ But he (Dives) said, ‘So I ask you, father, in order you may send him to the home of my father. For I have five brothers, that he may give witness to them, so that they also may not come to this place of torment’. But Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses Let them listen to them’. (30) But he (Dives) said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone of the dead go to them, they will repent’. (31) But he responded to him (Dives), ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, if someone of the dead should stand up/rise up, they will not believe’.”

Does anyone else find that last statement a bit…odd? The verb used can be– and also is– used as the verb for ‘resurrect’, as in, The Resurrection. Seems like someone famous is held to have been resurrected. Help me out? Oh, wait, it was Jesus. So Luke is saying that people will not listen to Jesus, come back from the dead? Passing strange, no? Or, is this a jab at Jews in particular, who did not listen to Moses and the prophets and repent, and, just so, they did not listen to Jesus, either.

26 Et in his omnibus inter nos et vos chaos magnum firmatum est, ut hi, qui volunt hinc transire ad vos, non possint, neque inde ad nos transmeare”.

27 Et ait: “Rogo ergo te, Pater, ut mittas eum in domum patris mei

28 — habeo enim quinque fratres — ut testetur illis, ne et ipsi veniant in locum hunc tormentorum”.

29 Ait autem Abraham: “Habent Moysen et Prophetas; audiant illos”.

30 At ille dixit: “Non, pater Abraham, sed si quis ex mortuis ierit ad eos, paenitentiam agent”.

31 Ait autem illi: “Si Moysen et Prophetas non audiunt, neque si quis ex mortuis resurrexerit, credent” ”.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 31, 2019, in Chapter 16, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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