LUKE 16:19–31: Who Were the Rich Man and Lazarus?—Parable or Narrative?

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored 170+ books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Luke 16:19–31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And  a certain beggar[1] named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.[2] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades,[3] being in torment,[4] he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who want to go over from here to you are not able to do so, nor can they cross over from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he could warn them, in order that they also should not come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And 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, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST by Stalker-1 The TRIAL and Death of Jesus_02 THE LIFE OF Paul by Stalker-1

Let’s begin by answering one of our questions from the title of the article, is it a parable or a Narrative? Jesus gave us some 40 parables or illustrations that people understand are not to be taken literally, filling them with symbols and images that represented a message he was trying to share. Now, we get to the Rich Man and Lazarus, and we want to take it literally? Bible scholar Robert H. Stein writes, “The meaning of Luke 14:26 is therefore what Jesus and Luke consciously sought to communicate by these words and not the literal meaning of the words. Similarly, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) is to be interpreted as a parable, and thus according to the rules governing the interpretation of parables. It is not to be interpreted as a historical account. (Luke reveals this by the introduction ‘A certain man …’ which is used in the Gospel to introduce parables [cf. Luke 10:30; 14:16; 15:11; 16:1; 19:12]. This is clearer in the Greek text than in most translations, but it is fairly obvious in the NASB.)”[5] He goes on to say, “In a similar way there are different “game” rules involved in the interpretation of the different kinds of biblical literature. The author has played his “game,” has sought to convey his meaning, under the rules covering the particular literary form he used. Unless we know those rules, we will almost certainly misinterpret his meaning. If we interpret a parable (Luke 16:19–31) as if it were narrative, or if we interpret poetry (Judg. 5) as if it were narrative, we will err. Similarly, if we interpret a narrative such as the resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 28:1–10) as a parable, we will also err (1 Cor. 15:12–19).”[6] Before delving into the Rich Man and Lazarus Parable, we will do an excursion on how to interpret parables.

EXCURSION Interpreting Parables

The parable is a comparison or similitude, a short, simple, usually fictitious, story from which a moral or spiritual truth is drawn. The parable as a teaching tool is effective in at least five ways: (1) They capture and grip our attention. (2) They stimulate the thinking ability. (3) They stimulate feelings and reach the sense of right and wrong of the heart. (4) They assist in our ability to recall. (5) They are always applicable to human life in every generation. The primary reason the Bible writers use parable is to teach. However, they assist in other ways as well.

  • Understanding a parable will sometimes force the student unwilling to buy out the time, to abandon the pursuit of an answer. Their interest is mere surface and not a matter of the heart. – Mt 13:13-15
  • Parables have the capacity to give the hearer a warning and a reprimand, yet there is no room to retaliate against the speaker because the hearer is left to discern the application himself. “And when they saw it, the Pharisees began to say to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when he heard it, he said, “Those who are healthy do not have need of a physician, but those [who are sick]. But go and learn what it means, “I want mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mt 9:11-13.[7]
  • The parable can be useful in giving correction to another, helping to sidestep prejudice. This was the case when the prophet Nathan had to counsel King David on his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband – 2Sa 12:1-14
  • Parables have the ability to expose a person as to whether he or she is truly a servant of God. Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54, ESV) By this, Jesus was able to remove those who were not there because of their love for him. (John 6:60-66)

The parables of the Bible contain more than one facet. At times, they may have a prophetic meaning. This may be applicable to the generation listening and others to the distant future, as the time of the end.

PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Barriers to Understanding Parables

These misconceptions can affect our ability to arrive at a correct understanding. The first is the error of viewing them as good stories that teach a moral lesson. For instance, many scholars simply view the parable of the Prodigal Son as a piece of fine literature. In addition, some scholars consider the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as an illustration of reward and punishment after death.

Further, even though the parables have been drawn from real life and the natural things around us, they are not real-life events. The misconception can come from the start of the parable itself: “Once upon a time,” “A man had,” “There was a man,” “A certain man was.” (Jg 9:8; Mt 21:28, 33; Lu 16:1, 19) Matthew and Mark had this to say about Jesus and parables, “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.” – Matthew 13:34; Mark 4:33, 34

The second barrier to understanding the parables is attempting to make every detail of the parable fit symbolically or worse still allegorically by an arbitrary application or interpretation. An allegory is a work in which the characters and events are to be understood as representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning. As an example, let us look at Augustine (354 – 430 C.E.), a Church father in early Christianity who used allegory to interpret the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Allegory of Good Samaritan

  • The man going down to Jericho = Adam
  • Jerusalem from which he was going = City of Heavenly Peace
  • Jericho = the moon (the meaning of the name from its Canaanite root), which signifies our morality (there is a play here on the terms “moon” and “Jericho” in Hebrew)
  • Robbers = Devil and his angels
  • Stripping him = Taking away his immortality
  • Beating him = Persuading him to sin
  • Leaving him half-dead = Due to sin, he was dead spiritually, but half-alive, due to his knowledge of God
  • Priest = Priesthood of the Old Testament, i.e., the Law
  • Levite = Ministry of the Old Testament, i.e., the Prophets
  • Good Samaritan = Christ
  • Binding of the wounds = Restraint placed upon sin
  • Oil = Comfort of good hope
  • Wine = Exhortation to spirited work
  • Beast = Body of Christ
  • Inn = Church
  • Two denarii = Two commandments of love
  • Innkeeper = The Apostle Paul
  • Return of the Good Samaritan = Resurrection of Christ
APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot

Step One in Understanding Parables

Read the context of the parable. We need to find out the setting of the parable, looking for the conditions and the circumstances. Why was the parable told? What prompted its being told? Below, we see the people of Israel being addressed as “rulers of Sodom!” and “people of Gomorrah!” What does that bring to mind? It reminds us of the people of Canaan who were gross sinners, again Jehovah God. Gen 13:13; 19:13, 24.

Isaiah 1:10

 10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

Below we have the Psalmist praying to Jehovah to do to His enemies and His people “as you did to Midian.” What does that bring to mind? It reminds us of their being routed by God and over 120,000 being slain. – Judges 8:10-12

Psalm 83:2-3; Psalm 83:9-11

2For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads. 3They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. 9Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, 10who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground. 11Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,

The two debtors (Lu 7:41-43). The reason as to the why of the parable of the two debtors, one of whom owed ten times as much as the other, and the parable’s implications for us are found in what prompted its telling, Luke 7:36-40, 44-50.

The why of the parable came about because of the attitude of the one entertaining the guests, Simon, toward the woman who came in and anointed Jesus’ feet with oil.

Step Two in Understanding Parables

Consider the cultural backgrounds, such as the laws and customs of the setting, as well as the idioms that were spoken of earlier.

Building on The two debtors (Lu 7:41-43). The reason as to the why of the parable of the two debtors, one of whom owed ten times as much as the other, and the parable’s implications for us are found in what prompted its telling, Luke 7:36-40, 44-50.

To have an uninvited person arrive was not out of the ordinary, but they would enter the meal and take a seat along the wall, conversing with those who were invited as well as those who were reclining at the table in the center of the room.

Jesus’ parable of the two debtors was quite applicable to the situation. Jesus was pointing out that Simon, the host, did not provide water for Jesus’ feet, nor did he greet him with a holy kiss, as well as not greasing his head with oil. These were common customs in the first-century culture. However, this woman, who had sinned greatly, sought Jesus out and showed him greater love and hospitality than Simon, the host.

Below is the parable of the dragnet (Matt 13:47-50). A knowledge of Levitical law deepens the understanding here. Leviticus 11:9 defines what the Israelites might eat “of all that are in the waters … any that has fins and scales.” Verse 12 of that chapter holds out what Jehovah God said was unclean and therefore detestable to the Jewish people.

Matthew 13:47-50

 47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Below, Jesus curses an unproductive fruit tree. Why, what purpose did it serve? An understanding of the historical setting gives us the answer. Fruit trees in first-century Palestine were taxed, with unproductive trees being cut down; therefore, Jesus used this as an opportunity to make an illustrative point. On his return to Jerusalem, Jesus grew hungry. As was the right of any Jew under Mosaic Law, Jesus chose to have figs for breakfast; he noticed the fig tree by the road. Seeing the leaves on it, Jesus assumed it had fruit. Nevertheless, the leaves had sent a false message. The tree had no fruit; the promise of fruit was an empty one.

Remember step one? Find the context. In the section before this, Jesus had judged Israel and its religious leaders and found them wanting for their idolatrous behavior. (21:12-17) Using the fig tree in an illustrative way, he used it as a small parable, exposing the fruitlessness of Israel and its awaited doom. In a similar manner, the religious leaders falsely advertised the fruit of doing God’s will and purposes, but as the tree, they were liars. Beneath the leaves of their show display lie the unfruitful hearts of unbelievers.

Matthew 21:18-22

 18In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

 20When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Step Three in Understanding Parables

This is a two-point step. The first point is to look to the author of the parable for the upcoming meaning of the parable. An interpreter of a parable by Jesus would see what he meant in the context it was spoken, and then consider his teaching as a whole. The second point is, do not assign subjective meanings to the elements of a parable. Generally, a parable teaches one basic point. We do not want to follow the path of allegorical interpreters that find significance in every tiny aspect of the parable, like Augustine in his interpretation of the Good Samaritan. No, we need to look for the main point. Discovering the main point of a parable can be achieved using the following four stages.[8]

Stage One: Discovering the Main Characters

In any given parable, it is highly important to find the main 2-3 characters. Throughout these stages, let us again examine the parable of the Good Samaritan. To better understand the significance of the characters and the impact of this parable to its original audience, we need to look back at step two of understanding parables, the cultural background. Our modern mind thinks of the Samaritans as good because of this parable, but this is not how Jesus’ audience would have viewed them. Jews considered them a detestable enemy of God. The Samaritan’s history was marked with idol worship and defiance of God’s law. This combined with hundreds of years of betrayal and conniving, served to fuel the Jewish fires of hatred toward them. Commenting on the attitude of Jews toward Samaritans, the Talmud no doubt expressed the feeling of many Jews: “May I never set eyes on a Samaritan.” In addition, the Talmud taught, “a piece of bread given by a Samaritan is more unclean than swine’s flesh.” So intense was anti-Samaritan feeling that some Jews even cursed Samaritans publicly in the synagogues and prayed daily that the Samaritans would not be granted everlasting life.

Luke 10:30-37 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and laid blows upon and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by coincidence a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And on the next day, he took out two denarii[9] and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Characters

  • The man going down to Jericho
  • The Robbers
  • The Priest
  • The Levite
  • The Good Samaritan
  • The Innkeeper
  • The lawyer

The three main characters are the priest, the Levite, and the good Samaritan. Think about it, does it really matter who the man is? Jesus told the story of one man, who is a victim, without making known the man by race, occupation, or reason for traveling. What about the robbers and the innkeeper? They only serve the function of getting us to that main point. They are like the extra in a movie. Their only role is to move the movie along. 

Stage Two: Looking to the End

As is true with any kind of story, the end of the story carries the weight of importance. This is no different with parables. The ending is where the answers lie. Look at the end of the story one more time; take note of Jesus’ question to the lawyer. Jesus removed the attention from the term “neighbor.” Essentially the lawyer had asked, ‘who is the one that I should show my neighborly love to?’ Notice his attention is on the one receiving the kindness. However, Jesus asked, “which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Notice that Jesus’ focus was not on the recipient of the love, but on the one who showed the love, the Samaritan.

Stage Three: Who Carries the Conversation

We may have noticed that there is no conversation between the man going down to Jericho and anyone else. There is no conversation between the robbers and the man, the priest and the man, the Levite and the man, the Samaritan and the man. The only direct conversation is between the Samaritan and the innkeeper. The focus of the conversation is between the Samaritan and the innkeeper, which highlights the Samaritan’s motive and heart attitude.

The Epistle to the Hebrews PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Stage Four: Who Gets the Most Press

Generally, whoever gets the most coverage in a story is the primary character, followed by the secondary person that must exist to facilitate the story and its main point. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, there is little doubt that the Samaritan gets the most coverage throughout the parable, as he gets six verses, while everyone else received one verse. However, the man who went down to Jericho receives just as much coverage, with seven verses actually. Yet, his role is secondary to the active role of the Samaritan.

Thus, our two primary characters are the Samaritan and the man. It might be added that this “man” who went down to Jericho and fell victim to robbers was a Jew, as the context of the story shows. The lawyer asking the question is also a Jew, likely with many other Jewish listeners. The priest and Levite in the parable were Jewish religious leaders, who ‘when they saw him [their own Jewish countryman lying there dying from a robbery] they passed by on the other side.’ However, we have a Samaritan willing to help a Jewish victim. Thus, the primary point involves both characters (they who received the most press). Remember Jesus’ focus was on the person showing the love, not the victim needing a loving act of kindness. A true neighbor [the Samaritan] takes the initiative to show love to others [the man going down to Jericho] regardless of their ethnic background.

AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

What Does the Bible’s About the Rich Man and Lazarus

The rich man and Lazarus are characters in one of Jesus’ parables. (Luke 16:19-31) What they represent are two different groups of people in the parable. (1) the rich man represents the scornful, arrogant Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day, and (2) the humble, common Jewish people who were oppressed by the Jewish religious leaders that reacted well to Jesus’ message.

What We Will Discover in This Article

  •  What did Jesus say about the rich man and Lazarus?
  •  Is it a true historical narrative, that is, did it really happen?
  •  Does this parable reinforce the so-called hellfire doctrine?
  •  What did Jesus mean by the words that he used in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

 What Did Jesus Say about the Rich Man and Lazarus?

 In Luke chapter 16, Jesus tells us of two men who undergo extreme transformations in their lives.

“There was once a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and lead a life of daily luxury. And there was a poor man called Lazarus who was put down at his gate. He was covered with sores. He used to long to be fed with the scraps from the rich man’s table. Yes, and the dogs used to come and lick his sores. Well, it happened that the poor man died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And from among the dead he looked up and saw Abraham a long way away, and Lazarus in his arms. ‘Father Abraham!’ he cried out, ‘please pity me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Remember, my son, that you used to have the good things in your lifetime, while Lazarus suffered the bad. Now he is being comforted here, while you are in agony. And besides this, a great chasm has been set between you and us, so that those who want to go to you from this side cannot do so, and people cannot come to us from your side.’ At this, he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house for I have five brothers. He could warn them about all this and prevent their coming to this place of torture.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets: they can listen to them.’ ‘Ah no, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘if only someone were to go to them from the dead, they would change completely.’ But Abraham told him, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they would not be convinced even if somebody were to rise from the dead.’”

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Is This a Historical Narrative, True History?

No. Again, Hermeneutical scholar Stein writes, “the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) is to be interpreted as a parable, and thus according to the rules governing the interpretation of parables. It is not to be interpreted as a historical account. (Luke reveals this by the introduction ‘A certain man …’ which is used in the Gospel to introduce parables [cf. Luke 10:30; 14:16; 15:11; 16:1; 19:12]. This is clearer in the Greek text than in most translations, but it is fairly obvious in the NASB.)

Was the lesson or the point that Jesus was making about life after death? Was Jesus saying that some people were going to be suffering in a hellfire torment? Was he saying that Abraham and Lazarus were in heaven? What Did Jesus Teach About Hell?  Here are some facts that show this is not what Jesus meant.

 For example:

  • If the rich man had been in some hellfire, then the water on Lazarus’ fingertip would have been evaporated by the water? Not literal.
  • Let’s say hypothetically that it was not evaporated, can we logically conclude that a single drop of water would have given some kind of ongoing comfort to the rich man who was suffering in some eternal fiery torment?
  • Abraham could not have been in heaven at the time Jesus was telling this parable, since Jesus plainly said that no one had gone to heaven until he went to heaven to pay the ransom price?—John 3:13.
THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Does This Parable Support the Hellfire Doctrine?

 No. This is not a literal historical narrative, it is a parable. However, this does not stop some from arguing that it is symbolic, and that Jesus meant that some good people (Lazarus) would go to heaven, and some bad people (the rich man) are tormented in hellfire. Some Bible translations use the word “hell” in reference to the rich man’s place after death. However, many semi-literal and literal translations rightly give us the original Greek word Hades (ASV, ESV, CSB, LEB, NASB, UASV). Hades simply means the grave.

 Is that conclusion reasonable? No.

 The teaching of hellfire does not fit in with what the Bible says about the condition of the dead. 

 What Did Jesus Mean by the Rich Man and Lazarus Parable?

The parable shows that two classes of people were going to undergo a great change in their lives.

The rich man plainly symbolized the Jewish religious leaders, “who were lovers of money.” (Luke 16:14) Throughout Jesus’ ministry they stood by as though they were listening to him, but they rejected his wisdom and message at every turn. They listened as Jesus spoke, but they opposed his message. These same religious leaders abused the Jewish people.—John 7:49.

Lazarus plainly symbolized the Jewish people, who were representative of common people, who not only attentively listened to Jesus but accepted what he had to say and who were oppressed by the Jewish religious leaders (the rich man).

 The Life Changes

  • The rich man (the Jewish religious leaders) thought that they were favored by God and had a righteous standing before God. But their death pictured God’s rejecting them and their false ritualistic worship because they rejected the Son, Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. The torment that they experienced was Jesus’ three and a half year ministry, exposing the,, followed by 66 years of the apostles evangelizing the Jewish people and converting them to Christianity, not to mention the destruction of Jerusalem.—Matthew 23:29-30; Acts 5:29-33.
  • Lazarus (the Jewish people), who were representative of common people, had long been oppressed by the (Rich Man) Jewish religious leaders. The common people under Christ Jesus were going to encounter a blessed position. Many accepted followed Jesus and later followed the apostle, accepting the gospel message. They were now God’s chosen people, replacing the nation of Israel, having a righteous standing before God.—John 17:3.

Hell

Without being bogged down in doctrinal issues, let us just deal with the facts. “Hell” is the English translation for the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades. Therefore, we need not ask, what Hell is. However, what did the word mean when it was first placed in English translations? Webster’s Eleventh New International Dictionary, under “Hell” says: [Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old English helan to conceal, Old High German helan, Latin celare, Greek kalyptein] before 12th century”[10] The word “hell” meant to ‘cover’ over or ‘conceal,’ so it would have meant a place ‘covered’ or ‘concealed,’ such as a grave.

Sheol

Sheol: (שְׁאֹל sheol) Sheol occurs sixty-six times in the UASV. The Greek Septuagint renders Sheol as Hades. It is the grave. It has the underlying meaning of a place of the dead, where they are conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection, for both the righteous and the unrighteous. (Gen. 37:35; Psa. 16:10; Ac 2:31; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) It corresponds to “Hades” in the NT. It does not involve torment and punishment.

Hades

Hades: (hades) Hades (ᾅδης hadēs) is the standard transliteration of the Greek into English, which occurs ten times in the UASV. (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lu 10:15; 16:23; Ac 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.) It has the underlying meaning of ’a place of the dead, where they are conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection, for both the righteous and the unrighteous.’ (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) It corresponds to “Sheol” in the OT. It does not involve torment and punishment. Adam was told, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) The Bible says, “the soul that sins will die.” (Eze 18:4, 20) The apostle Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Paul also said, “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord.” – 2 Thessalonian 1:8-9.

Gehenna

Gehenna: (γέεννα geenna) occurs twelve times and is the Greek name for the Valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place, and it was prophetically said that this was where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 632), Gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom was “the valley south of Jerusalem now called the Wadi er-Rababi (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) became the place of child sacrifice to foreign gods. The Jews later used the valley for the dumping of refuse, the dead bodies of animals, and executed criminals.”[13] We would disagree with the other comments by the Holman Illustrated Dictionary, “The continuing fires in the valley (to consume the refuse and dead bodies) apparently led the people to transfer the name to the place where the wicked dead suffer.” This just is not the case.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites did burn sons in the fires as part of a sacrifice to false gods, but not for the purpose of punishment, or torture. By the time of the New Testament period, hundreds of years later, the only thing thrown in Gehenna was trash and the dead bodies of executed criminals. For what purpose were these thrown into Gehenna? It was used as an incinerator, a furnace for destroying things by burning them. Notice that any bodies thrown in Gehenna during the New Testament period were already dead. Thus, if anything, these people saw Gehenna as a place where they destroyed their trash and the bodies of dead criminals. Thus, if Jesus used this to illustrate the place of the wicked, it would have represented destruction as the punishment.

is-the-quran-the-word-of-god UNDERSTANDING ISLAM AND TERRORISM THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM.png

How Are We to Understand the “Fire”?

Mark 9:43-48 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

43 “If ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than to go off with two hands into Gehenna,[14] the unquenchable fire, 44 ——[15] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.[16] 46 ——[17] 47 And if your eye makes you stumble, throw it out, it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna,[18] 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

Matthew 13:41-42, 49-50 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

41 The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling[19] and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 49 So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Here is why we should use the transliteration as opposed to the English “hell.” Jesus did not use the word “Hades” in the above texts, the equivalent of Sheol, but rather Gehenna. Jesus used comparisons in his teaching, using things that his listeners could relate. As we learned in the above Gehenna was a garbage dump that was used as an incinerator, to destroy whatever was thrown in, and only the bodies of criminals were thrown in after they were already dead. In other words, the fire was used as a symbol, not of torment, but rather of being destroyed, complete destruction, namely annihilation by fire.

What did Jesus mean by “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”? We can look at what he said about those, who believed they were on the right path,

Matthew 7:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of the heavens, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in the heavens. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

In other words, those who will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” are those who believed they had the truth but did not. Can we imagine giving our whole life to what we think to be the correct path, only to get to the edge and discover, we are on the wrong path because we chose to do our will, not the will of the Father? Now then, what about what John penned in the book of Revelation?

Revelation 21:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

But as for the cowards and unbelievers, and the detestable, as for murderers, and the sexually immoral[20] persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

John speaks of a “lake that burns with fire and sulfur,” where the wicked are thrown. It would seem that if hellfire were the truth, this would be the place. However, we are simply told by John; this is “the second death.” Moreover, he had told his readers earlier,

Revelation 20:13-15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades[21] gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades[22] were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone was not found written in the book of life,[23] he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Notice that death, which is what we inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve, as well as Hades (gravedom), is going to be “thrown into the lake of fire.” Is not death and Hades abstract, are they able to be tormented and suffer forever. No. However, the fire does picture their eternal destruction, which will take place once they ‘give up the dead who were in them.’ Note that Paul clearly said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26.

The fire and burning within Scripture are simply representing annihilation or eternal destruction. Therefore, there is no eternal torment in Sheol (gravedom), Hades (the equivalent of Sheol) hell (English translation), Gehenna (symbol of destruction), or the lake of fire (symbol of destruction). What about the parable of the sheep (righteous) and the goats (wicked), which has the goats, or the wicked going away into eternal punishment?

Matthew 25:46 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment [Gr. Kolasin],[24] but the righteous into eternal life.”

Kolasin “akin to kolazoo[25] “This means ‘to cut short,’ ‘to lop,’ ‘to trim,’ and figuratively a. ‘to impede,’ ‘restrain,’ and b. ‘to punish,’ and in the passive ‘to suffer loss.’[26] The first part of the sentence is only in harmony with the second part of the sentence, if the eternal punishment is eternal death. The wicked receive eternal death and the righteous eternal life. We might at that Matthews Gospel was primarily for the Jewish Christians, and under the Mosaic Law, God would punish those who violated the law, saying they “shall be cut off [penalty of death] from Israel.” (Ex 12:15; Lev 20:2-3) We need further to consider,

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

in a flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord[27] and from the glory of his strength,

Notice that Paul says too that the punishment for the wicked is “eternal destruction.” Many times in talking with those that support the position of eternal torment in some hellfire, they will add a word to Matthew 25:46 in their paraphrase of the verse, ‘eternal conscious punishment.’ However, Jesus does not tell us what eternal punishment is, just that it is a punishment, and it is eternal. Therefore, those who support eternal conscious fiery torment will read the verse to mean just that, while those, who hold the position of eternal destruction, will take Matthew 25:46 to mean that. Considering that Jesus does not define what eternal punishment is, this verse is not a proof text for either side of the argument. 

What Did Jesus Teach About Hell?

Genesis 2:17 Updated American Standard Version

17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”

What is the punishment for sin here? What is the punishment for rebellion here? Was there some footnote that added eternal torment? 

Why would God hold back eternal torment from Adam? Was it just/right to not inform Adam of eternal torment? Was the serpent [Satan] right, saying God was withholding knowledge from Adam and Eve? Or, maybe … it was exactly as God said. “you eat from it you shall surely die.”

Ezekiel 18:4 Updated American Standard Version
4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

Romans 6:23 Updated American Standard Version
23 For the wages of sin is death

What Does the Bible Really Say About Hellfire – Eternal Torment?

What Does the Bible Really Say About Hellfire – Eternal Torment?

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[1] Or poor man

[2] This is when someone is reclining in front of another on a couch at a meal.

[3] Hades (δης hadēs) is the standard transliteration of the Greek into English, which occurs ten times in the UASV. (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lu 10:15; 16:23; Ac 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.) It has the underlying meaning of ‘a place of the dead, where they are conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection, for both the righteous and the unrighteous.’ (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) It corresponds to “Sheol” in the OT. It does not involve torment and punishment. Adam was told, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) The Bible says, “the soul that sins will die.” (Eze 18:4, 20) The apostle Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Paul also said, “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord.” – 2 Thessalonian 1:8-9.

[4] Luke 16:19-31 is a parable just like Jesus’ other 54 parables found in Luke, Mark, and Matthew and is not to be taken literally. It is merely an illustration of the rich man (Jewish religious leaders) trading places (favored position) with the Lazarus the beggar (the common Jew) who was oppressed by the Jewish religious leaders. If it were taken literally, several aspects of the parable would be impossible, and it would conflict with other parts of the Bible.

[5] Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 30.

[6] Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 76.

[7] W. Hall Harris, III, The Lexham English Bible (Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), Mt 9:10–13.

[8] The stages to discovering the main point are based on Dr. Robert Stein’s book, the Basic Guide to Biblical Interpretation, specifically pages 147-148.

[9] Denarius: (dēnarion; Roman, silver) The denarius was equivalent to a day’s wages for a common laborer (12 hours). It was sixty-four quadrantes. It had an image of Caesar on one side. It was the “head tax” coin demanded by the Roman government from their subjects.–Matt. 20:2, 9; Mark 14:5; Lu 10:35; 20:24; John 6:7; Rev. 6:6.

[10] Frederick C. Mish, “Preface,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). hell

[11] Frederick C. Mish, “Preface,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). sheol

[12] Frederick C. Mish, “Preface,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). hades

[13] Chad Brand et al., eds., “Gehenna,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 632.

[14] Gehenna: (γέεννα geenna) occurs twelve times and is the Greek name for the Valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place, and it was prophetically said that this was where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

[15] The original words were no verse (א B C L W Δ Ψ 0274 f1 28 565 itk syrs cop). A variant reading is added “where the worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished” (A D Θ f Maj). This verse is identical to verse 48 and is missing from the earliest and best manuscripts, as well as several text types. It is an interpolation.

[16] Gehenna: (γέεννα geenna) occurs twelve times and is the Greek name for the Valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place, and it was prophetically said that this was where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

[17] The original words were no verse (א B C L W Δ Ψ 0274 f1 28 565 itk syrs cop). A variant reading is added “where the worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished” (A D Θ f Maj). This verse is identical to verse 48 and is missing from the earliest and best manuscripts, as well as several text types. It is an interpolation.

[18] Gehenna: (γέεννα geenna) occurs twelve times and is the Greek name for the Valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place, and it was prophetically said that this was where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

[19] Stumble, fall away, to be offended: (σκανδαλίζω skandalizō) In Greek, “stumbling block” (skandalon) was originally a device or trap, which contained bait, to ensnare or catch something alive. (1 John 2:10) It is used in the Scriptures as a trap, obstacle, or snare that stumbles one into sinning. (Rom. 11:9; Matt. 13:41) It can also be used as an obstacle that causes offense, resulting in opposition. (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11) The Greek, (skandalizomai) refers to one who ceases to believe because of tribulation. (Matt. 13:21) It can also refer to one who is spiritually weak, immature in the faith, resulting in their falling into sin. (2 Cor. 11:29) In addition, it can refer to one who takes offense to some action. (Matt. 15:12) It can refer to one who causes another no longer to believe (John 6:61) It can also refer to something or someone that causes another to sin because they are spiritually weak or immature in the faith. (Matt. 5:29; Rom. 14:21) It can refer to another who is angered or shocked by something or someone, which could result in their sinning. – Matt. 17:27; John 6:61.

[20] Sexual Immorality: (זָנָה zanah; πορνεία porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality. – Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1.

[21] Hades (ᾅδης hadēs) is the standard transliteration of the Greek into English, which occurs ten times in the UASV. (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lu 10:15; 16:23; Ac 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.) It has the underlying meaning of ‘a place of the dead, where they are conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection, for both the righteous and the unrighteous.’ (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) It corresponds to “Sheol” in the OT. It does not involve torment and punishment. Adam was told, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) The Bible says, “the soul that sins will die.” (Eze 18:4, 20) The apostle Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Paul also said, “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord.” – 2 Thessalonian 1:8-9.

[22] Hades (ᾅδης hadēs) is the standard transliteration of the Greek into English, which occurs ten times in the UASV. (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lu 10:15; 16:23; Ac 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.) It has the underlying meaning of ‘a place of the dead, where they are conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection, for both the righteous and the unrighteous.’ (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) It corresponds to “Sheol” in the OT. It does not involve torment and punishment. Adam was told, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) The Bible says, “the soul that sins will die.” (Eze 18:4, 20) The apostle Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Paul also said, “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord.” – 2 Thessalonian 1:8-9.

[23] Book of Life: (βίβλου τῆς ζωῆς biblos tēs zōēs) In biblical times, cities had registered names for the citizens living there. (See Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3) God, figuratively speaking, has been writing names in the “book of life” “from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 17:8) Jesus Christ talked about Abel as living “from the foundation of the world,” this would suggest that we are talking about the world of ransomable humankind after the fall. (Lu 11:48-51) Clearly, Abel was the first person to have his name written in the “book of life.” The individuals whose names are written in the “book of Life” do not mean they are predestined to eternal life. This is evident from the fact that they can be ‘blotted out’ of the “book of life.” (Ex 32:32-33; Rev. 3:5) Jesus’ ransom sacrifice alone gets one written in the “book of life” if they accept the Son of God. However, it is remaining faithful to God that keeps them from being ‘blotted’ out of the “book of life.” (Phil. 2:12; Heb. 10:26-27; Jam. 2:14-26) Only by remaining faithful until the end can one be retained permanently in the “book of life.” – Matt. 214:13; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 20:15.

[24] The Greek noun (κόλασις kolasis) refers to eternal cutting off, from life. Lit lopping off, pruning.

[25] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 498.

[26] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 451.

[27] Lit from before the face of the Lord

 

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