Lazarus and the Rich Man

Notes © 1996, 1999, 2002 by T.L. Hubeart

These notes are from a study I did of this parable of Jesus. The comments by Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke, and especially Thomas Scott were so profound that I thought they deserved to be quoted at length.

Luke 16:19 (KJV) There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

The name of this "rich man" is not recorded, although tradition supplies him the name "Dives," which literally means nothing more than "rich (man)" and is taken from this verse as it is rendered in the Latin Vulgate ("Homo quidam erat dives, qui induebatur purpura et bysso, et epulabatur quotidie splendide" [Clementine Vulgate, Lc. xvi.19]). This sometimes shows up in older literature; so Chaucer in his "Summoner's Tale" writes:

"Lazar and Dives lyveden diversly,
And divers gerdon hadden they therby."
(--Canterbury Tales, III (D) 1877-8.)

and Shakespeare has Falstaff say,

"I never see thy face but I think upon hellfire and Dives that lived in purple; for there he is in his robes, burning, burning." (--1 Henry IV, III.iii.29-31.)

Another early scribe seems to have also felt the desire to supply him with a name; according to the NAB,

"The oldest Greek manuscript of Lk dating from ca. A.D. 175-225 records the name of the rich man as an abbreviated form of 'Nineveh,' but there is very little textual support in other manuscripts for this reading."

Nestle-Aland 26 identifies this manuscript as P75 and gives its reading: onomati Neues (meaning "named Neves"), further recording that it is only supported by the Sahidic (a dialect of Coptic) Version. Adam Clarke also mentions the reading, which was available to him via "the Scholia of some MSS.". The early date of this manuscript and the obvious falsity of its reading should indicate, more plainly than some modern scholars might like, that the current assumption that "older is better" among Gk. manuscripts is open to some grave doubts.

In any case, Matthew Henry states that some interpreters "observe that Christ would not do the rich man so much honour as to name him, though when perhaps he called his lands by his own name he thought it should long survive that of the beggar at his gate, which yet is here preserved, when that of the rich man is buried in oblivion."

"Purple" was the clothing of princes, Henry comments further, saying that "He never appeared abroad but in great magnificence." And the Geneva Bible (1599 ed.) remarks that "purple garments were costly, and this fine linnen . . . was as deare as gold."

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the NT) remarks that "The name Lazarus is from Eleazaros, 'God a help,' and was a common one. Lazar in English means one afflicted with a pestilential disease." As a matter of fact, the English word "lazar," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is adopted from the "med[ieval] L[atin] lazarus, an application of the proper name Lazarus, Luke xvi.20." The coinage of Lazarus' name into an English word no doubt derives from his miserable earthly condition in this story. Adam Clarke calls Lazarus "a name properly given to a man who was both poor and afflicted, and had no help but that which came from heaven."

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

Thomas Scott explains "crumbs" as "the refuse broken victuals, which fell from the rich master's table, such as were either thrown away or eaten by the dogs. . . . It is not indeed said, that none were given him, yet it is strongly implied that his hunger was not satisfied."

In fact, Adam Clarke supposes "it is likely this desire was complied with," since the rich man's later request for Lazarus to minister to him--verse 24--is "a strong intimation that [the rich man] considered [Lazarus] under some kind of obligation to him; for, had he refused him a few crumbs in his lifetime, it is not reasonable to suppose that he would now have requested such a favor from him . . . ."

"The dogs came and licked his sores"--They were "more compassionate than their master, who probably chose to keep them for his pleasure or pride, rather than sustain a poor suffering creature of the same race, as well as of the same nature, with himself" (Thomas Scott).

(At mid-verse [after "table" in our version], the Great and Bishops' Bibles insert the phrase "and no man gave unto him," probably via some editions of the Vulgate. [It is not in the original Rheims NT, but is introduced into the Challoner revision (in the form "and no one did give him") via the Clementine Vulgate, though the phrase is lacking in modern Vulgate editions.] Nestle-Aland indicates that this spurious phrase, which does appear in "family 13" Gk. mss., is probably a borrowing from Luke 15:16 .)

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

"The beggar died"--"What became of his body is not stated. It may have been cast into the potter's field. . . . His body may have had no pall-bearers, but angels carried his soul" (People's NT Commentary).

"Abraham's bosom"--"Figurative speech for paradise, or the presence of God--Luke 23:43 , 2Cor 12:4 " (Ryrie).

"The rich man also died, and was buried"--"Doubtless with pomp enough," says John Wesley aptly (Notes), "though we do not read of his lying in state; that stupid, senseless pageantry, that shocking insult on a poor, putrefying carcass, was reserved for our enlightened age!"

And much in the same vein, Thomas Scott gives these telling comments: "According to modern customs, in that silliest of all vanities, we may imagine his poor lifeless clay lying in state, surrounded with all the appendages of nobility . . . . We may suppose that some venal orator would deliver a fulsome panegyric on his noble birth, honourable titles and achievements, distinguished virtues, and princely generosity; and at length that the sepulchre would be adorned with some inscription replete with adulation. But all this time his soul, all of him that could feel or reflect, was 'in hell,' in the place of separate spirits, condemned to torment and misery."

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

"Among other objects, he is represented as seeing Abraham afar off, and poor despised Lazarus reclining on his bosom, enjoying the most perfect rest and most exquisite satisfaction: and this view of Lazarus' felicity, joined to the dreadful reverse which [he] himself had experienced, must add to his inward anguish and torture" (Thomas Scott).

Ryrie remarks that in this parable "the Lord taught: (1) conscious existence after death; (2) the reality and torment of hell; (3) no second chance after death; and (4) the impossibility of the dead communicating with the living (v. 26)."

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

"This," says Thomas Scott, "is the only scriptural instance of a prayer, offered to a departed saint, and it gives small encouragement to that prevalent species of idolatry." And Dake adds that other supplications to saints "will avail just as much as this prayer did--nothing."

"This flame"--"Nothing is more painful and terrible to the body than to be tormented with fire; by this therefore the miseries and agonies of damned souls are represented" (Matthew Henry).

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Thomas Scott comments that "when the rich man in hell claimed him for his father, Abraham did not deny the relation, yet showed him no compassion. . . . Riches, sensual pleasures, and the pride of life, were the good things which he had chosen, in preference to the favour and image of God and heavenly happiness. . . . This doom was not awarded to the rich man, because he had possessed worldly riches; for Abraham had been rich: but because he idolized and made an ill use of riches; instead of using them as a steward, and seeking God himself for his Portion."

"See how justly this rich man is paid in his own coin," comments Matthew Henry. "He that denied a crumb is denied a drop."

26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

"Gulf"--Gk. chasma (in Strong's Concordance G5490; only here in Gk. text of the NT), "a gaping opening, a chasm, an impassible gulf" (Dake). "The decree and counsel of God," says Matthew Henry, "have fixed this gulf, which all the world cannot unfix." And Thomas Scott adds that "both of them were finally and eternally fixed in their respective states, by the unchangeable decrees of God."

27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:

Thomas Scott remarks of the rich man's question that, as "[w]e cannot imagine that there is any charity, or even natural affection in hell," this must be either "a mere circumstance, intended to introduce the subsequent instruction," or that "we must conclude that they whose example, discourse, or seductions have led others into infidelity, impiety, and profligacy, will be rendered more miserable hereafter, by the upbraidings of those whose souls they have murdered: they [i.e., the former] would therefore most willingly prevent their [i.e., the latter's] destruction, for fear of an addition to their own intolerable misery." He remarks that many celebrated writers, actors, and false teachers would now be willing, if they could, to return to earth and retract their past evil deeds. "For men will be accountable for all the effects of their conduct, however widely they may spread, or durably they may last . . . ."

Scott's sidelong glance above at whether this is a parable or a true story told by Jesus deserves further comment. Adam Clarke remarks (sub v. 19): "This account of the rich man and Lazarus is either a parable or a real history. If it be a parable, it is what may be: if it be a history, it is that which has been." If, as some teach (for example, Dake), this story represents something that actually happened rather than a "parable"--and since Jesus names "Lazarus," which he never does to any of the other characters in His parables, this is a distinct possibility--, Scott's latter interpretation is obviously correct. The rich man fears an "addition to [his] own intolerable misery" by allowing his family to share in his damnation.

28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

"A messenger from the dead could say no more than what is said in the scriptures, nor say it with more authority" (Matthew Henry).

30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Matthew Henry remarks "The same strength of corruption that breaks through the convictions of the written word would certainly triumph over those by a witness from the dead: and, though a sinner might be frightened at first by such a testimony, when the fright was over he would soon return to his hardness."

And Thomas Scott adds, "They might be amazed, affrighted, and restrained by an apparition: but they would not be influenced to renounce sin and the world, to mortify their lusts, to humble themselves before God, to trust [H]is mercy, and to devote themselves to [H]is service . . . . It should be recollected that many of those who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, did not believe in Christ by means of that stupendous miracle [see John 11:43-48 ]: the Roman soldiers, who saw many circumstances of our Lord's resurrection, immediately after agreed for hire to propagate the most notorious falsehood [see Matt 28:11-15 ]; and the Jews persisted in their impenitence, amidst the multiplied demonstrations of that same event [see Acts 4:16-17, 5:24, 5:28, 5:40]!"

Repentance, writes Wesley, "implies an entire change of heart: but a thousand apparitions cannot effect this. God only can, applying His word."


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