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;
Luke 16:22 (KJV)
Abraham’s bosom – It amazes me that one abstract verse found in a parable meant to teach a moral lesson could be used as doctrine. But it happens, and this verse from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is often times used to justify the preaching of an disembodied soul that resides in heaven. Let’s take a look at the arguments.
The first argument claims this story is not a parable because one of the characters has a name – Lazarus. So it must obviously be about a real person.
Unfortunately, those who profess this are unfamiliar with Rabbinic parables. Rabbis like Yeshua used people’s names in parables for all sorts of reasons. But this is the only time Yeshua does this. None of His other parables contain names. This is true. None of the other parables written down contain names, but we know plainly that there are not enough books in the world to contain all of Yeshua’s teachings (John 21:25). Ultimately, Yeshua was teaching with a parable which was the practice of all Rabbis, and at times these parables contained names.
Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom, so all believers must go there.
Wait wait wait. Who was Lazarus? All we know about this character is that he was a beggar with sores that laid at the gates. It doesn’t say Lazarus was a believer or a Christian. But we use his life as proof for our paradigm, and our path in the afterlife. Well he must of been a Christian because he went to Abraham’s bosom! Okay, let’s say he was… and he did. Why doesn’t the text say that he was buried? It says that the rich man was buried. If we’re really going to use this parable as proof of what happens after death, then we can’t pick and choose the parts that fit our paradigm. The text only states that Lazarus died and went to Abraham’s bosom – nothing about a burial. Does this mean that if you go to heaven immediately after death, you aren’t buried? I’m not sure, but it has to be considered just like the rest of the text. I don’t believe any of us go to heaven. Heaven wasn’t created for man, and the Bible never says we do.
The angels carry Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom. Angels reside in heaven, so Abraham’s bosom must be heaven.
Our Greek view of the afterlife, tainted by the Orthodox church and Dante’s inferno have seriously clouded our understanding. What really is Abraham’s bosom? In order to find out, we need to explore the other ways in which bosom is used throughout the Bible. The bosom is always used in reference to intimacy between a man and woman, or a parent and child. To be found in Abraham’s bosom quite simply means that the beggar was considered part of Abraham’s seed (Galatians 3:29). It’s always been about the 12 tribes, the kingdom of God. And that all stems from Abraham’s bosom. This parable mimics the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s about taking care of those who need help.
The rich man is in agony surrounded by fire. This sounds a lot like hell. Yep, this is proof that there is a hell.
The word hades is the word being used in the Greek. But we can’t understand the word from a Greek perspective. We have to read the word from a first century Jewish perspective. The Greek word hades is used to translate the Hebrew word sheol which simply means a pit in the ground – a grave. This makes sense seeing that the rich man was buried… in a pit… in the ground. But what about the fire and agony? We need to remember that this is a parable in which Yeshua is using a Hellenized system of belief to strengthen His point. This is not about the afterlife. It’s about how people treat one another while we live. Love one another – remember that?
In this parable, Yeshua is teaching a lesson about how we should live on earth, not about the afterlife. The disembodied soul is not a first century Hebrew viewpoint regarding the afterlife, it’s a Greek conception deeply rooted in Greek philosophy.
I believe Johann Nepomuk Sepp provided the best interpretation of this parable.
The arguments in favour of identification of the Rich Man as the Sadducees are (1) the wearing of purple and fine linen, priestly dress, (2) the reference to “five brothers in my father’s house” as an allusion to Caiaphas’ father-in-law Annas, and his five sons who also served as high priests according to Josephus, (3) Abraham’s statement in the parable that they would not believe even if he raised Lazarus, and then the fulfillment that when Jesus did raise Lazarus of Bethany the Sadducees not only did not believe, but attempted to have Lazarus killed again: “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well” (John 12:10).
It is good practice to question all things as Apostle Paul teaches. Sometimes this means shaking up your paradigms and doctrines. If they are true, they will prevail. But if not, then we grow in the Word and become strengthened by the Lord through humbleness. It’s a win-win situation when we question things. It removes the power from fear-based human teachings and places our trust back in YHVH.