Illogical illustration of “the rich man and the poor man Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31)

by venus 37 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Vanderhoven7

    Hi TheWonderofYou,

    I am wondering - perhaps this has been already mentioned by others - why the writer of Luke when he composed his gospel he comes up with this exemplary story.

    I assume that he received it from eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-2) and included it in his gospel under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

    I wondering if he used it because of the interesting original setting in a conversation with pharisees or because of a more general benefit for Luke's audience who were the educated pagans and the Jewish-Christians. He who was worked so accurate and made use of confident written sources, why did he insert this exemplary story about a rich man in his text?

    There are a number of unique parables and stories in Luke's gospel. Both accounts in Luke 16 would have had definite benefit for Jesus' audience; a blessing for the downtrodden who would gain insight into the hypocrisy of their self-righteous leaders, relieving them of false fears and false trust...and a potential blessing for the religious leaders themselves who might gain some insight into their own false teachings and practice. At least Jesus might have blessed them with doubt. How much a pagan audience would benefit, I'm not sure. But they would certainly gain some insight into the religious establishment that crucified Jesus Christ...and continued to persecute the church prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

    A pagan audience would not have been aware of inner-jewish terms or interested however in the inner-jewish dispute between Pharisees and rabbi Jesus and for it also the satirical value of the story and Jesus rhetoric ability to mimic their teachings in the original setting might have been of little value, at least it would have been no easy stuff.

    Forget about Revelation. All the synoptic gospels deal with the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) on the end of Jerusalem and the world...and certainly that is not easy stuff to understand and find agreement on. Not everything in scripture is easy or meant to be easy to understand. Actually, many of the parables that Jesus told had little value even to the Jews at the time as well (because they had closed their eyes and hardened their hearts as Isaiah prophesied). Even today, we can come to false conclusions if we don't do a little research to understand historical context.

    Perhaps Luke had a certain Lazarus in mind when he took up this story in the gospel, as a doctor he was certainly interested in such gruesome treated poor people, treated as unclean and anyway helpless, people who were "refugees" in their own country, whom dogs licked their sores, because they could not move from the place, where they were deposited.

    Well, only weeks later, Jesus raised his friend Lazarus, for the glory of God...and yet the rulers in Israel's response was not to worship, but to eradicate both Jesus .... and Lazarus. Jesus knew what was in man. Many people disagree with His analysis. Still today many would rather slay the righteous than befriend them. That is why we need a Saviour and a new birth, contrary to WTS teachings.

    Did Luke leave the story over for us to interprete it?

    Why not?

  • venus

    If something is open for interpretation, it cannot be from God because "For God is not a God of disorder ." (1Cor 14:33)

    Any interpretation is just the perspective of the one who interprets it. If a teacher comes from heaven, and leaves behind something for anyone to interpret in any way each one likes, what is the purpose of communication? Can an interpreter be absolutely sure that what he says is what Jesus really had in his mind?

    If something is crystal clear, then it would be one of the signs that it may be from God.

  • TheWonderofYou

    If a teacher comes from heaven, and leaves behind something for anyone to interpret in any way each one likes, what is the purpose of communication?

    Hi venus, The purpose of communication in form of parables and examplary stories are manifold.

    Firstly these examplary stories are Luke's view and loupe, they are his interpretation and way of passing down "Jesus sayings" and tradition.

    Secondly literary and culturial spoken such examplary stories are not an attempt to claim a divine doctrinal advice but they fulfilled in jewish society several purposes e.g. teaching a moral or poetry. Exemplary stories belonged to the jewish genre of literature called Aggada.

    Therefore to draw any doctrinal conclusion of such stories or personification of the rich as the pharasee or the todays religious leaders is not wise, a foolishness that the faithful slave is fully into.

    - as a firehell for the rich or the relgiious leaders or

    - a final reconcialation for all or

    - the condemnation of all rich religious leaders or non followers of Christ

    This would certainly go beyond the moral of this little short story about mercy. It turns only around mercy and the politics of the "closed doors" for others, but not about a class of pharasees. The reader shall identify itself with the rich man, what for a rich man might indeed be a little scary, with the images that are used.

    Thirdly such stories are good lession or tool kit even today to teach how illustrations can be used to manipulate people, hopefully to the good account.

    We should not overvalue them because they are only stories, which however give a good impression about how early christians interpreted scripture.

    The story of the Rich man criticizes examplarily a particular behavior and calls accordingly for a behavioral change in the listener and reader. In most cases the examplary story is an openly formulated answer to a concrete question and is therefore to be understood as an example. This type of examplary stories is found only in Luke 10:30-37 (The Good Samaritan), 12.16-21 (The Rich Fool / Grainfarmer), 16:19-31 (The rich man and poor Lazarus) and 18.9-14 (Pharisees and tax collector).

    Jesus usage of such stories was not extraordinarily at all. It was the "up-to-date illustration" tool kit of rabbis at his time.

    This genre of literature included ethical and moral teaching, theological speculation, legends, folklore, poetry, prayers, historical information, interpreting of dreams, and expressions of messianic faith and longings. Aggadic literature, though instructive, did not contain legally binding theological and doctrinal dictums. Aggadic literarture is to be contrasted with the legally binding halachic literature of the same period. Aggadic literature made use of parable, satire, metaphor, personification, and poetry. Aggadah was not systematic philosophy, but dealt in its own way with basic theological and moral problems. The purpose of aggadic literature was not to convey point-by-point doctrinal truths, but to teach a moral.

    The Talmudic and Midrashic texts known as Aggadah are the stories, folklore, historical anecdotes, moral exhortations, and practical advice, words of inspiration, and most importantly, Jewish wisdom on how to best live our life in the service of God.

  • venus


    If Jesus symbolized the Pharisees through the rich man in the illustration of “The Rich man and Lazarus,” what did he gain by that except that it made them more revengeful that ultimately resulted in the murder of the messenger himself? If an act is going to increase the problem, why should one initiate it in the first place? In this way also, illustration served no purpose!

    In the big picture, this is what happens. The selfish people take advantage of a supernatural person who has supposedly spoken some good proverbs and performed some super-human feats—presenting things (parables and proverbs) through such authority to get easy acceptance from readers. One can see such motives behind some of the parables/illustrations Jesus supposedly used. For example, some people wanted to convey the following:

    Fraud in business is ok (16:1-12); but such fraudulent ones will end up in hell (Luke 16:19-31); yet there is a way to work around this situation—the rich have to give a portion of their ill-gotten wealth to the poor, and can go to heaven. (Mathew 25:31-46). See how the rich have responded to such a message—many orphanages and similar institutions came into existence with the rich sponsoring them and the management living in luxury while working in the name of the poor.

  • tor1500

    Hi All,

    The Bible is life lessons. Rich people are not always happy, they have the comforts of life but no place to rest their heart. They are never sure if they are truly liked or is it their money. Nothing wrong with being rich but like anything it has its down side.

    Jesus said the poor will always be with you. I think that is to keep humans charitable, otherwise and let's be honest if we never saw how others live we would never be concerned. There are countries that has always been poor and as much help they get from folks who feel they should help, they are still poor. If countries like Africa ever became prosperous and everyone had water and healthcare, where and what would us humans do to look benevolent?

    The poor shows us how much some of us take for granted. I work with rich folks too, they make the money and spend half of it in the therapist office telling the doctor they thought money was the answer and why are they not happy.

    On the other hand witness play the poor card because it makes them look more pious.

    As many have said Jesus spoke in parables because his crowd was not that intelligent because you know the Pharisees made sure of that. So Jesus spoke in a way the common folk would get the message. When you tell people to change and be nice and treat each other nice, the only way you can explain that is put the shoe on the other foot. If you can help someone do it, because wouldn't you appreciate if someone helped you, if you needed. I love the parable of the man that owed but his master forgave him his debt, but that same man that was forgiven did not himself forgive. The story is plain and simple. Jesus was saying don't do to people that you don't want done to you. He always applied it to the person to stir their conscience.

    We can pick the Bible apart point out contradictions but really people none of that matters, the Bible says love God with all your heart and love your neighbors as yourself. Some folks don't believe in God and that's your choice but to not take heed of the second part, just means there is no love in you and that could be that one may not love themselves, so how could you love others. It's nothing wrong with loving yourself but not to the point of conceit. Some people love themselves so much they don't have any room for anyone else.

    Wonder if there are any people who are rich and well adjusted? If not give me their money. I would hope that I would do the right thing and not let it go to my head.

    Money just provides the comforts of life but does not promise happiness only if you don't make a lot but are able to survive and keep food in your tummy and a roof over their heads that can make one happy.... not to sleep outdoors.

    The rich like to give to different institutions but they won't give it all, why? Because it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Some are passionate about their cause but won't give up living in luxury.


  • LongHairGal

    The JW religion is unbalanced and has a hypocritical view of "riches".

    They are pushing poverty, but the poverty they are pushing is for somebody else - not them. I saw this in the congregations I was with. They wanted somebody to do the equivalent of jumping from a plane without a parachute. People with cushy lives were very eager to see some gullible young person be a starving pioneer.

    In the Old Testament those patriarchs were not poor and lived very well. Even those that "lived in tents" didn't live in a little pup tent. It was probably like a studio apt with rugs. Somehow the Witness religion got it all distorted with the story of Jesus and the disciples. But, we aren't living in that world anymore.

    The point is that we have to be balanced. But, my opinion is that far too many Witnesses are in love with money and they are simply being hypocrites when they try to talk about not being materialistic.

    In a nutshell, they are full of it.

  • TheWonderofYou

    Gorge Storrs influenced Ch. T. Russel.

    I found a comment by him about the Lazarus story. He of course supported the doctrine of the "dispensation" and could not resist to adopt it to this story.

    while the obstinate unbelieving Jew from the time of Christ, or from the introduction of the Christian dispensation, has been "tormented:" and the "gulf" between the two dispensations is "impassable"-

  • TheWonderofYou

    Obviously he had in mind those who do not have the baggage of attachment and sense of possession, those few people of simplicity that belong to both the categories—the rich and the poor.

    Cardinal Schönborn, Vienna: "The Gospel of the poor, begging for a gift in the doorstep of the rich, exhorts men to do what is most important in the sight of God. This admonition in the parable of the "rich and poor Lazarus" is not connected with a condemnation of the rich by Jesus, emphasized Cardinal Christoph Schönborn on Saturday evening in Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral.

    "Jesus himself had rich friends in Bethany," recalled the Cardinal. If, in the parable of the nameless rich man and the poor Lazarus, he made a harsh judgment, it was not because "the rich man is attracted to brandname clothing, but because the rich man does not see the poor before his own door."
    The "dramatic" and actually sinful in the lives of most people are not the mistakes, but the omissions, the Viennese archbishop said: "What we miss, what we do not perceive what we overlook." Everyone must ask themselves, "Where is Lazarus in front of my door?"

    or how another commentator wrote: "there is no way to god, except with Lazarus".

    Another comment by this archbishop to the sunday gospel reading about Lazarus is this "who is your Lazarus"

    ..."I do not believe that Jesus sees this as something automatic: the poor are good in the poor, the poor are good. His message is rather: It depends on what you do now, how you behave today. There are rich that have a great heart. There are poor that close their hearts. Your eternal lot does not decide. It's in your hands today. Look outside your door! Who is your Lazarus?


    Another important factor we should consider is the soical economic background of the story. The jewish society was very solidarian. A poor one had pratically a public right for a support. It was regulated so.It was usual to invite poorer on holidays:

    “Go, my son, and find one of our poorer relatives captive here in Nineveh, someone who pays attention to God with all his heart. Bring him here to eat with me. I will wait here, son, until you return.” Tobit 2,2

    There was an instituionalised right for social services. Supporting widows and orphans (fatherless boys) got proverbal. Much is about this matter in the literature under the subjects jewish welfare, i stop because i am missing time now, however one important thing: about 90 % of jewish people in roman palestine have been according to a source poor people, they were wageworkers or slaves. Other sources say that it was not so bad.

    Therefore such a religious welfare institution was absolutely necessary and seldom one was let completely alone in this community network. About the roman jews was said that jewish children learned from the youth to beg, they were known as beggars in Rome. Besides them there were the cynics, people who decided volunatarily to live poor and to beg.

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