The Rich Man and Lazarus—A Parable???
The story of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16 has fascinated Bible students for years. While they lived on this earth, the wealth of one and the poverty of the other was obvious to all. When they both died, their roles were reversed. The beggar was blessed, but he who lived in luxury was tormented in the flames of Hades. Some have asked if they actually lived or if this is a parable of Jesus.
Before dealing with this question we need to define a parable. To do this we must first consider the definition of two words: fables and parables. Both are stories with moral teachings, but what is the distinction between them?
The fables of Aesop are known by many. He lived at least 600 years before the Lord and wrote many stories containing moral truths. Many of them concerned animals. He wrote of wolves, wasps, snakes, dogs, fleas, oxen, flies, dolphins, donkeys, cats, horses, goats, camels, mice, weasels, lions, ants, frogs, bees, sheep, deer, mules, elephants, bears, locusts, chickens, gnats, rabbits, swans, crabs, and geese. In these fables, the animals talked and interacted in conversation with each other and with people they met. The truth is that these stories never happened, nor could they happen. They all contain moral truths, but no one, other than small children, would ever think they are factual accounts. Fables are so much like fairy tales.
On the other hand, there are the parables of Jesus. By definition they are “earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.” They concern men building houses, farmers sowing their fields, merchants, fishermen, families and their interactions, and a host of other earthly stories. Each of these could have happened! They are vastly different from fairy tales or fables.
So whether the rich man and Lazarus ever lived makes no difference in the truths surrounding them. There are angels who carry the righteous to a place of bliss, and there are either comforts or torments on the other side. There is Hades with its flames and the thirsting for water for those who are there. Some who want to advance the doctrine about the soul sleeping until the resurrection want this story to be a fable, but it is not a fable. But, is it a parable?
Parables often begin with works like, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” but Jesus actually said, “There was a beggar named Lazarus.” Jesus said this specific man was at the gates of a rich man. This is far different from fables which could never happen. It has none of the characteristics of fables. Parables could have happened; fables could not. However, it is hard to ignore that Jesus said the beggar Lazarus lived and died. We need to believe what the Lord said about him.