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Monday, August 19, 2013

Luke 16:19-31 - A Parable That Does NOT Teach a Literal Torment in Hell

Luke 16:19-31 is one of the primary proof texts used by those who believe in literal torment in Hell, because it is the only Scripture which links Hades with "torment." But, there are many problems with interpreting this account as literal.

First, many Scholars list this as a parable. Parables are fictitious stories meant to teach us a point. We are not being given a literal account of what happens after death here. One edition of the NAB states: "Parable: A short fictitious narrative from which a moral or spiritual truth is drawn. Keep in mind that the point of the parable (not the details) is God's message to believers."

A strong indication that this must be a parable is because Christ already said that he would not talk to the crowds "without an illustration" (Mt.13:34).

Then the context dictates that this be a parable since we have a continuous series of parables all directed at the Pharisees and the spiritual states of two classes.

The Pharisees' self-righteous complaint about Jesus teaching the common people is recorded in 15:2. Introducing the series of parables, 15:3 states "He told them this parable...". Five connected parables follow, all contrasting God's view of sinners as opposed to the attitude of the religious leaders. The last two condemn the Pharisees pride and covetousness and teach that we should be diligent in using all our assets to find favor with God.

Another evidence that this is a parable is because so many details have to be symbolic and not literal. Where does Jesus ever say that Dives was "bad"? Where does it say that Lazarus was good"? Are people rewarded just because they are poor and suffer? If we were to take this account as literal we would all have to give away our goods to avoid burning in hell. Was Lazarus literally in the "bosom of Abraham"? Would a literal drop of water really bring any comfort in a literal hell? Is there a literal "chasm" separating hell and heaven over which the good and bad can hold conversations? No, all these features are obviously symbolic.

It would be ridiculous to take the details of this parable literally. Therefore, since every one of these details are figurative, then Abraham, Lazarus, Dives, their "dying," as well as the "fire" and "torment" must be symbolic features of an allegorical story.

In parables you must interpret what the various details "mean." J. Patching put it succinctly:

"If this parable is describing actual conditions of the future then those in heaven will be able to hold conversations with those in Hell. People will be able to look across the impassable gulf and see their loved ones in indescribable torment. Fathers will see daughters, mothers will see their sons, husbands and wives see relatives all uttering ceaseless pleadings for cool water to assuage their thirst and anguish of soul. Continual torment as such being witnessed by loved ones, seeing and hearing such screaming and hopeless despair would hardly give one in heaven a sense of bless! Such a harrowing situation in no way would grant peace to heaven's occupants!"

Death pictured an unexpected change of circumstances. The "bosom position" is a common symbol in Scripture for a favored position (John 1:18; 13:23-25). Lazarus was now in a position of favor with God. Thus the common people, pictured by "Lazarus", now had God's blessings of spiritual discernment (Rom. 2:29; cf. Gal.3:7-9).

Regarding a bosom position, the ISBE says: "In a figurative sense it denotes intimacy and unrestrained intercourse (Gen. 16:5; 2 Sam. 12:8); tender care and watchfulness (Isa. 40:11); closest intimacy and most perfect knowledge (John. 1:18)."

Logically, just as Abraham's bosom is a symbol of a favored state, Hades is here a symbol of an unfavorable state. But we must answer the question, "Why would Jesus even use Sheol/Hades and associate it with "torment?" The reason is quite simple when we recognize that in the Bible Sheol/Hades is a very common symbol. It is regularly used in the Scriptures as a symbol of a despicable state. Several times David thanked God for delivering him from HADES (Ps.30:3; 86:13, LXX). When Jonah was in the belly of the fish he said he was in HADES. Was David or Jonah literally in HADES? No. But they were in a despicable condition and wanted to be released. Likewise, in parabolic language "HADES" here in Luke is not literally the place where dead souls are. It is the figurative Sheol/Hades as used by David, Jonah and many others.

Many Bible scholars recognize this figurative use HADES:

S.T. Bloomfield in his Notes on the N.T. says HADES is a "hyperbolical expression, figuratively representing the depth of adversity."

Adam Clarke: "The word 'hell', used in the common translation, conveys now an improper meaning of the original word;...Here it means a state of the utmost woe, and ruin, and desolation."

Likewise, the Greek word for "torment" (BASANOS) means "to go to the bottom" and was used figuratively for the touchstone by which gold was tested for their quality. So, "torment" is a fitting symbol for testing a person's worth in God's sight.

The rich man dwelling in Hades represents the spiritual degradation now experienced by the Pharisees. They now "thirst" for even a drop of the spiritual waters they had previously (Amos 8:11). The fiery torment experienced by the rich man represented Jesus' messages of fiery judgment proclaimed by Jesus' disciples that tormented these religious leaders day and night (Acts 4:1,2; 5:17, 18; 7:54).

Interpreting this account to be teaching a literal hellfire of torment would rip the parable out of it's context, which is not teaching anything about what happens after death. Rather, it is clearly an illustration depicting the difference in the *spiritual* conditions of the "rich" Pharisees and the "poor" common people (Luke 15:1,2; 16:1,14). This is easy to see since the context is in response to scoffing by the Pharisees, who were "money lovers" and setting themselves in an exalted position (16:14,15). Yet, the common people "kept drawing near to him to hear him" (Luke 15:1,2).

So the parable depicts a change of circumstances from God's standpoint. The Rich man represented the Jewish religious leaders, who were favored with spiritual privileges and opportunities, whereas Lazarus represented the common people to whom the religious leaders denied spiritual food.

And most important, interpreting the "torment in HADES" as literal would cause a contradiction in the Scriptures. It would be a highly irresponsible way of interpreting Scripture to cite this parabolic Scripture as evidence of the dead continuing to exist and ignore the scores of Scriptures which explicitly teach us that the condition of the dead is a return to the dust and unconsciousness. The rules of hermeneutics require any interpretation of symbols to agree with clear Scriptures which do not need any interpretation.

The entire testimony of the rest of the Bible, clearly states that those who are dead in SHEOL/HADES (hell) do not know anything, their "thoughts perish" and they are "dust" (Gen.3:19; Eccl.3:20; 9:5,10; Ps.6:5; 115:17; 146:4; Isa.38:18,19; 63:16; Job 14:21; Ezek.18:4; etc.) The Bible clearly shows that everyone, good and bad, go to the same place; "Hell" (HADES/SHEOL) (Job 14:13; Gen.37:35; Ps.16:10; Acts 2:27, 31).

Other biblical accounts are also contradicted if we construe this parable literally. Isa. 38:18, 19 says that the dead do not praise Jehovah (Ps. 6:5; 115:17). Those in SHEOL are ignorant of others (Job 14:21; Isa.63:16). If these scriptures are true then Lazarus cannot be literally in the bosom of Abraham whether in heaven or a "compartment" of HADES.

So, the question is, do we choose one doubtful interpretation of a highly symbolic scripture over the clear, explicit teaching of God's word? Will we make the Bible and Christ himself contradict themselves, simply because we want to hold onto a patently pagan and morbid doctrine?

The Bible is very clear on the condition of the dead. It uses clear and explicit statements. God does not hide true doctrine in parables and visions. He explicitly states the truth.

Source: This is the Best Answer given by Bar_Anerges to a question from Yahoo! Answers.

Also see:

For Jesus’ illustration of the rich man and Lazarus, did he draw on rabbinic beliefs concerning the dead? (Insight-2 pp. 225-226; Watchtower Online Library)

Hell (Defend Jehovah's Witnesses Category)

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