"The parables of Jesus never introduce fictitious conditions, nor do they anywhere violate the order and course of nature. It is hardly possible that he could have made this an exception to his rule, especially since it is in a field where all the wisdom of the world is insufficient to make the slightest correction."8
In an effort to discount the implications of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, some assert that Jesus fabricated the environs mentioned merely to explain a moral point.
This position reveals a lack of understanding of the nature of parables, and challenges the credibility of Christ.
What is a parable?
Parables have been defined as "earthly stories with heavenly meanings." They are short illustrations that convey spiritual lessons.
Jesus often taught with parables. When asked why he used this method of teaching, Jesus said, "I speak to them in parables because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." (Matthew 13:13)
Parables enabled Jesus to convey his lessons to disciples while concealing the truth from unbelievers. This was important because religious leaders in Palestine were hostile toward Jesus. On two occasions prior to the crucifixion the Jews tried to kill Jesus for speaking plainly. (Luke 4:16-30 and John 8:12-59)
The contexts of parables were familiar to Christ's listeners. Some familiar settings included:
- Farmers planting seeds
- Fishermen casting nets
- Shepherds tending sheep
Other settings of travel, commerce, labor, housekeeping, and construction were also used in parables. None of these settings were unusual or difficult for listeners to imagine.
Jesus drew parallels between characters in parables and particular individuals. Parallels were made between farmers and evangelists, fishermen and angels, shepherds and Christ, or fathers and God.
Parables are not fables
It's important to distinguish between parables and fables. Parables were based on realistic situations that could conceivably occur. Fables were not subject to this restriction.
Fables could contain talking animals, walking plants, or other fantastic elements that defied the natural world. Jesus did not fabricate wild situations to convey moral lessons. Jesus spoke in parables, not in fables.
Why is this important?
Understanding that parables have their basis in reality significantly impacts our interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
Suppose for a moment that Jesus made a habit of teaching with imaginary fables, and not with realistic parables. If this were the case it would be easy to dismiss Luke 16:22-31 as inventive fiction. The environs of torment, the gulf, and paradise (a.k.a. Abraham's bosom) would be relegated to elements used in the parable to prove a point, but nothing more.
Since we know that every one of Christ's other recorded parables were based on reality, it's difficult to take the places mentioned in this passage so lightly.
Claims that Jesus fabricated torment, the gulf, and paradise are an affront to his credibility.
If Jesus was the truth, it would have been incongruous for him to lie about the nature of the afterlife - especially when one considers that mankind possesses no scientific method of investigating and verifying Christ's statements concerning life after death (1Peter2:21-22, John14:6, John8:31-32).
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus depicts torment, the gulf, and paradise. The remainder of this article is written with the understanding that Jesus truthfully and accurately portrayed real places that the dead will inhabit.