1. The story is not fact but fiction: in other words, a parable. This is denied by some Christians who ask, Does not our Savior say: "There was a certain rich man?" etc. True, but all his parables begin in the same way, "A certain rich man had two sons,: and the like.
In Judges 9, we read, "The trees went forth, on a time, to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, reign thou over us." This language is positive, and yet it describes something that never could have occurred. All fables, parables, and other fictitious accounts which are related to illustrate important truths, have this positive form, to give force, point, life-likeness to the lessons that they inculcate.
Dr. Whitby says: "That this is only a parable and not a real history of what was actually done, is evident from the circumstances of it, namely, the rich man lifting up his eyes in Hell and seeing Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, his discourse with Abraham, his complaint of being tormented in flames, and his desire that Lazarus might be sent to cool his tongue, and if all this be confessedly parable, why should the rest be accounted history?" Lightfoot and Hammond make the same general comments, and Wakefield remarks, "To them who regard the narrative a reality it must stand as an unanswerable argument for the purgatory of the papists."
It occurs at the end of a chain of parables. The Savior had been illustrating several principles by familiar allegories, or parables. He had exhibited the unjustifiable murmurings of the Pharisees, in the stories of the Lost Sheep and of the Lost Piece of Silver, and the parable commencing the sixteenth chapter was directed to the Scribes and Pharisees, that class of Jews being represented by the Unjust Steward. They had been unfaithful and their Lord would shortly dismiss them. The account says: "And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they derided him," showing, unequivocally, that the force and power of his references were felt.
He continued to illustrate his doctrines and gave to them a marked cogency by his striking and beautiful stories. He then struck into this parable designing not to relate an actual incident but to exhibit certain truths by means of a story. It is clearly absurd to say that he launched immediately from the figurative mode of instruction in which he had all along been indulging, into a literal exhibition of the eternal world, and without any notice of his changed mode of expression, actually raised the vail that separates this life from the future! He was not accustomed to teach in that way.
And this brings us to another proof that this is a parable. The Jews have a book, written during the Babylonish Captivity, entitled Gemara Babylonicum, containing doctrines entertained by Pagans concerning the future state not recognized by the followers of Moses. This story is founded on heathen views. They were not obtained from the Bible, for the Old Testament contains nothing resembling them. They were among those traditions which our Savior condemned when he told the Scribes and Pharisees, "Ye make the word of God of none effect through your traditions," and when he said to his disciples, "Beware of the leaven, or doctrine of the Pharisees."
Our Savior seized the imagery of this story, not to endorse its truth, but just as we now relate any other fable. He related it as found in the Gemara, not for the story's sake, but to convey a moral to his hearers; and the Scribes and Pharisees to whom he addressed this and the five preceding stories, felt- as we shall see-the force of its application to them.
Says Dr. Geo. Campbell: "The Jews did not, indeed, adopt the pagan fables, on this subject, nor did they express themselves entirely, in the same manner; but the general train of thinking in both came pretty much to coincide. The Greek Hadees they found well adapted to express the Hebrew Sheol. This they came to conceive as including different sorts of habitations, for ghosts of different characters." Now as nothing resembling this parable is found in the Old Testament where did the Jews obtain it, if not from the heathen?
The commentator, Macknight, Scotch Presbyterian, says truly: "It must be acknowledged that our Lord's descriptions are not drawn from the writings of the Old Testament, but have a remarkable affinity to the descriptions which the Grecian poets have given. They represent the abodes of the blest as lying contiguous to the region of the damned, and separated only by a great impassable gulf in such sort that the ghosts could talk to one another from its opposite banks. If from these resemblances it is thought the parable is formed on the Grecian mythology, it will not at all follow that our Lord approved of what the common people thought or spoke concerning these matters, agreeably to the notions of Greeks. In parables, provided the doctrines inculcated are strictly true, the terms in which they are inculcated may be such as are most familiar to the people, and the images made use of are such as they are best acquainted with."
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