(Also posted on my Facebook Page)
In the last post, we discovered that humans don’t have immortal souls which go to a non-existent immortal soul destination called Hell. Rather than mount a well-reasoned and logical rebuttal of any of my post points, some commenters have chosen to throw “proof-texts” around just as if they were incantations with the magical power of invalidating my entire argument.
So, let’s take a look at one of these “proof-texts” - the parable of Lazarus and the rich man which is supposed to prove the existence of a literal fiery Hell.
Chapter 16 of Luke begins with Jesus telling a parable about generosity in this life which will reap rewards in the life to come (Luke 16:1-13. See also Matthew 6:19-21). In the following verses, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their love of money, their self-righteousness, their false values, and for ignoring the Law of Moses and the messages of the prophets where care of the poor was both a duty and a virtue (14-18). All these themes are woven into the parable of Lazarus and the rich man which follows naturally upon the preceding verses and closes out the Chapter.
This story is not about Heaven, Hell or immortal souls. It’s about the vast spiritual gulf which exists between the righteous dead and the unrighteous dead.
According to Israelite thought at that time, all the dead lie in the grave (Sheol, Hades), the place of darkness to which all humans go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life. However, when righteous Israelites died and were consigned to Sheol, they were imagined as sleeping in peace and security in the bosom of their remote ancestor Abraham until awakening in the “resurrection” to life with God. Just as a fatigued or troubled child may be taken to sleep in the peace and security of a parent’s arms, so also was Abraham thought to act towards his children. In contrast, the unrighteous dead were imagined as being in a state of torment because they too will rise in the “resurrection” but only to face judgement (John 5:28-29). (See note).
All the contemporaries of Jesus would have understood that this is the type of parable known as an exemplary story which uses one specific case to illustrate a general moral principle, in this case an exhortation to be a righteous person in life as in death you can do nothing to change your status. The righteous cannot become unrighteous and vice versa, hence the great gulf is fixed.
It should have been glaringly obvious to all, even to the most indoctrinated, that this story was never intended to be taken literally because it describes characters who have physical flesh which can feel, eyes that can see, tongues that can speak, ears that can hear, and who can interact with each other even though they are supposedly in different places.
The practice of “proof-texting”, i.e stripping biblical passages out of their context and cultural norms, leads to nothing but non-biblical absurdities such as the existence of a literal, fiery Hell.
The concept of biblical “fire” has absolutely nothing to do with physical flames. Stay tuned for a future post on its true meaning.
This parable is a total rebuttal of the teaching that all one has to do to be “saved” is to recite some incantation such as “I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour”. But more of that in a future post.
It is also a total rebuttal of the “we are all sinners” teaching.
There are only four exemplary stories in the Synoptics, all in the Gospel of Luke: the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37); the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21); the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31); and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).