Parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31)

This is extracted from The Testimony of Luke, by S. Kent Brown. It contains the New Rendition, Analysis, and Notes on each verse.

New Rendition

19 “There was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen and made merry in splendor every day. 20 A certain poor man named Lazarus had been laid at his gates, covered with sores 21 and wanting to be fed from what fell from the rich man’s table. Further, even the dogs, when they came, kept licking his sores. 22 And it came to pass that the poor man died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died and was buried.

23 “And in Hades, when he raised his eyes, being in torment, he saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And calling out, he said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to wet the tip of his finger with water and cool my tongue, because I suffer in this blaze.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you received your good things in your life, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now, here, he is comforted and you suffer. 26 And besides all this, a great chasm has been placed between us and you, so that those who want to cross from here to you cannot, nor from there might they pass over to us.’

27 “But he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to the house of my father, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may bear witness to them, that they might not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham. Rather, should someone from the dead come to them, they will repent.’ 31 But he said, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded should someone rise from the dead.’”


More than any other account in the Gospels, the Savior’s story about Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham opens an intriguing window onto the life to come, particularly the period between death and the resurrection. Emerging from a sort of no man’s land, with unclear boundaries and habitations, a sharpening vista presents physical distance and separation, self-conscious awareness of status and station, and a clearly graded bundle of rewards and punishments. Life after death is not jumbled and indistinct; it does not consist in an impersonal melding of individual identities with that of God. Rather, the next world offers an existence not only fitly framed in accord with a person’s actions in this life but also textured by the character that people have forged in their mortal lives.

On the surface, the story concerns the matters of rich and poor, of caring and neglect. But the surface paves over a deeper set of issues such as why poor Lazarus ends up in the bosom of Abraham and the rich man finds himself in Hades. Even though Jesus opens wide the door to allow the wealthy to enter his kingdom (see JST 18:27; the Notes on 16:11; 18:27; the Analysis on 16:1–12), the warnings hold their place: “the rich [God] hath sent empty away” (1:53) and “ye [rich] have received your consolation [in this life]” (6:24). Why? Because, like the rich man, many wealthy people spend their goods solely on themselves and on those closest to them—they have “wasted [their] substance” (15:13). Such a course of action, as the story illustrates, influences where former rich persons land in the next life, including Jesus’ current critics, certain Pharisees (see JST 16:23). For the divine requirement, based on the concept that all belongs to God, obliges the wealthy to share their substance rather than to keep it for themselves: “Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls” (D&C 56:16).[23] To drive home the point more sharply, we read in a passage that plainly alludes to Luke 16:23:[24] “if any man shall take of the abundance which I [God] have made, and impart not his portion . . . unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” (D&C 104:18; see 2 Ne. 9:30; Mosiah 4:16–23).

On their part, poor persons must likewise meet a set of burnished expectations, which evidently Lazarus does. As any other person, their lives must turn to God: “blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite.” As their reward, “they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance” (D&C 56:18). There is more. The impoverished, though they possess little of this world’s goods, must also sidestep the evils of greed and envy: “Wo unto you poor men . . . whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands” (D&C 56:17; see Mosiah 4:24–25).[25]

As much as any other principles that Jesus frames here, the twin standards that truth lies in the text of scripture and, implicitly, that scripture serves as a vehicle for inspiration and deeper understanding elegantly capture center stage. “They have Moses and the prophets,” intones Abraham. If the rich man’s five brothers will “hear them,” presumably in the Sabbath reading of scripture, “they will repent” because they will come to perceive the truth about the life to come (16:29–30). Notably, the brothers will not be persuaded any more forcefully, Abraham affirms, “though one rose from the dead” (16:31).

At base, this story about Abraham is apparently older than Jesus. Perhaps significantly, this account circulated first in Egypt before it came to Palestine where, plainly, Jesus adapts and retells it for his own purposes. This story underscores an Egyptian connection to the ancient patriarch and possesses possible relevance for the origin of the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. For it is a known technique among Egyptian Jews to repeat an old local story and attach it to a biblical figure.[26]


16:19 a certain rich man: In most Greek manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel, this person remains unnamed and thus lacking in honor. Even in death he is called simply “the rich man” (16:22). However, in the earliest text (75) and in the Sahidic Coptic translation, he receives the name Nevēs. Conversely, from a misunderstanding of the Vulgate version, the name Dives has become attached to this man, the name that remains in Christian lore.[1] In another vein, before the current introductory words for this story, “There was a certain rich man,” the Joseph Smith Translation adds other introductory words to the effect that Jesus told the story specifically to the Pharisees: “Verily I say unto you [Pharisees], I will liken you unto the rich man. For there was a certain rich man” ( JST 16:23–24).

clothed in purple and fine linen: The rich man of the story clearly stands above the crowd. Purple is a fabric color that few can afford, and is usually therefore in the possession of royalty and aristocracy because of the high cost of extracting the dye from murex snails that live in salt water.[2] In this light, Lydia, a convert of Paul, is a dealer in high-end fabrics (see Acts 16:14). The term translated “fine linen” (Greek byssos), here “underclothes,” also points to wealth and ties some of the inspiration for Jesus’ story to Galilee where the best linen in the countryis made.[3]

fared sumptuously: The Greek verb euphrainomai here conveys the sense of “purely secular joy” as in a festive, lavishly prepared meal wherein a worldly person finds a measure of happiness.[4]

16:20 beggar named Lazarus: Although this is the only instance of Jesus naming a person in one of his parables, irony may lie in naming the poor man and not naming the rich (see 16:19). The word derives from the common Hebrew name Eleazar which means “God has helped,” a fitting name, based on the results of the story.[5]

was laid at his gate: The passive of the verb implies that the poor man needed assistance to move and was therefore an invalid. The gate, likely ornamental because Jesus draws attention to it, stands as a further reminder of the rich man’s opulence and separates the two men of the story, just as the terms “afar off ” and “great gulf ” disclose an unbridgeable distance between them later on (16:23, 26).[6]

16:21 desiring to be fed: The same expression describes the younger son’s destitute condition in the parable of the prodigal son (see 15:16). In both instances, it remains unclear whether either man received much to eat.

with the crumbs: This phrase is missing in the earliest manuscripts, but its absence does not alter the meaning of Jesus’ story.[7] These crumbs are small pieces of discarded bread with which men wipe their faces and beards during a meal or that, once bitten into, are thrown under the table so that a person does not dip with the same piece of bread in a common dish.[8]

the dogs: The man’s misery becomes all the more vivid when Jesus adds the detail that the local, scavenging dogs, likely full of ticks and sores themselves, pay attention to the beggar’s sores whereas the rich man does nothing to alleviate the man’s condition.

16:22 was carried . . . was buried: The colorful imagery of the two verbs points to the final state of each person; one went up and the other down. Moreover, angels escort the beggar whereas the rich man enjoys no such company.

Abraham’s bosom: Two dimensions suggest themselves: a physical, personal aspect of Abraham and a location. First, the personal aspect of “bosom” appears in the expression “he [the rich man] . . . seeth . . . Lazarus in [Abraham’s] bosom” (16:23). Clearly, the beggar is with Abraham himself, perhaps enfolded within his arms (see D&C 132:49). In this connection, “bosom” can point to both the physical and spiritual dimensions of God’s existence or character: “thou [God] art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever” (Moses 7:30; also Moses 7:63). Moreover, the word applies not only to the Father but to the Son of Man (see Moses 7:24, 47). Second, concerning a celestial place called “bosom,” we notice that “bosom” is where God is (see Moses 7:30). In addition, God’s heaven is called “the bosom of the Father” (Moses 7:24; also Moses 7:30) and is evidently the place of his throne (see Moses 7:59). Further, the word “bosom” refers to the celestial residence of the city of Zion (see D&C 38:4), and highlights the premortal place of education and nourishment for the Son (D&C 76:13, 25, 39; compare D&C 88:13; 109:4).[9]

16:23 in hell: The expression is “in Hades,” and contrasts with “Abraham’s bosom” (16:22). Clearly, they are different places. The Greek term Hades in the Septuagint carries chiefly the meaning of a dark, permanent underworld where departed spirits are confined (see LXX Job 7:9–10; 10:21–22). In the New Testament era, this view is corrected to Hades as a place where the disembodied spirits temporarily await the resurrection and judgment (see the Note on 10:15; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 20:13) and where Jesus preaches during the time that his body lies in the tomb (see 1 Pet. 3:19–20; 4:6).[10] A similar correction appears in the Book of Mormon (see Alma 40:11–14). Joseph Smith taught that “Hades, Sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits.”[11]

lift up his eyes: The sense must be that the rich man is outside the place where Abraham resides but can see him (see the Note on 13:28). The scene clearly underscores the view that persons who die are both conscious of themselves and exist as individuals in the next life. The expression “to lift up the eyes” often describes the raising of eyes in common actions, and denotes distance (see 18:13; Gen. 13:10, 14; 18:2; etc.; John 4:35; 6:5; 11:41). being in torments: The expression, repeated in Doctrine and Covenants 104:18 as “being in torment,” ties to the torments of one’s soul at realizing that one could have experienced a different outcome in the next world (see Mosiah 3:25)—“The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone.”[12] Moreover, wealth by itself does not disqualify a person from a celestial reward, but its misuse: “if any man shall take of the abundance which I [God] have made, and impart not his portion . . . unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell” (D&C 104:18; see the Note on 18:27).[13]

16:24 Father Abraham: The former rich man appeals to his genealogical tie when he addresses Abraham, a tie that the Baptist has already discounted (see the Note on 3:8).

have mercy on me: In the mind of the rich man, Abraham possesses an abundance of mercy that he can confer on others, doubtless from the merit of his life. Here we see in full flower the idea that Abraham’s righteousness is so ample that it spills onto later generations, conferring righteousness on them in God’s sight, as sayings from rabbis of the early second century suggest. The view that the action of one individual benefits others underlies the Savior’s Atonement (see the Note on 3:8).[14]

that he may dip . . . and cool: It seems plain that the rich man still thinks of Lazarus as somehow subservient. Moreover, he has access to cooling water.[15]

I am tormented in this flame: Nothing indicates that the flame will continue tormenting forever (see D&C 19:10–12). But it is interesting that the term “this flame” characterizes the place called “hell” (16:23; Greek Hades), a notion that arises in ancient sources outside scripture[16] but is very much at home in LDS scripture (see 2 Ne. 9:16, 19, 26; Mosiah 3:27; etc.; compare “unquenchable fire” in D&C 43:33; 63:34; 101:66; also D&C 29:21, 28; 76:44, 105).

16:25 in thy lifetime . . . good things . . . evil things: Jesus illumines the principle that one’s status in earth life is not in any sense a predictor of one’s status in the next. But how are we to read the complete reversal of status that both men undergo when leaving this life and entering the next? In response, we note that the place in “Abraham’s bosom” (16:22) is reserved for those who measure up as Abraham does. Therefore, we should see the poor man as also righteous before God, not just poor. Moreover, the account presumes that the rich man is evil, or at least neglectful when he might be helpful (see the Note on 6:24). These notions are reinforced if we see the story as continuing the themes that Jesus strikes in his observations about hosting a supper (see 14:12–14) and then his story about a supper and the one who hosts it (see 14:16–24). Those who have means are “to impart to him that hath” nothing and to serve “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” (3:11; 14:13, 21; see also D&C 104:18).

16:26 a great gulf fixed: The gulf that exists in the next world is such that no one is able to cross it, including the gap between the righteous and wicked in the world of departed spirits before the resurrection.[17] A passage in the book of 1 Enoch mirrors this notion, describing the barrier as impassible “pits” or “hollow places.”[18] In large measure, such observations address the issue whether a person can pass from one kingdom to another in the next life. According to Jesus’ words, the answer is no (see D&C 29:29; 76:112; compare D&C 138:20–22, 29–32, 37).[19]

16:27 Then he said: The former rich man is not at a loss for ideas. It is clear that he is used to taking charge and getting his way, characteristics that continue into the next life. Here he proposes his alternate plan to no less a personage than Abraham!

thou wouldest send him: The rich man’s words hint firmly that Abraham possesses power to dispatch persons from the realm of the dead, a notable privilege.

my father’s house: This term, known in Hebrew as bet ‘av (“house of the father”), points specifically to the household of the rich man’s father, and includes all his brothers (see 16:28) and anyone else who is attached to the household, including slaves and resident laborers. Such a household forms the basic unit of ancient Israelite society and the hub around which all family life gathers.[20] Significantly, this part of the story illustrates Jesus’ ongoing interest in the family because of the enduring connection between the dead man and his living brothers (see the Notes on 11:21–22; the Analysis on 11:14–28). Incidentally, the rich man’s expression implies that his brothers are also well off.

16:28 that he may testify unto them: The growing stature of Lazarus in the eyes of the rich man becomes plain in these words. Although Lazarus will be doing the bidding of the man who once lived behind a gate, he will go to the man’s brothers as a firsthand witness of the blessings and vicissitudes of the next life.

lest they also come into this place: The rich man finally shows genuine concern, but only toward his siblings. Plainly, the personal characteristics that he has cultivated in his mortal life accompany him into the hereafter, a teaching underscored elsewhere (see Alma 41:2–8, 11–15; 42:27–28).

torment: The Greek noun basanos here has to do with the torment of hell. In its broader meaning, it points to testing the genuineness of an article.[21]

16:29 Abraham saith: The tone is notably respectful; Abraham does not discount the rich man’s request by turning a deaf ear.

Moses and the prophets: Abraham shows an awareness of the contemporary tripartite division of scripture, for he nods toward two of the three (see 16:16, 31; 24:27). The other consists of the so-called “sacred writings” (Greek hagiographa)—what Jesus later calls “the psalms” (24:44).[22]

let them hear them: Abraham’s words purposely raise to view the common practice of reading scripture aloud in worship settings, emphasizing the availability of correct teachings on the subject, even though some may see them as obscure (see 4:16–20; Neh. 8:1–8; Acts 13:15; 15:21; Rev. 1:3; 1 Ne. 1:13; the Note on 4:16). Thus, scripture stands as a teacher that must be approached with a proper attitude so that it imparts its truths to the seeker (see 6:3–5; 24:25–27; Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14; 2 Cor. 3:14–16; Eph. 3:4; D&C 71:5–6; 91:4–6; JS–M 1:12).

16:30 if one went unto them from the dead: The rich man’s words underscore his valuation of the vivid voice of spoken testimony in contrast to the written text of scripture. He at least understands this much (see the Notes on 3:2, 4, and 4:12).

16:31 hear not Moses and the prophets: A possible allusion to reading scripture aloud on the Sabbath lies in this expression although we do not know the cycle of reading during this period (see the Notes on 4:16; 16:16; 24:44).

neither will they be persuaded: Abraham’s words frame the principle that a genuine change of heart or change of mind comes from within a person, not from some external influence, no matter how spectacular or unusual.

one rose from the dead: In the long view, the obvious allusion aims at Jesus’ resurrection (see the Note on 22:67). But the words also refer more closely to Lazarus’ own resurrection.

[1] Marshall, Luke, 634–35; Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1130.

[2] Edwin Firmage, “Zoology,” in ABD, 6:1148–50.

[3] BAGD, 148; Jeremias, Jerusalem, 4; Douglas R. Edwards, “Dress and Ornamentation,” in ABD, 2:237.

[4] TDNT, 2:774.

[5] BDB, 740–41; TDOT, 11:16–17; Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1131.

[6] Green, Luke, 605–6.

[7] Marshall, Luke, 635; Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1131.

[8] Jeremias, Parables, 184, n. 53.

[9] Draper, Brown and Rhodes, Pearl of Great Price, 127.

[10] Plummer, Luke, 397–98; TDNT, 1:146–49; 3:399–401.

[11] TPJS, 310.

[12] TPJS, 357; also M. Catherine Thomas, “Hell,” in EM, 2:585–86.

[13] McConkie, DNTC, 1:519–20; Fitzmyer, Luke, 2:1132.

[14] W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology, rev. ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 268–73.

[15] Marshall, Luke, 637–38.

[16] 1 Enoch 10:13; 63:10; Ben Sirach 21:9–10.

[17] Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 468; Monte S. Nyman, “The State of the Soul between Death and the Resurrection,” in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of the Word, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1992), 175–82.

[18] 1 En. 22:8–13, in Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 1:300, 307.

[19] Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 539; Robinson and Garrett, Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2:328–29.

[20] TDOT, 1:8–9; 2:113–14; TLOT, 1:6; Wright, “Family,” 2:762–65.

[21] TDNT, 1:563.

[22] Schürer, History, 2:316–17; TDNT, 6:832; James A. Sanders, “Canon,” in ABD, 1:846.

[23] McConkie, DNTC, 1:519–20; McConkie and Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration,

408–9; Robinson and Garrett, Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2:139–40.

[24] Robinson and Garrett, Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 3:300.

[25] McConkie, DNTC, 1:519–20; McConkie and Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration,

409; Robinson and Garrett, Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2:139–40.

[26] Grobel, “‘. . . Whose Name Was Neves,’” 373–82; H. Donl Peterson, “Origin of the Book of Abraham,” in EM, 1:132–34.