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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 16



Verses 1-31

The Unjust Steward. The Rich Man and Lazarus

1-13. Parable of the Unjust Steward (peculiar to Lk). The details of this somewhat difficult parable are probably not significant. It is intended to illustrate the proper use of wealth. Christians should use it so well here on earth, by expending it not selfishly on their own pleasures, but unselfishly for the good of others, and for the advancement of God's kingdom, that instead of hindering them from reaching heaven, it will help them to enter there. The prudence (foresight) of the steward is commended in this parable, not his dishonesty.

5-7. Tenants in the East pay their rent in kind, not in money. The landlord provides them with seed, and they return him at harvest-time a certain proportion of the yield.

6. An hundred measures] lit. 'baths,' the 'bath' being a Heb. liquid measure = 9 gallons.

Bill] RV 'bond.'

7. Measures] lit. cors, the cor being a Heb. dry measure = 11 bushels.

8. And the lord] RV 'his lord,' i.e. his master. Many readers wrongly imagine that Jesus is the speaker here. Because he had done wisely] i.e. 'prudently.' The master praised not the morality of the transaction, but its far-sighted prudence, and it is just this that Jesus holds up for imitation. For the children (sons) of this world (i.e. worldly people) are in their generation (i.e. in dealing with other worldly people) wiser (i.e. more prudent and far-seeing) than the children of light (i.e. than the spiritually enlightened are in making provision for their heavenly welfare).

9. Make to yourselves] i.e. make to yourselves friends in heaven by means of a prudent use of your wealth (viz. by hospitality, alms-deeds, etc.), that when ye fail, i.e. die (or, according to the RV, when 'it,' i.e. your wealth, 'fail'), the angels may receive you into the eternal habitations. Of] RV 'by means of.' Friends] i.e. either 'the poor,' who by their prayers obtain your admission to heaven, or, more probably, 'the angels,' who become the friends of those who give alms, and at the last carry their souls to heaven. The mammon of unrighteousness] A common rabbinical expression. It occurs in the pre-Christian book of Enoch. It does not here mean wealth unrighteously acquired, but simply 'deceitful wealth.' So we speak of 'filthy lucre,' not meaning unjust gain, but gain in general: see Matthew 6:24. So rightly Calvin: 'By giving this name to riches, he intends to render them an object of our suspicion, because for the most part they involve their possessors in unrighteousness.'

10. 11. Luke 16:11 explains Luke 16:10. If you are unfaithful in such an unimportant matter as money (i.e. if you do not spend your incomes to the glory of God), God will not entrust you with those spiritual gifts, graces, and virtues which are much more important.

12. If you do not spend your money rightly, you will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Money is here called that which is another's, because Christians are to regard it not as their own, but as a trust for which they must one day give account. That which is your own is the joy of heaven, 'the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'

13. See on Matthew 6:24.

14-18. The Pharisees mock Jesus. His reply. The connexion of Luke 16:16-17, Luke 16:18 is difficult, and it may be that they do not properly belong here, but it is also possible that our Lord's discourse is abridged, the connecting links being left out.

14. Covetous] RV 'lovers of money'; see on Mark 12:40.

15, 16. See on Matthew 11:12, Matthew 11:13. The connexion (if such is to be sought) is this: Before Christ began to preach, it was comparatively easy for the Pharisees to justify themselves before men, but now that the deeper morality of the Gospel is widely accepted, men are beginning to find out the deficiencies of the Pharisees.

17, 18. See on Matthew 5:18. Here the sense is: The Pharisees, however, object to be tried by the standard of the Gospel, and demand to be tried by the standard of the Law. But even according to this (which is still in force in its spiritual sense), they are found to be deficient, for, while observing it in trivial matters, they break it in matters of weight, e.g. (Luke 16:18), whereas the Law forbids divorce except for adultery, the Pharisees, or most of them, allow it for every cause: see on Matthew 5:32.

19-31. The rich man and Lazarus: peculiar to Lk, and full of that sympathy with the poor which characterises his Gospel. It does not, however, as Strauss maintains, assert that the mere possession of wealth is wrong, or that mere poverty justifies. On the contrary, the rich man is condemned, not because he was rich, but because he was callous, and Lazarus justified, not because he was poor, but because he was poor in spirit. The callousness of the rich man was due to his scepticism. He consumed his wealth in selfish luxury, sparing none of it for the poor, because he did not really believe in God or a future life. If he had so believed, he would have acted differently. The parable may perhaps be directed against the Pharisees, who were 'lovers of money' (Luke 16:14); but inasmuch as their covetousness did not take the form of sumptuous living, it seems better to regard it as a warning addressed to Christians generally against luxury, worldliness, selfishness, and unbelief.

19. Rich man] conveniently called 'Dives' (Lat.). He represents all those who in the enjoyment of wealth forget God and the world to come, and neglect all acts of charity and love. Purple] i.e. a rich material dyed with the liquid obtained from the shellfish 'murex,' formed the rich man's upper garment, and fine linen his under garment, or shirt; both were exceedingly costly.

20. Lazarus] = Eleazar, i.e. 'He who has God for his help.' His name expresses his character. Prom Lazarus is derived lazar = leper. Desiring] but not obtaining his desire.

21. The dogs] Since the dog was in the East an unclean animal, the licking was an aggravation of the poor man's misery.

22. By the angels] The rabbis said: 'None can enter Paradise but the just, whose souls are carried thither by angels.' 'When an Israelite departs to his eternal home, the angel in charge of the garden of Eden, who receives every circumcised son of Israel, introduces him into the garden of Eden.' 'When the just depart from the world three companies of angels go before them in peace. The first says, “Let him come in peace” the second says, “Let them rest in their beds” the third accompanies him.' Abraham's bosom] A Jewish name, not of heaven, but of the intermediate state of bliss, in which the souls of the just await the resurrection. E.g. 'Ada bar Ahavah sits today in Abraham's bosom': cp. 4 Maccabees 13:17. 'When we have thus suffered, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will receive us.' Other equivalent names are 'Paradise,' 'the garden of Eden,' and 'under the throne of glory.'

23. In hell] RV 'in Hades.' Hades is here used in a wide sense for the intermediate state of all souls, just and unjust, between death and judgment. In this sense both Dives and Lazarus were in 'Hades,' though the one was comforted and the other tormented. This usage of the word is quite common. 'Hades, in which the souls both of just and unjust are detained' (Hippolytus). 'In the lower world are both torment and refreshment. There a soul is either punished or tenderly cherished, as a foretaste or rehearsal of the final judgment' (Tertullian). The rich man was not in 'hell' (Gehenna), because no one is sent there until after the Last Judgment.

In torments] Spiritual torment or punishment must be meant, for Dives was now a disembodied spirit. Seeth Abraham] The rabbis placed Paradise in sight of the place of torment, and were familiar with the idea of conversations among the dead: see on Luke 16:26. There is a rabbinical story not unlike this parable: 'There were two partners in crime in this world, one of whom repented before his death, but the other did not. After death the one was carried away and placed in the company of the just; the other in the company of the wicked. The latter saw the former, and said, “Woe is me, for there is respect of persons in this matter. He and I robbed together and murdered together, and now he stands in the congregation of the just, and I in the congregation of the wicked.” They answered him, “Thou fool, it was in thy power also to have repented, but thou didst not.” He said to them, “Let me go now, and become a penitent.” But they said, “Thou most foolish of men, dost thou not know that this world in which thou art is like the sabbath, and the world from which thou earnest, like the eve of the sabbath? If thou providest nothing on the sabbath-eve, what wilt thou eat on the sabbath?” And he gnashed his teeth and gnawed his own flesh.'

In his bosom] The figure is not taken from reclining at a banquet (John 13:23), because the great banquet would not take place, according to Jewish ideas, till the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 8:11), but from children quietly resting in their parents' lap or bosom.

24. Father Abraham] He spoke as a Jew, thinking that Abraham had power over the fires of Hades, and would help his own descendants. The rabbis said, 'The fire of Gehenna has no power over the sinners of Israel, for Abraham descends and rescues them from it.'

25. Thy good things] i.e. thy wealth and pleasures. Dives was punished, not for his wealth, but for his abuse of it. Lazarus was justified, not for his poverty, but for his patience and humility.

26. Beside all this] better, 'in all these regions of the dead.' A great gulf fixed] Somewhat different from the representations of the rabbis, who said (see Ecclesiastes 7:14), 'God hath set the one against the other, i.e. Hell and Paradise. How far are they distant? A hand's breadth. Rabbi Jochanan saith, A wall is between. But the rabbis say, They are so even with one another, that you may see out of one into the other': cp. Revelation 14:10.

29. Moses and the prophets] These would give them sufficient light and guidance.

30, 31. Our Lord disbelieved the power of signs and wonders to produce repentance, and here declares that even the sign of His own Resurrection will leave many hard hearts unmoved.

The pains of Dives being those of Hades, not of Gehenna, many recent commentators regard his release from them as possible, and see in his new-born anxiety for the welfare of others (Luke 16:27) an indication that his punishment is producing its intended purifying effect: see on Matthew 12:32.

Additional Note

The chief interest of this parable to modern readers is the light that it throws, or seems to throw, upon the state of departed souls between death and judgment. As to its significance in this respect, expositors are not entirely at one. Some regard all its statements on the subject as teaching definite doctrines binding on Christians, others regard them as only the poetic framework of the parable, embodying conventional Jewish ideas, and therefore as having no significance for Christians. Both extremes are to be avoided. On the one hand, the parable is plainly intended to inculcate, as against the unbelief of worldly and sensual men, the doctrine of future rewards and punishments beginning immediately after death, and to be so far a serious doctrinal statement. On the other hand, the thoroughly Jewish cast of the phraseology warns us against taking its details too literally. The essence of the teaching is thus expressed by Luckock: 'The souls of the departed in the intermediate state are possessed of consciousness, memory, and sensibility to pain and pleasure; the life of all men, whether good or bad, is continued without interruption after the separation of soul and body; and retribution commences between death and judgment. These conclusions are in direct antagonism to the theory that the soul falls asleep when the body dies, and will not wake again till the resurrection of the dead.'


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Luke 16:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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