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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Luke 16

Verses 1-13

The second division of the discourse (chaps, Luke 10:1 to Luke 17:10), addressed to the disciples. The parable it contains presents great difficulties to the interpreter ; although the sense of the words is clear, and the general lesson obvious. The view given below seems to present the fewest difficulties ; other interpretations are indicated in passing.

Verses 1-31

THIS division of the Gospel of Luke, embracing nearly one third of the whole, contains for the most part matter peculiar to this Evangelist. A number of the incidents probably belong to an earlier period of the history. A few of these are mentioned by Matthew and Mark, though the greater number even of these are peculiar to this account. But the larger portion of this division belongs to that part of our Lord’s life passed aver in silence by Matthew and Mark. John indeed tells us of much that occurred during this period, but he does not give a parallel account. Many theories have been suggested; our view is as follows: This division treats in the main of that part of the life of our Lord on earth, between the close of His ministry in Galilee and the last journey from Perea (beyond Jordan) to Jerusalem; covering a period of nearly six months. The reasons for this opinion are: that chap. Luke 9:51 can only refer to the final departure from Galilee (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1), and this departure seems to have been shortly before the sudden appearance of our Lord in Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:14); it is indeed possible that our Lord returned to Galilee after this visit, but of this there is no positive evidence. On the other hand, the blessing of the little children (chap. Luke 18:15), where the parallel with Matthew and Mark is renewed, undoubtedly took place just before the last solemn journey from Perea to Jerusalem and to death. From John’s account we learn that during this period our Lord appeared again in Jerusalem. In fact, that Gospel alone tells us of His journeyings to avoid the hostility of the Jews. Neither Matthew nor Mark implies that the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, alluded to in chap. Luke 9:51, was a direct one, while both state that such a journey was undertaken about this time.

All who love the lessons of our Lord should rejoice that we have in this Gospel so much that is not only peculiar but important. The parables of this division are especially interesting, because uttered at a time when both the hostility of the Jews and the training of the disciples called for Truth more distinctively Christian. As in one sense the journey to death begins with this division, so do we here approach more closely the central truths of the gospel which centres in that death. The special questions of chronology will be discussed under the separate sections; but certainty on these points is impossible.

THE journey to Jerusalem spoken of in Luke 9:51 was probably that to the feast of Tabernacles; but in a wider sense, it was the final departure from Galilee to death at Jerusalem, since from this time on our Lord was rejected and persecuted openly by the Jews. The direct route was through Samaria, and on the way the incident of Luke 9:52-56 occurred. Some indeed suppose that our Lord, after this rebuff, did not pass through Samaria but skirted the borders between it and Perea (see Matthew 19:1-12); of this, however, there is no positive evidence. The main question is regarding the exact chronological position of the incident of Luke 9:57-62; which Matthew (Matthew 8:18-22) places just before the departure to Gadara. In favor of the order of Luke is the greater fulness of his account; in favor of that of Matthew, his mention of one who was a ‘scribe.’ Such language from a ‘scribe’ was more probable at the earlier point. The theory that such an incident occurred twice is highly improbable. There was no reason why Matthew should insert it out of its place; but it is so appropriate here, where our Lord’s final departure from Galilee is spoken of, that Luke probably placed it here for that reason. The whole section brings before us the four leading human temperaments: the choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Our Lord Himself had no temperament, but was the perfect man. On the question whether the sending out of the Seventy preceded this departure from Galilee, see next section.

Verse 14

Luke 16:14. And the Pharisees also. The preceding parable was addressed to the disciples (Luke 16:1), but the Pharisees heard all these things. A continued act is meant, here and in what follows : and they scoffed at him. Their feeling was : This man makes riches of little account, but we know better; we can keep our wealth and our piety too. Hence the next verse is aimed at their semblance of piety, which was the basis of their derision of Him.

Verses 14-31

The response of the Pharisees (Luke 16:14) called forth another parable, in which another phase, of the same great truth is brought out, namely, that neglect of the proper application of wealth becomes the source of eternal calamity. The rich man is no great sinner, but a respectable worldly man, leading a godless life of selfishness ; the poor man was one of a class despised by the ‘covetous.’ Thus the sneer of the Pharisees was answered. The object of the parable was not to make a new revelation about the future state, yet while using the popular language of the day on this subject, our Lord’s words must reveal the truth (see on Luke 16:22). Between the parable and the occasion of it (Luke 16:14), we find a number of thoughts (Luke 16:15-18), which had been expressed by our Lord on other occasions, all appropriate to the Pharisees at this time. The connection is however difficult to trace, see on Luke 16:16-17.

Verse 15

Luke 16:15. Ye are they that justify yourselves, declare yourselves to be righteous in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts. Plainly implying that in His sight they were not justified, accounted as righteous. For that which is lofty among men, i.e., considered so by men.

Is abomination in the sight of God. Because He knows the heart, He judges differently from men, and precisely what men regard most highly He regards least. This general truth applies to the special case of the Pharisees.

Verses 16-17

Luke 16:16-17. These verses may be thus paraphrased : ‘I have said that you are not justified in the sight of God, but are an abomination; and the standard of this judgment is one that you acknowledge.’

The law and the prophets were until John, that completed the preparatory work, and since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and every one (people of all classes, publicans and sinners) forceth his way into it; but, lest you might infer that I deny your righteousness by some new rule, I declare to you, it is easier, etc., Matthew 11:12-13; Matthew 5:18.

Verse 18

Luke 16:18. Every one who putteth away his wife, etc. The law remains valid on a point about which many of the Pharisees were altogether wrong (comp. Matthew 19:3-9). If, as we believe, the verse occurs in its proper connection, there was in the opinions of the Pharisees present some occasion for referring to this matter. Very shortly afterwards this class tempted Him in regard to the question of divorce. An allusion to Herod’s conduct is unlikely, since his case was different. Any reference to spiritual adultery (the service of mammon) seems far-fetched. On the principle here laid down, see on Matthew 5:31-32.

Verse 19

Luke 16:19. A certain rich man. His name is not given, but he is often called Dives, which is the Latin word for ‘rich man.’ Tradition gives him a name ( Nineue), but there is no proof that an actual person was referred to.

In purple. The costly material for upper garments, brought from Tyre.

Fine linen. For under garments, from Egypt; some such was said to be worth twice its weight in gold.

Faring sumptuously every day. He was not a glutton, nor recklessly extravagant, but he lived well, as a rich man could afford to do. There is no reason for supposing that he was a Sadducee; doubtless the rich among the Pharisees also lived according to their means and position. Nor is the man represented as specially a sinner. He was a ‘son of this world’ living to himself, without trying to make friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness. The parable teaches that such a one is punished after death

Verses 19-31

Luke 16:19-31. THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS. After rebuking the Pharisees, our Lord enforces the teaching which they derided by means of this parable. The two characters simply represent the classes to which they belong. All attempts to find deeper allusions are unsuccessful, for example, that Herod and John are meant, or Judaism and heathenism.

Verse 20

Luke 16:20. A certain beggar. Introduced in contrast with the rich man, who is the principal figure.

Named Lazarus. The significant name is mentioned in this case. It means ‘God a help,’ not, as some suppose, ‘helpless.’ The Lazarus of this parable has nothing save the name in common with Lazarus of Bethany. We infer from the name, as well as from the sequel, that the beggar was one who feared God.

Was laid at his gate. The rich man thus had an opportunity of making a better use of his wealth, for the ‘gate’ was the only entrance to the house itself.

Full of sores. Covered with them. They might have been the result of insufficient food.

Verse 21

Luke 16:21. And desiring to be filled, etc. Some think he did not even obtain this desire, and thus heighten the negligence of the rich man.

The crumbs which fell, lit, ‘the things which fell;’ the best authorities omitting ‘crumbs.’ These would scarcely satisfy him ; in any case the rich man gave himself no concern about the matter.

Yea, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The dogs sought the same portion, but even they alleviated his pain by licking his sores. It is a mistake to suppose that they heightened his misery by licking his sores, nor is there any proof that they snapped up what he wished to obtain. The pity of the wild and masterless dogs is contrasted with the indifference of the rich man.

Verse 22

Luke 16:22. The beggar died. No mention is made of his funeral. A pauper’s burial would attract no attention.

And was borne away. His soul is meant (so the Rabbins taught) in contrast to the burial of the body of the rich man.

By the angels. To be taken literally. The implied contrast is with the pall-bearers at the rich man’s funeral.

Into Abraham’s bosom. This was, among the Jews, a metaphorical expression for the state of blessedness after death. It is not exactly equivalent to ‘heaven,’ but rather to ‘Paradise’ (Luke 23:43), the happy side of the state of the dead. Our Lord throughout adopts the popular language of the Jews, without in any way implying that it was incorrect. Had it implied error, He would doubtless have so indicated. The beggar died first, being taken from his sufferings; the other was given longer space for repentance.

The rich man was buried. The funeral doubtless corresponded with his life, was magnificent.

Verse 23

Luke 16:23. And in hell, Greek, ‘Hades,’ i.e., in the state or place of departed spirits; which must not be confounded with Gehenna, the final state of eternal punishment, since in this case it includes ‘Abraham’s bosom.’

He lifted up his eyes. Either he looked up to a higher place, or he now became fully conscious.

Being in torments. The rich man was in a place of punishment ; for the whole parable turns on this point. Physical torment is not implied, save so far as it is necessary for the figurative representation. The rich man’s body was buried.

Seeth Abraham afar off. According to the Jewish notion, Paradise and Gehenna are so situated that one is visible from the other. A literal sense is not to be pressed, any more than in the previous part of the verse. The recognition of Abraham points to the fact that descent from Abraham, even when acknowledged in that state after death (Luke 16:25), is in itself of no avail.

In his besom. Strictly figurative.

Verse 24

Luke 16:24. Father Abraham. Even there the man does not forget that he is a Jew.

Send Lazarus. It is possible, but not probable, that, he still fancies he has some right to the services of one who was his inferior on earth.

That he may dip.... cool my tongue. The reason for this request is given : for I am in anguish in this flame. Our Lord uses this figure to represent a fearful truth. Though entirely figurative, it means that the souls of the impenitent after death suffer as terribly as though fire were tormenting their bodies. The close relation between sin and its punishment is suggested by the mention of the tongue. The chief organ of sin becomes the chief organ of punishment. The conditions are reversed: the former rich man, now in torment, would be glad to receive refreshment from the despised beggar, now in blessedness. Each retains his character.

Verse 25

Luke 16:25. Son. The relation is acknowledged, in a tone of pity and tenderness, but that is of no avail.

Remember. Memory remains and is intensified in that state ; it is here appealed to so as to prove to the man in torment the picture of his lot.

In thy life-time. Contrasted with ‘now.’

Didst receive. So that there is nothing left to be given you.

Thy good things. Thy is emphatic ; what he had on earth, his wealth, was regarded as his chief good. Hence he received all his portion there. The connection with the preceding parable suggests that if he had made friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness, there would have been some of the ‘good things’ available for another world.

Lazarus in like manner evil things. All the good for one had come on earth; ‘in like manner’ all the evil for the other.

But now, etc. The reason was not that Lazarus had been poor and the other man rich. It was the rich man’s estimate of his wealth, of which Abraham spoke. So we may infer that it was the conduct of Lazarus under affliction and poverty which is alluded to. Comp. also Luke 16:27-31.

Verse 26

Luke 16:26. And beside all this. Besides the moral impropriety of granting the request, the wish was an impossible one. God has immutably decreed otherwise: there is a great gulf fixed. The figure is that of an unfathomable abyss which cannot be spanned. Here our Lord reveals what was unknown to the popular mind of that time.

That. In the world of departed spirits, according to our Lord’s imagery, where He deviates from the popular notions, a change of state is impossible; God has so ordered it. Purgatory and repentance after death find no support here.

Verses 27-28

Luke 16:27-28. I pray thee therefore, etc. His brethren were living as he had done. ‘This is the believing and trembling of James 2:9. His eyes are now opened to the truth ; and no wonder that his natural sympathies are awakened for his brethren. That a lost spirit should feel and express such sympathy is not to be wondered at; the misery of such will be very much heightened by the awakened and active state of those higher faculties and feelings which selfishness and the body kept down here.’ Alford.

Verse 29

Luke 16:29. They have Moses and the prophets, i.e., the Old Testament.

Let them hear them. This implies that these men, though children of Abraham and possessors of the Old Testament, had never rightly attended to it.

Verse 30

Luke 16:30. Nay, father Abraham. This scarcely means : they will not hear them, but rather, Nay, but make the matter more sure. The advocate of more decided ‘spiritual manifestations’ is a lost and still impenitent soul, without real discernment as to the best means of grace.

Verse 31

Luke 16:31. If they hear not Moses, etc. The Old Testament Scriptures were sufficient to lead them to repentance, and if they were not rightly affected by them, no appearance from the other world would awaken faith, conviction of the truth. For the Jews at that time the Old Testament was sufficient. Those who do not hear when God speaks, will not hear the truth about the other world, even if a message came from it. Granting the possibility of such message, we must, from this verse, deny any moral advantage to be derived from it. According to our view of the chronology, the raising of Lazarus had already occurred; and this, so far from convincing the Pharisees, who were now addressed, led to their bitterest opposition. Our Lord rose from the dead, but did not appear to the Pharisees ; and the testimony concerning His resurrection produced no important results among them. The prerequisite to the conversion of a Jew to faith in the risen Lord was an earnest listening to what God had spoken before.

THE FUTURE WORLD, in the light of this parable. Our Lord here assumes: (1) that all live after death ; (2) that in the state of the disembodied dead, there are two classes, which remain unchanged : the punished and the blessed; (3) that the disembodied spirits retain their personality and their memory; and that one element of torment is the apprehension, on the part of the lost, of what they would not believe on earth, without any corresponding moral effect; so that even natural sympathy only increases their misery. The parable, especially in its closing verse, cautions against too great curiosity on this subject. The answer He puts in the mouth of Abraham is not only opposed to modern ‘spiritualism,’ but also to attempts to work upon the conscience and awaken faith by graphic portrayals of future misery. If Lazarus, coming from Abraham’s bosom and a witness of the sufferings of Dives, could do no good to those who were disobedient to the simple words of Divine revelation, little good can be expected from the most vivid descriptions made by those who have never been there. Dante’s Inferno has done little for Christianity.

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Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Luke 16". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.