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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Lazarus

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LAZARUS.—A common Jewish name, meaning ‘God hath helped’; a colloquial abbreviation of Eleazar (cf. Liezer for Eliezer).* [Note: Juchasin, 81. 1: ‘In Talmude Hierosolymitano unusquisque R. Eleazar scribitur, absque Aleph, R. Lazar.’]

1. Lazarus the beggar, who, in our Lord’s parable (Luke 16:19-31), lay, a mass of loathsome sores, at the gateway of the rich man, named traditionally Nineuis (Euth. Zig.) or Phinees (Clem. Recogn.). The notion that he was a leper (whence lazar-house, lazzaretto) is impossible, since he must then have kept afar off, and durst not have lain at the rich man’s gateway.

This has been pronounced no authentic parable of Jesus, but an ‘evangelic discourse upon His words—“that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” ’ (Luke 16:15),† [Note: A. Abbott in Encycl. Bibl. art. ‘Lazarus,’ § 2.] on the following grounds: (1) Its introduction of a proper name. Nowhere else in the Gospels is a parabolic personage named, and the idea prevailed in early times that this is not a parable but a story from real life (cf. Tert. de Anim. § 7; Iren. adv. Hœr. iv. 3. 2).

(2) Its alleged Ebionism. The contrast between the two men on earth is not moral or religious. It is not said that the rich man got his wealth unrighteously, or that he treated Lazarus cruelly. The difference was merely that the one was rich and the other poor, and their dooms are a reversal of their earthly conditions. ‘In this parable,’ says Strauss, ‘the measure of future recompense is not the amount of good done or wickedness perpetrated, but of evil endured and fortune enjoyed.’

(3) Its Jewish imagery. (a) ‘The beggar died, and he was carried away by the angels.’ It was a Jewish idea that the souls of the righteous were carried by angels to paradise (cf. Targ. [Note: Targum.] on Song of Solomon 4:2 ‘Non possunt ingredi Paradisum nisi justi, quorum animae eo feruntur per angelos.’ (b) The Jews called the unseen world Sheol; and so closely identical was their conception thereof with that of the Greeks, that Sheol is rendered by the LXX Septuagint Hades.* [Note: Schultz, OT Theol. ii. p. 321 ff.] It was the common abode of all souls, good and bad alike, where they received the due reward of their deeds; and it was an aggravation of the misery of the wicked that they continually beheld the felicity of the righteous, knowing all the while that they were excluded from it. See Lightfoot and Wetstein on Luke 16:23; cf. Revelation 14:10. So in the parable ‘the rich man in Hades lifts up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham from afar, and Lazarus in his bosom.’ (c) There were three Jewish phrases descriptive of the state of the righteous after death: ‘in the Garden of Eden’ or ‘Paradise’; ‘under the throne of glory’ (cf. Revelation 6:9; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:15); ‘in Abraham’s bosom.’ The last appears in the parable (Luke 16:22-23). The meaning is that Lazarus was a guest at the heavenly feast. Cf. Luke 14:15 and the saying of R. Jacob: ‘This world is like a vestibule before the world to come: prepare thyself at the vestibule, that thou mayest be admitted into the festal-chamber.’ Lazarus occupied the place of honour, reclining on Abraham’s breast, even as the beloved disciple at the Last Supper reclined on the Master’s (John 13:23).

These objections, however, are by no means insurmountable. The name Lazarus is perhaps introduced significantly, defining the beggar’s character. He was one who had found his help in God. It was not because he was poor, but because God had helped him, that the beggar was carried away into Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man was doomed not simply because he had been rich, but because he had made a selfish use of his riches. The parable is an illustration and enforcement of the moral which Jesus deduces from the preceding parable of the Shrewd Factor: ‘Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness (i.e. earthly riches, unsatisfying and unenduring† [Note: Psalms 23:3 מַעִנְּלֵי־צ֛רֶק, τρίβους ὁιχαιοσύνης, in contrast to ‘delusive tracks which lead nowhere’ (Cheyne).] ), that, when it faileth, they may receive you into the eternal tents’ (Luke 16:9). Had the rich man befriended the beggar, he would have laid up for himself treasure in heaven. He would have bound Lazarus to himself, and would have been welcomed by him on the threshold of the unseen world.

As for the Jewish imagery, it constitutes no argument against the authenticity of the parable. Jesus was accustomed to speak the language of His hearers in order to reach their understandings and hearts. He often spoke of the heavenly feast: cf. Matthew 8:11-12 (Luke 13:28-29), Luke 13:25-27 (Matthew 7:22-23), Matthew 22:1-14 (Luke 14:16-24), Matthew 25:1-13, Luke 22:18 = Matthew 26:29 = Mark 14:25. And it is noteworthy how, when He employed Jewish imagery, He was wont to invest it with new significance. Thus, the Rabbis taught that the abodes of the righteous and the wicked in Hades were nigh to each other; according to one, there was only a span between them; according to another, the boundary was a wall (Midr. Kohel. 103. 2: ‘Deus statuit hoc juxta illud (Ecclesiastes 7:14), id est, Gehennam et Paradisum. Quantum distant? Palmo. R. Jochanan dicit: Paries interponitur.’) But what says Jesus? ‘In all this region betwixt us and you a great chasm has been fixed, that they that wish to pass over from this side unto you may not be able, nor those on that side cross over unto us.’ The sentence, He would indicate, is final, the separation eternal. See Gulf.

2. Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Martha and Mary. There was a close and tender intimacy between Jesus and this household (cf. John 11:3; John 11:11; John 11:36). From the Feast of Tabernacles (October) until the Feast of Dedication (December) Jesus sojourned in Jerusalem, making His appeal to her rulers and people. The former proved obdurate, and finally proceeded to violence (John 10:31; John 10:39). It was unsafe for Him to remain among them, and He retired to Bethany beyond Jordan (John 10:40, cf. John 1:28 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ). A crowd followed Him thither, and, undisturbed by His adversaries, He exercised a ministry which recalled, while it surpassed, the work of John the Baptist on the same spot three years earlier. All the while He was thinking of Jerusalem. He would fain win her even yet, and He prayed that God would bring about some crisis which might persuade her of His Messiahship or at least leave her without excuse (cf. John 11:41-42). He saw not the way, but He was waiting for God to open it up; and suddenly a message reached Him from the other Bethany that Lazarus was sick (John 11:3). He recognized in this turn of events God’s answer to His prayer. It afforded Him just such an opportunity as He had craved. ‘This sickness,’ He said, ‘is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God (i.e. the Messiah) may be glorified thereby.’ He did not hasten to Bethany and lay His hand upon the sick man, nor did He, abiding where He was, ‘send forth His word and heal him,’ as He had done to the courtier’s son (John 4:46-54) and the Syrophœnician woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28 = Mark 7:24-30). He deliberately remained where He was for two days, and then set out for Judaea. On His arrival at Bethany, Lazarus was dead and buried, and a large company, including many of the rulers from the adjacent capital (Mark 7:19), had gathered, in accordance with Jewish custom, to testify their esteem for the good Lazarus and condole with his sisters. The situation favoured the Lord’s design. He repaired to the sepulchre, which lay at least 2000 cubits outside the town,* [Note: Lightfoot, ii. p. 424.] and in presence of the assemblage recalled the dead man to life and summoned him forth in his cerements.

It was an indubitable miracle. In the sultry East it was necessary that the dead should be buried immediately (cf. Acts 5:5-6), and it sometimes happened that a swoon was mistaken for death, and the man awoke. The Jewish fancy was that for three days after death the soul hovered about the sepulchre, fain to re-enter and reanimate its tenement of clay; and the bereaved were wont to visit the sepulchre to see if haply their dead had come to life. After three days decomposition set in, and when they saw its ghastly disfigurement on the face, they abandoned hope.† [Note: Lightfoot on John 11:39.] Had Jesus arrived within three days after Lazarus’ death, it might have been pronounced no miracle; but He arrived on the fourth day, when decomposition would have already set in (John 11:39).

If anything could have conquered the unbelief of the rulers, this miracle must have done it; but they hardened their hearts, and all the more that the people were profoundly impressed. The Sanhedrin met under the presidency of Caiaphas the high priest, and resolved to put Jesus to death, at the same time publishing an order that, if any knew where He was, they should give information for His arrest. He did not venture into the city, but retired northward to Ephraim, near the Samaritan frontier. There He remained until the Passover was nigh, and then He went up to keep the Feast and to die. Six days before the Feast began, He reached Bethany, and in defiance of the Sanhedrin’s order received an ovation from the townsfolk. They honoured Him with a banquet in the house of Simon, one of their leading men, who had been a leper, and had perhaps been healed by Jesus (see art. Anointing, i. 2.). Lazarus of course was present. The news that Jesus was at Bethany reached Jerusalem, and next day a great multitude thronged out to meet Him and escorted Him with Messianic honours into the city. It was the raising of Lazarus that had convinced them of the claims of Jesus (John 12:17-18). The Triumphal Entry is a powerful evidence of the miracle. Without it such an outburst of enthusiasm is unaccountable.

It might be expected that Lazarus of all men should have stood by Jesus during the last dread ordeal; but he never appears after the banquet in Simon’s house. His name is nowhere mentioned in the story of the Lord’s Passion. What is the explanation? Enraged by the impression which the miracle made and the support which it brought to Jesus, the high priests plotted the death of Lazarus (John 12:10-11); and it is probable that, ere the final crisis, he had been compelled to withdraw from the vicinity of Jerusalem.

It was a stupendous miracle, the greatest which Jesus ever wrought; yet it is not the supreme miracle of the Gospel-story. The Lord’s own Resurrection holds that place, and one who is persuaded of His claims will hardly hesitate to believe in the raising of Lazarus. ‘He raised the man,’ says St. Augustine,* [Note: In Joan. Ev. Tract. xlix. § 1.] ‘who made the man; for He is Himself the Father’s only Son, through whom, as ye know, all things were made. If, therefore, all things were made through Him, what wonder if one rose from the dead through Him, when so many are daily born through Him? It is a greater thing to create men than to raise them.’

Naturalistic criticism, however, has assailed the miracle. Much has been made of the silence of the Synoptists, who must, it is alleged, have recorded it had they known of it, and must have known of it had it occurred. Their silence in this instance, however, is merely part of a larger problem—their silence regarding the Lord’s Judaean ministry generally, and their peculiar reticence regarding the family of Bethany.

It is no exaggeration to affirm that the desperateness of the assaults which have been directed against it constitute a powerful apologetic for the miracle. (1) The earlier rationalists (Paulus, Venturini), in spite of the Evangelist’s specific testimony to the contrary, supposed that Lazarus had not really died but only fallen into a trance. He had been buried alive, and he awoke to consciousness through the combined influences of the coolness of the cave, the pungent odour of the burial spices (cf. John 19:40), and the stream of warm air which rushed in when the stone was removed. Jesus, looking in, perceived that he was alive, and bade him come forth.

(2) According to Strauss, the story, like the two earlier stories of resuscitation (Matthew 9:18-19; Matthew 9:23-26 = Mark 5:21-24; Mark 5:35-43 = Luke 8:40-42; Luke 8:49-56; Luke 7:11-17), is a myth, originating in the desire of the primitive Church that the Messiah should not only rival but surpass His great prototypes in the OT. Elijah and Elisha had wrought miracles of resuscitation (1 Kings 17:17 ff., 2 Kings 4:8 ff.), and Jesus must do the like in a more wonderful manner.

(3) Renan regarded the miracle as an imposture. ‘Tired of the cold reception which the Kingdom of God found in the capital, the friends of Jesus, wished for a great miracle which should strike powerfully the incredulity of the Jerusalemites.’ And the sick Lazarus lent himself to their design. Pallid with disease, he let himself be wrapped in grave-clothes and shut up in the sepulchre; and when Jesus, believing that he was dead, came to take a last look at his friend’s remains, Lazarus came forth in his bandages, his head covered with a winding-sheet. Jesus acquiesced in the fraud. ‘Not by any fault of his own, but by that of others, his conscience had lost something of its original purity. Desperate and driven to extremity, he was no longer his own master. His mission over-whelmed him, and he yielded to the torrent.… He was no more able than St. Bernard or St. Francis to moderate the avidity for the marvellous displayed by the multitude, and even by his own disciples.’

(4) Later criticism is still more destructive. Not only was the miracle never wrought, but there was never such a man as Lazarus. The story is ‘non-historical, like the History of the Creation in Genesis, and like the records of the other miracles in the Fourth Gospel; all of which are poetic developments.’* [Note: A. Abbott, art. ‘Lazarus,’ § 4, in Encyc. Biblica.] Keim finds the germ of the story in the Ebionite parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar (Luke 16:19-31). ‘If,’ says Abraham in the parable, ‘to Moses and the prophets they do not hearken, not even if one rise from the dead will they be persuaded’; and the Johannine narrative is this saying converted into a history: a man rose from the dead, and the Jews did not believe. Lazarus full of corruption corresponds to the beggar full of sores. The story is thus doubly divorced from reality, being an unhistorical development of an unauthentic parable.

Literature.—1. Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , art. ‘Lazarus and Dives’; Trench, Bruce, Orelli, and Dods on the Parables; Plummer, ‘St. Luke’ (ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] ), in loc.; Bersier, Gospel in Paris, p. 448 f.

2. Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , art. ‘Lazarus of Bethany’; the standard Lives of Christ; Elmslie, Expository Lectures and Sermons, p. 92 ff.; Maclaren, Unchanging Christ, p. 282 ff. On the rationalistic objections to the miracle see the chapter on ‘The Later Miracles’ in Fairbairn’s Studies in the Life of Christ (or in Expositor, 1st Ser. ix. [1879] p. 178 ff.), where the theories of Paulus, Strauss, Baur, and Renan are fully dealt with.

D. Smith.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lazarus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/lazarus.html. 1906-1918.

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