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Did Jesus tell us a real story or just a parable?

Can a Parable Be a Real Life Event?

Many people are unsure whether Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus happened or whether it is only a parable. Typically, parables do not include personal names, but on the other hand, the concepts of “Abraham’s bosom” or dialogue with souls in Hades that we find in the Lukan parable are unattested elsewhere in the Bible.

Rich Man and Lazarus: Real Life Events?

Plenty of Jewish sources outside of the Bible, however, indicate that these themes were common beliefs at the time: that the bosom of Abraham and other patriarchs is the resting place for the righteous, and that there was a fiery holding realm for the wicked until the final judgment (cf. 4 Maccabees 13:17; Apocalypse of Zephaniah; b. Kiddushin 72b).

Jesus describes the main character of the parable as (1) rich, (2) dressed in purple and fine linen (spoiler alert: see Exod 28:5), (3) living in luxury, (4) receiving good things, (5) living in his father’s house (6) with five brothers (7) who all had Moses and the prophets (8) though they did not listen to them, such that (9) they would not repent even if someone were resurrected. This nine-pointed description may be too detailed not to refer to someone specific.

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For many reasons, including the testimony of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who stated that Caiaphas’ father-in-law Anas had five priestly sons (Antiquities XX, 9i; John 18:13), it is likely that Jesus had someone very specific in mind!

Rereading the nine points about the rich man reveals that Caiaphas as the high priest is an excellent candidate for Jesus’ parabolic “rich man” insofar as he fits the first seven criteria perfectly. But did he and his family refuse to believe even after someone was raised from the dead? Twice, actually!

After Jesus resurrected his friend Lazarus, the priests collaborated to kill him (John 12:10). Later, after Jesus was raised from the dead, their hard hearts remained unchanged as they persecuted Jesus’ apostles and denied Jesus’ own resurrection (Acts 4:1-3).

So, was the “Rich Man and Lazarus” parable based on real life events? It most certainly seems so!

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