New blog: NYCDisciples

Well, I haven’t updated this puppy in quite a while. Getting back into writing, though, and it will be related to discipleship and our missions work in NYC.

So be sure to check it out at nycdisciples.wordpress.com.

Is Lazarus and the Rich man a Parable?

I came upon Luke 16 finally in my Greek reading.  It reminded me of some study I did a few years back on whether the narrative of the Rich Man and Lazarus was a parable or not.  Having read through Luke for the last 7 months up to this, it has further reinforced my conclusions.  So enjoy something from the archives!

I recently heard a sermon on Luke 16 about the Rich Man and Lazarus.   I have for the most part always been of the persuasion that this was NOT a parable, but rather a recounting of actual events.   For some odd reason, I decided to look a little deeper into the passage regarding whether or not this was a parable.  I just thought I’d pass on some of my findings. 

Reasons Against being a Parable…
1. The Lazarus character is named. In the rest of the parables we have from Jesus, no characters are named.  This might suggest something different is going on here.  Complicating this is the fact that John’s Gospel records Jesus’ resurrection of his friend Lazarus after 4 days of death, thus supplying for some the referent of the Luke 16.
2. This narrative is not introduced by the common Synoptic parable formula “The kingdom of God/Heaven is like…
3. The story includes other events with surprising similarity to “real” events described elsewhere in Scripture. Certainly, the painful judgment of the rich man and the blissful reward of Lazarus match with other Biblical descriptions of heaven/hell.  The use of these realities within the story would then indicate the reality of this story itself.  For many, to take the narrative as a parable would be to deny a literal coming judgment of punishment and reward after death.

Reasons For Being a Parable…
1. The story follows a common Lukan method of parable introduction. Many of the parables in Luke start similar to this: “There was a man…”  Some Examples:

  1. Luke 10:30, ““A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho..” in the parable about the Good Samaritan.  (I add that no one uses the fact that “Samaritans” were historical people to argue for the historicity of this parable.)
  2. Luke 12:16- “A rich man’s land was very productive.” Another parable about the rich and coming judgment.  This one even includes God himself entering the story to bring judgment.
  3. Luke 14:16-“A man was giving a large banquet and invited many.”  The man in this story is an illustration of God.
  4. Luke 15:11- “A man had two sons.”  Here is another parabolic use of a man (the Father) as an illustration of God.
  5. Luke 16:1, “There was a rich man who received an accusation that his manager was squandering his possessions.”  This is the final parable preceding the Rich Man and Lazarus.  In fact, the two share a context of Jesus’ chastising the Pharisees and scribes.  Both even begin “A rich man…”
  6. Luke 18:2, There was a judge in one town who didn’t fear God or respect man.”  A similar example, only the man is called a judge from the beginning of the story.
  7. Luke 18:10, Two men went up to the temple complex to pray,”  Now though I have heard a well-meaning Bible teacher or two describe in detail Jesus’ watching these two men at the temple, verse 9 clearly tells us that this is indeed a parable.  Note that Luke’s introduction of parables is not consistent.  (Many clear parables are not introduced as such.)  He seems to introduce them as parables primarily when he wants to emphasize the reason of the parable.
  8. Luke 19:12, “A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return.” In Greek, this literally begins “A certain noble man…” following the formula often seen above.
  9. Luke 20:9, “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and went away for a long time.”

*It appears from these examples in Luke that a major marker of a parable was beginning a story like this “A certain man” (Greek: “a‡nqrwpo/ß tiß”).  Especially with the narrative occurring in the same discourse after a clear parable that also begins “A certain rich man…”, this is a strong point from the Biblical evidence itself, namely Luke’s method of telling parables.  In fact, only Luke 13:18, 20 contain the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like” found more often in Matthew’s Gospel. (This would invalidate point 2 under “Reasons Against”, especially since the formula only appears in Mark once!).

2. A character’s name does not rule out the possibility of the parable. I alluded to this above when mentioning the parable of the Good Samaritan.  There, Levites and priests are also named in the text.  It seems a little disingenuous to require that a person’s first name (no family description is given) must allude to a specific historical individual when a national name or occupational title does not do the same.  Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.  The name Lazarus means “God is my help” and is probably used to illustrate a truth of the parable—the only help of the poor beggar was indeed God.  This name cannot be intended by Luke to remind his readers of the Lazarus in John 11 that Jesus raised!  In fact, Lazarus is not mentioned in Luke’s telling of the account of Mary and Martha (probably the same as Lazarus’ sisters) in Luke 10.  The NET notes remind us that by including a name for the poor man, Jesus can show that the rich man in Hades even knew the poor man’s name but had no such concern for his well-being while on earth.

3. Seeing this text as historical to prove theological reasons elsewhere developed is quite simply eisegesis, not good exegesis. Some are persuaded that the theological arguments for a literal place of judgment after death would be devastated if this story is not historical but a parable.  They need to do their homework.  The doctrine of hell is alive and well without this story.  Others have created complicated eschatological scenarios regarding “Abraham’s bosom” and Hades that rely heavily on this text, and therefore hold dearly to it.  The good news is two-fold.

a. First, the point of the story, regardless of the parable/history debate, is not meant as a description of Heaven and Hell, outside of the issue of comfort/torment, which are ideas clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.    The point of the story is that the rich Pharisees in chapter 16 are the ones in danger of going there!  I have heard many sermons calling for pity for those in hell from this text.  A love for those without Christ is Biblical, but not the point of this story.  The point of this story is for the wealthy (especially the “religious” wealthy) to be warned of divine judgment, and the outcast who rely on “God, my help” (Lazarus) can take comfort in the future reversal of their plight.

b. Second, the parabolic nature of the people in the story does not necessarily discount the reality of coming judgment.  (After all, that is the point of the story for the wealthy Pharisees.)  Rather, it builds off known categories in Scripture of God as judge and simply inserts a hypothetical story into that grid to make a point.  I refer one back to the parable in Luke 12 where Jesus uses God himself as a character in the parable to teach a point.  Would this mean God doesn’t really exist or never really judges?  No!  The fact that both those statements are really true actually makes the point of the parable.  Parables are illustrations, and illustrations from true material are powerful.
It would be a shame for us to miss Jesus’ point in order to be “theologically” correct here.  By missing Jesus’ point, we not only might miss out on helpful truth, but on Jesus himself.  Those creating complex theological categories from text like this need to allow the more clear Scripture to interpret the obscure.

Conclusion:
The point of the narrative is a warning to the rich Pharisees of judgment to come if they ignore the Law, Prophets, and even one rising from the dead.  Let no one miss that!  But, based on exegesis, this story clearly fits into the Lukan pattern for telling a parable.  It also contextually fits within a sequence of several parables in Luke 15-16 aimed at the Pharisees.

Sometimes a little Bible study can change your theology or at least challenge you to teach right doctrine from correct texts.  It did for me in this case.

1 John Fridays-When you need him most…

I hit 1 John 2:1-2 briefly in my last 1 John Friday post.  The “if” clause there continues as a fitting conclusion to the 5 “if”s carried over from chapter 1.  But it also opens a few things that are worth exploring on their own.

1) One of the titles Jesus gives to the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John is “the comforter.”  In fact, that forms a major part of his concluding words to his disciples on the night before he was betrayed, letting them know that His return to the Father was better for them, because the “Comforter” would come.  We may remember that the Holy Spirit is referred to as “another comforter”, in essence implying that the disciples currently had a comforter with them already. Here, John lets us know that Jesus is still our comforter, or advocate.  Here, specifically, Jesus comes alongside us in the times of our sin.  This is Jesus, the word of Life, from the Father.  We would expect him to be as far away from our sin as possible, but he is not.  “If someone sins, we have an advocate with the Father.” And John reminds us of the condescension involved, it is “Jesus Christ the righteous one” who is our advocate in our lowest moments. (In chapter 1, John also describes God the Father as the “righteous”…again in the area of forgiving and cleansing our sins.)

2) “Not for our sins only, but also the sins of the whole world.” I think John is doing a couple things here by adding this:

-First, he is highlighting the magnitude of Jesus’ propitiation.  It is more than enough.  Lest we think our sin abounds too great for us to confess, too great for even the faithful and just God who promises forgiveness to follow through on, John reminds us His grace is more than enough because Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf was more than enough.

-He is also reminding the huddle of its external obligations.  John will later emphasize acts of love.  He also will warn against the dangers of loving the “world” (same word for world here). But remember this is a church that has experience abandonment from their so-called brothers and sisters following the false teachers. Their tendency will be to huddle up, to go into their shells for self-protection.  And John, while giving them a great amount of encouragement, gently reminds them that there is more at stake than just their group.  There is a world outside that Christ also died for that they should keep in mind. (and yes, this verse would make the stricter, unqualified forms of “limited atonement” Biblically untenable).

“A Meal with Jesus”- Book Recommendation

I recently read an excellent little book by Tim Chester called “A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table.   It’s a study of several portions of Luke’s Gospel that deal with Jesus at various meals.  I was greatly challenged by much of what was said, especially in the practical applications of hospitality in cultures where even families don’t eat meals together anymore.  There’s also some challenging chapters on the ways we can use food and even hospitality to feed our idolatry rather than worship God and bless others. I immediately passed it onto my wife for her reading shelf since it’s hard to start applying new ways of hospitality without your wife being on board!

Here are some quotes to entice you more:

“Meals can be a visual representation of our hearts. If our hearts are concerned for position, honor, status, or approval, then that will be reflected in our dining etiquette. Consider how your meals express your vision for life.  Think about who’s invited, how they’re served, what you hope to achieve, and the layout of your home.  Do they express the vision of the kingdom of God?”

“Many people love the idea of the church as a community. But when we eat together, we encounter not some theoretical community, but real people with all their problems and quirks. The meal table is an opportunity to give up our proud ideals by which we judge others and accept in their place the real community created by the cross of Christ, with all its brokenness.”

“If guests offer to help, then take them up on their offer. Your aim is to love, not impress. Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more than he provided it. Letting others serve us creates a relationship of equality and intimacy.”

There are a lot more little tidbits here worth reading.  I found some of the thoughts on meals very similar to Eugene Peterson’s writing in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” from which I hope to put some quotes up in the near future.

1 John Fridays- Ifs, ands, and buts…

This week, I want to take a brief look at 1:5-2:2.

There are noticeably 6 big “if” statements in this section:

v. 6- “If we say we have fellowship with him but walk in darkness…”

v. 7- “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light…”

v. 8- “If we say we do not have sin…”

v. 9- “If we say that we haven’t sinned…”

v. 10- “If we say that we have not sinned…”

2:1- “If anyone sins…”

What can we see from comparing these? Well, a few things:

1) Talk is cheap.

Notice that all 3 conditions that John ends up critiquing involve our “saying” something. (v. 6, 9, 10) The danger John sees is not in underestimating our spiritual reality, but in saying more than is actually true of ourselves.  Talking big about a non-existent relationship with the Father, talking up our current sinlessness, or denying our past sins.  John does not believe in some weird kind of “spoken” spiritual magic.  What we choose to say about ourselves does not actually create spiritual reality (sorry, televangelists of today).  Heretics that John will deal with later in the letter apparently are known by how much talking they do.

2) “Walking in the light” is not sinlessness, but “needy authenticity.”

This one requires a little logic, but notice how the only spiritual perfection here is found in the misguided statements that John condemns.  Which means that what John must mean by “walking in the light” can’t simply be “not sinning.”  The three “positive” conditions together are “walk in the light”, “confess our sin” and even “sinning” itself.  John wants us to make sure to see that true spirituality, walking in relationship with the Father, is not characterized by our greatness but by our neediness.  Walking in the light means our sin is followed by confession; walking in darkness is hiding our sin.  John is by no means declaring that the more we sin the more spiritual we are.  But he is saying that more we confess our sin, the closer our walk with the Father in the light really is.

3) There are beautiful rewards for needy authenticity.

-fellowship with one another. -every sin cleansed from us by the blood of Jesus his Son. -we experience the faithfulness and righteousness of God. -sins forgiven, cleansed from all unrighteousness. -We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. -we have propitiation for our sins.

4) Inauthentic, proud spirituality is condemned in the strongest of terms.

-we are lying. -we are not practicing the truth. -we deceive ourselves. -the truth is not in us. -we make God a liar. -God’s Word is not in us.

John is encouraging these faithful Christians by reminding them that the neediness they feel after being deserted by the false teachers and the others who left their fellowship is not a bad thing, but is actually what is required for true spirituality, a relationship with God the Father. What is not good is the proud talk of those who have claimed sudden spiritual superstardom.

Collins Family/Ministry Update- June

Friends and Family,

Thanks for all the prayer and encouragement we have received from many of you over the last few months. We finally feel like we are in sort of a groove (ableit a low-level energy one at times) with this whole baby thing, and I know we wouldn’t have been here without those of you who sent meals or gift cards during those first weeks after Eowyn was born.

Speaking of little Eowyn, she officially turned 2 months old this past week! She continues to grow and is starting to do interactive things like stare back and even an occasional smile if you do something funny enough. Steph is a great mom (especially for not waking me up most weeknights when the baby is fussy), and I enjoy getting to hold Eowyn each night after work.

We have really enjoyed the last few weeks volunteering as English conversation partners for Bhutanese ESL classes with Mission Adelante in Kansas City, KS. Each week, we meet over there and get to practice informal conversations with these Nepali-speaking refugees from the country of Bhutan. Most of them are Hindu and many of those in our class are older men and women (think 40-60). Many of them are not able to get jobs because of their lack of formal education and the harsh demands of factory-type jobs they could get here, and this can be discouraging for these older adults who feel they cannot provide leadership and stability for their families in this strange new land. So we love to see the joy on their faces as they learn English each week and gain confidence to do simple things like go to the supermarket. Steph brings Eowyn along and the Bhutanese women all love looking at her. I am paired up with 4 men and enjoy learning about their families. The lessons they are taught contain simple English vocab and sentences, and each lesson contains a short “story” made up of those words. Each of these stories is based on the Bible (this last week they learned about the wisemen following the star to baby Jesus and giving him gifts). If you live in the Kansas City area and are interested in learning more about Mission Adelante’s ministry to the Latino and Bhutanese communities, visit http://www.missionadelante.org/.

We just heard back this week about the initial paperwork we turned in for doing church planting in New York City area among unreached people groups there. We are now getting references in and will likely be going to New York sometime in August for a church planter assessment/interview. Continue to pray for us that everything will move along according to God’s timetable and that he would give us a heart burden for the people and the area he wants us to work in. Also be in prayer for us in the next few months as Josh is still working fulltime at the VA but Steph is now at home taking care of the baby. We are trying to stay out of debt and be ready to move when/if God opens the door, while still having time to volunteer at things like Mission Adelante and be involved with our church.

In July, I (Josh) will be helping with a soccer camp that our church Redeemer Fellowship is hosting for kids living in midtown Kansas City the last 2 weeks of July. This is a great opportunity for kids (many of which come from single parent homes in our area) to connect with caring adults, especially for the young men. Please pray for that, and if you live around Kansas City and are interested in helping, let me know and I can connect you with the people who are in charge.

Ok, I’ve rambled on yet again. Thanks for your prayers and continued interest in our lives.

Love in Christ,

Josh, Stephanie, and Eowyn Collins

PS-if you would like to join this monthly update list to pray for us, leave a comment for me and I will add you for July.

1 John Fridays- No Green Lantern Here

Begin 1 John and your mind should jump to other Biblical passages, namely John 1 and Genesis 1.  “That which was from the beginning…” mirrors the opening phrases of Genesis “In the beginning, God created…” and of John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word.”  In Genesis the focus is on the God who speaks, calling out creation each day and exercising creative kingship over the universe.  In John’s Gospel, the focus is not on the God who speaks as much as the God who IS speech, the Word (logos) who was before God and who is God.  Now in this first letter of John, the focus is not on the Word’s Speaker or the Word Spoken directly, but on the the Word experienced by John and the apostles.  The Word is not impersonal or merely some kind of cosmic energy or the good side of the Force…but rather is heard, has been seen by “our eyes” (not the eyes of the mind, mind you, or the great “eye of faith”, but real round human eyes), was touched by their hands as they walked the shores of Galilee and through the crowded streets of pilgrim-populated Jerusalem.  Here (as opposed to the Gospel where John takes 14 verses to bring the Word out of eternal glory into a real tabernacle of human flesh) John orients us to the reality of the Word.  Yes, the Word is life, but this is not to be thought of as a kind of impersonal spiritual power that can be tapped into (perhaps with secret “knowledge”?) as we pursue our own spiritual perfections.  The Word isn’t a sacred Green Lantern for a quick spiritual recharge to escape and fight this evil material world on our way to demigod status.

No, the Word is Jesus.  One touched by hands, seen by eyes, heard, witnessed.

And the reason John reminds us of all this not to brag about his great experiences or remind us that we can no longer see Jesus like he could.  Because this Jesus was real, their proclamation to us now, those once removed (or 2000 years removed) gives us fellowship.  The connection between John and these readers is that they have shared in experiencing Jesus, the Word of Life.  One experienced directly, but now we share in it as we accept the apostolic proclamation of the Word of life to us.  And this fellowship goes deeper than readers-apostle, no, “our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” We may not touch Jesus as John did, but as we receive his word about the Word, we share fellowship with this manifested Life as well.

And by writing to remind us of such, our joy indeed should be filled.

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