What we pursue: Act 1

Lazarus-Rich-Man19 “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. 20 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.

Culpepper well describes this parable as a drama in three acts (Luke, 316):

  • Act 1 – a tableau during which the characters are introduced and their way of life is described, but nothing happens
  • Act 2 – the rich become poor and the poor become rich as each character has died and received their eternal reward
  • Act 3 – narration give way to dialogue, but between the rich man and Abraham, in three exchanges:
    • about the finality of judgment
    • about the witness of Moses and the prophets
    • about the blindness that prevents even the Resurrection from leading to conversion

Act 1 – The Tableau. The first three verses contain a sharp contrast in description between Lazarus and the unnamed “lover of money.”

  • The rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen where Lazarus is covered with sores or ulcers
  • The rich man “dined sumptuously each day” while Lazarus longed to eat what fell from the table, but can’t.
  • The rich man lives a privileged life while Lazarus ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate” of the rich man’s house.

It is perhaps noteworthy that the first word in a Greek phrase is a position of stress, as is the last word in a phrase.  Even the Lucan grammar seems to stress the contrast between the two men:

  • The first word in v. 19 is anthropos = “a person” and the last word in the phrase is plousios = “rich”
  • where the first word in v. 20 is ptochos = “poor,” the last word in the phrase is “Lazarus,” a name meaning “God helps”

Perhaps Luke is making the point that “the poor” were not considered “people;” as well the rich depend upon themselves whereas the poor depend on God.

The rich man is splendidly robed and feasts on the finest foods (see Note below re: v.19) – a clear echo of the parable of the Rich Fool who is well satisfied: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” (12:19). As the parable makes clear the flash and pomp of the rich man’s life in no way reflects the eternal glory that awaits the faithful.

Lazarus is the only character ever named in a parable. As mentioned above, the name means “God helps” and thus foreshadows Lazarus’ liberation even as its ironically contrasts his life – no one in this life helps Lazarus.  He has been cast away at the rich man’s gate. He is a cripple beggar covered with sores and in the end dies. Green [606] comments about names:

… the fact that this poor, crippled man has a name at all is highly significant. The poor man’s only claim to status is that he is named in the story; this alone raises the hope that there is more to his story than that of being subhuman. The wealthy man, on the other hand, has no name; perhaps this is Jesus’ way of inviting his money-loving listeners to provide their own!

In our tableau the two characters live with a “stone’s throw” of each other and yet they never meet, never speak, nor are in any way neighbors.  One is reminded of Jesus’ question to scribe (scholar of the law) in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three [priest, Levite, Samaritan], in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’ He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”  Our two main characters loved entirely separate lives, divided at table and divided by a gate.


Luke 16:19 rich man: The oldest Greek manuscript of Luke dating from ca. A.D. 175–225 records the name of the rich man as an abbreviated form of “Nineveh,” but there is very little textual support in other manuscripts for this reading. The rich man is popularly known as “Dives” which is the Latin Vulgate’s translation for “rich man.”  purple garments and fine linen: Cloth dyed purple was costly and made from thre extract of shellfish murex. So prized was murex purple dye for its commercial value that the Hebrew term ˒argāmān acquired the sense of “tribute” in both Ugaritic and Hittite. Hittite sources reveal that such payment was made in the form of purple garments for the king, queen, crown prince, and ministers of the court.  Purple cloth would be used for the outer garment. The use of fine linen for the other garments indicates that the rich man enjoyed the ultimate in luxury. The phrase is reminiscent of Prov. 31:22, suggesting that he lived like a king.  dined sumptuously each day: “Dining sumptuously” is not necessarily bad. The same word, euphraino, is used four times of the “celebration” the waiting father hosted for his prodigal son (15:23, 24, 29, 32). The emphasis in the phrase is its combination with “each day” and echoes Amos 6:4-7.

Luke 16:20 lying at his door: The Greek is ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate.”  The verb is passive, thus others (unnamed) dumped Lazarus at the rich man’s gate – perhaps other rich people who did want Lazarus at their gate? friends of Lazarus? poor man: the use of word ptōchós (poor, destitute) in such close conjunction with ploúsios (wealthy, rich) gives us the suggestion that this parable is a narrative rendering of the first Beatitude and woe of Luke 6:20-24. Lazarus: The name of Lazarus, an abbreviated transcription of El-azar (“God helps”), appears in the NT only in the gospel of John and this parable. It is the only proper name to appear in a NT parable attributed to Jesus.

Luke 16:21 would gladly have eaten his fill: epithymōn chortasthēnai (literally, desired/lusted to be filled). Luke poignantly describes the poor man’s condition with graphic, illustrative terms. The root verb chortazō is derived from chortos, a Greek word for “grass, green crops, hay.” Normally chortazō is used to describe animals eating.  It is used of people in case instances: (a) to describe Jesus’ miraculous feeding (Matt 14:20; 15:37; Mark 6:42; similarly 8:8; Luke 9:17; John 6:26) and (b) figuratively of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6; cf. also Ps 17:15). Elsewhere the word brōsis (to eat, eat a meal) is used.


  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 314-20
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 598-610
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985). :: Jeremias, hádēs, Vol. I:146-49;  Hauck, ptōchós, Vol. VI:885-87
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©

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