Rich Man and Lazarus – Adventist Interpretation and Critique

You can find summaries of the mainstream Adventist interpretation in various places:

Most of these commentaries follow this general outline:

  1. Explain that the traditional reading goes wrong by interpreting this story as a literal event. In so doing, the traditional interpretation bases doctrine on a story that is actually a fictitious parable.
  2. Defend their interpretation by citing scripture.

John 16:25 "These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father."

Critique of the Adventist Interpretation

Most opponents of this interpretation argue that Jesus would be confusing the public, who supposedly didn’t believe in an eternity in hell, if this story were a parable. In order for the Adventist interpretation to be true, they must present a convincing justification for Jesus the Truth (John 14:6) who cannot tell a lie (Hebrews 6:18) to use a Jewish fable (compare Titus 1:14, 1 Timothy 1:4, 4:7, 2 Timothy 4:4).


In his book Historical Theology, An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought, Alister McGrath defines accomodation as the theological principle that God, while being in His nature unknowable and unreachable, has nevertheless communicated with humanity in a way which humans can understand and respond to. The concept is that scripture has accommodated, or made allowance for, the original audience's language and general level of understanding.

For example, there are several places in Scripture that suggest that

  • the earth is the center of the universe: Joshua 10:13, Isaiah 34:4, Psalms 19:6, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Mark 13:25, Matthew 24:29
  • the earth is immovable: 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalms 93:1, Psalms 104:5
  • the earth has corners and edges: Jeremiah 49:36, Ezekiel 7:2, Daniel 4:11
  • the earth is flat: Matthew 4:8

When we read these texts, we have two options:

  1. Register membership with the Flat Earth Society because we cannot accept that God accommodates our limited understanding and meets us on our own ground.
  2. Believe that God was condescending to fallen man's limited scientific understanding, and framing spiritual truths in a worldview that man could understand.

There are relatively few people that subscribe to the first option. If we permit God to teach spiritual truths through the ancient Mesopotamian geocentric worldview, is it possible that Jesus could borrow imagery from a Jewish fable in Luke 16? I think so.