The Spirit World: Chapter Five (Abraham’s Bosom)

This entry is part 7 of 23 in the series The Spirit World

Abraham’s Bosom

(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

The Term

The terms “Abraham’s Bosom” are found only in Luke 16, in Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man.  The terms are Greek “kolpos Abraam.”  Kolpos (or kolpon) is rendered “bosom” by the KJV and “side” by the NIV.  “Bosom” is the most articulate and accurate term and the most historically known, thus the term “Abraham’s bosom” is familiar in theology as a designation for this abode.  The definition of kolpos describes the area between the arms, or the chest.  While the English use of “bosom” frequently implies the mammary specifically, it is not intended necessarily as such in Greek, but rather, the general chest area. 

The scene

Kolpos  is also used in John 13:23 of John reclining at Jesus side at the last supper, “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.”  That phrase literally renders “reclined at Jesus’ bosom (kolpos)” or at Jesus’ chest.  In ancient Jewish custom people reclined at one another’s sides during meals.  The portrait painted in Luke 16 of Lazarus at Abraham’s bosom fits that description better than any other scenario in their custom.  Reclining at Abraham’s bosom is the antithesis of Lazarus’ longing to fill his stomach with the crumbs from the rich man’s table during his life on earth.  Now, in the righteous portion of Hades, he reclines at Abraham’s side in satisfaction and comfort.  Furthermore, to recline into one’s bosom indicates being at that one’s immediate right or left side.  Ancient Jews typically reclined on their left arms and ate with their right, except in special circumstances.  The immediate right and left sides of the host are the most important seats in the house.  Thus, the picture of Lazarus reclining at Abraham’s chest, similar to how John reclined at Jesus’ chest, is probably the picture Jesus is portraying in his story.  Lazarus has been the honored guest at Abraham’s table while the rich man is in torment; the polar opposite of their former lives on the earth.

The Text

Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

The deductions

As it has already been established that the location where the rich man exists is Abaddon, the unrighteous side of Hades, it is easily postulated that Lazarus is dwelling in the righteous side of Hades, which is frequently referred to as simply “Abraham’s Bosom.”

Plainly, a spiritual abode is being referenced inside of Hades.  The text notes clearly that the context of the story is within Hades, yet also unmistakable is the fact that a division exists between Lazarus and the rich man.  They are in separate places within the abode of Hades, being separated by a great chasm.  No one is able to cross from one location to the other, yet they are able to see and speak to one another.  Since the rich man is in Abaddon, the logical and proper conclusion is that Lazarus is in the portion of Hades where the righteous dwell.

Several deductions support and affirm this conclusion as valid.

First and foremost, it is evident that this location is an abode of the righteous.  While Jesus’ story states nothing specifically about Lazarus’ righteous qualities, there is another fact of the story that informs the reader of this truth.  Abraham is there.  Abraham was the recipient of God’s covenant to produce a great nation from himself.  He was the patriarch of Israel.  His righteousness was both understood and unchallenged in Jesus’ culture.  Where Abraham is in the afterlife is unquestionably where the righteous are from a Jewish perspective.

In speaking of Abraham’s side, Jesus eludes to a Jewish tradition whereby angels carry away the righteous upon their deaths and demons carry away the unrighteous upon their deaths.  His use the phrase “the angels carried him” was certainly intentional, to let the hearer understand that Abraham’s Bosom was indeed the resting place of the righteous.

Additionally, the fact that Lazarus and Abraham were separated from the obviously sinful rich man, who was in torment, gives clear understanding that they were of the other constituency of Hades; the righteous area.

The second deduction is that Abraham’s Bosom is a place of comfort.  Verse 25 states of Lazarus, “now he is comforted here,” referring to his condition at Abraham’s side.  This condition is in stark contrast to those on the other side of the great chasm, where the rich man is in agony in the flames.  The fact that the rich man asks Abraham to allow Lazarus to warn his brothers demonstrates that the rich man desires Lazarus’ knowledge to be given to them that they may be where Lazarus is instead of where the rich man is in the afterlife.  Lazarus’ condition is contrary to “this place of torment,” as the rich man describes his own predicament.

Also, water appears to be available to those at Abraham’s bosom, whereas it is not available to those in Abbadon.  The rich man asks for Lazarus to only dip his finger in “the water” that he may cool the rich man’s tongue.  Clearly no water is available to him, but is to Lazarus.

In further confirmation, Abraham’s Bosom is located adjacent to, but higher than Abbadon.  A great chasm exists between the two abodes, yet the rich man is able to look “up” toward, see, and speak to Abraham across it.  The description seems consistent with the two areas being on either side of a great canyon, with Abaddon being lower in height than the portion for the righteous.

Just as Jesus’ story affirms the characteristics of Abaddon for the rich man, it establishes the characteristics of the righteous side of Hades for Lazarus.  Thus, Abraham’s bosom, the place where Lazarus went in the afterlife in Jesus’ story, refers to the righteous side of Hades/Sheol.

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback version of The Spirit World here.

Series Navigation<< The Spirit World: Chapter Four (The Pit)The Spirit World: Chapter Six (Paradise) >>

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