My question is NOT about how soul sleep advocates interpret Luke 16:19-31 -- that's an exegetical question that has already been asked elsewhere.

Rather, my question is about understanding, from the soul sleep perspective, why God would, in His providence, let a parable like the rich man and Lazarus be part of the canon, knowing in advance that it would mislead so many people to the wrong conclusion (that the dead are conscious). God, being omniscient and all powerful, surely knew that millions of Christians would take elements of the parable at face value and would wrongly conclude that the spirit of a person remains conscious after death.

Why would God let an inspired parable mislead so many people like that?

Related questions:

Similar question, but about a different controversial topic:

Am I asking a loaded question?

From Wikipedia: "A loaded question is a form of complex question that contains a controversial assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt)."

My question certainly has an assumption, namely, that Luke 16:19-31 has led possibly millions of Christians to conclude that the dead are conscious. Is this assumption controversial? I don't think so. Whenever I've asked people for the biblical basis for the dead being conscious, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is easily in the top 3 most cited passages (see for example here, here and here). Similarly, the Wikipedia article on the parable says:

Most Christians believe in the immortality of the soul and particular judgment and see the story as consistent with it, or even refer to it to establish these doctrines like St. Irenaeus did.

Therefore, the assumption is warranted, and thus the question is not loaded.

UPDATE: user 'Hold To The Rod' has recently made a very solid case here for viewing the setting of the parable as realistic, including supporting quotes from a copious number of ante-Nicene Fathers who openly advocated a conscious intermediate state. In the same line, I also suggest the curious reader to take a look at the questions What did the Apostolic and ante-Nicene Fathers believe about Sheol/Hades? & What did the Apostolic Fathers believe regarding the state of the dead and the afterlife?.

This reinforces the premise of my question: if Soul Sleep is true, then the early Church was MASSIVELY misled.


2 Answers 2


Why would God allow people to be misled by an ambiguous verse of scripture?

God's people must have free will, they must exercise that free will based on knowledge, and that knowledge must be based on an understanding of the scriptures.

Those that pick verses out of context and use them to prove what they already believe (eisegesis) are not gaining true knowledge or right understanding. They are shaping their religion to match their beliefs.

This very process separates the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff.

[The Jews in Berea] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.
— Acts 17:11–12

These people were open minded and worked hard to verify what they were told; they didn't simply accept it. And when they did understand it, they accepted it and truly believed. They were shaping their beliefs to match the truth.

Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.
— Isaiah 28:9–10

God's truth isn't presented wrapped up in a neat little package. Instead, the scriptures have information scattered throughout them, and much of that information is ambiguous.

Those people that are willing to research and study, to take into account the various contexts that each verse is affected by, and to compare many scriptures in order to resolve the ambiguities (exegesis) will discover the consistent truth. And that consistency will reinforce their belief.

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
— 2 Corinthians 4:1–4

God has allowed people to be massively misled for six thousand years. During that time, only a very small percentage of mankind has been called to receive God's truth. It is they that will rise to meet Christ at his return, and they that will help teach the rest of humanity in the Kingdom of God.

Yes, Luke 16 does talk as if the dead are conscious.

Some people will simply accept this at face value, because it fits so nicely with what they already believe and what their friends and families already believe. They have freely chosen to be misled in the name of convenience.

Others will notice that the concept of awareness while dead contradicts many scriptures that say the exact opposite. Knowing that scripture is self-consistent, they will reason that either:

  • This one scripture should be taken at face value while the many others must be rationalized away.
  • The many scriptures are self-consistent so this one scripture must obviously still be misunderstood.

The "fair-minded" people will take the latter position, will further research the context, and will finally realize that Jesus's story was simply using a popular "meme" of his time to make a point.

These are God's people, not those that simply act as if they are (even though they may be truly sincere about it).

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
— Matthew 7:21–23


Reading an answer to the linked question that you say is not a duplicate provides what is necessary to answer this question.

This is one of 5 stories that Jesus told to a mixed company of common people as well as religious leaders of the day. The first three are parables, "The Lost Coin", "The Lost Sheep" and "The Lost Son". These were designed to provide comfort for the oppressed common people in the audience who needed to hear that God was seeking them and rejoicing over their movement towards repentance. The remaining two fictitious stories on the other hand, were designed to bring discomfort to the religious leaders. Notice their reaction to Jesus' account of the "Dishonest Steward" in verse 14. Jesus used satire "biting wit and irony" here to inspire laughter and contempt towards the religious leaders by having God commend the Pharisees for unscrupulously defrauding/ shortchanging Him while selfishly chasing after position and unrighteous mammon. Jesus concludes this "tongue in cheek" presentation with "go ahead" advice that more than merely borders on irony.

9.And I say unto you, make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when ye fail, that mammon may receive you into everlasting habitations. The Pharisees were deeply offended by this allegory about them and proceeded to deride Jesus for it. The second account (The Rich Man and Lazarus) was equally satirical, told to inspire laughter and contempt towards the Pharisees for justifying themselves before men while refusing to lift a finger to help the poor. The Pharisees used their tradition to accomplish this and Jesus, in parody, used their own teachings about the afterlife to undermine their reasoning and authority.

It's important to know that the Pharisees were the hellfire and torment preachers of the day. Jesus used their own oft-told story and turned it around on them, with the Pharisees ending up in their own version of hell in the afterlife.

Supporting that claim about teachings of the Pharisees

Josephus also provides details concerning the beliefs of the Pharisees. He observes: “They believe that souls have power to survive death and that there are rewards and punishments under the earth for those who have led lives of virtue or vice: eternal imprisonment is the lot of evil souls, while the good souls receive an easy passage to a new life.” (Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 14 [i, 3]) “Every soul, they maintain, is imperishable, but the soul of the good alone passes into another body, while the souls of the wicked suffer eternal punishment.” Regarding their ideas about fate or providence, Josephus reports: “[They] attribute everything to Fate and to God; they hold that to act rightly or otherwise rests, indeed, for the most part with men, but that in each action Fate co-operates.”​—The Jewish War, II, 162, 163 (viii, 14).

When read by a person who has not already accepted the false doctrines of immortality of the soul and hellfire this is not a confusing parable.

Upon understanding that this parable was intended to to shame the Pharisees who disdained the common man and was not given in the context of “Jesus teaches what souls experience after the body dies” shows that there is no misleading being done


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