The Flame in Hades

And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.—Luke 16:24

The Bible not only teaches hell, but it teaches about three kinds of hell: the hell of sheol and hades which generally refers to the condition of Adamic death; the hell of gehenna represents second death; and the abode of the fallen angels after they sinned, mistranslated "hell" from the Greek tartaroo.

The Bible also teaches about a fiery hell. This hell is gehenna, and the fires were literal fires in the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. It is from the name of this valley that we derive the word gehenna. These fires which destroyed all that was thrown into the valley show the complete destructiveness of the second death.

There is, however, one exception in the New Testament which some use to show that there is fire in hades as well. The lone exception is found in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. Luke 16:24 reads: "And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame."

It is naturally enough assumed that where there is flame there is fire. But is that assumption justified? We think not. We suggest that the translation flame in this instance is incorrect and is influenced by the translators perception of hades meaning a fiery hell.

The word flame is taken from the Greek phlox and is used seven times in the New Testament. On the other six occasions it is used in connection with the Greek word pur, or fire, and obviously means flame.

Phlox is used once of a literal fiery flame, that of Moses and the burning bush (Acts 7:30); again to describe the holy angels (Heb. 1:7); and three times in Revelation as descriptive of the "eyes of the Lord" (1:4; 2:18; 19:12). Only once is it used where the attached fire is judgmental in nature, in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8: "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." Even in this passage the flaming fire describes the environs of the Lord and not the destination of those being judged.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

This brings us to the sole usage of phlox without pur, of flame without fire. Commenting on this, W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words has this to say: "phlox 5395, akin to Lat. fulgeo, `to shine,’ is used apart from pur, `fire,’ in Luke 16:24; with pur, it signifies `a fiery flame,’ lit., `a flame of fire.’"

The literal meaning of the word, therefore, is to shine. Only when used with fire (pur) does it have the significance of flame, which is the shining of fire. Noting the relationship with the Latin fulgeo, it might be best translated with the English cognate, effulgence, or bright, radiant shining.

Fire in Sheol

As this instance is the only instance where fire is even implied in hades, so there is likewise only once instance where fire is found in its Old Testament equivalent, sheol. That is in Deuteronomy 33:22: "For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains."

The context here is the song of Moses recounting the miraculous exodus and the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel. He describes Israel’s pride in their prosperity under the figure of Jeshurun (meaning, the upright one) in verse 15: "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation." [Incidentally, Jeshurun is only used here and in the following chapter where Moses is called the king of Jeshurun (33:5, 26)].

In the intervening verses he describes how Israel has moved God to jealousy. God’s reaction to their backsliding is given in verse 21: "They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation."

In other words, they would be replaced by a people whom they had previously despised. How similar a situation to that given in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus where the beggar Lazarus is given the position in Abraham’s bosom coveted by the Rich Man. Perhaps we should call it the parable of Jeshurun and Lazarus.

This connection suggests an additional thought. Professor Lightfoot has noted that there exists a similar parable in the second part of the Talmud, the Gemara. Josephus, in his lecture to the Greeks on the state of the dead, also gives an oblique reference to the parable [though some consider this reference in Josephus to be spurious.] Since the Talmud was a collection of the oral traditions of Jewry, it seems very likely that this parable originated as an illustration of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.

The Rich Man as Israel

This line of reasoning is one of four suggesting that the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a story relating the displacement of the "upright" class with, first, the publicans and sinners, and eventually with the despised Gentiles. Let us note briefly the other three.

First: The fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of Luke form one continuous sermon by Jesus in parabolic form. The sermon is occasioned by the scribes and Pharisees criticising Jesus for eating with publicans and sinners (15:2). The first three parable he addresses to them, showing that the conversion of one deemed "lost" is an occasion of great rejoicing in heaven—the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and the prodigal (or lost) son.

Then Jesus turns to his disciples with what is known as the parable of the unjust steward, showing that the current stewards, the Pharisees, were about to be displaced. Listening in, they caught the point and derided him (16:14). He then responds to them with the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, demonstrating how they would be displaced. The Pharisees took their name from the Hebrew parash, Strong’s 6567, meaning separate ones, or holy ones, upright ones (hence, Jeshuruns).

Second: In the transition from the previous parable to the one under consideration the seemingly unrelated thought of divorce is introduced: "Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery" (verse 18).

God had considered himself married to Israel. He recognized the marriage bonds as irrevocable, except under the conditions of either death or adultery. Having hinted in the previous parable that he was going to dissolve the former relationship, he proceeds to show the legal basis for it: divorce on the grounds of adultery. (See Jer. 3:8).

Third: A prominent part of this parable is a waterless pit. In verse 24, quoted above, he beseeches Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water to cool his tongue. A similar allusion in found in Zechariah 9:11, 12: "As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee."

The Zechariah context immediately follows the prophecy of Jesus’ triumphal entry and his rejection by the Jewish house. As a result they are consigned to a waterless pit for a specific period of time—a "double," or mishneh, a duplicate period of time their period of favor—1845 years. How similar this is to the parabolic language of a place of punishment (hades) wherein is no water, and betwixt them and Abraham was a great gulf fixed—established, a set period of time. (See Psa. 102:13).

It may be wroth noting another term in the parable which fits well into this setting of Gentiles and Jews is the note that "dogs" licked Lazarus’ sores. Dogs are elsewhere used in the New Testament of the despised condition of the Gentiles. (See Matt. 15:26, 27; Mark 7:27, 28.)

The Tormenting Flame

Having this evidence then to link this parable with the transition of favor from Israel to the Gentiles, what is the flame which so torments Israel, the Rich Man of the parable. We suggest that the shining referred to here, the effulgence, is the exposure of the hypocrisies of the Pharisees’ position by the spreading light of the Gospel. It was to them a blinding light, just as it was to Saul of Tarsus when his hypocrisies were revealed to him (Acts 9:3). It was this shining light which caused "blindness in part" to natural Israel (Rom. 11:7, 25).

The Five Brothers

After being denied the drop of soothing water, the Rich Man further petitions that Lazarus be sent to his "father’s house" to save his five brothers from a similar fate. It has been pointed out that the Jews who returned to Palestine after the Babylonian captivity were primarily from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and that mathematically these two tribes are related to the other ten in the same ration as one to five. There is a further historical reason to bolster this interpretation.

When Joseph was reunited with his brothers in the land of Egypt he desire to present them to the Pharaoh. While Joseph and Benjamin were full brothers, it was the other ten on whose behalf he was beseeching Pharaoh for land for their settlement. This action is detailed in Genesis 47:2: "And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh." Here, too, five men represented the other ten tribes.

Abraham’s response was that these five, the rest of the Jews, had the writings of Moses to guide them. The Rich Man responded that it would be much more effectual if they were told by one who was raised from the dead—as the publicans and the later Gentiles were figuratively. The final response of Abraham is given poignantly in verse 31: "And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."

The Fires of Hell

While phlox, when it is used alone without the accompanying noun pur, merely means brightness, and not necessarily flame, there is a cognate word, phlogizo, which is used of fire in hades in James 3:6.

"And the tongue is a fire (pur), a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire (phlogizo) the course of nature; and it is set on fire (phlogizo) of hell (hades)."

The difficulty here is more apparent than real. Phlogizo means to ignite, to set a fire going, thus to make light or bright—we might say "to inflame." The text gives this action of hades setting the tongue on fire by hades as not the destination of the sinner, but the origin of the erring tongue. Again, quoting from Vine’s, is describes "the satanic agency in using the tongue for this purpose."

There is one other reference to fire associated with hades, not as being an element of hades, but being a force opposed to hades. That is found in Revelation 20:14: "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."

It would not be true to say that gehenna is cast into the lake of fire since gehenna and the lake of fire represent the same concept—second death. But hades, the condition of those who have died as the result of Adamic weakness and sin, will be terminated and replaced as a punishment for sin by the second death from which there is no ransoming power.

Sheol and Hades

While it is manifestly clear that the New Testament hades is the equivalent of the Old Testament sheol, the two words do not have the same dictionary meaning. Sheol (Strong’s 7585) is derived from a root (Strong’s 7592) meaning to ask, beg, or request. It probably refers to the condition of death as one from which deliverance is requested of God. Hades (Strong’s 86), on the other hand, is a compound word, linking the negative prefix a with the verb eido (Strong’s 1492), meaning to see—hence, that which is not seen, the unknown.