Fixed Chasm


19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and 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. 23In hell,[c] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So 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. 26And 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, 28for 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.’ "

What is the Fixed Chasm. This passage seems to offer up some wild ideas. Any thoughts on this.


I’m not sure of the Greek on this passage, but, ironically, the context of this passage implies that the fixed chasm is temporary. For example, the original Jewish audience of this speech believed that wicked dead went to a temporary hades to wait for judgment day.


Agreed: the scene is in hades, not in Gehenna, before the resurrection. Plus the “chasm” cannot be “fixed” in the sense of total separation even from Abraham and Lazarus, or there wouldn’t be communication between Abraham and the rich man! (And then there’s the fire, which elsewhere we’re told is not only God Himself but of which we’re told the purpose is to save and clean sinners from sin.)

That being said, generally I would note that it’s not the best procedure to try to derive systematic theology from exegesis of parables and other figurative imagery.

That having been said: neither do I think universalists should try to whiffle away the parable as being of no account concerning eonian punishment. Admittedly, the main point of the parable isn’t to give details about punishment in hades. But still, observing that the topic is of serious importance elsewhere, I wouldn’t regard it as less than secondary either.

Strictly speaking, I would suppose the “fixed chasm” is intended for the sake of punishing the wicked in sheol. Even in the final hopeful chapter of RevJohn, though, so long as the sinners outside the city insist on loving their sins, they are prevented from entering the New Jerusalem. The difference is that the “chasm” no longer operates both ways: the redeemed are exhorted to join the Son and the Spirit in encouraging those still outside the city to slake their thirst in the freely given water of life flowing out of the city and so obtain permission to enter the city and eat of the tree of life (the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations).

So however much the parable may represent the reality, it certainly doesn’t represent the end of the story. :sunglasses:


The one thing that strikes me about the parable is that most of world WAS/IS convinced by someone rising from the dead. The Gospel is ubiquitous and very ‘gentile’ in its message.

Obviously, this parable is aimed at that generation of Jews being spoken to. It breaks down to an exclusive audience. for example, Abraham is father to both the Jew and Arab (Semites), but to other gentiles - he is not their father. A hero of faith, yes, but not a father.

For me, the burning question is always an historical one. How did they convert the world, back then, to the Gospel? It certainly isn’t the gospel we hear - that unsaved, unbelieving ancestors are doomed. You can’t go into pagan cultures (no matter how well developed) and preach that message with the success that the early church had. i.e. They were preaching universalism from the get-go. There is no other explanation.

How much stock did the early church put in this ‘fixed chasm’? Apparently not much. Neither should we.


Even though I am not thoroughly convinced of universalism yet, I try to be honest with each scripture. This one seems to not support the idea that those who are in hell want to be there as CS seemed to think. The rich man is not happy about being there and warns others to avoid such a place!


True. Though notice that in CSL’s The Great Divorce, the damned aren’t really that happy to be there, either. Moreover, they’re about to be a lot less happy to be there than they already are!

But yeah, there’s a distinct lack of direct application (so to speak) in TGD’s pre-eschaton version of hell.

On the other hand, Screwtape reluctantly admits that he and the other demons are under fire-related pressure pre-eschaton, if I recall correctly.

(Psychologically, though, the Rich Man in the parable obviously doesn’t stake his identity as a rebel. The rebel angels do. That would make a big difference in their attitudes toward what’s happening, whether in “the gloom” of Tartarus or afterward.)


I would like to consider another interpretation.

I think this parable would have been well-understood by Jesus’ audience as a prophetic denunciation of the Jewish leaders and corrupt priesthood.

The purple would be representing the wealthy ruling class. And the linen could be representative of the priesthood. Following the symbolism, perhaps this rich man simply represents the wealthy religious leaders.

And here, I think Jesus is directly invoking the image of Judah, who had 5 brothers, and who basically came to be a representative for Israel. In fact, when he requests of Abraham to send Lazarus to his 5 brothers, it seems reasonable that Jesus may have been explicitly referencing the complete corruption of the leadership of Israel at that time.

Two images are being offered here. One is the weak and impoverished and suffering “Lazarus”. Now, I have heard it suggested that this is an actual reference to Abraham’s servant “Eliezer” (Genesis 15) who God specifically denied would inherit Abraham’s wealth because of the Son of Promise (Isaac). So here is a faithful steward in the house of Abraham who does everything Abraham asks - including finding a wife for the one who received the inheritance he could have, at one point, received legally. The second image is the dogs. This is a common reference in Jewish culture to gentiles.

Gentiles hang out with this guy, making him unclean, and, he’s poor. To their eyes, this guy is hardly even Jewish.

So, given these images, I think Jesus is setting up the ultimate turn of events in this parable. This would fly in the face of the most basic and highly honored concepts in Judaism - the Covenant blessing to Abraham and his descendants, which the religious leaders assumed was their right, simply because they were descendants of Abraham.

This is an outcry against the injustices of the religious leaders and priesthood of Israel. Lazarus, the humble, suffering servant in the house of Abraham is the one who is to truly inherit the blessing. Jesus’ message here is that it doesn’t matter if you are Jewish - the true inheritors of the Covenant blessing are those who care for the poor and weak among them. The faithful servants.

Why does the parable take place after death? I don’t think it was to teach anything about heaven or hell. I think it was to set the stage for Abraham to directly confront the rich man, and to directly console Lazarus (note how he is in his bosom).

What do you think?

-As an aside, the parable may actually be hinting at the resurrection and trying to make the image of Lazarus fit Jesus. To me, this is just too coincidental. I think that may be some clever editing by the writer - but the image of Lazarus fits better as a general, abstract figure just as the rich man is a general, abstract figure.


The use of Hades in this parable seems to be unique to its usage throughout the NT where it elsewhere refers simply to the state of death. This parable seems to be using the term hades to refer to the lake of fire. Very confusing.


In the OT, hades/sheol sinners were consumed in fire, according to some prophets (notably Isaiah). The literal concept behind this analogy involves enemies being burned in a pit instead of being properly buried. Combined with the literal garbage-burning in the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem, the connection being made in this parable between Gehenna (as the the lake of fire) and hades/sheol (the pit of the grave before resurrection, which Hinnom also was during Israel/Judah’s most disreputable times) isn’t unreasonable or confused.


I like the concepts you’re bringing out in the parable (which I’ve head of before, but not often); though the analogy seems to stumble slightly on the 5 brothers part: Judah had eleven other brothers, not five. (And restricting to the sons of his mother and not of Jacob’s other wives or servants, would seem to foof the analogy in another way: for avowedly all twelve brothers received the inheritance of Jacob, becoming the twelve tribes of Israel.)


Agreed, of course I was referring specifically to the sons of Leah, and perhaps that piece could be a stretch.

“Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons’” (Gen. 30:20)

But, I think the possibility a very real one that this would be some of the initial images that Jesus’ audience would have heard. And to them, Jesus was not just in the habit of telling stories - he was a Prophet - and in this case he was executing one of the roles of Prophet, which was rebuke in the sense of activism, at a corrupt system both of the occupying forces (Romans) and their own religious system and leadership.



Can you expound on this?


Not very quickly. But the point is that as a visual analogy, the fires in the valley of Hinnom, burning away the garbage, were always burning. Someone looking out over the valley (as, incidentally, practically every priest would eventually do, being assigned a rotating duty of checking for the first light of morning from the wing of the Temple overlooking Hinnom) would easily see a moat of glowing coals, a lake of never-ending fire, in a pit of corruption (which used to be a pit of death where dead bodies had been burned in the past history of Israel. Including during their most disreputable times, sacrificing babies to Moloch!–for which they were badly punished by God eventually.)

This also has connection to the “broad path” leading to Hinnom and the “narrow path” leading to the gates of Jerusalem. Hinnom was the garbage dump not only for Jerusalem but for the surrounding populous suburbs; whereas for protection in sieges the path to the main gate of Jerusalem would be as narrow and winding as the local civil engineers could make it. (Not so much of a problem during the Pax Romana, of course–except that eventually it was called into service after all, vs. Titus and Vespasian. :wink: The Romans had to build a special earthen siege ramp in order to breach the city, per Josephus’ accounts of the War. If that doesn’t gell very well with the battle scenes climaxing Ridley Scott’s The Kingdom of Heaven, don’t blame me… :laughing: ) Someone unfamiliar with the road to Jerusalem, and not paying attention, could accidentally wind up at Ge-hinnom instead! The notion is supposed to be humorous, as a local joke; but with a serious point behind it: those who insist on taking the broad and easy road to God’s Peace (Yah-ru-shalom) will arrive at the pit of destruction instead.

(It should be kept in mind, by the way, that the ashes of burnt garbage would be considered ‘cleaner’ fertilizer than other waste, especially raw manure.)



What you say makes fine sense. My hang up is the fact that Hades/Sheol is said to be thrown into the Lake of Fire. It would seem that yo are suggesting that Gehenna corresponds to both Hades and the Lake of fire, but how could this be?


I don’t think Gehenna corresponds to Hades/Sheol; but that it happens concurrently with Hades/Sheol. (Or does for some people anyway.)

I understand hades being thrown into the Lake of Fire near the end of RevJohn, to be a poetic way of saying that the intermediary state in which a spirit or soul exists before the general resurrection is done away with. (As I occasionally quip, can’t have a resurrection of everyone, good and evil, without the death of death!) Hades is emptied; Gehenna keeps on going.

If the everlasting fire is in fact God Himself trying to act in cooperation with sinners toward their salvation from sin, He could still be doing that in the intermediary “unseen” (or ‘hades’) state of existence. That keeps going after the general res. (The same principle is rarely if ever disputed by non-universalists: if God is hopelessly punishing people in Hades/Tartarus/The Gloom, He can still be hopelessly punishing them after the general Res, too. The form of the hopeless punishment is debatable; the continuity of punishment is typically agreed on, though.)

Put another way, Gehenna and Hades are both effects; but Hades ends with the general resurrection. Gehenna does not.


Discussion of this particular parable is what lead to the big “blow-up” in the men’s group I used to belong to (see my intro).

I think this parable points out the shortcoming in the Mosaic Law’s ability to ever fully redeem the Jews, and the need for Messiah to come in order to reconcile them to God. In sheol/hades/hell/gehenna/tartatus (wherever-doesn’t really matter) the rich man can’t get out because there is no way for him to cross the chasm. He needs a bridge. He needs a savior. He needs Jesus. The chasm is fixed and uncrossable because Jesus had not yet been crucifed and the sacrifice that atoned for all mankind’s sins had not yet been made. So, he calls on Abraham, who can’t (or won’t) cross the gap. Abraham’s response about Moses and the prophets demonstrates the need a new and better covenant between God and the Jews. Abraham’s response about someone raised from the dead forshadows the inability of the Jewish rulers of Jesus’s time to recognize him as Messiah even if/when He is raised from the dead. Messiah is the bridge that will allow the rich man (and any other Jews trapped in sheol/hades/hell/tartarus/gehenna) to cross the chasm so all Israel can be redeemed.

I think jdperry is correct in that there are lots of jabs at the Jewish ruling class and religious leaders in the parable…hadn’t heard or read anything regarding the 5 brothers and Lazarus representing any particular group of people.

I think there are other symbolic meanings and thought-provoking questions raised by other elements of the parable. Why does the rich man only ask for a a dip of Lazarus’s finger in the water and not a huge bucketful to cool his everburning hide?


Great comment, btw!

I tend to take this as hyperbolic language (even that little bit would be better than nothing, in parallel with the scraps from his table that he refused to give to Lazarus); but if you have some further cultural or thematic insight into possibilities here…?

(Note: one thing I’ve heard recently is that, in lieu of tablecloths, some people in this time and place used sheets of bread to wipe their hands with, dropping them afterward where any dogs in the house would eat them. This has some minor relevance to the incident with the Syro-Phoenician woman, too.)