"And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died and was buried. And in hell, he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abrham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."
There has been much debate as to whether Christ's parables were literal, symbolic, truth based in fiction, pure invention or something else entirely. The parable of the "Rich Man and Lazarus" has created much controversy as to its meaning. While it seems a bit unreal, it is actually drawn from daily Jewish life. And to the first century Jewish listener, it made perfect sense.
Around the second century BC, idioms* crept into Jewish language and became accepted an excepted manner of speech.The Rich Man and Lazarus contains several great examples of Jewish idioms, the most vivid and descriptive being "Abraham's Bosom".
By the first century AD, the Jews had adopted the Roman custom of dinning while reclining on couches. Guests at a feast leaned themselves on one elbow while resting the back of their head against the chest of the guest behind them. And a guest who rested their head against the host's bosom dined in the place of honor. The Jews called this dinning position "resting in the "Bosom of Abraham". The phrase reminded them of their belief that someday, at the final reward, they would all feast in honor with their father Abraham.
At some point, the idiom "Abraham's Bosom" became synonymous with "heaven", the place of final reward, the place of the eternal feast.
Jewish Pharisees differed with Christ on several major points concerning life and death. It was their belief that father Abraham had gone directly to heaven at the moment of his death, where upon arrival, 'he" had sat down on the right hand of God. From then on, in order for any soul to get into heaven, that soul must seek the approval of Abraham. Only on Abraham's recommendation could a soul enter paradise. Then, when the dead saint did arrive at the Pearl Gates, Abraham came to meet them and clasped them soundly to his chest. Each new arrival was welcomed into Abraham's Bosom...welcomed into Paradise, welcomed to the place of final reward, welcomed to the great eternal feast.
The Jewish Talmud says that the most common interpretation of the Abraham's Bosom Idiom is "Paradise".
The introductory text is a quote of Jesus' words to a Jewish audience. In this instance, He is giving both a description of and making a contrast between Heaven and Hell in terms that His listeners understood.
See also Matt. 8:11 and Luke 14:15.
*[An idiom is an expression in a language that has a unique meaning, and that meaning cannot be understood from the meaning of any of the other words in the expression. (such as "raining cats and dogs".) ]
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