Abraham's Bosom

ABRAHAM’s BOSOM (κολπος, κολποι, ̓Αβρααμ). A figure of speech used by Jesus in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:22, 23) to designate the state or place of security and significance with which Lazarus was honored upon his death.

The figure is drawn from the ancient eastern banqueting custom of reclining upon one’s side on couches at the meal. The configuration of the gathered company was such that the head of one would reach the chest of the one next to him. For purposes of conversation and fellowship, the one would lean his head back against the breast of the other. It was esp. gratifying to be placed next to a special guest, and even more so, next to the host. To have leaned one’s head against the breast of the principal guest, or that of the host, was proof of the existence of a special and intimate relationship with that person (see, e.g. John 13:25; 21:20). Lazarus, therefore, who, in his diseased earthly life had had to beg to maintain his existence in contrast to the rich man who had fared sumptuously, is pictured as feasting in the realms of bliss with the father of the race. Indeed, he is seen to have been given the place of highest honor, being able to recline in the “bosom of Abraham.”

In the story, Abraham’s bosom is seen in strong contrast with Hades. It is seen as the felicitous abode of the righteous poor, while Hades is the place of torment for the wicked rich. The Gr. and later Jewish conception of Hades was that of a place that would receive all of the dead, but was divided into two compartments, one a place of blessing and the other a place of torment. This, however, does not seem to be the view taken here. While the two abodes are pictured as being close enough to allow some visual and vocal communication between the two, it is still in Hades itself, rather than in a compartment of it, that the rich man suffers. Further, the facts that there is a great chasm fixed between Abraham’s bosom and Hades, and that there is no possibility of crossing the chasm in either direction, would seem to indicate that each is a permanent location or state and not simply a temporary waiting place for judgment.

Bibliography

A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883), II, 278-283; S. D. F. Salmond, “Abraham’s Bosom,” HDB (1908), I, 17, 18.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Figurative. The expression occurs in Lu 16:22,23, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, to denote the place of repose to which Lazarus was carried after his death. The figure is suggested by the practice of the guest at a feast reclining on the breast of his neighbor. Thus, John leaned on the breast of Jesus at supper (Joh 21:20). The rabbis divided the state after death (Sheol) into a place for the righteous and a place for the wicked (see Eschatology of the Old Testament; Sheol); but it is doubtful whether the figure of Jesus quite corresponds with this idea. "Abraham’s bosom" is not spoken of as in "Hades," but rather as distinguished from it (Lu 16:23)--a place of blessedness by itself. There Abraham receives, as at a feast, the truly faithful, and admits them to closest intimacy. It may be regarded as equivalent to the "Paradise" of Lu 23:43. See Hades; Paradise.