In Gospel Disproof #36, we looked at how the resurrection story of Lazarus shows that the resurrection of Jesus is not about resuscitating the latter’s physical body. Even apart from the question of Jesus’ resurrection, though, there are some significant inconsistencies in the story of Lazarus and his alleged resurrection.
There are 16 verses that mention Lazarus in the Bible. The first 5 are in Luke 16, where Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus, where Lazarus is a beggar who dies and goes from a miserable life to an eternity of comfort and blessing in “Abraham’s bosom.” The next 3 are in John 11, where John recounts the story of Lazarus’ resurrection. The rest are in the following chapter, where John tells us that Jesus and Lazarus were together in public, and a huge crowd was coming, not just to hear Jesus, but especially to see Lazarus. John even tells us that the chief priests saw it, and plotted together to murder Lazarus so that people would stop saying he had risen from the dead, though of course there’s no mention of any such threat ever being carried out.
Now, think for a moment about the great evangelists of the first-generation Christians. Peter, James, John, Paul, Barnabus, Matthew, Mark, Luke… Where’s Lazarus in that list? Can you imagine someone being literally, physically raised from the dead, and experiencing first-hand the divine life-giving power of the Son of God, and not being grateful enough to a good chunk of his remaining years going around telling people about it? Never mind the gratitude, think of the sheer celebrity of it all. Think of the glory! John tells us that Lazarus was a tremendously successful evangelistic tool, and that huge crowds would turn out to just to see him and hear the story of how Jesus called him out of the tomb three days after he died.
And yet, after John 12, this amazing, crowd-commanding, first-class witness disappears from the gospel narratives and never shows up again—not at the crucifixion, not at the (alleged) Resurrection, not at the Ascension, not at Pentecost, not as part of anybody’s missionary journeys. No apostle outside of John’s gospel ever cites him as evidence of Jesus’ divine power, and even Paul, in his lengthy discussion of resurrection, shows no signs of having ever heard of him. He’s just gone, like he was never there.
I mentioned the parable of the rich man and Lazarus even though the Lazarus in that story died and went to Abraham’s Bosom instead of being resurrected. I almost mentioned that this was not the same Lazarus, because the Lazarus in that parable was clearly better off staying with Abraham in bliss and comfort, rather than being raised again to his old life of suffering and squalor. A loving God would not resurrect that Lazarus (unless of course He were calling him to a dramatic prophetic/evangelistic ministry of some sort). But there might be a different connection between the two.
The thing is, John wrote his gospel when he was quite an old man. By the time he decided to write a book proving that Jesus was the Son of God, he’d spent many decades rehearsing to himself how he knew that this was true. As numerous psychological studies have shown, those are prime conditions for re-writing memories. He’s highly motivated to believe that Jesus was Messiah, he’s arguing in favor of his beliefs against hostile and skeptical critics, and he’s made this claim the defining significance of his whole life. Few things would be more futile than being the last living apostle of a fraudulent Messiah. From John’s perspective, the Gospel has to be true.
Did Lazarus ever really exist? Or did John, in his hunger for proof of Jesus’ divine power, inadvertently borrow a misremembered character from one of the parables, and simply invent a new achievement to add to Jesus’ alleged repertoire? Given the otherwise inexplicable absence of Lazarus’ impact on early Christian history, the latter certainly seems likely.