Gospel Disproof #37: Lazarus

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.



    • sailor1031 says

      Other than being pretty sure that it wasn’t the disciple John, nothing is known about whoever wrote it. Just adds another layer of fuddle to the story.

      WRT Lazarus: given the record of christians down the centuries regarding lying, persecuting others, making stuff up and pursuing wealth and power, why would we absolve them of lying in this case. Is it not possible that Lazarus was merely a straight man to a con artist? It’s quite odd that Lazarus was the only person revived by the late jc…you’d think that gift would have been in great demand, even more than healing or casting out demons.

      • Tige Gibson says

        The dead make no demands, and the sort of people who follow cults are extraordinarily selfish. Jesus taught the standard method of cult recruitment, to abandon one’s family.

      • RW Ahrens says

        Actually, as I recall, other than the fact that the gospel of John is unsigned, we know nothing at all of the author. He could have been named John, for all we know, or tom, dick or harry.

        It was certainly too late to have been written by an eyewitness or even the son of an eyewitness, given the short lifespan typical of the lower classes at the time. Carrier discusses this extensively.

        So all the commentary about how old “John” was when he “wrote the story” is bunkum. We just don’t know, other than to say that it was written either very late first century or early second. It wasn’t the first gospel written, either.

        It is, in fact, this later position in the progression of the gospels that makes me think that the Lazarus stories are simply added bunkum done for instructional purposes. The gospels are, after all, religious tracts written to instruct the faithful and “document” christianity’s roots. Mark, written first, is the most sparse with regard to miracles and added fancy padding, and each gospel written after it adds its own layer of bunkum to the narrative.

        In the great marketplace of the Roman public’s gullibility for superstition, the more ancient and documented a religion was, the more respected it was. There were a lot of standard miracles and wonder works that the divine were expected to perform, or that religion would be dismissed as unworthy.

        The gospels were intended, obviously, to perform this function of instruction and documentation, most likely by differing christian sects in the beginning. They were never intended to be seen as historical.

    • jerthebarbarian says

      As folks have said, the answer to that is an emphatic “No”. The only people who claim to know who wrote the book of John are believing Christians, who know that John wrote the book of John (amusingly because Catholic tradition – which Protestants deny has any kind of authority – insists that John wrote the book of John. That deference of Protestants to Catholic tradition when it suits them always cracks me up.)

      But to take the counter-point to everyone else here – for DD’s argument it doesn’t matter. He’s pointing out that even if you take the book at its word, it has problems. Even if you believe that the book was written by the apostle John at the end of his life (as Catholic tradition insists), you run into the problems that DD points out here. Even just taking their own beliefs as is leads to problems, without the need to insert skepticism about authorship into the debate at all.

  1. wholething says

    Lazarus seems to come from the Egyptian story of te resurrection of Osiris.

    Osiris was killed by Set and mourned by his two sisters. He was brought back to life by Horus in Heliopolis, also known in the Old Testament as the City of the Sun and as On, which comes from the Egyptian name “Annu”.

    When the story was told in Hebrew, it was El-Osiris and Beth-Annu. When it was told in Greek, it was Lazarus and Bethany.

    • RW Ahrens says

      Of course, this shows clearly that this story was just added fluff, probably verbally in the community that John was written in and for long before the unknown author put pen to papyrus (or parchment).

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Wow, that’s amazing. I was wondering where the name “Lazarus” came from. It sure doesn’t sound Hebrew or Aramaic.

      • RW Ahrens says

        Makes sense, as the story was written in Greek when gJohn was written. A lot of these stories were in wide circulation and were used in different religious traditions. As I noted, in the wider Mediterranean culture, gods were expected to be divine, and to show that divinity by performing certain specific kinds of miracles. Raising the dead was just one of those things, and many of the stories were similar and familiar to most Romans, which was probably the audience of the gospels.

  2. scenario says

    When I hear people say that we should take the four gospels as evidence, I think we should take them at their word. I tend to use a somewhat informal system to evaluate the gospels as evidence.

    I rate three levels of Jesus, level 1 – Ordinary Guy Jesus, Level 2 – Important Guy Jesus and Level 3 – Magical Jesus. Then I look at each piece of evidence for Jesus in the Four gospels and any available outside source and I rate it 1 to 3 on an important/memorable scale. Then I look at its internal reasonableness and decide if and what level of Jesus it supports. Internal reasonableness includes stuff like do the stories match each other, should it be in more books, does anything in the story conflict with outside sources etc.

    For example, the story of raising Lazarus from the dead would rate a 3 in the important/memorable scale and support Magical Jesus, but how does it work on the reasonableness scale? It only appears in one gospel and in no outside sources. How can three of the four disciples just forget about or consider unimportant something like raising someone from the dead? It should be in all four gospels. Since it isn’t, I cannot consider it evidence.

    Consider the birth stories. They are in two of the four gospels. Ok, I’ll buy that. Do they support each other? The two stories are totally different from each other and there are elements of the stories that are not supported by outside sources. This fails the internal reasonableness test. Cannot use as evidence.

    Consider a parable that only appears in one gospel. Since what is considered an important story is subjective, I can believe that only one of the four gospels wrote about any particular parable, so I consider it level 1 important/memorable piece of evidence for Ordinary Guy Jesus since anyone can tell a story.

    Under this system, there are a lot of things in the gospels that would support a level one Jesus but not a whole lot that would support a level 2 or 3 Jesus since many of the really big things are either only in one or two gospels or contradict each so much they cannot work as evidence.

  3. rem says

    what terribe reasoning this is!!!out of 100 people who attend a celebrity dance school, how many actually become celebrity dancers? only those who are called to do so! maybe lazarus was just not a speaker/go-getter. besides which his scope was limited as clearly explained–“this was done so that the glory of God may be revealed.” that’s it. purpose over and lazarus role in God’s story is done. maybe you’d have written the script differently. but just cos the Real Author chose to do it this way, what is it to you? it was also a forward-looking proof to Jesus’ disciples. Who knows…maybe if they had never witnessed this resurrection that they would ever believe Jesus’ resurrection or even the concept of resurrection.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Hi Rem, welcome to the blog.

      I think you’ve rather missed the point here. Lazarus wouldn’t need to be any sort of speaker/go-getter, he’d just need to tell his story. Even if Lazarus himself weren’t a great evangelist, you’d still expect others to be telling his story. And yet there’s no mention of this alleged resurrection until John’s gospel is written about 60 years later! And unlike Jesus’ resurrection, Lazarus’ resurrection is supposed to have been witnessed even by the Pharisees, which would have made it an even stronger proof of resurrection than Jesus’ own. Yet for 60 years nobody was telling that story or using it as evidence of the power of God? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

  4. says

    Though I have not yet addressed this on my site yet, I soon will ! Yes it is addressed, just not recognized because it is foolishly taught that ” THE DICIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED” is the apostle John when in John 11:3 this person is identified as Lazarus. This term used only in this (1 of 5) books of John where people say he is humbly talking about himself is the only one that this phrase is used and specifically about Lazarus. Start reading your Bible with an open mind rather than with closed teachings that are very flawed !

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Such speculations have been raised before, of course, but even if we assume that Lazarus was also secretly present at the Last Supper, this still does not explain his inexplicable absence from the history of the church following the close of John’s gospel. Imagine Osama bin Ladin being raised from the dead by Allah, and then having no further role or influence on Al Qaeda! Such a result is perfectly consistent with Lazarus as a mythical character, but it doesn’t fit at all with the notion that he was real, and becomes even less likely if he were THE beloved disciple out of all the disciples Jesus loved.

  5. says

    This should be called Gospel disproof. There is only skepticism and theories given the propose you obvious bias. No proof given to support anything here. Proof being the root of “disproof”, you would think you would find more than merely opinions of ones beliefs and the cheering on if those who believe likewise.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Hi Michael, welcome to the blog. I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying here, but you seem to be objecting that I have not provided sufficient evidence to support my claims. But perhaps you’re misunderstanding my point. I’m simply drawing people’s attention to the absence of the scriptural and historical evidence that ought to be there if there were a literal resurrection of a real person named Lazarus. If we take John’s Gospel as presumptively historical, and consider what the real world consequences would be if the Lazarus story happened in real life, it’s easy to confirm the fact that these consequences aren’t there. Thus, if we’re going to complain about a lack of supporting evidence, we ought to be complaining about the Bible. All I’m doing is pointing out what the Bible story would imply if it had happened literally the way it’s been written.

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