Peter spoke of the myths of the false teacher (2Peter 1:16) or scoffers (cf. 2Peter 3:1-3). It may surprise some believers that some of these myths that were used by the Biblical critics of the first century AD have been preserved in the New Testament. One is quite obvious and is found in Luke 20:27-33 where the Sadducees sought to test Jesus in an effort to refute the doctrine of the resurrection. These men were scoffers or Biblical critics, the forerunners of our modern critics who labor to show the untrustworthiness of Scripture by pointing to seemingly unreasonable sayings or contradictions in the text. Nevertheless, just as the Lord used Scripture to show the error of the Sadducees, we can do the same today, if we trust God to help us understand what the Scriptures say. Another, not so obvious myth is found in Luke 16.
When Jesus spoke of the rich man and Lazarus, he neither said it was a parable nor did he claim it was a true story (Luke 16:19-31). The fact is, it is a rabbinical story or myth that is preserved in the Gospel of Luke, but it is given a certain twist by Jesus to expose the errors of the scribes (rabbis). We are able to understand it is a rabbinical myth, first, because Lazarus is found in the bosom of Abraham. This was a rabbinical hope held by the Pharisees, but it was not a hope of believers in Christ. Rather, our glorious hope is the indwelling of Christ in every believer (Colossians 1:27). Secondly, Rabbinical myths often named a person of interest in their stories, and Luke records for us the only time Jesus mentioned someone’s name in any of his teaching chronicles. The difference here is that Jesus names the poor man, while the rabbinical writers always mentioned the rich or more important person, at least rich and important as far as they were concerned.
Thirdly, the myth seems to be an apologetic offered by someone who didn’t believe in the resurrection. The major part of the story involves a discussion between the unnamed rich man and Abraham. The point being, if there truly existed a place of torment for the wicked and a place where the righteous were rewarded, surely a righteous and merciful God would send someone from the dead to warn the wicked of this terrible place that awaited them. This idea is not so unlike the more modern myth created by Charles Dickens in his A Christmas Carol. In Dickens story the ghost of Jacob Marley returns to warn his business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, of a terrible place of torment awaiting him, if he didn’t change his ways. Thus warned, the myth of the rich man and Lazarus reasons that the wicked brothers would repent (just like in Dickens’ classic story). The problem is, according to Jesus, a warning from the dead wouldn’t draw out repentance from the wicked, and Jesus proved his point by raising a real person, whom the Gospel of John calls Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, from the dead. In fact, the very people, who created the myth that Jesus reiterated with his own little twists, sought not only to slay Jesus, but also the real “Lazarus,” whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:49-51, 57; 12:9-10). It might be interesting to note that the purple color and the linen garments of the rich man seem to point to the royal, ceremonial garments of the Jewish high priest (cf. Exodus 39:1, 29).
A fourth reason that shows this story is a myth and didn’t originate with Jesus is that it contradicts Scripture. Scripture tells us that there is no understanding in the grave (Psalm 6:5; 31:17-18; cf. Job 14:10), because the thoughts of men perish at the moment of death (Psalm 146:4). Before Jesus there was no rising from the dead (Colossians 1:18). Yet, in the myth the rich man speaks to Abraham, and Abraham is able to reply to him. Such things as dialogues, conducted with or among the dead, cannot be found elsewhere in Scripture. It points to a rabbinical myth used to justify a particular doctrine or to refute another. In this case, the original myth was created by the Sadducees to refute the doctrine of the resurrection held by the Pharisees.
Finally, the myth paints God as unrighteous. This is seen in the idea that, if the resurrection were true and there were such things as punishment after death for the wicked, God seems to be an unreasonable villain. The myth infers that the rich man in the grave was more concerned over the condition of the sinner than God. Of course, Jesus addressed this misconception, but the point is in the fact that it had to be addressed in the first place. None of Jesus’ discourses even remotely put God in a position whereby he needed to be defended.