The Rich Man, Lazarus, and Doctrine & Covenants 104:18



No revelation more emphatically sets forth the law of consecration than Doctrine and Covenants 104:13–18. The scriptures have long declared the first principle of consecration—“the earth is the Lord’s” (Exodus 9:29). Section 104 affirms that principle with crystal clarity: “I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine” (D&C 104:14). In decreeing the doctrines of stewardship and accountability over the abundance of the earth, the Lord requires that the rich share with the poor: “If any man take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” (104:18, 1981 edition, emphasis added).

This potent passage in Doctrine and Covenants 104 obviously draws on the New Testament story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19–31, especially verse 23. In the Savior’s story as recorded in Luke, the rich man had “fared sumptuously” in life while a “beggar named Lazarus” waited in vain for some of his table scraps. When the two men died, angels carried Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom while the rich man went to hell. “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments,” ironically begging Lazarus to relieve his suffering. Section 104:18 evokes this story and applies it to Latter-day Saints.

An interesting detail in the three earliest manuscripts of Doctrine and Covenants 104 (one of which was recently published in BYU Studies1) links this revelation more closely to this New Testament passage than has previously been noticed. For example, the text in the manuscript that the Joseph Smith Papers Project has termed Revelation Book 2, often called the Kirtland Revelation Book, says that if one does not share according to the Lord’s law, “he shall with Dives lift up his eyes <in hell> being in torment”2 (fig. 1).

Dives is the Latin word for rich, opulent, wealthy.3 In Greek, the story of Lazarus and the rich man begins in Luke 16:19 with the words “Anthrōpos de tis ēn plousios,” which the King James translation renders naturally as “There was a certain rich man.” The Latin Vulgate Bible translated this clause verbatim as “Homo quidam erat dives.4 Although the Greek word plousios and the Latin word dives both clearly mean “rich,” in the Middle Ages the word dives came to be used as the proper name of the rich man in this story, due largely to the asymmetry of the parable—the poor man’s name is specified while the rich man is unnamed.5 In the English language, Dives occurs as a proper name for the parable’s rich man as early as 1393, when it appeared in the “Summoner’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.6 It continued to be used as a proper name through the nineteenth century, as in William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair in 1848.7

When the Church first published this revelation as section 98 in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the name “Dives” in the manuscript was replaced with the phrase “the wicked” in the printed version. This editorial change, made under the supervision of the First Presidency and Presiding Elders of the Church, clarified that although it may indeed be difficult for the rich to enter heaven (see Matthew 19:24), it is wickedness and not riches per se that will keep them out.

Just as the presence of Dives in the earliest manuscripts clearly links Doctrine and Covenants 104 to Luke 16, the use of “the wicked” makes the essential meaning of both texts unmistakable. The unrighteous rich in Zion who, like the rich man in Christ’s story in Luke 16, do not impart of their substance to the poor will some day have great cause to regret that wickedness.

About the author(s)

Steven C. Harper is Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. He received his PhD in early American history at Lehigh University. He is an editor on the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Steven C. Harper is editor in chief of BYU Studies.


1. Max H Parkin, “Joseph Smith and the United Firm: The Growth and Decline of the Church’s First Master Plan of Business and Finance, Ohio and Missouri, 1832–1834,” BYU Studies 46, no. 3 (2007): 43. The word Dives was incorrectly transcribed as Diveles in the transcription Dr. Parkin used for his article.

2. Kirtland Revelation Book, 102, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.

3. P. G. W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), s.v. dives.

4. Jerome, Vulgate Bible, Bible Foundation and On-Line Book Initiative,

5. Henry J. Cadbury, “A Proper Name for Dives (Lexical Notes on Luke–Acts VI),” Journal of Biblical Literature, 81, no. 4 (1962): 399–400.

6. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), 95, line 1877. The passage reads, “Lazar and dives lyveden diversly, and divers gerdon hadden they therby.”

7. William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (New York: Viking Penguin, 1969), 658. The passage, in chapter 57, reads, “‘There must be classes—there must be rich and poor,’ Dives says, smacking his claret—(it is well if he even sends the broken meat out to Lazarus sitting under the window).”

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