I thought I would share a couple of chapters from my book I have been working on. At the time of my husband’s sudden death, I was refining the chapter “Are the Dead Really Dead?”
The Myth of An Immortal Soul
Does man have an immortal soul? No. The idea that we are innately immortal is a belief held by the majority of Christian-professing denominations. In fact, it is a universal belief. It is believed that the soul continues to exist after a person dies. The body may be dead, but the “real you” is still alive and caught up in heaven (or hell) at the moment of death.
The Greek philosopher Socrates studied the Egyptian’s culture and belief about the immortality of the soul. It was Plato (427-347 BC), a student of Socrates, who defined death as a separation of the immortal soul from the body. And this is exactly the way the majority of professing Christians and non-Christians all over the world would define death to this day. It is not from scripture but from a Greek philosopher who believed that we are innately immortal, and subsequently it was about the end of the 2nd century that the Church Fathers began to blend Greek philosophical or theological speculation with the teachings of scripture! So the origin of this teaching does not come from scriptures but from the Egyptians.
The consequence of this belief in an immortal soul led to the false teaching of an everlasting place of punishment for the wicked. It has also lead to other false teachings about God, about heaven, about eternal salvation, etc. All becomes confused because of this false teaching of the immortal soul. As mentioned earlier, heresy begets another out of necessity.
Again, the idea that the soul, as a separate entity, that leaves the body at death is not taught in scripture. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives its view concerning the soul:
We are influenced always more or less by the Greek, Platonic idea that the body dies, yet the soul is immortal. Such an idea is utterly contrary to the Israelite consciousness and is nowhere found in the Old Testament.
If we are born with an immortal soul that never dies, what is the purpose of God offering eternal life if no one really dies? In Romans 2:7 we read:
To those who by perseverance in doing good are seeking glory, honor, and immortality—eternal life
Why seek immortality if we already have it?
MAN BECAME A LIVING SOUL
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Gen 2:7).
The Hebrew word for “soul” in that verse is “nephesh.” The word nephesh (sometimes spelled nefesh) does not mean “soul” that is a separate entity separate from his body that man obtains or possesses. Adam became a living, breathing creature as a result of God breathing into a lifeless body that came to life. The ISV translates it as:
So the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground, breathed life into his lungs, and the man became a living being.
By translating the word nephesh as soul, it encounters its first problem in the book of Leviticus. If you take your bible, you will see in 7:18 that nephesh (soul) does the eating (“the soul that eateth”). In verse 27 it warns about any nephesh (soul) that eats blood. We know that no one is eating a soul (supposedly an immaterial part of a person) but rather it is about the body. In addition, in Lev. 17:11 we read, “the nephesh of the flesh is in the blood. “Soul” in the English, as translators and people interpret it (a separate entity of a person), would not say our soul is in the blood, yet this is where nephesh lies in the Hebrew. There is a close relation here between flesh and blood.
If we continue to read the book of Leviticus, we will find more information in 24:17-18. We find that anyone who kills any man (nephesh) will be put to death, and anyone who kills a beast (nephesh) shall pay for it. This unmistakably has to do with physical bodies and not about what we call “souls” in the English language.
If we need further clarification, we will find where nephesh is parallel with basar, “flesh.” The parallelism is found in Psalm 63:1 (“my nephesh thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,”). So we have something that has to do with blood and how nephesh is related to flesh.
And the last thing to notice is that nephesh is related to “breath.” In 1 Kings 17:19-22, Elijah revives a dead child (17:21) by stretching himself over the young boy. We can say that Elijah knows about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Elisha, a disciple of Elijah, used the same method in 2 Kings 4:8:
Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. (2Ki 4:34)
So what have we learned so far? We certainly did not learn that a “nephesh” (translated as “soul”) is a separate entity of the body. We have learned that nephesh is related to:
When God breathed life into Adam, he did not become a man with two natures. Many read this passage through the traditional lenses of body-soul dualism. In other words, God implanted an immaterial, immortal soul into the physical body. Thus, when physical life ends, this supposedly immaterial immortal part of the self (soul) departs from the body and is still conscious. Therefore, the prevailing traditional teaching has people understanding the interpretation of Genesis 2:7 in light of Platonic dualism rather than Biblical wholism.
When God breathed into Adam, he became a living being or living soul (as translated in some bibles). It is not that he was given a soul, but he is a soul. All people are referred to as souls, i.e., a living being. In Gen. 46:26, the people who accompanied Jacob to Egypt are referred to as souls, “All souls (nephesh) that came with Jacob to Egypt.” Joshua captured the city of Makkedah and destroyed “all the souls (nephesh) who were in it” (Jos. 10:28). In the New Testament we have the “eight souls (psuche)” in Noah’s ark who were saved (1 Pet. 3:20).
Here is another interesting fact. If a man has a separate entity that is immortal, then a separate entity that is immortal exists in all the animals, flying creatures, crawling things, and sea creatures, for they too are referred to as souls (nephesh). The word nephesh was first applied to them before it was ever applied to Adam:
Then God said, “Let the oceans swarm with living creatures [nephesh], and let birds fly above the earth throughout the sky! (Gen. 1:20)
So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature [nephesh] that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen. 1:21)
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth each kind of living creature [nephesh], each kind of livestock and crawling thing, and each kind of earth’s animals! Gen. 1:24)
To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life [nephesh], I have given every green herb for food; and it was so. (Gen. 1:30)
In the New Testament we have the equivalent of “nephesh” as “psuche” in reference to the sea creatures:
And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life [psuche – breath], died; (Rev. 8:9)
The average person reading through the bible might not notice all this because of the slight hand of the translators who render the Hebrew word nephesh as soul when it refers to people and living “creature” when referring to animals. Why the cover-up? Because man has been influenced by Plato’s philosophy rather than biblical truth. They believe that man has an immaterial, immortal soul and animals do not. The fact is, in the bible the expression living soul is never associated with an immortal soul.
Also, notice the word “neshamah” in the following verses. It has to do with breath. Life-giving power is associated with the “spirit of God” and the “breath of God.” Job says:
The spirit [ruach] of God has made me, and the breath [neshamah] of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4)
Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath [neshamah] to the people upon it and spirit [ruach] to those who walk in it: (Isa. 43:5)
…as long as my breath [neshamah] is in me and the spirit [ruach] of God is in my nostrils; my lips will not speak falsehood. (Job 27:3)
Note in the above passages the parallelism between the “spirit [ruach] of God” and “the breath [neshamah] of God.” It is used interchangeably. They are one and the same. The parallelism denotes the same animating principle of life that God gives to man and creatures. The breathing of man and animal life is the sustaining power of God’s spirit. It has nothing to do with a separate entity within a person and creature. At the time of death, the “breath of life” or “spirit” that is sustained by God, returns to God.
If he [God] should take back his spirit [ruach] to himself, and gather to himself his breath [neshamah], all flesh would perish together, and man would return to the dust. (Job 34:14-15).
The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit [ruach] returns to God who gave it. Ecc.12:7
And all flesh died that moved upon the earth . . . everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath [neshamah] of life died. (Gen 7:21-22).
Take away their breath [ruach], and they die and return to dust. (Ps. 104:29)
As long as the breath of life or spirit remains, human beings as well as all creatures, are living souls or living beings. When that breath departs from humans and animals, we become dead souls. That breath of life is temporary, not eternal.
So, the common view is that when a person dies, his soul/spirit goes back to God as though this ‘spirit/soul’ is a separate entity that is still conscious and the actual person themselves continues to live outside the body in eternal bliss with Jesus in heaven. One of the verses used to try to support this idea is taken from Ecc. 12:7:
and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
One commentary (JFB) says: “spirit — surviving the body; implying its immortality.”
Barnes says: “The Spirit – The doctrine of life after death is implied here…”
The only reason it is implied is because they have been influenced by Greek Platonic concepts. It is simply human philosophy that Paul warned us about (Col. 2:8). Remember, it was Plato who taught his philosophical belief that man is innately immortal, not the scriptures.
Spirit Of Man
I would like to refer to Job 32:8:
But there is a spirit [ruach] in man, and the breath [neshamah] of the Almighty gives him understanding.
In Zechariah 12:1 we read:
The burden of the word of the LORD against Israel. Thus says the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.
God forms the spirit of man within him that gives him the ability to speak a language, communicate with Him, have intelligence, talents, emotions, reasoning, thoughts, passions, memory, make choices, etc., whereas, animals only have instinct. We are free moral agents where our own personality and character is developed from the time of our birth. The bible says, “that God made man upright,” (Ecc.7:29) and the law is written upon our hearts (Rom. 2:14-15). As a result, deep within each individual, there is a natural consciousness of God and the sense of absolute moral standards. Though there are different characteristics of a person, we are not made up of different parts. The bible speaks of the whole person. Everything about a person includes:
- Physical Body
- Soul: – meaning a “living being.” The body plus the breath of life is a soul, a living being.
- Spirit: The body of dust plus the breath of life from God (spirit–ruach) = a living being–soul.
- Mind: The intellectual part of a person is his mind.
- Heart: It is not the simple muscle that pumps blood through the body that has its own consciousness and intellect, but rather refers to the characteristic of a person. The heart is used in the place of mind. It is the seat of our moral awareness, the seat of intellect, affection, consciousness, understanding, freedom of will, etc..
All of the above has nothing to do with an immaterial thing that is called an immortal soul that consciously exists after it leaves the body. Furthermore, the bible says a soul can die. If the soul is immortal, how can it die? When a person dies, it is the whole person who dies and is buried and it is the whole person who is resurrected. The Holman Bible Dictionary states:
A human being is a totality of being, not a combination of various parts and impulses. According to the Old Testament understanding, a person is not a body, which happens to possess a soul. Instead, a person is a living soul…Because of God’s breath of life; the man became ‘a living being’ (Gen. 2:7). A person thus is a complete totality, made up of human flesh, spirit (best understood as “the life-force’), and nephesh (best understood as “the total self’ but often translated as ‘soul’).
Mankind is not a tripart being although some would insist we are by referring to the words of Paul:
…and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thess. 5:23
Paul is not trying to convince us that man is a tripart being. The Greek word for soul is psychē and it means life (or breath of life). Paul is simply praying for the preservation of these believers in all aspects of their life. He is not speaking about three different entities within a person. Body, soul, and spirit are all components or characteristics of the whole person. When God breathed life into Adam, he became a living being. All vital signs were activated, i.e., his heart began pumping blood that circulated throughout his whole body, his brain and all organs began to function. He became a living being that included his own feelings, passions, freedom of will, personality, etc. All is a synonym for man himself.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us what happens when we die:
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit [ruach] will return to God who gave it.
The spirit (ruach-life) is given by God with all the characteristics of each person, and upon death, returns to God who gave it. It has nothing to do with a righteous person going to heaven or the wicked person going to hell when they die and still conscious. ALL who die, whether righteous or wicked, the spirit (ruach–life), not “an immortal soul,” returns to God and the body returns to dust until the resurrection when life comes back from God. One might ask, “How can God resurrect a body that had returned to dust? If one has returned to dust, there is no body. And what about those buried at sea or those who were tortured and burned alive until nothing was left but ashes?” The same God who created Adam from the soil of the ground is able to reconstruct a person at the time of the resurrection. When the resurrection takes place, God will reform the physical body and the spirit of man (that was preserved by God) placed back into that body to bring it to life again.
So when the spirit (“ruach”) of man returns to God upon death, He preserves it until the resurrection. The best analogy I have read is that the human spirit of man is like any digital device that cannot function apart from a power source. A computer, for example, has a storage device that records everything we put into it. When that computer is turned off or it should die, all the information is still stored in its memory. Likewise, when we die, God has a record of our character, memories, emotions, experiences, passions, our thoughts, will, our personality, and what we have done. In other words, everything we are, and about us, our entire life, is all stored in God’s memory bank. Somehow, God, “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9), stores the spirit of each individual that returns to Him at death. He has a permanent record of everything about us when we die. And believing that God has a good memory, at the resurrection, He plugs it back into us, so to speak, whether righteous or wicked, and we are once again who we are and alive. Those who believed the gospel Jesus preached will have the gift of immortality in a new glorified body, whereas, the wicked are judged and shall perish (second death).
None of us are innately immortal inhabiting a body of flesh where this part of self floats off into space at the time of death and continues to live a conscious life; however, this teaching persists to this day in many churches and in Hollywood (the movie “Ghost” for example and other numerous movies).
The following is the ancient Hebrew concept of nephesh, spirit, and mankind in general:
Deleted for brevity.
What a sad case indeed that mainstream Christianity and the world at large has far removed itself from the biblical view of human nature as monistic or wholistic and have eaten at the table of Greek philosophy of Platonic dualism. Because of this cherished belief that their disembodied souls go to heaven at death, to find out otherwise can be very devastating because of their emotional, philosophical, and psychological attachment to the traditional teaching.
For most, rather than taking the time to reexamine their belief based on an exegetical study of the scriptures, they will attack (ad hominem) the person rather than the argument. One of the tactics is to use “guilt by association.” That is why I said in the beginning of my book, “While the author may refer to other authors and online references, it does not mean there is total agreement with the views expressed by those authors in other areas of doctrine.” The truth is not decided by association. In other words, I may happen to agree with some Catholics, Adventists or even Jehovah’s Witnesses in some areas, but that does not mean I believe everything they teach. We cannot discard what is biblically true just because a certain denomination or scholar happens to believe the same thing on certain issues. And for a person to use this kind of tactic (ad hominem), it simply shows that if he can get his opponent on the defensive, he will not have to answer the argument.
As I have said before, heresy begets another out of necessity. If a person, through reexamining the scriptures on certain topics, arrives at a full knowledge of the truth, he may see “the domino effect” take place of a false doctrine. If one heresy falls, the others will have to follow resulting from it.
God Alone Has Immortality
The bible says God alone has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16), which means He is never subject to death. On the other hand, we seek immortality (Rom. 2:7), and like Jesus, one day we will put on immortality (1Cor. 15:54). Like all of us, Jesus was born into this world as a mortal human being. If Jesus were immortal, then Jesus never really died. The claim is that his flesh died but his spirit kept on living. So the reality of this teaching is Jesus never really died and never was actually resurrected from the dead since the real him was never dead.
In 1 Cor. 15:53, 65 it states:
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
A word of caution should be noted at this point. Some translators demonstrate their theological bias in the passage by supplying the word body into the text when there is no Greek equivalent. Some translations might say:
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Therefore, by supplying the word body into the text, it helps support the commonly held view that upon death there is a separation of the immortal soul from the mortal body. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives forever, so all of us will rise at the last day.
If we do a little investigation, we will not find one phrase in scripture that says the resurrection of the body that has to be inhabited again, but the person as a whole. We have such phrases as:
- the resurrection
- the resurrection of Jesus Christ
- the resurrection of the dead
- the resurrection of the just
In the New Testament, we have the word “Aathanasia,” which is found in 1 Cor. 15:53; 15:54; and 1 Tim. 6:5. It means “immortality.” Since God alone is immortal, something will have to change in order for human beings, who are perishable and mortal, to become immortal. That change will take place at the resurrection. There is no indication in the text itself that human mortality pertains only to our bodies. That is a concept that is assumed by the proponents of natural or inherent immortality and denied by conditionalists, who propose that immortality is only potential. 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Tim. 6:16 both serve as evidence for the potential immortality position. While 1Cor.15 shows that immortality (athanasia) is not currently a present possession (even for the saved), 1 Tim. 6:16 identifies the one being who is the exception to that rule, and presently has athanasia.
Though there is a bodily resurrection, it has to do with the whole person, not just the body.
Are The Dead Really Dead?
The idea that we never really die is the first lie told by Satan. We could say that Satan is the first to introduce immortality whereas, with God, mortality is conditional. Satan led Eve to believe that if she disobeyed the direct command of God not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that she would “not surely die” (here is the lie of immortality). Adam was expressly warned by God (which Adam related to Eve), “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (mortality conditional). But the serpent says to Eve, “You will not surely die.” (Gen. 2:17; 3:4). The lie of Satan is universally accepted that no one really dies.
As I sit here and type this, a famous actress died, Carrie Fisher. She is the daughter of well-known actress and performer Debbie Reynolds. The following day Debbie Reynolds died. Upon their deaths, I read comments like, “Well, her daughter needed her,” or “She is in a better place and at peace now.” “She and her daughter have reunited and happy once again.” “…tap dancing and singing her way through those pearly gates.” “Carrie can start her journey. She was waiting for her mother and the both of them are now heading to heaven together.”
The world and professing Christianity at large do not believe anyone really dies, they have simply moved on or passed on to a better place. The truth is, they are both asleep now and must wait for the resurrection of the dead.
I want to share with my readers that in the midst of reviewing and refining this chapter, my husband died of a massive heart attack while at work. At the hospital I saw him for the last time with immediate and extended family. At times like this I know we would like to ease the burden for the loved ones who remain that the person we lost to death is not really dead but with the Lord now and at peace. When we lose someone we love, we try to convince ourselves of this because the pain and grief are too much to bear as the reality of the death of our loved one immerses so deep within our being that the world just seems to stop. I do not fault them for their kindness by trying to reach out to help try to ease the pain. It is just something we have all learned from childhood and accept as true.
Therefore, as we begin to examine the issue of death, I think we must first probe to the term of “soul sleep.” Those who teach and believe in the immortality of the soul try to warn others to stay away from those who do not. Those who do not believe in the immortality of the soul are accused of teaching doctrines of demons and will use guilt by association, i.e., one must be a Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh Day Adventist.
I would have to say that the ones who believe and teach innate immortality are misguided. The following is a common explanation against soul sleep and what happens to the dead:
“Soul sleep” is a belief that after a person dies, his/her soul “sleeps” until the resurrection and final judgment. The concept of “soul sleep” is not biblical. When the Bible describes a person “sleeping” in relation to death (Luke 8:52; 1 Corinthians 15:6), it does not mean literal sleep. Sleeping is just a way to describe death because a dead body appears to be asleep. The moment we die, we face the judgment of God (Hebrews 9:27). For believers, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). For unbelievers, death means everlasting punishment in hell (Luke 16:22-23).
The people who speak against soul sleep are misguided because of their confusion over the word “soul.” They are constantly taught that “bodies” sleep but “souls” do not. Because of the acceptance of Plato’s definition of death – as a separation of the immortal soul from the body, by necessity, cannot have it sleeping, it must stay awake. So no one is really sleeping, only the body. The bible is clear that in the sleep of death it is the whole person who is asleep. All of the dead are referred to as persons, not dead bodies. They fail to understand the true meaning of a “living being” (nephesh). The bible teaches nothing about mankind possessing anything that is immortal. It seems the Old Testament is entirely ignored when it gives us specific information about the state of the dead that can be easily understood. Both Testaments speaks of the dead as falling asleep and they remain asleep until the resurrection.
What this website owner states about the dead when they die is false according to scripture. In addition, did you notice how he misquoted the verse “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord?” (I cover this further in the chapter in case you do not see it.) Additionally, when a person dies, he does not immediately face judgment. Hebrews 9:27 does not tell us this. It simply says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” When a person dies, there is nothing in scripture that states they immediately face judgment and either go to heaven or hell. Lazarus died and there is no record of him going to heaven (or hell). He was simply asleep (dead) and Christ awakened him out of his sleep. In fact, Jesus resurrected at least three people from the dead. The other two were Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son at Nain. Then, of course, we have the many saints who were resurrected at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. Had those saints who were sleeping already judged and living in eternal bliss?
These people came to life once more and we can only assume they died again. Why? Because when they were resurrected, they were not resurrected with the gift of immortal life, in a new glorified body.
Hebrews 9:27 is simply about the final death and after that comes the judgment. All this does not take place immediately after the person dies, but when Christ returns. If what this website states is true, then Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the widow’s son, and the many saints who were resurrected have already been judged and have the gift of immortality.
“Sleep” Used As a Metaphor For “Death”
We can have less confusion at the cemetery once we realize how the bible describes death. When a person dies, the bible will often use the metaphor “sleep” for death. The following is just a tiny example from the Old and New Testament, but I also want you to notice the personal pronouns. It has to do with the whole person. It has nothing to do with something that separates from the body at the time of death:
Job 14:12 – So a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep. (It is talking about the person. It does not say, “rouse his body out of sleep.)
Ps.13:3 – Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death. (Does not say, “lest my body sleep.”)
Dan. 12:2 – And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake. (It does not say, “And many of the bodies shall awake…”)
Job 7:21- for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be (Not, “Now shall my body sleep…”)
Luke 8:52, 53 – Everyone was crying and weeping for the girl. But Jesus said, “The child isn’t dead. She is just asleep.” The people laughed at him because they knew she was dead. (Not, “Her body is just asleep.”)
John 11:11, 13 – Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up.” Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep. (Jesus does not say, “I am going to wake the body of Lazarus up.”)
We see that it is the whole person who sleeps, not just the body. When a person dies, the whole person is dead. The bible uses the word “sleep” as a metaphor for “death.” A metaphor or analogy is simply a comparison between two things for the purpose of explanation or clarification. Since we all understand the word “sleep” because it is universal and we all have experienced it, we can compare it with death and therefore understand the concept of death. When we go to sleep, we drift into unconsciousness and have no indication of the time passing.
Some people will say that in sleeping there really is no death because a person can dream while sleeping. This is to try to prove people are still alive after they are dead and either in heaven or in hell. People will grab whatever argument they can to try to prove someone is still awake while sleeping. So the dead are not dead because a person can dream while sleeping? The fact is, the person whose heart has stopped pumping, whose blood is no longer circulating, whose brain has stopped functioning, and has stopped breathing is a dead person! Here is what the bible says about the dead:
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? (Ps. 6:5).
The dead do not praise the Lord (Ps. 115:17)
Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness. For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks? (Psalm 6:4-5)
The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor do any who go down into silence; (Psalm 115:17)
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. (Psalm 146:4)
For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun… Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going. (Ecc. 9:5-6,10)
These few examples of scripture speak nothing about a consciousness after death. Once a person dies, it means the utter end of being alive. The bible says they are asleep.
Christ told his disciples that Lazarus was asleep. The disciples did not understand so Jesus had to tell them plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14). Lazarus was not still alive in a disembodied state, judged, and enjoying eternal bliss with God in heaven. Rather, he was inside a grave decomposing. As Martha said to Jesus, “by this time he stinks” (John 11:39). When Jesus came to the grave he cried out, “Lazarus come forth!” Jesus did not cry out, “Lazarus, you get back down here!”
Another thing to consider is that Lazarus never mentions what activity he experienced while dead those four days. For that matter, why would anyone want to leave heaven? Shouldn’t Lazarus have been extremely disappointed when Jesus forced him from his “eternal reward in heaven” back to earth?
Question: What about where the bible says, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living?”
Answer: In context, Jesus is addressing the Sadducees who rejected the resurrection of the dead (Matt 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27). Jesus answered them and said:
You are in error, through ignorance of the Scriptures and of the power of God. (Matt. 22:29)
In Mat 22:31-32 he says:
But as touching the RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
The quotation is from Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush (Ex. 3:6; cf. Mk. 12:26). In Mark 12:25, on the same topic, we read concerning the dead:
For when they SHALL RISE FROM THE DEAD, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
Jesus is dealing with the Sadducees and their rejection of the power of God to raise the dead from the grave and their lack of knowledge of scripture on this issue. It is not proof that the dead never really die and continue to live after death. The Sadducees assumed death to be final and permanent.
If Jesus is teaching that the patriarchs are presently living and conscious, then he is teaching that they have already been resurrected and the argument is a waste of time. Why? Because Jesus would be arguing merely for the continued existence of the dead rather than “Resurrection” from the dead, which resurrection is the context! If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not dead, Christ could not have used them to prove the dead will be raised. One must be dead to be resurrected from the dead.
Therefore, if people insist that the passage supports that the dead are still living, then they take away Christ’s argument of proving the resurrection – that all the saints SHALL RISE from the dead.
To support the state of the dead are still living is doing so out of context. All the dead will return to dust while awaiting the resurrection. Some will rise and be given the life of immortality, which is a “gift,” and the others will “perish,” to be destroyed by fire. “Fire,” according to scripture, is used for utter destruction, not for preservation in torment for billions and billions and billions of years with no end in sight.
The Rich Man And Lazarus
Question: What about Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16?
Answer: There are two things we must remember when reading the bible:
- We must Look at the immediate context
- We must look at the broader context of the entire bible where it contains the same topic
We cannot dismiss numerous passages of scripture to one difficult passage that might seem to contradict the broader context. I have seen many people do this, and I plead guilty as well but there is always the opportunity to change our minds once we reexamine the scriptures.
On the issue of death, we know that the bible summarizes the state of the dead in Ecc. 9:5: “The dead know nothing.” The story of the rich man and Lazarus seem to contradict the broader context of the entire bible when it comes to death and sleep. However, there is no contradiction when we realize that Jesus is telling a parable when it comes to this story. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines a parable as “a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson.”
Just prior to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, we have the parables of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), and then the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
The traditional teaching about the rich man and Lazarus is taken literally to try to prove the dead are conscious and are either in heaven or hell the moment they die while the body decays in the grave, that they continue on in a disembodied state. This is not a parable about the state of the dead or about heaven and hell, or about tormented in hell fire for billions of years.
For those who believe in eternal conscious torment (ECT) end up contradicting what they claim to believe. For instance, if this is a literal story then it means the saved would be watching their loved ones burning and tormented in flames of fire forever and ever but never burning up. Thus, the people in hell and the people in heaven can see each other! Do they really believe this? In addition, do they believe that one drop of water could relieve the agony and pain of those suffering in the blazing fire? (“…and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”) Also, where does it say the beggar went to heaven? It says he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. Abraham’s bosom is not heaven. The word “bosom” means chest, but not literally all the time. It also represents a special closeness or intimacy. To have in one’s bosom indicates kindness, secrecy, or intimacy (Genesis 16:5; 2 Samuel 12:8). Christ is said to have been in “the bosom of the Father,” i.e., he had a perfect knowledge of the Father and had the closest intimacy with Him (John 1:18). John was leaning on Jesus’ bosom at the last supper (John 13:23). Our Lord carries his lambs in his bosom, i.e., has a tender, watchful care over them (Isaiah 40:11).
Furthermore, if the body is in the grave and the beggar is believed to be in heaven, what is he doing with a body? What we have is that when the rich man and the beggar died, they went bodily to their rewards. Scripture does not teach this. When a person dies, he goes to the grave and awaits the resurrection. King David is still in the grave. After Christ’s resurrection, it is said, “David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:34). Men are rewarded at Christ’s second coming, not at death (Revelation 22:11, 12)
Jesus knows about the state of the dead. He knows that Abraham as well as all the other faithful saints are dead in their graves and will be raised in the resurrection:
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth —those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:28-29)
The Prophet Daniel says:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2).
Therefore, we see there are problems if we take the parable of Lazarus and the rich man literally. The topic has nothing to do with the state of the dead or heaven and hell. Taken at face value, the story is about greed, judgment, and repentance. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for their love of money (greed) while neglecting to show compassion for the poor (Luke 16:19:31). In other words, having great wealth emptied of active mercy is considered wicked. After death it is too late for repentance, to change our character and behavior (Rev. 22:7-12).
What about when Paul said he would rather be with Christ (Phil. 1:23)? Or where he says, “that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8)?
I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Phil. 1:23)
Many have understood this to mean that when Paul dies, he will immediately be with Christ. A few things to notice:
- Paul never said he would immediately be with Christ when he dies.
- Paul never said anything about going to heaven when he dies.
- Paul never says anything about him or anyone being in a disembodied state when they die and immediately home with Christ.
But here is what Paul did understand:
- He knew that death is a sleep and taught about believers who sleep waiting for the resurrection at Christ’s return. (1 Thes. 4:13-17)
- Paul knew the dead have no consciousness or awareness, “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything” (Ecc. 9:5).
- Paul knows that from the moment of death until his resurrection that he will have no experience of time passing. Just as when we sleep, we wake up not knowing how many hours we have actually slept. Likewise, upon resurrection it would seem like an instant of time had passed since the moment of death. This will be the experience for all those who have been dead for thousands of years.
- Paul understood that the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give him on that Day (of Christ’s appearing at the second coming) and to all who love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:6-8) The reward is not received immediately at death but is stored in heaven until the time of the resurrection.
- Therefore, Paul knew that the faithful who have died will remain asleep in the grave until Jesus returns and raises them to immortal life (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
As far as 2 Cor. 5:8:
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
This verse is often misquoted. Note it does not say, “…to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Because the verse is so often misquoted, people think that once a person dies he is instantaneously present with the Lord in a disembodied state.
If we read the context, Paul says;
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (vs. 2–4).
Paul declares that “life” (immortal life) comes when we are “clothed upon” with this “house…from heaven” at the resurrection (v. 4), not in the “naked” or “unclothed” state of death. No one is “clothed” with immortality at the time of death, but rather simultaneously at the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51–54; 1 Thess. 4:15–17; 2 Tim. 4:6–8; etc.).
Paul knows the faithful in Christ are asleep (dead) and will be awakened from this sleep at the first resurrection (John 11:11–14, 25, 26; 1 Cor. 15:20, 51–54; 1 Thess. 4:14–17; 5:10).
As stated above, when a person dies, they have no awareness of time passing. As a person who goes to bed and falls asleep in the blackness of the night, he is not aware of the hours that pass. His next conscious thought is when he awakes with the sun filled sky of the morning. Likewise, when a person dies he has no awareness of time that has passed. His next conscious thought is the resurrection and being present with the Lord.
As we can understand, Paul does not teach anything about going to heaven in a disembodied state immediately after death. The whole person is in the grave and it is the whole person who will be resurrected from the dead.
I want to end this chapter with the words of Paul who I am sure experienced the death of family and Christian brothers and sisters through natural sleep or from persecution, who says, “comfort one another with these words,” because though we have deep sorrow and many tears, we do not weep as those who have no hope. Our hope is in the resurrection when Christ returns:
I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
 Genesis 6:5; Judges; 16:15, 17, 18, 20; Matthew 5:8; Luke 12:34; Romans 10:10; Hebrews 3:10
 Matthew 13:15; 15:19; Mark 7:19; Luke 6:45; 9:47; Acts 8:21; 8:37; 28:27; Romans 10:9; 10:10; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 7:37; Hebrews 3:10; 4:12; 1 John 3:20-21
 From the King James Bible: Lev. 23:30; Josh.11:11; Josh.10:28,30,32,35,37,39; Judges 16:16; Ps.78:50; Eze.13:19; Eze.18:4; Eze.22:25, etc.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 1016
 Easton’s Bible Dictionary