Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Life After Death? Part 2: The State of the Dead

In Job 14:10 the following question is asked: "Man breathes his last, and where is he?" Job is speaking of human beings in general here. Before we hear his answer, let's first take a look at what the Bible says elsewhere about the location of people after they breathed their last.

When Abraham breathed his last, where does Scripture say he went? In Genesis 15:15, God tells Abraham, "You shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age." In this verse, what does the pronoun "you" refer to? Well, we know that it was a corporeal being that was "buried." So unless God's talking to two different persons here (he's not), we can conclude that it was this same corporeal being that went to his fathers in peace. In Genesis 25:8, we read, "Then Abraham breathed his last, and died in a good old age - an old man full of years. And he was gathered to his people."[1] When we read, "and he was gathered to his people," the pronoun "he" refers to the same corporeal being who "breathed his last" and was buried. Continuing with verses 9-10, we read: "Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife." The expression "and he was gathered to his people" (which seems to be equivalent in meaning to Abraham's going to his fathers in peace) is explained by Jacob in a later chapter: "Then he [Jacob] commanded them and said to them, 'I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite...There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife'" (Gen. 49:29, 31). From this verse it is evident that for a person to "go to his fathers" or to be "gathered to his people" simply meant for them to die and join their ancestors in the grave, where all alike return to the dust of the earth. So to answer Job's question in regards to Abraham, we may say simply, "He joined his wife Sarah and other deceased members of his family in the grave."

Again, when Moses breathed his last, where was he? In Deut 31:16 God tells Moses, "Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers" (Deut 31:16). It is evident that to go to one's fathers in peace and to lie down with one's fathers are equivalent in meaning. Since the former expression refers to persons joining their ancestors in the grave, the latter does as well. God also tells Moses (Deut 32:50), 

Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Cannan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 

Finally, in Deut 34:5-6 we read, "So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day." So where was Moses after he died? Answer: he was buried by God "in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor." There, Moses (the once-living man who had "breathed his last) lay down with his fathers in the earth and was thus "gathered to his people." We also read of David that he "slept with his fathers" (1 Kings 2:10; cf. Acts 13:36). The same is said of Solomon (1 Kings 11:43; 2 Chron. 9:31), of Asa (1 Kings 15:24; 2 Chron. 16:13), of Jehosaphat (1 Kings 22:50; 2 Chron. 21:1), of Azariah (2 Kings 15:7), of Jotham (2 Kings 15:38; 2 Chron. 27:9); of Abijah (2 Chron. 14:1), of Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:23), of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 32:33), of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14: 31; 2 Chron. 12: 16) and of Josiah (2 Kings 22:20).

The same thing is said of the unrighteous as well. It is said of Jeroboam "that he slept with his fathers" (1 Kings 14:20; 2 Kings 14:29), of Abijam (1 Kings 15:8), of Baasha (1 Kings 16:6), of Omri (1 Kings 16:28), of Ahab (1 Kings 22:40), of Joram (2 Kings 8:24), of Jehu (2 Kings 10:35), of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:9), of Joash (2 Kings 13:13), of Jehoash (2 Kings 1 4:1 6), of Menahem (2 Kings 15:22), of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:20), of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:18; 2 Chron. 33:20) and of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:6).

It is clear from all these texts that all people – whether pious or profane, believer or pagan, righteous or unrighteous - are said to "lie down" or "sleep" with their ancestors. Jacob - a believing, righteous man - desired to "lie with his fathers" (Gen. 47:30), and his death is called being "gathered to his people" (49:29, 33). And speaking of the wicked it is said, "He shall go to the generation of his fathers" (Ps. 49:19). This is said not only of single individuals, but of whole generations (Judges 2:10). When people were said to go to their fathers at death (Gen. 15:15) and to go down to their children who were dead (Gen. 37:35; cf. 42:38; 44:29, 31), nothing more was meant than that they joined them in the grave, where all alike return to the dust from which we were made (Gen 3:19; 18:27). As David's death was quickly approaching, he told his son Solomon that he (David) was about to "go the way of all the earth" (1 Kings 2:2; cf. Josh 23:14). That is, after his death David knew he would return to the dust, where his fathers "slept" (see Daniel 12:2). And David's fate after death would later be contrasted with that of the Messiah's, who it was prophesied would not see corruption after death: "For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption" (Ps 16:10; cf. Acts 2:24-31). Here, the Messiah's "soul" refers to the Messiah himself, and his not being abandoned to "Sheol" is equivalent to him not seeing "corruption," or returning to dust in the tomb in which he was buried. But what is Sheol?

The Domain of the Dead

While several derivations for the Hebrew word she'ohl' have been offered by Biblical scholars, it may have been derived from the Hebrew verb sha'al' meaning "to ask, request." It may thus be understood to denote something which (in a figurative sense) continually asks or craves for more (Prov. 27:20; 30:15-16; Hab. 2:5). Judging from how the word is consistently used in Scripture it can be reasonably inferred that Sheol simply denotes "the grave" in a general sense - i.e., wherever the dead reside. That is, Sheol denotes the domain or "resting place" of the dead, where both man and beast return to the dust of the earth (Job 17:16), whether this takes place in a keber (a tomb or place of burial - Gen 23:7-9; Jer. 8:1; 26:23) or elsewhere (Gen. 37:35; Isa 14:9, 11, 15, 19). That Sheol refers to the grave in a general sense (i.e., wherever the dead reside and return to dust) becomes especially evident when we consider the fact that the contents of Sheol are such as can belong only to the grave. We read of gray hairs as being in Sheol (Gen 42:38; 44:29, 31), gray heads (1 Kings 2:6, 9), bones (Ps 141:7; Ezekiel 32:27), sheep (Ps 49:15), material possessions (Num 16:32-33), and swords and other weapons of war (Ezekiel 32:27). Worms and maggots are also spoken of as if present in Sheol (Job 17:13-14; 24:19-20; Isaiah 14:11; cf. Job 21:23-26). And it is noteworthy that Korah and his company were said to go down to Sheol "alive," which would make little sense if Sheol denoted a supernatural realm of "disembodied spirits." When Sheol is understood to denote the grave in a general sense, what we're told in Numbers 16:32-33 makes perfect sense. Korah and his company simply went down alive to the place where their corpses would reside and ultimately return to dust. Although their resting place was much deeper in the earth than most other places of burial, they were in Sheol nonetheless.

Because burial was the typical way in which the Hebrews disposed of their dead, Sheol is appropriately described as being beneath the surface of the earth (Ps. 63:9; 86:13; Prov. 15:24; Isa. 7:11; 57:9; Ezek. 26:20; 31:14; 32:18; Prov. 15:24). The dead descend or are made to go down into Sheol, while the revived are represented as ascending or being brought and lifted up from it (1 Sam. 2:6; Job 7:9; Ps. 30:4; Isa. 14:11, 15). And like the caves and other burial places used by the ancient Hebrews, Sheol is described as a place with gates (Job 17:16, 38:17; Isa. 38.10; Ps. 9:14) and as having a "mouth" or place of entrance: "As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol" (Ps. 141:7) - i.e., at the entrance to the grave. "Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revellers and he who exults in her" (Isa. 5:14). Sheol is also described as marking the point of greatest possible distance that persons could be from the heavens (Job 11:8; Amos 9:2; Ps. 139:8) - hence the expressions "depths of Sheol" (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13; Prov. 9:18) and "depths of the pit" (Ps. 88:6; Lam. 3:55; Ezek. 26:20, 32:24), which denotes the lowest places of burial.

Sheol, or the grave, is further described as a place of silence (Ps. 3:17, 6:6, 30:10, 88:13, 94:17, 115:17). It is called the "land of forgetfulness" (Ps. 88:12), where all who reside there are without any memory of the past, as well as forgotten by the living (Ps. 31:12). In Job 40:12-13 God declares, "Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below." Here "the world below" (literally, "the hidden places") undoubtedly refers to Sheol, and (as elsewhere) is associated with "dust." Job calls this silent resting place of the dead "the land of darkness and the shadow of death: a land of darkness as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order; and where the light is as darkness" (Job 10:20-22; see also Ps. 88:12; Job 3:5, 16; 12:21-22; 17:13; 1 Sam. 2:9; Ps. 44:19, 107:10, 14, where similar statements are made). This is, of course, fitting imagery if Sheol refers to those darkened places concealed from mortal eyes where corpses return to dust. Sheol is also described as a state of corruption and destruction (see Job 26:6, 28:22; Ps. 88:11, 16:10; Job 4:18-20; Ps. 49:9-20; Prov. 15:11, 27:20; Acts 13:26) where one's form is said to be "consumed" (Ps 49:14). David prophesied that God would not abandon the Messiah's soul (i.e., the Messiah himself) in the grave, or let him see corruption (Psalm 16:10; cf. Acts 2:27). Since David is employing Hebrew parallelism (i.e., where the writer expresses the same thought in slightly different words), it follows that for God to abandon Christ in the grave would mean to let him "see corruption" (which is a reference to his physical body, which would have begun to decompose had God not raised him from the dead on the third day).

Since death comes to all, Sheol is appropriately referred to as the "appointed house for all the living" (Job 30:23; 17:13; Eccl. 11:5). It is here that the dead meet (Ezek. 32; Job 30:23) and rest from their earthly toil in silence without distinction of rank or condition - the rich and the poor, the pious and the wicked, the old and the young, the master and the slave: 

Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counsellors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master. Job 3:11-19 (cf. Isa. 57:2; Rev. 14:13). 

The state of those who have died is the same for all, irrespective of the character or social status they possessed while alive. In Ecclesiastes 12:5, Solomon tells us that, at death, "man goes to his eonian or age-abiding (Hebrew: olam) home." This is undoubtedly a reference to Sheol. Previously he had declared, "All go to one place; all are of the dust, and all return to dust again" (Eccles 3:20). Though a grim and sobering reality to be sure, this is our common lot as mortals.

It would not be inaccurate to describe Sheol as "the domain of the dead." At the same time, it must be remembered that to speak of "the dead" in Scripture is to speak of that which remains after a person's breath or "spirit" has departed and returned to God. In other words, to speak of "the dead" is to speak of a lifeless body (James 2:26) - i.e., a corpse, or the remains of a corpse. So if Sheol refers to the domain or resting place of "the dead" - and "the dead" refers to that which remains after a person dies and begins to return to the dust - then Sheol is wherever a person's dead body (or the dust to which a person's dead body has returned) resides.

Job Answers His Question

Let us now return to the question posed by Job: "Man breathes his last, and where is he?" As we've seen above, when man breathes his last he goes to Sheol (the grave) where he is represented as "sleeping" in the dust of the earth until the resurrection. And not surprisingly, this is exactly how Job answers his own question in vv. 11-15:

As water disappears from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dries up, so man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep. Oh, that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, and that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands.

According to Job, when a man dies he is in Sheol, which denotes the place where the dead reside and return to the dust. Notice that, like the rest of the inspired writers of Scripture, Job speaks of death as being like a "sleep" from which the dead must be awoken (of course, to speak of the dead as "sleeping" is to employ figurative language to describe the state of death; this figurative "sleep" language will be examined in a little more detail later on). Notice also that, for Job, those who reside in Sheol were thought to no longer be exposed to God's "wrath." Rather, they were in need of being "remembered" by God. Job's words above make perfect sense if the state of the dead was understood to be a temporary state in which man's living, conscious existence has been put on hold. Another interesting thing to note is the second question Job asks: "If a man dies, shall he live again?" Today, one of the most popular questions asked by "Christian evangelists" is, "Where will you spend eternity when you die?" But no one in Scripture ever asked such a question. Job's concern was not where he would go after he died, but whether he would live again (i.e., whether he would be restored to life, or resurrected). For Job - and, I believe, for all the saints in the Bible - resurrection was understood as being the only possible entrance into "life after death."

That dead people were understood to be wherever their dead remains were (and thus no longer conscious) was also believed by king David: "The dead do not praise the Lord, neither do any that go down into silence" (Psalm 115:17). "For in death there is no remembrance of you: in Sheol, who shall give you thanks?" (Ps. 6:5) "Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth?" (Ps. 30:9) "Will you show wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Shall your loving kindness be declared in Sheol, or your faithfulness in destruction?" (Ps. 88:10-11; cf. verse 12 and Ps. 118:17, and Isa. 38:18-19, where similar things are stated). Statements such as these make perfect sense when we identify "the dead" as simply the physical remains of those whose life and breath has departed from them. Because a dead person was identified as the physical remains of a person whose breath and life had departed from them (e.g., a corpse or the dust to which corpses begin to return) rather than a disembodied, immaterial being existing in some other location (e.g., heaven or "hell"), those who were dead were thought to have lost all capacity to engage in any vital activity (of which worship was seen as the greatest).

Psalm 146:3-4 may be used to sum up the views that have been advanced so far: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goes forth, he returns to the earth; in that very day his plans perish." Here, the Psalmist is describing the very reverse of what took place at man's creation, showing his dissolution by tracing back the steps taken in his formation. Just as God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the "breath of life" to make him a "living soul," so, at death, the "breath" or vital power that God imparted to us "goes forth," and we immediately begin to return to the elements of the earth from which we were made.

Notice that the person himself is not identified with the "breath" that is represented as going forth at death, but with that which inevitably "returns to the earth" (i.e., the body). The Psalmist also declares that, on the day of a person's death, his "plans perish." The word translated here as "plans" is ‛eshtônâh  - which, according to Strong's (H6250), means "thought." While this is the only occurrence of ‛eshtônâh in the OT, the Greek word used to translate it in the LXX (dialogismos) appears more often in the NT, and can denote "the thinking of a man deliberating with himself" (see, for example, Matt 15:19; Luke 5:22; 6:8; 24:38; Rom 1:21; 1 Cor. 3:20; James 2:4). From these considerations we may reasonably infer that death was thought to put an end to all of man's deliberations and plans. But why might this be so? Answer: because when a person dies, his brain is no longer functioning. And with the cessation of all mental activity, the plans conceived in his mind necessarily "perish." This fact is consistent with what we are told elsewhere in the OT, where those who die are spoken of as being "no more" (Gen. 42:13, 36; Lam 5:7; Ps. 39:13; cf. Matt. 2:18).

That David's son Solomon held to the same view as his father (as well as Job and others) is evident from his words in the book of Ecclesiastes. Consider the following passage where, like Job, Solomon refers to the state of the dead as being one in which people are no longer being troubled or oppressed:

Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter. On the side of their oppressors there is power, but they have no comforter. Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead, more than the living who are still alive. Yet, better than both is he who has never existed, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun. Eccl 4:1-3

That the dead are not engaged in any kind of conscious activity is taught even more explicitly by Solomon later on in the same book. In Eccl 9:3-6 we read: 

This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.[2] For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

Here Solomon is not merely saying that the dead know less than the living (while still perhaps knowing some things); rather, he's making the much more radical claim that the dead don't know anything at all. Note also the fact that the complete lack of knowledge that the dead are said to have is contrasted with the knowledge possessed by the living that "they shall die." The knowledge of one's own mortality is an example of the most basic kind of knowledge possessed by adult human beings.

But what if someone were to reverse Solomon's statement to instead read, "For the dead know that they have died, but the living know nothing?" Every reasonable person would understand such a statement to be completely false. The author would be rightfully interpreted as making the absurd claim that, while the living aren't aware of anything at all, the dead (in contrast) are! Thus, as it reads, this verse provides irrefutable evidence that the author believed death to be the termination of conscious existence. For Solomon, "the dead" are those who have begun to return to the dust of the earth because their "spirit" (i.e., the "breath of life") has departed from them and returned to God (Eccl 12:7). Having ceased to be "living souls," they have consequently lost the capacity to know or do anything at all.

The solemn words in v. 10 with which Solomon concludes this passage may be used to sum up the ancient Hebrew understanding of man's state after death: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going."

Summary of David and Solomon's View of Death

There is an impressive consistency between the view of death found in the Psalms and in the work of David's son, Solomon. If all we had were the works of these two kings of Israel we could summarize the Scriptural view of death as follows: When man dies he begins to return to the dust of the earth from which he was made (Ps 90:3; 104:29; 146:4; Eccl 3:18-21; 12:7). Death frees men from their oppressors (Eccl 4:1-3). Those who are dead are "no more" (Ps 39:13). While the living know that they will die, the dead know nothing (Eccl 9:5). Their love and their hate and their envy have perished (v. 6). "Sheol" is where the dead reside (Ps 6:5; 16:10; 30:3; 31:17; 49:15; 88:3; 89:48; 116:3; 139:8; Eccl 9:10), and is called man's "olam (age-lasting) home" (Eccl 12:5). There is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (Eccl 9:10). Sheol is sometimes referred to as "the pit" (Ps 30:3, 9; 55:23; 88:4, 6; 103:4). Man's nephash ("soul") goes to Sheol (Ps. 16:10; 30:3; 49:15; 86:13; 89:48). Sheol is described as a place of corruption (Ps 16:10) and destruction (Ps 40:2; 55:23) where one's form is "consumed" (Ps 49:14). Those who are in Sheol are said to be "dust" (Ps 30:3, 9). Sheol is represented as being a place of silence (Ps. 3:17; 6:5; 30:9; 88:12; 94:17; 115:17) and darkness (Ps 88:12). God's steadfast love and faithfulness is not declared in Sheol, and his wonders and righteousness are not made known there (Ps 30:9; 88:10-12). Those who reside in Sheol have no remembrance of God (Ps. 6:5; 88:12) and do not praise or worship him (Ps 6:5; 30:9; 88:10-12; 115:17).

Death is "Sleep"

There can be no denying the fact that, in Scripture, dying is figuratively called "falling asleep," and being dead "asleep" (see, for example, Deut 31:16; 2 Sam 7:12; 1 Kings 2:10; 1 Kings 11:43; 1 Kings 14:31; 1 Kings 15:8; 1Kings 15:24; 2 Chron. 28:27; 2 Chron. 33:20; Job 3:13; 7:21; 14:21; Ps 13:3; 17:15; 76:5; 90:3-6; Jer. 51:39; Isa. 26:14; Dan. 12:2; Matt 9:24-25; Matt 27:51–52; John 11:11–14; Acts 7:6, 59–62; Acts 13:36; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 Cor. 15:6, 16-18, 20, 32, 51; 1 Thess. 4:13–16; 5:10; 2 Pet 3:4). What is disputed, however, is to what exactly this "sleep" metaphor applies. Does it refer to some aspect of man's nature that is not essential to his continued existence as a conscious person, and which he may live without after death? To put it another way, is it a person's body that is represented as being "asleep" after death, while some other "part" of them remains "awake?" Or, does this metaphor pertain to the total person as a unified and integrated whole, and to that which makes human persons who and what they are? If the former, then it would mean that we do not need our bodies in order to be alive, since "sleep" is a metaphor for death. If the latter, then any such notion that people continue to exist in a "disembodied" state after death is both false and unbiblical, and consequently ought to be rejected.

Matthew 27:52 (among other verses) seems to provide us with an answer to this question. There, the Gospel writer records that "…many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised." At face value, this verse appears to stand at odds with the common idea that, following death, people are alive and conscious in a disembodied state. According to Matthew, it is not merely the bodies of the saints, but the saints themselves who are depicted as having "fallen asleep." Similarly, Luke tells us that, after praying for those who were putting him to death, Stephen "fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). And when speaking of his friend Lazarus, Christ told his disciples that Lazarus had "fallen asleep" (John 11:11) - and by that he meant that Lazarus had died (v.13). But if this metaphor applied to anything other than that which was essential to Lazarus' personal identity, then it would have been inaccurate to say that Lazarus died or "fell asleep" (for the name "Lazarus" applies to the whole person, and not to some unessential part of what makes him who he is). And when Christ raised Lazarus from death, there is no suggestion that the "real" Lazarus was alive and well in a disembodied state, waiting for Jesus to call him back from heaven so that he could reanimate his body. Instead, John’s language presupposes that the "real" Lazarus – i.e., the person himself - was indeed dead and in a tomb. When, at Christ’s command, Lazarus' "spirit" returned to his body, the dead man was "awakened" from his "sleep."

In addition to Matthew 27:52, Daniel 12:2 also sheds much light on the nature of death and the "sleep" metaphor used in Scripture. There, we read that, at some future time, "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Here, the "sleep" metaphor obviously applies to that which returns to the dust of the earth - i.e., the physcial, human body. And since it is human persons who are said to "sleep" in death, then it can be reasonably inferred that human persons are constituted by, and inseparable from, their physical body. 

At this point it may be well to ask, "What is it that makes sleep an appropriate metaphor for death?" We know that during physical sleep, bodily functions continue uninterrupted. Though no longer under voluntary control, the body continues to function as it does when the person is awake. Even muscular activity remains. But in death this is not the case. In death, all bodily function has ceased. Thus, the similarity between death and sleep is not to be found here. But when we consider the effect of sleep on the cognitive functions, it is quite a different story. As everyone knows from experience, sleep reduces the mind to a state of unconsciousness. In fact, "sleep" is defined as "a natural and periodic state of rest during which consciousness of the world is suspended." When sleeping, a person possesses neither conscious awareness nor voluntary control over oneself; to be both consciously aware and asleep (even in a dream-state) are necessarily mutually exclusive experiences. The major qualitative difference between the sleep state and the waking state, then, is the presence or absence of consciousness, or mental awareness. Thus, when referring to death, the "sleep" metaphor appropriately emphasizes the absence of consciousness and mental awareness. 

Thus, when used as a metaphor for death, "sleep" is a highly appropriate word to convey the idea that the dead are not engaged in any kind of conscious activity (Eccl 9:10). Those who believe the dead are conscious may argue that the Greek word most commonly used by Paul in reference to the dead (koimao) - and which is most commonly translated "sleep" - does not necessarily refer to a state of sleep, or suggest the idea that a person is unconscious; rather, it can denote a conscious state of rest from labour and troubles. They may also argue that the Greek word hupnos would be more appropriate if Paul and the other NT authors wanted to convey the idea that the dead are unconscious. However, the word koimao can and does apply just as naturally to a state of unconsciousness as the word hupnos. In the LXX, for example, the word koimao was used to convey the same meaning of "sleep" as hupnos (e.g., Judges 16:14, 19, 20; 1 Kings 19:5; Ps 3:5; 4:8; 13:3; Prov. 4:16). Job 14:12 is especially relevant, for here both koimao and hupnos are used in reference to the "sleep" of the dead. In Psalm 13:3 hupnos is used in the expression "sleep of death," and in Psalm 76:5 the word appears yet again in reference to death. The same goes for Jer. 51:39 ("sleep a perpetual sleep").

Moreover, in the NT koimao seems to have been used and understood to convey the same general meaning as hupnos (Matt 28:13; Luke 22:45; Acts 12:6). John 11:11-12 is especially significant. There, we read (ESV):

After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep (koimaō), but I go to awaken him (exupnizō, "to awake out of sleep")." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep (koimaō), he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest (koimēsis) in sleep (hupnos).

Notice that when Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus had "fallen asleep" (koimaō) they thought he was talking about literal sleep (hupnos). Jesus then has to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead - and when he spoke of "Lazarus" he was talking about the dead occupant of the tomb he was soon to visit, not a disembodied spirit that was relaxing somewhere in a conscious state of existence. So while it's true that hupnos is the more technical word for "sleep," koimao is often used to convey the same meaning. And when applied to the dead, I submit it carries the same idea (since those who are dead appear to the living to be "sleeping" or "reposing").

Moreover, in Matt 28:13 it would be pretty strange if koimaō didn't suggest an unconscious sleep! So while the word koimao doesn't necessarily suggest an unconscious state (as does hupnos), it is completely consistent with it. And there is good reason to believe that an unconscious state is being implied when this word used in reference to the dead. During the intermediate state, the dead are "resting" in the sense that they are no longer engaged in conscious thought or vital activity, as are the living (Job 3:11-19; Ps 6:5; 30:9; 88:10-12; 115:17; Eccl 9:5-6, 10).

Any objection that the Biblical metaphor of sleep refers "only" to our physical bodies presupposes that which first needs to be proved: namely, that we, as human persons, are constituted by something other than our physical bodies, and that our capacity for consciousness and mental activity can continue after death in a so-called "disembodied state" of existence. In other words, to argue that the sleep metaphor refers "only" to our bodies presupposes that human persons are not constituted by their bodies, and that the possession of a body is not essential to our existence as human persons. Although this widely-held view of human nature can be traced all the way back to the religious and philosophical beliefs of the earliest civilizations of human history (i.e., the Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, etc.), and is a view held by people from nearly every religious tradition in the world (both past and present, East and West) I believe the Biblical record is entirely against it. Consider the following two simple arguments from Scripture:

Argument 1:

1. According to Scripture, when a person's "spirit" departs from them and returns to God, it is the person himself who is said to "return to the earth" (Job 10:9; Psalm 90:3; 104:29; 146:4).

2. It is the person's body that "returns to the earth," not their spirit (which is said to "return to God").

3. Therefore, a person is constituted by their body, and not by their spirit.

4. Consequently, a person can have no personal existence after death in a so-called "disembodied state."

Argument 2:

1. When Christ died, his "spirit" returned to God, its source (Luke 23:46), and his body was entombed (Matt 27:59-60).

2. After his death, Christ was always said to be wherever his body was, not where his spirit went (Matt 12:40; John 19:33, 40, 42; Acts 2:39, 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-5; cf. John 11:17, 43-44).

3. Therefore, Christ, the person, was constituted by his physical body, and not by his spirit.

4. Consequently, Christ had no existence as a human person in a so-called "disembodied state" between his death and resurrection.

[1] It's interesting to note that, from Joshua 24:2, we learn that Abraham's people were idol-worshipping pagans. Thus, the people to whom Abraham was gathered when he died were deceased idol-worshipping pagans!

[2] When Solomon says, "A living dog is better than a dead lion" (probably a proverbial saying), he's simply making a value judgment regarding two different states, and pointing out what would have been obvious to those reading. Life, in general, is a blessing and not a curse. Generally speaking, people would rather be alive than dead. His meaning may be better understood by what he says just before this proverb: "But he who is joined with all the living has hope." In general, those who are alive choose to remain alive because they at least have hope of some temporal good, or of experiencing that which makes life worth living. While we don't know what the future holds, as long as we're alive there is at least the possibility that we will experience some degree of happiness (whether the enjoyment be intellectual or physical or spiritual). Because the dead know nothing, they have lost the capacity to experience happiness. And for those living who aren't in an utterly pitiable condition (i.e., those who are "oppressed" and without comfort - Eccl 4:1-3), it would seem that the possibility of being happy is worth the risk of not being happy. Thus, for Solomon, life is, in general, considered a blessing simply because of the hope that it offers those still alive. A living dog (while not considered a noble animal among the Hebrews) is still better than a dead lion by virtue of the fact that it is alive, and (generally speaking) being alive was considered better than being dead.

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