Ecclesiastes 9:5: “the dead do not know anything…for their memory is forgotten.” – Are human souls unconscious after death?
ECCLESIASTES 9:5-6: “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. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” 1.
JEHOVAH’S WITNESS ARGUMENT:
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society teachs that: “When a person dies, he ceases to exist. Death is the opposite of life. The dead do not see or hear or think. Not even one part of us survives the death of the body. We do not possess an immortal soul or spirit.”After Solomon observed that the living know that they will die, he wrote: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all… the dead can neither love nor hate and that “there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in [the grave].” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10) …The life we enjoy is like the flame of a candle. When the flame is put out, it does not go anywhere. It is simply gone.” – What Does the Bible Really Teach?” pp. 58-59
Evangelical Christians often assume that what is important to them (doctrinally) is also just as important to the Jehovah’s Witness. This is a grave mistake and can leave one feeling very frustrated after a conversation with a Witness. The doctrines of death and the resurrection are essential to the Jehovah’s Witness for they are in some way or another involved in almost every other Watchtower doctrine.
When a Witness presents Ecclesiastes 9:5 and others to support their belief of annihilation, at first glance, it can truly catch one off guard. But as with every text that is presented there are many factors that have to be taken into consideration: Author, writing style, point of view, context, the milieu in which it was written, etc. As one takes such influential factors into account, the meaning and purpose of the text will become clear.
Solomon’s demeanor, in modern terminology would be best described at this time, as a secular humanist in:
- His ‘life is meaningless’ attitude (Eccl 1:2),
- His admonitions to eat, drink, and enjoy life (Eccl 5:18; 10:19),
- He is seemingly indifferent about morality (Eccl 7:16-17),
- His apparent denial of an afterlife (Eccl 3:19-21; 9:2, 6),
- If he does not deny it, he at least admits complete agnosticism about the afterlife (Eccl 3:22).
The Watchtower is using Solomon’s writings to substantiate their doctrine of annihilation, but after taking all of these things into account it becomes clear that Solomon is not a proper authority to appeal to on the topic of the afterlife.
The question then arises, is Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, specifically talking about the afterlife? In answer, first, we would say that Solomon, being a worldly person at this point in time, is speaking from his worldview which was llimited to that of the present moment of his existence. This is opposed to a Christian outlook concerning life and death that gives one a proper perspective on how to understand the passage.
Secondly, Solomon is not talking about the afterlife or an annihilation but is speaking about the physical corpses of those who have died and are “in the grave” (see Eccl. 9:10). Thus, contextually speaking, Dr. Norman Geisler remarks,
“The passages that say there is no knowledge or remembrance after death, are speaking of no memory in this world, not of no memory of this world.”—When Critics Ask, p.259
“No knowledge” has to do with no knowledge of that which occurs “under the sun” (a Hebraism for “on earth”).
Thirdly, Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 also states regarding the dead that: “…nor have they any longer a reward… neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” If the Watchtower Society were to be consistent in its application of this passage, the organization would have to agree with the second part of this passage and disregard its teachings concerning the “rewards” that Jehovah God will grant to His followers during the resurrection. However, this is completely contrary to Watchtower theology and Christian theology concerning the resurrection. For the Watchtower Society admits:
“For millions who have died, the Bible holds out the wonderful hope of a resurrection—of awakening from death and living in Paradise on earth.” —The Watchtower, November 15, 2004, p. 6
“In the coming new world, God will bestow many blessings on mankind.—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29.” —What Does the Bible Really Teach?, p. 36
Thus, if these verses are talking about the condition of life after death, then logically, we would have to conclude that there is no resurrection or “reward” in an future earthly Paradise nor in Heaven. Such reasoning, is clearly rejected by the numerous Scriptures that speak of the future rewards that await the followers of Christ on resurrection day.
In summary, Ecclesiastes 9:5 refers to man in relation to life here on earth and is not talking about life after this one.
Article by Mark Butterfield II
1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
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