Question of the Week: Does Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 teach that there is no consciousness after death?
When reading any book of the Bible, it is important to ask three primary questions before even engaging with the text.
1. What kind of book is it? History, Poetry, or Prophecy?
2. Where does the full statement in the text begin?
3. Does the Bible say anything else that would support our conclusion?
The answer to the first question is Poetry. The book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon towards the end of his life where cynicism and disappointment became the defining characteristic of his life. He describes this state as living “under the sun.”
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 (NKJV)
This sets up the literary context as a guide for how this passage should be handled. Poetry can present doctrine. For example, Psalm 51:4 is the basis for our understanding that only God can forgive sins. However, this is further verified elsewhere in the Bible when the God of Israel expresses His desire to forgive Israel’s sins and Jesus uses this as one of His first claims to deity. However, Poetry can also simply be the author expressing their emotions to God. We need to know whether a truth statement is being made, or simply being set up later in the passage. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 is indeed a statement found within scripture. But in order to understand what the statement actually is, we need to read the full statement before coming to conclusions about the point actually being made.
This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 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. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun.
The full statement turns out to be an observation repeatedly referencing the setting in Chapter 1 and verse 3. Under the sun is emphasizing a life separate from God. In this state, the only thing you have going for you is the fact that you haven’t died yet. Once that takes place for someone who only lives for this world, then they’ve lost everything. That’s why he makes the contrast between a mighty creature like a lion and a detestable creature like a dog. The dog is better off than the lion because it’s still alive. That’s his point. If you’re under the sun, you’re only worth something if you’re producing something. The question is if there’s an alternative. This is what brings us to the end of the book.
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”
This is the point of the entire book. Solomon had no pleasure in life because he wasn’t serving his Creator like he had in his younger years. You can find further context to this time and his transition into hedonism in the book of 1 Kings.
Solomon isn’t giving a description of the afterlife. He is making an observation about death. Death for the non-believer is the end of everything they have and ever will accomplish. The Bible as a whole presents a very different picture for those who are living under the Son, rather than the sun.
A Reason For Hope is a ministry of Calvary Christian Fellowship of Tucson
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