The author of Ecclesiastes seems to think that in the given context of his view that people are better off unborn or dead. Is he identifying certain types of people or is his context including everyone who lives in the world?

Here are two places where he mentions where it would be better not to have been born.

And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. (ESV, Ecclesiastes 4:2-3)

If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. (ESV, Ecclesiastes 6:3)

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    These look like examples of hyperbole rather than considered opinions. Jul 5, 2015 at 21:18
  • @DickHarfield - If one is to understand it not literally, the question remains the same, is it applied to some, or all?
    – Mike
    Jul 5, 2015 at 23:41
  • "These look like examples of hyperbole" - are you among those highly motivated by the idea that scriptures should not be read literally ?
    – Cynthia
    Jul 6, 2015 at 2:16
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    @BlessedGeek to read a text literally is to read it as the author intended it to be read, therefore if the author intended hyperbole reading the text as such is to read it as hyperbole, but to take it 'literally' is a literalistic eisegesis that if consistently applied would mean the reader would quickly end up with eyes, hands or feet :) Jul 6, 2015 at 6:56
  • How do you know that the author intended it to be hyperbolic?
    – Cynthia
    Jul 7, 2015 at 6:29

4 Answers 4


A series on the book of Ecclesiastes came out in 'my' denominational monthly magazine, and in November 2018 it dealt with chapter 4 verses 1-6. First, some introductory points might be worth making.

The Teacher is challenging readers to face up to the harsh realities of life "under the sun". That is to say, without breaking through to heaven and finding spiritual realities; just living as a human, struggling and tired, in a material world. The acronym FINE is a theme, for it addressed people who are...





The modern world is no different to the Teacher's world in those respects! He burns at the injustices and wrongs in life. He mourns the passing of youth and the inevitability of death, but he keeps searching for something more and, by chapter 12, he's found it. Therefore, no part of Ecclesiastes should be read without reading "the conclusion of the matter" at the end of chapter 12.

So, chapter 4 - it starts by dealing with oppression - tears and no comfort for the oppressed. Solomon, the Teacher, observes that the misery of the oppressed can be such that it would seem better for them had they never been born. Evil work "under the sun" (vs. 3) is truly horrific, and we have a massive amount of modern-day examples of that. The awful increase in suicides, and attempted suicides, and mental breakdowns testifies to this. The true horror today is that younger and younger people are falling into this pit of despair, due to oppression. Even primary-school children are now receiving psychiatric medication and psychological counseling. Child abuse is on the rise, as public child sex abuse enquiries have proven beyond a shadow of any doubt. They are uncovering horrendous abuse from the mid 1900s till today, with the perpetrators being in total denial. Those they abused (if they didn't commit suicide) have had most of their adult lives wrecked. They would probably agree utterly with Ecclesiastes 4:1-4.

You also mentioned Ecclesiastes 6:3 (covered in the April 2019 edition). It starts by considering the plight of a wealthy man in high position, but who cannot eat. That is an evil disease. So what good is it to live into old age and have 100 children, yet there is no good in his life and no burial at the end of it? Vanity and darkness is his portion, even "under the sun".

However, when a breakthrough is made, to spiritual realities, perspective changes. "Under the sun" means blazing, unrelenting, unbearable heat. But break through into God's domain - heaven - and everything both looks different, and is experienced differently. There is life beyond the grave. There is forgiveness, healing, peace and joy once fellowship with God is experienced. It is such that even torture and death cannot rob that child of God from all of that. They know that they have passed over from death to life the moment they truly believed, and nothing in all creation can now separate them from the love of God that is in Christ.

That was barely hinted at by the Teacher, for Christ had not yet come. This means we dare not take the book of Ecclesiastes on its own. It must be set in context of the times, and the limited revelation of God. But once the promised Messiah came, everything changed. Conclusion: In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher was speaking generally, and not specifically saying everyone would be better off dead. He was identifying those suffering in those particular ways as (understandably) thinking they would have been better off had they never lived.

The articles I refer to were published in The Record (Free Church of Scotland). But apparently they were first published in Christianity Today magazine. And this link might get you into some on-line articles: https://www.christianitytoday.com/article/ecclesiastes-3-the-naked-ape-and-eternal-life/124105.htm

  • The Christianity Today link came up with an error message. Can you access a link for the Free Church of Scotland Record magazine?
    – Lesley
    Oct 8, 2021 at 7:12
  • @Lesley Working on that, but it might be next week before I get a response.
    – Anne
    Oct 8, 2021 at 13:44

In the first instance Kohelet is looking at all the oppression taking place upon the earth and noting that evil people are dominating others and there is no one who will rescue them. In a time of oppression and genocide the ones who died are indeed released from the evil and in that sense are better off. Those who are not yet born are not subject to those evil times.

In the second instance a man has acquired an abundance of riches yet never learns to enjoy them. In this case a stillborn child has more peace than that particular person for it does not experience the frustration of toiling under the sun and yet finding no reason to enjoy life.

Both examples relate to very specific circumstances.

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    – ThaddeusB
    Aug 2, 2015 at 5:23
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    good argument .
    – Mike
    Aug 3, 2015 at 1:40

This passage in English looks so different from the passage I am reading in the original Hebrew.

In Hebrew, let's start with verse 2.
ושבח אני את המתים
and I praise/hail the dead

שכבר מתו
who even/already died

מן החיים
from the living

אשר המה חיים עדנה
who are living yet

Verse 3:
וטוב משניהם
and good(better) from the two of them

את אשר עדן לא היה
are who not yet exist/live

אשר לא ראה את המעשה הרע
who not seen the evil deeds

אשר נאשה תחת השמש
who has not done-work under the sun.

I don't know how your English translations work but in the original Hebrew, verse 2 and verse 3 are the comparative duet of two sides of the coin.

Verse 2 says blessed are the dead than those who are actively alive.

Verse 3 says better of the two is one who is not even born, does even yet exist.

Eccl 6:3:
אם יוליד איש מאה
if having-children a man a hundred

ושנים רבות יהיה
and many years he lives

ורב שיהיו ימי שניו
and many which are his days

ונפשו לא תשבע מן הטובה
and his breath not fulfilled from goodness

וגם קבורה לא היתה לו
and also burial-grave has not he

אמרתי טוב ממנו הנפל
say I better than he the fallen

Note that the last word [הנפל] Ha-NeFeL is cognate of word of the same Hebrew spelling (Ha-NFaL) the singular for the famous [נפלים] neflim. [הנפל] HaNeFeL is the only occurrence of the Bible conjugated this way, and no where else in the Bible is the word [נפל] used to connote fetal miscarriage. I highly doubt this word should be correlated to miscarriage.

I would say, the passage says that it is better to be among the fallen, the outcast, those rejected from salvation, than to be one who is unfulfilled, and who dies unburied, regardless if one lives in longevity and has a hundred children.

IOW, blessed/happy are the poor in spirit.

  • Every time I write an explanation that completely violates christian doctrine, I get voted down. I am sorry to have made you angry, but your beliefs must be challenged by scripture. I hope this time, you people graciously accept the explanation - and please attack my opinion and critique my translation rather than expressing your displeasure in an unfair manner. Let your god defend himself.
    – Cynthia
    Jul 7, 2015 at 6:27
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    fyi - I rarely vote down...just does not suit my personality and did not here either. However My question for the case of better being unborn then born ...is better for everyone or jist some. I don't really see what your opinion is? Also I'm not sure any Christian doctrine is at stake here but I can imagine in other instances it may come into play a have also experienced the inverse now and again;)
    – Mike
    Jul 7, 2015 at 10:37

Does the author in Ecclesiastes 4:3 consider all people in the world better-off-dead, or just some?

You are asking about the mindset of the Preacher when he wrote Ecclesiastes. The book opens with pessimism, Ecclesiastes 1:

1The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

He wrote pessimistic words.

Ecclesiastes 4 ► English Standard Version Par ▾ Evil Under the Sun

Ecclesiastes 4:

1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

The people here were oppressed. The Preacher thought that oppressed people would have been better off dead. He didn't generalize this to all people in the world. If he did, he would have to apply this to himself being better off dead.

Similarly, Ecclesiastes 6:

3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.

This applied to the individuals who were not satisfied with life's good things. Again, the Preacher didn't generalize to all men.

The Preacher was pessimistic but not suicidal, Ecclesiastes 9:

9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

In fact, the Preacher was not a generally pessimistic person, Ecclesiastes 12:

9 Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

Ecclesiastes 9:

4There is hope, however, for anyone who is among the living; for even a live dog is better than a dead lion. 5For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, because the memory of them is forgotten.

Does the author in Ecclesiastes 4:3 consider all people in the world better-off-dead, or just some?

just some in specific contexts. The author was not generally a pessimistic or suicidal person.

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