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Is the author of Psalm 6:4-5 not expecting an afterlife?:

ISV Psa 6:4 Return, LORD, save my life! Deliver me, because of your gracious love. Psa 6:5 In death, there is no memory of you. Who will give you thanks where the dead are?

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    Good question. I would expect any answer to at least discuss the development (not just hindsight) of the concept of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheol – fumanchu Jul 26 '16 at 18:10
  • Is the OP begging the question or loading it at least? "Afterlife" is a very vague question that is very undefined here. Is an intermediate state (simply being in a state of death) an afterlife? Or only the state after that? – Joshua Aug 29 '16 at 2:50
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The Psalm does not have to be interpreted in terms of an afterlife.

The JPS commentary for this passage states:

Biblical Israel knew no afterlife with reward and punishment - everyone, irrespective of behavior or social status, descended to "She'ol," the dark underworld, and lived a quasi-life there. Among the dead may also be translated "in the place of death," paralleling "She'ol." (JPS Study Bible p. 1289)

The Psalm is then translated based on this tradition:

My whole being is stricken with terror, while You, LORD - O, how long! O LORD, turn! Rescue me! Deliver me as befits Your faithfulness. For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, 1 who can acclaim you? (Psalm 6:4-6 JPS)

However, as noted in the question, translations vary widely and a different translation can lead to a meaning in which the Psalmist is not speaking about life after death. The NET translation reads:

For no one remembers you in the realm of death, In Sheol who gives you thanks? (Psalm 6:5)

This translation recognizes יֽוֹדֶה־ is better rendered "give thanks" (rather than "give praise"). In this case the Psalmist can be understood as adding a rhetorical question to their prayer. That is, the Psalmist does not believe anyone gives thanks for their death or in the place of the dead.

Also the tradition of She'ol does not exclude belief in the resurrection. The New Testament describes that some of the Jewish people included a belief in believed in resurrection with a belief in She'ol:

The same day Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to him and asked him (Matthew 22:23 NET)

One of the oldest books is Job and states:

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. (Job 19:25-27 KJV)

Job is convinced that after he dies and his body decays, in his flesh he will see God with his own eyes. Job believes he will be resurrected, have a body, and see God. Yet Job does not say what he believes about She'ol or what will happen after death and before he sees God.

The tradition of She'ol is not incompatible with resurrection.

The Psalm is silent about resurrection and Job is silent about She'ol. There is no requirement to add what is not stated to either passage. So it is likely not correct to presume anything about what the Psalmist believes about resurrection.

The New Testament confirms the belief of resurrection is correct. Then the best interpretation of the Psalmist's statement is:

"Who is going to give thanks to the LORD in the place of the dead?"

In other words the Psalmist does not envision giving thanks to the LORD for their death. But they know the LORD has heard prayer (v 8) and received (v 9) their prayer. They anticipate a time when they can give both thanks and praise to the LORD for deliverance from their current circumstances which could have caused their death.


1. Or "in the place of She'ol"

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  • I definitely do not believe this to be true. Job is as Old Testament as it gets and he says: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" Job 19:25-27 – jlaverde Jul 27 '16 at 20:12
  • @jlaverde Job had a skin condition. His steadfast hope was that he would be healed, not resurrected. However I am surprised that RevelationLad would be okay with "progressive revelation". – user10231 Jul 27 '16 at 21:14
  • Should we consider resurrection as not a form of afterlife? I understand "afterlife" as "anything that happens after the first death". So if the psalmist believes in resurrection, then the psalmist also believes that afterlife exists. This answer is good in relating the concept of death in OT to Sheol, though. – justhalf Jul 29 '16 at 6:09
  • @justhalf Yes I would see them as part of the overall process. The question is over what the Psalmist is saying. Just because the Psalmist is silent about the resurrection does not mean they do not hold the belief; just as Job's silence about She'ol says nothing about Job's belief in She'ol. I do not think either allows to put them both together. My point is they are not mutually exclusive and so it would be wrong to conclude the Psalmist does not believe in any form of afterlife on the basis of what is written. – Revelation Lad Jul 29 '16 at 7:30
  • "it would be wrong to conclude the Psalmist does not believe in any form of afterlife on the basis of what is written". I agree with this. I read your first sentence as "The psalmist is likely to not believe in an afterlife". Do you think rephrasing it as "We can't conclude that the psalmist does not believe in any form of afterlife based on what is written. The psalmist might or might not believe that. And here are some reasons for that and against that" would be better? – justhalf Jul 29 '16 at 8:19
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This is in line with those of us who believe in what most of Christianity calls death sleep.

The dead know nothing...

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.

Ecclesiastes 9:5

The dead do not praise...

For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.

Isaiah 38:18

Once again...

The dead do not praise the Lord, Nor any who go down into silence.

Psalm 115:17

This is because dead is like a sleep...

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”

12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

John 11:1-16

And when Jesus comes again, he will wake those who sleep in Him from the slumber of death unto eternal life, this is the first resurrection. Read this carefully.

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.[b]

15 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This is why they are not expecting an afterlife, because death is the cessation or end of life, so a life after death is only possible through resurrection according to the Bible.

This means that the soul is not immortal, which is also Biblical, but this is another question.

For additional information on what the Bible has to say on this topic:

http://www.amazingfacts.org/media-library/study-guide/e/4987/t/are-the-dead-really-dead

EDIT: So to make it clearer as to what I am saying, David, the author of this Psalm, in agreement with the rest of Scripture, believes that when you die you do not know anything or even praise God as it is like a sleep. However, in Psalm 23, another Psalm of David, you can clearly see that he does believe in an afterlife.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

Psalm 23:6

The author of Psalm 73, also believes this:

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.

Psalm 73:24,25

The only way to reconcile this is that they knew about the resurrection at the coming of the LORD, which is not a New Testament concept, but an Old Testament concept as well.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.

Daniel 12:2-3

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  • This does not seem to answer the question of what the author of Psalm 6:4-5 was expecting. A good answer should do more than tell us that the author was wrong, whatever he believed. – Dick Harfield Jul 26 '16 at 21:46
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    @jlaverde If by my comment I have helped you improve your answer and your understanding of how this site works, I will feel that I have achieved something worthwhile. I rarely downvote, and would be happy to revoke my DV on this answer if you give me half a reason to do so. In BH you should focus on the question by explaining what the psalmist believed and how you know this, and don't worry too much about what we wish he had believed (Christian theology). Your comments suggest you know what to write, so go for it! – Dick Harfield Jul 27 '16 at 21:44
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    @WoundedEgo The author definitely does not see death as final, as this would go against the belief at the time. They all looked forward to the resurrection and the heavenly kingdom. - "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." Daniel 12:2 - "You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You" Psalm 73:24, 25 – jlaverde Jul 28 '16 at 12:46
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    @WoundedEgo and in Hebrews 11:13-16, talking about the heroes of the faith, it says "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland... But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." – jlaverde Jul 28 '16 at 12:49
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    Clearly the Psalm is picturing the dead as still existing (you can't be where the dead are if you don't exist). Combine that with its own statement of no memory and no giving of praise it seems that while they exist they are not active or aware. The concept of unconsciousness of the dead is an ancient one that the passages quoted by this answer show matches closely in the OT Hebrew writings. Arguments against this answer seem more interested in other matters (implications for their beliefs?) than in the merits of the answer. – Joshua Aug 29 '16 at 2:47

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