There are those like me who see Luke 16:19-31 as an historical account, not a parable. Many of those, again like me, also hold to the original textform of Scripture to be by inspiration of God and thus inerrant. It is just such a combination that requires an answer of whether the Luke passage might contradict Eccl 9:5.
It need not be viewed as a contradiction.
Clearly from the Luke 16 passage, as the OP notes, there is a "knowing" that is occurring in the case of the rich man. Important to the discussion here is to notice that all the knowledge he has is of his present condition after death and what he knows of his past condition (i.e., that he had five brothers) prior to death. There is no direct reference to him knowing anything about the present condition of things happening on earth.
So when Eccl 9:5 states in its second clause (my translation laid out in parallel for the four words with numbers to discuss):
1. וְהַמֵּתִ֞ים But the ones being dead,
2. אֵינָ֧ם not of them [or themselves, see below]
3. יוֹדְעִ֣ים [are they] knowing
4. מְא֗וּמָה anything
The first word is a waw conjunction (here "but" since context shows it is a contrast to the first clause about those who are living) prefixed on a plural participle form of the verb "to die" that has the definite article. The participle is acting in a substantive role of indicating the subject of the clause, hence the translation "the ones being dead."
The second word is the Hebrew particle that expresses the idea of "nothing" or a negation of "not." Here it is in construct with its suffix that is a 3rd plural, giving the idea "of them." But because Hebrew does not have a dedicated reflexive pronoun,
1 and because this word is followed by a participle itself, we are left with various interpretive decisions. First, looking strictly at the pronominal suffix, does the "of them" (a) act reflexively, meaning "nothing [or not] of themselves" or (b) act normally, meaning "nothing [or not] of them [i.e., the living]" (since the living are the previous antecedent that is not reflexive in view). Then additionally, because a participle follows, (c) the suffixed pronoun can be the subject of the participle;
2 so "nothing [or not] they are knowing" (which would still be a normal use of the pronoun referring not reflexively, but directly back to the subject). Bear in mind that grammatically, thus far, any of these could be the idea.
The third word is also a plural participle absolute, here without a definite article, so it is the verbal component of the clause, and since there is no other verb for this clause (i.e., a verbless clause), it must be functioning as a verb showing repeated/continuous action.
3 Hence translating an "are" (adding in a form of English "being" verb as is proper for translating a Hebrew verbless clause). English wants a "they" to redirect the fact that the plural participle is tying back to the subject, "the ones being dead," as it is confusing to translate the 2nd and 3rd words as "nothing of them[selves?] knowing" and awkward to translate "nothing of them[selves?] are knowing." Hence, "nothing of them[selves?] are they knowing" conveys the idea properly in English. But remember, the Hebrew might be considered supplying the "they" directly if the suffix on the 2nd word was intended so.
The fourth word is a Hebrew absolute noun that conveys the idea of "something" or "anything," but is often put in context with a negative, and then means "nothing at all."
4 However, in the contexts where the word is used for expressing nothing more directly, the word is not separated from an אַיִן by any verb.
5 So the word here should be taken in its normal meaning of "something" or "anything" as the direct object of "knowing". Because this word is a direct object, then the 2nd word must be taken adverbially, as "not," rather than substantively as "nothing."
Particularly because of the flexibility of the second word's interpretation, we are left with essentially the following possible ideas:
- (A) But the ones being dead are not of themselves knowing anything. Which could be interpreted either as:
- (1) Not knowing anything from themselves (that is, simply not knowing anything)
- (2) Not knowing anything about themselves (that is, about their condition)
- (B) But the ones being dead are not of them [the living] knowing anything.
- (C) But the ones being dead, they are not knowing anything.
So A.1 and C are equivalents in meaning, so we can reduce this to:
- (A) But the ones being dead are not about themselves knowing anything.
- (B) But the ones being dead are not of [the living] knowing anything.
- (C) But the ones being dead, they are not knowing anything.
The immediate context of the verse is Eccl 9:1-6 (NKJV):
1 For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. 2 All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.3 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. 4 But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 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. 6 Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.
- v.1-3a is a commentary that whether righteous or wicked, to the clean or unclean, to the one who sacrifices or who does not, to the good or the sinner, to the oath taker or not, any of them might experience the same types of events. This leaves one wondering: What does it matter how one lives?
- v.3b-4 declares that all the living people having hearts of evil and madness, then die; but one thing they have over the dead, is that the living still has hope. Hope of what? That is what v.5-6 answers, but in a contrast of what the dead do not have:
- v.5a Hope of dying (escaping the evils of the world)
- v.5b [our verse, we will get back to this]
- v.5c Hope of a reward
- v.5d Hope of a remembrance
- v.6a Hope of expressing themselves to others (love, hate, and envy)
- v.6b Hope of a part in anything done under the sun (i.e., among the living)
So now we need to fit our possible meanings of Eccl 9:5b into the idea of a contrasted hope for the living. But what we find is that any of the three could be fitted there logically:
- (A) Hope of knowing about themselves
- (B) Hope of knowing those living
- (C) Hope of knowing anything (i.e., having knowledge at all)
That does not help much. But we do have a clue that all the hopes relate to what can be done or gained while living. This theme is continued in the following greater context of Eccl 9:7-12, where the Preacher is commanding the living, but still makes some references to the dead (NKJV):
7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works. 8 Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil. 9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. 11 I returned and saw under the sun that—
The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor bread to the wise,
Nor riches to men of understanding,
Nor favor to men of skill;
But time and chance happen to them all.
12 For man also does not know his time:
Like fish taken in a cruel net,
Like birds caught in a snare,
So the sons of men are snared in an evil time,
When it falls suddenly upon them.
So the point of the text is for the living to live life while they can; enjoy that life, despite the events and evils that come. But do live the life righteous and wise (v.1), for their works are accepted by God (v.7), so let them remain clean (v.8) amidst the struggles of life. For once dead, no more works can be done. One's fate is sealed.
Verse 10 helps understand v.5b. The focus is not necessarily knowledge ceasing to exist for those being dead, but rather that there is no more partaking in the things of life—no more knowledge being gained of what is occurring in life.
So context favors either (B) or a modified (C):
- (B) Hope of knowing those living
- (C) Hope of knowing anything [about life's occurrences]
That is, (C) may be more broadly speaking of life's continuing occurrences generally, not just knowing of those people who are living.
Wrapping it Up
So does either (B) or (C) fit Luke 16:19-31? Yes, both would. Indeed, the whole context of Eccl 9:1-12 does.
The rich man is not noted to have any awareness of what is currently happening among the living. He is only aware of the past and his present state among the dead. Further, he has no chance to work or do anything to change his state post-death: no more hope of reward, doing deeds to be remembered, expressing love, etc. This seems to be the typical state of the dead.
So in conclusion, there need be no reason to see a contradiction between Eccl 9:5 and Luke 16:19-31.
1 Ronald J. Williams, Williams' Hebrew Syntax, 3rd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 54 #130.
2 Ibid., 146, #407b.
3 Ibid., 88 #213.
4 Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [HALOT] (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), s.v. מְאוּמָה.
5 Ibid. HALOT specifically places Eccl 9:5 as meaning "(something) or other."
6 In 1 Sam 28:8-16, assuming Samuel is indeed called back to the world of the living by the witch of Endor (and that it is not a demon taking Samuel's form), then Samuel's knowledge of the living has at least two possible explanations:
- He knew the events transpiring as past knowledge, since he was a prophet and God had already revealed to Samuel about Saul's demise and David's ascension to the throne.
- He was immediately granted by God, upon his manifesting to the living, the knowledge that Saul sought, continuing his prophetic role.
There is nothing clear in other passages about the dead (The Book of Revelation has a number of them who are in heaven) being directly aware of events occurring on earth, just those occurring in heaven (or in the case of Luke, in Hades).