Ecclesiastes 9:5 (KJV)

5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

Luke 16:19-31 (KJV)

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

The rich man in Luke 16 has feelings, can talk, and has the ability to remember, think, and reason. How is this possible in light of Ecclesiastes 9:5?


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

Grammatical Discussion

  1. 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."

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Contextual Clues

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.6

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).


There is no direct contradiction. The saying in Ecclesiastes 9:5 reflects an early post-Exilic Jewish beliefs about death. The story of the Rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 19:19-31, can only contradict this if it demonstrates that reality is quite different to what the Preacher has said. However, the story of the Rich man and Lazarus is a parable and was intended make a moral point, not to portray reality.


We can find a similar saying in the Psalm 146:

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish

While a scholarly explanation might be that the Old Testament writers held different beliefs about death, this seems somehow unsatisfying theologically. The Church Fathers recognized Ecclesiastes, Psalms and other Old Testament books as canonical - to be read and understood along side the New Testament Scriptures (see, e.g., John of Damascus, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, IV.17).

That the state of the soul after death is conscious and not unconscious is clear from the Scripture you cite (Luke 16:19-31), as well as others in both Testaments. In Hebrews we read, It is appointed men once to die, but after death judgment (9:27). Christ told the repentant thief, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). Sirach wrote that in the day of death the Lord will reward a man according to his ways (11:26). These accounts of particular judgment would not make any sense were the soul not conscious after death.

Dorotheus of Gaza, a 6th century monk, explains that the knowledge we "lose" after death is of insignificant, temporal things:

As the Fathers tell us, the souls of the dead remember everything that happened here - thoughts, words, desires - and nothing can be forgotten. But, as it says in the Psalm, In that day all their thoughts shall be brought to nothing. The thoughts he speaks of are those of the world, about houses and possessions, parents and children, and business transactions. All these things are destroyed immediately when the soul passes out of the body, none of this is remembered or considered. But what he did against virtue or against his evil passions, he remembers, and nothing of this is lost.

Discourses and Sayings (tr. Cistercian Studies, 1977), p. 285


Is there a contradiction between Ecclesiastes 9:5 & Luke 16:19-31 ?

Yes. Of course there is. Why wouldn't it be ? Hasn't Christ already plainly stated that he is greater even than Solomon himself ? (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31). After all, Solomon was wise, but Christ was Wisdom itself (1 Corinthians 1:24; Colossians 2:2-3). Christ already criticized (constructively) certain aspects of the Law (Matthew 5-7; John 8:3-11), given by the great Prophet Moses himself. Why would he then spare Solomon (so to speak) ?

Before anyone might feel tempted to say that Solomon might not have been the (sole) author of Ecclesiastes (or Proverbs, and Wisdom, and the Song of Songs), ultimately such discussions are irrelevant to the scope of this question, since the pious authors of these books (as well as their pious readers) have desired, out of a spirit of deep humility and reverence, to dedicate these books to him, instead of taking any personal credit for their authorship (which they undoubtedly would have gotten, since each of these precious works is marvelous in its own right). Even Sirach, whose authorship is neither pseudepigraphical nor under doubt, is counted among the Five Books of Solomon within the Septuagintal canon.

the living know that they shall die

No, they don't. In fact, they act as if they are going to live forever. (Luke 12:16-21).

the memory of them is forgotten

No, it's not. If it were, then why did Christ ostensibly (and repeatedly) mention Lazarus by name, but left that of the (unmerciful) rich man (and his equally worthless siblings) unmentioned ?

Solomon spoke sincerely and truthfully, from the (limited) perspective of human life on earth. Certainly, corpses neither think nor feel, and one doesn't have to study Scripture to know this. But what if there is more to us than this body ? And what if even this body can be restored ? (Romans 7:24). According to the teachings of Christianity, the answer to this eternal and all-important human question lies in embracing the absurdity of the resurrection (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39-40; Luke 8:52-53, 24:11; John 11:11-15; Acts 17:32).


To avoid any playing with words, I shall rephrase your question to

Is Luke 16:19-31 in alignment with the principles laid out in Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Daniel 2:2?

Absolutely not in alignment.

Daniel 12:2
  • ורבים מישני אדמת עפר
    • Then many from sleep of soil of ground
  • יקיצו אלה לחיי עולם
    • shall arise those to life eternal
  • ואלה לחרפות לדראון עולם
    • and those to be spited to eternal disgrace.

Daniel 12:2 supports Eccl 9:5 in saying that

from those sleeping in the soil
  • those who shall arise = to eternal life
  • those to be spited = to eternal disgrace

========== Inserted 2016/11/10 ===========

  1. In the whole Bible (except for the Aramaic chapters of Daniel and Ezra), {אלה} is translated as "these". How then can we justify an exception to Daniel 12:2?

    One must refrain trying to accommodate Hebrew into the English "these, those, some". {אלה} is a direct reference, whether for near or far subjects, but it must reference to definite direct objects, not indefinite or indirect objects.

    Translating {אלה} to "some" would be twisting its usual meaning and intent.

  2. Observe that each participle as the infinitive preposition:

    • לחרפות (feminine plural = participle) for discrimination
    • לדראון (masculine plural = gerund) to be-disgraced, to be reproached in disgrace
    • how would you be able to justify the meaning {לחרפות לדראון} as {to reproaches and abhorrence}. There is no conjunctive vav between the two words.
    • It would have to be {לחרפות ודראות}.
  3. For example (as referenced by someone in comments) Joshua 8:22, on the meaning of {אלה}

  • ואלה יצאו מן העיר
    • and those exiting the city
  • לקראתם ויהיו לישראל
    • to meet them and they becoming towards Israel
  • בתוך אלה מזה
    • between those from this/here
  • ואלה מזה
    • and those from this/here
  • ....

Therefore, the passage Daniel 12:2 is

  • ורבים מישני אדמת עפר
    • Then many from sleep of soil of ground
  • יקיצו אלה לחיי עולם
    • shall arise {a definite-reference} to life eternal
  • ואלה לחרפות לדראון עולם
    • and {a definite-reference} for discrimination to eternal disgrace.

============ End of Insertion ============

Therefore, those who are not wanted by Almighty, will never rise, will never have eternal life.

Eccl 9:5
  • כי החיים ידעים שימתו
    • because the living know that they shall die
  • והמתים אינם ידעים מאומה
    • and then the dead know nothing
  • ואין עוד להם שכר
    • and no longer are they paid wages
  • כי נשכח זברם
    • because they shall be forgotten

Eccl 9:5 says there will be no wages/recompense for the dead.

As I recall, according to Pauline doctrine, the dead has already paid the price. Rom 6:23 - for the wages of sin is death.

So the dead will not pay any further price, will not suffer in hell/hades. There will be no gnashing of teeth or weeping by the dead.

Therefore, the supposed parable of Jesus as transmitted by a certain Luke does not agree in principle with the doctrine set forth in Daniel 12:2 and Eccl 9:5.

Furthermore, for all the books written prior to the time of Malakhi/Ezra, there is no concept of hades/hell. Whereas hades/hell is included from Hellenists, Persian and eastern mythologies, by the initiators/purveyors of the doctrines of Jesus.

The following grammatical explanation is to preempt any attempt at correlating she-ol with hell/hades.

In both Arabic and Hebrew:

  • {سأل Sa'AL}{Sh'AL שאל} = ask/question.
  • {ShA'UL שאול} = Paul's name = passive participle asked
  • {ShE'OL שאול} = passive verbal-noun = unknown, mystery.

Therefore the concept of afterlife in Luke (and in Christianity) is in total alignment with all the cultures and religions surrounding Israel, but is not in alignment with the Hebrew part of the Bible.

  • Is someone stalking me, downvoting my answers that do not align with christianity? Nov 10 '16 at 0:21
  • 1
    I don't know who the 1st downvote was, but I was definitely the 2nd. Not to make much mention of your inaccurate translation of Dan 12:2 and your even more inaccurate interpretation of it (since it very clearly states that both classes will rise), and your misapplication of Rom 6:23.... Your attempt to disassociate Sheol from death is amazing, considering David directly associates it with death in 2 Sam 22:5-6 (just to name one example).
    – user6503
    Nov 10 '16 at 1:58
  • "your inaccurate translation of Dan 12:2"? Both classes will rise? Explain the Hebrew to me. Have you thought that your translation is at fault? Nov 10 '16 at 4:29
  • 2
    (-1) The OP's question was about Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Luke 16:19-31, but you wouldn't know that from this answer. 95% of it comprehensively fails to handle the two passages side by side, avoids exegesis, and instead adds a variant translation of Daniel 12:2 to muddy the waters. I'm struggling to find translators agreeing with the proposed interpretation. "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence." (JPS 1917)
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 10 '16 at 8:31
  • 1
    I did not write in spite, your translation really doesn't make any sense. Also note how אלה is used in Joshua 8:22 to designate a group different from the ones already struck down in verse 21. "The others [אלה]" who came out of the city were then struck down just like the group in v21 had been. So your statement that אלה is always translated as "these" is false.
    – user6503
    Nov 10 '16 at 15:57

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