Ecclesiastes 9:5 (NASB):

5 For the living know that they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor do they have a reward any longer, for their memory is forgotten.

Mark 12:26-27 (NASB):

26 But regarding the fact that the dead rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”

Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that those who have passed away know nothing (as if they were asleep/unconscious). However, Jesus' statements in Mark 12:26-27 give the impression that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not truly dead, but alive (somewhere else? in a temporal paradise? in Heaven?). But if they are living, then the first sentence of Ecclesiastes 9:5 would apply instead (for the living know they will die), which would make no sense either. In other words, it's not very clear to me what is meant by "living" and "dead" in these contexts, and I would appreciate some help in making sense of and harmonizing these two passages.


6 Answers 6


They are two different perspectives.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 expresses the horizontal perspective from a human's point of view:

For the living know that they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor do they have a reward any longer, for their memory is forgotten.

Mark 12:26-27 expresses the verticle perspective from God's point of view. There is a parallel description in Luke 20:

37But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Both perspectives are true depending on the point of view.

  • 1
    Great answer. To God, all His faithful servants, whether physically dead or alive, are alive in His eyes.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 0:13

You want to know what Ecclesiastes means by "the living" and "the dead". Well, if anyone takes the trouble to read the entire book, that will become clear. The whole point of the book is to show the difference between humans living "under the sun", burning and sapping, and those finally discovering what it is to break through heaven, which seemed as brass, into the spiritual purpose of living. Only then will the vanity of a merely physical, unspiritual life disappear, and the meaning of life will be discovered. This is where New Testament language applies, when it speaks of those who are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins, coming to spiritual newness of life and living eternally, despite still having to die physically.

However, that latter point takes us away from hermeneutics (digging out the meaning of one text, according to the text) and the area of expository, systematic theology, which is not encouraged, on this site. So, to stick to the area of hermeneutics means discovering what the writer of Ecclesiastes meant by "the living" and "the dead". That's what I'm going to do.

When the writer spoke of "the living" and "the dead" he simply had human beings who were alive, and humans who had ceased to be alive, in mind. It's really as simple as that. The writer lived centuries before Jesus Christ ministered on earth, so (tempted though Christians might be) we cannot go there to give a hermeneutical answer. Let's just stick with the small book the writer wrote, also being aware of the knowledge of Jewish forebears, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those three are never mentioned in the book, however. Therefore, they cannot be brought into a hermeneutical answer. That requires a fresh question, possibly in the Christianity section.

As in any good book, the scene is set at the outset, the author explaining how he set out to discover the meaning of life, and describing the many avenues he explored to see what he could learn. Alas! He kept ending up in dead-ends! Death was always awaiting, with nothing but vanity (pointlessness) en route. Or, at least, that's how he chooses to make his point. He's drumming it into his readers that Life is a problem because Death is the end result. Gloomy, or what? All that went before Ecclesiastes 9:5, the verse you ask about, builds up to this apparent hopelessness of Life.

Ah, but there's more to it than that! If the reader perseveres, "The conclusion of the matter" is set forth in the last chapter, chapter 12. That's where understanding comes regarding the true state of physically dead corpses. The point has already been laboured, ad nauseam, that in time, the physical break-down of the body inevitably leads to Death. Therefore, the writer urges young people in 12:1 to -

"Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them."

Poetic descriptions of the onslaught of old age are given, leading up to -

"...because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets; or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it...Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole [duty] of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (12:1-14).

Physical existence and physical death is one thing - but there is another thing - the spirit from God which must return to God at the point of physical death, for God's judgment. If there was no awareness of anything after physical death, there could be no aware spirit, and no awareness, in the spirit, of God's judgment of the individual. The writer is not teaching annihilation at death. He does not know how it will be worked out, but (like Job, Daniel and the Psalm writers) he knows that, at death, "away we fly" (Psalm 90:10; 9:8); "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for he shall receive me (Psalm 49:15); that one day we will see our Redeemer with our own eyes (even though we've died - Job 19:25-27 & 14:13-15).

Conclusion: We should interpret Ecclesiastes 9:5 in light of the entire book, especially the last chapter.

  • Nice answer. +1. Interpretting the text according to the text... "context"? Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 14:13
  • @Andrew Shanks I find it almost impossible to answer a hermeneutic Q without referring to the context of the verse in question, but I think the idea is to analyse the biblical text as opposed to giving a systematic-theology-type-answer. I've been guilty of that myself, but I'm trying hard to stick to the required format! With this Q, the context has to be the whole book of Ecclesiastes, for there is no hermeneutical difficulty with the one verse of 9:5.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 14:31
  • Thanks for this,.... but i'm referring to the start of para 2 where it says "digging out the meaning of the text according to the text" and I'm wondering if you mean "according to the context"? (You could perhaps spend some extra time on Mark 12:26 / Matthew 22:31-32) Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 14:34
  • @Andrew Shanks No, actually. I did mean "according to the text". If the text here had anything to offer by way of answering the Q, it could have been examined in detail, but it doesn't (as far as I can tell). That only leaves the context surrounding the verse to be examined.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 14:36
  • OK Thanks. I think I understand you. If you take the trouble to read my answer could you please give details of where you think I fail to answer according to the requirements of the site? That would be appreciated. Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 14:41

The answer to this is actually in the same verse as Jesus is discussing the reality of the resurrection of the dead. See the earlier phrase in Mark 12:26 -

But regarding the fact that the dead rise

Thus, Jesus here makes no comment at all about whether the dead are in heaven or elsewhere. Jesus is ONLY commenting on the time when the dead are raised to life as described in 1 Cor 15, etc.

Peter makes a further comment on this same topic in Acts 2:29, 34 -

Brothers, I can tell you with confidence that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. ...For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says:

Thus, none of these contradict what Eccl 9:5 clearly says. See also Ps 6:5, Isa 38:18, Ps 88:10 and the NT consistent designation of death as a "sleep", Matt 9:24, Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52, John 11:11, 12, Acts 7:60, 13:36, 1 Cor 7:39, 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51, 1 Thess 4:13-15, 5:10, 2 Peter 3:4.

  • Very good answer. +1
    – Rajesh
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 17:44
  • 1
    Interesting to note that every single answer has been down-voted by person or persons unknown.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 15:47
  • 1
    @Lesley - yes - there is at least one person (possibly more) on this site that simply down-votes anything with which they disagree. Great pity.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 19:41

In Ecclesiastes 9:5 "the living" means just the physically alive in this world and "the dead" means departed from this world or physically dead. The assumption of Ecclesiastes 9:5 is that when you're dead, you're dead, that there is NO after-life.

The whole approach of the book of Ecclesiastes has to be understood before making any deductions from any of its individual verses.

The author of Ecclesiastes was the Preacher "the son of David", king in Jerusalem, that is Solomon, the one who wrote "three thousand proverbs" (1 Kings 4:32), or wise sayings: this is a work of wisdom, and that wisdom is couched in poetic language. As with much poetry the real meaning is not given to us on a plate: we are called to consider what it really means.

It is a work which quite often says things which flatly contradict the rest of Scripture. It even starts Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless! or Vanity, vanity, all is vanity! (Ecc 1:2). It says that money is the answer for everything (Ecc 10:19, NIV); it says that man has no advantage over a beast because both alike die (3:19); it says there is no advantage to wisdom over folly (1:17,18); it asks concerning those that will die do not all go to one place? (6:6), again not in agreement with the rest of Scripture.

Then again, the author does not always set us a good example to follow such as when he says whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy (2:10).

In all these details, and I am sure you can find more, the book of Ecclesiastes appears often to be at loggerheads with the rest of Scripture. Not all is vanity and meaningless, else why worship? Why knock on a door to tell someone about God? Why do all things to the glory of God? Why believe in Jesus?

Money is not the answer to everything: for instance, you cannot buy God's favour with it ("simony"), nor get forgiveness of your sins by using it.

We should not give ourselves to the desires of our eyes, but rather make a covenant with our eyes that we might not look intently upon a maid (Job 31:1-4).

Finally, the "advice" on life in Ecclesiastes 8:15 is :-

"Then I commended mirth, because a man has no better thing under the sun than to eat, drink and be merry..." (Eccles 8:15).

See also 2:24, 3:13, 5:18. It is very telling then that this attitude and approach to life is very roundly condemned by the Apostle Paul! :-

"What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame." (1 Corinthians 15:32-34)

What the author of Ecclesiastes commends as a wise and good way to live, the Apostle Paul very roundly condemns as sinful!

Is it not very clear, then, that caution is needed before launching into the meaning of individual verses? We should first find out why the supposed teaching of the book is so very different from the rest of Scripture. There is something mysterious going on here, and until we know what it is we shall not be able to make much sense of this God-inspired book.

But then, in other sections of the book the teaching is much more in accordance with the rest of Scripture, such as the closing advice "Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man, for God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil".

The aim of the book

The book is a great challenge to the natural man who has no faith in God. The whole thrust of the book for the most part goes like this:

'If there is no God then what is the meaning of anything? Why do you work so hard when all your hard-earned riches will be left behind (and sometimes to a lazy fool)? Why do you complain so often "It is not fair"? If there is no God, and no life after death, then life, the universe, the world and everything in it is completely meaningless. Morals are meaningless, for no one has final authority to say what is intrinsically good or bad.. in fact if there is no God then nothing is good or bad, the terms are utterly meaningless, because the whole universe is completely meaningless. And strongly held opinions are ridiculous, because why get upset with others about any differing point of view when everything is so utterly pointless?

You, who are a natural man, I want to drive home to you that if you leave God out of the Universe and if God is not the focus of your life then you yourself must see that with you all is meaningless. According to you this vain universe must have started with a completely random, meaningless big bang and it shall all end in meaningless death, both of us and all things; the stars will die out, and everything will rust away. And it doesn't matter how you try to fill your life with meaning, I want you to see it is full of weary pointlessness.

The book seeks to stir up in the natural man, the unbeliever, a desire for meaning in life, and for a faith in God; to show that if there is no afterlife, and no God handing out our just reward for how we have lived our lives then this world is utterly futile.

It has sometimes been described as a "pre-evangelistic" work: it doesn't give the answer to how to find God, the gospel of our Lord is not stated, but it seeks to stir up a longing for meaning in life, to show that meaning can only be found by bringing God into our lives, and living in the light of God and a future life (i.e. that is not "under the sun"), and thus to stir up a desire to search for God, and enjoy a life of meaning and purpose because it is lived in the light of an eternal context.

An aching void is thus created in the heart, that feeling once described by Augustine "Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee". It aims to prepare the natural man for the gospel, increasing his appetite for the things of God and eternity, and preparing him to gladly accept when at last he hears the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

The key to the book

The key to the book is briefly described in "A Life Worth Living" by Stuart Olyott, Evangelical Press, 1983, from which I quote :

In this book Solomon looks at life from two perspectives. First of all he stands in one position, and then in the other, and does this alternately throughout the book. He sees the same issues from two perspectives. It is virtually impossible to make any sense of Ecclesiastes until this simple fact has been grasped.

Solomon's first viewpoint is that of the natural man. He sees life through the eyes of a person who is still unconverted. Such a person tackles life's problems without the light of God's revelation. He leaves God out of the picture, and never ponders his Word. The only conclusion he can come to is that 'All is vanity' (1:2). Everything in this mortal life is ultimately futile. It is a waste of time.

Solomon's other viewpoint is radically different. He now looks at life through the eyes of a man to whom God has revealed himself. Such a person sees everything in a new light. Life has meaning after all, but only if we worship and serve God. When he stands in this position, Solomon's words ring with assurance and hope. The dark beginning of the book sees Solomon occupying the first perspective; the bright conclusion sees him him enjoying the other.

Throughout the book Solomon uses the phrases "under the sun", "vanity", "meaningless", "a chasing after the wind" and"vexation of spirit" to indicate he is speaking from the perspective of the natural man, the unbeliever.

In other passages, he speaks of "God" and "under the heaven" and in these passages he has swapped hats as it were and looks at life from the perspective of the believer in God, as one who trusts God.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 compared with Mark 12:26-27

Now we know the format and structure of the book we are ready to compare the two verses in question.

Eccles 9:5 is in a section where Solomon looks at life from the atheist's perspective: "under the sun" encompasses it in verses 3 and 6. So we cannot assume it is the teaching of the Bible, and contradicts the teaching of Mark 12:26-27, that when the body dies the soul lives on, as proven by the continued life of the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Furthermore, very few theists of any description can really believe Ecclesiastes 9:5. It tells us "neither have they [the dead] any more a reward".. but do not all theists, including Jehovah's Witnesses, believe there is a future reward for the righteous in the next world? The only people who believe that after death "there is no more reward" are those who believe "When you are dead, you're dead". Only atheists believe Eccles 9:5.

Exodus 3:6 - why our Lord uses it to prove the departed are not dead

“Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:5,6)

Our Lord Jesus seems to pick a peculiar passage of the Old Testament to prove that souls continue to live after the body has died, and I hope there is no objection if I give an explanation of how He uses Exodus 3:6 to prove these three patriarchs are still alive:-

In the passage Exodus 3:1-6 the LORD God, YHWH, introduces himself for the first time to Moses, Moses having never "met" him before.

In introducing himself God is not likely to say "I am a pathetically weak God who was totally unable to do your father, or Abraham, Isaac or Jacob any good. Despite me being their God, they are all dead and buried, and I could do absolutely nothing to prevent that from happening."

That is emphatically not going to be the way God first introduces himself to Moses.

Instead, God is introducing himself to Moses as the mighty God, able to exercise his great power to do good to all who trust and worship him. He demonstrates this by referring to the good he has done, and continues to do, to the three patriarchs, able to keep them alive even after their bodies are buried in the grave, and one day able to resurrect them from the dead in his own good plan and time.

God, as he first appears to Moses, wants to stir up in Moses a confidence that He can do anything.

This is why our Lord Jesus chose this passage to prove that God is "not the God of the dead but of the living". (See also Matthew 8:11-12).

  • It was reading your answer that prompted me to also answer, but not in any way disagreeing with your answer. You stuck to the O.T. for evidence, as did Stuart Olyott whom you quoted, citing 1 Kings, Job and Exodus. That entirely accords with the hermeneutic approach. I up-voted you hours ago, but someone has down-voted you. Not me!
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 18:24

Ecclesiastes was written before the doctrine of the resurrection was a certainty. It was controversial in Jesus' days—hence Jesus' assertion of being God of the living—and also after that, such as the ruckus between the Sadducees and Pharisees at Paul's trial before the Sanhedrin. (Acts 23)

So in the light of Christ, the living goes beyond the life in the flesh, and in Matt 10:28, Jesus specifically spoke of the separate destructions of the body and soul, ie those who have died since the beginning, are only dead in the flesh. Their souls are somewhere, maybe Sheol, awaiting the Judgement of the Last Day, where some may be destroyed, and be truly dead thereafter.

Now whether souls of the dead "know anything", for example are they conscious, do they think, do they communicate, do they have memories of their lives in the flesh, etc these are all unanswerable questions, and it is futility to attempt to speculate. And so Jesus being the God of Abraham, etc just means that Abraham's soul is not destroyed, and is thus still alive, but what sort of "living" this is, we don't know.

I will only say that when we sleep we are still alive, although we have no consciousness of that life, until we wake up the next day, and return to life in the flesh.


There is no contradiction at all. But first, we axiomatically assume that "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) This just indicates that every scripture has a God-given purpose to teach us something. If you do not accept such a proposition, this answer will not be useful to you.

Before anything else, let's get one thing clear. There are only 2 types of life; literal life, where you are living, breathing, physical being with consciousness/self-awareness, and spiritual life, where you are connected to the one true source of eternal life, God Himself. Likewise, there are only 2 types of death; literal death, where all your physical sensibilities and mental faculties have been extinguished, and spiritual death, where you are disconnected/separated, due to your sinful ways and unbelief[cf. Genesis 2:17, Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13], from the one true source of eternal life, God Himself. There are absolutely no other types of death or life mentioned in the Bible... There is no such thing whatsoever as "physical/body death" or "physical/body life." When you die, your body does not die, because your body is not a living person; you are, and accordingly, you die. And when people say things like, "don't touch that dead body", what they mean is, "don't touch the body of that dead person", not that the body itself is literally dead. Also, no one refers to themselves as a living body, do they? They refer to themselves as a living person; the body is not living, you are! How can both you and your body be living beings? There aren't two living beings in you; there is only one, which is you! Whenever "death" of any kind is mentioned in the Bible, it is never talking about the death of the body, but the death of a human person.

And human persons are not body alone; they are body(physical substance) + breath of lives(spiritual substance). At the very beginning of the Bible can this fundamental truth be found(see Genesis 2:7). We are made of purely physical substance, i.e. dust, עָפָר(aphar). And we are made of purely spiritual substance, i.e. the breath of lives, נשמת חיים(Nishmat chayim). Those two work together in harmony to create a living, breathing, physical being, i.e. a living soul, which is what Adam became as per Genesis 2:7. We do not have souls; we are souls, i.e. נֶפֶשׁ(nephesh). If the physical[body] cannot function properly without spiritual[breath of lives], what leads you to surmise that the spiritual[breath of lives] can function properly without the physical[body]? The relationship between the physical and the spiritual is a harmonious relationship built on reciprocity, analogous to a positive feedback loop; the harmony is reduced to utter meaninglessness when one of its constituents performs perfectly fine without the other(the whole objective of integration between elements is to create something greater than the sum of their individual parts). It's entirely absurd to say that when unity is destroyed(at death), one constituent(body) of said unity ceases to fulfill its proper function, and the other(spirit) continues to function just fine as if the unity was never broken in the first place!

But perhaps the greatest reason to reject the proposition of the spirit being conscious after death is one of the significant implications of such a notion. If you say that the spirit is conscious after death, then you have to say that the spirit is conscious before you are even alive! How so? Genesis 2:7;

"And Jehovah God formeth the man -- dust from the ground, and breatheth into his nostrils breath of life, and the man becometh a living creature."

What does it say God did? It said he breathed the breath of lives into the nostrils of the first man; our spirit comes from God's breath, i.e. God's רוּחַ(ruach), which is His Spirit. Therefore, our spirit is not created ex nihilo; the spirit inside you comes from the Spirit of God Himself. And what do the scriptures say happens to it after death? Ecclesiastes 12:7;

"And the dust returneth to the earth as it was, And the spirit returneth to God who gave it."

It returns straight to God, i.e. it returns to the state(as part of God) it was in before it was put into your body. If you want to say that your spirit remains conscious without the body when it returns to God, you are obliged to say the same thing about it before it even left God in the first place! I mean, the scripture makes it clear that the spirit returns to the same place it was before, i.e. "to God who gave it." If you're saying that it's conscious after it leaves the body, then you have to say that it's conscious before it's put into the body, because in each instant the spirit is in exactly the same state, i.e. without body and with God. So, it is ok if you want to say that the spirit is conscious without the body after death... just so long as you are ok with saying that the spirit is conscious without the body before life! But, not only does the Bible never even slightly suggest such a notion, it also seems "anti-deity-of-Christ". I mean, God's Spirit is eternal; if our spirit comes from God's Spirit(our breath from His breath[Genesis 2:7]), and our spirit works just fine without the body, retaining all its conscious properties(i.e. mind, emotions, thoughts, self-awareness) without the body, then wouldn't that insinuate that our conscious being is also eternal? Such an attribute is reserved solely for Christ(and God), and yet we would be on the same playing field with him if our spirit is to function perfectly fine(i.e. be conscious/self-aware) without the body! I really don't like the direction this is going. But it's the inevitable conclusion to arrive at if you run the notion of the spirit retaining all consciousness/self-awareness through a reductio ad absurdum. Thus, taking all things into consideration, it is most reasonable to conclude that when a human person dies, both their body and spirit return from whence they came(i.e. the dust of the ground and God, respectively), becoming entirely non-functional(hence, no consciousness or self-awareness of any kind). This is exactly what the Bible teaches, and we will see this as of now.

Let us take a look at Ecclesiastes 9:5;

"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."

So, what is this passage trying to convey? Is Ecclesiastes 9:5 talking about spiritual life and death, as opposed to literal life and death, as I have seen some suggest(no one here in particular, but in many other places before)? Perhaps. Let us see where that takes us. But remember, we must stay consistent throughout. We don't get to pick and choose in this passage which moments are referring to spiritual life/death and which are referring to literal life/death. If we propose that the context is about spiritual life and death, then we stay wholly consistent with that proposition. No turning back.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 "For the [spiritually] living know that they will [spiritually] die, but the [spiritually] dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten."

Well, you heard it here first, folks. As a spiritually alive person connected with God, through my faith in what Jesus did for me on the cross, I know(as the scripture says) that I will spiritually die someday, and lose my connection with the one true source of eternal life, God. Remember, we don't get to pick and choose which moments are about such and such; if we say that the context is about spiritual life and death, then that is what we stick to. Of course, this is ridiculous, and I'm sure you agree. My eternal hope is in Jesus, and I have a firm conviction that I will keep it to the end. I don't know that I will, but I certainly don't know that I won't. Now, let's see what happens if we insert literal death(the only other kind of death) in the passage.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 "For the [literally] living know that they will [literally] die, but the [literally] dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten."

Suddenly, everything makes so much sense! If a defining attribute of life is self-awareness/consciousness, then it follows that a defining attribute of death, which is the polar opposite of life itself would be the loss of self-awareness/consciousness. It's entirely self-evident. And here this scripture is affirming that. Not only that, but this scripture is also a testament to one of humankind's unique abilities(that no animal in the world has); the ability to, not only comprehend the fact that we will die someday, but also to ponder and speculate about the fact. To be clear, animals have a concept of death; a very clear one. Just not the capability to apprehend that they themselves will inevitably die; and certainly not the capability to meditate on such a notion. Both those capabilities belong solely to humans. This scripture affirms that as well. We have no problems at all(and quite a few solutions) when we take the clear meaning of the passage. And if you subscribe to the axiom of all scripture being inspired by God, then you will believe what this scripture has to say.

Of course, we could have easily bypassed all this by going to another scripture that cannot be misunderstood in any way whatsoever(it is literally fool-proof).

Ecclesiastes 9:10 "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going."

This is an unequivocal reference to literal death because Sheol is the place of the literally dead! It is impossible to read this in any way other than that, in Sheol, the place of the dead, the place that you and I(being mortal creatures of the dust, c.f. Genesis 3:19) will go to one day, is a place where one has no work, thought, knowledge, or wisdom of any kind! You cannot take this scripture any other way. You can, of course, always just say that it's false, which it would be if dead spirits were conscious. But you also have to say the same about these following scriptures;

Psalm 6:5 "For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol, who will praise You?"

Psalm 88:10-12 "Will You perform wonders for the dead? Or will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah 11 Will Your graciousness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?"

Psalm 115:17 "It is not the dead who praise the LORD, nor any of those descending into the silence of death."

Psam 146:4 "His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth. In that very day, his thoughts perish."

Isaiah 38:18-19 "For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness."

I go with 2 Timothy 3:16 when it says that all scripture is inspired by God. That includes all the scriptures given above(even the ones in Ecclesiastes). If a scripture unequivocally says that dead people are unconscious, then that is what I believe, because if they weren't then the scripture would be a lie, and I do not accept that the scriptures can lie when it comes to eschatological matters; I believe they are fully trustworthy in those regards. And I do not think that such precise and unambiguous statements like the ones with regards to death(Ecclesiastes 9:5; 10) can be negated by taking it within the context of the final chapter; that would be tantamount to, "I am very clearly telling you that everyone who dies becomes unconscious... Haha! Just kidding!" I do not believe that in doing so(i.e. taking it within the context of the final chapter) the truth value of such unequivocal statements is altered in any way, but only our perception of said statements. And I haven't even touched on the notion of death being likened to sleep in the New Testament, but that's a topic for another day.

So, in conclusion, the Bible makes it clear that the literal dead are wholly unconscious; unaware of anything at all whatsoever. So, is there a contradiction between Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Mark 12:26-27? No, not at all! Let's read it.

Mark 12:26-27 "But regarding the fact that the dead rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken."

Remember, there are two types(and only two types) of death and two types(and only two types) of life. This can be seen clearly in Jesus' words at John 11. Let's see them.

John 11:25-26 "Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Is Jesus contradicting himself? He says that the one who believes in him will live, even though he might die. And then he says that everyone who believes in him and lives will never die. So, will everyone who believes in him never die or die someday? Which one is it? The answer is... yes! Remember, there are two types of death; literal death, where the harmony between body and spirit is broken, the nephesh(person/soul) dies, and then there is spiritual death, which is separation from God, the source of eternal life. But because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have been made alive!

Ephesians 2:1-5 "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved."

Being spiritually alive means that we are now fully connected to God, the one true source of eternal life. And this connection does not break at death... this connection transcends death, because death cannot overcome the power of God! The life we have in us now is spiritual life, which is infinitely greater than literal life(and different from it. This is the most important point), because literal life will end someday, but spiritual life will never. That is why Jesus could say that the one believing in him will never die, even though they may die. Because literal death is nothing in comparison to spiritual life and holds no power over it; and we attain spiritual life by believing in Jesus, just as he himself said in John 11:25-26. And, this is precisely why we have eternal life in us right now; notice how the following passages never say that we will have eternal life, but that we have eternal life.

John 3:36 "The one who believes in the Son has eternal life; but the one who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."

1 John 5:11-13 "And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 The one who has the Son has the life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."

Saying that the dead are totally unconscious while also alive isn't any more a contradiction as saying that you have eternal life while also being a mortal human is. It's about looking at the bigger picture, because when you do, you see that the life you gain by faith in Jesus is infinitely greater than the kind of life that you have now. It's called eternal life for a reason; if death ended it, then it wouldn't be eternal!

And for my last point. What you are spiritually has no bearing on what you are literally! You must understand this essential point.

Colossians 2:13 "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Christ, having forgiven us all our trespasses,"

The Christians Paul was talking about were literally alive, but they were spiritually dead. The fact that they were literally alive had no bearing on spiritual matters, as they were "dead in their trespasses and the uncircumcision of their flesh." When God made them alive "together with Christ," nothing changed for them literally; the change that happened was spiritual, not something that can be seen or measured, but something that transcends all that! So, if being literally alive has no bearing on spiritual matters, would it not follow that being literally dead also has no bearing on spiritual matters? If spirituality transcends all physicality, and (literal) death is itself a matter of physicality, then isn't it a corollary that literal death has no bearing on what you are spiritually? That's exactly the case! This is precisely why Jesus could call the patriarchs "living", while simultaneously acknowledging the fact that they are dead! Jesus was talking about a kind of "living" that does not have any strings attached to it by anything physical; he was expounding the fact that a spiritual connection to God(the true source of life) is not something that can be severed by literal death, but something that altogether transcends it! It's really as simple as that. There is no need to invoke the concept of "conscious spirits" or "dead bodies." None of that is needed or justified.

Thus, here is what Ecclesiastes 9:5 and Mark 12:26-27 are trying to convey, respectively;

Ecclesiastes 9:5 "For the [literally] living know that they will [literally] die, but the [literally] dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten."

Mark 12:26-27 "But regarding the fact that the dead rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27 He is not the God of the [spiritually] dead [i.e. those disconnected from God, the only source of true life, and thus truly dead in His eyes], but of the [spiritually] living [i.e. those who are connected to God, the only source of true life, and thus truly alive in His eyes]; you are greatly mistaken."

Fundamentally, all of God's faithful servants, whether literally dead or alive, are eternally and spiritually alive in His eyes. That is all!

I hope this helps, and I hope you have an amazing day! :)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.