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According to Paul, it is:

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. [Philippians 1:21-24 ESV]

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. [2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV]

But according to David, it seems it is not:

4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? [Psalm 6:4-5 ESV]

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? [Psalm 30:9 ESV]

Is to die gain or not?

Did David and Paul have different understandings of death and the afterlife?


Relevant questions:

2 Answers 2

1

One needs only to look at Paul's frequent reference to his very difficult life as missionary or apostle of Christ to see why he would be happy to have his life ended. See appendix 1 below.

It is no surprise that Paul in 2 Cor 5:8 and Phil 2:23 was happy to die. The reason is simple - if he died, he would be spared more trials and difficulties, and after an unconscious "sleep" of death (Ps 6:5, Eccl 9:5, John 11:11, etc) the next thing he would know would be at Christ's side.

Now, Paul and David had very different lives: David was a powerful oriental king; Paul was an itinerant, penniless preacher/apostle. However, the two had some things in common:

  • Both committed great sins for which they were always repentant. David in Ps 32 and 51, etc; Paul in Gal 1:13, Acts 22:4, Gal 1:23, 1 Cor 15:9, etc.
  • Both suffered great difficulties in their lives to the point that they both appeared to be almost suicidal at times. Indeed, Paul even admits to such extreme pressure from his trials and difficulties, that he despaired of life itself:

2 Cor 1:8, 9 - We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the hardships we encountered in the province of Asia.a We were under a burden far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we felt we were under the sentence of death, in order that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead.

Note that in Paul's life involving despair and impending death, Paul hoped in the resurrection which he repeats in Titus 2:13. Similarly David was very tried and hard pressed because of the persecution of his enemies, 2 Sam 4:9, Ps 4:1, 1 Sam 30:6, Ps 132:1, etc.

Thus, both had much to confess. However near the end of each of their lives, both were content to die:

  • Paul in 2 Tim 1:12 - For this reason, even though I suffer as I do, I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.
  • David in 1 Kings 2:2 - “I am about to go the way of all the earth. So be strong and prove yourself a man.

Lastly, note that while Paul had no hesitation about dying and escaping the troubles of this world, he did not expect anything until "that day" - a technical term for the second coming of Jesus (Matt 24:36, Mark 13:32, Luke 10:12, 2 Tim 1:12, 4:8), or, “the day of the Lord” (2 Peter 3:10-13). Further, Paul wanted to "be with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8 and Phil 2:23) this would occur in the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:3, 4, 12), see also 2 Tim 4:8 -

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

CONCLUSION

Thus, for Paul, dying would be a release from the troubles of this world (and the prison life he endured) and following the unconscious sleep of death, he would awake to seer the Lord's return at the great resurrection.

As to Paul's teaching about death, and the resurrection, see appendix 2

APPENDIX 1 - Paul's Difficulties

Paul often referred to his trails and persecutions. Here is a sample:

  • 2 Tim 3:11 - my persecutions, and the sufferings that came upon me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.
  • Gal 5:11 - Now, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.
  • 2 Cor 12:10 - That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
  • 2 Cor 11:23-28 - ... in harder labor, in more imprisonments, in worse beatings, in frequent danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from these external trials, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

APPENDIX 2 - Paul's View of Death and Resurrection

The following summarizes Paul's theology of death:

  • Paul likened death to an unconscious sleep until the Lord returns: 1 Thess 4:15-17, 5:10, 1 Cor 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51
  • humans become immortal at the resurrection and not before, 1 Cor 15:51-54
  • humans only have life in Christ; man does not have life in himself, Rom 2:7, 1 Cor 15:12-49. That is, man cannot have eternal life in hell, Rom 6:23.
  • The wicked will be destroyed and perish, Phil 3:19, 2 Thess 1:9

This is entirely consistent with David's theology on the same subjects.

5
  • Do you share @HoldToTheRod's view that David was probably unsure of his salvation, and that that's why he didn't want to die at that moment?
    – user38524
    Jan 24, 2022 at 22:26
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - we are not told in David's case. All we know is that David did not want to die; however, there is evidence of depression later in life and he was less anxious about dying then. David and Paul's lives were very different - David lived in royal luxury, while Paul lived alone and on the road and often persecuted. It is true that David wrote several penitential Psalms (eg, Ps 32, 51, etc).
    – Dottard
    Jan 24, 2022 at 22:30
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - answer updated as promised.
    – Dottard
    Jan 25, 2022 at 5:57
  • Hey @Dottard, I added a small question at the end of the OP: Did David and Paul have different understandings of death and the afterlife?. What are your thoughts on this question?
    – user38524
    Jan 30, 2022 at 20:28
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - you "extra" question is very provocative precisely because and conservative Bible interpreter will always begin with the assumption that the message of the Bible is uniform. That is, Paul and David will present the same message. Thereofre, their views of the death and the aferlife will be the same. Neverthe;ess, I will add something.
    – Dottard
    Jan 30, 2022 at 20:55
-1

Is to die gain or not?

It depends on whether or not the person is prepared. This is not dissimilar to asking is taking a final exam gain or not?

Paul

When Paul faced death he was ready; he knew he was in good standing before God. Those who accept the authenticity of 2 Timothy (I do) usually acknowledge it to be chronologically the last of Paul's epistles. From 2 Tim 4:

6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day...

Paul knew the future was bright.

David

David, on the other hand, had far more to worry about as he considered meeting his maker. The chronological sequence of the composition of the Psalms is largely unknown, but note the identical opening phrase and plea for mercy also found in one of his Psalms of repentance, Psalm 51:

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Gratefully, I am not this man's judge. David's apprehension about the future, however, does appear to fit with the theme of Psalm 6, including My soul is also sore vexed (see verse 3).

Addendum

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?

Dust (or a dead corpse) unambiguously does not praise God or teach His message. Note that the Hebrew root for "dust" here (עָפָר/aphar) is the same word found in Eccl. 12:7 in "Then shall the dust return to the earth". David isn't talking about what his spirit will do; he's talking about the physical body that will molder in the grave.

This serves to highlight the temporal nature of David's concerns. While his spirit is in Sheol, David will not be doing the things he's doing now (in life) to praise God and teach His message. He sees an end to his ability to do what God sent him (David) here to do.

In this Psalm, David is grateful to God for preserving his life on earth and wants to praise & serve God on earth in gratitude. This doesn't necessarily mean the afterlife is bad (or a state of dormancy) - there is a risk of removing a clause of David's poetic praise from its context, and then generalizing the most literal possible meaning of the phrase. This procedure results in a variety of problems in other parts of this Psalm as well:

  • In v3: "O LORD, You have brought up my soul from Sheol" So did David die, go to Sheol, and come back? No. David is speaking of the hazards in which he was protected (presumably he was in danger in battle) in this life.
  • In v12: "O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever" Will David live forever? No. But he will praise God for the entirety of this life.

As with any poetic writing, it is critical to identify the context of a Psalm. David believes what he's doing on earth is valuable and doesn't want that to come to an end at the moment.

Conclusion

Paul was prepared to meet his maker, and so death was nothing to be frightened of. David was perhaps not so prepared. It may not then be entirely tongue-in-cheek to observe that the great and dreadful day of the Lord will be great for those who are prepared and dreadful for those who are not.


Did David and Paul have different understandings of death and the afterlife?

We do not know with certainty, but nothing in these passages requires it.

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  • So do you think David was unsure of his salvation when he wrote Psalm 6?
    – user38524
    Jan 24, 2022 at 21:40
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator I suspect that is true. I added a sentence to my post accordingly. Jan 24, 2022 at 21:44
  • So do you think David believed that Sheol is the place where those who are lost are sent to when they die?
    – user38524
    Jan 24, 2022 at 21:48
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator I expect David would have understood Sheol to be divided into (at least 2) compartments, one of which was occupied by the spirits of those who were righteous/prepared, the other those who were not. Jan 24, 2022 at 21:53
  • Right, but David said "For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise", so my question is whether David believed his description applied to Sheol in general (including the compartment for the righteous/prepared) or only to the compartment for the lost. Because if David's description of Sheol is general (applies to all compartments), and if Paul was expecting to go to Sheol upon death, then there would seem to be a contradiction in my opinion.
    – user38524
    Jan 24, 2022 at 21:58

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