DO THE DEAD HAVE KNOWLEDGE?
Question: "Since Solomon said that the dead know not anything, does this mean that the dead have no knowledge or mental powers at all, contradicting other passages which teach the retention of knowledge by the dead, and does it mean that man has no soul or spirit?"
Answer: The passage in question is Ecclesiastes 9.5 which says, "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." There are those in the religious world who believe that man has no soul or spirit apart from the body so that when a person dies he has no knowledge or mental powers at all. They generally teach that when a person dies, he ceases to exist or exists in an unconscious state until the end of time, then will be resurrected (actually recreated), and if righteous will receive eternal life but if wicked will be annihilated. This passage is often cited as an attempt to give Biblical proof to a portion of this doctrine.
However, the book of Ecclesiastes involves responsibilities of life on earth. "What profit has a man from all his labor, in which he toils under the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 1.3). Solomon never gives a description of the actual state of the dead but discusses them from the standpoint of what they do not have; i.e., a time of opportunity, service, and hope on earth. The living have capacities for fruitful labor, but the dead do not because they are cut off from earthly activities and have nothing to work for or to expect in this life. Since the living know that they will die, they are encouraged to employ themselves worthily while it is yet day. The knowledge of earthly happenings is such that the deceased are not affected by them but are completely separated from them. So, Ecclesiastes does not contradict other passages which definitely teach the retention of knowledge by the spirits of the dead.
One such passage is the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In Luke 16.22-24, Jesus said that at first Lazrus died. Later the rich man lifted up his eyes "and being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom." Then the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to assist him. Both the rich man and Lazarus retained their identies after their death. They were still conscious after being separated from their bodies. While they did not have any earthly activity under the sun, not being alive on earth in their mortal bodies, their disembodied spirits in Hades had knowledge.
SO the Bible does affirm the retention of knowledge by souls that have departed this life. Thus, the Bible teaches that man does have a separate soul or spirit which survives death. James 2.26 says, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." The body is said to be dead, but not the spirit or soul. At death the spirit is separated from the body. The spirit returns to God who gave it and exists in a place called Hades (cf. Ecclesiastes 12.7, Acts 2.31). The body returns to the dust and remains dead until Christ brings the spirit back at the time of the second coming and resurrection.
What Solomon was teaching in Ecclesiastes is that since only in this life we have time to prepare and since death cuts off all opportunities to obey God, it follows that we must do today in this life what we need to do.
(From "Search for Truth," Feb. 8, 1998.) Wayne S. Walker
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