Is He the God of the dead or isn’t He?

Most people today completely misunderstand what death is. They’ve bought into the lie of the serpent that “ye shall not surely die,” believing that the dead aren’t really dead at all, but are actually alive as ghosts in some ethereal afterlife dimension. I’ve written about this elsewhere, both in chapter 2 of my eBook (which is available for free here on this website), as well as in this post here (which I recommend reading before you finish this one you’re reading now, if you haven’t already), but I wanted to present you with some very simple passages of Scripture that prove the dead actually are dead and gone (meaning unconscious), at least until their future resurrection.

The first three are from the Hebrew Scriptures:

“For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?”Psalms 6:5 KJV

“The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.”Psalms 115:17 KJV

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.”Ecclesiastes 9:5 NIV

Very simple, right? Those who are dead can’t remember God, or even thank or praise Him, because the dead know nothing (since they’re unconscious). Many Christians try to ignore these passages, or claim they don’t actually mean what they say, but the plain meaning is so easy to grasp that, if one didn’t have a preconceived bias towards the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, they’d read those verses and immediately agree that the dead are indeed unconscious.

It’s also important to realize that the concept of the immortality of the soul, and an afterlife realm for ghosts, wasn’t actually taught in the Hebrew Scriptures (in fact, they taught a physical resurrection as the way one would eventually look upon the redeemer), and if something isn’t taught in the Hebrew Scriptures then we have to be extremely cautious when we read the Greek Scriptures not to read ideas into them that weren’t taught previously in Scripture (it’s important to remember that, just because a Pharisee or other audience member of Jesus’ might have been recorded as believing something that wasn’t taught in the Hebrew Scriptures, this isn’t a good enough reason to believe the concept itself is scriptural or true; it’s more likely that they were adding extra-scriptural ideas to what they believed to be correct doctrine, as often was not only the case back then with them, but is also the case today with modern Christians).

However, as you know, those verses I listed above obviously aren’t enough to convince the average Christian who has been fully indoctrinated into the idea that the immortality of the soul is a fact, so I’m going to give you a passage from the Greek Scriptures this time, one that proves definitively that it isn’t a fact at all:

Now approaching, some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, inquire of Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses writes to us, if anyone’s brother should be dying, and having a wife, this one should be dying childless, that his brother may be getting the wife, and should be raising up seed to his brother. Seven brothers there were, then, and the first, getting a wife, died childless. And the second got the wife, and this one died childless. And the third got her. Now similarly, the seven also left no children, and they died. Now subsequently to all, the woman also died. The woman, in the resurrection, then, of which of them is she becoming the wife? For the seven have had her as wife.” And, answering, Jesus said to them, “The sons of this eon are marrying and are taking out in marriage. Yet those deemed worthy to happen upon that eon and the resurrection from among the dead are neither marrying nor taking out in marriage. For neither can they still be dying, for they are equal to messengers, and are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. Now that the dead are rousing, even Moses divulges at the thorn bush, as he is terming the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now God is He, not of the dead, but of the living, for all, to Him, are living.”Luke 20:27-38 CLV

(If you found that version hard to follow, click here to read it in the NIV instead.)

Somewhat ironically, many Christians actually attempt use this passage to try to prove the immortality of the soul, but that just demonstrates how little they pay attention to what Scripture is actually saying, and so they manage to misapprehend Jesus’ teaching there to mean that the dead aren’t really dead after all, but are actually still living instead. If only they took the time to examine the context of the passage, they’d discover that it was really about the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in a physical resurrection in the future) trying to trip Jesus up with a question about who a certain hypothetical dead woman would be married to after she is resurrected in the next eon (or age) here on Earth. They weren’t asking about who a ghost in an afterlife dimension would be married to in that imaginary realm; it wasn’t the concept of an ethereal afterlife state that the Sadducees were trying to trip Jesus up on, after all. Instead, they were using this hypothetical question in order to make the idea of a physical resurrection seem ridiculous.

However, as we know, Jesus turned it around on them by using the fact that the Lord could not legitimately claim the title of “the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” as Moses revealed Him to be if the dead weren’t going to be physically resurrected someday, because He’s not the God of the dead but of the living. Now there are a couple ways one can interpret this verse, but neither of them include the idea of the immortality of the soul.

The first is that He could have been using the figure of speech known as prolepsis. Prolepsis, in Scripture, is where God calls what is not yet as though it already were — when God makes a statement that tells us something is going to be, it’s already as good as done — so Jesus could have been using prolepsis there to tell us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will definitely be resurrected someday, since otherwise that statement about them would have been a lie because it would mean they would have ceased to exist forever when they died.

It could, on the other hand, instead be a reference to the transcendence of God, and the fact that God is ultimately outside of time, and so for Him everything exists all at once, which would mean that, even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead from their (and our) perspective, from God’s perspective, He can already see the time when they’ll be alive again.

What the passage can’t be read as saying, however, is that they’re actually still alive in our time period. Verse 37 (“…that the dead are rousing, even Moses divulges at the thorn bush…”) makes it very clear that Jesus is talking about the fact that these three patriarchs would eventually be physically resurrected, not that they’re still actually alive in another dimension. Jesus’ whole point is that, if they weren’t going to be resurrected and live again, God could not be said to be their God, because He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. If they were actually still alive in some afterlife dimension, God would still be their God (and they could still thank and praise Him, contrary to what the book of Psalms says), but Jesus made it clear that, without a physical resurrection, He couldn’t be their God, since they’d be dead and gone forever. Because they will be resurrected, however, God actually can be said to be their God.

There’s just no way to read verses 37 and 38 as anything other than Jesus saying the dead are indeed dead and gone until their resurrection, because the only way that Moses’ statement about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob could possibly be used as proof of the resurrection of the dead is if the three of them are currently dead and gone for the time being. If the three of them are actually still alive in an afterlife dimension somewhere, and if Jesus’ statement about God being the God of the living rather than the God of the dead was actually Him trying to prove the idea that God is still their God because they’re actually still alive somewhere (and if that is what He was trying to prove with that statement we’d then have to ask why He suddenly moved on to a whole other topic, since the disagreement was over the resurrection of the dead, not over an afterlife where the dead aren’t actually dead at all), then the resurrection of the dead would be entirely unnecessary, and Jesus’ argument couldn’t possibly help prove the resurrection at all. (Although, if you think you can find a way to make His argument prove the resurrection of the dead with them still being alive in an afterlife dimension, I’d love to hear how.)

Now, there are lots of other passages in Scripture you’re likely thinking of which you might believe support the idea of the immortality of the soul, but the truth is that they can pretty much all be read from either perspective (there are ways to interpret them that work within the framework of the immortality of the soul, as well as within the framework of the dead being unconscious), but they all have to be read in the light of what the passages I just dealt with above teach, and as you can now see, the above passages make it pretty clear that the dead are indeed dead (and unconscious). So with that in mind, as well as taking the article on death that I linked to at the beginning of this post into consideration (again, please read it if you haven’t already), it’s now time to throw out the idea that the dead are actually still alive, and to reject the lie that “ye shall not surely die.”

[If you’d like to discuss this further, please come do so over on our subreddit.]