DEATH ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES SERIES – TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Intro and purpose. What death is not equal to.
- Death is not separation from God
- Death is not separation from the life of God
- There’s no such thing as “spiritual death”
- Death is not separation of soul from the body
- Death is not separation – summary
- Physical death is not annihilation
- Divine bio-engineering. How Jesus Christ solves the problem of death of fleshly bodies
- Death according to the Bible: lack of life, loss of life
INTRODUCTION AND PURPOSE
The purpose of this post is to examine the Scriptural notion of death, and to see in which ways it differs from the usual meaning of death, if at all. This topic bothered me for a while, since I could see that both popular and professional traditional theology definitions are not only ambiguous and fuzzy, but they also require reading into text the semantics that just aren’t there. Eventually I decided to look into the subject myself, and document what I’ve found.
A very important point to mention: theological definitions are nearly always stated as equivalency (“In the Bible, death is / means XYZ”), and not as implications (“In the Bible, death implies / entails XYZ”). It’s such equivalencies that I want to examine here. I will address the implications statements, where appropriate.
WHAT DEATH IS NOT EQUIVALENT TO
To accomplish the stated purpose, I will first address what I believe to be extra-Biblical meanings by examining what death is not equivalent to. Then we will be able to see a lot more clearly what death is.
DEATH IS NOT EQUIVALENT TO SEPARATION
A commonly used definition of death in evangelical circles is “separation”. There are several problems with this definition.
First – both semantically and grammatically, a notion of separation requires an indirect object (denoting “from what the subject is being separated”). That’s in addition to the subject (what / who is being separated). The indirect object has to be either directly stated, or clearly presented by the context. Depending of what the indirect object is, the range of meanings can be quite vast, and even when it’s stated, additional information (supplied either directly or from the context of what’s being said) may be required to fully understand what is being said. To illustrate, consider this somewhat awkward sentence:
– Johnny is separated.
The sentence is awkward because it’s missing a direct object. Exactly what meaning do you think the sentence is trying to convey to you? That of separation as an non-formalized divorce? Maybe. But you have just made an assumption that the indirect object of the verb “separated” is Johnny’s wife, and I didn’t say that.
Even if you assume that I meant “from his wife” (even though I didn’t say that) you would think you know what exactly I meant (separation as an non-formalized divorce). Well, maybe, but maybe not. What if the context is this: Johnny is in the armed forces, and is currently on a tour of duty in the Middle East? Would that type of separation qualify, if his wife is indeed an indirect object in this sentence? See, now we have a totally different meaning due to additional cues.
What if Johnny completes with his military service and is back home with his family, can he be described as “separated”? (Notice how I ask this question using just the verb, and I again omit the indirect object. If you are perceptive, you should immediately pick up on that, and ask “separated from who / what?”) You would say – if we are still talking about geographical separation – of course he isn’t separated, he’s back home with his wife. Oh, but that’s not what I asked. What I asked is this: can Johnny be described as “separated”? Nothing more than that. And the answer to this is yes – he can be. Johnny is, in fact, a “recently separated veteran”, according the definition of the US government. It’s no longer a marital separation, or a geographic separation, but an organizational one. He’s separated from the military. And all along you thought I’m still talking about his wife. You might ask – oh, but you didn’t say that it’s not his wife that Johnny is separated from. My point exactly – I didn’t say, and yet you did assume.
So my point here is this. You just saw that unless you supply not just the subject, but also the indirect object specifically denoting what the subject is being separated from, you will not be able to reconstruct the exact meaning of what’s being said, and if the context doesn’t unambiguously guide you, you will be forced to assume what the indirect object is, thus creating your own meaning in the process, as opposed to understanding what the author intended. Then we will have a range of candidate meanings, leaving me to choose whichever I prefer based on my biases. If we apply that process to the Scripture study, that would be eisegesis, rather than exegesis.
So that’s problem #1 with equating death with separation. Both semantically and grammatically, the notion of death never requires an indirect object, but the notion of separation does. Due to just this peculiarity, even if the meanings of these two words roughly equivalent (and they are not, as the common sense dictates, and as will be shown below) they are not mutually interchangeable, or mutually substitutable.
If the notion of death were equivalent to the notion of separation, we should be able to make a substitution, and see if the meanings are equivalent:
– Johnny is dead. Does it mean the same thing as “Johnny is separated” to a theologically uninformed person? No it doesn’t – in the scenario above Johnny was alive, and here he’s dead. But wait – you who are better theologically informed might say – if Johnny is dead, isn’t he separated from his wife? He sure is – but here you go again – you just equated “Johnny is dead” with “Johnny is separated from his wife” whereas “wife” is stated nowhere in the original sentence. The best you can do with “death = separation” equivalence is “Johnny is separated”, which leaves you in the cold as to the exact meaning of what he is separated from. Sure, your mind is looking for an indirect object, and plugging in the one that first comes to mind, depending on your culture, upbringing, and other biases.
The only thing we can safely (and sanely) state as far as implications go is that death implies that a person is separated from anything in this physical world upon death since he / she is no longer alive, but dead. They can’t interact with this world, and vice versa. So in that sense, they can be described as separated from it, if we want to persist with the separation semantics. But that’s about the extent of what can be soundly stated.
However, if A implies B, it doesn’t mean that A is equivalent to B. Eating implies swallowing, but the two aren’t equivalent. A person can be tube-fed with no swallowing involved. Having children implies having had a sex act with a partner of opposite sex, but the two aren’t equivalent. Having children can be achieved via in-vitro fertilization with no sex acts involved. Death implies being separated from one’s spouse, but the two aren’t equivalent. That type of separation can also be achieved via divorce. Death implies being separated from human society, but the two aren’t equivalent. That type of separation can also be achieved through isolation (e.g., hermitage, solitary confinement). You get the idea.
(to be continued)