What did early Christians believe about the dead?

by fulltimestudent 14 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • fulltimestudent

    As witnesses we were truly convinced that we knew the truth about the dead. They were truly dead, and we often quoted Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, our favourite proof text on that topic, to prove the point. That text reads (just in case you've already forgotten it - smile), (from the NIV):

    "Anyone who is among the living has hope[b]—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
    For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten."

    We probably never thought much about the next bit, which in many versions can be used to argue against the concept of a resurrection, because the NWT uses Freddie's escape clause, as he translates the NIV's rendering of vs 6, which reads:

    "Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun."

    with an expression that uses an alternative meaning for the pertinent Hebrew word, so that it reads (at least in older versions of the NWT) -

    "Also the love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun."

    The Hebrew expression is 'owlam.' which can have these meanings (according to Strong's Concordance):

    1. long duration, antiquity, futurity, for ever, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient, world
      ancient time, long time (of past)
      (of future)
        1. for ever, always
        2. continuous existence, perpetual
        3. everlasting, indefinite or unending future, eternity

          So it become rather clear that its difficult to use the bible to solve ideological views of what the author of that document was implying when he wrote the words.

          In an attempt to solve that dilemma, we could try to interrogate the author in some way. Who was he, when did he live, etc? That may give us some idea of what he meant.

          We immediately run into a road block. The author is not named, the first verse simply stating, according to the NIV:

          "The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem":

          the NWT chooses to use the word congregator,

          The hebrew word is qoheleth, to which Strong's provides these meanings:

          1. collector (of sentences), preacher, public speaker, speaker in an assembly, Qoheleth

          The JWs ideological way of solving these problems, becomes clear when we go to the Aid book for information. In the entry for Eccleiastes, the first two paragraphs provides a barrage of information attempting to say the author must be Solomon, and therefore we are reading a traditional Hebrew view of death, so that it all fits neatly into the witness ideological box.

          However, a consensus of modern scholarship has a different view, I suggest that the Wikipedia entry probably portrays that contemporary consensus when it describes it this way:

          "The book takes its name from the Greek ekklesiastes, a translation of the title by which the central figure refers to himself: Koheleth, meaning something like "one who convenes or addresses an assembly".[10] According to rabbinic tradition, Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon in his old age.[11] (An alternative tradition that "Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes" probably means simply that the book was edited under Hezekiah.)[12]

        4. Nevertheless, critical scholars have long rejected the idea of a pre-exilic origin.[13][14] The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE,[1] while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it.[15] The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence;[1] those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.[16]"

          We can appreciate that we need some other way to identify what early Christians expected when they died? So that's for the next post:


  • iconoclastic

    Like any scripture in the world, Ecclesiastes too contains contradictions—in one place it says that nothing survives after one dies, but in places like 12:7 it says “his spirit” survives the death of the physical body. This leaves us to resort to our own reason! Danah Zohar, who teaches at the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme, Oxford University , and psychiatrist Dr Ian Marshall in their 2001 book, SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence, observe that “while computers have IQ and animals can have EQ, it is essentially an SQ that sets human beings apart“. So, for the `wheel of life' to roll smoothly, all the spokes of the wheel -IQ, EQ and SQ -have to be equally developed.

    The journey from IQ to SQ represents moving from gross to subtle, finite to infinite, tangible to intangible. SQ has several dimensions: compassion, wholeness, self-esteem, gratitude, spirit of surrender and service and the ego. Handling the ego is a critical dimension. When one realizes that even ego is a just thought, an attachment to a false image what I am not, one leaves out two costumes—gross (physical body) and subtle (ego), and what remains is the real “I” which is capable of being aware of itself. If something could be aware of itself, it could be non-composite. And if it is non-composite, it will be “minuter than then minutest” in form, hence will not be subject to physical eye or scientific equipments, but it can only be discerned, or understood.

    Everyone would agree that knowledge exists, and it follows if knowledge exists, knower too exists—and this knower is immaterial (and some are even capable of premonition, clairvoyance … something they get without the help of physical senses)


    I would ask, "What thought did the original language convey?" Life on Earth has challenges, the "dead" no longer have those challenges. That is not the same as being non-existent.

    The WTBTS is fond of using the OT and NT to prove the validity of both. What does the foremost teacher, Jesus ( according to JWs) say about death? Surely he would set the matter straight, explaining any seeming inconsistencies?

    When describing death, Jesus said that death was like sleep. He didn't say it was sleep, but like sleep. He certainly never said that death was non-existence. So I highly doubt that early Xians viewed death as non-existence, because Jesus could have said anything, but he said death was like sleep.

    The dead are not conscious or concerned with mortal troubles. That is not the same as oblivion.


  • Crazyguy

    Caleb the Jewish member of this forum made a statement on another thread that stuck with me. Something to the effect that the Jewish thought was to be someone who could be remembered at death and get a fine burial. Where as the other option was not being a person of note and just dieing and having ones body just being thrown in to gehenna not remembered by anyone at all.

  • opusdei1972
    Early Christians believed different theories of the resurrection, because there were many christian sects. But, in the second century, the "orthodox" christians believed that the soul leaves the body after a person dies. Then, in the resurrection, the soul joins again a resurrected body.
  • Crazyguy
    Opus, yes and this belief was taken from the Egyptian belief and was originally theirs and not a Hebrew belief. The Christians copied so much from Egypt.
  • Viviane
    Computers do not have IQ.
  • fulltimestudent

    If we could converse with some early Christians, what would they say on this subject?

    We can't, but we do have some written evidence of what they believed. Here's some quotations;

    From, 'The Letter of Ignatius to the Romans.'

    "It is a grand thing for my life to set on the world, and for me to be on my way to God, so that I may rise in his presence." (2:2)

    Ignatius was arrested around 110 C.E. and sent to Rome for to be tried and executed.


    From, 'The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas.'

    While being held in prison Perpetua has a number of visions, one of them concerned her 7 y.o brother who had previously died from cancer. In this vision she 'sees' him already in heaven, and healed of the cancer that killed him. (Ch 8). In another vision related by a fellow Christian prisoner, he 'sees' their group after their death, carried off to 'heaven' by angels. Heaven is described as a beautiful garden. There other angels invite them to, ".. come and enter and greet the Lord." (Ch. 11-14).

    Their martyrdom occurred around 202-203 C.E.


  • fulltimestudent

    The biggest problem in using early writings, etc is that there was likely no unified 'Christian' belief system. So with that in mind, we should take care not to suggest that the evidence for a particular personal belief, demonstrates that ALL early Christians believed it.

    So with that thought in mind, lets look at another source of information about the post-death beliefs.

    A well-known scholar, (Peter Brown, Professor Emeritus, Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History, Emeritus. Senior Historian. Princeton University), who has specialised in the period known as 'late antiquity' (usually considered as between the third and ninth centuries, CE.) and the rise of Christianity published a book this year, entitled, "The Ransom of the Soul." ( Harvard University Press, 2015) in which he explores the connection between ' afterlife and wealth in early western Christianity). I mention this because I'm using Brown's work to look at what early Christian's thought on the topic of life after death.

    For example, on p.5 of the book, in the introduction, he quotes Cyprian (bishop of Carthage in 250 CE), death provided an instantaneous entry to heaven. He imagined,

    "... to close in a moment the eyes by which human beings and the world are seen, and to open these same eyes instantly to see God and Christ."

    In pages 36 to 40 he discusses messages left by the living requesting the dead to intercede for them. But that's for the next post.

  • paradisebeauty

    The jw's are wrong on many doctrine, but I do not think they are wrong on the "life after death" separated from the body doctrine.

    For reference, you might want to check other scholars opinion on this, too:


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