Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ecclesiastes 12:7 - The Spirit That Returns to God

"The body without the spirit is dead." "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit; and having said thus, He gave up the ghost." "Stephen, calling upon God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, . . . fell asleep." -- James 2:26; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59, 60 -- King James Version

(1) Many point to the above scriptures in a effort to prove that the dead are conscious, claiming that these scriptures indicate that there is a spirit being (or living substance) in man or some sort of sentiency that leaves him at death, and then lives apart from the body consciously in bliss or torment. This idea relies heavily on the paganistic philosophies concerning dualism in the nature of man, that man is made up of two parts: one physical and the other spiritual, and that only the physical is capable of dying. Elsewhere we have shown that the condition of the dead is described in Ecclesiastes 9:5,10. (See our publication: Hope of Life After Death) No such thought is found in the Bible, the thought has been added by many in order to explain away the scriptures that speak of death as silence by stating that it is only the body that dies, while the spirit, or the soul, continues to live as a sentient being even after the body is dead.

(2) In explaining these passages and in showing their harmony with the other Scriptures, it might be helpful for us to discuss the various meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words translated in these passages by the words "spirit" and "He gave up the ghost." The Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma are usually (in the King James Version) rendered "wind", "spirit" or "breath", but in some of passages they are rendered ghost. Turning to any standard Hebrew or Greek dictionary, we find that the words ruach and pneuma are given very many different definitions. The basic meaning of these words is invisible power or energy, and therefrom they are used in a variety of shades of meaning, all of which carry the basic meaning of invisibility and power. With the thought of invisible power as basic to the significance of these words, they are used in the scriptures with meaning of {1} influence or power. (Genesis 1:2; Judges 15:14; Job 33:4; Luke 1:35; John 20:22, 23 [in the last two passages the Greek is without the definite article, thus could read: a Holy Spirit, i.e., a holy power or influence]; 1 Corinthians 14:12) The word translated spiritual in 1 Corinthians 14:12 is the Greek word for spirit or power, while the word "gifts" in the King James Version is in italics, which means that it is without a corresponding word in the Greek text. From the same basic meaning of these words, they have are used in the scriptures with the significance of {2} wind as an invisible power. (Genesis 8:1; Exodus 15:10; Numbers 11:31; John 3:8) From the meaning of wind it was a very easy transition of thought for the word to take on the significance of {3} breath, also an invisible power. (Job 15:30; Lamentations 4:20) On account of the life force being originally derived (Genesis 2:7) and subsequently maintained from the oxygen in the breath, these words have, from their meaning [breath] taken on the significance of {4} life force, the animating force of life, an invisible power, which, can be held or lost in varying degrees of vigor. (Ecclesiastes 3:21; Genesis 7:22; Genesis 45:27; Numbers 16:22; Judges 15:19; Psalm 31:5; Matthew 27:50; Revelation 11:11; 13:15) Because the mind, heart, disposition, will are invisible powers, these words also are used with the meaning of {5} the mind, heart, disposition, will, either of God, Christ, the Church or the world. (Ezekiel 36:26; Psalm 34:18; 1 Corinthians 2:12 ; 2 Timothy 1:7; Romans 8:15) Because spirit beings are invisible and powerful beings, these words also mean {6} a spirit, i.e., a spirit being. (Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 1:14; John 4:24; Acts 4:24; Acts 19:12,13,15) Finally, because doctrine, or teaching, is an invisible power, these words are used to mean {7} doctrine, teaching. (Isaiah 11:4; 29:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 8; 1 John 4:3,6) Thus the Scriptures show that these words , ruach and pneuma, are used in at least seven distinct senses in the Bible. Other meanings have been added by traditionalists, but which are challenged as far as scriptural usage are concerned. Some, by borrowing from pagan dualistic philosophies, believe that the spirit is a part of man that consciously survives the death of the body. This consciousness is thought to go to various places at death: heaven, paradise, sheol, purgatory, limbo, lake of fire (to be consciously tortured), etc. The closest we can come this meaning scripturally is either meaning #4 or meaning #7 above.


(3) Which of these meanings fit in each of the passages under consideration: James 2:26; Ecclessiastes 12:7; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59,60? Let us examine each passage in turn, comparing them with these seven definitions and from this examination we will be helped to understand the special use of ruach and pneuma in each of them. First, then, we will compare James 2:26, "The body without the spirit [pneuma] is dead," with these various definitions. Manifestly the definitions {1} influence or power, {2} wind, and {7} doctrine, cannot fit here, hence need not be discussed in connection with this verse any further. This leaves four other definitions that might be especially tested as to their fitness in this verse -- {3} breath, {4} life force or vigor, {5} mind, heart, disposition, will and {6} a spirit being. The connection eliminates definition {5}; for the comparison that James makes between faith being without works and the body being without pneuma would not be a happy one, if pneuma here meant heart, mind, disposition, will. Such a definition here would not clarify his thought, as a comparison, which he uses, should do. Definition {6} is the closest to the one that some of those who teach the consciousness of the dead apply here; but others of them are quite doubtful of this, as can be seen from the reading on this verse in the King James Version's margin, where breath is given instead of spirit. In Greek the definite article, tothe, occurs before the word somabody, but does not occur before pneuma. The absence of the article before pneuma and its presence before the word soma -- body -- implies that pneuma here does not mean a spirit being or a spirit sentiency at all; for if it did, the definite article would have been used before pneuma, just as it is used before soma. It is doubtless this consideration that prompted the insertion of the word breath in the margin of the King James Version. Not only is the absence of the article before pneuma against our understanding it to mean a spirit being or sentiency in this verse, but against such a thought is the fact that James here does not restrict the word soma to the human body, but to any kind of an animal body, whether it be of man, beast, fish, fowl, or creeping thing. Therefore it is not likely that by using the word pneuma Paul would have meant a spirit being, since it generally claimed that no such a spirit (spirit beings) are in bodies of beasts, fish, fowls and creeping things. Furthermore the Bible nowhere teaches that there is a spirit being (consciousness) inside of any fleshly body, which at death leaves it and apart from it lives on as a conscious being. This idea would have to borrowed from pagan philosophies and then read into the scripture. Therefore we have no reason in this passage pneuma to believe that this takes on the meaning {6} a spirit being. This leaves us definitions {3} and {4}, either of which would fit; for it is equally true that the body without breath or without the life force is dead, just as faith without works is dead. This also would agree with the reversal of Genesis 2:7, wherein the breath of life is given and life results. Likewise, the breath of life is taken away and death (the opposite of sentiency) results.


(4) We will now examine the meaning of the word ruach in Ecclesiastes 12:7, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit [ruach] shall return unto God who gave it." As in the discussion of James 2:26 we began with a process of elimination, so will we do with this passage. It is self evident that definitions, {1} influence or power, {2} wind, {3} breath, {5} mind, disposition, will and {7} doctrine, do not fit in this verse; for they would not make good sense, if applied in this passage. This would limit the choice of a definition of ruach in the passage to three meanings, i. e., {4} life force, and {6} a spirit being (or sentiency apart from the body). Practically all who believe in the consciousness of the dead assume that the word ruach here has the meaning of {6} a spirit being or of some sentiency that continues to have sentient life after the death of the body. Actually such a thought has to be borrowed from pagan dualistic philosophies and read into the scripture, for the scripture does not say this. But deeper thought shows that this is inadmissible; for the following reasons:
  • To give ruach here the meaning of {6} a spirit being or sentiency, would make the passage teach Universalism; for the passage lays down the universal rule that in death the body returns to its native dust and the ruach to God; and as the body remains where it returns, so the ruach would remain where it returns. This would mean that the good and the bad alike will be with God, i. e., have everlasting life with God, if ruach here means an immortal spirit being or sentiency that continues sentient life after the death of the body.
  • Again the Bible nowhere teaches or implies that God gives each human body, at his begettal, birth, or at any other time a ruach in the sense of {6} a spirit being or sentiency that is separate from the body, and continues such sentiency after the death of the body. The idea has to borrowed from heathen dualism and then read into the scriptures.
  • Moreover, if we were to view ruach as a spirit being or sentiency in this verse, this would imply that we all are spirit sentient beings before being born, as the scriptures says that the spirit returns to God who gave it. There is no scripture to support the theory that we were spirit beings or were sentient before being born on earth.
  • Additionally, Psalm 146:4 states that when the ruach leaves us, we go back to the ground, and our thoughts perish. This does not say that just our thoughts in our body perish, and that we continue to have thoughts in a spirit form. It plainly says that our thoughts perish -- period. This agrees with the plain statement of Ecclesiastes 9:5.
  • Finally, nowhere does the Bible teach or imply that the ruach of human beings is a spirit being or sentiency that can be separated from the body; for the Bible does not teach that we are hybrids, part human and part spirit beings.
  • Ecclesiastes 12:7 is actually the reversal of the process given in Genesis 2:7. There we read: "Jehovah God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." It was the combination of the body of dust and the breath of life caused the man to be a living sentiency. He was not a living sentiency until this combination was made. Likewise, the removal of the spirit or breath of life results in the removal of sentiency; thus when the spirit, or force, of life returns to God who gave it, there is no more sentiency, until God returns the spirit in the resurrection. (See our document on: Neshamah -- Is It an Immortal Soul in Humans?

For these reasons, the word ruach in the passage, "the ruach shall return to God who gave it," cannot mean a spirit being or some consciousness that lives on in conscious existence after the death of the body. Such a thought has to be added to the scripture.

(5) Therefore only definition {4}, life force, is left for application in this passage as the meaning of ruach. And when we die, according to Ecclesiastes 12:7, our bodies return to their native dust (Genesis 3:19), and our life force or energy reverts to its Giver, God, in the sense that He takes it from us and keeps it in His power for whatever final disposal of it He will be pleased to make at the Judgment Day. Thus Ecclesiastes 12:7 can be seen the reversal of the original creation process as described in Genesis 2:7. -- See our paper on Neshamah.


(6) Next we will examine the sense of pneuma as used in Luke 23:46, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My pneuma; and having said thus, He gave up the ghost." Again, we begin with a process of elimination. Evidently pneuma is not in this passage used in the sense of {1} influence or power, {2} wind, {3} breath, {5} mind, heart, disposition, will, or {7} doctrine. Nor is it used in the sense of {6} a spirit being; because Jesus as a human being having been made in all respects like us apart from imperfection or sin (Hebrews 2:14, 16, 17; 4:15; Philippians 2:7, 8), and we not having spirit beings or within us, or some sentiency within us that continues to live after the death of the body, He did not have such within Himself, and hence in dying could not have commended it to God for safe keeping. The fact that David used these words of himself, and also as a prophecy of Jesus' use of them in dying (Psalm 31:5) proves that the ruach of Psalm 31:5 and the pneuma of the passage under consideration, meaning the same thing, pneuma cannot mean a spirit being in Luke 23:46; for David had no such thing, nor did David go to heaven to be with God when died. (Acts 2:34) David, rather than expecting to be with God, expected to be in a condition where he could not thank or praise Yahweh when he died (Psalm 6:5; 115:17), an oblivious condition. (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10) Hence there is only one other definition of the six left for consideration in Luke 23:46, {4} life force, life energy. Accordingly the passage would mean that Jesus in dying, deposited his spirit -- life force, energy -- with the Father, being fully submitted to the Father's will as to what should become of it. And the Father was pleased to return Jesus' life force when he was raised from the dead. How fittingly this passage, so interpreted, describes the Lord Jesus' full obedience and submission to, and confidence in, the Father, as He was entering the jaws of Death!

(7) The last part of Luke 23:46, "He gave up the ghost", is a wrong translation. The five words that we have italicized in the preceding sentence are used to translate but one Greek word, not the noun pneuma, but the verb exepneusen, which literally means, "He breathed out, He expired". The word ghost in English is usually used to mean a spirit being that has conscious personal existence apart from the human body which once was supposedly its body, and which it is supposed to have left at death. As said, above, the Bible nowhere teaches or implies that such a pneuma exists in a human being or exists separately from the human body as a sentiency after death. The teaching that there is in man a spirit being which at death leaves the body and, separate from it, and is conscious, was invented by Satan, and was originally palmed off by him as one of the first three lies or falsehoods ever told -- the three falsehoods by which he deceived Eve and murdered the whole human family (Genesis 3:4, 5, 13; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14; John 8:44); and it has been since used by him so effectively as to deceive almost the entire human race. (Revelation 12:9) In Matthew 27:50, the parallel reads, Jesus . . . yielded up the ghost. In this verse, the word ghost is given as the translation of pneuma. But this part of the verse being parallel to, i.e., synonymous with exepneusen of Luke 23:46, it means exactly what that expression means in Luke 23:46: "He breathed out", or "He expired". Therefore pneuma in Matthew 27:50 should have been rendered {3} breath, or {4} life force, either of these renderings used as the object of the verb "yielded up" is with its governing verb equivalent to the expression, "He expired, He died." Jesus, at this time, had not yet been exalted above the angels, and thus, he had not yet received the full mightiness bodily and the full authority that would belong to his highly exalted celestial body.

(8)The word pneuma, as used in Acts 7:59, 60, "Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, . . . fell asleep," is very similar in meaning to Jesus' dying words in Luke 23:46, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." For the same reasons given above in the discussion of this latter passage, the word pneuma in Acts 7:59 evidently means {4} life force. And by the language of this verse, Stephen prayed our Lord Jesus to take unto His care for safe keeping Stephen's life force or energy, and in such faith fell asleep, an expression that proves that he became and remained unconscious in death. The expression used in the King James Version "calling upon God" is from the Greek word epikaleomai and should have been rendered "cried out" or "prayed"; there is no word in the Greek to correspond with "God", thus most translations say nothing about God in this verse. Consequently the Word English Bible (Hebrew Names Version) reads: "They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, 'Lord Yeshua, receive my Spirit!'"


(9)The Bible reveals that this same life force from God that is in man is also in the lower animals. In the Hebrew text, both neshamah (used in describing the creation of the first human soul -- Genesis 2:7), and ruach are applied to the lower animals, in the same manner as they are applied to humans. (Genesis 6:17; 7:15,21,22; Job 33:4) The two words are used interchangeably in Genesis 6:17; 7:15,21,22 and in parallel with each other in Job 27:3-5; 34:14,15; Isaiah 42:5. In Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 we find that humans die in the same manner as the beasts, and that both have but one spirit (ruach). The life force from God is common to both man and beast. Thus this "spirit" or life force from God is insentient in itself. This is further shown in the statement of Ecclesiastes 12:7, where it states that the spirit returns to God. Since it states that this spirit returns to God, if we view this word as denoting sentiency, then we would have to say that we were thinking sentiencies before being born into this world.

(10) A little more concerning Psalm 146:3,4: "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." Here ruach is translated "breath" in the King James Version. It is the life force that returns to God, and the body returns to the earth, just as the spirit returns to God who gave it, the reversal of the creative process described in Genesis 2:7. Some want this scripture to say that the thoughts in the body only perish, but that is not what is says: "In that very day his thoughts perish." The person is no longer a living soul, no longer a living sentiency.

(11) One more point concerning the condition of the dead: if the dead are conscious, then those raised from the dead through Elijah, Elisha and Jesus would presumably have remembered being alive during the time that they were dead. Yet there is no record that any of these had any recollection of being conscious while in the death state. -- 1 Kings 17:17-23; 2 Kings 4:32-37; John 11:38-44.

(12) We want to point out however, that the scriptures show that in the resurrection day, the spirit of life -- the force of life -- will be returned to us. "You hide your face: they are troubled; You take away their breath [ruach]: they die, and return to the dust. You send forth your Spirit [ruach]: they are created. You renew the face of the ground." (Psalm 104:29,30, World English Bible) Many believe it is this link that allows us to actually be ourselves in the resurrection. Whatever method God uses in the resurrection, we will not be a creation of another being in whom is implanted our memories, but rather we will be ourselves -- we will be the same being raised with new bodies. We further note that one of the meanings given to the Greek word paliggenesia is "re-creation." The King James Version translates this word as "regeneration" in Matthew 19:20. We will be re-created, but we will be re-created as ourselves, and not another being that receives our memory.

(13) Only if one wants to add heathen philosophy with the Bible can one obtain from the above scriptures anything concerning consciousness during the death state. Not one of the scriptures say anything about anyone being alive or conscious after death. Thus we see that in their proper setting and in harmony with the rest of the Bible, none of the scriptures of our discussion prove that the dead are conscious.

Some of the above is adapted from material obtained from the book Life, Death And The Hereafter   The original author appears to be have been Professor Paul S. L. Johnson, who was well-trained in both Biblical Hebrew and Greek.

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