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Don Stewart :: Don't Statements in the Book of Ecclesiastes Contradict Other Parts of Scripture about Heaven?

Don Stewart
The Book of Ecclesiastes contains some statements about the afterlife that are at variance with other portions of Scripture. The writer says.
Concerning the estate of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like beasts. For what happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts; one thing befalls them; as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; humans have no advantage over beasts. . . all go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the beast, which go down to earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21).

According to this passage, humans have no advantage over animals at death - there is no difference between them, they all go to the same place. No one can know whether the spirit of humans goes upward toward God or downward toward extinction. Elsewhere we read in Ecclesiastes.

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate, and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6).

How can we explain these passages in light of other portions of Scripture?

Two Possible Explanations

Generally there are two different explanations that have been given to this question. One view sees all these statements can be harmonized with the rest of Scripture when we understand the context in which they are made. Others see these as contradictory statements because of the perspective of the writer - "under the sun" or without divine revelation.

1. Can Be Harmonized

There are some who believe these statements can be harmonized with the rest of Scripture. If the passages are taken out of context, then Ecclesiastes seems to be a book of skepticism. Once the context is understood, the statements are compatible with the rest of Scripture.

Ecclesiastes 3:18-21

In Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 the author is saying that similar things happen to humans and animals. Each are born, die, and do not come back in the same form. The dead have no knowledge in our world, not of our world. In addition, the passage refers to the lifelessness of the body, not the soul. Elsewhere the writer says.

He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover He [God] has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Ecclesiastes 9:5,6

The statements in 9:5,6 need to be understood in light of verse 10. The subject is the grave.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

There is not more working in this world once you are dead. This is the main thought in 9:5.6.

Judgment

The writer of Ecclesiastes says there is judgment in the future.

Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

Hope For The Righteous

He also says those who die go to their eternal home.

When one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets (Ecclesiastes 12:5).

The writer concludes.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep His commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Therefore when the book is understood correctly, there is no denying of life after death.

2. Perspective- Under The Sun

There is another way in which to view these statements in Ecclesiastes. If we understand that the perspective of the author is from "under the sun," then the problems disappear. The writer is making his judgments without the aid of divine revelation. From a human perspective, or under the sun, there is no difference between an animal and a human. One does not know if the spirit of the human goes up, and the animal goes down. What is needed is divine revelation to tell us the answer. Otherwise we would have no answer.

Summary

Some of the statements in the Book of Ecclesiastes seem to contradict other parts of Scripture. There are two basic ways in which this may be resolved.

1. When the context is understood along with the overall message of Ecclesiastes, then there is no contradiction.

2. The writer does make contradictory statements to the rest of Scripture. The reason he does so is his perspective - under the sun or without divine revelation. Therefore, the purpose of the book is to teach the futility of life without God.

Either solution is possible.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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