New Testament Teaching
".......It is sometimes thought that the experiences which
the apostle Paul relates of himself in 2 Corinthians 12: 2-4 show
that a man is capable of consciousness from his body and that
therefore his spirit is capable of consciousness after death. The
first of these conclusions is true. We experience such
consciousness in dreams. What the apostle experienced was a
vision (verse 1). We shall all agree that the prophets and
apostles were granted in which they were transported out of their
immediate surroundings, but it does not for a moment follow that
dead persons could experience visions or consciousness in any
way. If they could, we should find the fact revealed in
Scripture, but we have already found it firmly and consistently
The Witch of Endor
After examining what the Scripture reveals on the spirit of
man and the meaning and nature of his death we seem to have
reached the best place to look at the story recorded in 1
Samuel 28 of King Saul's dealings with the 'witch' of Endor. The
'witch' was what is today called a medium and the meeting in
which Saul took part was what is today called a seance. The
'familiar spirit' was what is today called the medium's
'control.' All such dealings with spirits were forbidden by the
Mosaic law (Exod. 22. 18; Lev. 20. 27; Deut. 18. 10-12). Many
have believed that this passage teaches the survival of the
spirits of the dead and find confirmation for their view in the
fact that the spirit which appears in the story is referred to
simply as 'Samuel.'
No such conclusion however can arise from the use of the
name. The Bible regularly speaks in the language of phenomena and
consistently with this practice the name is used because Saul
thought that it was Samuel who was speaking and the supposed
spirit appeared to be Samuel to him and possibly also to the
There are at least three good reasons why the spirit could
not have been Samuel. The first is the definite teaching of
Scripture on the spirit of man and the nature of death, which we
have already thoroughly examined. The second reason is the
insuperable difficulty of supposing that having refused to
communicate with Saul by any legitimate means (1 Sam. 28. 6) the
Lord would speak to him by a medium and use practices which He
had forbidden in His law under pain of death and called an
abomination. The third reason is the fantastic difficulty of
supposing that a spirit from the dead could appear as 'an old man
. . . covered with a mantle.' It is clear from the story that
what happened at the Endor seance was one those two things of
which one happens at every modern seance. The dead Samuel may
have been impersonated by a demon, as happens at many seance. The
woman said she saw 'gods ascending out of the earth.' We must
remember that Saul never saw anything. He only heard what the
medium said to him. was in fact in touch with a demon, this would
account for demoralisation and death the next day. On the other
hand the woman may have been particularly clever and crafty, as
are some is today. She may have invented the whole scene. She
would saul by his height (1 Sam. 10. 23; 28. 12). She may have
pretended that she saw a supernatural figure and placed words in
its mouth she thought Samuel would have been likely to say,
describing the 'ghost' in a way that would suggest Samuel to
Saul. She may have the opportunity to take a hand by suggestion
in the death of hoping to be rid of him and to be free to carry
on her trade (1 Sam. 28. 9). Every Bible-believer today regards
a seance with a modern medium as actuated by demons or
occasionally by fraud. None supposes that the medium can really
call back to earth the godly dead. Is it not then only reasonable
to regard the seance which Saul attended in exactly the same
light? This conclusion is made practically certain by the
statement in I Chronicles 10. 13 that Saul died because he
consulted one that had a familiar spirit. Readers will notice
that the words 'one that had' are in italics. What he consulted
was the familiar spirit itself, not the ghost of Samuel.
The ordinary Hebrew word meaning 'to die' is muth. It occurs
in the Old Testament rather over eight hundred times. In the
great majority of cases it is used in the simple and
straightforward sense of the death of men or animals.. There is
no hint in its usage of any distinction between the two. Indeed
there could not be in view of the direct statement in
Ecclesiastes 3. 19 that death is the same in either case. Muth
means exactly the same as 'to die' in English. It does not
explain the meaning and nature of death any more than does the
word 'die' in English. Both words in the two languages express
the phenomenon of the cessation of life with which we are all so
sadly familiar. No evidence appears at the death of any man or
woman that any invisible part of him survives any more than it
does at the death of any animal.
As in English and other languages muth is sometimes used in
a figurative sense. We talk for instance of the engine of a motor
car 'going dead.' Such figurative uses do not detract from
the literal sense. They are built upon it. Their whole point
depends on it. Thus muth can be used of a nation (Isa. 65. 15;
Hos. 2. 3; Amos 2. 2), a tribe (Deut. 33. 6; Hos. 13. 1), or a
city (2 Sam. 20. 19). It means the destruction or elimination of
a nation, a tribe, or a city. None of these uses supports the
idea of individual survival. On the contrary we find the word
muth in Deuteronomy 2. 16 parallel with tamam meaning 'to be
consumed,' 'to be spent,' 'to be finished.' In the context
this word need not be inconsistent with survival, but suggests
In nine passages in the Old Testament muth is used in a
general sense m connection with sin, closely parallel to Romans
6. 23. Here it almost certainly covers the second death as well
as, or instead of, the death of which we have universal
experience in this world. The passages are 2 Samuel 12. 13;
Jeremiah 31. 30; Ezekiel 3. 18-20; 18. 4-31; 33. 8-27; Psalm
34. 21; Proverbs 19. 18; 21. 25; Job 5. 2......... It is worth
noting here that muth occurs in connection with resurrection in
Isaiah 26. 19, where the dead are said to need awakening and to
A basic passage that we must look at in connection with the
word muth is to be found in Genesis 2. 17 (compare Genesis 3. 4):
'for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely
die.' It is clear that neither Adam nor Eve actually died in the
day in which they ate the fruit of the tree and little difference
is made if we substitute 'when' for 'in the day that'...... More
likely however the word said to Adam is exactly paralleled and
explained by the word spoken by Solomon to Shimei (1 Kings 2. 37,
42, notice especially the R.V. and R.S.V.). Shimei did not
die on the day that he left Jerusalem, but he became subject to
death on that day. There is thus no need to introduce any
figurative sense into the word muth in Genesis 2. 7, though we
may well suppose that in this passage it extends to the second
This word occurs twenty-four times in the Old Testament and
means quite simply 'to die' in the sense to which we are
universally accustomed. It throws no light on the nature and
meaning of death in any sense other than what we see and
experience except perhaps in Psalm 104. 29, 'they die and return
to their dust.' This is a reference to the death of animals,
which we have seen from Ecclesiastes 3. 19 to be identical with
the death of man.
Greek Words meaning 'To die'
In the New Testament we have two words meaning 'to die' in
the ordinary sense, apothanein and teleutan. Their meaning
overlaps as the second occurs once in the synoptic Gospels in a
parallel passage to the first. The first occurs about
seventy-seven times in the New Testament and the second about
eight times. There are six special senses in which we
occasionally find apothanein used, three of which are definitely
figurative. (1). Twice it is used of the second death (John 6.
50; Romans 8. 13). (2). By an easily intelligible figure it is
used of seed sown in the ground from which the corn ultimately
grows up, the growth being likened to resurrection and life (John
12. 24; I Corinthians 15. 36). We do not use the conception of
in this sense in ordinary speech in English. (3). It is used
figuratively twice by the apostle Paul in the sense of the
nearness of death or the hazard of death (1 Corinthians 15. 31; 2
Corinthians 6. 9). (4). The apostle uses it in the theological
and spiritual sense of the death of all believers in the sight of
God with Christ in His death on the cross (2 Corinthians 5. 14).
This is not a literal death but refers to the effects of Christ's
death upon the believer's position before God. We could translate
'then were all dead' as 'then are all counted to have died.' (5).
In Revelation 3. 2 we find the word in a completely figurative
but quite intelligible sense: (6). In Jude 12 we find
the word used of trees, a sense that is familiar m English
Hebrew and Greek Words for Death
An examination of the verbs used in Scripture for 'to die'
has shown us little if anything about the nature or meaning of
death except that death is identical in the case of men and of
animals. We learn rather more when we study the nouns meaning
'death.' The Hebrew word is maveth, obviously from the same root
as muth. It occurs in all round about a hundred and fifty
times and generally has the ordinary meaning of 'death.'
From this word maveth we learn three important things about
the nature of death.
(1). No praise of God is possible in the grave or in death
(Isaiah 38. 18). How different is this revealed truth from the
idea of the holy dead praising God in heaven! It is to be noted
that this verse forms part of King Hezekiah's song of praise to
the Lord on his recovery from what might have been a mortal
sickness. Some at least of the brethren who still cling to the
view of natural immortality reject this verse as being the
ignorant view of Hezekiah. But there is no ground or evidence
whatever for doing so. How can we possibly suppose it to be
uninspired (or, if we prefer, the inspired record of an
uninspired remark) when it stands immediately next to the
wonderful verse which precedes and which is one of the gems of
Scripture? Dare we follow the destructive critics in picking and
choosing in this manner?
(2). From the occurrence of maveth in Psalm 6. 5 we find
that there is no remembrance of the Lord in death. As long as
they are capable of remembering Him saints cannot forget Him.
This means that in death they cannot remember and the only reason
can be because they are unconscious.
(3). David again in Psalm 13. 3 speaks of the sleep of
death. This is in exact agreement with what the whole Bible tells
us about death, as we shall see and as we should expect.
Thus the result of the departure from a man of the life
principle or spirit and its return to God (Eccles. 12. 7) is a
state of sleep in which there is no remembrance and no
possibility of praising God.
In several places maveth is used in reference to the second
death. Here we will list the passages ....... Ezekiel 18. 23, 32;
33. 11; Psalm 7. 13; 56. 13; possibly Psalm 68. 20 Proverbs
8. 36; 11. 19; 12. 28; 13. 14; 14. 12, 27; 16. 25; 18. 21; 21. 6
; 24. 11.
Maveth used figuratively
There are five instances in which maveth is used in a
figurative sense........(I). Thus death (maveth) can be put for a
deadly plague (Exodus 10. 17).......(2). We may perhaps see in
Deuteronomy 30. 15, 19 an application of maveth to the nation of
Israel as a whole, just as we have seen in the case of
muth.....(3). In 2 Samuel 19. 28 'dead men' is in Hebrew 'men of
death' (maveth). It means 'worthy to die,' but the meaning of
maveth is not affected. (4). In 2 Kings 2. 21 'death' (maveth)
seems to be put for the bitterness of the waters unless it be
used quite literally for the result of drinking them. (5). In 2
Kings 4. 40 'death' is used for 'deadly poison'.......
Greek Thanatos in the New Testament
The word thanatos can be traced in the Greek language as far
back as the Homeric poems. Its meaning is quite simple, and is
identical with that of English 'death.' In the New Testament
except for three instances of a different Greek word with which
we need not be concerned (Matthew 2. 15; Acts 8. 1; 22. 20)
'death' is always the rendering of thanatos. The word occurs
between seventy and eighty times and bears generally the literal
The word is used about twenty-seven times either solely of
the second death or to include it with the death of which we now
have experience in a general reference to death as being the
result of sin. The passages are Mat.4. 16 and Luke 1. 79, both in
quotations from the OT; John 8. 51; James 1. 15; 5. 20; 1 John
5. 16 (three times), 17; Rom. 1. 32; 6. 16, 21; 7. 5,10,13
(twice); 8. 2; 2 Cor. 3. 7; 7. 10; Rev. 2. 11; 20.6,14; 21.
8. The word is also used in a figurative sense. (1). It is used
for spiritual death which is clearly spoken of in Ephesians 2. 1
and defined in 1 Corinthians 2. 14. This spiritual death is
insensitivity to spiritual things. Those thus dead have no
regenerate life and their death is spoken of from the point of
view of regenerate life......(2). The word is used in a
figurative sense in Romans 6. 4 for being dead to sin. The
apostle says that we are buried by baptism into death. This
death, as the previous verse shows, is really the literal death
of Christ. The word thamatos here refers to the effects of
Christ's death upon the believers. (3). The word is used in 2
Corinthians 11. 23 for nearness to death or risk of death.......
Before we leave our study of this word it is important that
we notice John 11. 11-13, where the Lord Jesus quite definitely
describes death as sleep. There are differences between sleep and
death, but the analogy must completely break down if death is not
a state of un-consciousness. This leads directly on to our next
Death as Sleep
Three words in the Old Testament meaning sleep and two Greek
words in the New are used to describe death. In Hebrew we have
shachav used in the frequently occurring expression, so-and-so
'slept with his fathers.' Shachav really means 'to lie down' but
in a quotation in Acts 13. 36 it is rendered by the Greek word
koimasthai, which means 'to sleep.' Thus the kings and others who
died are said to sleep with their fathers. If their spirits were
alive in another world, could this possibly be regularly said
without a hint that the real person was not sleeping at all?
Next we have the Hebrew word yashen. This occurs as a verb
in Jeremiah 51. 39, 57 and in Psalm 13. 3, a text to which we
have already called attention....and as an adjective in the well-
known verse Daniel 12. 2: 'Many of them that sleep in the dust of
the earth shall awake.' This is a reference to the resurrection
at the last great day and the prophet describes the condition of
the dead before their resurrection consistently with the rest of
Scripture. They are sleeping in the dust of the earth.
Lastly we have the Hebrew shenah. This is a noun and occurs
with yashen in Jeremiah 51. 39, 57. We also find it in Psalm 76.
5, 'the stout-hearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep.'
This sleep can clearly be nothing but death. The word occurs
again in Psalm 90. 5, 'thou carriest them away as with a flood;
they are as a sleep.' This is the sleep of death, the figure
being reinforced in the following verse by the figure of the
grass being cut down and withered.
The final occurrence of shenah is in the very important
passage Job 14. 10-15 with special reference to verse 12 We
cannot cavil at verses as being uninspired as they are the words
of Job, not of any of the three friends (42. 7). Here we read
that when man dies he wastes away, or according to the margin is
weakened or cut off. When spirit leaves him, 'where is he?' that
is, he is no longer in being. This is man's state in death. It
would be final were it not for the resurrection both of the just
and of the unjust, which makes it temporary and turns death into
a sleep. We continue to read in verse 11 following that man lies
in the grave without rising (as he does morning by morning in the
case of natural sleep). The dead do not awake and from sleep till
the end of the world. Job then asks in his to die and lie in the
grave. He asks if a man will live again death and he answers yes.
He waits in the grave all the time that God appoints till his
change comes. This is the change described in 1 Corn. 15. 51.
Then, he says, God will call and His sleeping servant will hear
His voice, answer and come forth in resurrection (John 5. 28).
Now is it reasonable, is it possible, that this detailed
description of man in death would be given us here if it only
concerned lower and unimportant part of him and if dying
introduced Job and every godly man immediately into the presence
of the Lord in heaven or paradise where he could be perfectly
satisfied without his body in eternal glory? If such is the case,
what is the purpose of the resurrection at all, at the very least
what is the purpose of the emphasis on it throughout the Bible?
No hint is given in this passage in Job or anywhere else in
Scripture that the dead are alive in an invisible world. It is a
matter of great thankfulness that most evangelicals who believe
that they are have been able to resist successfully the errors
that arise from such a belief, yet there is no doubt that it
makes easier the road to prayers for the dead, to spiritualism,
to Mariolatry and saint worship and to purgatory.
Death as Sleep in the New Testament
Death is described as sleep in the New Testament more
frequently than in the Old. The reason may be that resurrection,
which turns death into sleep, is more closely in view.
There are two Greek words meaning 'sleep' used in the New
Testament. The one that is usually employed for the sleep of
death is koimasthai. From it derives the Greek noun
koimeeteerion from which comes eventually our word cemetery, and
incidentally it is interesting that the root of koimasthai is
also the root of our word 'home.' So the home and the cemetery
are the same thing! Both mean sleeping-place.
Koimasthai is used in the New Testament fourteen times of
death. The references are: (1). Matthew 27. 52, 'Many bodies of
the saints which slept arose.' Attempts have been made to connect
the words 'which slept' with the bodies instead of with the
saints, but the original Greek absolutely forbids this. The word
is in the genitive case agreeing with 'saints,' not in the
nominative to agree with 'bodies.' In fact the original says
'bodies of the sleeping saints.' (2). John 11. 11, 'Our friend
Lazarus sleepeth.' These are the Lord's own words. (3). Acts 7.
60, 'When he had said this, he fell asleep.' If Stephen's
martyrdom had taken place today and been described in one of the
evangelical periodicals, these words would never have been
written. Instead we should have read, 'When he had said this, he
was called home,' or possibly, 'he entered the presence of his
Lord.' The expression 'called home,' which is a favourite
euphemism for death today, never occurs in the Bible. Is it not
better and easier and safer and happier to believe God's
Word exactly as it stands and thus to believe that Stephen 'fell
asleep'? (4). Acts 13. 36, 'For David, after he had served his
own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep.' This is a
quotation from 1 Kings 2. 10, where Hebrew shachav is used. It
confirms the apostle Peter's words in Acts 2. 34 that 'David is
not yet ascended into the heavens.'
(5). Peter 3. 4, 'Since the fathers fell asleep.' (6). 1
Corinthians 7. 39, 'the wife is bound by the law as long as her
husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to
be married to whom she will.' The word translated 'be dead' is
koimeethee, 'be asleep.' Thus sleep is here contrasted with life.
(7). 1 Corinthians 11. 30, 'many sleep.' The probable meaning of
sleep here is death. (8). 1 Corinthians 15. 6, 'but some are
fallen asleep.' Some of those to whom the Lord had appeared had
died. (9). 1 Corinthians 15. 18, 'then (that is, in that case)
they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished'...(10).
1 Corinthians 15. 20, 'but now is Christ risen from the dead, the
firstfruits of them that slept.' Thus Christ Himself slept during
His three days in the grave, as do the great majority of His
people. (A few will be alive at His coming.) (11). 1 Corinthians
15. 51, 'we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.'
Some believers will be alive at the Lord's coming, but all,
living and dead, will be changed in a moment (compare Job 14.
14). (12). I Thessalonians 4. 13, 'concerning them which are
asleep,' that is, about Christians who have died. (13). 1
Thessalonians 4. 14, 'so also them which sleep in Jesus will God
bring with him.' The more accurate meaning is that God on the
great day of resurrection will bring the sleeping saints from the
grave through Jesus (that is, as a result of the work of Jesus)
with Him (that is, with Jesus, just as He brought Jesus). (14).
1 Thessalonians 4. 15, 'we which are alive and remain unto the
coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.' To
prevent here means anticipate. Those who are asleep are called
the dead in the next verse.
Greek Katheudein with reference to Death
The second New Testament Greek word, the one more often used
for ordinary sleep, is katheudein. It is used for death certainly
four times and possibly five. It is used by the Lord of Jairus'
daughter in the three parallel passages in the Gospels, Matthew
9. 24; Mark 5. 39; and Luke 8. 52. In each case the Lord is
recorded as saying that she as not dead but asleep. She was
in fact quite dead. What He meant as that, since He was going in
a moment to raise her to life, her death, which would have been
permanent, was turned into a temporary sleep. This illustrates
one of the reasons why believers who have died referred to in the
New Testament as sleeping.
In Ephesians 5. 14 we find sleep and death as parallel
conceptions: 'awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the
dead.' It makes no difference that the passage does not refer to
Finally in 1 Thessalonians 5. 10 we read, 'Our Lord Jesus
Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we
should live together with him.' This probably refers to being
alive or dead at the time of His coming........
We have now examined in both languages the words 'to die'
and 'death.' These two words include among their forms the
participle or adjective meaning 'dead.' No occurrence of these
words gives any hint that death means anything but the simple
deprivation of life.
There is however a difficult Hebrew word, sometimes
translated 'dead,' which needs examination. This word is r phaim.
It occurs several times as a proper name or with the translation
'giants,' and refers to a race of the past, thought of as
extinct. It was this that probably led on to the meaning 'dead.'
The Rephaim have been often said to have been thought of as
shades ghosts rather in the Homeric sense. Not only does such an
idea never occur elsewhere in Scripture, but we have already
collected more than sufficient evidence to show that the
Scriptures consistently contradict and deny it. The idea may well
have arisen from the poetic figure in which the word occurs in
Isaiah 14. 9, a passage with which we shall deal when we come to
study the word sh'ol. It may be that some among ancient Israel
and Judah believed that the Rephaim were shades, but such a false
belief would never be connected with the Scripture of truth, at
least without a clear warning.
In Isaiah 14. 9 and 26. 14 the word refers to dead kings
or lords of the past. In Isaiah 26. 19, where the Rephaim appear
at the end of the verse (translated 'dead'), they appear to be in
contrast to the blessed dead. The reference is best taken to the
resurrection of the wicked. In Psalm 88. 10 we have 'Shall the
rephaim arise and praise thee?' Here the rephaim are parallel to
muth, also translated dead' in the first part of the verse. In
Proverbs 2. 18; 9. 18; and 21. 16 the word seems to be put for
the dead in general. Lastly in Job 26. 5, whatever be the meaning
of the verb, which is very difficult, the word connects with
sh'ol and destruction in verse 6. There is nothing in any of the
occurrences that obliges us to put the meaning 'shades' upon the
word, and it seems unreasonable to force it upon it in face of
the combined and consistent testimony of the rest of Scripture.
The Death of Sisera
The Hebrew verb shadad in the passive participle of the Kal
mood is once translated 'dead' in Judges 5. 27. The meaning of
the verb is 'spoil' or 'rob,' and it is occasionally translated
'destroy.' The meaning seems to be that Sisera was robbed of his
Nekros in the New Testament
The Greek word nekros meant originally a corpse and later
came to be used as an adjective meaning 'dead.' It is an original
word in the Greek language stemming from a root having the
general meaning of 'death,' which appears in the Slavonic and
Aryan languages and also in Latin. It is known in Greek
literature since the Homeric poems and is used in the plural
to mean 'the dead' just as we speak in English of the living and
the dead. In Homer the dead (hoi nekroi) are thought of as
existing in an underworld as ghosts, but such an idea never
occurs in the Bible.
The word nekros meaning 'dead' occurs over one hundred and
twenty times in the New Testament often in the phrase 'raised
(rise, etc.) from the dead.' The word is used figuratively of
the prodigal son in Luke 15. 24, 32, where Arndt & Gingrich's
lexicon explains it as either 'thought to be dead' or 'morally
dead.' It would be quite unsafe and unreasonable to conclude
from this figurative use that death is consistent in a literal
sense with some sort of life. The point of the figure lies in the
literal meaning of the word. The same is true of the figures in
Romans 6. 11; Eph. 2. 1, 5; Col. 2. 13; Mat. 8. 22; Luke 9.
60. We also find dead works (Hebrews 6.I; 9. 14), a dead church
(Revelation 3. 1), dead faith (James 2. 26), dead sin (Romans 7.
8) and the dead body of the believer as opposed to his living
spirit (Romans 8. 10). This last means that the believer's body
still has the old Adamic nature (but his spirit is regenerate and
born of God - his new spirit of course. None of these figurative
uses affects our argument. They reinforce the literal meaning of
the word as it occurs in well over a hundred further instances.
We may compare the verb nekro in Colossians 3. 5; Hebrews 11. 12
and Romans 4. 19 and the noun nekrosis in 2 Corinthians 4. 10,
where the reference, as Arndt & Gingrich again explain, is to
'the constant danger of death in which the apostle lives.' "
End of Quotes from Basil Atkinson M.A., PhD.
We shall continue in our next study from Atkinson's book with an
in-depth look at death as coupled with "the grave."
Compiled in July 2000 by Keith Hunt