Where are the Dead –
According to the Bible?
Now, leaving the account about Adam and Eve where we have learned so much about death already, what is the next mention of “death”?
We find it, tragically, right away in Genesis 4:8 reads, ‘Cain said to his brother Abel . . . “(Come, let us go out into the field)” . . . and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.’ (JPS) Later, God mention’s Abel’s ‘blood15 crying out to Him from the ground.’ (Genesis 4:10) Now God knew where Abel was and surely if Abel were still alive God would not need to say that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for He could report actually what Abel thought and said from a spirit existence. Is it fair to suggest that the crying blood of Abel is a metaphor? In this same context death is alluded to in a warning to anyone who might think of seeking revenge and killing Cain. (Genesis 4:15)
|15||ABEL’S BLOOD. This verse is alluded to be Jesus at Matthew 23:35 (Luke 11:51) and the writer of Hebrews at Hebrews 11:4 and Hebrews 12:24.|
As mankind grows upon the earth “death” is mentioned more often. Progressively certain Ancients died and this is recorded without any commentary at Genesis 5:5 (Adam), Genesis 5:8 (Seth), Genesis 5:11 (Enosh), Genesis 5:14 (Kenan), Genesis 5:17 (Mahalel), Genesis 5:20 (Jared), Genesis 5:27 (Methuselah), Genesis 5:31 (Lamech). This brings us up to the Flood of Noah’s day when ‘all in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was on dry land, died.’ (Genesis 7:22) Here is an allusion back to Genesis 2:7 and the ‘breath of life.’ We note, in harmony with God’s judgment upon Adam, he did die. In all of this there is no explanation from God about any after-life. May we assume that mankind would have remembered how Adam, their ancestral father, ‘came to be from the dust and returned to the dust again’? (Genesis 3:19) In almost two millennia the only commentary in existence dealing with death was Genesis 3:19. Does it seem strange to you that if God had something else in mind as an after-life He does not go beyond Genesis 3:19?
However, someone will no doubt point out a unique and different case. They will ask us to turn to Genesis 5:11-24 and read, ‘Enoch walked with God 300 years; and he begot sons and daughters. All the days of Enoch came to be 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.’ (JPS) This verse reads differently in some translations. The Jewish Greek Septuagint has it, ‘And Enoch . . . was not found, because God had transferred him.’ (LXX) Now, this opens up a serious degree of speculation on what the Greek version means. Many have interpreted this to indicate Enoch went either to heaven or was “transferred” to some other place. What is the case?
First, we do not think it unreasonable to expect that God would explain this since everything that has gone before indicates mankind dies just like Adam and returns to the dust. (Genesis 3:19; Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 3:20) If, in fact, Enoch was the first to go to heaven it would seem this needs some explanation.
How can we solve this problem? We can do this and see what the Bible says by two methods: a) what do other inspired persons say or write on this matter; and, b) examine any direct quote or explanation. Happily, we have both in the Bible. On the first matter, we need go no further than Jesus Christ the Nazarene himself, for he plainly states, ‘No one has ascended into the heavens.’ (John 3:13) Who could be in a better position to know the truth about any after-life than Christ himself? He makes no exceptions to his statement. Nor does he qualify this fact in any way.
Saint Peter himself makes a similar statement when speaking about an ancient patriarch and king of Israel considerably more important than Enoch, when he says: ‘Men, brothers, it is permissible to state outspokenly to you about the patriarch David, that having deceased he was buried and his tomb is with us to this day… For David did not ascend into the heavens.’ (Acts 2:29, 34) Is it fair to say that Peter did not believe the man beloved of God, David, was still alive in heaven? Is it correct to say that Jesus and Peter together prove that no one had gone to heaven by their day?
Paul also answers our question about Enoch when he discusses the actual order of the resurrection. We will return in detail to this later, but for now, note: ‘For since death is because of a man, also by a man a resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive. But each person in their own order: Christ a firstfruits, thereafter those of the Christ in his Presence;16 next, The End.’ (1 Corinthians 15:21-24 NCMM) Paul seems to say that the only person resurrected at his own time is Jesus Christ and the rest must wait for two events: a) the Christians for the Arrival or Return of Christ, which still has not yet occurred; and, all others, including Enoch, until what Paul calls “The End.”
|16||PRESENCE. This word in Greek is parousia and means “arrival” or “presence” in a royal visit. The phrase en te parousia autou may be rendered “at his Arrival.”|
But, there is another allusion to Enoch and what happened to him. It is found at Hebrews 11:5, ‘By faith Enoch was transferred so as not to see death and he was not being found because The God transferred him, for before his transference we had the testimony hat he pleased The God well.’ [See more details in Nazarene Commentary© on Hebrews.] Here the writer of Hebrews prefers the Jewish Greek Septuagint (LXX) and borrows from the word metetheken. Some render this “translated” or “translation.” Much has been made of this as proof that Enoch went to heaven. For example, note the extremes The Living Bible (LB) goes to: ‘Enoch trusted God too, and that is why God took him away to heaven without dying; suddenly he was gone because God took him.’ Other translations take this kind of liberties also. (PME, NJB) However, in all fairness, neither Genesis nor Hebrews actually says that, does it?
If Enoch and others did not “die” at “death” but continued living why would Paul call such a thing a sacred “mystery” at 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 as if he was revealing something for the first time, when, in fact, everybody has continued living after death?
If we adhere to the Masoretic text which limits this whole phrase to ‘Then (Enoch) was no more, for God took him’ then what is it we can know? Enoch was no more! Period. If we accept the LXX then God transferred Enoch but without indicating where. Since the writer of Hebrews has opted for the LXX rendering we can do no more. How, then, can we understand the intent of this writer?
Well, we can check his overall conclusion expressed later in Hebrews. For example, in Hebrews 11:13 he seems to summarize his viewpoint on all of these Ancients, including (are we being fair?) Enoch: ‘According to their faith all of these (including Enoch) died not having received the promises, but they saw them from afar.’ The verses concluding this whole thought, verse 39 and 40, seem to back up the view that Enoch did not receive the promise when it states: ‘And all these, though having evidence through their faith, did not receive the Promise, for The God had foreseen something better for us (Christian Saints) so that they might not be perfected apart (or, before) us.’ These verses would appear to lump Enoch in with the other patriarchs and prove that Enoch did not receive any fulfillment of God’s promises. He could not have gone to heaven then. This view would be consistent with the Nazarene’s straightforward teaching that ‘no one has ascended to heaven’ and Peter’s words about David having ‘not ascended to heaven.’
It is our view that the writer of Genesis (LXX) and Hebrews had something else in mind when use the word metetethe or “transferred.” What? If we read Jude 14 and 15 correctly Enoch had a prophetic vision and this may have been what Hebrews calls ‘testimony from God that the man had pleased Him well.’ (Hebrews 11:5) It may also be the case that if ‘Enoch could not be found’ someone must have been looking for him. Could God have ‘taken’ or ‘transferred’ Enoch during his vision of the coming judgment, so that this godly man died in his trance and thus ‘did not see (experience) death’ though he did die as Hebrews 11:13 ('These all died'17) and 39 indicate.
|17||ALL DIED. Compare also Hebrews 9:27 which does not seem to allow Enoch as an exception.|
We grant there are problems here and we respect another’s right of interpretation, but when push comes to shove, we opt for the clear statement of the Nazarene as the final arbitrator – ‘No one has ascended to heaven’ – over any stylized interpretation of what happened to Enoch. It simply is not enough to change the bias for the simple idea that Enoch did die, and, like Moses, his body “transferred” to another location where it could not be found, such as the case with Elijah.18 (Jude 9; 2 Kings 2:1, 11; 2 Chronicles 21:12)
|18||ELIJAH: Elijah writes a letter two years after his “rapture.”|
Now, back to Genesis and its ongoing record of “death.” According to the ongoing Genesis account other persons died, like Methuselah and Lamech. However, the greatest loss of life by death occurs with regard to the great flood of Noah’s day. Noah’s log recounts: ‘So all flesh that was moving upon the earth expired, among the flying creatures and among the domestic animals and among the wild beasts and among all the swarms that were swarming upon the earth, and all mankind. Everything in which the breath of the force of life was active in its nostrils, namely, all that were on the dry ground, died.’ (Genesis 7:21, 22)
This account is mentioned by Jesus and some of his inspired disciples. The Nazarene states: ‘they took no note until the Cataclysm19 came and swept them all away.’ (Matthew 24:39)
|19||CATACLYSM. The Greek word kataklysmos means “wash down much” or deluge, flood.|
This being “swept away” means “destroyed” according to Jesus elsewhere: ‘The Cataclysm arrived and destroyed all of them.’ (Luke 17:29) Nowhere does Jesus indicate the wicked went to hell or heaven. They were destroyed as “living souls.” (Genesis 2:7; 1 Peter 3:20) In contrast to these victims faithful Noah experienced something different. Paul writes, ‘(Noah) constructed an ark for the salvation of his household.’ (Hebrews 11:7)
That it was “souls” who died in the Flood is born out by what Yahweh says to Noah afterward: ‘And I shall certainly remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living soul (nephesh שפנ / psyche ψυχη) among all flesh; and no more will the waters become a deluge to bring all flesh to ruin. And the rainbow must occur in the cloud, and I shall certainly see it to remember the covenant to time indefinite between God and every living soul (nephesh שפנ / psyche ψυχη) among all flesh that is upon the earth." (Genesis 9:15, 16 NWT)
Peter refers to the Flood in both of his letters, evidently alluding to Genesis 6:1 and the account about the spirit “sons of God” who came to earth and took beautiful women as their wives. These “spirits” escaped the Flood only to be condemned to a condition Peter calls Tartarus. (1 Peter 3:19, 20; 2 Peter 2:4) It is the godless, pagan philosopher Plato who writes that Tartarus is that place in Hades where the wicked are cast and terribly tortured. (DNTT Vol 3, page 260) However, The Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol 2, page 682) gives what must be Peter’s understanding: “…the imprisonment in Tartarus of the rebel angels until the last judgment.” Job 41:24 (also Job 40:20 LXX) uses tartaron metaphorically with regard to the “behemoth.” One Bible commentary notes the use of Tartarus in the Homer: “In Homer's Iliad this mythological Tartarus is represented as an underground prison 'as far below Hades as earth is below heaven.' In it were imprisoned the lesser gods, Cronus and the other Titan spirits.” (Insight, Vol 2, page 1068) Peter and Homer agree in that Tartarus is a metamorphical condition for rebellious spirits or gods.
So, Peter does not write that human souls went into Tartarus. What happened to those millions who were “swept away” in the Flood? Peter says, ‘…that world was destroyed by a watery cataclysm.’ (2 Peter 3.6) He does not describe these hapless “souls” as still living elsewhere. It was only the “eight souls” who “were saved through the water.” (1 Peter 3:20)
The disciple Jude also refers to the Flood and the outcome for those “sons of God” (Genesis 6:1) who rebelled: ‘And, the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, [The God] has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day.’ (Jude 6 RSV)
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved