While I do not foresee myself sitting down with Thom Stark over a cup of coffee anytime soon this does not mean I cannot be thankful for his brash disregard for most of my attempts to present a hermeneutical approach to Ecclesiastes from the perspective of one who affirms inerrancy. As we went back and forth over whether or not Ecclesiastes 9.2-6 fits into the inerrancy paradigm it became painfully obvious that I have a knack for presenting fringe arguments that are more captivating than my primary argument which in turn detracts from what I really wanted to say. I have decided that I would simplify my approach to Ecclesiastes here in order to avoid adding to the confusion that has occurred in the comments section of James McGrath’s blog.
Why have I argued that Ecclesiastes 9.2-6–which blatantly denies the concept of resurrection–ought to be seen as an important canonical voice that presents truth that is not in contradiction with the rest of Scripture. For better or worse here are my three proposals:
(1) The content of Ecclesiastes is written “under the sun”. It is short-sighted focusing on the fact that this life comes to an end for the good and the bad. No one escapes death; no one lives life over. Once you are dead there is no coming back for another round.
(2) Nevertheless, the redactor/commentator of Ecclesiastes in 12.13-14 says that there may be more to this than what the Preacher has said. Therefore, the duty of humans is to “fear God and keep his commandments”. While this is a blind assertion with no promise of resurrection and/or eternal life it does assume something when it ends with “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” In context this does not seem to be a reference to this life though we must admit he does not expand any further.
(3) Therefore, it is true that death is the end all. But this does not contradict later teachings regarding resurrection. Instead, it assumes no knowledge of such a thing. When we speak of being resurrected we do not speak of coming back to this life. We speak of new life. Resurrection does not give you a second chance in the sense that the author of Ecclesiastes is critiquing. In fact, this life determines the nature of your resurrected existence.
So the author of Ecclesiastes is right: once dead, you are dead, there is no “coming back”. Resurrection is still true and compatible since we do not “come back” to this life but we are renewed to a new one.
I’m no innerantist but I see no problems with your reading of the text. Even if Ecclesiastes is at odds with later Christian doctrine concerning the afterlife I don’t think that makes it errant; at best it would be evidence of doctrinal development. That said, your focus on the “under the sun” is key, since that’s the context in which to read his words. I used to go back and forth with Jehovah’s Witnesses about this when we’d debate “soul sleep.”
I thought I had a logical approach as well but it kept getting batted back in my face as “exegetical gymnastics”. Oh well.
That Stark character is a douche. Don’t worry too much about it.
I was beginning to get that impression which is why I bailed on the conversation.
I’m surprised you lasted as long as you did. Once I see his face next to a comment I know not to read it. Best to just ignore those types.
I agree. I had to learn the hard way.
We all do. I followed some comments he made about Robert Bowman and Ed Komoszewski’s book Putting Jesus in His Place on McGrath’s blog a couple weeks back and I knew then that he didn’t seem to be someone worth engaging. He seems to have a very high opinion of himself and his arguments but on that particular topic he seemed rather oblivious.
Some friends and I are currently studying Ecclesiastes. We haven’t made it to chapter nine yet, but I agree with the reasons you stated above – any isolated verse must be considered in the context of the entire work. Solomon constantly demands that his readers to let go of all things “under the sun”. We certainly can’t find satisfaction in earthly things; we must go to only thing left, something outside of the world’s constraints and injustices. We must go to our Creator-God. Only He can satisfy our hearts.
This is an interesting debate. I recently posted some of my thoughts on my new blog, themindroom.blogspot.com. Feel free to join in.
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