DEAD, THE (οἱ νεκροί)
1. The reverence and regard due from the living to the dead, according to the ideas which the Jews shared with other nations, are clearly illustrated in the Gospels. All honour is paid to the corpse in preparation for burial: it is anointed with spices and unguents (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56, John 19:39
; cf. what Jesus says in Mark 14:8
), and wrapped in fitting cerements (Mark 15:46
etc.). Reverent burial is given, the funeral train following the body borne uncoffined upon a bier (Luke 7:11-13
). The omission of any mention of burial in the case of Lazarus in the parable (Luke 16:22
), as contrasted with the case of the rich man, who ‘had a funeral,’ bespeaks a poor abject. The dead are bewailed by kinsfolk (John 11:31
; John 11:33
), by sympathetic neighbours, and by hired mourners (Mark 5:38, Matthew 9:23
). Jesus in the noteworthy saying in Luke 9:60
(= Matthew 8:22
), ‘Let the dead bury their dead,’ overrides a chief charge on filial affection, the burial of a father, as He emphasizes the paramount claims of discipleship. Such observances are not only the expression of natural grief; they involve belief in the continued existence of the dead, as is also the case with other forms of duty to the dead such as are insisted on in the Talmud. e.g. their wishes are to be respected and fulfilled (Git. 14b), they are free from all obligation (Shab. 30a), it is unlawful to speak evil of them (Berakh. 19a)—cf. the familiar proverb, De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
2. The teaching of Jesus concerning the dead.—Whatever may be gathered from the words of Jesus touching the state of the dead is to be regarded in the light of the current Jewish beliefs of His day, to see how far He sanctions such beliefs, and in what respects He corrects and modifies them. The tenets of the Sadducees, denying the resurrection, future retribution, and indeed any continuance of personal being after death, constituted a sectarian opinion from the standpoint of later Judaism. The Sadducees, it is true, seemed to adhere to the older teaching of the OT, wherein for the most part nothing is allowed concerning the dead (rěphâ’ìm) but a thin, shadowy existence in Sheol. They were, however, influenced in this respect by Hellenism and their affectation of culture rather than by zeal for the earlier Jewish faith (Schürer, HJP
ii. ii. 38 f.). The common belief, illustrated in the later literature of Judaism, was virtually that of the Pharisees, who held that the soul is imperishable, that rewards and punishments follow this life under the earth (cf. Lat. inferi), that for the wicked there is an eternal imprisonment, but for the righteous a resurrection to eternal life (Josephus BJ ii. 8; Ant. xviii. 1). This resurrection is connected with the glory of the Messianic kingdom.
Jesus definitely repudiates the Sadducean view (Mark 12:24
; Mark 12:18-27
5), and endorses, as to its substance, that of the Pharisees. (For a different view, cf. E. White, Life in Christ, ch. 16). In His dealing with the Sadducees and their catch-question on this subject (1618397736_79 and parallels), He teaches that the dead are really alive and in a state of consciousness. So also in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19
ff.), with a sharp distinction between experiences of misery and bliss as entered upon by souls after death. This parable also favours the belief in the soul’s direct and immediate entrance upon this new conscious state, as do our Lord’s words in Luke 23:43
‘To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ We are not, however, to allow a literal interpretation of His language in this connexion to dominate our appreciation of what the Gospels afford as regards belief concerning the state of the dead. The expression ‘Abraham’s bosom,’ e.g., is of no dogmatic value to us, though suitable and significant to the men of our Lord’s day. Similarly with the other pictorial elements; they are only of the same order as the imagery with which other faiths have invested ideas concerning the hereafter. The matter of abiding importance here is the teaching that at death a judgment already takes effect, the portion of the soul in the after life being determined with direct reference to the life lived in the present world, with results that may be in startling contrast to the estimates of a man and his condition formed by his fellow-men here. This conception seems to find expression in a symbol found on early Christian tombs in Phrygia, viz. an open book or set of tabellae, which Ramsay explains as ‘indicating death and the judgment of God after death; the tablets are open to indicate that the process of judgment has begun’ (see art. in Expositor, March 1905, p. 223).
Such a representation of the condition of the dead in Hades is not, however, to be understood as excluding a remoter crisis in the soul’s history, such as is suggested by the prominent NT conception of ‘the judgment’ and ‘the day of judgment.’ As Weiss says, the retribution thus set forth as befalling a soul in Hades ‘does not exclude an ultimate decision as to its final fate’ (Theol. of NT, i. p. 156 note, English translation). ‘Abraham’s bosom’ or ‘Paradise,’ moreover, does not denote a final and ‘perfect consummation and bliss,’ in the eschatological views of the Jews in the time of Christ. The resurrection lies beyond. Jesus in His encounter with the Sadducees uses the language of His time, and speaks of the resurrection as a transition and crisis awaiting the dead (Mark 12:25, Matthew 22:30
). The wording of the Lukan account (20:35) is particularly noticeable—οἱ δὲ καταξιωθέντες τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν κ. τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν. There is an ‘age to come’ (rather than ‘world,’ see Dalman, Worte Jesu, English translation p. 153), which is to be attained by those that shall have been deemed worthy of it, an age evidently to be thought of as ushered in by the resurrection from among the dead. That age (= ‘the kingdom’ elsewhere), embodying the highest hopes of the Jews for the hereafter, answers to all the highest conceptions as to human destiny found amongst people of other faiths. And evideutly it is not immediately attained at death, according to the language of Jesus. If, then, an accumulation of weighty considerations seems to some to support the doctrine of an intermediate state for those who have passed from this life—a doctrine already familiar to the Jews in our Lord’s time (see Salmond, Chr. Doet. of Immortality, p. 345 f.)—the teaching of the Gospels offers no definite opposition. A state, i.e., not simply of vague gloom or attenuated being, but of vivid consciousness; for the blessed dead ‘a condition in fellowship with God, containing in itself the germ of an everlasting heavenly life towards which it tends’ (Wendt, Lehre Jesu, English translation i. p. 223), with progress and growth from more to more; and in the case of others, a state affording room for the hope that there a solution is to be found for a multitude of otherwise inscrutable life problems in regard to man’s salvation. Such comfortable words as John 14:2-3
; John 17:24
do not conflict with this conception as regards the state of the blessed dead, and they are to be thought of as being ‘with Christ’ in a manner which is ‘very far better’ (Philippians 1:23
) than what may be known in the present life.
Salmond (op. cit. ch. 5), arguing on the whole against the doctrine of an intermediate state, relies mainly on the fact that no positive doctrine of this kind is found in Christ’s words, and observes that towards this subject ‘His attitude is one of significant reserve’; but this argumentum e silentio of itself tells just as much one way as the other. Those who maintain that death brings irrevocable doom to all and admits immediately to full and final destiny, are hard pressed by manifold difficulties. What expedients they are driven to in order to mitigate these are illustrated, e.g., in Randles’ After Death. The author eagerly urges how much is possible in the way of repentance and pardon even in articulo mortis. ‘After all intercourse between the dying and their friends has ceased, a saving work of God proceeds’; ‘repentance and faith, pardon and sanctification, may proceed with speed and power such as were never evinced in previous years’ (p. 250 f.). Greatly to the credit of his heart, in anxiously maintaining his position he also advances considerations which lead, he thinks, to the conclusion that ‘the proportion of the finally lost to the saved will be about as the proportion of the criminal part of England’s population to all the rest’ (p. 244 f.)! The consideration of the solemn subject of final destiny lies beyond the scope of this article.
3. Christ’s figurative use of the term ‘dead.’—The use of the term as descriptive of a certain spiritual condition, unperceiving, unresponsive, is illustrated in the saying of Luke 9:60,
quoted above. In Luke 15:24
it occurs as tantamount to ‘lost.’ The dead spoken of in John 5:21-26,
to whom the Son gives eternal life, are so described in virtue of their condition prior to their believing on Him.
Literature.—Artt. ‘Eschatology’ and ‘Resurrection’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; ‘Eschatology’ and ‘Dead’ in Encyc. Bibl.; ‘Duty to the Dead’ in Jewish Encyc.; Schürer, HJP
(as quoted); Weiss, Bib. Theol. of NT, English translation in the relative §§; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, English translation in the relative §§; Stevens, Theol. of NT, p. 166; Salmond, Christian Doctrine of Immortality; Drummond, The Jewish Messiah; Stanton, The Jewish and the Christian Messiah; Luckock, After Death; Randles, After Death; Beet, Last Things; White, Life in Christ.
J. S. Clemens.