The spirit in man | The spirit shall return to God who gave it

The spirit in manQohelet  קֹהֶלֶת , the Hebrew name the author of Ecclesiastes gives himself, wrote that life was meaningless, that so much that goes on in the world just doesn’t make sense, and that our existence seems so fleeting as to make us wonder why we even bother. Depressing stuff! And yet, plenty of Christians have managed to find in the book of Ecclesiastes the promise of heaven when our bodies die. In chapter 12 verse 7 we find these words:

“The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

Is this meant to offer us relief from the grim picture of life that the author offers? Is this the silver lining that makes it all worthwhile? Does it show us that in spite of the brevity of life in this world, we will escape it through death to live on in the next? There have certainly been those who thought so, but I am not one of them.

 Traditional mishandling of Ecclesiastes

Beloved Baptist commentator John Gill managed to get thoroughly tangled up in Ecclesiastes 12:7, and it’s not hard to see why. Before even mentioning the spirit he appeared to be on a mission to deny the view that human beings perish in death, while at the same time wanting to retain the essential portrait found in this book of human beings as frail and temporary:

The body, which is made of dust, and is no other in its present state than dust refined and enlivened; and when the above things take place, mentioned in (Ecclesiastes 12:6) , or at death, it returns to its original earth; it becomes immediately a clod of earth, a lifeless lump of clay, and is then buried in the earth, where it rots, corrupts, and turns into it; which shows the frailty of man, and may serve to humble his pride, as well as proves that death is not an annihilation even of the body; see (Genesis 3:19) (Job 1:21) ;1

Of course, if by “annihilation” we mean the metaphysical elimination of every smallest constituent part that was a part of something, so that the total amount of stuff in all of existence decreases, then Gill is correct. But that would be a fairly hollow victory over an imaginary opponent. Those who claim that human beings truly die when the body dies (the sorts of people against whom this comment was directed) do not speak of annihilation in this sense – if they speak of it at all. Becoming “lifeless” and turning back into earth is more than enough to fit the bill of what someone probably means when they say that a person does not survive their death. The comment betrays an effort to pick a fight. This is a case of someone needing to prompt Mr Gill: “Easy there, tiger, just tell us what the text is saying and stop looking for targets.”

With this course set, Gill presses on:

and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it; from whom it is, by whom it is created, who puts it into the bodies of men, as a deposit urn they are entrusted with, and are accountable for, and should be concerned for the safety and salvation of it; this was originally breathed into man at his first creation, and is now formed within him by the Lord; hence he is called the God of the spirits of all flesh; see (Genesis 2:4) (Zechariah 12:1) (Numbers 16:22). Now at death the soul, or spirit of man, returns to God; which if understood of the souls of men in general, it means that at death they return to God the Judge of all, who passes sentence on them, and orders those that are good to the mansions of bliss and happiness, and those that are evil to hell and destruction.

Gill adds that “this shows that the soul is immortal, and dies not with the body, nor sleeps in the grave with it, but is immediately with God.”

One moment Gill is quite correctly noting that death highlights the “frailty of man,” and with the next stroke of a pen he leaves us wondering exactly how death  highlights the frailty of man, given that they return to the judge of all and, if they are good, they enter the mansions of bliss and happiness. Where is the frailty in being immortal? To make things more difficult for himself, he drags in reference to the “soul” (although the writer of Ecclesiastes did not), making it identical with the spirit that departs, is judged, and moves on to bliss or hell. As an aside, although it is promising to see Gill using the biblical language of hell as “destruction,” don’t get your hopes up. When commenting elsewhere on Matthew 10:28, he explains the meaning of God’s ability to “destroy body and soul in hell” like this: “He is able to “destroy”, that is, to torment and punish both body and soul “in hell”, in everlasting burnings.” It is truly easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some people to allow the Scripture to speak!

As a reader of the King James Bible (living his life mostly in the 18th Century), it would have been easy for him to compare Genesis 2:7, which he refers to in noting that God breathed the spirit into man, with Ecclesiastes 12:7, and note that he was mistaken about the soul. After all, Gill thought the soul was the spirit that was breathed into that first man. Genesis 2:7, however, says that God breathed the breath of life into Adam, and then Adam became a living soul.

In the early 19th century Adam Clarke took a similar line of thought on Ecclesiastes 12:7:

Putrefaction and solution take place; the whole mass becomes decomposed, and in process of time is reduced to dust, from which it was originally made; while the spirit, haruach, that spirit, which God at first breathed into the nostrils of man, when he in consequence became a Living Soul, an intelligent, rational, discoursing animal, returns to God who gave it. Here the wise man makes a most evident distinction between the body and the soul: they are not the same; they are not both matter. The body, which is matter, returns to dust, its original; but the spirit, which is immaterial, returns to God.2

Like Gill, Clarke knew where the first reference to the spirit of man was found – in the creation of Adam when God breathed life into him. He even points out that when the spirit was breathed into Adam, he “became a living soul.” Well said! Yet, like Gill, Clarke then immediately presses on to equate the distinction between body and spirit with the distinction between body and soul.

Albert Barnes similarly claimed:

The spirit – i. e., The spirit separated unto God from the body at death. No more is said here of its future destiny. To return to God, who is the fountain Psalm 36:9 of Life, certainly means to continue to live.3

Holes in the traditional interpretation

From pulpits to popular books, this way of reading Ecclesiastes 12:7 is still fairly widespread today: When the body dies, the body goes back to the dust, but the conscious, undying soul returns to God and moves on to heaven, hell, or something else. But the difficulties in reading Ecclesiastes this way are considerable, and they all have to do with the appearance of the word “return,” שׁוּב in Hebrew, meaning to turn back.

Firstly, those who say that “spirit” here refers to the undying soul, the centre of human consciousness, surely do not believe that this is a “return.” Certainly, they might think that the dust, the physical matter that makes up the body, existed prior to the creation of Adam. The physical materials that make up our own bodies have been around as long as the universe in one form or another. None of us have a problem admitting that. When we die, our bodies go back to where they were before – the dust of the earth. But what about my conscious soul, in the view of these commentators? Where was it before I existed, where it will return at death? And surely if it existed – I existed! We can sensibly talk about it returning to God only if it was there before I existed. But was I with God before my body existed? Not that I can recall, and as far as I know the above commentators do not affirm the pre-existence of the soul, as did Plato, for example, who believed that his soul had been around long before his body was formed. Surely what our commentators must mean is not really that the soul goes back to where it once lived, but rather that God created us and so is the one who gave us life. It makes little sense, then, for Barnes to say that to surrender this back to God means “continue to live.” One would think just the opposite is the case.

Secondly, it is impossible not to see that the writer is drawing on Genesis 2:7, which shows us exactly why the word “return” is used. The commentators I’ve quoted here all see the reference to the account of the creation of Adam, but the fact that the writer is drawing on that account seems to make no difference to their commentary. In Genesis 2:7 God takes dust, forms a man and breathes into him the breath of life (also called “spirit” in various places in our English Bibles), and the man comes to life – becomes a living creature (or “soul” in our older Bible versions). In Ecclesiastes 12:7 things go back to a former state. The dust of Genesis 2:7 returns to the earth, just “as it was,” as Ecclesiastes stresses. The breath of life of Genesis 2:7 goes back to God, who breathed it out. It is as though Genesis 2:7 had never happened. Reading these two texts side by side makes it obvious that the writer of Ecclesiastes is describing the undoing of Genesis 2:7. Man was made in creation and is unmade in death. This is not a celebration of survival. It is dismal. It is compared to a cord that severed, a shattered pitcher, its contents completely lost, or a broken wheel at the well (12:6). Something is fundamentally wrong with that way that this passage has been treated if it ends up giving hope.

Taking a fresh look

Commentaries are changing, and certainly for the better. The strongly partisan taste that the previous treatments of Ecclesiastes left in the mouth is fading. Evangelical Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman’s analysis of Ecclesiastes 12:7 is refreshing by contrast to what we saw earlier for its perceptiveness:

In conclusion to his meditation on death, Qohelet makes allusion to Genesis 2:7 and 3:19, particularly the former. God created Adam, the forefather of all human beings, by forming his body from the dust of the ground and endowing it with his spirit. Genesis 3:19, in the context of the judgment that is the result of the fall, as the return of the body to the dust to [sic] the ground. Thus, what Qohelet describes is a reversal of creation, the dissolution of human creation. This is true as well of the last part of the verse, which states that the spirit returns to God who gave it. This is not an optimistic allusion to some sort of consciousness after death, but simply a return to a prelife situation. God temporarily united body and spirit, and now the process is undone. We have in this verse no affirmation of immortality. According to Qohelet, death is the end.4

James Crenshaw likewise draws out the wholly negative picture of death in this text:

There is nothing comforting in Quohelet’s acknowledgement that life comes from God, who breathed into the human nostrils and now sucks the breath back out.5

Just one more example: Peter Enns offers yet another gloomy take:

We return to dust. That is all. That is where we came from and that is where we are going. It should be clear by this point that unlike the use of this verse at funerals, Qohelet is not submitting himself to the sovereign will of a good God who reminds us of our brief time on this earth. Rather, Qohelet remains here, as he has throughout the book, in a state of vexation and agitation over what God has done. Breath returns to God who gave it in the first place.6

Looking frankly at the text, its use of earlier material, its logical implications and the overriding context of despair, the meaning that Christian biblical scholars are now identifying seems obvious. The evidence, of course, has always been sitting under the reader’s nose, but for many there was simply no will to find it. We can only be appreciative of this overall shift from a strongly polemical use of texts of Scripture to find ammunition against the view one wishes to attack, and towards a much more honest grappling with the biblical material, allowing the authors to say what they were trying to say, regardless of what we might wish to hear. It is precisely this encouraging sea change that has prompted many Christians to look again at the wider picture of human nature and destiny in Scripture, and for that we can be very thankful indeed. It‘s a change that can’t come soon enough.

  1.  John Gill, Exposition of the Bible. []
  2.  Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible []
  3.  Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament []
  4.  Tremper Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 273. []
  5. Ecclesiastes, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia, Westminster John Knox, 1987), 189. []
  6. Peter Enns, Ecclesiastes, Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 109-110. []

About Dr. Glenn Andrew Peoples

Dr. Glenn Peoples runs Right Reason, a popular blog featuring the Say Hello to my Little Friend podcast on theology, philosophy and social issues. You can also find him at Rethinking Hell


  1. Andrew Thomson says:

    Thanks Glenn, well thought out, logical piece. Andrew

  2. Alan Corrie says:

    Glenn, great article on “the spirit IN man”. Question: have you ever evaluated the “minority CI view” on this subject (see below) ? ……..

    James 2:26 (from the Greek) can also be translated “the body without BREATH is dead” [some might say that “the body without wind** is dead”, is a 3rd possible translation …. but “indigestion” is obviously not being discussed here by James, is it !!??].
    ** pneuma (Gk) & ruach (Heb) can both mean breath, spirit OR wind.
    The reason (context) why “spirit” is the preferred translation here, is perhaps less obvious, than it is in Genesis 1:2; 1 Corinthians 2:11,12 & Acts 7:59, so possibly a better option in James 2:26 would have been “spirit/breath”. Both pneuma & ruach carry this dual meaning of breath/spirit, because, when God breathed air into Adam’s nostrils/lungs (Gen 2:7), He (at the same time) gave Adam his “human spirit”. This fact only became UNdeniably clear, however, in NT times i.e. AD: scripture being a progressive revelation.
    Man IS a “soul” i.e. a living personality, because he has within him BOTH breath AND the “human spirit”, which returns to God at death …… in an INERT i.e. UNconscious state (at the same time he breathes out his last breath). “Soul” = PERSON i.e. body + spirit. Consequently, we conditionalists should perhaps argue for the description “spirit sleep”, as opposed to “soul sleep” !! Scripture never mentions “immortal” souls: only living, sinning or dead souls i.e. persons !!
    Man is neither a superior animal nor an immortal being, but he does possess a spiritual component (the “spirit in man”), within his physical body. At death, this “human spirit” returns to God, in an INERT i.e. UNconscious state ….. awaiting (asleep) the promised future resurrection.
    A good case, Glenn, can be made for the “human spirit in man” continuing to exist (after death), in an INERT i.e. UNconscious, state, Luke 23:46 c.f. Mat 27:50; Acts 7:59 (the “minority” view of Conditional Immortality): “spirit sleep” (if you like). This “spirit in man” would retain (after death) a record of the human personality; memory; character & probably DNA (c.f. a computer’s hard drive).
    This understanding helps to explain the mechanism God will probably use to re-create i.e resurrect, all mankind (a universal, substitutionary-ransom is taught in 1 Timothy 2:6, by the way ….. & many other NT passages. This, however, is universal, physical-resurrection for judgment/opportunity: not universalism) ……. providing inert (but existing) human “spirits”, with new, resurrected, physical bodies (God’s elect, only, are resurrected, straight away, with immortal bodies) !!! A good analogy/comparison of these future resurrections happened to me ~3 years ago. My previous computer finally “gave up the ghost”, at that time, along with a puff of smoke. So, I gave it to a friend of mine, who runs a 1-man computer business, & he was able to copy all my files stored as short-cuts on my inert (dead) desktop, onto a CD-ROM …. for future use, in my new computer.
    Spirit Sleep OR Soul (i.e. personality) Sleep (both are accurate):-
    The “breath” (neshamah, Genesis 2:7; 7:22; Isaiah 42:5; Job 32:8) that God breathed into Adam, in order to make him a “living soul”, is often the English translation for that other Hebrew word for “spirit”: ruach. Unsurprisingly so, because there are, in fact, 2 “spirits” in man (3 in the elected man, who is gifted, in addition, with God’s “enabling”, see 1 Cor 2:11,12, holy spirit): 1. man’s breath, & 2. the spirit in man (see 1 Cor 2:11 c.f. Num 27:16, eloche ha-ruchot ; Isaiah 42:5 & Heb 12:23).
    Spirit in Man:-
    Israel today (with individual exceptions, of course) is “barren”, dried up/parched, xeraino (lacking God’s holy spirit gift), as in Matthew 21:19,20 (“withered away” (KJV) is a poor translation: “no fruit from you, until the coming Age, eis ton aiona”) c.f. John 15:6; James 1:11 & 1 Peter 1:24,25: “human life is like grass …. the grass dries up; the flower falls out, but the word of the Lord remains until the coming Age, eis ton aiona [all of us have either seen or owned, fruit trees which (some years) bear no fruit at all, either because the bees haven’t pollinated them that year …. unless you have those modern male/female, all-in-one, grafted trees (or the tree has been heavily pruned the previous year) !!!].
    So, Israel (as a nation), is spiritually-dried up & unproductive today (requiring God’s future, holy spirit-pollination), but it still exists, rooted in Abraham, with green leaves aplenty. This is similar to the “spirit in man” (1 Cor 2:11), which (after death) still exists, but in an INERT, totally UNconscious, sleep-state [human spirit + body = a living soul/person(ality); human spirit – body = a dead soul/person(ality)].
    Although scripture talks about the “natural man” & the “spiritual man” in 1 Cor 2:14,15, & the “natural body” & the “spiritual (holy spirit) body” in 1 Cor 15:44,46 ……. there is, however (according to scripture e.g. 1 Cor 2:11), also a “spiritual component”, even within the natural man/natural body, from birth, which, of course, differs from God’s added “holy spirit”: added during one’s lifetime, either in this present, evil Age or in 1 of the several Ages to come (a timing-decision made solely by the Sovereign, creator God …. by election) !!
    Verse 11 of 1 Cor 2 (c.f. Job 32:8), clearly explains that there is a “human spirit” in (en auto) this “natural man”** i.e. all men & women, which we are told returns to God at death.*** [the holy spirit of God enters/enlightens, 2 Cor 4:6, individuals, only when God decides to remove their natural human blindness i.e. when (& only when) God decides to do so ……. see James 1:18,21; Rom 9:15-24; 11:32 & to marturion kairois idiois in 1 Timothy 2:6 in Prof. Wuest’s translation: many Arminians believe that this happens after repentance, but scripture teaches that true repentance follows God’s holy spirit-illumination, see Romans 5:8; Eph 2:5 …. & is itself a gift from God, along with faith, Acts 2:39; 5:31; 11:18; 13:48.
    ** 2 Cor 4:7-11 also describes man in terms of “earthenware vessels” & “mortal flesh”.

    *** Spirit in Man/majority & minority C.I. views
    Within the ranks of christian believers in Conditional Immortality (CI) [for example, Warren Prestidge & others at ] , the vast majority believe that God resurrects/re-creates man (not, as some used to teach, by re-assembling all the constituent atoms/body parts ……. yuch !!), but from His memory (because man is composed of body + breath, they say, which all returns to dust, Genesis 3:19, at death i.e. nothing survives death !!).
    I believe, however, that the more likely scenario is that man’s “spirit” returns to God at death, & on/within that spirit (like a computer hard drive) there exists a record of the individual details about the person that makes him/her unique: DNA, memory, character etc.. God then uses that person’s still-existing, inert “spirit” to resurrect/re-create the individual in the future [one of the very few CI adherents who has expressed this minority view, in print, is Thomas P Warner, who used to do all the book reviews for the “Resurrection” magazine, in the good ol’ days when it was a U.K. publication. He wrote an excellent article in the Vol XXX, No 1-2 Spring 2003/Fall 2003 double issue of “Henceforth”, a journal for Advent Christian thought, entitled:-
    “Does Death mean Non-Existence ?, human nature & the nature of Christ’s death”.]
    Tom agrees that, SOUL = person(ality) …….. so a living soul = body + spirit, & a dead soul = spirit – body. In other words, the “spirit” in man returns to God at death & is still in existence. However, man’s spirit separated from a human BODY is (by definition) still a dead/UNconscious spirit i.e. INERT [ “dead” does not necessarily imply non-existent, however …….. UNconscious; asleep*** yes !!].
    Now, Luke 23:46 (c.f. Mat 27:50) could be understood metaphorically as “into your [God’s] hands I commend my “breath” [meaning “life”]” ; & Acts 7:59 could similarly mean “lord Jesus, receive my “breath” [meaning “life”]” ; but could 1Cor 2:11 really mean “what human being knows the things of a man (human knowledge) except the man’s own inmost “breath”” i.e. oxygen/nitrogen/argon etc. mixture ?? (c.f. Isaiah 42:5 & Job 32:8 which have both ruach AND neshamah : “there is a spirit (ruach) in man; & the breath of the Almighty (ve-nishmat Shaddai) gives them understanding”.) **
    ** Job 34:14 also discusses what happens to man at the time of his/her death:- “If He (El/Shaddai, v 12) but intends it, He can call back His spirit (ruach) AND breath (neshamah) i.e. ruch-o ve-nishmat-o; All flesh would at once expire, & mankind return to dust” (JPS Tanakh translation). If “the spirit in man” = breath only, why describe it as “ruach AND neshamah” ?? [n.b. the interesting plurality in the term Moses uses for YHWH elohim in Num 27:16: eloche ha-ruchot ].
    There is another Hebrew word for “breath” (hevel*) in the Hebrew Bible/OT, but it is normally translated as “vanity or vain breath”
    “O Lord, what is a human (Adam) that You know him, a son of man (ben enosh) that You think of him. (For) a human (Adam) is like a vain breath (hevel)”, Psalm 144:3,4.
    * n.b. Adam’s 2nd son was called Hevel (Genesis 4:2).

    Alternatively, it could be preferable, therefore, in all of these scriptures (including Eccl 12:7 c.f. Zec 12:1), to translate:- “at death, our spirit [AND breath] both return to God who gave them, pl” [based on the above view, perhaps the traditional epithet used to label the 16th century Anabaptists as heretics [see Appendix B: John Calvin’s “Psychopannychia”** in “The Fire That Consumes”; & “Psychopannychism: a study of the doctrine of the sleep of the dead during the 16th century” in Henceforth journal, 1990; & “Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton”]: “soul sleep”, should in fact be altered to the more biblically-accurate expression, “spirit sleep” ?? …. unless “soul” is being used metaphorically to clearly refer to “INERT life”]
    If, however, the majority Conditionalist view is the correct one [i.e. that the spirit in man is his breath (only)], then, at death, billions of men/women “return to dust” when they die i.e. their bodies AND breath both return to dust ……… & nothing remains. God (in this scenario) must then resurrect the billions of human beings in the future ……… entirely from memory [not impossible, of course: but would you do it this way ??].
    We could argue that the (UNconscious) human spirit returning to God at death, sounds too much (to the untrained ear) like the popular, erroneous belief in the conscious (immortal) soul returning to God (in heaven) at death***. But, however, if it’s true, we surely shouldn’t hesitate to teach that truth (or, at least, as 1 of 2 possibilities …. IMO) ?

    Glenn, there are (at least) 2 reasons why I feel that the “spirit in man” describes a spiritual component given to man at birth (in addition to the breath of life), which records his/her DNA, personality, memories, character etc.. [this “spirit” continues to exist with God i.e. survives DEATH, although inert, UNconscious or “asleep” …… awaiting the resurrection from the dead].
    Reason 1:- 1 Corinthians 2:11 (c.f. Job 32:8; 34:14):-
    “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of man which is in him (to pneuma tou anthropou to en auto) ? So, also, the things of God noone has known, except the spirit of God (to pneuma tou theou) in him. And we have received …….”.
    Surely this “spirit of God”/holy spirit, must be an actual spirit entity/essence …….. or does God just “share some of His thoughts with us, from time to time”, see 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30 ?? Likewise, therefore, the “spirit of/in man” must surely be a very real spirit entity/essence, imparted to man (along with his breath) at birth ……. which survives death (in an UNconscious/ “sleep” state) ?? No ??

    Reason 2:- 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 says:- “But someone will ask: “How are the dead to be raised (egeiro, awakened**) to life ? And with what sort of body do they come ? Only a fool would ask a question like that !! When you sow a seed, it does not come to life unless it dies. And, when you sow a seed, what you sow is not the body which it is going to become, but a naked seed (gumnon kokkon), maybe of corn or of some other grain. God gives it the body He has chosen for it, & to each of the seeds, He gives its own body”.
    Paul, therefore, compares what “survives” death (the spirit in man) to the seed of a flower/plant/grain/tree etc.. : the wheat (or flower/plant) dies, but left behind is the INERT seed, which contains all the information (DNA etc..) about the dead plant.
    As all gardeners will know, to produce next year’s flowers or vegetables, you start with the seed from the dead ones from the past year/s !!! In the same way, says Paul, when men & women DIE, their inert, UNconscious “spirit” remains “asleep” with God, until the resurrection from the dead.
    Now, Glenn, this wouldn’t be a very good choice of analogy by the apostle Paul, would it, if (as some say) after death ………. NOTHING survives: no human seed remains (they say) ? Everything (some say) has returned to dust: NOTHING tangible has actually returned to God, of our beloved loved-ones !!!?? They continue to exist, ONLY in God’s memory !!!??
    ** compare egeiro (awaken), with the Greek word “fallen asleep” & “slept”, used in 1 Corinthians 15:18,20 (koimaomai), which means to “fall asleep”, from keimai, to lie down. Resurrection (ana-histemi) means “to cause to stand up”. Alan Corrie, ENGLAND

  3. REV. G. D.RUSSELL says:

    Dr. Peoples, you have taken a very foolish stance. It is ridiculous to think that a persons soul–spirit–life force, going back to God is anything comparable to a cessation of existence. Additionally, Eccl. was written from man’s perspective–under the sun. Some of its lessons are in fact true spiritually and some are not. Christian doctrine is not interpreted by the Old Testament but by the New Testament. The writer of Eccl. acknowledged rightly that the soul–spirit leaves the body at death as do other O.T. verses such as Gen. 35:18 where Rachel’s soul is said to depart as she was dying.

    When Stephen was about to die as he was being stoned he called for God to recieve his spirit.

    Paul said that being “absent” from the body was to be present with the Lord (this is of course for believers).

    In the book of Revelation, John sees dis-embodied souls under the throne of God who are conciously and intelligently existing

    There are so many verses in the O.T. and N.T. that make it clear that concious existence continues after the death of the body. The story of Lazarus and the rich man, even if taken as a parable which it does not meet the test of, clearly shows that conciousness continues on. If it didn’t, then the story is being being decieving and authors much confusion. Why state that they both were still conciously existing, if it were impossible to happen?

    • Hi Reverend Russell, and thanks so much for your comment. I’m not going to delve into each of the passages you refer to – and after all, neither did you, which is really the point I want to make in reply. I’ll just make a comment about method. Notice the way that I went about this blog post. It focuses on one passage and unpacks it fairly carefully and (I’d like to think!) with some patience. Then turn to your comment, which is effectively a dump of proof texts with virtually no time spent looking at the context or indeed any information that might help in offering an explanation of their meaning. This quick proof-text approach to understanding Scripture is what has gotten us into the mess that so many of us are in with our theology. It’s hardly going to help getting anyone out of it. Some people would treat Ecclesiastes 12:7 in the same way that you have treated the passages you listed, bundling it up into a list of proof texts for dualism and the immortality of the soul. After all, something goes back to God, ergo, conclusion, close the book, no need to look further. And yet, when we spend just a little bit of time to exercise some care in asking what the author most likely meant, we find that the passage just doesn’t serve the end that so many proof texters assume. The same is true of the passages you quickly list. The fact is, there isn’t even any response required, no case to be made in reply, until you invest some of the time and effort that is required to offer a responsible explanation of just one of the passages you cite.

      In the meantime, allow me to coax your attention back to the blog post on which you commented. I’ve offered what I hope is a helpful and careful explanation of this one text in Ecclesiastes 12:7. I note that your reply largely overlooks what I have said here and tries to divert attention to other passages instead – saying in passing that this passage in Ecclesiastes is really not true (or at least that seems to be what you’re driving at when you say it is only a man’s perspective. It’s polite, in my view, you make one’s comments on the topic of the blog entry itself. If you think the evidence I have presented is lacking, then by all means carefully interact with the evidence presented. Let’s hear about precisely where the shortcomings are. But just listing a bunch of passages that you think establish an alternative position does not show that the explanation of Ecclesiastes 12:7 offered here is mistaken. Indeed, on the face of it, it just looks like you have claimed that all these other passages contradict this passage.

      If you’d like to pick one of the passages you’ve listed and direct me and readers to a helpful and clear explanation of it, showing why a dualistic interpretation is necessary, feel free. Just one quick example: You say Rachel’s soul departed. But nephesh commonly just means “life.” Modern translations generally recognise that there’s no dualism here – just look at how the NIV translates the passage, for example. Hardly a compelling argument! But I’m not going to pick through a list of proof texts and offer an argument on each one. That seems a bit lopsided when you haven’t even begun to make the case that these texts mean what you appear to assume they do. As it turns out, some of the passages you cite have been discussed elsewhere at this site. But in this particular blog entry, I’ve offered an explanation of Ecclesiastes 12:7, and you are more than welcome to interact with it.

      • Teboho Sello says:

        The spirit that returns to God at death is the breath of life. Nowhere in all of God’s book does the “spirit” have any life, wisdom, or feeling after a person dies. It is the “breath of life” and nothing more.

  4. If Hebrews 9:27 describes man’s fate: ‘And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,’ then the timing of that judgement is important. No scripture points to a judgement immediately after death, but ‘on that day’ of Christ’s return. Therefore, if this is taken as the correct position, Ecc 12:7 becomes a confusing thorn in the flesh of the argument supporting a conscious after death existence since it must include the ‘spirits’ of all who die. Either we get judged twice, or there is no resurrection unto judgement if Ecc 12:7 is used to support the transition to a fully conscious non-bodied ‘life’.

    It also violates Acts 2:24 – ‘But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.’ The agony of death, the last enemy, is only vanquished properly by being resurrected, otherwise death is a welcome door into ‘heaven’.

  5. Dr. Peoples,
    Well done. Ignore those old school traditionalists who carry too much pride to change. It only takes a little research to debunk the soul going back to heaven to live with God.



  1. […] death of a person.  He says that a person is dead when the body (what you can see) is no longer animated by the spirit (what you cannot see).  By doing so, James is not describing humans as being made up of two […]

  2. […]This is not a progression to the next stage of life, but an undoing. It is an irony that one of the proof texts used by some to show that we live on after death as spiritual beings was evidently written not to affirm survival, but to emphatically deny it.[…]

  3. […] This is an argument that collapses even under the briefest inspection. The meaning of “spirit” that this argument presupposes is simply mistaken, for one thing. We saw in part 1 that the “spirit” that creatures have to make them alive and which they must surrender at death is synonymous with the “breath of life,” something had in common by all animals. There is little doubt that the author of Ecclesiastes 12:7 had Genesis 2:7 in mind when he wrote it: God made the first man from the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Here, things are reversed. Notice the word “return” and the phrase “as it was.” The dust will go back to where it was, in the earth. The spirit or breath of life will be reclaimed by God. This is not a progression to the next stage of life, but an undoing. It is an irony that one of the proof texts used by some to show that we live on after death as spiritual beings was evidently written not to affirm survival, but to emphatically deny it. I have written in more detail about this passage over at Afterlife. […]

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