‘Death’ and ‘Dead’ in the Bible

By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.

This will not be an exhaustive paper by no means; merely reflections of my own thoughts at the moment.  It stems from a past subject where I was reading our Apostle and brother in the Faith, Saint Paul.  In Romans 4, which is a critical chapter in his overall apologetic, Paul wrote, “and weakening not in the faith while he considered his own body as having already died, its being almost a hundred years old, and the death of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4.19, my translation).  In short, Abraham, due to his weak body, was “dead” from all considerable aspects.  He was a dead man walking.

However, the contrasting verb “weakening” is used for illness or sickness.  When a person is ill their bodies are weak.  Although Abraham’s body was dead (some translation have “as good as dead”), his strength in “the Faith” was super strong.  There is a ton of material here in Romans 4, but this aspect, Abraham thinking he was “already” dead, caught my attention.  It cannot at all be reasoned here that Abraham was thinking about what has come to be popularly called, “spiritual death.”  The text unmistakably states that we are talking about Abraham’s physical body (and Sarah’s as well under the metonymy of “womb”).  The reason why they thought of themselves as “dead” was because they were old.  We are born and full of life.  In our youth we have, it seems, power to conquer the world, but we grow old and are heading to the inevitable grave.  At a certain point, old and feeble, a hundred years old, death is not far from us and we know it.  In fact, for many, the body is practically dead, shutting down, not moving as fast.  Abraham, when he was at this age, was given a Promise: he would have a son by his wife, Sarah.  “Considering his body” (that is, taking a look at it, or knowing it) this was not going to happen!  “But, I am dead!  My wife is dead!”

“Dead” here, as it relates to the body, is the basis of which Paul’s usage of the terms “dead” “dying” and “death” are to be understood.  There is no “spiritual death” and then later on there is a “physical death”.  Rather, we are born as ones “already dead”.  Okay, so the body lives for about 80 years, but its dying.  Its heading to the grave.  There is no stopping this force of death.

Jesus was “raised from the dead” (Romans 1.4).  God “gives life to the dead” (Romans 4.17).  And right after Paul wrote “God gives life to the dead” he speaks of Abraham “already dead”.  Yet by faith Abraham was given life by the one who gives life to the dead.”  This phrase, “gives life to the dead” is found in the Hebrew Bible of Judaism (what Christians call the Old Testament, wrongly so).  Samuel, our beloved Prophet who together with the Apostles our Faith is founded, wrote, “Yahweh puts to death and sustains life; he brings down a grave, he raises up” (2 Samuel 2.6).  That is, Yahweh holds the keys of death of life.  In Deuteronomy 32.39 this God proclaims, “I put to death and I sustain life.”  Further, “For we all shall surely die, as water runs down to the earth” (2 Samuel 14.14).  “Am I God, who puts to death and sustains life?” (2 Kings 5.7).  The phrase in Samuel 14.14 is the same as that found in Genesis 2 and 3: “you shall surely die.”  Hence, from the first threat: “you shall surely die” to the “woman from Tekoa” who stated, “we all shall surely die” to the Apostle Paul, “in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15.22).

This death, according to Paul came in through the act of Adam’s disobedience (and Eve’s deception – they are both called, “haadam” – the man).  In Romans 5.12-ff Paul offers one of his most elaborate defenses for his faith.  Death came through Adam; the fact that we die.  But, further than this, yet never separate from it, is that this death already renders us as dead – as good as dead.  We are dead in sins.  Paul does not relate to us a picture that while we are physically alive we are spiritually dead.  This would be too nice and soft a picture of our state.  Rather, you are dead.  Born dead.  Are dead.  Because you are dead, your body is dying.  We are dead precisely because of the fact that our death is inevitable.  It’s as good as done.

The term, then, “make alive” means just that, and Paul’s appeal to Abraham, who was a hundred years old and dead, was “made alive” and did not “weaken in the faith” – he was made alive in his faith and produced a son – his body was strengthened to produce a son with Sarah.  Life was given through faith, and yet he still succumbed to physical death eventually (due to Adam, being one his offspring).  We all die.  Physically.  This is because we are dead in sins (I would word this, “as good as dead because of our sins”).  Paul is not speaking of any “spiritual death” or “death of the soul” (like a dead spirit inside a living body).  James, another beloved Saint, wrote, “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2.26).  That’s about as clear as a biblical definition of death as one can get.  Likewise, the person without The Spirit of God is counted as dead (even though he is physically still breathing, he’s dead – heading to the grave).

The Spirit “makes alive” the inner man in the same way the dead man Abraham was made alive by his faith.  It is not that Abraham’s spirit had yet departed his body (James’ definition), but that Abraham, who was dead, was enlivened by that which God Promised in spite of the inevitable, in spite of what he saw concerning his body – a dead body, and a dead womb.  His faith overcame what he saw and he performed the necessary act of coitus (there are children present, shhhhh) at a hundred years old.  Likewise, we are to have the same faith.  We are dead (as good as), heading to the grave (or urn, whatever).  Yet, observing this fact, I also “see Jesus.”  Jesus, who was “dead but now is alive” (Revelation 1.10).  And that same Spirit that quickened him is at work in me.  I do not look at the fact that I am going to die due to the wage of sin (Adam’s and my own).  However, I also know that BY FAITH I look not at what is seen (my inevitable death) but at what is unseen (the resurrection of the Man, Christ Jesus) and through that I live beyond that which is seen.  I live in my body with the hope that upon the death of my body, and in spite of the death of my body, he shall make my body live again – and so I use this body with that in mind – as a temple of the Lord not to be abandoned, but a temple that is to be raised.  My faith, then, directs my deeds done “through the body” (2 Corinthians 5.10), and in spite of my dead body (which hasn’t gone the way of the earth yet, but its getting there and will surely get there).

Thus, for Paul, “dead” in sin means just that.  Likewise, “dead in Christ” takes on the same application.  I have not “literally” died in Christ.  I have not literally, physically been “crucified with Christ.”  Only Christ died on the cross, physically.  However, his physical death was in “obedience” (Philippians 2.1-ff).  He died in obedience to God knowing that God would raise him from physical death and exalt him with eternal, bodily life (which can never die again – Romans 6.9).  I am placed in Christ by “the faith” in that I see his death (due to sin placed upon him as the sacrificial Lamb), my own death “in the Lord”.  That is, when I die, my faith has maintained my living in this life that I shall be raised from the dead.  As Abraham had faith, even though dead, his faith maintained him up to his inevitable demise – he died in, with, and for his faith which reached beyond the fact of his demise and saw his own resurrection based on the Promise of God.  This is the difference in dying in sins and dying in faith.  God has promised us that we shall be raised from the dead, just as surely as he raised his Son from the grave.  Therefore, I live my life in this body as one counted dead in Christ, and also, since I know that God keeps his word, I shall also be raised with Christ just as he was.  It’s as good as done, and thus I can live my life now as one “being raised from the dead” – demonstrating the life of the man, Christ Jesus, who is raised from the dead, in my own body, in my own life.

But, Sam, you are not raised from the dead.  Your body is getting older and the grave is your future.  Yes, though I am weak, and becoming weak, and though you can say I am as good as dead since that is my ultimate demise and dissolution of this corrupt body of mine, I live beyond what I see and am made alive already by that fact.  Paul says it better: “The life I am now living in flesh I live in faith of the son of God, the one who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2.20).  Paul describes here the Christian life.  The flesh will die – it’s as good as dead.  In “this life”, or “the life I am now (nun – Greek) living in flesh” I live in faith.  The same “in faith” that Abraham had – who was dead – for all practical purposes.  If a person is known to inherit a vast wealth as a done deal in the future, we call that person an heir.  It may be that he or she must wait until something or other legally happens, but this does not change the fact: they are an heir.  Period.  The future fact declares the “now” reality.  Abraham was declared to be a father.  Sarah was going to have a son.  This was before the fact.  In fact, the facts stated otherwise: no way.  Abraham lived his life “now in the flesh” and “lived in faith.”  His faith went beyond the “now” and to the matter-of-fact later.

Thus, “dead”, “death” always carries with it the meaning of death, demise, down to the grave, an end to life, the spirit without the body.  But, we see Jesus and life beyond the grave in Him.  There is no “spiritual death” or some metaphor of death that happens, and then we also physically die (like there are two deaths we under go).  There is one death a man undergoes, unless he or she is in Christ.  If in Christ, his death is applied in the faith that by his now living at the right hand of the Father, as the one dead and now alive, will also raise us up – will raise up this very body once claimed by Death (Blessed Mystery) because, we believe, he as made this body of mine a member of his own.  It will live again.  And, so, in faith, the life I live now in flesh I live in faith of the son of God….

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