Orthodox Byzantine Chants
Holy Mount Athos
1. What does the text we investigate say?
The study of today will be focused on the analysis of some texts from the Bible that are wrongly interpreted by heretics who use them in an irrational and unacceptable way to support their wrong teaching according to which there is no difference between the human soul and the animal soul and thus the human being is an animal which disappears along with death.
Let’s start with a text that is in a special way valued by everyone who feel this deception about the death of the human soul, including, of course, Jehovah’s witnesses.
This text is in the Old Testament, more exactly in Ecclesiastes 3, 18-21: “I said in my heart, “Concerning the speech of the sons of men, God will judge them so as to show that indeed, they are themselves like animals”. For what happens to the sons of men also happens to the animals, one thing befalls them; as is the death of the one, so also is the death of the other, and there is one breath to all. So what advantage does the man have over an animal? For all things is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to the dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, whether is goes downward on the earth?”
This text from Ecclesiastes is used by Jehovah’s witnesses to prove that regardless of their nature there is absolutely no difference between man and animals, hence they are the same in their essence. “Thus, (they conclude with an sententious and triumphant vanity), as the animal soul is mortal and vanishes, so does the human soul.” Using this perfectly wrong and unacceptable argument it is not difficult for them to convince their unacquainted and often confused interlocutors.
But let’s closely investigate from the very beginning this text of Ecclesiastes and conclude whether the Jehovah’s witnesses are right or once again they distort the sense of the biblical text for an egoistic and anti-Christian interest of the multinational Watch Tower.
2. Who says these words?
The first and the most important point of this text is the expression that Ecclesiastes starts with referring to the human and animal death. And it says at the beginning of the text: “I said in my heart, “Concerning the speech of the sons of men.” It neither says: “This is what Lord says”,
as the Prophets used to say when they wanted to tell about a revelation from God regarding some subject, nor: “The word of God was announced to me”, or something equivalent to it that might prepare the listener to the hearing of a divine teaching. The Ecclesiastes says: “I said in my heart”, meaning in other words that the following are just simply some human thoughts, only his reflections which even if they come from a wise person with enough experience still do not come from a faith in God.
Let’s remember about another expression similar with the aforementioned one. It does not come from a very experienced king but from a very rich man. The story can be found in Luke 12, 19: “And I will say to my soul: Soul, you have many good laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.” But which was the position of God regarding the personal opinion of the rich man? The Evangelist mentions it in the following verse (20): “But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required from you. Then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” He calls him “fool”. We notice that people’s opinion can directly oppose the truth, meaning to God’s opinion and then it is truly madness.
Yet, for making clear that Ecclesiastes expressed here his own opinion, the opinion of a wise man, experienced in the worldly ones, but who became skeptic and pessimist, with no faith in God, let’s see the conclusion he came to according to his observations on the common fate regarding the death of the sons of man and of the animals. In the following verse, 22, within the text we focus on, we read: “So I saw that there was no good except that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion. For who shall bring him to see what happens after him?” In more simple words, he comes to the following conclusion: “As, according to my mind, there is no difference between human and animals regarding death, so that as animals die so the sons of men die – and both of them end up in ash – thus there is no better thing for the man to do than to rejoice in his own works as long as he lives, for who else could take benefit of his struggle and where would his fortune end up to, fortune he struggled to gain?”
This type of thoughts and conclusions describe the man attached to material things, a man who does not have his hope in God. Yet his words are quite similar to a folk song that almost became a proverb and
a motto within the materialist and atheist society we live in, which says: “We have only one life and if we do not live it what then could we understand…” It is like Ecclesiastes would tell us the same here. Taking the part of the pessimist and skeptical man with his fleshy thoughts, he tells us that “as long as we die one day, as animals die, and because we cannot see after death what will happen with our fortune, the result of our struggles, so we should delight ourselves and rejoice and feel good as long there is still time.”
We rightly ask ourselves: Is this the “creed” of Jehovah’s witnesses? For this is the man’s portion, to rejoice his works, since “who will take him to see what will be after him”? Do they believe in “let’s eat and drink, because tomorrow we die” as Saint Apostle Paul says about those who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead? The text of Ecclesiastes we earlier read refers exactly to this as the skeptical man told himself: “For who shall bring him to see what happens after him?” Therefore he has to rejoice as long as he is still alive.
Of course such type of opinion and position is not Christian at all and of course, neither Jehovah’s witnesses dare to preach it. Yet why do they read only the words of the skeptical man with worldly beliefs and do not read the conclusion he came to? Obviously, they will choose only those that meet their own views to support their heresy according to which the soul is mortal and they will omit the texts that prove those words were some fleshly thoughts. Thus they convince their listeners that they hear a divine teaching.
Thus, anyone could take the words of the crazy rich man from the parable of Christ who said: “Soul, you have many good laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry” and consider them the quintessence of the Christian faith. Or, one could use in this way the Holy Scripture and prove that there is no God, isolating the first sentence from Psalm 13. For the entire verse reveals to us the correct meaning: “The fool has said in his heart: There is no God.” Thus, you realize the cunning and godless way used by the Watch Tower to spread the deceptive teachings and to fight against the Christian truths. They do not hesitate to isolate the people’s opinion comprised in the Bible and promote them as “divine truths.”
3. The context Ecclesiastes was written in
Although everything we hitherto said about the controversial text of Ecclesiastes is sufficient to prove its perfect inefficiency to fight against the teaching of the Church about the soul, but it rather proves the wiliness of the methods used by the Watch Tower and by similar heresies, despite these we will harp on deepening it especially because it bounds so many people to deception about the mortality of the human soul.
To understand the content of the text we earlier referred to, it is important to know the context it falls to, “who” says it and the “purpose” of it.
The book of Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom from the Old Testament, it was written by Solomon, as it mentions at its very beginning: “The words of Ecclesiastes, son of David, king of Jerusalem.”
It is obvious that within this book Solomon talks to himself and struggles to come to some conclusions after a lifetime rich in experiences and knowledge. He presents himself in two steps. The first is when he tries to understand himself and the world around him without having his faith in God and in His promises. Thus, it is natural that he reaches to completely pessimistic and materialistic conclusions through the frequent and very well known chorus: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. Everything is vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 1, 2)
The second part of Ecclesiastes expresses the faith in God which predominates over the corporeal way of seeing things and when the pessimism he sees his life with becomes optimism and the vanity is a target for hope. While he starts his book coming to conclusions using the fleshly wisdom according to which “everything is vanity”, he ends up his book with the wisdom given by God, as it follows: “Hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is whole man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including everything that was overlooked, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12, 13-14). Thus, when we read this book we have to be very careful and make a difference between the thoughts of a materialist and pessimistic man and the thoughts of someone who believes in God.
4. The contradictions between the materialistic theory and Christian faith
Now that we have a broader view on the subject the Ecclesiastes approaches, let’s re-read the entire controversial text and examine it closely: “I said in my heart, “Concerning the speech of the sons of men, God will judge them so as to show that indeed, they are themselves like animals”. For what happens to the sons of men also happens to the
animals, one thing befalls them; as is the death of the one, so also is the death of the other, and there is one breath to all. So what advantage does the man have over an animal? For all things is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to the dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, whether is goes downward on the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3, 18-22)
Having in mind the aforementioned observations we made regarding the book of Ecclesiastes and after re-reading the controversial text, it is clear that the opinions it expresses are rather thoughts of a pessimist who sees things from a purely materialistic point of view and through the narrow perspective of this temporary life dominated by corruptibility and vanity. Therefore, he does not neglect in repeating within the verse 19: “Everything is vanity!” On the contrary, the faithful man finds nothing to be meaningless, because everything is included in the wise plan of God, within His divine Providence. Nothing is by chance or purposeless. Likewise, the consequence of those thoughts (verse 22) as I earlier said, could mean anything else but a Christian advice, when he says that there is no better thing for a man to do than to rejoice at everything he accumulated especially because when he dies he does not know whose hands his fortune might fall on or who will inherit them.
On the contrary, we know that Christ’s promise about this temporary life is not the delight from the material goods, but sorrows, discomfort, in a single word, cross. “In the world you’ll have trouble, but be courageous – I’ve overcome the world!” (John 16, 33) Still: “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in union with the Messiah Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3, 12) And still: “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continuously.” (Matthew 16, 24)
Thus, the servant of Christ must not be interested in this life about the joy that comes from the material goods as the pessimist and materialist advises within the aforementioned text of Ecclesiastes indicates, as well as others, as for instance verse 18 from Chapter 5, where it says: “As for every man whom God has given wealth, possessions, and authority – to eat from it, to receive his portion, and to rejoice in his labor – this is the gift of God.”
5. Does the controversial text talk about the soul or the flesh?
Even if we suppose that those words do not come from a pessimist
but from a man who has his faith and hope in God, yet that text does not prove anything about the death and impersonality of human soul and its universal assimilation with animals. This is because the text does not say that the man disappears once he dies but that he dies as “animals die”.
The thoughts of Ecclesiastes within this text are not at all based on the words of Divine revelation but on purely human observations. Thus, the conclusions are drawn based on the perceptibility of the human senses and not on spiritual problems. He talks about things he can see and not about things he cannot see, like the soul for instance, the invisible part of man as we clearly stated within our previous researches.
The likeness between people and animals is not based on a theological foundation but on an outward observation according to which: “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to the animals, one thing befalls them; as is the death of the one, so also is the death of the other, and there is one breath to all.” (Ecclesiastes 3, 19) That’s exactly the same thing, meaning the outward common faith of humans and animals, the same type of physical death, “common fate”, as it says, it is further described through two expressions.
Firstly it says that: “As one dies so dies the other”. And later that: “All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” Thus, the “fate”, “physical death” and “return to the dust” are three identical expressions for Ecclesiastes, used to describe both the death of people and animals as they are seen through the eyes of an ordinary outsider. There is a neither reference to the soul nor to the state of man after death. Here the Ecclesiastes sticks to the common characteristics of death of the fleshly made of ash body of man and of the animals. There is nothing about the mortal soul.
Yet, let’s see more in detail each of these three characteristics:
1. First he refers to the “common fate of people and animals”. To understand the meaning of the word “fate” and to understand exactly the consequence expressed by Ecclesiastes, let’s see how he uses it in the other two places of his book:
The first is represented by the text of Ecclesiastes from Chapter 2, verses 14-15: “The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the senseless walks in darkness. And I indeed know that one event happen to both of them. Then I said to my heart, “As it happens to the senseless man, so it
also happens to me. Why then have I gained abundant wisdom?” So I said to my heart, “This indeed is also vanity.”
Here the pessimist examines the wise man and the fool one. On one side, he admits that is much better for someone to be wise than fool, yet seeing the end of both, one and the same, he draws a conclusion that if one asks for wisdom this will be vanity as well. Yet, the writer, Solomon himself, wrote also the book of Proverbs that largely represents a glorifying dedicated to Wisdom and it carries a teaching inspired by God about how to get it. Thus, that is anything else but vanity.
Thus, it is obvious that here the Ecclesiastes draws a wrong conclusion: it is not worth for someone to be wise, because it’s “vanity”, according to the commentary: “the wise and the fool die in the same way”. Thus the “fate” has to do with the VISIBLE END, with death, as our bodily eyes see it and not with our spiritual dimension.
2. The second place of Ecclesiastes where the word “fate” is used is in Chapter 9, 2-3: “One event happens to the righteous man and the ungodly man, to the good man and the evil man, to the pure man and the impure man, to the man who sacrifices and to the man who does not sacrifice. As is the good man, so is the man who sins; and is he who takes and oath, so is he who fears and oath. There is this evil in everything done under the sun, that one event happens to all.”
It is very clear also from this pericope that fate means the end of earthly life. This means the biological death itself – neither the state of man after death, nor the man’s invisible soul. Since surely it exists a different state and reward after death either for the pious and impious one or for “him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice”, as the text says.
Let’s remember, for instance the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus from Chapter 16 in Luke’s Gospel. As soon as Lazarus died, the angels took his soul and brought it in the bosom of Abraham. When the rich man died, his soul was brought to hell. One was in a joyful and comforting state while the other one was in torturing state. It is absolutely wrong and unacceptable to use this text from Ecclesiastes we investigate as arguments on the after death state of the righteous or of the unrighteous as well as of other category of people. Thus, using what logic and how could we apply it on people and animals and especially by putting them into the same category? It is an obvious fallacy. The
comparison and the remark about the common fate, refers to the physical death, to the biological death, where all living and mortal beings are subject to. Any other type of generalization is unacceptable and absurd. The fact that the man and the animal have, as a common characteristic both the biological life and the biological death, does not allow us to deduce other common characteristics as well.
We earlier saw that “for what happens to the sons of man and what happens to the animals is the same”, and absolutely does not refer to the fact that the man, in his essence, according to his nature, identifies himself with the animal and does not differ from it, as Jehovah’s witnesses completely wrongly and absurdly claim. On the contrary, Ecclesiastes refers to the fact that both of them are destined to their common biological death, as death comes both for the righteous and the unrighteous, wise and fools, pious and wrongdoers. All by all, regardless of the way their lives were or their different character, they will ultimately meet in a point, which is nothing else but the biological death, the death of the mortal body. This is the common feature of their “fate”. Exactly to this it refers when it says that: “as one dies, so does the other.” The comparison is made with respect to the way the biological death occurs, and not according to what happens after death. The comparison is made referring to the way they die and not regarding to what happens with their identity. It does not mention absolutely at all about this, but instead it examines only what the bodily eyes can see. And of course, as the body of an unrighteous dies, so it happens with the body of the righteous as well as with the body of an animal. There is no difference on the outside. And nobody can make a difference eventually about the way someone leaves this life behind regardless whether he was righteous or unrighteous, wise or fool. On the contrary, the death of man is in fact similar to the death of animals. There isn’t anywhere a reference to the after life trip neither to Judgment nor to Resurrection. It is an accepted fact, even by Jehovah’s witnesses, that animals will neither be resurrected nor judged after death. Yet how do they identify the man with the animal by saying that he vanishes and fades away and they do not also continue further with their analogy regarding judgment and resurrection?
3. Let’s proceed to the third reasoning of the conclusion that the pessimistic man comes to with respect to: “So what advantage does the
man have over an animal? For all things is vanity!” This conclusion comes from the first remark according to which: “All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” It is clear from this sentence that the remarks of the pessimist and skeptical man are limited to the visible facts, meaning to corporeal ones. They are made of ash and they come back to ash. He does not take into consideration the invisible world, because, naturally, not everything was made of ash, especially because the spiritual world has no connection to ashes. Angels, for instance, are neither made of ash nor have components made of ashes. Thus, Ecclesiastes does not refer to the invisible part of man, meaning the soul, but investigates only the end of flesh. And of course, there is absolutely no objection or doubt that the bodies of men are mortal and made of ash, as the ones of animals are and therefore they have the same fate.
His observations and conclusions are made within the sensitive, material and visible space and they do not refer to the invisible and spiritual meaning. At this point Ecclesiastes expresses his purely human and materialist part of himself, meaning the natural, spiritual man, as Saint Apostle Paul calls it (I Corinthians 2, 10-16). As a matter of fact he is not able to do more than to express his ignorance and perplexity about the invisible part of man and about the biological energy that gives life to animals. In the verse 21, he says: “Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, whether is goes downward on the earth?” Thus, he asks himself and he is puzzled by the things that happen within the invisible part of men and animals. His conclusion is not that they are the same. But rather, no matter how much he investigates death with his physical and materialist eyes, yet he does not come to the extreme point and more below where Jehovah’s witnesses do, totally identifying the man with the animal and talk about vanishing.
Ecclesiastes even in his ignorance places the man above animals, by saying that the spirit of man ascends upward and the spirit of animals descends downward on earth. Thus, the natural man who does not carry with him the Spirit of God, is not capable only with his reason more than separating the spiritual element of man from the impersonal biological and earthly energy that gives life to animals.
According to this text, in no case and circumstance could be
justified the conclusions that some heretics jump to, claiming that the man’s breath is the same, according to its nature with the breath of animals, meaning mortal and thus disappearing and fading away together with death. Regarding this issue, as we earlier saw, the natural man is able to express himself only through perplexity and wondering, for these are “spiritually discerned” by those guided by the Spirit of God. (I Corinthians 2, 14)
6. Ecclesiastes confirms that the soul exists
Ecclesiastes not only asks but also answers when he reveals the other part of himself, the optimistic and God loving part, the part of a spiritual man. The answer is characterized by the authority of the divine revelation. Thus, he tells us at the end of his book, when he refers to the physical death, in Chapter 12 verse 7: “Then the dust returns to the earth as it was: and the spirit returns to God Who gave it.”
Thus, this is the statement about soul inspired by God that we seriously should have in mind and not the previous one that is eagerly promoted by Jehovah’s witnesses. This statement is clear and explicit in saying that the earthly part of man, his body, comes back to ash, and his breath, meaning his soul, goes to God. Jehovah’s witnesses claim that the “breath” mentioned in these texts is not the soul, but an impersonal force, common both to people and animals. If this is right, why would then the breath of man ascend to God meanwhile the one of animals descends downward the earth? If it was something like electricity, why would it then ascend to God? What connection has the impersonal material force with the divine Spirit of God? What’s in it for it? And why does only the spirit of man ascend to God and not the spirit of animals as well, since it is impersonal and therefore all the same for all people and animals? It should have been, as an impersonal energy, detachedly the same for all, going in the same place when leaving from the living ones.
Sometimes they say that the spirit that ascends to God is a kind of “template”, meaning a recipe, preserved within the memory of God and which He will use it to resurrect exactly the same man. But Ecclesiastes does not say that “the breath of man” is “an instruction set”, but on the contrary it says that God gave it to him and it will return back to Him. The instructions for constructions are neither given nor returned but they are obeyed and respected during labor. They will never be implemented during construction. (Note: Besides all these, it is a blasphemy if one supposes that God, the Almighty, needs “to receive” instructions in order to “make” someone, especially since He made him by Himself from the beginning. It is even hilarious for someone to imagine that God needs to “remember” something as if He had a memory that is able to forget and an encephalon…) Indeed, it is explainable to be surprised by how big is the silliness of those who deny the truth fall into and try to replace it with their theories.
It was once again confirmed that deception itself creates huge blind alleys to its supporters and leads them from one absurdity into a worse one and from one mistake into a bigger one. And if man does not stop this fall through humbleness and deep examination of all that he easily accepted hitherto, he will be condemned to fall a prey to deception and to Satan and to go from bad to worse.
Within the aforementioned we proved that heretics, by accepting the soul is mortal and it disappears and vanishes once with death, as it happens with the soul of the animals, do not hesitate to bring arguments for this texts from the Bible, text that do not have as content the teaching of God, but human opinions based not on the divine knowledge and wisdom but on worldly opinions as the text of Ecclesiastes from Chapter 3, 18-22 is.
And because this does not meet the criteria or motivates their wrong belief, they easily do not hesitate to distort their meaning using sophisticated manipulations so that eventually to come to the conclusion they want and to convince their trustful followers and naive listeners.
Ecclesiastes, as we saw, talks about the breath of man (meaning soul) that during the biological death ascends to God and survives death, unlike his body of ash that returns to ash. Likewise, this is the teaching of the entire Bible and of our Church as we hitherto in detail concluded.
Thus the man is very different from the animal and the only thing they have in common is the biological death, meaning the death of their physical body.