Written by John Carson
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) do not believe Jesus Christ raised His own body from the dead. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WT) teaches:
- “After Jesus died, he was in the
tomb for about three days.... Since he was dead, he could not resurrect himself.... (Jesus) was nonexistent for about three days.” (Watchtower Magazine - June 1, 1988)
A JW might point to Ecclesiastes 9 for support of their WT doctrine. They teach:
- “When a person dies, he ceases to exist. Death is the opposite of life. The dead do not see or hear or think. Not even one
part of us survives the death of the body. We do not possess an immortal soul or spirit.... The Bible teaches that “the dead know nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) They are not alive and have no conscious
existence anywhere.” (What Does the Bible Really Teach?, chapters
6 and 7)
How JWs view Jesus Christ’s resurrection is directly connected to how they view his nature. Since JWs believe Jesus was human, and not God, they say he must have
ceased to exist while his body was in the tomb. They believe he could not have had any capability of raising himself from the dead.
There are two major points to their thinking:
- Jesus cannot be God.
- The dead have no conscious existence anywhere.
A JW elder asked me a question that brought us to a discussion about these two points:
- “Since God cannot die, and Jesus died, how could he be God?”
Having knowledge of his doctrinal position was helpful in answering that question. If Jesus is not God, then he would have had to rely on a power greater than himself for his resurrection.... and, if the
dead have no conscious existence, how could Jesus make the decision to raise himself up from the dead? So I decided to just get right to the point he was trying to make:
Jesus ceased to exist, then He obviously cannot be God.”
He responded back with a victory smile:
- “Well then, there you have it.”
I quickly added:
- “Oh, I don’t believe Jesus ceased to exist at all. Remember what happened just before
Jesus died? He called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (see Luke
23:46)”. I believe His spirit lived on, and so the Father and Jesus immediately continued their intimate bond they had always enjoyed from all eternity with each Other.
[Note: JWs may try to argue that the word spirit (pneuma
in Greek) in Luke 23:46 merely refers to Jesus breathing out his last breath. Thereby they do not believe this
means his spirit continued to exist. However, when cross referenced with John 19:30, He used a phrase which in Greek means, “to hand over, or deliver up, or commit.... His spirit.” Also, have your JW friend look up 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May
the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit (pneuma - same word Jesus used), and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ask: “Am I to understand from this
same Greek word for spirit, pneuma, that Paul
was saying I am to keep my breathing blameless?”]
His response was abrupt and stern:
was dead! The dead can do nothing! If you’re dead, you’re dead! Who do you think raised Jesus from the dead?! He obviously had to rely on a power greater than himself since he was dead!”
shared John 2:18-22 with him (Jesus said very
plainly there that He would raise His own body). I was told that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said and that the Book of Ecclesiastes proves it was impossible for Jesus to raise himself from the dead. Another JW he brought along asked me:
- “If Ecclesiastes teaches the conscience dies with the body, how could Jesus perform the miracle of His own resurrection? How do you explain Jesus bringing himself back to life if Ecclesiastes
9:10 says ....there is no work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the Grave?”
They also used verse 5, which reads in their New World Translation (NWT):
- “.... the dead know nothing at all.”
From their understanding of these verses, they believe Jesus could not really mean that He would literally raise His own body because it was
impossible for him to be active; I told them I believe Jesus did mean what He said, as did His disciples (see John 2:22). I challenged them:
- “If Ecclesiastes teaches Jesus became nonexistent upon His death, then I can understand how you see a
contradiction with Him meaning He would really raise Himself. But if Jesus did mean what He said, then Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes, must have been mistaken.”
They both responded with:
cannot contradict Scripture!”
- “I absolutely agree with you. Then the fault must lie with how individuals interpret Scripture passages, and not with the Scriptures. If Jesus did mean what He said in John 2, then Ecclesiastes
9 cannot be teaching that He ceased to exist.”
Let’s take a look at Ecclesiastes 9 and examine what it is teaching. To get a proper understanding of what Solomon was talking about, we need to first consider
the context of this book.
There’s an interesting phrase that is repeated often in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “what is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes
9:6). Anything that is done under the sun, is synonymous to whatever is done in the physical realm. “Under the sun” is a Hebraic idiom for “in the physical world” without God.
It is so significant that Solomon used this phrase 29 times throughout this book.
[To see how fitting this connotation
is, I recorded the verses and replaced the phrase “under the sun” with “in the physical world”. Due to its length, these list of verses can be viewed by the interested reader at the bottom of this article.]
A careful reading of Ecclesiastes reveals Solomon was talking about how everything is meaningless without God; that
all our striving in the physical world without Him will come to an end; that
- “.... all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)
This is in contrast for the things that are done
under Christ’s authority and power. Jesus said,
- “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly
not lose their reward.” (Mark 9:41)
Ecclesiastes 1:14 teaches:
- Everything done “under the sun” is meaningless.
Yet Mark 9:41 teaches:
- Everything done “under the Son” is meaningful.
The contrast is clear. The Book of Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom Solomon wrote, that deals mainly with the vanity of all the striving performed in the physical world in the attempt to
find meaning without God. All of it results in meaninglessness. It is not until the final chapter does he state:
- “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will
say, “I find no pleasure in them.”” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
So we get an overall picture of what Solomon was teaching. It is a fabulous book that is worth spending time studying. But what about this
WT doctrine that the dead ceases to exist? Let’s take a look at Ecclesiastes 9:4. It gives us a quick hint of what Solomon was talking about in this chapter:
live dog is better off than a dead lion!”
Solomon uses the example of the value of physical life versus physical death of animals. By using this example,
he was talking about earthly existence, not spiritual destinies. Animals and humans share a common destiny within the physical realm — physical death. This is consistent with what he wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:19-20:
- “Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything
is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”
Where do their bodies return to? To the dust of the earth. There is no mention of heaven because Solomon was dealing with everything that happens in the physical realm. These verses are simply calling attention to the fact
that as far as our earthly existence is concerned, we have no advantage over the beasts in regards to physical death.
The WT quote at the top of this article claims Ecclesiastes is teaching:
A more accurate and consistent statement would have been:
- “(The dead) have no conscious
existence here on earth, in the Grave.”
The word “Grave” was so troublesome, that the WT even went so far
as to redefine it to fit their doctrine. They teach “the Grave” is:
Nowhere in Ecclesiastes does Solomon call “the Grave” a condition or a symbolic place. It is an actual physical place where we bury our dead. This is an important point that should not be missed. Consider the dog and the lion. Why is a living
dog better off than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 9:4)?
Because the lion can no longer make the majestic sound of a mighty roar. So also, all the vain striving we do without God, no matter how majestic it may seem, will all come to an abrupt end at death. By using the example of animals, Solomon was not teaching
a person ceases to exist at the point of death, but to warn us where vain striving without God leads to. All of it ends in the Grave. All of it is meaningless.
So when we read “there is no work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the Grave, where you are going (Ecclesiastes 9:10)”, Solomon is simply talking about the physical place of
use Ecclesiastes to teach that Jesus ceased to exist for the three days while his body was in the tomb, is a demonstration of using isolated verses while disregarding context. Solomon wasn’t even dealing with the topic. His warnings were about relying
on what is done within the physical realm without God.
God’s Word is clear!
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor
things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is only in Jesus Christ where you find eternal life (read 1 John 5:11-12). God's promise is that nothing that is to come... not even death... can cause those who belong to Christ to be separated from God's love. We can enjoy a
continuous and uninterrupted love relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. “Where, oh death, is your sting?“ (1 Corinthians 15:55) Death can do nothing!
Here are a few Scripture passage to consider. Read....
The following is a list of verses I took from Ecclesiastes. The 29 times Solomon used the phrase “under the sun” is replaced with “in the physical world” in order to demonstrate
how this connotation is fitting:
- 1:3 What advantage does man have in all his work Which he does [in the physical
- 1:9 That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there
is nothing new [in the physical world].
- 1:14 I have seen all the works which have been done [in the physical world], and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.
- 2:11 Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving
after wind and there was no profit [in the physical world].
- 2:17 So I hated life, for the work which had
been done [in the physical world] was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
[ The Futility of Labor ] Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored [in the physical world], for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
- 2:19 And who knows
whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely [in the physical world]. This too is vanity.”
Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored [in the physical world].
- 2:22 For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors [in the physical world]?
- 3:16 Furthermore, I have seen [in the physical world] that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of
righteousness there is wickedness.
- 4:1 [ The Evils of Oppression ]
Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done [in the physical world]. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they
had no one to comfort them.
- 4:3 But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done [in the physical world].
- 4:7-8 Then I looked again at vanity [in the physical world]. 8 There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and
he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task.
- 4:15 I have seen all the living [in the
physical world] throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him.
- 5:13 There is a grievous evil which I have seen [in the physical world]:
riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.
- 5:18 Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy
oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils [in the physical world] during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.
- 6:1 [ The Futility of Life ] There is an evil
which I have seen [in the physical world] and it is prevalent among men—
- 6:12 For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him [in the physical world]?
- 8:9 All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done [in the physical world] wherein a man has exercised authority
over another man to his hurt.
- 8:15 So I commended pleasure, for
there is nothing good for a man [in the physical world] except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him [in the physical world].