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Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 – Who Knows about Death?


This is an important statement about death and the limitations of human knowledge about death.


"Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?" asks the Teacher in one of a number of passages in which he speaks about death. Later he will announce: "The same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil…" (9:2-3). Ecclesiastes 7:2 and 7:4 speak of the benefits of attending funerals: the living are reminded that they too are mortal. These passages from Ecclesiastes need to be read in the context of the whole biblical canon. While the Old Testament contains some hints of life beyond death (Psalm 73:23-25; Isaiah 25:7-8; Isaiah 26:19) and even speaks of resurrection (Daniel 12:2-3), it is the New Testament, written in the light of the resurrection of Jesus, that gives expression to a clear and confident hope for life beyond death (see especially 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 8:31-39). The basis for hope in new life after death is the New Testament testimony that Jesus has been raised (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; the apostolic preaching in Acts).

Ecclesiastes 3:19-21

19For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knows whether the human spirit goes upwards and the spirit of animals goes downwards to the earth?

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