Ecclesiastes 9:5 and what happens at death

nuclear explosion by tzunghaor - atomic bomb, bomb, clip art, clipart, explosion, explosive, mushroom cloud, nuclear, nuke, weapon,

(courtesy Openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

A Seventh-Day Adventist fellow with whom I’ve been in dialogue online for years on a Christian forum continues to push his SDA view of annihilation of the unbeliever at death. Or, he will say that there is nothing at death for the non-Christian.

This is what he wrote to me:

Eccl. 9:5 “for the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.” and 10 “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Refute those.[1]

We can make these points about Eccl. 9:5, based on the text: [2]

1.  There is here noted one advantage that the living have. They ‘know that they shall die’. This does not seem to be a sarcastic comment by the Preacher (the Koheleth) of Ecclesiastes. The thought is that a living human being has a distinct advantage that he/she will one day die. He/she is then able to arrange  a lot of things in his/her life on earth to prepare to meet the issue of death.

2.   But ‘the dead know nothing’. All opportunities for them for action and achievement are gone after death. It’s a thing of the past and the dead now know nothing. They don’t have any reward in the after-life (yet) and their memory is forgotten.

3.   So is this an absolute denial of all hope for them after death? That is what his SDA church promotes for unbelievers. However, that is not what this verse teaches. We have no right to think that this is a statement about the state of the dead in the afterlife. The Preacher is only expressing the relation of the dead to this life. How do we know? The next verse tells us. That’s why it is always good to look at the verse in context and not to quote an isolated verse, as this SDA fellow had done.

4.   Eccl 9:6 tells us, ‘Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and for ever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun’ (ESV). So what the dead have experienced in this life – love, hate, envy – has gone. It has perished. And the dead are not sharing what has happened for them when they were alive on earth – their life ‘under the sun’. The dead do not have a higher reward than what they had in their life ‘under the sun’. They are out of this life, have no reward, and all of the ‘under the sun’ emphases have perished.

5.   This ‘under the sun’ emphasis also appears in this same chapter, Eccl. 9:3.

6.   The SDAs, by taking an isolated verse like Eccl 9:5 to support his doctrine of annihilation and pushing it to the limit of his kind of extremist, negative interpretation is not satisfactory exegesis of the text. He has NOT obtained his annihilation doctrine and nothingness-after-death for the unbeliever from this text. He has imposed the SDA annihilationist view on the text. This is called eisegesis and is an illegitimate way of obtaining the meaning from any text, whether that be the local newspaper or the Bible.

7.   In fact, Eccl 12:7 presents a contrary view to the SDA’s interpretation of Eccl 9:5 with this statement, ‘And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it’ (Eccl 12:7 ESV).

8. Eccl. 9:5-6 demonstrates, according to the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, how hopeless life is when anyone confines herself/himself to life ‘under the sun’ for satisfaction. She/he is faced with a hopeless situation.

9.   There is not a word in Eccl 9:5 that supports an emphasis on annihilation. He gets it from his Seventh-Day Adventist church. And Eccl 12:7 clarifies the meaning of Eccl 9:5 and clearly refutes his interpretation.

At death, the dust of the decayed human body returns to the earth and the spirit of the holistic being returns to God who gave the spirit at birth.

So there you have what I consider is a careful, but brief, refutation of the SDA’s, view on this one verse.

To refute the false doctrine of annihilation, see my articles:


Grim Reaper

(courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Leupold, H C 1969. Exposition of Ecclesiastes. London: Evangelical Press (This is based on a 1969 reprint by Baker Book House Company of the 1952 edition by The Wartburg Press).


[1] harold.fair#43, Christian Fellowship Forum, Fellowship Hall, ‘Soul sleep’. Available at: (Accessed 4 June 2014).

[2] This was my response at ibid., ozspen#45. Much of what I’ve written here is based on the exegesis and exposition of H C Leupold on Ecclesiastes (Leupold 1969:211-212).


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2018.