XII. HUMAN DESTINY:
Introduction: Death and After Life
The OT conception of death and after-life is difficult to summarize or explain
This is due, in part, to the emotional and theological challenges that are woven into
the topic; human beings recoil at the thought of death, more especially at the reality of their own
Human death is so painfully shocking that we often speak of it indirectly, using
euphemisms that shield ourselves or others from the harsh reality of death: "she passed away,"
"he went to be with the Lord," we hear people say.
We should not be surprised that the OT
writers also speak euphemistically about death; their euphemisms are sometimes difficult for us
to understand, however, because they are grounded in a vastly different culture and time than
ours. Hence, is not surprising that the OT presents the reader with a variegated tapestry of
impressions and declarations about death. This is an emotionally charged topic, and the OT text
often theologizes about it in emotionally charged tones.
Reading the secondary literature on this
theme is no less bewildering. As Lloyd Bailey notes: "Secondary literature on this topic will
present the reader with a bewildering and sometimes contradictory array of approaches,
emphases, and conclusions."
Sometimes it is easier to say what is
taught in the OT than to say succinctly what is
taught; this is, to a degree the case here.
First, we should make it clear that the OT does NOT
teach a theology of "the immortality of the soul" which was prominent in Greek and Hellenistic
literature and was gradually imported into Christianity in the early, Patristic era.
The literature on this topic is quite exhaustive. Among the most useful treatments are: Llyod Bailey,
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979); W. Bruggemann, "Death, theology of,"
, 219-222; R.H. Charles,
(London: Adam & Charles Black, 1899), John Davis, "The Future Life in Hebrew Thought During the Pre-Persian
The Princeton Theological Review
, Vol. VI, No. 2 (April 1908), 246-268;
Eichrodt, Theology of the OT
, 2, chs. 16, 19,
Theology of the OT
, 299-315; and E. Jacob, "Death,"
, I, 802-04. Bailey, Bruggemann, and Jacob (
useful bibliographies of additional sources.
Lloyd R. Bailey,
Biblical Perspectives on Death
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 25.