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. Death and Dying: New Testament Perspectives Peter Watts 25 th March 2014. Death and dying: Biblical perspectives. OT ???? NT ???? Similarities and differences. A few things we won’t be doing!. 1) Dwelling/speculating on ‘the intermediate state ’ – because the NT doesn’t do this
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Death and Dying:
New Testament Perspectives
Similarities and differences
1) Dwelling/speculating on ‘the intermediate state’
– because the NT doesn’t do this
2) Attempting to establish a NT perspective on death in relation to non-believers, or related speculation on contrasting ‘final destinations’ (whether heaven, hell, purgatory, annihilation etc.)
– because this is not a primary focus of the NT texts relating to death inasmuch as the texts are addressed to believers
1 Thess. 4:13
…we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
- resurrectionpresent from the outset as Christians reading the NT (and the Bible as a whole). As believers we dohave a distinctive way of approaching death. We also have death as a telos in terms of desiring hope for all now.
3) Attempting to establish a ‘biblical theology of death’ or a synthesis that we can call ‘a (or even the) NT theology of death’
this is beyond the scope of today’s session and not helpful in the contextof this module. Our aim is not to do exegesis in a ‘vacuum’ to get a ‘neat’ or ‘right’ or ‘definitive’ answer.
Beware ‘the Bible says x’
4) Avoiding an ‘always-look-on-the-bright-side-of-life’ theology by jumping all too quickly from death to resurrection.
Similarly avoiding the suggestion that sufficient faith in the NT message of resurrection means that we can overlook what it has to say about death.
the very fact of resurrection infers a human process that continues to involve death.
an over-manifest or triumphalist theology of life is in danger of being de-humanising through belittling or deliberately ignoring illness and death (with all due respect to the charismatics among us), even the cross.
To identify the range of texts in the NT relating to death and dying (+ illness and mourning).
To begin considering the interpretation of these texts and to provide relevant bibliography to continue this process.
To explore the apparent dialectic between physical death and resurrection in the NT, and how this relates to our own understanding of, and approach to, death.
To encourage engagement with the NT texts relating to death and dying in a variety of personal ‘life-situations’, which will include pastoral contexts
Today’s NT theology of death (!)
There is a tension – or dialectic – in the NT texts relating to death. It is between:
the reality and nature of death as experienced in the NT and as we experience it now
the sure and certain hope through Christ of resurrection in the future
Touching on a wide range of texts, but focussing on a few key examples to form basis for further study.
A ‘kerygmatic’ structure to the session: work through death to new life; the cross comes before the resurrection.
Cf. Matthew Malcolm on the shape of 1 Corinthians: Paul and the Rhetoric of Reversal in 1 Corinthians: The Impact of Paul’s Gospel on his Macro-Rhetoric (Cambridge: CUP, 2013)
1) The reality of death
2) The reason for death
3) THE Death
4) THE Resurrection
5) The defeat of death
1 Corinthians 15
Some rudiments of the interpretation process (hermeneutics):
Anthony Thiselton, principal of St John’s 1986-88
‘Pre-understanding’ (Vorverständnis) from Schleiermacher – to be probed in relation to the text
Transforming biblical reading – this will include our ongoing experience of death and mourning impacting our reading
The hermeneutical circle/spiral (e.g. Osborne)
The jigsaw analogy:
“We cannot arrive at a picture of the whole without scrutinizing the parts or pieces, but we cannot tell what the individual pieces mean until we have some sense of the wider picture as a whole. …
Preliminary understandings and responsible journeys into fuller understanding leave room for renegotiation, reshaping and correction in the light of subsequent wrestling with the parts and the whole.”
Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction, pp. 14-15
Establishing the ‘tools’
these include knowledge and understanding of scripture through (perhaps ‘artificial’ or ’contrived’) preparatory contexts. We require certain ‘fixed points’ before the event.
“[I]t is important to try to establish Christian structures of thought that are already ‘givens’ before pain and bereavement strike. What I am writing in this chapter [that follows] is not necessarily what I would say to everyone who grieves. It is certainly part of what I teach to congregations with the aim that more Christians will be better prepared for suffering when it comes.”
Don Carson, How Long O Lord?, p. 98
2) Finding a space for reflection on death during illness and mourning
when this is provided through the liturgy there is a scriptural and supportive framework for reflection.
new encounters with familiar scriptures take place here and become part of our horizon. We avoid making death taboo and prepare for further experiences.
death remains taboo in the contemporary world and yet because of its pervasiveness and a human need for reflection, social media has provided an anonymous and vacuous space for this.
Anything goes. The wheel must be constantly re-invented. Scripture is not offered as part of this framework.
Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth
– 1977 miniseries
John 11 – The death of Lazarus
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Jesus is aware that he would raise Lazarus and yet shares in the human grief that accompanies death.
Cf. Luke 7. 13: Jesus has compassion on the widow of Nain whose son dies (and whom Jesus will raise).
Luke 19.41-44: Jesus weeps over the destruction that will come upon Jerusalem; they are a people facing death.
It is the reality of Jesus’ death and not the hope of resurrection that impacts the disciples before Easter (e.g. Mt 16.21-23).
Sometimes we get blasé about the death bit in our understanding of Jesus, though note, e.g., Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
Jesus does not lack faith and yet in Gethsamene is troubled by his impending death (see death and sin later) (e.g. Lk. 22.39-46).
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death (ἐκ θανάτου), and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
“Broadly speaking, we may say that in the New Testament there are two concepts of death
lying side by side,one of which regards death as the most natural of phenomena,while
paradoxically the other views it as completely unnatural, a horror, an enemy.”
Morris, Wages of Sin, p. 3
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.25Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgement, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
2 Peter 1:12-15
Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort so that after my departure (μετὰ τὴν ἐμὴν ἔξοδον) you may be able at any time to recall these things.
2 Cor. 4.12-16
So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
Part of establishing ‘resources’ for understanding death in NT.
There is no escaping from the relationship between sin and death (cf. Gen. 2.17): all creation is subject to death.
But sin and death are the enemies, not God, they are what create the horror of death.
Romans 5:12-13 (cf. v.15, 17)
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 Cor. 15:21
For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being
“We have to die, because we are dust. That is the law of nature to which we are subject with
all beings―mountains, flowers, and beasts. But, at the same time, we have to die because we
are guilty. That is the moral law to which we, unlike all other beings, are subject. Both laws
are equally true; both are stated in all sections of the Bible.”
Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, 20
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
Transformation of life and death centres on Jesus
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
1 Thessalonians 4: Physical resurrection
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died (περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων), so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last,18and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.
“Death is the enemy. This is blindingly obvious to anyone who has recently been bereaved – though some, thinking to be kind have often tried to soften the blow by pretending death doesn’t really matter that much, which is a piece of blasphemous nonsense. To say that death is anything other than an enemy is to deny the goodness, beauty and power of God’s creation. And the point resurrection is that it is the defeat of death. It isn’t a way of saying that death isn’t so bad after all. … At that final moment death itself will be conquered. And since death is the unmaking of God’s creation, resurrection will be its remaking. That and nothing less is the Christian hope.”
Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, pp. 214-215
2 Tim. 1:10
but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
1 Corinthians 15
3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15
54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ (Isa. 25.8)55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (Hos. 13.14)56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ(τῷδὲ θεῷ χάρις τῷ διδόντι ἡμῖν τὸ νῖκος διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).
11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire;15and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,‘See, the home of God is among mortals.He will dwell with them;they will be his peoples,and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more;mourning and crying and pain will be no more,for the first things have passed away.’
Freedom from fear
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
Cf., e.g., Job 18:14; Ps. 55:4-5
A sure hope
38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 (cf. Rom. 14.8)
…because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.
2 Cor. 4.4
7Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thess. 4:17-18
Anticipation – even to martyrdom
20It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection – now!
when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Cf. Romans 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 15:31; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 2:20; 2 Tim. 2:11-13
1 John 3:14
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.
2 Timothy 2:16-18
Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.
“all New Testament writers share the conviction that what a person believes about human destiny influences his present attitudes and conduct. (E.g. Mt. 24:45-51; Mk. 13:32-37; Lk. 16:9; Jn. 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8-10; Heb. 11:9-10; Jas. 5:8; 1 Pet. 1:13, 17; 2 Pet. 3:10-14; 1 Jn. 3:2-3; Jude 17-23; Rev. 2:7, 11.) For example, the most detailed discussion of death, resurrection and immortality found in Scripture concludes with an exhortation to consistent and enthusiastic service: ‘Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm, let nothing move you, always devote yourselves fully to the Lord’s work in the knowledge that your labour in the Lord is not futile’ (1 Cor. 15:58). Eschatology and ethics are inextricably linked. The glimpses of the future afforded by the New Testament are designed not to satisfy our curiosity about the unknown but to stimulate holiness of life.”
Murray Harris, ‘The New Testament View of Life After Death,’ Themelios11.2 (1986), 47-52 
“Potentially immortal by nature, man actually becomes immortal through
MJ Harris, ‘The New Testament View of Life After Death,’ Themelios11.2 (1986), 47-52