Bible Query from Ecclesiastes
August 2014 version. Copyright (c) Christian Debater(tm) 1997-2014. All rights reserved except as given in the copyright notice.
Q: In Ecc, why would a skeptical book like Ecclesiastes be in the Bible?
A: God loves skeptics too. In fact, God longs to show people who have not found any purpose for their life His purpose for their life. Actually, people who see life as meaningless might have an advantage over some others. It can be easier for them to abandon their own ambitious purposes and submit to Godís purposes, if they already see how meaningless their own purposes are, apart from God. Unfortunately, many are like the Pharisees in Luke 7:30 who rejected Godís purpose for themselves.
Ecclesiastes can be read from different angles. This book can be thought of as a work for workaholics, full or wisdom for people full of themselves, and the logical conclusion of existential thinking.
See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties p.254-255, When Critics Ask p.254, Todayís Handbook for Solving Bible Difficulties p.48-50, and 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.159-160 for complementary answers.
Q: Why is Ecc not quoted in the New Testament?
A: There is no requirement that it had to be. Ecclesiastes is an unusual book about the meaninglessness of life without God. Since the New Testament primarily talks about life with God, Ecclesiastes did not come up.
However, When Critics Ask p.253 points out that while Ecclesiastes is not directly quoted, many of its teachings are repeated. For example, Jesus said we should not have many empty words in prayer (Matthew 6:7 and Ecclesiastes 5:2). Paul said the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10 from Ecclesiastes 5:10). We should avoid the lust of youth (2 Timothy 2:22 from Ecclesiastes 11:10) We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7 from Ecclesiastes 11:1). All are to die once (Hebrews 9:2 from Ecclesiastes 3:2). As Geisler and Howe put it, "Whether, or even how often, a book is quoted does not determine whether it is inspired."
Q: In Ecc, what is an outline of the book?
A: Ecclesiastes is loosely organized. Some commentators think Ecclesiastes 6:7-12, 12:8, and 12:9-14 are three separate conclusions. Others think all of chapter 12 is one conclusion. In general, modern outlines of Ecclesiastes fall into two categories.
The "enjoyment" outline is:
1:1-2:26 - 2:24-26 speaks of enjoyment
3:1-5:20 - 5:18-20 speaks of enjoyment
6:1-8:17 - 8:15-17 speaks of enjoyment
9:1-11:10 - 11:7-10 speaks of enjoyment
12 - Epilogue
The "two-section outline" is
1:3-11 A poem on human vanity
1:12-6:9 Demonstrating the vanity of human effort
6:10-11:6 Demonstrating the vanity of human wisdom
11:7-12:14 Enjoy our life, as temporary as it is, as a gift from God
However, consider a classical music composerís symphony. He may have distinct movements, but he may have themes that reoccur based on artistry, and not logical outlines. It would not be surprising to see Solomon, the writer of science, love poetry, Proverbs, and trade strategies, blend the components of art and logic together, and both outlines could each be partially correct.
See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.978-979, The New Geneva Study Bible p.987, the Believerís Bible Commentary p.879, and The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.488 for more info.
Q: Does Ecc have an Aramaic influence, which the Jews adopted in times later than Solomon?
A: First the facts, then three possibilities.
Facts: Linguists argue over Solomonís writings. While one Conservative Christian scholar (Delitzsch) found 96 "Aramaisms" in Ecclesiastes, the conservative Christian scholar Hengstenberg found only 10. Solomonís writings are unique, in not appearing any closer to 5th century Hebrew documents than 10th century Hebrew documents.
1. Contrary to what Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.512 asserts, it was not written in a "later" style. Rather, it shows a Phoenician and Aramaic influence, which Solomon likely learned from his friendship with Hiram son of Abibaal, king of the Phoenician city of Tyre.
2. Later Hebrew scribes might have updated some of the language to the later style.
3. The writer never actually said he was Solomon. However, a son of David reigning in Jerusalem would either mean Solomon or one of his descendants.
See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties p.255-258, Hard Sayings of the Bible p.292-293, and The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.975-976 for extensive discussions.
Q: Does Ecc and wisdom literature come from Greek influence, as the skeptical Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.962 suggests?
A: No, Asimov is off-base here. He claims that "Wisdom" in post-exilic Judaism came from logos and the influence of Greek philosophy. However, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Ugaritic wisdom literature was written long before the 6th century B.C. Greek philosophers.
Q: Does Ecc seem to be written from 300-200 B.C as Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.512 says?
A: It was definitely written earlier. Asimov might not have known that the earliest fragments of Ecclesiastes in the Dead Sea scrolls were written in the second century B.C. However, Asimov forgot to mention that Ecclesiastes was in the Greek Septuagint, which was translated between 285 and 160 B.C. It would be strange that the Masoretic text, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Septuagint all had this book, and it was first written between 300 and 200 B.C.
Q: In Ecc 1:1 how is everything vanity/meaningless?
A: A vanity may have the appearance of being important but it actually meaningless and worthless. Ecclesiastes was written from the perspective of life without God. Without God, our lives do not have any more meaning than an antís life.
Different people look at life in five ways: as a
Vexation Ė life is just full of trouble and suffering
Void - just meaningless
Vanity - looks important but meaningless
Vacation Ė always seeking pleasure though not having any lasting pleasure
Victory Ė living victoriously for God
(This neat summary was given in a sermon given on the Dallas radio station 100.7 The Word by Rev. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church on May 14, 2009)
Q: In Ecc 1:1-2, was the author a "preacher", or was that his actual name?
A: While a few people think that was his actual name, it is never used anywhere else as an actual name. It very likely means he was a preacher, as well as a king who was a son of David. This would be Solomon. Also, Psalm 127 is said to be by Solomon, and it speaks of the vanity of building without the Lord. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.885,976 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 1:2 and Ecc 11:8, since everything is meaningless, does that include the Bible?
A: No, rather Ecclesiastes 1:3, sets the tone for the whole book. Everything "under the sun" means things done without God or an eternal perspective. These all are in fact, meaningless. Job 21:23-26 also brings up a common destiny for their bodies.
Q: In Ecc 1:4, how can the earth abide forever, since 2 Pet 3:10 says the earth will be burned up, and Rev 21:1 says the first earth will pass away?
A: The Hebrew word for earth had a range of meaning, as does the word for earth in English. Earth can mean soil, the land, this world, or what is on this world. God has chosen to make what is under the surface survive forever, but God will wipe the surface as clean as He says in Zephaniah 1:2-3. The new earth in Revelation 21:1 will be based on what is left of the old earth.
Q: Does Ecc 1:5 show the sun moves around the earth?
A: First a fact that is not a part of the answer, and then the answer. When modern or ancient people use a colloquial term, such as something happening at sunrise or sunset, that does not mean they are discussing astronomy. However, that fact is not related to this verse, as the subject of Ecclesiastes 1:5 is the sun and its course.
Solomon, in a pre-scientific way, is accurately describing the path the sun makes in the sky. It is true that we have no evidence that Solomon knew the earth actually went around the sun instead of vice versa. He is still accurately describing the periodic course of the sun.
Interestingly, if one "translates" this verse into modern scientific terms, it is still completely true, since we can look at physics and astronomy from a relativistic sense and not just a 19th century view. Scientists today can indeed say the sun goes around the earth - from the frame of reference of the earth.
Q: Does Ecc 1:6 show the wind has to return to the place it came from, just like the sun?
A: The writer of Ecclesiastes is truthful, but extremely vague here, probably because he does not know everything about the wind. However, his point is still scientifically valid. The earth has no net gain or loss of "wind". When the local air pressure falls, that loss is restored when the air pressure rises. A more scientific way of paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 1:6 is that the air and wind around the world is in dynamic equilibrium.
Q: In Ecc 1:7, how does the "river" return to where it came from?
A: Ecclesiastes 1:7 is simply a description of the earthís water cycle. Even if you did not believe God inspired the author of Ecclesiastes, you have to admit this was an astute observation from a culture 1,000 years before Christ, that only had common, inexpensive iron tools for a few hundred years.
Q: In Ecc 1:9-10, in our technological age, is there really nothing new under the sun?
A: Much has changed in both technology and society. However, what about man himself is new? Regardless of technology, the most central questions about the meaning of life itself in Ecclesiastes have not changed. Life without God is as meaningless today as it was back then. Whether people live in a house in Jesusí time, or in a centrally air-conditioned house today, everything else is insignificant compared to the eternal issues of the soul, and nothing has changed in that regard. See When Critics Ask p.254 and The Bible Knowledge Commentary : New Testament p.980 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 1:11, since there is no memory of former things, then what about history?
A: The writer of Ecclesiastes is not communicating that nobody ever knows anything about the past, because the writer himself is recounting past events in his writing. Rather, after a person dies, their direct, personal knowledge is lost from this world forever.
In a second, historical sense, the vast majority of the once vitally important information about past kingdoms and empires is not only lost, it is no longer of any value.
Q: In Ecc 1:12, what exactly does the Hebrew mean here?
A: Some have claimed this means "I Ö was [and am no longer] king." However, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.976 says the verb could just as well be translated "I Öhave been [and still am] king." Thus, Ecclesiastes 1:12 does not address the question of how long the writer remained king.
Q: In Ecc 1:13 and Ecc 4:8 (KJV), what is a "sore travail"?
A: This King James Version expression can be translated "burdensome task" The first Hebrew word (Ďra) has a wide range of meaning. It can mean evil, adversity, distress, misery, and so forth. The Hebrew word for task, Ďinyan, also can mean "employment" or "affair".
Q: In Ecc 1:16, did the preacher suffer from a problem with pride in his wisdom?
A: What Solomon said was true; he did have great wisdom. But it is possible he took pride in his wisdom, also. It is a paradox that the same person could write Proverbs 3:5-7, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understandingÖ. Do not be wise in your own eyesÖ" and yet later Solomon was wise in his own eyes and sought wisdom first. (Ultimately Solomon saw that true wisdom was beyond him though in Ecclesiastes 7:23-24).
This is a case of "do what Solomon said, not what he did." We should listen to what God said through Solomon, and learn what the Bible honestly shows us from his mistakes.
Q: In Ecc 1:17 and Ecc 2:12, why would any believer want to give his heart to know madness and folly?
A: Solomon likely wanted to for the sake of knowing wisdom by studying what it is not. However, Solomon (and us), should not want to do things just for the sake of learning about them. Do you want to learn firsthand what it is like to jump from an airplane with no parachute?
This verse, like many others in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) is not a commandment to us, but an observation that we can learn from of what others did.
Q: In Ecc 1:17, is it a good thing to give your heart to know wisdom?
A: Actually, no. Solomon did this, but Solomon was disobedient to God for much of his earthly life. We should give our heart to God, and learn and use wisdom to serve God. However, loving and obeying God should be our number one desire and goal, not wisdom.
Q: In Ecc 1:18, since in much wisdom there is much grief, then why does it cause happiness as Prov 3:13 says, and should we want to be wise?
A: Under the sun, (or apart from God), even wisdom is useless. Not only is it useless, but knowing everything that is going on, and knowing about death and suffering only causes grief. The common expression "ignorance is bliss" is not true, but without God ignorance can be less grievous than wisdom.
The Bible does not teach that we should merely get wisdom. Rather it distinguishes between worldly wisdom and Godís wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:19-25). We should seek Godís wisdom (Proverbs 9). Yet, we are foolish if we think that mastering all of Godís wisdom is a process we will complete in this life. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-7, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understandingÖ. Do not be wise in your own eyesÖ". See When Critics Ask p.254-255 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 2:2 since laughter is mad here, should Christians never laugh?
A: No. Only some laughter is mad. All laughter is not condoned, but Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a proper time to laugh. Jesus criticized some laughter (Lk 6:25), but still promised laughter for the godly in Lk 6:21. Psalm 126:2 and Job 8:21 also mention the righteous laughing with joy. See When Critics Ask p.255 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 2:3, should Christians follow the writerís example, and give themselves to wine?
A: No. As in harems and materialism, there are many things mentioned in Ecclesiastes, under the sun, that we are not to follow, nor are we ever told to follow.
Q: In Ecc 2:8 (KJV), what were the delights of the sons of men"?
A: The meaning of the Hebrew word is not certain, but its probable meaning is "harem". A harem is a large collection of wives and concubines.
Q: In Ecc 2:10, should a believer want to fill his heart with all pleasure?
A: No. While a believer should not indulge in sinful pleasures, such as drugs, that is not what this verse is taking about. There are two points to consider in the answer.
1. This refers to legitimately acquired pleasures, such as purchased material things, which Godís Law did not specifically forbid?
2. It is still a sin to live a life in pursuit of pleasure, even if the pleasures are not evil ones. Our lives should be in pursuit of a closer relationship with God.
Q: Does Ecc 2:14-15 prove non-existence after death?
A: No. It simply says one event [death] happens to all. Under the sun, people who die are not under the sun anymore.
Q: In Ecc 2:16, how is there no more remembrance of the wise more than the fool after death?
A: There are three distinct ways.
The Deceased: The direct memories in the minds of those who die are lost to this world forever.
Others: The memories of those left on this earth fade of the one who died. In history, many facts about ancient civilizations, which were crucial for people to know at the time, are forgotten and useless to all but archaeologists today.
Eternally: For both the righteous and unrighteous, all the skills, knowledge, and wisdom of this world are useless after death.
Q: In Ecc 2:17-18,20,23 should we "hate life"?
A: The point of Ecclesiastes concerns "life under the sun". In other words, it is material life without God. Ecclesiastes never says we should hate life; rather the writer is saying he hates life. Proverbs 8:35-36 speaks well of those who find life. However, it is easy to hate life "under the sun" without God. In a strange sense, this is one place where the teachings of Buddhism and Christianity almost agree. Buddhism first point on the eightfold path says that life is suffering. While Christianity says that the Christian life is great, even despite suffering, Christianity partially agrees with Buddhism on one point, that life without the real God is and will be suffering.
Q: In Ecc 2:21, what is the context of whether or not the son would preserve the inheritance?
A: Perhaps he personally wondered this about his son, the future king Rehoboam. Rehoboam ultimately was a fool who lost ten tribes from his kingdom.
Q: Does Ecc 2:24 show that Epicureanism is true?
A: No. See the discussion on Ecclesiastes 2:3. 1 Corinthians 15:32 says that without God, there are not many choices, as Epicureanism is as good a choice as any. See When Critics Ask p.256 for more info.
Hard Sayings of the Bible p.293-294 gives a careful translation of this and notes that the words "nothing better" are not present. In other words, this verse is saying that while eating and drinking is good and from God, under the sun without God, there is really nothing else for us to do except eat and drink.
Q: Since Ecc 3:2 says there is a time to be born and a time to die, when is euthanasia, including physician -assisted suicide, morally right?
A: We must first distinguish between types of dying, and then see what the Bible says.
A definition of euthanasia, from the Greek words eu thanatos meaning "good/easy death", is intentionally causing death by act or omission of a non-fetal being whose life is deemed not worth living, and thinking it is not morally wrong to do so. Euthanasia can be voluntary or involuntary on the patientís part, and actively killing, or passively withholding treatment, food, water, or warmth. Of course, how one defines undesirable existence, whether of oneself or others, is subject to a wide range of interpretation.
Involuntary active euthanasia of undesirable existence was widely practiced in Nazi Germany; today we call that evil the Holocaust. Uganda, Communist China, and the Communist U.S.S.R. also had their own holocausts. Involuntary active euthanasia is only for certain criminals, but growing old should not be a crime.
Voluntary active euthanasia laws are most liberal today in the Netherlands. However, since physicians there have the right to administer voluntary euthanasia, the booklet A Christian Response to Physician-Assisted Suicide p.12-13 reports that a Dutch study (Herbert Hendin, Chris Rutenfrans, and Zbigniew Zylicz "Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Netherlands" Journal of American Medical Association 277 (1977) p.1720-1722.) found that there was more involuntary euthanasia than voluntary euthanasia. It apparently is a "slippery slope" from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary, as the victims rarely file complaints.
Allowing death, also called passive euthanasia, can be compassionate for the terminally ill, who wish to die more quickly and in less pain. It can merely mean not taking extraordinary medical measures. This is the only type of euthanasia that can be moral. However, some passive euthanasia can be cruel too, for those who do not wish to die, and who are not terminally ill. We should not let otherwise healthy people die simply from lack of food. Who are we to say someone elseís life is not worthwhile, especially when he or she thinks it is.
Suicide was only practiced in the Bible by Judas Iscariot, Saul, and Samson. In the early church, Lactantius (260-330 A.D.) writes that the crime of suicide is as bad or greater than murder of another in The Divine Institutes 3:19. Suicide is a sin, but the Bible does not say it is unforgivable. The early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c.325 A.D.) recounts how six Christian women, on three different occasions committed suicide rather than be abused sexually (Ecclesiastical History chapters 12 and 14).
In brief, the Bible prohibits murder, which includes suicide and most forms of euthanasia of people. The Bible does not prohibit what is called "voluntary, passive euthanasia", where exceptional medical procedures are withheld, or the patient is allowed to die naturally. While the Bible does not say suicide is OK, see the next question for what the Bible does say that relates to dying.
See A Christian Response to Physician-Assisted Suicide, New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Theology p.357-359,825-826, Christians in Pain, and the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.1631 for more info. Even though euthanasia is wrong, Christian decisions involving medical treatment can be far from trivial. See Life and Death Decisions for discussions for some of the issues involving medical treatment.
Q: In Ecc 3:2, what does the Bible teach about dying?
A: While the Bible does not use the term "euthanasia" per se, we can learn from it the following 22 things related to dying.
In dying as in everything else, the world offers us hollow and deceptive philosophies, but we should follow what God teaches us (Colossians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 1:19-23; John 10:16). Do not just do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25).
We are valuable because all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8:4-5). We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
We are to honor the elderly (Leviticus 19:32; 1 Timothy 5:2) .
We are to help (not kill) orphans, widows, sick, prisoners, and others society might consider undesirable (James 1:27; Deuteronomy 15:11; Psalm 68:5; Matthew 25:35-36,42-44; Zechariah 7:9-10; Hebrews 13:3).
We must not murder, and people who intentionally murder can be executed (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; 21:12; Deuteronomy 5:17).
Murder does not include lawful executions and war (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:12; Psalm 144:1; Deuteronomy 20:10-18) One can kill in self-defense (Exodus 22:2).
Killing and hunting animals is OK (Acts 10:10-15; Leviticus 17:13; Exodus-Deuteronomy), but do not be cruel to them (Proverbs 12:10).
Christians should offer the comfort of God (2 Corinthians 1:4-6) and be compassionate to all (Colossians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 4:32; Proverbs 11:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). Godís love to us endures forever (Psalm 107:1-2).
No one can take their earthly riches with them (Luke 12:18-21; Psalm 37:7-10), so provide for your family and others (Proverbs 13:22; 17:2; 19:14; Psalm 17:14; 1 Timothy 5:3-5,8,16) and give to the Lordís work (Proverbs 3:9; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-8; 9:6-12; Haggai 1:3-11).
We should be courageous in the face of death (Psalm 23:1; Romans 8:35-39; Revelation 2:11,13), and not fear (1 John 4:18), for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20-21). Pray to God when you are close to death (Psalm 18:4-6; 116:3; 142; Philippians 4:6-7). We find rest in God alone (Psalm 62:1).
Though in general we are not to be intoxicated, intoxicants are good for the dying (Proverbs 31:6-7).
All the time, not just near death, we should realize that our lives on earth are fleeting (Psalm 39:4-6; 90:3-6; 144:4; James 1:10-11).
God already knows every day of our lives (Psalm 139:16).
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (Psalms 116:15) God is there in a special way for those who call upon Him (Psalm 145:18,20).
People can be so depressed that they despair of life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9), but that does not justify suicide.
In some cases, suffering and trials can have beneficial results (James 1:2) and we can glorify God (2 Peter 4:7) as Job did. Our sufferings will seem small compared to the glories of Heaven (1 Peter 1:6-9, 1 Corinthians 2:9).
While often do not see Godís purpose for things now (Psalm 42,43,74,79,88; Job), in the end we will how God works things out (Habakkuk 1:1-11; 1:12-17; 2), see Godís wisdom, justice, love, and mercy, not have any mourning in Heaven (Revelation 21:4).
Suffering and death can be both arbitrary and unjust (Luke 13:1-2; Ezekiel 13:19), but Jesus understands our condition, because He experienced unjust suffering and death too (Psalm 22:1; Acts 3:13-15).
We should long to be with Christ, but see the value of remaining on earth, glorifying God and helping others (Philippians 1:22-23; 3:12-15; 2 Peter 1:5-8).
For non-Christians, God is not slow, but wants people to have time to repent (2 Peter 3:9).
People dying was not good or natural, either prior to the Fall or in Heaven (Romans 8:20-23; 5:13; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:42-58). Nevertheless, all things work together as a part of Godís plan, and for good for those who love God (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28).
Heaven is a place with no suffering, dying or pain (Revelation 21:4-5).
In conclusion, we are not to fear death or ignore it, nor to focus on it all the time. Rather, believers should see our life on earth, and our death, as integrated parts of our path to the best of all possible worlds, our eternal home with the Lord.
Q: In Ecc 3:3, is there really a time to kill?
A: There is a time to kill plants and animals, but that is not relevant to what this verse is saying. Yes, there is a time to kill, as there is a time for war in Ecclesiastes 3:8.
Q: In Ecc 3:8, is there a time for believers to hate?
A: Yes in two ways.
In the Old Testament, believers were not yet taught about loving everyone, including their enemies.
In all times, believers are to hate sin.
Q: Is Ecc 3:13 sort of a Judeo-Christian Epicureanism?
A: Ecclesiastes bring this attitude as an option, but does not recommend it. Judeo-Christian Epicureanism is staying away from major sins, tithing, going to church, and doing the minimum you ought to be doing, and just living the rest of your life how you want for yourself, with no further commitment to God. That is not what God wants for any of use. What about the love and passion for God? Do you take initiative in expressing your love for God by your works? Where is the concern for others, and what about the joy of being in Godís presence? God wants every Christian, regardless of whether they are in a paid ministerial position or not, to be committed to Him.
In Ecclesiastes it is important to understand the main point before trying to make generalities out of individual verses. Ecclesiastes 3:13 in particular, and the whole book of Ecclesiastes in general, gives an accurate (and depressing) description of life under the sun without God.
Q: Does Ecc 3:19-21 teach there is no afterlife?
A: No. Three points to consider in the answer.
1. According to the NIV footnotes, this can be translated "Who knows the spirit of man, which rises upward or theÖ", instead of "Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if theÖ". The word "if" is not actually present in the Hebrew.
2. Regardless of the translation, the context of Ecclesiastes is "life under the sun", and within that context, afterlife is not something anybody can know about, except by Godís revelation. When Cultists Ask p.74-75 adds that physically in the body, death and decay are the same; however, at the resurrection and the judgment things are different.
3. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.977 points out that the "method" of Ecclesiastes primarily was empirical observation, as Ecclesiastes 1:14,17; 2:1-10; 2:11-13; 3:16; 4:1; 6:1,11; 7:15,27; 8:9,11; 9:11,13. Thus, the hesitation to teach life after death was consistent with both the method of Ecclesiastes, and the "if this be the only life" pessimism of the book.
See also Hard Sayings of the Bible p.294-295, Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions p.229-230, When Critics Ask p.256-258, and 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.160 for more info.
Q: Does Ecc 3:21 teach that an animal has a spirit like a person does?
A: The Hebrew word here is actually "breath", which has a range of meanings. This verse does not answer this question. All that the writer of Ecclesiastes is saying, is that from observing what goes on under the sun, one cannot tell what happens to the life of men or animals after death. See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties p.258-260 for more info. See also the discussion on 2 Peter 2:5 and Revelation 16:3 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 4:1, Ecc 5:8-9; Ecc 8:9; and Ecc 10:16-20, how could all this injustice and oppression occur during Solomonís reign?
A: Regardless of whether Solomon was the author or not, the writer did not say it was under his rule during his time. These things occurred many times to Israel in the book of judges, and in Solomonís time to many other peoples.
See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.976 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 4:2, is it really better for the oppressed to be dead than alive?
A: It depends. There are two points to consider in the answer.
1. Ecclesiastes is written from the perspective of "life under the sun", without God. From this perspective, it is definitely better for the oppressed to be dead than alive.
2. From an eternal perspective, it is also easier for oppressed believers to die and go to Heaven than to live on earth.
Q: Since Ecc 4:5 (KJV) says the "fool eateth his own flesh", does the KJV Bible promote cannibalism?
A: No, not even for fools. The example illustrates that a person does not have a net gain of nutrients when he eats his own flesh. In modern terms, when you are playing a zero-sum game, such as gambling, and you are playing alone, do not expect to make any money. See also the discussion on Leviticus 29:29.
Q: In Ecc 4:11, since it is better to lie together than alone, is sexual relations outside of marriage better than celibacy?
A: No. While togetherness is a good thing, trying to disobey God and "take a shortcut" to this is sin. In a similar way, while it is better to have money that to have no money at all, a penniless person does not have Godís permission to rob banks.
Many (but not all) sins are people trying to take "short-cuts", disobeying Godís commandments, to achieve what in some circumstances are good things.
Q: Does Ecc 4:13 refer to Solomon?
A: Some would think so. Solomon as a young man was wise, only moderately wealthy, and obedient to God. Solomon never left believing in God, but Solomon did leave being obedient to God. Perhaps he wrote Ecclesiastes after he returned to obeying God, after he saw that he was an old and foolish king, and would not be corrected.
He was a wise and intelligent king, who became a foolish and intelligent king, and wanted to return to the path of wisdom.
Q: In Ecc 4:13-16, to whom is the writer referring?
A: This does not refer to anyone in the kingdom of Israel. This might have been Joseph, as Joseph reigned under Pharaoh. However, the writer did not specify who this was, probably because he wanted to illustrate a general principle, and not get people bogged down in historical specifics.
Q: In Ecc 5:1, why does it mention going to the house of God, since Ecclesiastes tells of life under the sun without God?
A: This illustrates an important point. One can still be very religious and yet be very far from God.
Q: In Ecc 6:1 (NASB), should it say "is prevalent among men" or "weighs heavily on men" (NIV)?
A: According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.990, the NASB is incorrect here. The NRSV translates this as "weighs heavily upon humankind" and the NIV says "weighs heavily on men". The NKJV translates this as "common among men". Greenís literal translation says "it is great among men".
Q: In Ecc 6:6 and Ecc 9:2-3, does everyone really share a common destiny?
A: Under the sun, yes. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says death is the destiny of every man. The scope of Ecclesiastes shows only life on earth, not eternal life. Of course, one thing Jehovahís Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, Christians, and many religions agree on is that ultimately everyone does not go to the same place.
Q: In Ecc 7:1, what is significant of the writerís use of the word "oil" here?
A: "Oil" usually had a strong smell. It was used for joy (as in perfume) (Ecclesiastes 9:8), prosperity (Job 29:6), and reputation (Song of Songs 1:3). Oil was also used for anointing the body in death. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.992 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 7:1, why is the day of death better than the day of birth?
A: Two points to consider here.
Ecclesiastes 7:8 explains exactly what he means. At the day of death, life under the sun is at an end, and we have completed on earth all we are going to complete. Before we develop pride in our accomplishments, wait until the end, the day of death, to see how things really turn out. The temporal and eternal legacy of a good name after you die, is better than temporary pleasure which does not last any longer than the smell of perfume.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 says why we should consider this. Remembering that death happens to all, will help keep us focused on the eternal perspective instead of the momentary life under the sun.
Q: In Ecc 7:15 (NIV), should this be "meaningless life" or "fleeting life"?
A: Scholars have two views:
Brief life: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.993 says "meaningless life" in the NIV is incorrect here and it should be "fleeting life". "fleeting life" is how the NET Bible translates it.
Meaningless life: The NKJV says "days of vanity", the KJV says "days of my vanity", and the NRSV says "vain life". The NASB says "lifetime of futility". The Expositorís Bible Commentary volume 5 p.1175 quotes the NIVís "meaningless life" without comment.
Regardless, the Bible teaches both that our life on earth is very brief, and that life without God is meaningless.
Q: In Ecc 7:16, how should people not be overly righteous, since we are to aim for perfection as 2 Cor 13:11 says?
A: In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul encourages believers to press on toward the goal, and we are to strive to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect according to Matthew 5:48. We can never be too Christ-like. However, people can be "overly-righteous" in not just one but three ways.
Pride: We can unfortunately become proud of our righteousness, our service to others, our Bible reading, and our walk with God.
Self-righteousness: This is actually slightly different (and perhaps worse) than just pride. We can start trusting in our own righteousness instead of trusting in Godís grace and mercy, as the Jews did in Romans 10:3. When Critics Ask p.258 uses different words to make the same point: a person cannot be too righteous, but he can be overly righteous.
Error of sinless perfection: Some people, especially in some Holiness churches, believe they can be sinlessly perfect in this life, contrary to 1 John 1:10. People like this either do not know themselves well, or more commonly, do not understand sin very well. One time a leader in a group like this told a camp director that he had arrived at sinless perfection. The camp director, mildly surprised at this claim, asked for the manís phone number. The leader asked why. The camp director said it was to call his home and ask his wife if she thought he was sinlessly perfect. The leader backed off and said, "I did not mean I do not make little mistakes." Some false teachers, such as Rev. Moon, claim to be sinlessly perfect. Catholics claim that Mary was sinlessly perfect. However, when Mary praised God in Luke 1:46-55, Mary called Jesus her Savior too, in Luke 1:47. Apparently, even Mary needed a Savior.
Hard Sayings of the Bible p.295-296 strongly emphasizes the point that this verse does not mean we appear overly righteous to others, but rather the reflexive form of the verb means we view ourselves to be more righteous than we really are. This is similar to Proverbs 3:7, where it says do not be wise in your own eyes.
Q: In Ecc 7:19, how is a wise man more powerful than ten rulers?
A: Someone who can avert a war will have a stronger army than someone who has just finished fighting a war. Someone who can make friends and allies easily is more secure than someone who always has to fight to survive.
Solomon personally experienced this. During the time of Solomonís great kingdom, Assyria and Babylon were rather weak. The greatest powers in the Mideast on the land and sea were Egypt and Phoenicia, and Solomon had very friendly relations with both of them.
Q: In Ecc 7:28, why did the Teacher find one upright man among a thousand but no upright women?
A: This is what the human teacher personally discovered, not what God says is true for all time. Actually though, there is one upright man, Jesus, and in Heaven, all men and women will be upright.
Q: In Ecc 8:2-5, should we always obey kings, regardless of whether they command good or evil?
A: No. An analogy might help here. Regardless of whether a governor likes all the laws of a country, patriotic citizens should obey the laws of the province, except where the laws of the province conflict with the laws of the country. Regardless of whether the premier like Godís laws or not, all citizens should obey the laws of the country, except where the laws conflict with Godís law.
Q: In Ecc 8:3 should this verse say "will do" or "can do"?
A: According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.996 it should not be translated as "will do" but "can do". The NASB and NIV say "will do". The NKJV, NRSV, and Greenís Literal translation say "does" and the KJV says "doeth".
Q: In Ecc 8:12, how come a wicked man can live a long time, since God gives the righteous long life?
A: Ecclesiastes 8:12 is not promising anything to the wicked, but remarking on the unfairness of life as perceived only from "under the sun". Some (not all) wicked do live a long life on earth. Of course, even the longest life on earth is nothing compared to eternal life.
Martin Gardiner, a former editor of Scientific American, and an agnostic, wrote a great essay where he discovered this exact point in his book, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener. Of course, Gardiner discovered this almost 3,000 years after Solomon did. Lactantius (c.303-325 A.D.) made a similar point in The Divine Institutes book 6 ch.9 p.171-172.
See When Critics Ask p.258-259 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 9:5-6 and Ps 6:5, are people unconscious and non-existent at death, since the dead know nothing?
A: Dead people have no memory in this world, not no memory of this world, as When Critics Ask p.259 says. This thought is completely consistent with the main thrust of Ecclesiastes, the meaningless of life under the sun.
The Hebrew word for "know" in Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, yada, is interesting in that it has a wide range of meaning. Strongís Concordance says, "a primitive root; to know (properly to ascertain by seeing); used in a great variety of senses, figurative, literal, euphemism, and causat. Instruction, designation, punishment, etc. [as follow]:" acknowledge, acquaintance (acquainted with), advise, answer, appoint, assuredly, be aware, etc. Other interesting synonyms in Strongís Concordance are declare, instruct, tell, and feel.
Of the various words for "know", this word is appropriate here, because "the dead know nothing" in at least four ways.
1. The dead do not see (ascertain) anything under the sun anymore.
2. Whatever knowledge and experience they may have learned, the knowledge is lost under the sun, for they cannot pass it on.
3. As in verse 5, the (spiritually and physically) dead have no hope and no knowledge of a future state. Even the wicked on this earth can have hope of repenting and being saved while they still breathe the air under the sun.
4. They know of no reward. As in Job 14:21, the dead have no knowledge of honor or dishonor paid to their memory, or how soon they are forgotten.
Also see the discussion on Psalm 6:5, Jehovahís Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse p.39-42, 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.162, and When Cultists Ask p.75-76 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 9:7-9 and Ecc 11:3-10 emphasize that we should be happy under the sun with our meaningless lives?
A: Irony means to use various words to express the exact opposite of what they usually mean. God uses irony in a number of places in the Bible, and this is a clear example here.
People "under the sun", who are never going to seek God, should try very hard to enjoy life as much as they can, because they will not have any enjoyment after they die. Reflect on that sobering thought as you rush off to enjoy the pleasures of this season - and have a good time.
Q: In Ecc 9:10, what does it mean to do whatsoever your hands find to do?
A: This is a part of a larger section, Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, where the advice is ironic. (An irony is something that is said that has the opposite meaning of the words, such as "you should work hard today to make money for yourself, if you are going to die tomorrow.)
The meaning here is that if you are going to live under the sun (without God), work hard at all you do, because it is going to be gone when you die.
See Now Thatís A Good Question p.578-579 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 9:11, how can "time and chance happen to them all" since God sovereignly rules everything?
A: God is beyond time, yet time was apparently constructed by Him for his creatures. God does not need to guess anything, but God constructed the laws of probability as a part of the natural law for His creation. Chaos, and what we commonly call chance, are just a few of the "brushes" God uses in painting the mural of reality.
Q: If Ecc 9:12 says no man knows when his hour will come, what about criminals who have a date and time set for their execution?
A: People in general do not know when they will die, and it can often seem so sudden when it comes. Yet, this verse is true even if a criminal was told the exact second of his execution. For, until the event occurs, not even the executed criminals know for certainty they will die on that second, or will be pardoned at the last minute.
Q: In Ecc 10:1 (NET Bible), should it by "fly" (singular) or "flies" (plural)
A: The Hebrew is literally "flies of death". The NET Study Bible says that the plural form could mean multiple flies, or else the multiple parts of one fly. The NIV has "flies".
Q: In Ecc 10:2, is God prejudice against left-handed people?
A: No. Some of the men of Benjamin were valued as soldiers for being left-handed in Judges 20:16. Though the Benjamites sinned in going to war, and left-handedness was specifically mentioned, their being left-handed or right-handed had nothing to do with their being good or bad.
Ecclesiastes 10:2 is simply using colloquial language for good and bad. God can communicate in easy to understand, colloquial language as He wishes.
Q: In Ecc 11:2-4, how does the light grow dark, strong men stoop, grinding and singing sounds fade?
A: This refers to what believers consider a short, temporary condition: old age.
Q: Does Ecc 11:3, prove there is no chance for salvation after death as some say?
A: Ecclesiastes 11:3 neither proves nor disproves that. It is a poetic means of reminding us that some things in our life are irreversible. You cannot do anything more in this life, after you die.
Q: What does Ecc 11:6-7 mean?
A: These verses rapidly cover some complex types of events. There are two patterns interwoven here.
Reversibility vs. Irreversibility: A sprouting seed in Ecclesiastes 11:6 is an example of an irreversible event, while Ecclesiastes 11:7 shows a "reversible" event. Ecclesiastes 11:8 speaks of aging. Are you prepared for your final event, which is naturally inevitable and irreversible?
Hopeful vs. Inevitable: It is wise for a farmer to work hard on all his fields, even though he does not know which things will prosper, or if any will. On the other hand, without God, the coming "days of darkness" are inevitable.
Q: In Ecc 11:9, should a young person follow the ways of his heart, or Godís way?
A: Sarcasm is sometimes used in scripture, and the ironic sarcasm of Ecclesiastes 11:9 is only made clear in the last phrase of this verse. In other words, be happy, do all you desire, "but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment."
Haleyís Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible p.250 mentions that the Jewish commentators Menasseh ben Israel, Aben Ezra, and Rashi all take this as ironic. (Ironic means the statement communicates the opposite of what the words literally mean, such as when someone says "so have fun without God", when someone comes to the realization of how empty and un-fun eternal life ultimately will be without God.
See When Critics Ask p.259 for more info.
Q: In Ecc 11:10, why are youth and vigor meaningless?
A: For someone living "under the sun", their past youth and vigor can seem very meaningless when they are old.
Q: In Ecc 11:10, since everything the teacher wrote is upright and true, why do some statements in Ecclesiastes "under the sun" contradict other parts of the Bible?
A: A legalist is one who rejects using context, and the context, of life under the sun, is especially important here. One of the most blatant examples of taking a verse out of context is a dermatologist who claimed the Bible said, "skin for skin, a man will give all he has for his skin." However, he forgot the preceding three words: "And Satan said".
Q: In Ecc 12:1-8, why is it so depressing? We already got the point back in Ecc 11:8.
A: Even today, a great number of people still do not get the point about living for eternity instead of for today. Perhaps people should expand on this more.
Q: Is Ecc 12:9-14 an addendum written later, as Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.515 claims?
A: We have no external evidence either way. Within Ecclesiastes itself, Ecclesiastes is written in first person, with the exception of the ending, so Asimov might be correct here. If a second person wrote an addendum to Ecclesiastes, that poses no problem for inerrancy.
Q: In Ecc 12:13-14, what is the main point of this book of the Bible?
A: The whole book of Ecclesiastes, except the last six verses, if full of irony. However, in case someone completely missed the point, the writer steps out of irony at the end. There is no point in living under the sun instead of in the fear of the Lord. Whatever you decide to do, remember that God will reward every good thing, and punish every bad thing. See Hard Sayings of the Bible p.296-297 for more info.
Q: In Ecc, what are some of the earliest manuscripts that still exist today?
A: Dead Sea scrolls: (175-150 B.C.) 3 separate copies in cave 4 (The Dead Sea Scrolls Today p.30, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated : The Qumran Texts in English 2nd ed., and The Dead Sea Scrolls in English 4th ed.). The copies are called 4Q109 and 4Q110. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated : The Qumran Texts in English 2nd ed. p.481 mentions that 4Q110 consists of two fragments. These are dated from the late second century B.C.
However, the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.436-438 says there were only 2 separate copies. It mentions that one of them was written from 175-150 B.C.
Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls p.296 says there were two copies, the older, 4QQoholeth(a) is dated 175-150 B.C.; it contains Ecc 5:13-17; 6:1; 6:3-8; 6:12; 7:1-10; 7:19-20.. The newer, 4QQoholeth(b) is dated c.50 B.C.. It contains Ecclesiastes 1:10-14, 15?.
Overall, preserved in the Dead Sea scrolls are the following verses from Ecclesiastes: 1:10-14,15? 5:13-17; 6:1,3-8,12; 7:1-10,19-20. See The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls for more details.
Christian Bible manuscripts, from about 350 A.D., contain the Old Testament, including Ecclesiastes.
Papyrus Med. 13 (3rd century) has part of Ecclesiastes according to The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts p.463.
Vaticanus (325-350 A.D.), Sinaiticus (340-350 A.D.), and Alexandrinus (c.450 A.D.) each have preserved all of Ecclesiastes.
Q: Which early writers referred to Ecclesiastes?
A: Pre-Nicene writers who referenced or alluded to verses in Ecclesiastes are:
Shepherd of Hermas (160 A.D.)
Melito/Meleto of Sardis (170-177/180 A.D.) lists all the books of the Old Testament, and he includes every book we have except Nehemiah and Esther. Fragment 4 From the Book of Extracts p.759.
Tertullianís Five Books Against Marcion (207/208 A.D.)
Clement of Alexandria (193-217/220 A.D.)
Hippolytus (222-235/6 A.D.) mentions by name Proverbs, Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs in Fragment of Commentary on the Song of Songs p.176
Origen (225-254 A.D.)
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.)
Gregory Thaumaturgus (240-265 A.D.) wrote an entire work, Metaphrase of Ecclesiastes.
Dionysius of Alexandria (246-256 A.D.)
Methodius of Olympus and Patara (260-312 A.D.)
Athanasius (367 A.D.) lists all of the Old Testament books in Paschal Letter 39 ch.4 p.552.
Augustine of Hippo (338-430 A.D.) mentions Ecclesiastes in The City of God book 17 ch.5 p.345 and book 17 ch.20 p.358
Epiphanius of Salamis (360-403 A.D.) mentions Ecclesiastes in Panarion.
Cyril of Jerusalem (c.349-386 A.D.) quotes Ecclesiastes 9:7,8 as by Solomon in Ecclesiastes in Lecture 22 ch.8 p.152
John Chrysostom (-407 A.D.) said Ecclesiastes 7:2 was by Solomon vol.10 Commentary on Matthew Homily 40 p.263
Among heretics and spurious works
Pelagian heretic Theodore of Mopsuestia (392-423/429 A.D.) alludes to Ecclesiastes 12:7 Commentary on Malachi ch.22 p.411
Q: In Ecc, what are some of the translation differences between the Hebrew and Greek Septuagint?
A: Here are a few of them. In the examples below, the Masoretic text is first, except where noted. I mainly focused on the first chapter, to get a sample for the whole book. The first reading is the Masoretic text, and the second is the Septuagint, unless otherwise noted.
Ecc 1:1 "the king in Jerusalem" vs. "the king of Israel in Jerusalem"
Ecc 1:6 the "wind" vs. the "it" goes to the south and returns to the north
Ecc 1:11 "former of memory" vs. "first things"
Ecc 1:11 "be afterward" vs. "been last"
Ecc 1:13 "heavens" vs. "heaven"
Ecc 1:15 "weighed out" vs. "numbered"
Ecc 1:17 "I gave my heart to know wisdom" vs. "my heart knew much"
Ecc 2:3 "folly" vs. "mirth"
Ecc 2:25 "more than I" (Masoretic, Targum, Vulgate) vs. "without Him" (some Masoretic, Septuagint, Syriac)
Ecc 8:10 "praise" (Hebrew and Septuagint, Aquila, Vulgate) vs. "praise and are forgotten" (other Hebrew texts)
Ecc 9:2 "good and the bad" (some Hebrew, Septuagint, Syriac,Vulgate) vs. "good" (most Hebrew manuscripts)
Ecc 9:14 "snares" (Masoretic) vs. "bulwarks/siegeworks" (Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate)
Ecc 12:6 "loosed" (Qere, Targum) vs. "removed" (Ketubim) vs. "broken" (Septuagint, Vulgate)
Bibliography for this question: the Hebrew translation is from Jay P. Greenís Literal Translation and the Septuagint rendering is from Sir Lancelot C.L. Brentonís translation of The Septuagint : Greek and English. The Expositorís Bible Commentary and the footnotes in the NASB, NIV, NKJV, and NRSV Bibles also were used.