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The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians)
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TOPIC: The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians)

The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians) 2 months, 1 week ago #5057

Hello. It took me all summer to come here. I feel like I've been getting dragged out of the traditional camp with my nails digging into the carpet. I'm a long time apologist who has argued in favor of traditionalism many times. Most of my arguments and questions have been answered, but I'm hoping someone can discuss the definition of death with me - specifically, references to death in Ephesians 2:1,5 and Colossians 2:13. (Quotes from the NASB)

Ephesians 2:1,5: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins... even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)...

Colossians 2:13: When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions...

Much of the terminal punishment argument rests on understanding terms like "kill," "destroy," and "perish" in their ordinary senses, but applied to the soul rather than the body. I've gotten the sense that in the conditionalist camp, "death" is defined as the cessation of conscious existence. There's debate between the physicalist and dualist camps over whether this happens to the body and the soul at the same time every time it happens, but that isn't the point of this post.

The point is this: In both passages, "death" seems to refer to conscious beings in a lesser state of existence (having not been forgiven of their sins or been united with Christ), and contrasted with a higher conscious state of existence (having been forgiven and "made alive" in Jesus). So these people are "alive" in the simple sense, in both body and spirit - they are conscious and able to think and feel - but they are also "dead" in a more complex way.

Does this prove the traditionalist idea that the soul's death is merely a very unpleasant kind of conscious existence?
So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’

Re: The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians) 2 months, 1 week ago #5059

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Kyle Niemand wrote:

Ephesians 2:1,5: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins... even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)...

Colossians 2:13: When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions...


In Genesis 20 God appears to Abimelech after he had taken Sarah because Abraham said she was his sister and said, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife." Obviously, he wasn't dead, but he was doomed and would be killed because of his actions if he didn't correct them.

"Dead man walking," is what they say when someone is going to face capital punishment. Is he dead? Obviously not, but he will be very soon.

I feel the word dead/death is used the same way in the types of passages you quote above. The wages of sin is death. If we stay in our sins, we will die. Romans 6:1-14 explains this better than I can.

I think at the same time it is a metaphor. A dead man can't do anything. If a dead man is lying in front of a steam roller, you can yell at him all you want to move, but he won't budge. I've often heard the illustration that we are drowning in our sins and Jesus throws us a life preserver and we just need to grab on to be pulled to safety. The reformed view (or maybe it is exclusive to Calvinism) isn't that we are drowning, but we are dead in our sins. We are a floating body in the water and Jesus has to dive in to save us, because we can do nothing for ourselves.

The valley of Dry bones in Ezekiel 37 uses the same metaphor.

I don't think you need to redefine death/dead in order to understand these passages. If you do a word search for the word "Dead" in the bible (which is how I found the Genesis passage), you will find that in 95+% of the time, it is talking about actual dead bodies, and in all the other instances it is making a comparison to dead bodies. In my opinion, the only reason to translate this passage any differently is to satisfy a pre-existing opinion about what death has to mean in order to hold to ECT. And not only do you have to redefine death so it can mean some level of conscious existence, but you have to redefine life so that it doesn't mean that same level of conscious existence.

Re: The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians) 2 months, 1 week ago #5060

I suppose that could be the case, but it could also point to something ontological - souls do not have life in themselves, from their own nature, until it is granted to them by Jesus. It could be said that souls that do not have inherent life are "dead."
So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’

Re: The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians) 2 months, 1 week ago #5061

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Kyle Niemand wrote:
I suppose that could be the case, but it could also point to something ontological - souls do not have life in themselves, from their own nature, until it is granted to them by Jesus. It could be said that souls that do not have inherent life are "dead."


I agree that souls that are not joined to Christ are mortal, (ie will die), but I don't think that is what these passages are talking about.

I read some other traditionalist literature today on this topic and they continually describe death as "separation." Physical death is when the soul separates from the body and spiritual death is where the soul is separated from God. I feel this explanation is so inadequate and unbiblical.

If you are told that a couple is separated, and that is it, it doesn't tell you anything. You can assume one or both parties has wronged the other, but you don't know who. Also, they might come back together at some point. The description really doesn't tell you anything other than they are not together.

But if a woman tells her husband, "You are dead to me!" That tells you a lot more. The gulf between them is much more than separation. As far as she is concerned, he does not even exist. He might as well be dead. That is the type of gulf that exists between us and God because of sin. God says as much in Genesis 6. Without Christ we are dead in our sin. That is not a mere "separation."

Re: The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians) 2 months, 1 week ago #5062

I'd like to expand on the idea of death as separation. We were dead in sin, but not completely separate from God, since He is the one who sustains the universe, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3). If He is the only possible grounds for existing, then separation from Him is essentially non-existence, since He is no longer there to hold that thing together. As God is omnipresent and infinite, describing a place without God is like describing a married bachelor. It seems like a traditionalist describing spiritual death as "eternal separation" is shooting himself in the foot.

I see your point about the phrase "You are dead to me." I'm reminded of Zechariah 7:11-13 and Jeremiah 7:13.

"But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the Lord of hosts."

"Now, because you have done all these things—this is the Lord’s declaration—and because I have spoken to you time and time again but you wouldn’t listen, and I have called to you, but you wouldn’t answer..."

There are countless examples of this in the OT. It's like we are dead because we do not respond. We're dead to Him.
So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’

Re: The Definition of Death (Ephesians, Colossians) 2 months, 1 week ago #5063

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I agree with lots of what's been said, but I'd add this:

Yes, there is probably some prolepsis going on. As pointed out, that kind of speech is not too unusual in the Bible.

We might say "as good as" dead. Jesus speaks that way when the father says that the prodigal son "was dead and is alive again." The son wasn't merely separated - as he might have been were he on a month-long business trip - but he was as good as dead.

Also, yes, Paul probably meant to use death as an analogy. The reason he can do that is because everyone (everyone above age, say, 5) knows what death is. To redefined "death" using a non-intuitive, special definition ("separation") kind of defeats the purpose of the analogy, I think.

But like all analogies, it is imperfect. In Romans 6, he speaks of being "slaves to sin" (which leads to death). So which is it, are/were we "dead" or are/were we "slaves"? Both. They make different points, and there's no need to press the analogies very far.

Finally, the Bible speaks of those who will or conditionally might perish, be destroyed (body and soul), and die the second die. That is speaking of something in the future. Something that hasn't happened yet. I think it can't refer to mere "spiritual death/separation" (a phrase not found in Scripture, though not a useless phrase), which is already rampant, of course.
"Singalphile" - Name chosen (hastily) to indicate being on a narrow path, pursuing the love of God. Male, upper-30's, USA.
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