The cessation of all functions of life, hence, the opposite of life. (Deut. 30:15, 19) In the Bible the same original-language words for ‘death’ or ‘dying’ are applied to humans, animals and plants. (Eccl. 3:19; 9:5; John 12:24; Jude 12; Rev. 16:3) However, for humans and animals the Bible shows the vital function of the blood in maintaining life, stating that the “soul of the flesh is in the blood.” (Lev. 17:11, 14; Gen. 4:8-11; 9:3, 4) Both humans and animals are spoken of as ‘expiring,’ that is, ‘breathing out’ the breath of life (Heb., nesha·mahʹ). (Gen. 7:21, 22; compare Genesis 2:7.) And the Scriptures show that death in humans and animals follows the loss of the “force of life” or “spirit” (Heb., ru’ahh; Gr., pneu’ma).—Gen. 6:17; 7:15, 22; Eccl. 3:19; see SPIRIT.
It is of interest to note the correspondency of these Biblical points with what is known scientifically of the death process. In humans, for example, when the heart stops beating, the blood ceases to circulate the nourishment and the oxygen (obtained by breathing) to the billions of body cells. However, as is pointed out in The World Book Encyclopedia (1966 ed., Vol. 5, p. 53): “. . . all the cells of the human body do not die at once. The hair may continue to grow for several hours after death. The cells of the cortex of the brain are very susceptible to lack of oxygen. They usually die first when the blood ceases to circulate. If the cells of the brain are completely deprived of oxygen for 5 or 10 minutes they can no longer completely regain their ability to function.” Thus while the vital importance of breathing and of the blood in maintaining the life force (ruʹahh; pneuʹma) in the body cells is evident, at the same time it is also clear that it is the cessation of neither breathing nor the heartbeat alone that brings death, but the disappearance of the life force or spirit from the body cells.—Ps. 104:29; 146:4; Eccl. 8:8.
CAUSE OF DEATH IN HUMANS
The first reference to death in the Scriptures occurs at Genesis 2:16, 17 in God’s command to the first man concerning the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, violation of which command would result in death. However, death among animals as a natural process was evidently already in effect, since they are passed over completely in the Biblical presentation of the introduction of death into the human family. (Compare 2 Peter 2:12.) The gravity of God’s warning about the death penalty for disobedience would therefore be understandable to his human son, Adam. Adam’s disobedience to his Creator brought death to him. (Gen. 3:19; Jas. 1:14, 15) Thereafter, Adam’s sin and its consequence, death, spread to all men.—Rom. 5:12; 6:23.
Certain texts are, at times, brought forth as supposed evidence that physical death was intended as a natural eventuality for humans, even as for the animals; for example, the references to man’s life-span as being ‘seventy or eighty years’ (Ps. 90:10) and the apostle’s statement that “it is reserved for men to die once for all time, but after this a judgment.” (Heb. 9:27) Nevertheless, all such texts were written after the introduction of death among mankind, and are applied to imperfect, sinful humans. The tremendous longevity of the men living prior to the Flood must at least be considered as reflecting a remarkable potential in the human body, surpassing that found in any animal even under the most ideal conditions. (Gen. 5:1-31) The Bible unmistakably relates the entrance of death into the human family to Adam’s sin, as already shown.
Alienated from God by sin, mankind in general is said to be in “enslavement to corruption.” (Rom. 8:21) This enslavement is due to the workings of sin in their bodies, bringing forth its corrupting fruit, and all persons not obedient to God are under the rule of sin as its slaves “with death in view.” (Rom. 6:12, 16, 19-21) Satan is stated to have “the means to cause death.” (Heb. 2:14, 15) He is called a “manslayer” (John 8:44), not in the sense of directly killing, but, by deceit and seduction to sin, inducing or stimulating wrongdoing that leads to corruption and death (2 Cor. 11:3), and also by fathering murderous attitudes in the minds and hearts of men. (John 8:40-44, 59; 13:2; compare James 3:14-16; 4:1, 2.) Death is therefore presented, not as the friend of man, but as man’s “enemy.” (1 Cor. 15:26) It is generally those in extreme or unbearable pain who are shown as desiring death.—Job 3:21, 22; 7:15; Rev. 9:6.
CONDITION OF HUMAN DEAD
The dead are shown to be “conscious of nothing at all” and the death state to be one of complete inactivity. (Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ps. 146:4) In both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures death is likened to sleep, a fitting comparison, not only due to the unconscious condition of the dead, but also because of the hope of an awakening through the resurrection. (Ps. 13:3; John 11:11-14) The resurrected Jesus is spoken of as “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.” (1 Cor. 15:20, 21) It is interesting to note that the English word “cemetery” comes from the Greek word koi·me·teʹri·on, meaning “a sleeping room, burial place cemetery.”—Liddell and Scott’s A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 777; see HADES; SHEOL.
Thus those dying go into the “dust of death” (Ps. 22:15), becoming “impotent in death.” (Prov. 2:18; Isa. 26:14) In death there is no mention of God, nor any praising him. (Ps. 6:5; Isa. 38:18, 19) Whereas the ancient Egyptians and other peoples of pagan nations, and particularly the Grecian philosophers, were strong in their belief in the deathlessness of the human soul, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures speak of the soul (Heb., neʹphesh; Gr., psy·kheʹ) as dying (Judg. 16:30; Ezek. 18:4, 20; Rev. 16:3), needing deliverance from death (Josh. 2:13; Ps. 33:19; 56:13; 116:8; Jas. 5:20) or, as in the Messianic prophecy concerning Jesus Christ, being “poured out . . . to the very death.” (Isa. 53:12; compare Matthew 26:38.) The prophet Ezekiel condemns those who connived “to put to death the souls that ought not to die” and “to preserve alive the souls that ought not to live.”—Ezek. 13:19; see SOUL.
Thus, The Interpreter’s Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1015) commentary on 1 Samuel 25:29 observes: “. . . the idea of man as consisting of body and soul which are separated at death is not Hebrew but Greek.” Similarly, Edmond Jacob, Professor, of Old Testament at the University of Strasbourg, points out that, since in the Hebrew Scriptures one’s life is directly related with the soul (Heb., neʹphesh), “it is natural that death should sometimes be represented as the disappearance of this nephesh (Gen. 35:18; 1 Kings 17:21; Jer. 15:9; Jonah 4:3). The ‘departure’ of the nephesh must be viewed as a figure of speech, for it does not continue to exist independently of the body, but dies with it (Num. 31:19; Judg. 16:30; Ezek. 13:19). No biblical text authorizes the statement that the ‘soul’ is separated from the body at the moment of death.”—The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 802.
REDEMPTION FROM CONDEMNATION OF DEATH
Psalm 68:20 states: “To Jehovah the Sovereign Lord belong the ways out from death.” By means of the sacrifice of his human life, Christ Jesus became God’s “Chief Agent” of life and salvation (Acts 3:15; Heb. 2:10), and through him the abolishing of death is assured. (2 Tim. 1:10) By suffering death Jesus ‘tasted death for every man,’ and provided a “corresponding ransom for all.” (Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:6) By means of Jesus’ “one act of justification” a cancellation of the condemnation of death that sin brings now became possible, so that men of all sorts might enjoy a “declaring of them righteous for life.” (Rom. 5:15, 16, 18, 19; Heb. 9:27, 28; see DECLARE RIGHTEOUS; RANSOM.) Thus, concerning Jesus’ anointed followers, it could be said that they had, in effect, “passed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) Those disobeying the Son and not exercising love, however, ‘remain in death’ and under God’s condemnation. (1 John 3:14; John 3:36) Those who want to be free from condemnation and free from the “law of sin and of death” must be guided by God’s spirit and produce its fruits, for the “minding of the [sinful] flesh means death.”—Rom. 8:1-6; Col. 1:21-23.
Jesus’ sacrificial course, terminating in his death and resurrection, was likened by him to baptism. (Mark 10:38, 39; Luke 12:50; compare Ephesians 4:9, 10.) The apostle Paul showed that Jesus’ anointed followers also would go through a similar baptism into death, their resurrection to heavenly glory ensuing. (Rom. 6:3-5; Phil. 3:10, 11) In expressing his earnest desire to take up heavenly life, Paul showed that it was not death itself that was wanted by spirit-begotten Christians, nor to lie “naked” in death, but the ‘putting on’ of a heavenly body so as to be at “home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:1-8; compare 2 Peter 1:13-15.) In the meantime, death “is at work” in them, while, by their ministry, they bring a message of life to those to whom they minister.—2 Cor. 4:10-14; Prov. 18:21; see BAPTISM, Baptism into Christ Jesus and into His Death.
Jesus speaks of himself as having “the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:18) and he uses these in releasing those held by death. (John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:13) Jehovah God’s release of Jesus from Hades serves as a “guarantee to all men” of this hope. (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:20, 21) Those inheriting God’s kingdom in immortality are described as triumphing over death in their resurrection, so that its “sting” is overcome.—1 Cor. 15:50, 54-56; compare Hosea 13:14; Revelation 20:6.
THE DESTRUCTION OF DEATH
At Isaiah 25:8 the prophetic promise is made that God “will actually swallow up death forever, and the Lord Jehovah will certainly wipe the tears from all faces.” The sting producing death is sin (1 Cor. 15:56) and thus all having sin and its accompanying imperfection have death working in their bodies. (Rom. 7:13, 23, 24) The abolition of death, therefore, would require the abolition of that which produces death: sin. By the removal of the last trace of sin from obedient mankind, the authority of death will be abolished and death itself destroyed, and this is to be accomplished during the reign of Christ. (1 Cor. 15:24-26) Thereby death, brought upon the human race by Adam’s transgression, “will be no more.” (Rom. 5:12; Rev. 21:3, 4) Its destruction is figuratively likened to its being hurled into a “lake of fire.”—Rev. 20:14; see LAKE OF FIRE.
The “lake of fire” into which death, Hades, the symbolic “wild beast” and “false prophet,” and Satan, his demons, and the persistent practicers of wickedness on earth are cast is shown to mean “the second death.” (Rev. 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8; Matt. 25:41) Initially death resulted and was passed on to mankind by Adam’s transgression; hence the “second death” must be distinct from this inherited death. It is evident from the cited texts that there is no release possible from the “second death.” The situation of those in the “second death” corresponds to the outcome warned of in such texts as Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26, 27; and Matthew 12:32. On the other hand, those represented as gaining the “crown of life” and having part in the “first resurrection” are free from any possibility of harm by the second death. (Rev. 2:10, 11) These, who are to reign with Christ, receive immortality (deathlessness) and incorruption and hence are beyond the “authority” of the second death.—1 Cor. 15:50-54; Rev. 20:6; compare John 8:51.
Death is personified as a “king” ruling over mankind from the time of Adam (Rom. 5:14), along with the rule of “King Sin.” (Rom. 6:12) Thus, these kings are spoken of as exercising their “law” over those subject to their dominion. (Rom. 8:2) With Christ’s coming and the provision of the ransom, undeserved kindness began exercising a superior kingship over those accepting God’s gift, “with everlasting life in view.”—Rom. 5:15-17, 21.
Though men, disregarding God’s purposes, may try to make their own nonaggression pact or covenant with King Death, it will fail. (Isa. 28:15, 18) Like a horseman riding behind war and famine, death is pictured as bringing mass mortality to earth’s inhabitants.—Rev. 6:8; compare Jeremiah 9:21, 22.
Those spiritually sick or distressed are described as “arriving at the gates of death” (Ps. 107:17-20; compare Job 38:17; Psalm 9:13), and those passing through such “gates” enter the figurative “house of meeting for everyone living” (Job 30:23; compare 2 Samuel 12:21-23), with its “interior rooms” (Prov. 7:27), and a capacity for victims that is never completely filled. (Hab. 2:5) Those going into Sheol are like sheep shepherded by death.—Ps. 49:14.
The “pangs of death”
At Acts 2:24 the apostle Peter spoke of Jesus as being ‘loosed from the pangs of death, for it was not possible for him to continue to be held fast by it.’ The Greek word (o·dinʹ) here translated “pangs” is elsewhere used to mean the pains of childbirth (1 Thess. 5:3) but may also mean travail, pain, calamity, or distress generally. (Matt. 24:8) Additionally, it was used by the translators of the Greek Septuagint Version in rendering the Hebrew word hheʹvel in texts where the evident meaning is “rope.” (2 Sam. 22:5, 6; Ps. 18:4, 5) A related Hebrew word means “birth pangs,” leading some commentators and lexicographers to suggest that the Greek term (o·dinʹ) used by Luke at Acts 2:24 also had this double meaning, at least in Hellenistic Greek of apostolic times. Thus some translations render the phrase in this verse as “the bands [or bonds] of death.” (NC Spanish]; Segond, Ostervald [French]) In numerous texts the danger of death is represented as reaching out to snare the threatened one (Prov. 13:14; 14:27) with ropes that encircle him and bring him down into “the distressing circumstances of Sheol.” (Ps. 116:3) Whereas other texts, already considered, show that there is no consciousness in death, and it is obvious that Jesus was not in any literal pain while dead, nonetheless death is presented as a bitter and distressing experience (1 Sam. 15:32; Ps. 55:4; Eccl. 7:26), not only in the pain usually preceding it (Ps. 73:4, 5), but in the loss of all activity and freedom that its paralyzing grip brings. So, it may be that it is in this sense that Jesus’ resurrection ‘loosed’ him from the “pangs of death,” being freed from its distressing grip.
Change in spiritual state or condition
The death state is used to illustrate the spiritually dead condition of the world in general, so that Jesus could speak of the ‘dead burying the dead,’ and the apostle could refer to the woman living for sensual gratification as “dead though she is living.” (Luke 9:60; 1 Tim. 5:6; Eph. 2:1) And since physical death discharges one from any debts or obligations existing up to that time (Rom. 6:7), a Christian’s being freed or liberated from sin (Rom. 6:2, 11) and from the condemnation of the Mosaic law (Rom. 7:2-6) is also likened to death, such one having ‘died’ to his former situation and obligations. The one figuratively dying in such a way, of course, is still alive physically and is now free to follow Christ as a slave to righteousness.—Rom. 6:18-20; Gal. 5:1.
The use of death to represent a change in one’s state or condition throws light on prophetic visions, such as that in the book of Ezekiel wherein God’s people in exile in Babylon are likened to dried-out bones and to persons dead and buried. (Ezek. 37:1-12) They were to “come to life” again and be settled on their own soil once more. (Vss. 13, 14) Comparable illustrations are found at Revelation 11:3, 7-12 and Luke 16:19-31.