17. Ecclesiastes 9:5: “The Dead Know Nothing” / Psalm 146:4: “His Thoughts Perish,” Etc.
Lucas Banzoli is a very active Brazilian theological writer, who denies that Jesus is immutable in His Divine Nature (i.e., judging by the standard of trinitarian classical theism, he denies that Jesus is God; hence cannot be classified as either a trinitarian or a Christian). He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster (but now inactive) for six blogs. He’s active on YouTube.
This is my 53rd refutation of Banzoli’s writings. From 5-25-22 until 11-12-22 (almost half a year) he didn’t write even one single word in reply. Since then he has counter-responded three times. Why so few and so late? Well, he says it’s because my articles are “without exception poor, superficial and weak . . . only a severely cognitively impaired person would be inclined to take” them “seriously.” He didn’t “waste time reading” 37 of my first 40 replies (three articles being his proof of the worthlessness of all of my 4,000+ articles and 51 books). He also denied that I had a “job” and claimed that I didn’t “work.” But he concluded that replying to me is so “entertaining” that he resolved to “make a point of rebutting” my articles “one by one.” I disposed of his relentlessly false personal insults in Facebook posts dated 11-13-22 and 11-15-22 and 11-23-22.
My current effort is a major multi-part response to Banzoli’s 1900-page self-published book, The Legend of the Immortality of the Soul [A Lenda da Imortalidade da Alma], published on 1 August 2022. He claims to have “cover[ed] in depth all the immortalist arguments” and to have “present[ed] all the biblical proofs of the death of the soul . . .” and he confidently asserted: “the immortality of the soul is at the root of almost all destructive deception and false religion.” He himself admits on page 18 of his Introduction that what he is opposing is held by “nearly all the Christians in the world.” A sincere unbiblical error (and I assume his sincerity) is no less dangerous than a deliberate lie, and we apologists will be “judged with greater strictness” for any false teachings that we spread (Jas 3:1).
I use RSV for the Bible passages (including ones that Banzoli cites) unless otherwise indicated. Google Translate is utilized to render Lucas’ Portugese into English. Occasionally I slightly modify clearly inadequate translations, so that his words will read more smoothly and meaningfully in English. His words will be in blue.
See the other installments:
See also the related articles:
Psalm 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise? [cited by Banzoli on pp. 369, 608, 704, 770, 777, 799, 1199, and 1269]
Psalm 115:17 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any that go down into silence. [cited by Banzoli on pp. 756 and 1269]
Psalm 146:4 When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. [KJV: “his thoughts perish”] [cited by Banzoli on pp. 313, 464, 741, 746, 777, 799, 1199, and 1265]
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, 10 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward; but the memory of them is lost.  Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and they have no more for ever any share in all that is done under the sun. . . .  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. [9:5 cited by Banzoli on pp. 369, 563, 715, 754, 756, 777, 782, 799, 1199, 1257, and 1269 / 9:10 cited on pp. 53, 535, 603, 704, 743, 753, 777, 782, 955, 1199, and 1224]
Isaiah 38:18 For Sheol cannot thank thee, death cannot praise thee; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for thy faithfulness. [cited by Banzoli on pp. 369, 553, 611, 630, 643, 743, 756, 770, and 790]
Proverbs 26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly.
An argumentum ad nauseam (also known as an argument by repetition) is the logical fallacy that something becomes true if it is repeated often enough. It is a subset of argument by assertion and is an informal fallacy. An ad nauseam argument that can be easily shown to be false leads to the “point refuted a thousand times”.
Due to the modern 24 hour cable news cycle and the fact that every idiot now has a blog, argumentum ad nauseam has become particularly prevalent. In politics it is usually used in the form of a talking point, which is then reduced to a three second sound bite and is repeated at every available opportunity. On the blogosphere it takes the form of a meme, where every like-minded blogger repeats a statement used by a fellow blogger. Twitter . . . has only made this latter form of viral propaganda worse.
Repeating an opinion again and again seems to convince people that it is true, in large part because it simulates the effect of an appeal to the people (argumentum ad populum). Moreover, by assuming what needs proof, it is circular, and therefore amounts to begging the question (petitio principii). (RationalWiki, “Argumentum ad nauseam“)
Banzoli, is of course, utilizing all these passages to prove (so he wrongly thinks) that the dead are not conscious at all, and that they are “asleep.” John Calvin commented on Psalm 115:17, Isaiah 38:18 (referencing Hezekiah) and other similar passages (Ps 30:9; 88:11; Ecclesiasticus [deuterocanon!] 17:26):
We answer, that in these passages the term “dead” is not applied simply to those who have paid the common debt of nature when they depart this life: nor is it simply said that the praises of God cease at death; but the meaning partly is, that none will sing praises to the Lord save those who have felt his goodness and mercy; and partly, that his name is not celebrated after death, because his benefits are not, there declared among men as on the earth. Let us consider all the passages, and handle them in order, so that we may give to each its proper meaning. First, let us learn this much, that though by death the dissolution of the present life is repeatedly signified, and by the lower region, (infernus,) the grave, yet it is no uncommon thing for Scripture to employ these terms for the anger and withdrawal of the power of God; so that persons are said to die and descend into the lower region, or to dwell in the lower region, when they are alienated from God, or prostrated by the judgment of God, or crushed by his hand. The lower region itself (infernus ipse) may signify, not the grave, but abyss and confusion. And this meaning, which occurs throughout Scripture, is most familiar in the Psalms: “Let death come upon them, and let them go down alive into the pit,” (infernum:) Again, “O my God, be not silent, lest I become like those who go down into the pit,” (lacum:) Again, “O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the lower region, (inferno,) and saved me from these going down into the pit,” (lacum:) Again, “Let sinners be turned into infernus, and all the nations which forget God:” Again, “Had not the Lord assisted me, my soul had almost dwelt in infernus:” Again, “Our bones have been scattered along infernus:” Again, “He hath placed me in dark places, like the dead of the world.” (Psalm 28:1; 53:15; 30:4; 9:18; 14:7; 143:3.) . . .
In these places it signifies not so much the locality, as the condition of those whom God has condemned and doomed to destruction. . . .
To make a conclusion, let one passage suffice us, which so graphically depicts both conditions as fully to explain its own meaning, without our saying a word: It is in Psalm 49, “Those who confide in much strength and glory in the multitude of riches. The brother does not redeem, will man redeem? Will he not give his own atonement to God, and the price of redemption for his soul, and labor for ever, and still live even to the end? Shall he not see death, when he shall see the wise dying? The unwise and the foolish will perish together. Like sheep they have been laid in the grave, (infernus.) Death shall feed upon them; and the just will rule over them in the morning, and assistance will perish in the grave (infernus,) from their glory. Nevertheless God will redeem my soul from the hand of hell, (infernus,) when He will receive me.” The sum is, those who trust in their riches and strength will die and descend into infernus; the rich and the poor, the foolish and the wise, will perish together: he who hopes in the Lord will be free from the power of hell, (infernus.)
I maintain that these names “DEATH” and “HELL,” (Mors et Infernus,) cannot have any other meaning in the verses of the Psalms which they obtrude upon us, nor in that song of Hezekiah; and I hold that this can be proved by clear arguments: for in the verses, “Wilt thou do wonders to the dead?” etc., and “What advantage is there in my blood?” etc., either Christ the head of believers, or the Church his body speaks, shunning and deprecating death as something horrid and detestable. This too is done by Hezekiah in his song. Why do they shudder so at the name of death, if they feel God to be merciful and gracious to them? Is it because they are no more to be anything? But they will escape from this turbulent world, and instead of inimical temptations and disquietude, will have the greatest ease and blessed rest. And as they will be nothing, they will feel no evil, and will be awakened at the proper time to glory, which is neither delayed by their death, nor hastened by their life. Let us turn to the examples of other saints, and see how they felt on the subject. When Noah dies he does not deplore his wretched lot. Abraham does not lament. Jacob, even during his last breath, rejoices in waiting for the salvation of the Lord. Job sheds no tears. Moses, when informed by the Lord that his last hour is at hand, is not moved. All, as far as we can see, embrace death with a ready mind. The words in which the saints answer the call of the Lord uniformly are, “Here I am, Lord!” . . .
We conclude, therefore, that in these passages “death” is equivalent to a feeling of the anger and judgment of God, and being disturbed and alarmed by this feeling. Thus Hezekiah, when he saw that he was leaving his kingdom exposed to the insult and devastation of the enemy, and leaving no offspring from which the hope of the Gentiles might descend, was filled with anxiety, by these signs of an angry and punishing God, not at the terror of death, which he afterwards overcame without any deprecation. On the whole, I acknowledge that death in itself is an evil, when it is the curse and penalty of sin, and is both itself full of terror and desolation, and drives those to despair who feel that it is inflicted on them by an angry and punishing God. The only thing which can temper the bitterness of its agonies is to know that God is our Father, and that we have Christ for our leader and companion. Those devoid of this alleviation regard death as confusion and eternal perdition, and therefore cannot praise God in their death.
The verse, “The dead will not praise thee,” etc., concludes the praises of the people, when giving thanks to God for having by His hand protected them from danger. Its meaning is, Had the Lord permitted us to be oppressed, and to fall into the power of the enemy, they would have insulted His Name, and boasted that they had overcome the God of Israel; but now, when the Lord has repelled and crushed their proud spirit, when he has delivered us from their cruelty by a strong hand and uplifted arm, the Gentiles cannot ask, “Where is their God?” He hath shown himself to be truly the living God! Nor can there be any doubt of his mercy, which he has so wondrously exhibited. And here those are called “dead” and “forsaken of God,” who have not felt his agency and kindness towards them, as if he had delivered up his people to the lust and ferocity of the ungodly.
This view is plainly confirmed by a speech which occurs in the Book of Baruch [again, Calvin cites the deuterocanon], or at least the book which bears his name, – ” Open thine eyes and see: for not the dead who are in hell, (infernus,) whose spirit has been torn from their bowels, will ascribe glory and justice to God; but the soul which, sad for the magnitude of the evil, walks bent and weak, and the failing eyes and the hungry soul will give glory.” (Baruch 2:17.) Here we undoubtedly see that, under the names of “dead” are included those who, afflicted and crushed by God, have gone away into destruction; and that the sad, bent, and weak soul, is that which, failing in its own strength, and having no confidence in itself, runs to the Lord, calls upon him, and from him expects assistance. Any one who will regard all these things as prosopopoeia, will find an easy method of explaining them, Substituting things for persons, and death for dead, the meaning will be, The Lord does not obtain praise for mercy and goodness when he afflicts, destroys, and punishes, (though the punishment, is just,) but then only creates a people for himself, who sing and celebrate the praise of his goodness, when he delivers and restores the hopes of those who were afflicted, bruised, and at despair. But lest they should cavil, and allege that we are having recourse to allegory, and figurative interpretations, I add, that the words may be taken without a figure.
I said that they act erroneously in concluding, from these passages, that saints after death desist from the praises of God, and that “praise” rather means making mention of the goodness of God, and proclaiming his benefits among others. The words not only admit, but necessarily require this meaning. For to announce, and narrate, and make known, as a father to his children, is not merely to have a mental conception of the Divine glory, but is to celebrate it with the lips that others may hear. Should they here rejoin that they have it in their power to do the same thing, if (as we believe) they are with God in paradise, I answer, that to be in paradise, and live with God, is not to speak to each other, and be heard by each other, but is only to enjoy God, to feel his good will, and rest in him. (Psychopannychia, 1534)
Calvin writes about Ecclesiastes 9:5:
The object of Ecclesiastes is not to show that the souls of the dead perish, but while he exhorts us early, and as we have opportunity, to confess God, he at the same time teaches that there is no time of confessing after death; that is, that there is then no time for repentance. If any of them still asks, What is to become of the sons of perdition? that is no matter of ours. I answer for believers, –
“They shall not die, but live, and show forth the works of the Lord.” “Those who dwell in His house will praise him for ever and ever.” (Psalms 118:17; 84:5.) (Ibid.)
Calvin also addresses (rather insightfully) Psalm 146:4:
It is said, secondly, (Psalm 146:4,) “His spirit will go forth and return to its earth. In that day all their thoughts perish.” Here they take “spirit” for wind, and say, that the man will go away into the earth; that there will be nothing but earth; that all his thoughts will perish; whereas if there were any life they would remain. We are not so subtle, but in our dull way call a boat, a boat, and spirit, spirit! When this spirit departs from man, the man returns to the ground out of which he was taken, as we have fully explained. It remains, therefore, to see what is meant by thoughts “perishing.” We are admonished not to put trust in men. Trust ought to be immortal. It were otherwise uncertain and unstable, seeing that the life of man passes quickly away. To intimate this, he said, that “their thoughts perish ;” that is, that whatever they designed while alive is dissipated and given to the winds. Elsewhere he says, “The sinner will see and be angry; he will gnash with his teeth and pine away; the desire of the sinner will perish,” as it is said in another place, “dissipated:” “The Lord dissipates the counsels of the heathen:” again, “Form a scheme and it will be dissipated.” The same thing, in the form of a circumlocution, is expressed by the blessed Virgin in her song, “He hath dispersed the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” (Psalm 112:10; 32:10; Isaiah 8:10; Luke 1:51.) (Ibid.)
Commentaries on Psalm 6:5
[I]t is to be admitted that there was among the ancient saints much less light on the subject of the future state than there is with us, and that they often, in giving utterance to their feelings, seemed to speak as if all were dark beyond the grave.
But, though they thus spoke in their sorrow and in their despondency, they also did, on other occasions, express their belief in a future state, and their expectation of happiness in a coming world (compare, for example, Psalm 16:10-11; Psalm 17:15).
[Psalm 16:10-11 For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.  Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.
Psalm 17:15 As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form.]
There is no remembrance of thee; to wit, by me David, consisting both of soul and body; and no such remembrance, to wit, in way of thankfulness and praise, as the next clause of the verse limits and explains it; which he might fear would be true, not only because he should not have occasion to praise God for this deliverance, but also because he was in grievous agonies of conscience, and under terrors of God’s wrath, and his eternal damnation; which being oft incident to the saints of God under the New Testament, it is not strange if it were so also under the Old Testament. Besides he speaks of the remembrance or celebration of God’s name and grace in the land of the living, to the enlargement and edification of God’s church, and the propagation of true religion among men; which is not done in the other life, and was justly prized at so high a rate by David and other holy men, to whom therefore it must needs be a great grief to be for ever deprived of such opportunities. For otherwise David very well knew, and firmly believed, that souls departed were not extinct, but did go to God, Ecclesiastes 12:7, and there remember, and adore, and enjoy God, though quite in another way than that of which he here speaks.
Here, as in Psalm 30:9, Psalm 88:10-12, Psalm 115:17 (cp. Isaiah 38:18 ff.; the Book of Job; Ecclesiastes 9:5; Ecclesiastes 6:10); we meet with that dreary despairing view of the state after death, which the Hebrews shared with the rest of the ancient world. They did not look forward to annihilation, but to a dreamy, shadowy, existence which did not deserve the name of life. The dead, they thought, were cut off from all activity and enjoyment, and worst of all, from the consciousness of God’s presence, and from that communion with Him, which is the essence of ‘life’ (Psalm 30:5). . . .
It is far better, with the R.V., to retain the Hebrew word Shěôl to denote the abode of the departed. It is the O.T. equivalent of Hades, by which it is rendered in the LXX. It was thought of as a vast subterranean abyss, where all alike were gathered; a place of gloom and silence, but withal of rest, however joyless, for its shadowy denizens have no more power to do harm than good.
The writers of the Psalms all . . . know only of one single gathering-place of the dead in the depth of the earth, where they indeed live, but it is only a quasi life, because they are secluded from the light of this world and, what is the most lamentable, from the light of God’s presence.
Commentaries on Psalm 146:4
His thoughts perish – His purposes; his schemes; his plans; his purposes of conquest and ambition; his schemes for becoming rich or great; his plans of building a house, and laying out his grounds, and enjoying life; his design of making a book, or taking a journey, or giving himself to ease and pleasure. Luke 12:19-20 : “and I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry; but God said unto him, Thou fool! this night thy soul shall be required of time.” Such are all the purposes of men!
in that very day his thoughts perish; in the day, hour, and moment he dies: not that the soul ceases, or ceases to think at death; it is immortal, and dies not; and, as it exists in a separate state after death, it retains all its powers and faculties, and, among the rest, its power of thinking; which it is capable of exercising, and does, as appears from the case of the souls under the altar, Revelation 6:9. But the meaning is, that at death all the purposes and designs of men are at an end; all their projects and schemes, which they had formed, and were pursuing, now come to nothing; whether to do good to others, or to aggrandize themselves and families; and therefore such mortal creatures are not to be depended upon, since all their promises may fail; nay, even their good designs may be frustrated; see Job 17:12.
Commentaries on Ecclesiastes 9:5-6
See Ecclesiastes 8:12, note; Ecclesiastes 8:14, note. . . . the dead . . . are no longer excited by the passions which belong to people in this life; their share in its activity has ceased. Solomon here describes what he sees, not what he believes; there is no reference here to the fact or the mode of the existence of the soul in another world, which are matters of faith. The last clause of Ecclesiastes 9:6 indicates that the writer confines his observations on the dead to their portion in, or relation to, this world.
dead know not anything—that is, so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned (Job 14:21; Isa 63:16); also, they know no door of repentance open to them, such as is to all on earth.
neither … reward—no advantage from their worldly labors (Ec 2:18-22; 4:9).
The dead know not anything, to wit, of the actions and events in this world, as this is limited in the end of the next verse. . . .
A reward; the reward or fruit of their labours in this world, which is utterly lost as to them, and enjoyed by others. See Ecclesiastes 2:21. For otherwise, that there are future rewards after death, is asserted by Solomon elsewhere, as we have seen, and shall hereafter see.
Is forgotten, to wit, amongst living men, and even in those places where they had lived in great power and glory; as was noted, Ecclesiastes 8:10.
The context of 9:6 (“they have no more for ever any share in all that is done under the sun”) is crucial in order to understand and properly exegete the passage. It places the “vantage-point” of the passage as “under the sun.” The dead (at least the unrighteous dead) “know nothing” about or have any “share” in the things of the earth. By ignoring this, Banzoli literally cites the passage out of context over and over. A half-truth is no better than a lie. Let’s review how he cites it. First of all, a search reveals that he never cites Ecclesiastes 9:6 itself, except for once (p. 782), and even there it’s the first part of the verse and not the second part, that I have pointed out.
[I]t was equally well known to all Jews that there was no activity after death (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ps 6:5, 146:4; Is 38:18-19), . . . (p. 369)
“A live dog is better than a dead lion” (Eccl 9:4), because whoever died “knows nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and has his memory “given to oblivion” (Eccl 9:5). (p. 563)
[T]hroughout the Bible the concept of intercession is always limited to people living interceding for other living people (1Ti 2:1-2; Rom 15:30; 1Th 5:25; 2Th 3:1; Heb 13:18), for the simple fact that the dead “know nothing” (Eccl 9:5). (p. 715)
“. . . the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). (p. 754; citing someone else citing the verse)
It would be useless for God to show any wonders among those who are unable to perceive them (Ps 88:10; Eccl 9:5-10). (p. 754; citing someone else)
In the previous chapter we saw that the belief of the OT authors was clearly mortalist. Although they believed in the resurrection of the dead, coming judgment and life eternal – which shows that they were far from being ignorant on the subject –, every time they describe the current state of the dead it is always and invariably as devoid of consciousness (Ec 9:5), thought (Ps 146:4), praise (Ps 6:5) or activity (Ec 9:10), . . . (p. 777)
. . . the soul descends into Sheol or Hades, there to have a dismal existence, without life and consciousness (Job 14:21; Ps 6:5, 115:7; Isa 38:19; Eccl 9:5,10). (p. 799, citing someone else)
[note: here and on p. 777, I have translated the Portugese consciência as “consciousness”: which is a permissible rendering. When I seek a Portugese translation of “consciousness” on Google Translate, it comes out as consciência]
It will also be useless to search in such Hellenistic writings for anything similar to “the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5), “there is no activity in the afterlife, nor planning, there is neither knowledge nor wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10), that “in death thoughts perish” (Ps 146:4), that “the dead do not praise the Lord” (Ps 146:4). (p. 1199)
In his commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:5 he says that “Solomon seems to think that the dead people do not have any kind of feeling” . . . (p. 1257; citing Luther, who also believed in soul sleep]
“The dead do not praise the Lord, nor those who go down to silence” (Psalm 115:17); “the dead know nothing… there is no work, nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10); “Sheol does not can praise you, death cannot celebrate you ′′ (Is 38.18); . . . (p. 1269, citing someone else)
So we see that Banzoli never mentions the crucial context of 9:6, which explains the particular perspective in 9:5 and also 9:10. This, despite the fact that he claims in his 1900-page book to have “cover[ed] in depth all the immortalist arguments”.
Commentaries on Isaiah 38:18
In that region of dimness there are no psalms of thanksgiving, no loud hallelujahs. The thought of spiritual energies developed and intensified after death is essentially one which belongs to the “illuminated” immortality (2Timothy 1:10), of Christian thought. (Comp. Psalm 6:5; Psalm 30:9; Psalm 88:11-12; Psalm 115:17; Ecclesiastes 9:4-5; Ecclesiastes 9:10).
All these gloomy and desponding views arose from the imperfect conception which they had of the future world. It was to them a world of dense and gloomy shades – a world of night – of conscious existence indeed – but still far away from light, and from the comforts which people enjoyed on the earth. We are to remember that the revelations then made were very few and obscure; and we should deem it a matter of inestimable favor that we have a better hope, and have far more just and clear views of the employments of the future world. . . .
The word ‘praise’ here refers evidently to the public and solemn celebration of the goodness of God. It is clear, I think, that Hezekiah had a belief in a future state, or that he expected to dwell with ‘the inhabitants of the land of silence’ Isaiah 38:11 when he died. But he did not regard that state as one adapted to the celebration of the public praises of God. It was a land of darkness; an abode of silence and stillness; a place where there was no temple, and no public praise such as he had been accustomed to. A similar sentiment is expressed by David in Psalm 6:5 :
For in death there is no remembrance of thee;
In the grave who shall give thee thanks?
Plainly Hezekiah believed in a world of disembodied spirits; his language does not imply what skepticism has drawn from it, but simply that he regarded the disembodied state as one incapable of declaring the praises of God before men, for it is, as regards this world, an unseen land of stillness; “the living” alone can praise God on earth, in reference to which only he is speaking; Isa 57:1, 2 shows that at this time the true view of the blessedness of the righteous dead was held, though not with the full clearness of the Gospel, which “has brought life and immortality to light” (2Ti 1:10).
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Photo credit: Saint Michael the Archangel and Another Figure Recommending a Soul to the Virgin and Child in Heaven, by Bartolomeo Biscaino (1629-1657) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Summary: Part 17 of many responses to Lucas Banzoli’s 1900-page book, The Legend of the Immortality of the Soul: published on 1 August 2022. I defend historic Christianity.