Are You Just Afraid of Death?

After our webcast, “500 Years after Reformation, Many Protestants Closer to Catholics than Martin Luther,” someone posted this question; “Why do you believe these bible stories; are you just afraid of death?” In view of the fact that the fear of death has tormented humanity from the very earliest of times, that is a valid question. In Hamlet, Shakespeare asked the question of what happens after death with the poetic soliloquy, “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

On one hand, Shakespeare’s main character, Hamlet, proposes that perhaps we simply cease to exist:

To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

Perhaps, suggests Hamlet, death won’t be all that bad, since we will be released from this mortal life of pain and struggle. But then it dawns on him: Death is an “undiscovered country” from which no man has returned. So what if death is not the end of suffering?  What if we live on after death in torment far worse than we have encountered in this life and in conscious anguish because of the wrong we have done? Hamlet concludes:

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all”

In my younger years, I wasn’t afraid of death. I was not taught to believe in God at home and had been educated in school to believe the popular myth we might call “Once Upon A Time… Plus Chance!” In the evolution fairytale, we were told that in the beginning was nothing which, for no apparent reason and without any intelligent guidance, inexplicably exploded into everything. After that original explosion, everything that now exists came into being by a series of unguided accidents – time plus chance.

According to this creation story, human beings are an accidentally created lifeform who exist for a few short meaningless years: In time we will simply die and cease to exist – Hamlet’s first possibility. As Elton John so poetically suggests, maybe we are all just candles in the wind, and one day our candle will simply go out. Poof. So, with that idea firmly planted, I had no particular fear of death. In early adulthood, though, I was challenged with the idea that God may exist after all. The scientific evidence, as well as common sense, seemed to confirm that nothing comes from nothing, which at least argued for a creator, an intelligent designer. It was a process, but I came to believe that God does exist and that the Bible is fundamentally reliable. I came to understand that I was separated from God, that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and that I can have peace with God and eternal life by believing in and calling on Jesus as God.

So, in answer to the question, I am not afraid of death. I know where I will be once I, as Hamlet so deftly put it, have “shuffled off this mortal coil.” I may be afraid of how I will die, as I am not a big fan of pain, but I do not fear death itself.

My original answer was shorter and included a follow up question:

Well, no. The question is, is the Bible reliable and historically accurate? What is the bibliographic test you use to confirm or deny the authenticity of ancient documents and how do we understand the various genre of the texts, in this case, in the Bible?

My question had two issues which guide us in addressing the third issue. Is the Bible reliable? That is, is the text that we have in our hands fundamentally reliable and faithful to what was originally written, and is it historically accurate? Are the events, times, and places it records actual events, times, places, and peoples, or were they fabricated for some reason? The third issue I brought up has to do with the various genres of texts in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of books which contains historical narrative, wisdom literature, poetry, etc. How we understand the text is determined by the type or genre. (For a more in-depth discussion of these issues than we can cover in this blog, I suggest reading a summary at Got Questions, “Is the Bible Reliable? )

The response I got back switched categories and went straight to genre:

When dealing with ancient text, one should use the principle of analogy. A fairytale is a story typically featuring fantastic creatures such as fairies, elevens, goblins, dragons and animals that talk and act like people often with a moral lesson. The Bible had…zombies, satyr, wizards, witches, cockatrice, demons, unicorns, dragons and talking snake and talking donkey. What method did you use to determine that the Bible was in fact an accurate historical document?

The “principle of analogy” is certainly valid in looking for genre, but comes into play more fully after we know if the ancient document we are discussing is faithful to the original text. What if anything does it claim for itself, and how are particular words, phrases and descriptions being used in context? Is the text prescriptive (in this case something God decreed), or descriptive (something people at the time believed which may be true or mere myth). For example, the fact that fictional fairytales portray witches and/or wizards certainly does not preclude the real existence of witches and/or wizards. We have witches and wizards with us today. In fact, we have whole denominations of them, such as The Covenant of the Goddess, Fellowship of Isis, Circle Sanctuary and others.

Second, what people believed about Satyrs in ancient times is descriptive but not prescriptive. It tells us what people believed, but not whether such a belief is true or sanctioned by God.1

At times we find Scriptures using such beliefs satirically in derisive ways – against those who believe it but not in ways that would affirm it was the belief of biblical writers.Then there is the question of translation, for example, the word cockatrice is more accurately translated viper, adder, or poisonous snake.2

The word unicorn is used in the KJV to translate the Hebrew word רְאֵם (re’em), which simply means one-horned, and in Job 39:9-10 is applied to a type of ox used for plowing. Our questioner is applying a modern-day definition of a one-horned mythical magical horse to another creature entirely. Each of the objections suffers the same fate – a lack of historical grammatical context.

This brings us to the final one we will address, and that is the claim of “zombie.” There are no zombies in Scripture. A zombie is essentially a reanimated corpse with no mind or spirit. Although the corpse is animated, the “person” who once lived in the body is no longer there. The Scripture describes something completely different: resurrection. In resurrection, the person, the non-tangible spirit which left the body at death, is reunited with the physical body. The most important recorded instance of this is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which He predicted He would do Himself in John 2:19-22. There is strong evidence that this was an event in history, but some deny it. They deny it both because they haven’t seen such a thing and because it is not common in history. During the second century, Justin Martyr argued in his First Apology:

And to any thoughtful person would anything appear more incredible, than, if we were not in the body, and someone were to say that it was possible that from a small drop of human seed bones and sinews and flesh be formed into a shape such as we see? For let this now be said hypothetically: if you yourselves were not such as you now are, and born of such parents [and causes], and one were to show you human seed and a picture of a man, and were to say with confidence that from such a substance such a being could be produced, would you believe before you saw the actual production? No one will dare to deny [that such a statement would surpass belief]. In the same way, then, you are now incredulous because you have never seen a dead man rise again. But as at first you would not have believed it possible that such persons could be produced from the small drop, and yet now you see them thus produced, so also judge ye that it is not impossible that the bodies of men, after they have been dissolved, and like seeds resolved into earth, should in God’s appointed time rise again and put on incorruption. For what power worthy of God those imagine who say, that each thing returns to that from which it was produced, and that beyond this not even God Himself can do anything, we are unable to conceive3

So, the questions are simple. Did the cosmos and all that is in them create themselves unguided, by accident, over time, or was there an intelligent eternally self-existing creator? If the latter, is the Bible a set of reliable documents which He used to communicate to us what we need to know to have a relationship with this creator? If He could create all that exists from nothing, why couldn’t He raise someone from the dead? The witness is this – Jesus Christ did return from Hamlet’s “undiscovered country.” Jesus Christ resurrected Himself, and showed Himself to many witnesses, to confirm that we may have peace with God by calling on the name of Jesus. And thus, we need not fear death.Ω

Don and Joy Signature 2

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  1. The Lexham Bible Dictionary notes:

    Satyr (שָׂעִיר, sa’ir). The Hebrew term שָׂעִיר (sa’ir), which is often translated as “satyr,” refers to a goat-demon deity (Lev 17:7; compare the goat for Azazel in Lev 16). Many people in the ancient Near East believed that goat-demons lived in the wilderness. Jeroboam is said to have set up worship sites for golden calves and goat demons (2 Chr 11:15). (1. Major Contributors and Editors. (2016). Satyr. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

  2. The KJV translates this Hebrew word as cockatrice but is more accurately translated viper. As CARM points out:

    In 1611, when the KJV was produced, the translators used “cockatrice” in part of their translations from the Hebrew.  A cockatrice is a mythical creature that does not exist. It was supposedly a serpent produced from a cock’s egg.  So why would they use that word?  They did so because they didn’t know what the original Hebrew word meant, and, not having a sufficient knowledge of biology, they used an English word that wasn’t appropriate. Today we have a much better understanding of the Hebrew, as well as biology.  This is why modern translations use the words “viper” and “adder” and “poisonous snake” to translate the original Hebrew word, tsepha.

  3. Justin Martyr. (1885). The First Apology of Justin. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 169). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

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