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BIBLICAL EUPHEMISMS FOR DEATH
Ben Justice A “euphemism” is a term substituted for another term. It usually is a word that is less offensive in tone or a little nicer word than the word it is substituting. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Death is spoken of as a reality. It’s interesting, however, that the scriptures often refer to death in euphemistic terms. Five of these euphemistic expressions that describe death will be considered: GOING THE WAY OF ALL THE EARTH Joshua tells us is 23:14, “And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” Note the expression that Joshua used to describe his impending death — “Going the way of all the earth.” This euphemistic expression is used one other time in the Scriptures (1 Kings 2:1-2). When Joshua stated this, and when David stated this, it doesn’t mean that they were going to die at that precise moment or that day, but in a relatively short period of time. Joshua was old and David was old when they stated these words. Death is described as “way.” Death is hence a passage “way” to another life. The account of the Rich man and Lazarus clearly teaches us that death is indeed a passage way into another life (Luke 16:20-31), wherein man’s soul enters into the realm of hades, either torments or Abraham’s bosom. Ecc. 12:7 tells us that man’s body returns to the dust of the earth, but his spirit returns to God who gave it. The term “earth” in Joshua 23:14 is used as a figure of speec h known as metonymy, wherein one word is put for another word that it represents or symbolizes. “Earth” stands for the inhabitants of the earth — humans and animals (although animals don’t possess an eternal soul). The word “all” is encompassing. All of earth’s inhabitants will experience death. Solomon said there is one event that happens to us all and that one event is death (Ecc. 2:14, 9:2-3). Psalm 89:48 tells us, “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?” PUTTING OFF THIS TABERNACLE Peter referred to death as putting off this tabernacle in 2 Peter 1:14. The word “tabernacle” is used as a figure of speech to refer to the body. When we look at what Peter said, he said “I must put off.” We might ask, “put off from what?” The Bible teaches that man is made up of body and spirit, and the spirit of man resides in the body. James 2:26 says this about death — “For as the body without the spirit is dead, . . .” This is the biblical definition of the death — the body without the spirit. Note carefully that James said the body is dead, not the spirit. Also, if the body without the spirit is dead, then the body with the spirit is alive. As long as Peter was in his physical body, he would do something. He said in verse 13, “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance. ” While Peter was “in this tabernacle,” that is his physical body, he would stir up those to whom he wrote. The expression “stir up” comes from an intensive word, literally meaning “to awaken from sleep” or “to thoroughly arouse.” Peter wanted to arouse their thinking by putting them in remembrance of the things he had just stated. Peter believed that as long as he was in his
fleshly body that the Christian life went on. Sleep implies that one day we will awaken from sleep. John 9:4). “Sleep” is the most common euphemism used in the scriptures. Sleep does not mean the soul sleeps. Second. and he had responsibility to fulfill his responsibilities while in the flesh. yet clear teaching. on the subject of life after death. and the time of my departure is at hand.” as Paul said in Philippians 1:23. SLEEP Death is referred to as “sleep” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. it is only a departure. hence it is temporary (cf. Paul also used this euphemism to describe death (2 Cor. The implication is that the opportunities of teaching specifically and living the Christian life generally will t erminate in death. 15:6. there is a subtle. 5:1. as he said. Luke 16:19-31). “For I am now ready to be offered.” The word was literally used in ancient times to refer either to losing a ship from its moorings in order to set sail or to soldiers breaking up camp. as sleep is known to be temporary. DEPARTURE In 2 Timothy 4:6. Third. so the death of the body will be found to be. 25:9). GATHERED TO ONE’S OWN PEOPLE This expression is seen in Genesis 25:8. 6:9-11). This expression does not necessarily refer to being buried in the same graveyard as their ancestors. but with his offspring being buried in the cave of Machpelah (Gen. and that.” The word “departure” is from the word analusis. . the spirit of man is very much aware and conscious of its own realm of existence (cf. Physical death is not the end. We might say that Paul pictured death as loosing himself from this world and making a journey to the next world. and the departure for the Christ ian is “far better. The word literally refers to “an unloosing. Thus. 4). the word is used in a figurative way to refer to those who are spiritually asleep (cf. even in the OT. 1 Cor. The expression refers to the reunion with the faithful who have gone on before. death will have its resurrection (Commentary on 1 Thessalonians. Pg. The object of the metaphor is to suggest that as the sleeper does not cease to exist while his body sleeps. 17-20. the word is used in a figurative way to refer to those who have died. 11:30. & 49:33. 35:29. First. the word is used in a literal way to refer to those who are literally asleep. 1 Cor. The word “sleep” carries three different connotations in the scriptures. which is found only here in the NT. The Bible does not teach such a doctrine (cf. 4:13-18). so the dead person continues to exist despite his absence from the region in which those who remain can communicate with him. restfulness and peace normally characterize both. “as long as I am in this tabernacle” (cf. Paul stated. Luke 16:1-31. Concerning Abraham. Rev. Eph. While the body goes back to the dust of the earth. as Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. Why did the Bible writers use the metaphor “sleep” to describe death? Vine has some very good comments on this: This metaphorical use of the word sleep is appropriate because of the similarity in appearance between a sleeping body and a dead body. 55-57. 1 Thess. 5:14). Jacob’s statement before he died about being gathered to his people suggest that some kind of conviction existed within him that the dead were still his people. Sleep has its waking. used at least 15 times in this way in the NT. 95). he was not buried with his fathers.