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According to believers in an eternal conscious torment (ECT) or separation (ECS) of the wicked, this is the punishment that Revelation 20 refers to as the "second death". But, if the damned will suffer the second death, it means that they will be dead (duh), and eternally so. Only the saints will have eternal life. Yet, advocates of ECT/ECS affirm that the damned will be conscious of all this, eternally as well. Therefore, from these two facts it follows that the damned will be both dead and conscious at the same time, and, thus, that consciousness and life are not synonyms, they don't mean the same thing.

Questions

According to advocates of ECT/ECS:

  • What is the biblical basis for their definition of death?
  • What is the biblical basis for their definition of life?
  • What is the biblical basis for their definition of consciousness?
  • What is the biblical basis for the belief that consciousness is present in both modes of existence (dead & alive)? How is it possible for the dead to be conscious?

Note: answering the above questions can be confusing given that two types of death exist (first death & second death), and thus possibly two different definitions of life (opposite of first death & opposite of second death). I'm mostly concerned with the second death (as stated in the introductory paragraph), but discussions on the first death would also be appreciated.


Related: How can the wicked live for eternity in hell when they are completely separated from the only source of eternal life?

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    Alright, a fantastic question! :-) +1
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 19:43

1 Answer 1

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Life & Death

The Bible describes mortal life as a coming together of spirit & body (Genesis 2:7), and it describes mortal death as a separation of spirit & body (Eccl. 12:7).

The Bible describes eternal life in terms of a relationship with God (John chapter 17, see esp. vss. 3, 19-26), and it describes eternal destruction in terms of separation from God (2 Thess. 1:9).

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Consciousness

The Bible does not provide a clinical definition of consciousness; rather, it describes the actions of conscious agents. They think, they feel, they make decisions, etc. If we wanted to be extremely precise, instead of contrasting death & consciousness, we could contrast death & thinking, feeling, deciding, etc. For purposes of simplicity, I will refer to these traits as "conscious".

The Bible repeatedly demonstrates a distinction between death and being unconscious.

A few examples:

  • The Prodigal Son is described as dead (Luke 15:24,32). The son never physically dies in the story--but his father describes him as having been dead. His father isn't killing the fatted calf for a dia de los muertos celebration & dressing the boy up for a viewing at the morgue--he knows his son is alive. His son was separated (from his family, from his faith) and he has now rejoined. The son's anguish during the story clearly demonstrates that he's conscious.
  • In 2 Cor. 12:1-4 Paul describes one or more visions in which he acknowledges uncertainty about whether the person experiencing the vision (possibly himself) was in or out of the body. Ergo, one can be conscious without a body.
  • In Colossians 2:13 Paul describes conscious, active people as having been dead because of sin. They were simultaneously dead & conscious.
  • In Luke 16 Jesus offers the parable of the rich man & Lazarus, which describes Hades as a conscious intermediate state for the dead. See my arguments for the realistic setting of the parable in this post.
  • In 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6 we are told that Jesus (while dead) preached to the dead spirits in prison. That this was the apostolic understanding of the passage is well-supported by the words of their early disciples (see here).

Other examples along similar lines could be cited.

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Conclusion

The Bible describes physical & spiritual death in terms of joining & separating.

The Bible also describes (and/or acknowledges the possibility of) conscious activity by individuals who are separated from their physical body and by individuals who are separated from God.

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  • "uncertainty about whether the person experiencing the vision (possibly himself) was in or out of the body. Ergo, one can be conscious without a body." How does, "consciousness is possible without embodiment" follow from, "I don't know whether I was in my body or without it"? Paul's confusion doesn't necessitate that consciousness can exist without a body. "that Jesus (while dead) preached to the dead spirits in prison" The passage doesn't actually say that. What it says is Jesus preached to the spirits in prison in His spirit, which He received when He was "made alive in it[spirit]".
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 5:06
  • @Rajesh if Paul (as an apostle & an extremely well-informed student of the Tanakh) believed one could not be conscious without a body, he wouldn't have expressed the uncertainty found in verses 2 & 3. I also referenced 1 Peter 4:6, and linked to how the Petrine passages were understood by the earliest commentators. Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 5:10
  • "Colossians 2:13 Paul describes conscious, active people as having been dead" You're conflating two different types of death. The death that Paul is talking about is spiritual death(disconnection from the source of life[God], inevitably leading to death). I'm pretty sure that the OP is talking about physical death(where the body is destroyed and the life-breath leaves it[body] to go to God). Obviously, spiritual death doesn't correlate to consciousness, so Colossians 2:13 doesn't really help your point; but what about physical death? That's the question.
    – Rajesh
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 5:13
  • @Rajesh Obviously, spiritual death doesn't correlate to consciousness - can I quote you on that? =) Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 5:16
  • @Rajesh: I'm pretty sure that the OP is talking about physical death - Actually, I'm mainly concerned with the second death. If the second death is physical, then I would agree with you. Otherwise, I don't.
    – user50422
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 5:16

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