In the New Testament, the word “dead” (Gk., nekros) means “lifeless, useless, or separated.” Never does it mean “nonexistent” (Vance, Other Side of Calvinism, 220). Very rarely does it refer to something that is completely unable to act.
Examples of “Dead” in Scripture
So, for example, the prodigal son was “dead” to his father while he was separated from him (Luke 15:24, 32). While the prodigal son was in the far country, he certainly existed and was certainly active, but was not functioning properly in his role as a son. In James 2, faith is described as “useless” and “unprofitable” when it is separated from works. Dead faith is not a nonexistent faith, but a separated or useless faith. This means that even Christians can have dead faith. This idea is brought out by the Apostle John as well in the last book of the Bible, when he records the Letters to the Seven Churches. In Revelation 3, even living Christians can be described as “dead.” In the Letter to the Church of Sardis, the Christians are described as having life, but being dead, because there was a problem with their works (Rev 3:2-3). In all these examples, the word “dead” can be best understood as “separated,” or “ineffective and useless at its intended purpose.”
7 Different Kinds of Death in the Bible
Once we begin to see that this is the definition of “dead” in Scripture, we can discern at least seven different kinds of death (or separations) in the Bible.
“Dead” Means “Separated”
As can be seen, in every single case, good synonyms for “death” might be “separation” or “uselessness.”
Dead Does not Mean “Total Inability”
Obviously, none of these uses of the word “dead” in Scripture imply “total inability.” Quite to the contrary, we often find that after people are described as being “dead” in one of the ways listed above, they are then invited in the following context to turn from death and practice life. So in passages like James 2:14-26 and Revelation 3:1-6, people are called to reverse their state of death by energizing their faith or repenting and returning to the way they used to live.
At the same time, when Paul writes that in Christ we are “dead to sin” (Rom 6:3-6; Gal 2:2) this does not mean that Christians have a “total inability” to sin, or that there is no sin in the Christian’s life. Far from it! We all sin every day. What Paul means is that the Christian is separated from sin. We are no longer ruled by sin. We are no longer in bondage to sin. But we do still sin, as every Christian knows.
*This article was originally published HERE.