Problem: Daniel only says "many" shall awaken
Verses: Daniel 12:2, John 5:28-29; Status: Serious

The Old Testament has relatively little to say about the end times and the afterlife, which became major Christian themes. At several places in the Old Testament one gets the impression that death is simply the end of a person's existence, and that's all there is to it. Examples would be Genesis 3:19, Psalm 104:29, Ecclesiastes 3:19, Ecclesiastes 9:5, Isaiah 26:14, et cetera. Later writers took a different view, though. This is Daniel 12:2:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (ESV)

Many?

This passage raises the prospect of a third class of people, who will not be resurrected to a glorious afterlife, nor to an inglorious punishment, but will simply stay dead. This is not in keeping with the traditional Christian teaching on such matters, which is based on passages like John 5:28-29:

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (ESV)

Assuming "many" has its ordinary meaning of "not all", the passage from Daniel seems problematic, and suggests that the Biblical concepts of judgement and the afterlife evolved over time. I wish I could report what the ESV Study Bible has to say on the matter, but they gloss over the problem entirely by just ignoring the word "many". As usual, the NIV softens the problem with imaginative translating.

Anyway, those inerrantists who take the "many" seriously think that the Book of Daniel is talking about something other than the main resurrection of the dead, and that what's mentioned at Daniel 12:2 is just some sort of side-resurrection. I find it unlikely the author meant anything of the sort.

Updated: 2010-07-19

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