BIER (Heb. mittah, Gr. sorós). The Heb. word tr. “bier” once in KJV (2 Sam 3:31, Abner’s burial) is the common word for couch or bed (references are listed s.v. Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, pp. 641, 642). The bier was an open bed or litter set in a bedroom where the body was placed for public viewing, while around the room hired mourners kept up lamentation. Luke 7:14 shows that the body was carried to the grave on the same open stretcher, just as in poorer Moslem funerals the corpse is carried on boards. Edersheim (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah I., pp. 555, 556) wrote that there was a horn to which the body was lashed, and that a different bier was used for rich and poor, the former having a pretentious conveyance called a dargash, while the poor had a framework of wicker. (See the account of Asa’s funeral, 2 Chron 16:14.) The NT word soros is found in Classical Gr. signifying an urn for the bones of the dead. In the one NT reference it obviously renders mittah.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) Found in the Old Testament only in 2Sa 3:31, "and king David followed the bier"; and in the New Testament in Lu 7:14, "and he (Jesus) came nigh and touched the bier." The Hebrew word rendered "bier" (miTTah) and its Greek equivalent (soros) mean strictly "coffin." The so-called "bier" among the ancient Hebrews was simply an open coffin or a flat wooden frame, on which the body of the dead was carried from the house to the grave.
(2) Closed coffins, so universal now in the West, were unknown to common usage among the Hebrews of olden times, though not unknown to Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
At the burial of Abner the people were commanded to "rend their clothes" and "gird themselves with sackcloth," and the king himself in token of his grief and royal regard, "followed the bier" in the procession to the grave (2Sa 3:31).
(3) Of Jesus, when He met the procession that went out of the gate of the city of Nain, bearing to the grave the only son of the widowed mother, Luke says, "When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her .... and he came nigh and touched the bier," and commanded the young man to arise, etc. We should recall that contact with a dead body was forbidden by the law as a source of defilement (Nu 19:11 f); so Jesus here "came nigh" and "touched the bier" only in raising the young man, thus avoiding any criticism for infraction of the law. In Joh 11:35, as here, we have a miracle of Jesus which clearly pointed to a higher law--the eternal law of compassion which received its first full expression in the life of Jesus and forms one of the distinctive features of the gospel.
George B. Eager