Thursday, December 30

What Is "Soul Sleep?"

Throughout man's history, our eternal destination, or, if you will, what happens after you die, has been a hot topic. There is a doctrine that many people believe in called "soul sleep." Understand from the beginning that the term "soul sleep" is not found in Scripture. What is soul sleep? Wikipedia defines it as, "Soul sleep is an often pejorative term for what in academic literature is now (since the 1970s) generally called by the more neutral term Christian mortalism for the belief that the human soul is uncomprehending during the time between bodily death and Judgment Day resurrection."(Photo credit to: Invitation to Christ's Article on Soul Sleep)

In short, there is no Scriptural basis for "soul sleep." In this entry, we will attempt to examine why. There are many great books which discuss this topic further, however, this entry is a basic overview. According to  Erwin W. Lutzer, soul sleep is "... the belief that no one is conscious at death because the soul sleeps until the resurrection of the body. Although this view has some able defenders, it suffers from the difficulty of having to reinterpret many clear passages of Scripture in order to make this doctrine fit." (From: One Minute After You Die)

One of the verses used to support this view is 1st Corinthians 15:18, which says, "Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." The expression "fallen asleep" refers to the bodies of Christians - sleep is not used with the soul in the New Testament. For the Christian, our soul goes to Heaven to be with Christ at death, whereas it is our body that is "asleep" in the grave. When the resurrection occurs, our souls will be re-united with our bodies, which will be restored and glorified. "Fallen asleep in Christ" means the soul has, in essence, given up Christ. John 11:11-14 is yet another verse that supporters of this doctrine attempt to use, but as we will see, it is used mistakenly. The passages is as follows: "After he said this, he went on to tell them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.' His disciples replied, 'Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.' Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead.'"

It is reasonable to believe when Jesus said, "Lazarus has fallen asleep," he meant, "Lazarus is dead," equating sleep to death. Now, many scholars, biblical commentaries, and great men of faith tend to agree that there is no Scriptural teaching that, at death, our soul sleeps. Rather, the soul goes to be with Christ, if they are saved. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible states rather interestingly, "The death of Lazarus was in a peculiar sense a sleep.... because he was to be raised again speedily; and why should not the believing hope of that resurrection to eternal life make it as easy to us to put off the body and die as it is to put off our clothes and go to sleep... he rests from the labors of the day past and is refreshing himself for the next morning. Death has the advantage as sleep. The soul does not sleep but becomes more active; but the body sleeps without any toss, without any terror; not distempered nor disturbed. The grave to the wicked is a prison... but to the godly it is a bed, and all its bands as the soft and downy fetters of an easy quiet sleep."

As aforementioned, it is the body that "sleeps" while the soul either goes to Heaven and though we have a "body" in Heaven, when the resurrection of the dead occurs, souls will be reunited with their bodies, the bodies restored and glorified. Now, Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, "the dead know nothing." Psalm 13:3 and Daniel 12:2 also seem to support what Jehovah Witnesses call "termination of existence." However, the context as a whole ought to be looked at, as well as Ephesians 2:1-5; John 11:26; Philippians 1:21, 23; and Romans 8:10. For example, Romans 8:10, "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin." St. Paul is not referring to a termination of existence, rather, that death is a separation of soul and body. In the sense of spiritual death, it is the separation of the soul and spirit from God as a result of the corruption of sin, but it is not "unconsciousness" nor "termination of existence," as read in the Jehovah's Witness book Watchtower.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible states, "...dead know nothing - i.e., so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned (Job 14:21; Is. 63:16)." Unger's Commentary on the Hebrew Bible agrees, saying, "But the dead (insofar as life in this world is concerned) know not anything (Job 14:2; Psalms 6:5, 88:10-11). Death terminates all enjoyments in this world." If "soul sleep" were true, we would find biblical examples of such. On the contrary, we find biblical examples of quite the opposite. 1st Samuel 28:13-15 shows the witch of Endor bringing up Samuel. Samuel talked with Saul. Samuel was not sleeping. He said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me?," not, "Why have you awoke me?" Many commentaries believe that this was actually Samuel and not a demon. In Isaiah 14:9-10 we read, "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming... All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become as weak as we?" (KJV) One cannot "say" if they are asleep nor "meet thee."Verse 16 reads, "They see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man..."  

Ezekiel 32:21-27 says, "The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him...Yet have they borne their shame with them that go down to the pit. ...which are gone down to hell... and they have laid their swords under their heads, but their inequities shall be upon their bones." (KJV) So, the dead are speaking, they experience shame, and are all asleep? I think not.


Jonah 2:2 says, "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried." Many commentaries, such as Tyndale and the  New International, believe that Jonah was in Sheol. How is it that Jonah could cry if he had been sleeping? He could not. We find at the Transfiguration of Christ that Moses and Elijah appeared - and spoke with Jesus. (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:29-33) Also, the three disciples with Jesus saw Moses and Elijah - fully conscious, not asleep. In Luke 16:22-30, Abraham is speaking to the rich man who is in the torment section of the underworld. The rich man said several things, such as, "I am tormented in this flame." (Verse 24Revelation 5:5, in which John speaks with an elder in Heaven, who is certainly awake in spirit, and not asleep and Philippians 1:23, "...to depart and to be with Christ," seem to show that death is a separation from the body of the soul at death, and that the soul is awake while the body is sleeping. St. Paul was discussing how he expected to be with Christ at death, not asleep.

One particular verse seems to refute soul sleep. In Luke 23:43, Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Jesus was not going to sleep, and neither was the man on the cross. On the contrary, Jesus preached to the spirits in prison and led the captive to freedom, where the Hebrew Bible believers rose from their tombs and went into Jerusalem, only be to taken up when Christ ascended forty days later. (1st Peter 3:19, Ephesians 4:8, Matthew 27:51-53).

It appears that those in Heaven are fully conscious, it is that the body is left in the grave, whereas the soul has gone to Heaven. Yet the "supporting verses" do not end there. Colossians 2:20 says, "Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world..." This verse is referring to the Christian's union with Jesus in his death and resurrection, as He has been transformed into new life from the old. (See Romans 6:1-11) Now, we could examine verse after verse that is used to "support" this theory, and show why it does not. The general concept is that, sleep is merely an expression used of the body, not of the soul, in death. Charles R. Erdman once said, "It is seen that there is no 'sleep of the soul.' The body may sleep, but consciousness exists after death." Daniel I. Block said, "If death is viewed as sleep, we need to interpret this not as 'soul sleep' in Sheol, as understood by Seventh Day Adventists, but that the state of dying is a falling asleep to awake in another world."

Troy Hillman

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