Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sally's Question on Soul Sleep

Question: "What does the Bible say about soul sleep?"

Soul sleep is a minority belief that the soul sleeps unconsciously between the death of the body and its resurrection on Judgment Day. The concept of “soul sleep” is not a biblical doctrine. When the Bible says a person is “sleeping” in relation to death Luke 8:52 and 1 Corinthians 15:6, it does not mean literal sleep. Sleeping is just a way to describe death because a dead body appears to be sleeping. The Bible tells us that the instant we die, we are taken to heaven or hell based on whether we have placed our faith in Christ for salvation. For believers, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord 2Corinthiasns 5:6-8 and Philippians 1:23. For unbelievers, death means everlasting punishment in hell Luke 16:22-23. The moment we die, we face the judgment of God Hebrews 9:27.

Present-day defenders of soul sleep include the Seventh Day Adventist the Jehovah’s Witness and the Christadelphian churches.


Ecclesiastes 12:7
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.
That is, the soul has an existence independent of the body, and returns to God at death, etc.


One of the more confusing passages in this regard is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, where Paul speaks of the dead in Christ as being asleep, and as rising only when Christ returns. This may at first give the impression that they are rising from sleep when Christ returns, and that prior to that they are not with him. However, "rise" (from the Greek anistemi) is not the normal word the Bible uses to describe those who cease to sleep -- "awake" is. "Rise" generally refers to the simple act of standing up, but it also refers frequently to the general resurrection when our bodies will rise from the grave (Mark 9:9; 9:10; 12:25; Luke 16:31; 24:46; John 20:9; Acts 10:41; 13:43; 17:3,31). In these cases, the point is not that our souls wake up or rise, but that our bodies do. This being the background of the language of "rising" (anistemi) in the church, the Thessalonian church would have understood "rise" (anistemi) in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 to refer to the bodily resurrection, not to awaking from soul sleep. 

There is no explicit teaching in Scripture that outlines any doctrine of "soul sleep," but it is an inference drawn from the metaphor/euphemism of death as "sleep." The Bible does explicitly teach, however, that our souls are immediately present with the Lord upon our deaths. For example, Jesus told the thief on the cross that the thief would be with him that day in paradise (Luke 23:43). Further, Paul explicitly taught that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord -- he mentioned no third alternative such as soul sleep (2 Cor. 5:6-9). Moreover, we have actual examples of people who died but did not experience soul sleep: Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30-31); perhaps Samuel (1 Sam. 28:3-20); and of course Jesus himself (e.g. Luke 23:43). Some would add the debatable example of Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man in the parable of Luke 16:19-31.


  1. Hi Pastor!
    Finally finding time to get around and start clicking on the "follow this blog" stuff.
    Good answers to the question that was posed. I believe the same as you printed in our reply.
    Anyway, Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks BenB it is good to have the JS community gathering around Follow This BLog

  3. That is what I like hearing and what I believe as well, even though I was taught soul sleep throughout my childhood. It has never made sense to me in adulthood. Thank you so much for helping know even more that what I was taught is not what is the truth. However, like I said before I am not putting anyone down for their beliefs. We all have them. *hugs* Now I will give somebody else a chance for a question. :)

  4. This may sound stupid but here goes...our church said that when we die we are asleep and when Jesus comes back He will wake us up to take us Home. I've always had this fear of death because I can't sleep on my back, if I do I have bad nightmares. To think of being asleep for who knows how long on my back has scared me forever! I know that sounds dumb but it's true. :(
    I love what you said and believe it's true. Now I can put my fears to rest. Thank you. :)

  5. So when we die, the instant we die we got straight to Heaven? That's great to know. :)

    Hmmm, but since we are already in Heaven when we die, then what's happening with the Resurrection?

  6. I honestly have never heard the term "soul sleep." I've always been taught exactly what you wrote about the instant you die, your soul goes on to heaven or hell.

  7. I think I mentioned that I was taught soul sleep when I was a child I was an adventist just like my sisters Sally and Betty.

    I helped my mother die in 2003 and that closed any thought for me that the spirit stays with the body at death. there was something so instantly different about her body. The 4 part entry I wrote about that is something I really wish I had archived.