** Soul Sleep **
* * Note: This page has been updated as of Tuesday, 20 June 2006 with new material after the initial conclusion; I may have been somewhat wrong! Plus, as of Sunday, 26 April 2009, I am updating the links section. --Editor

In “soul sleep” (a doctrine believed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and Christadelphianism), the person is “asleep” and not conscious after he or she dies and awaits the resurrection.

Proponents of this doctrine cite such Old Testament passages as are shown on page 169 of the JW literature, Reasoning from the Scriptures:

* Eccl. 9:5,10 (dead don’t know anything)

* Ps. 146:4 (when his spirit goes back to the ground, his thoughts perish)

* Ezek. 18:4 (The soul that sins shall surely die)

* Even Acts 13:36 (a NT scripture not mentioned in this JW passage) mentions King David as asleep, to describe him being dead. This may merely apply to David’s body being asleep -or, it may show that Soul Sleep is what really happens when we die, so it too is an inconclusive passage.

* Lastly, one might also cite Rev. 20:5 to claim that “the rest of the dead lived not again” until the 1,000 years had passed and then were resurrected. However, this too does not address whether it was merely a bodily resurrection or resurrection of “sleeping souls” as well.

Taken at fact value -and without the benefit of “comparing scripture with scripture” to see the original meaning in its proper context, it might be reasonable to assume that when one dies, he or she is merely “asleep.” However, two facts are often neglected, which allow for the figurative and metaphoric parable to be taken literally:

(1) In the Old Testament, many truths were not fully understood but later revealed in the New Testament. (In fact, even today, we “see through the glass darkly” I Corinthians 13:12; How much more then?)

(2) King Solomon was speaking metaphorically, not literally.

Let’s take a look at point 2 first, since it admittedly the weaker of the two arguments: Solomon’s father, David also spoke this way: “Let the sea roar...Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful…” (Psalm 98:7-8, KJV) So, does the sea really “roar?” ~ Do floods have hands to clap? ~ Can hills express emotions? NO! This is metaphorical speaking -poetry, if you will, not literal. Likewise with the following: “3 The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back. 4 The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.” (Psalm 114:3-4, KJV) Cf: Job 38:7, KJV, which states: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Can the sea really see it and flee? Do mountains skip and dance around? Can the stars really sing? Scientists might describe a star as “singing” when it transmits light, like a singer transmits sound -and we can sometimes describe hills as “skipping” is under the influence of a major earthquake, but much of this is metaphorical poetry, nothing more. However, what about the strong claims of DAVID and JEREMIAH, accusing God of very evil?!

* Jeremiah (the “weeping prophet”) in Lam. 3:1-18 says that he has lost all hope in the Lord (v.18), who has shut out his prayer (v.8). Did the Lord really let him down? Did he really refuse to hear his prayer?

* David (in a state of depression and often on the run for his life) says in Ps. 13:1-4 that God has forgotten him and has hidden His face from him. Oh, really? Is the literally true? No, this too is metaphorical: What David and Jeremiah allege and claim would be against the nature of God: See e.g., verses 5 & 6: David’s heart shall rejoice in God’s salvation, and the Psalmist will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with him. But does this mean that the soul sleep scriptures above in Ecclesiastes are wrong per se? Taken by itself, no: All it really means is that these scriptures could be or might be metaphorical poetry -and not literal -but many other scriptures, in the New Testament (point 1) which are definitely not metaphorical, paint a different picture and show truths not fully revealed in Old Testament times:

First, here are scriptures that many try to use to disprove Soul Sleep, but they are not conclusive:

* Some cite Matt. 10:28 and Luke 12:4, which say that only God can kill the soul, but this does not address whether or not the soul is “asleep” after bodily death. Ditto with Acts 7:59: When Stephen saw the heavens open (right before getting stoned) and asked the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit, he did not say that he would remain “awake.”

* To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord: II Cor. 5:6-8 and Phil. 1:23. However, one may be “asleep in the Lord,” so this scripture alone does not disprove Soul Sleep.

* Paul was caught up in paradise, not merely asleep: II Cor. 12:2-4, but maybe he was not dead here. (Perhaps, it was merely an out-of-body or “near death” experience.)

* “And Jesus said unto him [the thief on the cross], Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43. However, some have suggested that this scripture means that Jesus was saying “Today, I say to you…” to mean that the time He was speaking was “today.” This doesn’t make sense, for why would Jesus say “Today is the day I’m speaking to you?” However, it is possible, so this scripture doesn’t disprove Soul Sleep all by itself. Also, even if it is true, the thief may be in paradise, but merely “asleep in the spirit.” So, again, this scripture is inconclusive to disprove Soul Sleep.

* Luke 16:22-23 tells of the a beggar named Lazarus and a rich man visiting Abraham’s bosom in Hades. However, many have suggested this is a parable, so it too is inconclusive proof.

* A little more convincing is I Peter 3:19-20 and 4:6, where Jesus preached unto the very dead, possibly those who had perished in Noah’s flood, but this too may be metaphorical to those who are merely “spiritually dead.” Thus, it too is inconclusive.

* Matt. 27:52 clearly says that “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” It doesn’t say that the “sleeping souls” arose, just the bodies. Yet, admittedly, it also doesn’t deny that “sleeping souls” arose -it is silent on the subject, and unfortunately inconclusive.

* Still better are Matthew 17:1-8 and Mark 9:2-10, which show Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration on the mount. Clearly, here they were not merely “asleep,” but one criticism that might be leveled against this scripture is the claim that Jesus did a special miracle here and “awoke” them from sleep. Hence, again, this is not conclusive proof against “Soul Sleep.” (Along these lines is Luke 24:36-40, which shows Jesus awake, not asleep, after death, but this too may be described as an exception or a miracle, and not the norm.)

Call in the “A” Team: Here are scriptures which definitively disprove Soul Sleep:

* Rev. 6:9-11 tells of martyrs under the altar in heaven crying out to God asking Him how long He will wait to avenge their blood. Clearly these people are souls without bodies, but they aren’t asleep. This is not taken as a parable, and yet, this occurs before the resurrection. Hmm… Soul Sleep: Bite the dust: You are false. Since man is made in the image of God, who is a spirit without a body, this now makes more sense: Indeed, we think of the “normal” state to be soul and spirit in body, but this in fact is probably the exception, a temporary existence whilst we are here on earth in temporal existence. In Rev. 20:4, John saw the souls of the beheaded martyrs, not bodies, who “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Clearly souls that are “asleep” don’t do this! In Rev. 20:9, we again find the saints, apparently in heaven and also before the Rapture, 2nd coming -obviously, from the context (verse 10, where the devil is still fighting!), before their resurrection & final judgement, so, they are clearly “dead” people, but yet not in “soul sleep.”

In Jude 1:7, for example, we find that the souls of the dead sinners of Sodom and Gomorrha are “suffering” eternal vengeance of God. Souls that are asleep do not “suffer” pain and the like. PS: In Gen. 35:18, Rachel’s soul didn’t “fall asleep”; It “departed.”

Thus, we can rest assured that Paul was not describing mere soul sleep in Phil. 1:23, when he said that he was torn between life on earth on being with Christ -and his depiction of the heavenly body in II Cor. 5:1: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” not merely a soul that is asleep. Matt. 22:32 shows God is the God of the living, not the dead, and according to other scriptures here, the “awake,” not the “asleep.”

WHOOPS! “RED ALERT”: The “A” Team just ran into some problems: Here they are

FIRST: Let’s look again at Revelation 6:9-11 (King James Version)

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

Analysis: These are the martyred saints under the alter, from the above discussion, remember? But here’s something I didn’t notice at first: While the “Soul Sleep” doctrine is soundly refuted by Rev. 6:9-10, where the souls of the departed were clearly awake, not asleep (as in “Soul Sleep”), nonetheless, we see in verse 11 “that they should rest yet for a little season,” which kind of looks like Soul Sleep. (Do you think?)

NEXT: Let’s look again at Revelation 20:4 (quoting verses 4 and 5 below in the KJV)

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.

Analysis: These are the same martyred saints from above, OK? Verse 4 seems to support the fact that “Soul Sleep” is not happening here at this time, but now notice verse 5, in which we are told that “the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” This also kind of looks like “Soul Sleep,” which is contrasted with the “Soul Awake” condition of the martyred saints before they too had to “they should rest yet for a little season” more.

Conclusion: While we see conclusive proof for the lack of Soul Sleep these verse, and in support of the claim that Jude 1:7 is speaking of souls who aren’t asleep or destroyed, we also see evidence that there are souls who are asleep, either described as resting or as not living, in either case, a form of bring “asleep.” So, in my opinion, it appears that both soul sleep *and* the lack of it are present at different times. Hmm… I’m sure both sides will be displeased with this conclusion, but this is what I find. -=-Editor, Gordon Watts

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