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Soul Sleep

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If there ever is a doctrine that takes away the full assurance of hope and being with Christ, our Savior upon physical death . . . then it has got to be the false doctrine of soul sleep. One of my pet peeves are those who teach and promote false doctrines and heresies -- even on the web. I often email them and challenge them to a debate. I came across a website that promotes the false doctrine of "soul sleep" http://wordonly.net/CI06.html and was stunned at just how the author twisted scripture out of context with eisegesis and poor understanding of simple vocabulary that even a child can grasp.

There is no "soul sleep".  Immediately upon death, the spirit goes either to heaven or torments and the believer (or unbeliever) finds him/herself in an interim state (cf. Lk. 16:19-31; Phil. 1:21; Heb. 9:27). This is another case of individuals with no regard for the entire teaching of the scriptures taking individual passages which they think support their case for false doctrine and ignoring everything else (Ps. 119:160; Matt. 4:4; Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 3:16).  Have they not read about Abraham and Lazarus and the rich man? They are not "asleep".  Did not Jesus say to the thief who repented on the cross that TODAY, he would be with Him "in paradise"? That's not sleep being referred to.  Haven't they read about the tribulational martyrs in heaven in Revelation chapters six and seven? They are not asleep. In general, the arguments made in favor of "soul sleep" in the passages this person included are vocabulary based arguments.  I've talked about this before.  Assuming that an English word means X and that because we find X in an English version of the Bible, therefore the passage must mean Y is faulty logic and horrible theology. The Bible means what it means and words it uses cannot be compelled to have only the particular meaning the twister of scripture wants.  A little common sense will reveal the correct answer even in English only Bible study most of the time.  

"Sleep" is something only the physical body does. The spirit never sleeps (dreams are a good indication of that).  Also importantly for this issue, the body asleep and the body in physical death resemble each other.  For that reason, sleep is often spoken of as death and death is often spoken of as sleep -- for the physical body. This is merely a manner of speaking, however.  Whenever a departed person is spoken of in scripture as "asleep", the reference is to the body, not the person (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 27:52; Lk. 8:52; Jn. 11:11-14; 1 Cor. 15:6,18; 2 Thess. 4:13-14; 2 Pet. 3:4). This is a natural thing too, because we can see the person's body (which resembles a body asleep) but we cannot see the person's spirit . . . because it is no longer present. When Jesus "gave up His spirit" on the cross, His body went into the tomb on earth, but we know that He Himself -- that is, His spirit -- descended into Hades, specifically, into paradise (as He told the converted thief: Lk. 23:43). That pattern -- of body going into the grave but spirit going elsewhere -- is the one that has always obtained and always will until kingdom come.

One other side note:  the "soul" is not something which is self-dependent or a "ghost" or "organ"; in the Bible, the  word "soul" is a synonym for the inner person or the heart. Misunderstanding this point leads to other incorrect assumptions about what scripture says on the nature of human beings. Here is a brief summary of my objections to some of the author's "proof texts" which he believes supports his false doctrine of soul sleep:

The author's supposed proof for promoting his doctrine of soul sleep:

  • 1. The stoning of Stephen: Sleep in the bible refers to our essence of being asleep and the correct word to describe sleep a state on unconsciousness. When Stephen cried out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit", and fell asleep. If Stephen were indeed conscious in Heaven, then the bible would have said that, "His body fell asleep".
  • 2. Jesus said that Lazarus is asleep and to not awake him because his soul is sleeping.
  • 3. The bible mentions "sleep" a total of 72 times in the OT and the NT, so we cannot conclude that sleep always refers to death. Doing so, is illogical.
  • 4. Sleep doesn't always mean "to be in Christ", and that unbelievers also sleep as in OT as in the kings slept with his fathers.
  • 5. Psalm 146:4 says that upon death, a mans thoughts "perish" and cannot refer to a body without a soul since physical bodies alone cannot have thoughts; and that only the soul has thoughts, and they perish.
  • 6. The "dead" no nothing and have no reward or remembrance (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6,10)

My refutations to his false assertions mentioned above:

  • 1. You can't tell the Bible how it can and cannot say things. This is a euphemism.  Jesus said at John 11:11 "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep".  Jesus was not lying. He was putting things in a euphemistic way.  Later He says, plainly, "Lazarus is dead" (Jn.11:14).  The only way these two things can be true is if "sleeping" is a euphemism.
  • 2. Jesus said nothing about Lazarus' "soul"; see above #1.
  • 3. This is ridiculous. No one ever said "sleep ALWAYS refers to death".  But it certainly can.
  • 4. I don't even understand this point.  No one makes this claim either.  
  • 5. Human beings are never "unclothed" (2 Cor. 5:3); they have a physical body now, an interim one after death, and eventually all will be resurrected (some to life and some to the second death). Psalm 146:4 is just stating the obvious: planning is something a person can only do in this world and in this first body. After death, there is no more reason to choose (or plan). The decisions we make here and now will endure forever (especially the one to follow God through faith in Christ . . . or not).
  • 6. See #5.  Ecclesiastes presents the human point of view.  E.g., "All is vanity!" is only true for those who reject the spiritual dimension in life. Jesus said the same thing: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul" (Mk. 8:36).  From the viewpoint of human beings who know nothing of God, the dead are "done".  It is true that here is no choice in death -- but we who have the Christian HOPE know full well that things are wonderful on the other side . . . and that we will be with Christ, NOT asleep:

According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: (Philippians 1:20-23)

God Bless!

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