Soul Sleep


John Hoole




There are several group today that adhere to the teaching called "Soul Sleep."  Two of the more well-known groups are Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.  The two groups are however not identical in this belief.


The Jehovah's Witnesses organization believes in annihilation.  This means that at death, a person ceases to exist.  At the future resurrection, they maintain that the soul is then re-created.  Basically, it is a re-creation of the individual.


The Seventh Day Adventists teach that at death, the soul become inert and resides in the memory of God.   The Adventists believe that at death it is the soul that dies.  The time between the death of a person and their future resurrection is one of unconsciousness. That means that the person is not aware anything at all, thus oblivious to the passing of time.


I touched on this topic only briefly in our previous lesson on "What Happens After Death?"  Here, we consider it more completely.  I do want to start with a Scripture mentioned in our last lesson.


1 Peter 3:4 says the hidden man is incorruptible.  The "hidden man" mentioned here is that part of a person's tripartite being that is not visible.  Only the body is visible - while our spirit & soul are not.  And the verse continues to tell us that this hidden part is not corruptible.  That means it is eternal.


One of the main verses used by advocates of soul-sleep is Ecclesiastes 9:5.


Ecclesiastes 9:5 NKJV


5       For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.


Two major problems arise when you try to use this verse to prove soul-sleep.  First, the student of Scripture must always keep in mind the context of the passage being examined.  The book of Ecclesiastes frequently states things that only appear to be true from a purely human perspective.  We get a taste of this by reading the first three verses of this Old Testament Book.


Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 NKJV


1       The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2       "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

3       What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?


Notice he is writing from a human perspective, from the vantage point of life "under the sun."  Second, interpreting this verse to substantiate soul-sleep cannot be harmonized with other statements made in the same book.  Solomon, the writer, clearly believed that the soul continues on in a conscious existence after death.  For instance, note what Solomon writers in chapter 12, the last of Ecclesiastes.


Ecclesiastes 12:7 NKJV


7       Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it.


                            This verse speak of the soul having an existence independent of the body.


Before leaving Ecclesiastes, I do believe that our bodies, as stated in 9:5, do deteriorate and "know nothing, and are not conscious of past, present or future.  But, using Eccl. 9:5 as proof of soul-sleep is not justified.


Actually, I believe there are a number of biblical passages that refute the idea of soul-sleep.  Let's consider them.


1.      Genesis 35:18 NKJV


18     And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.


Notice that Rachel's soul didn't sink into unconsciousness.  Rather, it departed, it went somewhere.


2.      1 Samuel 28:13-15a NKJV


13     And the king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What did you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth."

14     So he said to her, "What is his form?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle." And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.

15     Now Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"


This record in the Bible has raised a number of question.  At this time, the only comment I will make is to ask you to note that Samuel the prophet, who had already died, was conscious and aware of what was transpiring.  His soul and spirit had not gone into soul-sleep.


3.      Matthew 17:1-3 NKJV


1       Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;

2       and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.

3       And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.


Moses had been dead about 1,400 years and Elijah had been raptured about 800 years earlier.  During the ministry of Jesus on earth, they appear with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Their souls were far from unconscious.  Moses was not yet united with his resurrected body, because that resurrection had not yet occurred.  So we can clearly see that at least two people are alive after their time on earth is ended.


4.      Luke 16:19-31


We spent some time on this passage in our last lesson.  It relates Christ's story of the rich man who died, as well as the beggar at his gate, named Lazarus, who also died.  This event tells what happened to each following the death of their bodies.  The rich man went to Hades, where he is in a place of torment.  Lazarus, the beggar, was carried by angels to Abraham's side in Hades.  This is a different part of Hades than where the rich man was.


As you read the biblical account of these two men, it is obvious each were in a state of consciousness.  They each could see, hear, feel, taste and talk.  The rich man in the place of torment could remember that he had 5 brothers, and that none of them had believed on Jesus Christ as their Savior.  He also recognized Lazarus by Abraham's side.  There was no soul-sleep here.


5.      Luke 23:39-43 NKJV


39     Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying,  "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."

40     But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?

41     And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."

42     Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

43     And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."


The statement by Jesus on the cross to one of the two thieves demonstrates a conscious existence in death.  Jesus  said that he was going to go to paradise on the same day He died.  And he promises the repentant thief that He was going to take the thief with Him.  This could not happen if soul-sleep is true.  No, the soul survives after death.


6.      Acts 7:56-60 NKJV


56     And said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

57     Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;

58     and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59     And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

60     Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.


This is the only time the Bible refers to Jesus "standing at the right hand of God."  Every other time Jesus is sitting at God's right hand.  Jesus stood up to welcome His faithful servant Stephen to heaven.  Stephen's body fell asleep, but he asked the Lord to receive his spirit at the moment of death.


7.      2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV

8       We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.


The apostle Paul is telling the Corinthians that he would rather be outside of his body and be at home with the Lord.  If soul-sleep is a true doctrine, how is it possible to be separated from the body and immediately be in the presence of his Lord?  If you read the verses prior to verse 8, you will see that Paul is talking about his body, which he calls a temporary "tent" which groans.  He states in verse 6 that to remain clothed with his body means that he will remain absent from the presence of his Lord.  Paul certainly was not expecting his soul to sleep.


8.      Philippians 1:21-23 NKJV

21     For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

22     But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.

23     For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.


Paul is saying that if he died, he would "depart."  Where would he go?  He answers that by stating he would go to be with Christ.  Where is Christ?  Christ is in heaven.  Was Paul only saying that at the resurrection he would be with Christ?  No, he says he will be with Christ when he departs from his body.


9.      Revelation 6:9-10 NKJV

9       When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been 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, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"

Here we have the souls of some Tribulation believers who had died.  And we are told the souls of these people are said to be in heaven, where they are requesting vindication upon those who killed them.  They are still conscious, even though they are separated from their earthly bodies.


Jesus raising from the dead - three accounts


There are three place in the New Testament where Jesus raised the dead.  Each time Jesus approached the dead and spoke to them as if they were alive.  To the son of the widow of Nain He said, "Young man, I say unto thee, arise" (Luke 7:14).  When Christ came to the daughter of Jairus, we are told, "He took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid arise" (Luke 8:54).  Finally, He said to the brother of Mary and Martha, "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:43).


In each case Jesus speaks to the person as if they were alive.  We can only say that, in fact, each were alive.  As G. Campbell Morgan says: "The body was dead.  The man was not dead.  No man is ever dead when his body lies dead!"  The soul will never enter a state of non-existence nor unconsciousness.


There should be no question that following death our spiritual part continues to consciously exist.  For those who are not believers, they will experience a place of torment.  For the believer, they are immediately ushered into the presence of their Lord in heaven.