Problems with “Soul Sleep”

By Justin Johnson

The teaching of the mortality of the soul or “soul sleep” is not a novel teaching. Nor is it a new concept among those who recognize the mystery of Christ.

Though this doctrine is clearly unsupported by the Bible if taken in its literal English, it continues to be taught alongside the revelation of the mystery to the confusion of those searching the scriptures.

Below is a list of general problems that should be considered if you have been affected by the teachers of soul sleep.

Hopefully, we can become fully persuaded as to the truth as we consider all of scripture, in its context, and believing every word.

Problem Verses

There are multiple passages that show the dead are conscious after death.

    Matthew 12:40 (Jonah 2) – Jonah spoke as one from hell who was dead.

    Matthew 17:2-3 – Moses and Elias were talking with Jesus after their death.

    Matthew 22:31-32 – Abraham was dead, but still living.

    Luke 16:19-31 – Jesus tells the story of dead people speaking in hell. (Some wrongly think this is a parable. It is not. If soul sleep were true, then the story is not only false, but the Lord is misleading his hearers as to what is real. This is significant evidence that the dead are not only conscious but can speak and feel.)

    Luke 23:43 – Jesus says the malefactor will be in paradise with him “today”.

    1 Thessalonians 5:10 – Whether they wake or sleep they live with the Lord.

    2 Corinthians 5:6-8 – Paul explains that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

    2 Corinthians 12:2-4 – Paul describes someone who heard things possibly out of his body.

    Philippians 1:23 – Paul says that he would depart to be with Christ, not unconscious.

    Revelation 6:9-11 – The soul is dead and is crying out to God.

Problem Definitions

Many of the concepts below are misunderstood, denied, or ignored by those who teach the unconscious dead.

    Death does not mean unconsciousness, but rather separation. The only time it means cessation of activity is when it applies to the body.

    Body is not the soul; soul is not the body; spirit is not the soul.

    Sleep never refers to the soul or spirit. It only applies to the body.

    Man does not exist only in his body.

Problem Methods

To arrive at a belief in the unconscious state of the dead the wrong methods below must be used. Doctrines that rely on spiritualization and other languages do not provide a strong defense.

    Spiritualization is used to deny the literal meaning of many passages. Luke 16 is the most abused in this way.

    Language games are used to remove the English words (which do not provide evidence) and replace them with more ambiguous Greek and Hebrew.

Consequential Problems

There are serious practical consequences of the doctrine of the unconscious dead.

  • It removes the comfort from the verses which speak to those facing death.
  • The manipulated definitions used to support soul sleep have been used as a defense of annihilationism, no-hell, or universalism.
  • The methods used to teach it can establish a negative pattern for spiritualizing other significant doctrinal passages.
  • It engenders a doubtful approach to our Bible translations, perpetuating the idea that “the Greek word says” carries more weight than “the word of God says”.
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Published: October 30, 2010
Last Modified: September 26, 2016
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