Skip to comments.Life After Death or Soul Sleep? (Soul Sleep: heresy or error?)
Posted on 03/13/2003 2:33:51 PM PST by xzins
Life After Death or Soul Sleep?
What happens after a person dies? Do they have a spirit that either goes to heaven or hell? Or does their soul merely sleep in the grave, trapped inside their decaying body? While orthodox Christians have believed for centuries that the dead go either to heaven or hell, there has been a growing trend toward the latter view, which is called the "doctrine of soul sleep." To determine who is correct, we must search the scriptures carefully to get the complete picture.
The advocates of soul sleep do not look at every Bible passage on this subject. They limit their view to a few isolated verses, which seem to support it. For example, Jesus likened death to sleep in John 11:11 and Matt. 9:24. Death has also been described as sleep in Job 7:21, Psa. 13:3, Dan. 12:2, 1 Cor. 11:30 & 15:51. Thus, these well-meaning folks seem to have scriptural support for their doctrine.
However, one of the main principles of hermeneutics is that the Bible is its own best interpreter. All doctrines must, therefore, be based upon what every verse about a particular subject says. No verses should be ignored or emphasized at the expense of others. Another important hermeneutical principle is knowing that the Bible often uses metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech. Many people lack the linguistic skills to recognize such language. Such is the case with soul sleep. Both of these principles of interpretation have been neglected for some reason.
The greatest authority on biblical truth is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The most explicit teaching about life after death, which Jesus provided for us, is Luke 16:19-31. While many Bibles include a heading over these verses entitled, "Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus," the scriptures themselves do not identify this as a parable. While Jesus did begin telling parables in Luke 14:7, He finished in ch. 16:13. Then, He changed His style in verse 14 to teach about the evil Pharisees. Verse 18 was a teaching about divorce and adultery. It should also be noted that Jesus never mentioned any person in His other parables by name. In this account, however, He identified the beggar as a man named Lazarus. For these reasons, I consider it erroneous to label this passage as a parable. Thus, Jesus was not speaking with parables, but teaching. He intended this to be interpreted literally.
Another good reason to literally interpret what Jesus said above is that His teaching is consistent with the O.T. belief about sheol (Heb. word for hell). The Jews defined sheol as "the abode of the dead." O.T. Jews believed that both saints and sinners went to sheol after death. The only way this could be possible is if Jesus' description of the afterlife is true. Thus, the Greek word for hades is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for sheol. It also means that the abode of the dead literally had two sections one for saints and the other for sinners, which is exactly what Jesus taught.
The advocates of soul sleep, however, claim that both sheol and hades should be translated as "grave." If they really were the linguistic scholars they think they are, they would know that q'eber is the Heb. word for grave. Its Gk. equivalent is nemion. Thus, the abode of the dead and the grave are two different places. One is for the departed spirit, and the other for the dead body. They should not be confused.
Jesus referred to the section for dead saints as "Abraham's bosom." This section was also known as "paradise" by O.T. Jews. That is why Jesus told the repentant thief, who was crucified with Him, that they would both be together in paradise after they died later that same day (Lk. 23:43).
Jesus went on to describe how the section for sinners was a place of torment, which was separated from Abraham's bosom by a gulf that no one could cross. The torment was caused by some type of flame (vs. 24). The fact that the rich man was able to recognize Abraham and Lazarus further reveals that people retain their cognitive faculties after death. Thus, the human spirit is not some type of formless blob. Our spirits have a definite shape, which corresponds to the way we look in the flesh, in order for recognition to be possible. Even the Father has a particular shape according to Jesus (John 5:37).
The advocates of soul sleep play another linguistic trick with the way they claim that the Heb. and Gk. words, which are translated as "spirit," should be translated as "breath." As a result, they change every verse in the Bible about our spirits to refer to our breath instead. The seriousness of this error is not readily apparent when, for example, you see how they change Jas. 2:26 from, "...as the body without the spirit is dead...," to, "...as the body without the breath is dead..." To revise every verse this way, however, changes others into nonsense. Take Heb. 12:23 as an example. Orthodox translations say that we have come "...to the spirits of just men made perfect." Soul sleepers change this to, "...the breaths of just men..." Another example is in 1 Thes. 5:23. Orthodox translations speak of the process of sanctification purifying one's "whole spirit, soul, and body." Our breaths do not need sanctification because they cannot be defiled like our spirits. Thus, this example is very similar to 2 Cor. 7:1, which exhorts us to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit..." Sin exists not only in our flesh, but also in our spirits, not our breath.
Man is comprised of three parts spirit, soul, and body. We are not two-part beings with only a body and soul. The essence of our being is spirit, which lives on after the body dies. The real you is a spirit being, who lives in a mortal body. Your soul refers to those aspects of your personality, which include your mind, emotions, and free will.
Biblical proof that we have spirits, who continue to live apart from our bodies after death, can be seen in several passages. Let's look first at Matt. 17:3-4. When Jesus was transfigured, Moses appeared to Him along with Elijah. Moses died in Deut. 34:5. God buried Moses in the next verse. Thus, Moses did not appear to Jesus in his physical body. It was his spirit, who not only appeared so he could be seen by the eye, but also spoke so he could be heard.
How this can be so is further explained by Paul in 2 Cor. 5:1-8. Verse 1 refers to our body as an "earthly house" and a "tent." Thus, the real person is a spirit, who lives inside a tent (body). Paul went on to say that while we are at home inside our bodies, we are absent from the Lord (vs. 6). But when we die, we are absent from our body and present with the Lord (vs. 8).
Moses was not the only saint whose spirit appeared to someone in the Bible. It happened twice to John in the book of Revelation. In ch. 19:10, the being, who spoke with John, identified himself as his "fellow servant" and one of his "brethren who have the testimony of Jesus." Thus, he was a spiritual brother. In ch. 22:8-9, the being John thought was an angel identified himself as another "fellow servant," who was of his "brethren the prophets." If soul sleep was true, they could not have been showing John things in heaven. They would have been confined to their bodies in their graves.
Rev. 6:9-11 also describes martyred saints, whose spirits were with God in heaven. When they died, their spirits departed from their bodies and returned to God. Rev. 5:8-10 is similar. This passage identifies the 24 elders as people, who were redeemed from among men. They could not have been in heaven with God if soul sleep was true. This is further confirmed by Ecc. 12:7. This verse explicitly states that when our bodies die, our spirits return to God, Who gave them.
I previously mentioned how Jesus' spirit went to Paradise after He was crucified. While His body was dead for 3 days in the tomb, Peter said that His spirit went where He could preach to other dead people in a spiritual prison (1 Pet. 3:18-20). Peter identified these imprisoned people as the sinners who died during Noah's flood. Just as Abraham spoke to the rich man across the gulf in Luke 16, Jesus preached across that same gulf to the sinners on the other side. Thus, what Jesus did after His death on the cross was not what the so-called "faith message" says. Jesus did not suffer on the side of torment. He went to Paradise with the repentant thief and preached across the gulf to the dead sinners on the other side.
2 Cor. 12:1-4 also says some amazing things about how it is possible to be absent from our bodies. Paul said he knew someone, who was caught up to the third heaven and heard inexpressible words that were not lawful to utter. He went on to say that he did not know if the man, who had this experience, was in his body or out of his body. Paul expressed his amazement at this twice, in both vss. 2 & 3. If soul sleepers were correct, this would be impossible because no one could be out of their body if they did not have a spirit.
It seems to me that the reason the idea of soul sleep is so appealing to those who believe it is because they have a faulty understanding of God's love. God's love is one of the most appealing attributes of His nature. However, love is not His only attribute. I think holiness is His greatest attribute because so many passages describe worshippers prostrating themselves before Him exclaiming, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" There is no place where they say, "Love, love, love..." God's love is wonderful, but it must be balanced with His holiness, which demands justice against those who rebel against His Lordship.
It also seems that soul sleepers have a faith problem toward God. To think a loving God would not punish sinners means they do not trust God's fairness. Neither do they have the faith to trust His infinite wisdom. I believe God would deal with sinners differently if there was a way to do it. We should trust that God is wise enough to know that His judgments are best and also loving enough to be fair. He must know something about the nature of sin to realize that there is no other way to deal with it.
Anyone, who questions God's fairness, is falling for a similar temptation to what the serpent posed to Adam and Eve in Eden. Satan influenced our first parents to think God was unfair to withhold anything from them in the garden. He got them to take their minds off all the good things God created for them to eat and focus upon the only thing He forbade. Once he succeeded in getting them to question God's fairness, he then called God a liar. He led them step by step into disobedience, which led to all the wickedness we see upon the earth today.
While I do not consider the doctrine of soul sleep to be a damnable heresy, it is still in error. If it creates a subtle feeling against God's fairness, it could lead to worse problems. Considering what questioning God's fairness did to Adam and Eve, it could lead to similar consequences among soul sleepers. The truth will never malign God's character. We can trust that everything He does is not only loving, but also wise, fair, and just.
I understand that the doctrine of soul sleep came out of 19th century "adventism."
I adamantly agree that in and of itself it is egregious error. I'm inclined to call it heresy.
What are your opinions?
It is certainly not scriptural!
Scripture says that when we die we are with Christ (Phil.1:23).
It seems that it goes much further back then the 19th century.
According to Martians, Kingdom of the Cults, William Tyndale may have held to it.
The confusion seems to come from believing that one needs a physical body and thus, must wait for the Resurrection to receive one before one can go to heaven.
Since God knows from before creation whether someone is damned or saved, there is no span of time between death and retribution before God's judgement is rendered.
It strikes me as theosophy -- the eternally-evolving soul, struggling to attain divinity. It's the stuff of Halloween parties.
In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection.
Nothing in there about "sleep"; God is the God of the living, not the dead.
In this case, BibChr is right: "Absent from the body, present with the Lord". Such has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Are you in "Time" or are you in "Eternity?"
Scripture says that when we die we are with Christ (Phil.1:23).
It seems that it goes much further back then the 19th century. According to Martians, Kingdom of the Cults, William Tyndale may have held to it. The confusion seems to come from believing that one needs a physical body and thus, must wait for the Resurrection to receive one before one can go to heaven.
2nd Timothy 2: 8-9
Philippians 1: 23
AMERICA IS NOT IN BIBLICAL PROPHECY.........period!
Don't get to Heaven or Hell until judgement day and that day will be the same for everyone, the living and the dead.
Not a point I've studied in depth.
Good insight from this passage.
A brief testimonial might help here. Over the past 3 years I've had many vivid dreams. Many of these dreams included events, persons, situations, names, even languages I'd never seen or was familiar with in the least bit. Yet upon awaking, if I researched them I discovered they linked to very real places.
I considered many possibilities but upon further Scriptural study , even going back to greek and Hebrew studies and review of Spiritual Warfare, I find several things of sound interest.
First, the dreams which I recollected and was cognizant within were not merely dreams, but did involve third parties foreign to myself, with even notions and ideas I had never considered. For this reason I accept that other persons were involved.
2) Were these persons spiritual in nature as in fallen angels?, deceiving spirits?, theophanies of some sort? In some dreams I could discern temptation and where induced by the other person I could deduce they were not from God, although He may have allowed the temptation to occur as a testing. I suffice it to say that the dreams involved the spiritual domain and that God is still in charge of all things here as well as there, although there may be multiple persons in that domain who are rebellious and antichristian just as we may encounter them in daily waking moments.
In other dreams, though, I found no cause to belive they weren't a blessing from God and by no means do I wish to grieve the Holy Spirit. SOme I believe were brought by Him or at least allowed and in keeping with His will.
3) We are born spiritually dead and upon our rebirth as Christians become spiritually alive. This is foolishness to unbelievers for they are spiritually dead.
3a) Note the language used here. In Scripture, where God is the God of the living not of the dead, these terms and language is directed at the living, the believing. This is a very important point to understand. It's ironic, I've studied so much Scripture without considering these things Spiritually, yet upon being awakened to the Spirit, the language takes on an entirely clear meaning, and yet it has been there for millenium. This leads me to an opinion that basically either one gets it or they don't. All we can do is attempt to guide them to consider a relationship with God, but if they don't get it, there's good reason why they aren't included.
3b) Conversely, many cults and antichristian beliefs focus on any deceiving spirit. Those who do not believe in God and remain rebellious to Him, might acknowledge and believe things in the spitual domain exist. When studying Scripture, which is Divinely inspired, remember that just as Christ never refers to Himself directly as God, but instead as the Son of man and Son of God and by logic one easily deduces he was God incarnate as the Messaiah, likewise, the Holy Spirit/Ghost I suspect will not exalt Himself, rather with His consistent nature displays a different person of God. The passage of Him being a God of the Living is very important in this regard. Unbelievers might not understand things of the Holy Spirit, because they are dead spiritually, i.e. dead, or separated from the Holy Spirit, YET they are still or may be still influencable by a domain of spirit, such as in deceiving spirits. E.g. Wiccans don't believe in God, but they very much believe in spirits, unfortunately they fail to live by the Holy Spirit and God's plan for them to live by His will.
4) Death, in hebrew is frequently better translated as a separation. The body separated from the soul/spirit as in the first death. A separation from God, as in death from sin. If one sins and becomes separated from God, they need a sin offering to return into fellowship with Him. The blood offering affords that offering as provided by Christ. These leads to some interesting concerns regarding sin during spiritual only encounters. If one sins in a dream, I assert there still is salvation through Christ upon repentance, but some insight might be gleaned upon this point regarding tricotomous and dicotomous nature of man.
Study of body, soul, spirit, along with other words such as heart, breath, soma, psyche, life, water, in both the Hebrew and Greek helps tremendously in this study,..or so I have found.
There is also an issue regarding a sin unto death which might be more indicative of soul sleep. For example, lets say a saved believer, repeatedly backslides to a point where he is saltless,...no longer of any value to the God of Living. That person might suffer a sin unto death or separation from God, and indeed perhaps not be used until a Judgement Day is pronounced. He might have salvation, for once he has been paid for and redeemded, he belongs to Christ, but he might not share in the same rewards or predestined glory because of the rebellion in his life. Soul sleep might be involved in that case, but generally speaking, our focus should rather be on worship and continued fellowship with Him, so such is not an issue.
Upon Christ's death, separation of body, soul, and spirit, His body was left to the grave for 3 days, while He descended and overcame the grave or the domain of Satan in Hades. He ascended, given a body ressurected and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He also led the souls from Abraham's bosom when He ascended. Remember in the New Testament how many previously dead people raised from the dead after Christ in and about Galilee,..caused quite a stir.
Today, when a believer dies, separates soul/spirit from body, he is with the Lord. Not all rewards have been handed out, for they will occur after the great White Throne Judgment.
The Judgment emphasizes the second death and being thrown into the eternal Lake of Fire for unbelievers and rewards for the believer.
While I don't agree with the term "soul sleep", I do agree that what makes us "us" exists in an unconscious state until the resurrection.
I'll address the use of the term sleep in the bible for starters. The author implies that the verses he mentioned is the extent of the sleep=death in scripture, but he leaves out several verses:
Job 14:12 So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
This seems to be a definitive statement.
Daniel 12:2 corroberates this view:
Dan 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Death is compared to sleep by the Lord:
Jer 51:39 In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD.
Jer 51:57 And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts.
Speaking of Moses death, God says again:
Deu 31:16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers...
God once again says:
2Sa 7:12 And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.
In fact, the term "slept with the fathers" is used to denote death in the old testament close to 40 times. Again:
Psa 13:3 Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Jesus tries to teach people that death is comparable to sleep in the story of the dead maiden in three of the gospels:
Mat 9:24 He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.
Mar 5:39 And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.
Luk 8:52 And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.
And John in the tale of Lazarus:
Joh 11:11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
The resurrection of the saints upon the death of Christ:
Mat 27:52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
Stephen is stoned, his death is called sleep:
Act 7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Again in Acts, King David is described as sleeping:
Act 13:36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:
Paul describes death as sleep 5 times in 1 corinthians in describing the resurrection :
1Co 11:30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
1Co 15:6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
1Co 15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
1Co 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
1Co 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
And again in Ephesians:
Eph 5:14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
1Th 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
1Th 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
1Th 4:15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
Peter also compares death to sleep:
2Pe 3:4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
These are just the 60 or 70 something verses I found that used the terms "sleep", "slept" or "asleep" for death. There are many others that denote a state of consciousness like sleep but doesn't use the words.
In short, instead of "sleep" being used in isolated verses instead it's clearly and consistently used to describe the state of death.
What's astounding is that the both the old testament and new testament agree that death is sleep. God himself, who presumably would know, clearly likens death to sleep. Jesus Christ likens death to sleep. Mark, John, Luke, Paul, and Peter all agree...death is like sleeping.
Now with all this scripture detailing that death is like sleep, I don't feel comfortable blithely dismissing it as a euphemism used by God in heaven, God incarnate, Peter, Paul, Mark, Luke, and John.
There are simply too many problems created when this parable is interpreted literally. In essence it's a parable about Jews (the rich man) and Gentiles (Lazarus). A good piece that explains it in context has been posted here:
Not sure what you mean.
One of the points of the soul sleepers is that once they die they sleep(cease to exist, actually). That cessation equals a cessation of time for them, so that the interval between their death and their resurrection SEEMS like just a moment. In actuality, on earth huge amounts of time have passed.
I believe you're able to recognize the passage of time, because you are part of the "great cloud of witnesses" that surround the then current believers on earth.
I do not think that you are timeless in the sense that God would be in that God can know the future as if it were the present. Therefore, in your knowing of those yet on earth, you would not, IMO, be able to traverse time forward as God does. That would be an act demonstrating omniscience-like abilities which I'm supposing are reserved only for God.
I agree that the spirit goes immediately to the Lord. However I think the bible teaches that the state of the spirit is unconscious and that's also why the term sleep is used so often.
BEAUTIFUL Freudian Slip!
Standard Muslim theology teaches there is one Judgment on the Last Day, and until then all the departed souls simply sit and wait and wait and wait, uncertain of how Allah's scales will balance for them.
With one exception:
Anyone who dies a Martyr bypasses this system. Martyrs do not pass "Go." They do not collect $200. They go through the Express Checkout and waltz straight into Paradise, all their sins forgiven.
There's a lot more to this suicide/homicide bombing stuff than the $3000 paid to the parents.
What surprises me most is that there aren't more of them ... and that we haven't had any in the States yet.
However, the spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord.
There is a problem with your second statement if you take the story of Lazarus and Dives literally. I have described the problem at the other post about this story here: Post #8
In one sense, of course, we always have bodies while dreaming. The dead, that is, those who no longer have physical bodies, I presume do not dream. It might be a question for those who believe in soul-sleep, "do soul-sleepers dream?"
But you specifically asked if I have a body in my dreams. I seldom dream nowadays, but did when a lot younger. In some dreams, as I recall, I did not seem to have a body, or at least I was unaware of one. In those dreams I seemed to be a bodiless observer of some odd events. In other dreams I distinctly remember having a body and participating in whatever activity I was dreaming about. However, I consider dreams in the same sense as illusions, the result of a free-running memory system when conscious (waking) control is removed, of which we become aware during that semi-conscious state when just going to sleep or just waking up. Otherwise, they have no significance whatsoever.
It makes Jesus a liar to say that the opposite of that is true.
If at any point in time a believer in Christ is totally eliminated, then that is the obverse of those words of Jesus.
The notion that the spirit is trapped, unconscious, in the decaying body after death is just icky, to say the least.
Then there were the Frankenstein/Dracula movies of those days, where the only ones who came back from that state of soul sleep were completely evil and terrifying.
All references to heaven were of the sitting on a cloud playing a harp variety.
That aspect of the popular culture was sure trying hard to make death a very frightening thing for children and heaven a very uninteresting and boring place.
The Truth of Christ is liberating.
2. Listen again. Every human WILL DIE. Also, there is no believer who WILL DIE. Those are not my words. They are respectively the words of the apostle Paul and the words of Jesus. They are both true, and you did NOT address them.
3. Jesus said that God is not the God of the dead but of the living. There is no believer in all of time who is now not like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. "I AM the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Currently GOD is the God of 3 living beings named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I ~think ~ we are in eternity now?? Anyone agree?
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