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.