By Spencer D Gear
What happens to you when you die? Famous British philosopher, Bertrand Russell’s conclusion was: “When I die, I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive” (1967, p. 47, cited in Peterson 1995, p. 3). He now knows whether his statement is true or not, as he died in 1970. However, he could have known beforehand if he had taken the Bible seriously (which is not what atheists do).
Have you done much thinking about this topic lately?
If you join in the discussion on some Christian forums on the Internet, you are likely to encounter people who promote unorthodox doctrines. I have been meeting some of these people on the Christian Fellowship Forum (2007a).
Harold, a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), has been promoting soul sleep. Somebody asked him, “Does the soul continue and interact between physical death and the resurrection?” His response was: “Only if you refuse to put those texts in context. Daniel 12:1, John 5: 28, 29, Acts 2:29, 34, The story of His friend, Lazarus, who was ASLEEP in Matthew 11” (Christian Fellowship Forum 2007b, Harold to Chris, #11).
1.1 Mass communication & false teaching
World-wide communication, particularly through the Internet, has made it easier to promote all kinds of teaching, including false teaching. Harold has pursued me: “I can’t help it if you have thrown away the clear Word of God for something else that claims that you have an immortal soul. That isn’t Biblical and you know it” (Christian Fellowship Forum 2007c, Harold to OzSpen, #21). Harold responded to another participant: “‘and man BECAME a living soul.’ Not ‘was given a soul’. Not, ‘now has a soul’. You ARE a soul” (Christian Fellowship Forum 2007c, Harold to Martin Y, #16). 
In my response, I showed that Matthew 10:28 (explained elsewhere in this article) sinks the SDA idea that a human being is a soul and does not have a soul (see Christian Fellowship Forum 2007c, #42).
2. What is the teaching on soul sleep?
Several terms need to be defined before we examine the doctrine of “soul sleep.” There are some important foundational teachings that prepare the way for consideration of “soul sleep.” These include:
What is the nature of a human being? Is he/she a physical being only or is there an immaterial dimension to a person?
Does a human being have a soul or spirit that represents the immaterial part of a person?
- What happens to this immaterial part at death?
2.1 What is the nature of a human being?
How many parts are there to a human being? Most Christians and many non-Christians admit that there is some immaterial part of a person that may be called “soul” or “spirit.” But as for agreement on what soul/spirit means, there is not much consensus. Here, emphasis will be placed on what the Christian Bible states.
There are two main positions adopted within the Christian community: trichotomy and dichotomy. Simply stated, trichotomy is the view that human beings are made up of three parts, body, soul and spirit. Wayne Grudem (1994, p. 472) states that
though this has been a common view in popular evangelical Bible teaching, there are few scholarly defenses of it today. According to many trichotomists, man’s soul includes his intellect, his emotions, and his will. . . Man’s spirit is a higher faculty in man that comes alive when a person becomes a Christian (see Rom. 8:10: “If Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness”). The spirit of a person then would be that part of him or her that most directly worships and prays to God (see John 4:24; Phil. 3:3).
By dichotomy, is meant that a person consist of two parts, body and soul/spirit. The “spirit” and “soul” are not separate entities but are terms that are used interchangeably in Scripture to refer to the immaterial part of a human being that lives in the human body.
What is the biblical support for dichotomy? The Scriptures sometimes describe a human being as “body and soul” (Matt. 6:25; 10:28). Other times a person is “body and spirit” (Eccl. 12:7; 1 Cor. 5:3, 5). At death, sometimes it is described as the soul departing (Gen. 35:18; 1 Kings 17:21; Acts 15:26).At other times, it is the spirit that is given up (Ps. 31:5; Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59). When it comes to explaining the immaterial element of the dead, it is called both soul and spirit (1 Peter 3:19; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 6:9; 20:4).
Thus, in OT and NT, “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably to differentiate the immaterial part of a human being. This leads Berkhof to conclude that “the Bible points to two, and only two, constitutional elements in the nature of man, namely, body and spirit or soul” (1939/1941, p. 194).
Wait a minute! Could I be jumping to conclusions too quickly? Aren’t there two Bible verses that specifically speak of body, soul and spirit? These are:
a. First Thess. 5:23 , “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we exegete  the Scripture we need to be aware of the need to compare Scripture with Scripture and interpret according to the way this teaching is usually represented in Scripture. This is called the analogy of Scripture.
Because soul and spirit are here beside each other, this does not prove that they are two distinct and different substances. Compare a passage such as Matt. 22:37, “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” This does not mean that Jesus regarded the heart, soul and mind as three distinct substances in the human being. Compare Mark 12:30, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Grudem notes,
If we go on the principle that such lists of terms tell us about more parts to man, then if we also add spirit to this list (and perhaps body as well), we would have five or six parts to man! But that is certainly a false conclusion. It is far better to understand Jesus as simply piling up roughly synonymous terms for emphasis to demonstrate that we must love God with all of our being (1994, p. 479).
We also need to note that the very Paul who wrote 1 Thess. 5: 23, also wrote Rom. 8:10, 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:34; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 2:3 and Col. 2;5. In these latter six verses, Paul affirms that there are only two different substances in a human being and not three. The analogy of Scripture helps us interpret 1 Thess. 5:23 to support the dichotomous view. In 1 Thess. 5:23, Paul could be simply using synonyms for emphasis to remind us that, whether our immaterial part is called soul or spirit, he wants God to sanctify Christians wholly to the day of Christ.
b. Heb. 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
From this verse, is it possible for it to mean that the sword of Scripture is able to divide soul from spirit? It is best to understand this passage from the analogy of Scripture. The author is not trying to divide soul from spirit, otherwise we would have to separate these elements: soul, spirit, joints, marrow, thoughts and intentions.
Based on our understanding of 1 Thess. 5:23, it is best to understand that human beings are made of inward parts that cannot hide from the penetrating power of the sword of the word of God – Scripture. If we want to call the inward part of human beings heart, soul, spirit, and mind, the word of God is able to penetrate and to divide the thoughts and intentions.
Norman Geisler explains:
Many expositors take this apparent contrast between soul and spirit to be a figure of speech describing the power of the Word of God. It is so powerful that it can, as it were, divide the indivisible. In this sense, rather than being a proof of trichotomy, Hebrews 4:12 actually is evidence for the unity (but not identity) of human nature (2004, p. 64).
F. F. Bruce agrees with A. B. Davidson’s understanding of the words of Heb. 4:12: “piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit of both joints and marrow” is a “rhetorical accumulation of terms to express the whole mental nature of man on all its sides” (in Bruce 1964, p. 82).
Therefore, R. C. Sproul is justified in concluding that “orthodox theology rejects the trichotomous view of human beings” (1992, p. 134).
Is a human being a soul or does a human being have a soul? Soul sleep supporters don’t like the idea of a person having a soul because they don’t believe in an immortal soul.
John Calvin wrote:
That man consists of a soul and a body ought to be beyond controversy. Now I understand by the term “soul” an immortal yet created essence, which is his nobler part. Sometimes it is called “spirit.” For even when these terms are joined together, they differ from one another in meaning; yet when the word “spirit” is used by itself, it means the same thing as soul; as when Solomon, speaking of death, says that when “the spirit returns to God who gave it” [Eccl. 12:7]. And when Christ commended his spirit to the Father [Luke 23:46] and Stephen his to Christ [Acts 7:59] they meant only that when the soul is freed from the prison house of the body, God is its perpetual guardian. Some imagine the soul to be called “spirit” for the reason that it is breath, or a force divinely infused into bodies, but that it nevertheless is without essence; both the thing itself and all Scripture show them to be stupidly blundering in this opinion (1960, I.15.2, p. 184, emphasis added).
As explained below, Matt. 10:28 clearly differentiates between the physical body (the material part of human beings) and the soul (the immaterial part of human beings).
We also need to note that in the OT there is a meaning of “soul” that means breath, like an animal’s breath. See Gen. 1:21, 24, 30; 2:7; Job 32:8 and 33:4.
(Luther on deathbed, Wikipedia)
The Bible sometimes describes the state of death as “sleep” or “falling asleep” in verses such as Matt. 9:24; 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thess 4:13; 5:10. Let’s take 3 samples from these verses:
1. Matt. 9:24. The ruler’s daughter had died (see 9:18) and before Jesus raised her from the dead, Jesus said, “‘Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him.”
2. Acts 13:36. “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers . . .”
3. First Corinthians 15:20. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
This sounds like the soul sleep position is signed, sealed and delivered. If believers go to sleep at death, surely there is no need for further discussion! It would be a danger to jump to such a conclusion this early in an examination of the biblical evidence.
There are many words in many languages (including English) that have a number of unrelated meanings. We see this with the language of ‘sleep’. Webster’s dictionary defines it three ways, one of which is: ‘a natural, regularly recurring condition of rest for the body and mind, during which there is little or no conscious thoughts, sensation, or movement’ (Webster 1978:1706). However there are many different meanings to ‘sleep’ when statements such as these are made: (1) My foot went to sleep (meaning that sensation was lost in my foot; (2) I’ll sleep on it, which means that I will think about the issue and try to come up with an answer later; (3) My children’s friends are coming for a sleepover, i.e. the children’s friends will come to sleep at our place for the night and there is likely to be a long night of talking, playing games, and favourite party food; (4) That couple is sleeping together, meaning they are having sex; (5) There are sleeper cells in this country, which is an indication that there are terrorists awaiting their opportunities to strike; (6) I had to put my dog to sleep, meaning that I took the dog to the vet and he euthanised (killed) him/her (many of these ideas suggested by Dr John Roller n d, ‘Soul sleep’, but the article is no longer onlin
New Testament scholar, Dr. N. T. Wright, wrote that “when ancient Jews, pagans and Christians used the word ‘sleep’ to denote death, they were using a metaphor to refer to a concrete state of affairs.We sometimes use the same language the other way round: a heavy sleeper is ‘dead to the world'” (Wright 2003, p. xix).
When my father died and I saw him in his coffin, he looked as though he was asleep. This is how we are to understand the language of sleep associated with death in the Bible. “Sleep” of the body is a metaphor that refers to death.
Remember the story of Jesus and Lazarus in John 11:5-44? Of Lazarus, it was said that he “has fallen asleep” and Jesus was going “to awaken him” (v. 11). Jesus was very clear what he had meant by “sleep.” “Now Jesus had spoken of his death” (v. 13). “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died'” (v. 14). Jesus explains further: “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (v. 26).
So, in this situation we have this kind of language used: Lazarus died and he looked as though he was asleep but the truth was that, because Lazarus believed in Jesus, Lazarus would never die. That sounds paradoxical. He died but he would never die! As we will see, this means that the believer who dies physically and appears to be asleep (a metaphor), does not die because his unseen soul goes immediately into the presence of the Lord, thus meaning that the believer never really dies. At death, the believer’s real being (his/her soul) goes into the presence of the Lord (see 2 Cor. 5:8).
Then we add verses from the OT which seem to teach that those who died did not experience a conscience existence. See verses such as Psalm 6:5; 115:17 (note what is stated in Ps. 115:18); Eccl. 9:10; 12:7; Isa. 38:19. The soul sleepers love to quote Eccl. 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”
As an example of what soul sleep promoters do with Eccl. 9:10, see how Ellen White, the SDA prophetess, explained it:
Upon the fundamental error of natural immortality rests the doctrine of consciousness in death–a doctrine, like eternal torment, opposed to the teachings of the Scriptures, to the dictates of reason, and to our feelings of humanity. . . . And how utterly revolting is the belief that as soon as the breath leaves the body the soul of the impenitent is consigned to the flames of hell! To what depths of anguish must those be plunged who see their friends passing to the grave unprepared, to enter upon an eternity of woe and sin! Many have been driven to insanity by this harrowing thought.
What say the Scriptures concerning these things? David declares that man is not conscious in death. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalm 146:4. Solomon bears the same testimony: “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.” “Their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun.” “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10 (White 1950/1971, pp. 477-478).
What, then, does the Preacher of wisdom of Eccl. 9:10 really teach? He is emphasising what we take for granted. In this life we enjoy certain resources from which we obtain certain results. When a life comes to an end, there is no way that a person can make up for what has not been achieved in this life, i.e. “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave.” In spite of a person’s many gifts, if tasks are left undone, there is no way that they can be picked up and achieved at death.
Jesus spoke something similar in John 9:4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”
Therefore Eccl. 9:10 states it clearly: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” According to OT exegete, H C Leupold, it means that
earthly activities cannot be continued after this life, and since this thought is an excellent stimulus to action in times when enterprise may lag, there is no call to press out of the statement thoughts it was not meant to express. There is no attempt here to describe from every angle the nature of man’s existence in Sheol. Consequently to have the verse express doctrines that deny a hereafter is a misreading of Scripture. . .
The Preacher is surely giving sound counsel for evil days (Leupold 1969, p. 218, emphasis added).
The SDA prophetess’s interpretation of Eccl. 9:10 is a classic example of her inability to read a text in context and have it mean what the author of the Book intended. Of course, her followers have followed this false interpretation.
3. What is meant by the doctrine of soul sleep?
The SDA’s Ellen G. White, wrote:
‘Upon the fundamental error of natural immortality rests the doctrine of consciousness in death – a doctrine, like eternal torment, opposed to the teachings of the Scriptures, to the dictates of reason, and to our feelings of humanity. . . .
The theory of the immortality of the soul was one of those false doctrines that Rome, borrowing from paganism, incorporated into the religion of Christendom. . . .
The Bible clearly teaches that the dead do not go immediately to heaven. They are represented as sleeping until the resurrection. 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Job 14:10-12′ (White 1950/1971, pp. 477-478, 481-482).
Ellen White calls on the Christian martyr, William Tyndale, to support her doctrine of soul sleep, with this statement:
I confess openly, that I am not persuaded that they be already in the full glory that Christ is in, or the elect angels of God are in. Neither is it any article of my faith; for if it were so, I see not but then the preaching of the resurrection of the flesh were a thing in vain (William Tyndale 1534, Preface to New Testament, cited in White 1950/1971, p. 479)
At one SDA website it provided this definition of soul sleep: SDAs
believe that death is a sleep during which the “dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5), which is to say that nothing of a person survives death, that the dead simply cease to exist until they are resurrected, either at the second coming of Jesus (in the case of the righteous) or after the millennium of Rev.20 (in the case of the wicked) [NationMaster 2003-2005].
Robert Morey, an opponent of soul sleep, explains the meaning of the doctrine of soul sleep:
When man [meaning men and women] dies, he does not go to heaven or hell, but passes into a state of unconsciousness called “sleep.” Since the first death is a state of unconsciousness, then the second death will be eternal unconsciousness (1984, p. 105).
4. Who are the primary teachers of this false doctrine?
4.1 Seventh-Day Adventists
Ellen White calls upon Reformer, Martin Luther for support of soul sleep. She uses this quote from Luther:
Another place proving that the dead have no . . . feeling. There is, saith he, no duty, no science, no knowledge, no wisdom there. Solomon judgeth that the dead are asleep, and feel nothing at all. For the dead lie there, accounting neither days nor years, but when they are awaked, they shall seem to have slept scarce one minute (in White 1950/1971, p. 481). 
Elsewhere, it is recorded that the SDAs teach:
We, as Adventists, have reached the definite conclusion that man rests in the tomb until the resurrection morning. Then, at the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4, 5), the resurrection of the just (Acts 24:15), the righteous come forth immortalized, at the call of Christ the Life-giver. And they then enter into life everlasting, in their eternal home in the kingdom of glory. Such is our understanding (At Issue 1957, p. 520).
4.2 The Jehovah’s Witnesses
From their writings we learn:
The dead cannot do anything and cannot feel anything. They no longer have any thoughts, as the Bible states: “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs. His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” (Psalm 146:3, 4). . . . According to the Bible, the dead enter a state of complete unconsciousness. . .
There is no superiority of the man over the beast, for everything is vanity. All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20). . . .
God did not create man with a soul. Man is a soul. So, as we would expect, when man dies, his soul dies. Over and over again the Bible says that this is true. Never does the Bible say the soul is deathless or that it cannot die (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth 1982/1989, pp. 77-78).
In the JW insider book used as a ready reference for door-knocking, Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), it asks, “What is the condition of the dead?” and gives these verses from the New World Translation: Eccl. 9:5; John 11:11-14 (p. 100). These are to emphasise that the dead are conscious of nothing and Lazarus had died and was asleep.
To answer the question, “Are the dead in any way able to help or to harm the living?”, two verses were provided, Eccl. 9:6 and Isa. 26:14, to show that the dead are impotent and “will not rise up” (p. 100).
“Are the dead able to experience joy because of confidence in the prospect of salvation?” The answer from this publication was to refer to Eccl. 9:5 and Isa. 38:18 in the Jerusalem Bible to demonstrate that “the dead know nothing” and that those who go down to the pit of death do not continue trusting in God’s faithfulness. The publication asks, “So how can any of them ‘experience great joy over the certainty of salvation’?” (p. 300).
Elsewhere the JWs state:
The dead are shown to be ‘conscious of nothing at all’ and the death state to be one of complete inactivity. (Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ps. 146:4). In both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures death is likened to sleep, a fitting comparison, not only due to the unconscious condition of the dead, but also because of the hope of an awakening through the resurrection (“Condition of Human Dead” in Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 431, cited in MacGregor n.d.).
Thus the JW view of life after death is that the dead enter a place of unconsciousness or sleep.
5. Which biblical material is used to support the soul sleep view?
(image by polyvore.com)
Ellen G. White provided these biblical examples as support for soul sleep: Job14:10-12, 21; Psalm 6:5; 115:17; 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10; Isaiah 38:18-19; John 14:2-3; Acts 2:29, 34; 17:31; 1 Corinthians 15:16-18, 52-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16-18; Jude 6, 14-15; and Revelation 20:12 (White 1950/1971, pp. 477-482.).
For the soul sleep condition of man at death, the SDAs claim that it is supported by the following Scriptures (At Issue 1957, Q. 41).
Psalm 6:5:”In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?”
Psalm 30:9: “What profit is there … when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?”
Psalm 88:10: ””Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee?”
Psalm 115:17: “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.”
Psalm 146:4: “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6: “The dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”
Isaiah 38:18, 19: “The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living . . . shall praise thee.”
1 Corinthians 15:17, 18: “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain. . . . Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
6. How do we respond to these Bible verses?
Please notice that of these eight passages promoted by an SDA organisation, only one is from the NT. Why is this significant? There is a certain vagueness in the OT about life after death because of the nature of progressive revelation (see below).
a. Psalm 6:5: “In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” The ESV translates, the second clause, “In Sheol who will give you praise?”
This kind of verse sounds like support for soul sleep and could puzzle those who understand that there is conscious life after death. H. C. Leupold reminds us of the truth
that Old Testament saints did not have that clear revelation of the life after death that the New Testament saints have been granted. They are, however, not left utterly in the dark on the subject. They had some knowledge of a good hereafter ever since Enoch’s departure which is recorded in such a significant way in the first book of the Bible (Gen. 5:24). Sometimes the Old Testament Scriptures indicate no more of this existence than that departed spirits enjoyed a great measure of rest in the realm of the hereafter (1959, p. 86).
Leupold gives further examples of this lack of “clear revelation of the life after death” in passages such as Ps. 88:10; 15:17; Isa. 38:18 (1959, p. 89). However we have this brief understanding of life after death in the OT, through the assurance given to Enoch, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). In such an early revelation of God’s view on the afterlife, the Scripture does not say that “God took him so that he would sleep until the resurrection in a state of unconsciousness.” It is straight forward, “God took him” Enoch who walked with God.
Even though there is little revealed in Ps. 6:5 about life after death, except that there is “no remembrance of God,” there is need for us to remember that for these OT saints, even though the body had died, the person was still awaiting the resurrection from the dead and the full salvation revealed in the NT. “Somehow men of old may have dimly felt some of this truth” (Leupold 1959, p. 87).
The psalmist loved to praise God on earth, so he was expecting to praise God after death.
We also need to remember that there are clearer passages in the OT about life after death. See Ps. 16:8-11 and Isa. 26:19. Ps. 16:10 is particularly relevant, “For you shall not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”
b. Psalm 30:9: “What profit is there [in my death], when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?”
Could these be questions David asked the Lord? If David went to the pit (the grave), what opportunity would there be for him to praise the Lord? Yes, the body would become dust and it could not praise God. With progressive revelation, “the truth concerning the resurrection of the body was not yet fully revealed or grasped, and the glorious life in the hereafter was not sufficiently understood” (Leupold 1959, p. 255).
c. Psalm 88:10: “Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee?”
As indicated above, this is another verse that expresses some vagueness of what happens to those who die, but the NT makes it clearer. Here is “but a dim knowledge of the hereafter and consequently little faith in it. Thus, for example, whatever God might do for him after he is dead and gone, even though it is a wonder, he could not appreciate [it]” (Leupold 1959, p. 630).
d. Psalm 115:17: “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.”
Judging on other passages in the OT that indicate life after death, although vague (eg. Gen. 5:24), this verse must be making the obvious statement that the dead (corpses) are in “silence” and they cannot praise the Lord. However, what will the psalmist and other believers do? “But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore” (Ps. 115:18). So, even through death, the psalmist will bless the Lord because he will bless the Lord, not only until death and then resume at the resurrection, but he will do it from now and until “forevermore.” Blessing the Lord for the psalmist went on forever, starting now. Therefore, v. 18 helps to explain v. 17. Even though there is “silence” in the grave (for the body), the psalmist will never ever give up blessing God.
e. Psalm 146:4: “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
The ESV translates it: “When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” This is self-explanatory and it does not support a soul sleep doctrine. No matter what a person’s thoughts were up to the day of his death (“breath departs”), at death those thoughts perish. They are ended.
f. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6: “The dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”
It is interesting that this SDA quoted text does not start at the beginning of v. 5. This gives us only the second half of v. 5. The full v. 5 states: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (KJV).
Vv. 3, 6 give the context. This is a view from life “under the sun.” It’s a very human perspective.
Those who are living, know that they will die and so are able to arrange things (hopefully) before they die. That is not so for those who have died. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes is not giving a statement on what happens to all human beings at death. He is giving a perspective from “under the sun” (from how he sees it while in this world).
From the perspective of life “under the sun,”
The dead don’t know anything now;
They have no chance for more reward;
The love, hatred and envy they had when living “under the sun” have gone they are perished;
And the obvious: the dead can no longer be engaged (i.e. they cannot have a portion) with anything on the earth.
(image courtesy Wikipedia)
To push these two verses to make them negate life after death, is not satisfactory, particularly in light of Eccl. 12:7, “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit [Hebrew, ruach; pneuma in Greek LXX] returns to God who gave it.” God’s Word Translation reads, “Then the dust of mortals goes back to the ground as it was before, and the breath of life goes back to God who gave it.” The CEV translates as, “and the life-giving breath returns to God,” but gives a footnote for breath as, “or, spirit.” Is it “spirit” or “breath” that returns to God at death? The NRSV translates, “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath* returns to God who gave it.” The Roman Catholic New American Bible translates it, “The dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it.” These are the only major Bible translations that I have located that translate “breath” instead of “spirit.” Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1961/1981/1984) translates it as, “Then the dust returns to the earth and the spirit itself returns to the [true] God who gave it.”
Hebrew scholar, F. Delitzsch, comments on Eccl. 12:7, “The body returns to the dust from which it was taken, Gen. iii. 19, to the dust of its original material, Ps. civ. 29; and the spirit goes back to the God of its origin, to whom it belongs” (n.d., p. 425). It is true that “ruach” can mean either “breath” (Job 41:21) or “spirit” (Eccl. 12:7), thus making the context the decider. Because the context is talking about death, “spirit” seems the more logical translation, as is confirmed by all of the major Bible translations.
The God of truth cannot speak with a contradictory message such as that promoted by soul sleep proponents that the dead know nothing (Eccl. 9:5) and they are in the presence of the God of all knowledge (Eccl. 12:7).
How do we reconcile Eccl. 3:19 and Eccl. 12:7. Eccl. 3:19 states: “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.” We need to remember that this book is a description of life from the human perspective of “under the sun.”
It is true that human beings are similar to animals in that both have breath and both die. Neither animals nor people can determine when that last breath will leave the body. So, from a human perspective, there is a close resemblance of what happens at death to animals and people. The physical phenomena look identical. We need to understand that the context from Eccl. 3:18 is, “I said in my heart with regard to the children of man.” This human perspective is an inference from what is observed in viewing what happens to human beings and animals at death. It is only the language of this world that at death, what happens to animals and people looks the same – their breath leaves them.
However, it would be an error to explain Eccl. 3:19 without the knowledge of Eccl. 12:7.
Therefore, the explanation given here makes sense in context and agrees with the rest of Scripture that Eccl. 12:7 refers to the human spirit which returns to God at death. Of course, physically, the breath leaves the body.
g. Isaiah 38:18, 19: “The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living . . . shall praise thee.”
Here, the hope of what happens after death is not as complete as in the NT. For this OT person of faith (Hezekiah, Isa: 38:9), “hope burned but dimly as far as afterlife was concerned. As things appeared to the men of that time, praise of God came to an end when life ended.” Particularly v. 18 parallels the kind of message in Ps. 6:5; 30:9; 88:11 and 115:17. “For reasons unknown to us, men’s eyes were holden that they could not see the full measure of hope that is ours” (Leupold 1968/1971, p. 589).
However, v. 19 affirms that the living praise God.
In Isa. 38:18, Hezekiah’s psalm needs to be interpreted with the analogy of Scripture. Verses such as Gen. 5:24; Ps. 115:18 and Eccl. 12:7 confirm that there is life after death – immediately after death as “the spirit returns to God,” God takes people at death (as with Enoch), and we will “bless the Lord forever.” Yes, there are shadows in the OT, but as we will see below, the teaching of life after death becomes much brighter with the progressive revelation of the NT.
h. Daniel 12:2 states: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (ESV).
This surely sounds like soul sleep is signed, sealed and delivered – those sleeping in the dust of the earth at death will awake (presumably on resurrection day) to “everlasting life” or “everlasting contempt.” Let’s examine this verse more closely.
Dan. 12:2 is a basic statement that those who died physically and “sleep in the dust” will awake (be resurrected) to “everlasting life” (the first time this phrase appears in the OT) and others “to shame and everlasting contempt.” We are not told when this will happen. We should have no problem with the language of sleeping in the dust as this article has clearly shown that the Bible’s teaching is that this is what happens to the physical body at death, referring back to Gen. 3:19.
Why only “many”? The NIV translates as “multitudes.” The Hebrew, rabbim, often means “all.” The Hebrew word, kol, means “totality” or the “sum.” In the Hebrew, there is no word for the plural, “all.” E. J. Young explains:
The Scripture at this point is not speaking of a general resurrection, but rather is setting forth the thought that the salvation which is to occur at this time will not be limited to those who are alive but will extend also to those who had lost their lives. We may paraphrase: “At the time of this persecution many shall fall, but thy people, who are written in the book, shall be delivered. Likewise, from the numbers of those who are asleep in the grave many (i.e., those who died during the tribulation) shall arise. Of these, some shall arise to life and some to reproach.” The words, of course, do not exclude the general resurrection, but rather imply it. [The] emphasis, however, is upon the resurrection of those who died during the period of great distress (1949/1972, p. 256).
This verse distinctly refers to the physical death and disintegration of the body into dust, often called “sleep” in OT and NT. It also teaches on the resurrection of the body but it does not refer to what happens in the intermediate state between death and bodily resurrection. The verse in no way supports a soul sleep doctrine.
i. First Corinthians 15:17, 18: “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain. . . . Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”
Of 1 Cor. 15:16-18, Ellen White wrote: “If for four thousand years the righteous had gone directly to heaven at death, how could Paul have said that if there is no resurrection, ‘they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished’? No resurrection would be necessary” (1950/1971, p. 479).
The clause of v. 18 is a continuation of v. 17. There is no future for believers if there is not a resurrection of Christ. The dead have “perished” means something similar to that explained in Matt. 10:28 (above) with “ruin, destroy.” Since the Corinthians were practising the inappropriate baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29), they obviously did not believe that those who died were obliterated. However, if there is no resurrection of Christ, there is no provision for the forgiveness of sins. “You are still in your sins” as v. 17 states (but deleted by this SDA document published by At Issue, 1957) . The full v. 17 states: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (ESV).
Ellen White’s false doctrine is that if a person goes directly to heaven at death, no resurrection is necessary. The biblical facts are that at death, believers go directly into the presence of the Lord (“at home with the Lord”, 2 Cor. 5:8) but at Christ’s second coming, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of believers when the soul will unite with the physical body and then the end will come (1 Cor. 15:23-24; also 1 Thess. 4:16).
j. Did OT saints go immediately into the presence of God at death?
From reading some of the OT expositions in this section, one could be tempted to say that this did not happen (in agreement with the SDAs and JWs). We know that God took Enoch (Gen. 5:24), but what did God do to Elijah? He did not sleep in the grave; he “went up by a whirlwind.” To where did he go? “Into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11). There’s no teaching on soul sleep here.
In the beloved Psalm 23, David states that he “shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (v. 6). See also Ps. 16:10-11; 17:15.
We get light on OT saints from the NT. When Jesus was responding to the Sadducees, he said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” and he emphasises that “he is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32). Thus, at that time in the first century AD, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were alive, even though they had died thousands of years previously.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, because this was prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, this situation was similar to that of the OT saints (Luke 16:19ff). Lazarus at death was at Abraham’s side (Luke 16:23). The rich man called to Abraham, not the dead Abraham but one who was alive, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” (v. 24).
Therefore, we are justified in accepting Wayne Grudem’s conclusion: “Therefore it seems likely that Old Testament believers also entered immediately into heaven and enjoyed a time of fellowship with God upon their death” (1994, p. 822
7. Bible verses that refute the soul sleep doctrine
There is a sound alternate explanation of the verses allegedly given in support of soul sleep, as indicated in no. 5 above.
Note Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” It obviously indicates immortality if it cannot be killed, even though the exact words, “immortal soul,” are not mentioned. A soul that cannot die by being killed lives on and on forever. Just as the word, “trinity,” is not used in the Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly taught.
Jesus’ words are that we are not to “fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” but that we should “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In this verse, “soul” must refer to that part of a human being that exists after death. There is no other way around this verse. It cannot equate “soul” with “person” or “life.” It would be ridiculous to make it mean “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the life,” or “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the person.”
This verse has no meaning unless there is some aspect of human beings that lives on after the body is dead. When Jesus speaks of the soul and body he is obviously speaking of the entire person. The word “soul” represents the entire non-physical part of a human being.
Now to the second part of the verse: “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).” What does “destroy” mean? It is the Greek apolesai (aorist, active, infinitive of apollumi). Apollumi in the active voice means “ruin, destroy” (Arndt & Gingrich lexicon).
If I backed my car over one of my child’s favourite toys, I may have ruined or destroyed it. The crumpled toy was still there to be ruined. This does not mean that I annihilated it. I did not obliterate it from existence. It was still present but of no further use as a toy. This is similarly what the Greek means by “apollumi.” The body and soul in Gehenna have been ruined. We know from other places in the NT that this experience of the soul of unbelievers in hell is called, “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46) punishing that goes on forever. Everlasting punishment does not equate with annihilation.
Does the soul continue to interact between physical death and the resurrection? These verses teach that:
- In hell are conscious and in torment (Luke 16:23);
- Are “under punishment [after death] until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9);
- Are immediately in Paradise at death (Luke 23:43);
- Long for a heavenly dwelling (2 Cor. 5:2);
- Are away from the body [at death] and are at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8);
- Deaths are gain (Phil. 1:21) and they depart at death to “be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23);
- Who are martyred souls “cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord . . .” (Rev. 6:9-11).
They were conscious after death so that they could speak to the Lord.
Believers will be like Christ after their physical death (see passages such as Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). They will be with Him (eg John 14:3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 3:18; 4:17, etc.). They will share Christ’s glory (Rom. 8:18, 30; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:17, etc.); they will share Christ’s reign (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26-27; etc.). As children of God, in that intermediate state, we will enjoy perfect fellowship with Christ (see Rev. 21:3,7). We will be worshipping Him (Rev. 7:15; 22:3) and be before His face (Matt. 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:12, etc.) [Spencer 2005, pp. 438-441].
Dr. Morey (2006) provides these verses as “the primary NT texts that refute soul sleep”: Matt. 22:23-33; Lk. 16:19-31; Lk. 23:43; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil 1:21-25; Heb. 12:18-24.
Of I Thessalonians 4:13, John Calvin wrote:
He [the writer of I Thessalonians] speaks of the dead as asleep, agreeably to the common practice of Scripture — a term by which the bitterness of death is mitigated, for there is a great difference between sleep and destruction.  It refers, however, not to the soul, but to the body, for the dead body lies in the tomb, as in a couch, until God raise up the man. Those, therefore, act a foolish part, who infer from this that souls sleep (n.d.).
Chris responded to the SDA challenge of promotion of soul sleep on the Christian Fellowship Forum (2007b, Irschrs to Harold, #12): 
Sleep is a polite way to say dead, it is a metaphor or word picture. Even then it does not mean ‘cease to exist’ as when you sleep tonight you do not cease to exist, or even be aware in some ways, but simply change the level of your awareness and do not interact using the senses.
In the bible the primary image of death has to do with communion, death is separation, so being dead in sins means not being in right [communion]  with God because of sin. The idea of its meaning being ‘non-being’ is a Hellenistic and modernist one based on a non-creational view of human nature. The Hebrews did not think in abstract Greek categories like ‘being’; but in concrete actualities like ‘Lordship’, ‘fellowship’ and ‘justice.’
Daniel 12:1 says nothing on this topic, it merely says there will be a future deliverance and that God watches over His people to assure this will be the case. Eccl. 12:1-7 does speak of this, but says the soul returns to God who gave it in creation, and so it must retain being to return.
John 5:28-29. This contradicts your view as it says all in the grave [their bodies] hear His voice and are after that raised with new bodies. I should have added this one to the texts that say specifically the soul exists between physical death and the resurrection. Then add 1 Thessalonians 4:14 where Jesus brings with Him from heaven those Christians who have died.
Acts 2: 29 & 34. Verse 34 says David did not ascend to heaven, true, to ascend here means not go there but take the place of rule there. This only Jesus does. [‘ascend to the throne’ is even common enough today]. His body’s remains are in the tomb, and all will be until that day; from that it does not follow he has no form of existence, only his body is not living now. [2:34-36 shows us this is what Peter is speaking of here].
I . . . wanted to add Matthew 22: 32, Mark 12:26 , Luke 20:37-38, where Jesus said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are ‘the living’, using a present tense verb of ongoing existence. [that is, not those who had lived, but are now living]. It is in fact precisely because all are alive that all can receive resurrection bodies on the day; to create them again would mean THEY had not been raised at all.
According to Matt. 17:3-4, Moses and Elijah were speaking with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. They were very much alive, even though they had died a long time ago.
Based on 1 Thess. 4:13-18, those who are asleep with Jesus (v. 13) are also in heaven because God brings them with Him when he returns (v. 14). Sleep is therefore a metaphor for what happens to the body.
The thief who repented on the cross beside Jesus was with him “today” in Paradise, based on Luke 23:43. There is no soul sleep here, no matter how much the soul-sleepers want to move the comma around in this verse. Here are examples of a few translations of this verse:
KJV: And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
NIV: Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
ESV: And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
NASB: And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
NLT: And Jesus replied, I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.
NRSV: He replied, ˜Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
- NET Bible: And Jesus said to him, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.
However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, contrary to the above committee translations, reads: “And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.'” This placing of the comma is meant to deflect the fact that the thief at death would immediately go to Paradise with Jesus.
Please note that there were no punctuation marks in the Greek language. So, there are no commas in the Greek language. Where the comma is located in relation to “today” is interpretive. The analogy of Scripture supports “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), so the thief on the cross, at death, was with Jesus in Paradise on that very day.
It is a nonsensical kind of statement to make it read that “I am saying this to you today.” That’s obvious and there is no need to emphasise that on that very day Jesus was saying it. He meant to indicate to the dying thief that that very day he would be in Paradise with Jesus.
We know that Paradise and heaven are synonymous terms because 2 Cor. 12:2-3 tell us that “a man” (Paul) “was caught up to the third heaven” (v. 2) and that this man was “caught up into paradise” (v. 3).
8. Is soul sleep orthodox, biblical teaching?
Grudem gives these main points to answer the question, “What happens when people die?” (1994, pp. 816-824).
(1) The souls of believers go immediately into God’s presence:
a.The Bible does not teach the doctrine of purgatory;
b.The Bible does not teach the doctrine of “soul sleep”;
c.Did Old Testament believers enter immediately into God’s presence? [Yes they did!]
d.Should we pray for the dead? [No!]
(2) The souls of unbelievers go immediately to eternal punishment.
8.1 What has been the teaching of orthodoxy throughout church history?
Writing his Ecclesiastical History in the fourth-century, Eusebius of Caesarea, Palestine (ca. AD 265-339) [Cairns 1954/1981, p. 143] wrote of the third century,
About the same time (as when Origen was 60-years-old) others arose in Arabia, putting forward a doctrine foreign to the truth. They said that during the present time the human soul dies and perishes with the body, but that at the time of the resurrection they will be renewed together. And at that time also a synod of considerable size assembled, and Origen, being again invited thither, spoke publicly on the question with such effect that the opinions of those who had formerly fallen were changed (Eusebius 2007, 6.37).
Ellen White calls on the Christian martyr, William Tyndale, to support her doctrine of soul sleep, with this statement:
I confess openly, that I am not persuaded that they be already in the full glory that Christ is in, or the elect angels of God are in. Neither is it any article of my faith; for if it were so, I see not but then the preaching of the resurrection of the flesh were a thing in vain (William Tyndale 1534, Preface to New Testament, cited in White 1950/1971, p. 479)
Morey notes that “during the pre-Reformation period, there seems to be some indication that both Wycliffe and Tyndale taught the doctrine of soul sleep as the answer to the Catholic teachings of purgatory and masses for the dead” (1984, p. 200).
Also, White claims Martin Luther for a soul sleep ally when Luther stated:
Another place proving that the dead have no . . . feeling. There is, said he, no duty, no science, no knowledge, no wisdom there. Solomon judgeth that the dead are asleep, and feel nothing at all. For the dead lie there, accounting neither days nor years, but when they are awaked, they shall seem to have slept scarce one minute (Luther’s exposition on Ecclesiastes, cited in White 1950/1971, p. 481).
However, later in life Luther, in his commentary on Genesis, showed a change of view: “When after this poor life, we shall join the choirs of the angels, we shall worship God in perfect holiness” and “in the interim [between death and resurrection], the soul does not sleep but is awake and enjoys the vision of angels and of God, and has converse with him.” In Luther’s comments on Gen. 35:18, he stated that when Rachel died, she “was received into the glory of heaven” (cited in Morey 1984, p. 201).
8.2 What are the dangers of this doctrine?
1. In life vs. death teachings, it is critical that the church teaches the truth. Soul sleep promotes a false understanding of what happens at death. False theology is always a danger to the church that practices biblical faith. Soul sleep is a doctrine of dishonesty when we consider the whole counsel of God (all of Scripture).
2. What happens after a person’s last breath is important for all people to understand, and soul sleep promotes a view that is contrary to that of the entire Christian Scriptures understood through progressive revelation. Few unbelievers that I know ask questions about life after death during their lifetime, although some are more sensitive as death approaches. It is incumbent upon Christians to promote the truth about the intermediate state between physical death and one’s ultimate destiny.
3. Soul sleep, typical of SDA teaching, majors on the Old Testament and does not understand the vagueness of the OT’s statements about life after death. We need to understand progressive revelation from OT to NT. Bob Deffinbaugh (n.d.) explains that
the principle of progressive revelation is simply this: God has chosen to reveal His truths to mankind sequentially. Thus, the great doctrines of the faith are generally introduced early in the Old Testament, later developed more fully by the prophets, and then by our Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry, and finally seen in their fullest form in the New Testament, in the light of the interpretation and teaching of the apostles.
We need to understand what Christ’s death, burial and resurrection meant for those who place their trust in Christ alone for salvation. The progressive revelation from OT to NT needs to be noted. Bernard Ramm explains:
By progressive revelation we mean that the Bible sets forth a movement of God, with the initiative coming from God and not man, in which God brings man up through the theological infancy of the Old Testament to the maturity of the New Testament. Progressive revelation is the general pattern of revelation (1970, p. 102).
Ramm provides biblical examples from Matt. 5:17-20, the Epistle to the Galatians, and Heb. 1:1-2 and explains (1970, pp. 102-103) the importance of this perspective for interpretation of the Bible. The interpreter
will expect the full revelation of God in the New Testament. He will not force New Testament meanings into the Old, yet he will be able to more fully expound the Old knowing its counterparts in the New. . .
Progressive revelation in no manner qualifies the doctrine of inspiration, and it in no way implies that the Old Testament is less inspired. It states simply that the fullness of revelation is in the New Testament (1970, pp. 103-104).
Another orthodox theologian, J. Barton Payne, explained:
Since God’s redemptive acts were progressive, preparing the way for Christ who should come in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), the accompanying truths that were revealed show in most cases a progressive development. That is, God graciously unfolded both His redemption and His revelation in ways corresponding to man’s capacities to receive them (cf. Acts 17:30) [Payne 1962, p. 18].
4. As a general rule, the teaching of soul sleep violates the teaching of the orthodox church of the first few centuries as indicated by the statement from early church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea (see above) that Origen and others refuted a doctrine that was being promoted in the third century, of the human soul dying and perishing with the body and being renewed at the resurrection.
Let Us Reason Ministries (n.d.) has provided some examples of other early church leaders and their views of what happened at death:
Justin Martyr 150 AD “We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God. We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire” (First Apology, 21).
Second Clement 150 AD “If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment” (Second Clement 5:5).
Athenagoras 177 AD “[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one … Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul … or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated” (Plea for the Christians 31).
Hippolytus 212 AD “Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just if your judgment!’ And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them” (Against the Greeks 3).
To the martyr’s that died they had immediate glory in God’s presence in heaven. To teach otherwise is to go against the whole body of scripture and almost 1500 years of the Church (until of course the reformation where purgatory was ratified). Did they all die with a false teaching of being in heaven?
In the catacombs of Rome are found inscriptions on tombs such as “In Christ, Alexander is not dead, but lives-his body rests in the tomb. Gone to dwell with Christ. One who is lives with God. I cannot find any instance of soul sleep among the writers (both good or bad) in the first three centuries of the Church.
5. Too often, the church is “asleep in the light” (the title of Keith Green’s song) . I cannot recall when I heard the last sermon or portion of a sermon in the evangelical churches I have attended in the last 10 years, to refute soul sleep. Teaching on the nature of the intermediate state is in short supply.
9. A call to the evangelical church
9.1 Teach the biblical doctrine of the intermediate state with enthusiasm.
At death, the souls of unbelievers go to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-10). It is conscious punishment. We cannot teach annihilation for unbelievers at death and be faithful to the Scriptures (see Rev. 14:11; 20:10)..
The righteous go immediately into the presence of the Lord and enjoy eternal life (Matt. 25:46; 2 Cor. 5:8).
This is the situation for unbelievers and believers at death. However, there is more to come. For unbelievers their bodies will not be raised until Judgment Day when their bodies will be united with their souls and they will face God before the final judgment in the body (see Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:P28-29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:12, 15).
We must teach what happens in the intermediate state (between physical death and the final resurrection) with enthusiasm. If we do not teach our people orthodox doctrine, they will be sitting ducks for the false teaching of the SDAs and the JWs. William Hendriksen observed: “Ever so many people, who claim to believe in the Bible, are not at all sure that the souls of all believers who have died have gone to heaven” (1959, p. 49, emphasis in original).
9.2 Engage in the ministry of polemics– refutation of false doctrine.
Dr. J. K. Van Baalen, in his book, The Chaos of the Cults (1960, p. 420), argued that “the cults are the unpaid bills of the church” (in Mohler 2005). Cult expert and evangelical defender of the Christian faith, the late Walter Martin, wrote:
The rise of the cults is directly proportional to the fluctuating emphasis which the church has placed on the teachings of biblical doctrine to Christian laymen. To be sure, few pastors, teachers, and evangelists defend adequately their beliefs, but most of them “and most of the average Christian laymen“- are hard put to confront and refute a well-trained cultist of almost any variety (in Zukeran 2007).
9.3 Some online resources
There is an active ministry online by ex-Seventh day Adventists. See these two articles:
You may benefit from these articles:
- Scriptures that clearly teach there is no soul sleep;
- The consciousness of the soul after death;
- Where does the soul go after death? (Paradise or Soul Sleep)?
- Soul sleep;
- The error of soul sleep (also supports trichotomy).
(Deathbed of Constantine VII, Roman Emperor, wikimedia commons)
The consistent teaching of Scripture is that soul sleep or conditional immortality contradicts both OT and NT teaching. The OT teaching, because of progressive revelation, is not as clear as the NT.
However, at death, the believer goes immediately into the presence of the Lord and the soul will be united with the body at Christ’s second coming.
For unbelievers, they go immediately into eternal punishment, but final judgment will be at the resurrection of the unjust when the body and soul will be reunited.
There is an intermediate state of conscious existence after death for both believers and unbelievers until the general resurrection of the dead when the body and soul will be reunited at Christ’s return.
This is orthodox Christian teaching.
As a person in my 70s, I know that I am approaching the time when I will meet the Lord either through death or in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). I cannot imagine what it will be like to pass from this life on earth to be immediately in the presence of my Lord and Saviour. I am waiting with bated breath for the experience.
My godly parents have preceded me in entering the Lord’s presence. I am so much looking forward to my heavenly abode at death and know that I will not sleep in any grave but will be immediately ushered into the Lord’s presence. I will meet the One whom I have served (not always as wholeheartedly as I should have) for the last 46 years.
I praise the Lord for this wonderful promise of being “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). This is what I believe and to which I look forward:
When I in righteousness at last
Thy glorious face shall see,
When all the weary night is past,
and I awake with thee
To view the glories that abide,
Then, then I shall be satisfied
(in Hendriksen 1959, p. 56).
 I am a retired Australian family and individual counsellor & counselling manager, independent researcher with a PhD in New Testament, an active Christian apologist, and live in Brisbane Qld., Australia.
 You can find more of Harold’s and my (OzSpen’s) interaction at: Christian Fellowship Forum 2007c, #37; Christian Fellowship Forum 2007c, #41. Unfortunately this forum no longer is online.
 Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (ESV).
 “Exegesis is the process of interpreting a text of Scripture. Consequently when one studies principles of interpretation that is ‘hermeneutics,’ but when one applies those principles and begins actually explaining a biblical text, he or she is doing ‘exegesis'” (Grudem 1994, p. 109).
 The quote is from William Tyndale 1534, “Preface to New Testament”, reprinted in British Reformers ”Tindal, Frith, Barnes, p. 349,
 The quote is from Martin Luther, Exposition of Solomon’s Booke Called Ecclesiastes, p. 152 (the edition and publisher are not mentioned in White 1950/1971, p. 481).
 Calvin wrote: “Entre dormir, et estre du tout reduit a neant”, which means,”Between sleeping, and being altogether reduced to nothing” (footnote 574 at this point in his commentary).
 I am indebted to Chris (Irschrs), Christian Fellowship Forum (2007b), for some of the ideas for the start of this refutation. I have taken the liberty to correct some of Chris’s typographical and spelling errors in his post to the Forum.
 He wrote, “community,” but context seems to indicated he means, “communion.”
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Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 October 2018.