Opinions on faith and life

Soul Sleep

2006-03-01

1 Peter 3:18-20

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water.”
Notice it says he was made alive by the Spirit, not in the Spirit. The Spirit is the Person of the Trinity that raised Jesus from the dead.

Who are the spirits in prison? Most automatically assume them to be all the people who died in the Flood. Based on that, they must construct theories about why this would be important, and the implications it would have on the issue of salvation, i.e., the “second chance” problem. But could it mean another group of spirits?

Jude 1:6

“You also know that the angels who did not keep within their proper domain but abandoned their own place of residence, he has kept in eternal chains in utter darkness, locked up for the judgment of the great Day.”
It’s plausible that the spirits Jesus preached to are these angels. There is nothing said about the content of this preaching, and nowhere else are dead humans described as being in prison or “chains”. At any rate, there is no basis for dogmatically stating exactly who these spirits are, but we have more weight for the angel theory than the human theory.

[Interesting side note: At This Link is an idea I hadn’t considered before.

“Demons are disembodied evil spirits that roam the earth looking for someone to possess. They are the offspring of fallen angels that united with women to create the Nephilim before the flood whose bodies were destroyed by the great flood. The belief in reincarnation stems from experiences by those who are/were possessed by these evil spirits.”
I had always thought that demons were the fallen angels, but in light of the quote from Jude, it could well be that the ’spirits in prison’ are all the fallen angels, while demons are their offspring. Very interesting idea.]

But regardless of what might have been the situation of the dead before Jesus finished his work on the cross, the question of soul sleep must be dealt with on the basis of post-cross teachings. For this reason, even though the account of Lazarus and the rich man was likely more than a parable because of Lazarus being named, it will not be a factor in this discussion. Neither will any OT statements enter in, and we must be careful not to overlook the importance of genre and idioms.

It should be pointed out, however, that something did change at the cross. Before then, before Jesus presented his blood as the ultimate sacrifice on the altar in heaven (Hebrews 9:11-14), no one could enter into God’ presence because our sins still remained. So whether the righteous dead before the cross were conscious or not, they could not “go to heaven”.

2 Cor. 5:8

“Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
Surely Paul here is not saying he’d prefer to be asleep, or to look to some distant future after such sleep. The context puts, in one sentence no less, the immediate connection between “away from the body” and “at home with the Lord”. There is no hint at separation by time at all, so the burden of proof of such separation is on those who argue in favor of soul sleep. None of Paul’s statements about being with the Lord, in any of his writings, hint at any great gulf of time between leaving this earth and being conscious with the Lord. Some try to postulate that since we aren’t aware of the passage of time during normal sleep, that Paul is really saying it will appear as immediate. But again, the burden of proof is on the proponents of soul sleep to show that Paul had any such thing in mind, or he certainly would have said something about it.

1 Cor. 15:20-22

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. ”
Jesus rose physically, in a new incorruptible body. Every human is “in Adam” but only the saved are “in Christ” and will get a new incorruptible body as well.. Later in the same chapter there is a discussion of the “resurrection body”, but the context is about the physical, not spirits or souls.

However, in verse 6 we see the phrase, “some have fallen asleep”. Context tells us it refers to physical death, but the use of the word “sleep” is meant to emphasize the fact that death of the body is not permanent. It says nothing about the consciousness of the spirit. This can be said to parallel the OT expression “resting with his fathers”. “Rest” referred not to unconsciousness but to cease from the labors of this life, the end of striving.

Supporters of soul sleep read the final resurrection into many passages of scripture, but that presumes soul sleep in the first place. It’s like the fallacy of the evolutionists, who must presume evolution before claiming the fossil record shows it. Since no gap of time is even hinted at in any teachings about the death of believers, the case for soul sleep is very weak indeed.

2 Comments

Luke Goss

Hello, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all my life, heart and mind and I love working for the Lord. I attend a very good Bible-believing Church which believes that when we die we got straight to heaven, but just recently, over the past three or four years, I have been doing my own intensive research of the word of God, the Holy Bible, and also I’ve visited some Adventist friends, and so I don’t know whether or not we do go to heaven straight away or if we just sleep in the ground to the Coming of Jesus, --Soul Sleep seems to be very Biblical according to my own intensive research, but then that would go against everything that I am meant to believe in, about going straight to heaven from death. What do you say? Have you any encouraging words for me? Do you know your Bible well enough to answer these questions? Please do, Thankyou. I am 26yrs of age and I live in Adeliade of South Australia, Australia, and I am on a quest to find this troubling theory to be either Biblical or not.

Paula Fether

Hello Luke, welcome!

Since I’ve presented why I believe the Bible does not support the idea of soul sleep, I would need to know what counter-arguments you have for the article here. I’m familiar with SDA teachings but it’s been a while, can you tell me what they told you?

Remember also to consider context and figures of speech, especially the common use of "sleep" as a metaphor.

I think Paul’s statement in 2 Cor. 5:8 is pretty encouraging, how about you?

Another article, with more links at the end: http://gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/soul-sleep/