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What is soul sleep?

by Stephen Davey

Robby from South Carolina asked: What is “soul sleep”?

Hi Robby,

The Bible sometimes used the word “sleep” as a figure of speech for death. For example, in John 11:11 Jesus said:

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 

Those who teach the idea of soul sleep think that those who die enter a state of unconsciousness until the resurrection. In other words, instead of viewing “sleep” as a figure of speech for death, they see it as a state of unconscious.” 

Soul sleep is an unbiblical idea. Here are some of the clearest teachings against this view.

And [Jesus] said to [the criminal on the cross], “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

“But I [Paul] am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Philippians 1:23).

“We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

In addition, soul sleep does not exist even for unbelievers.

“Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame'” (Luke 16:22-24) .

(Abraham’s bosom was the pre-resurrection destination for the righteous who had died.)

So, Robby, soul sleep is the unbiblical teaching that a person who dies remains unconscious until the resurrection; contrary to the biblical teaching that when we die we go to heaven and consciously enjoy the presence of God, while unbelievers consciously await the final judgment.

Thanks for your question,


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