Leave a 75th Birthday Greeting to Honor Dr. Michael Youssef for His Ministry Leading The Way!

Why Is the Concept of Soul Sleep a False Doctrine?

Soul sleep is not a biblical concept. Scripture teaches that there is consciousness after death. Believers have the wonderful assurance that to be apart from the body is to be present with the Lord.

Contributing Writer
Mar 22, 2022
Why Is the Concept of Soul Sleep a False Doctrine?

What happens after we die? This is an important question that people often struggle with based on their understanding of God, life, and the human soul. Some religious groups and cults believe that people do not go to heaven or hell when they die, but rather “sleep” until the resurrection.

Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christadelphians teach this idea of “soul sleep” or “Christian mortalism,” although there are variations between these groups.

While these groups teach soul sleep, there are many reasons why their view does not align with the teachings of the Bible. Not only does Scripture tell us that when Christians die, we go to be with the Lord, but also there are multiple examples of believers “living” even after they die.

This contradicts the concept of soul sleep where people die, are unconscious and await the resurrection. While the issue of the soul’s continuation after death may seem inconsequential, it is an important matter to consider given Scripture’s emphasis on the afterlife.

What Is the Concept of Soul Sleep?

There are differences in the groups who teach soul sleep or Christian mortalism. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the soul is mortal and is just a life force. They argue that “nephesh,” the Hebrew word for soul, merely refers to the physical life in each person.

When they refer to “soul sleep,” they are referring to the idea that death is like sleep until they are awakened at the resurrection. At that time, their “souls” or “life breath” will be recreated along with their bodies.

However, there is an exception to their teaching since Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that 144,000 witnesses (taken from Revelation 7:3-8) will be resurrected to live in heaven.

Seventh-day Adventists would disagree with part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view since Adventists believe that souls survive death but are inactive until the resurrection.

However, Adventists would agree with Jehovah’s Witnesses that death is an unconscious state. Both groups would argue that the metaphor of sleep for death in Scripture supports their view of soul sleep (John 11:11-14; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:51).

Therefore, those who teach soul sleep do have slight variations in their beliefs, but they deny that people are conscious after death. For them, heaven and hell are not places anyone will go to for eternity (except for the 144,000 who will live in heaven according to Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Instead, if anyone is unsaved, according to their teachings, they will be extinguished in annihilation, and no one will suffer eternal punishment. 

The Soul and Spirit

While it is true that the life of humans should be viewed holistically, involving the body, soul, and spirit, there is a material and immaterial part of humans. The Hebrew word, “nephesh,” can refer to the life of humans (Genesis 1:20-21, 2:7).

However, the New Testament provides further information about the soul. Matthew 10:28 mentions the soul as the immaterial part of man. Even after the body is destroyed, the soul and spirit of the person are still present (James 2:26).

In Revelation, John describes seeing the “souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Revelation 6:9). John saw the souls of the Tribulation martyrs who were awaiting their future resurrection.

Instead of being “asleep” or non-existent, as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh-day Adventists would claim, these believers were present with the Lord.

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, also affirmed that humans have an immaterial part. As he was stoned to death, Stephen prayed that Jesus would receive his spirit (Acts 7:59). Why would he say this if his spirit merely ceased to exist? Stephen knew he was about to depart and meet His Savior.

After his stoning, Stephen “fell asleep,” which means he died (Acts 7:60). The metaphor of sleep for death only refers to the body, not the soul or spirit. Thus, Stephen’s body perished, but his spirit was received by Christ, who welcomed His faithful follower into heaven that day.

Scripture and Consciousness after Death

Unlike the beliefs of Christian mortalism, the Bible teaches that there is consciousness after death. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, heaven and hell are mentioned as real places. While Lazarus goes to heaven when he dies, the rich man finds himself in hell after death.

As Abraham told the rich man, who asked for relief from his suffering, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony” (Luke 16:25).

Some people argue that since this is a parable, it should not be taken literally. However, Jesus refers to real places and items in His parables. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, He mentions Jerusalem and Jericho, which are real cities (Luke 10:30).

Likewise, vineyards, lamps, and a donkey in Jesus’ parables all refer to real things in everyday life (Matthew 21:33-46; 25:1-10; Luke 10:34).

A parable is a story that teaches an important truth, but that does not mean that parables are purely fictional. Jesus would not have mentioned heaven and hell if they were not real places that people went to after they died (Luke 16:22-23).

Likewise, when Jesus was on the cross, He affirmed that the believing criminal next to Him would be with Him in heaven. As Christ said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus spoke these words the day He died on the cross (Luke 23:46). Later that same day, the legs of the criminals were broken, and they died shortly afterward (John 19:31-33). According to the Bible, the believing criminal went to heaven when he died.

Away from the Body, Present with the Lord

Another proof that the concept of soul sleep is not biblical is that God’s Word teaches that Christians are in the presence of the Lord when they die.

The Apostle Paul explains this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8: “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (emphasis mine).

Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul compared our human body to a tent, which will wear out. However, those who trust in Christ have a heavenly dwelling, “not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

We longingly await our heavenly home, where we will live with Christ until the future resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:2; Hebrews 11:16).

Jesus’ words are true: those of us who believe will live even though we die (John 11:25). To the Lord, all people are alive even if they are dead (Luke 20:38).

To claim that death means unconsciousness directly goes against scriptural teaching. Those who trust in the Lord will dwell with Him while those who reject Him will live in hell, aware of their circumstances.

The Reality of Hell and Eternal Punishment

Hell is not an unjust construct invented by the church, despite what soul sleep proponents claim. Everyone has the choice to trust in Jesus or not (John 3:16-18).

He wants everyone to be saved, but many will refuse His loving offer of salvation (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Individuals choose a future in hell when they reject the Lord Jesus.

No believer wants to see anyone suffer an eternity apart from the Lord. Like Paul, we want everyone to be as we are and understand the richness in life that comes from knowing Christ (Acts 26:29; Ephesians 3:18).

However, the Bible does teach that hell exists, as does eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; Revelation 20:15).

We cannot erase these doctrines just because we do not like them. In fact, Jesus was not afraid to teach about hell and punishment.

He vividly discussed hell as a place of suffering, where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30; Luke 13:28). Both heaven and hell are real places that people go to after they die.

Why Is Soul Sleep a False Doctrine?

Therefore, soul sleep is not a biblical concept. Scripture teaches that there is consciousness after death. Believers have the wonderful assurance that to be apart from the body is to be present with the Lord.

Christ extends grace to all who believe in His death and resurrection, but if anyone rejects His offer, they choose to live apart from Him in death.

Thankfully, people who are still alive can place their trust in Jesus and receive assurance that they will live eternally with their Lord and Savior. Only then will they understand the Apostle Paul’s desire to “leave this life and be with Christ, which is a far better thing” (Philippians 1:23, GNT).

For further reading:

What Is Purgatory?

What Does the Bible Say about the New Heaven and the New Earth?

What Is the Meaning of Lazarus and the Rich Man?

Who Are the 144,000 in the Bible and Is This Number Symbolic or Literal?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ NikkiZalewski

Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening. 

Related podcast:

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.

Related video:

Read the full article here to learn more about how Christians are manipulated by the IBLP.

Stock Footage & Music Courtesy of Soundstripe.com Thumbnail by Getty Images 

Christianity / Life / Cults and Other Religions / Why Is the Concept of Soul Sleep a False Doctrine?