HERESY OF SOUL SLEEP
HERESY OF SOUL SLEEP
Dr. Mike Johnston
“The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next” Helen Keller — Optimism (1903)
False teachers proclaiming false teachings have always existed in the church and will continue throughout the last days (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:1-3). Why they aren’t spotted more often decries the shameful spiritual temperature of far too many Christians that are simply not equipped to discern between “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).
Hermeneutics vs. Heresy
Hermeneutics is the fancy name given to the science of Biblical interpretation. In laymen terms, it is formed from consistent Bible principles mandatory to a full and balanced approach to interpreting Scripture through studying: the original setting of both writer and recipient; the original language (to include vocabulary, grammar and style); the original intention of the Book or passage; and the narrower (immediate) and broader (canonical) context of a passage. In short, adhering to sound hermeneutical principles will feed your soul while protecting you from heresy.
Origin of the Soul Sleep Heresy
The phrase “soul sleep” per se is not a Scriptural term. In fact, you never find the soul linked to sleep anywhere in the Bible. It is actually a hybrid heterodoxy contrived from the Biblical euphemism for the sleep-like appearance of the body at death (2 Sam. 7:12; 2 Pet. 3:4) which has been hijacked by heretics.
A study of church history proves soul sleep has no roots in Christian orthodoxy, and no place in sound exegesis. And for the first three centuries of the church the immediate ascendency of the soul to Paradise (aka Heaven) at death (Luke 23:43) was never questioned. Then, according to historian Philip Schaff, soul sleep fomented in the mind of a specious fourth century pantheist named Arnobius. Since that time, poor exegesis has been the main mechanism soul sleepers have employed in the maintenance of their ruse. Today its champions are noteworthy indeed: atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphianists, Old school Armstrongism, and Seventh Day Adventists. Talk about a spurious crew!
Since hermeneutics teaches us to examine historical and contextual settings when interpreting Scripture, we need to first understand the five separate divisions making up the 66 books: the books of law, the books of history, the books of prophecy, the epistles (history and doctrine), and the books of wisdom.
One place soul sleepers love to dance is in the wisdom books including Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes, while fully inspired, is written from an earthly—not an eternal (or Heavenly) perspective. It literally rips the mask off the wisest mortal, who from the opening words admits to being out of fellowship with God (Ecc. 1:1-3, 14). His thoughts often reflect the same fatalistic mindset so prevalent in OT Jewish times:
“For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 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” (Ecc. 9:4-6). This verse gives hope to souls sleepers and others who ignore the context of Solomon’s opining as Albert Barnes wisely notes:
“The last clause of Ecc. 9:6 indicates that the writer confines his observations on the dead to their portion in, or relation to, this world.” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)
Someone once quipped: “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.” In hermeneutics, this is called “progressive revelation.” Here’s how it works.
While the 39 OT Books and the human penmen were fully inspired, their concept of certain doctrines was somewhat diffused behind types and shadows (Isa. 9:2; 42:16; Mark 4:16) not fully understood until the completion of the New Testament canon (Heb. 8:5). This of course included their knowledge of death. Were they wrong? No, they were merely expressing opinions based upon the light God gave them for disseminating His truth for that particular dispensation.
Death as understood in the Old Testament
As previously stated, by and large, Jews were fatalists believing in a future– albeit general- resurrection: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise
. . . and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isa. 26:19). To them death was lonely, somber, and somewhat fearful:
David mourned, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks” (Psa. 6:5).
Job anguished: “Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness” (Job 10:20-22).
Even though these men loved the Lord with their entire being, they seem to have been almost smothered in a blanket of despair when contemplating their own death.
Death as revealed in the New Testament
By the time of Christ, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was a highly debated issue. Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus had launched circuitous philosophies that diverted focus from God to man, and from eternal to temporal.
As the NT was written- and a new dispensation unfolded– God began unwrapping the precious yet somewhat shadowy secrets stored in the OT (1 Cor. 2:7). Not surprising, this became startling revelation to Old Testament Jews, “who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:15).
One person the Holy Spirit chose to reveal these mysteries to was a brilliant OT scholar we know as the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 2:7; 15:51; Eph. 1:9; 3:3). Interestingly, while Paul’s teachings in some ways mirrored the OT thought regarding bodies falling asleep at death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 Thess. 4:14), when God revealed as many as 14 Books of the NT to Paul, He also gave him a fresh understanding of what happens to the spirit and soul at death; that it becomes absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21). From that point forward Paul taught that death was not to be dreaded, but looked upon with anticipation and hope somewhat like a graduation (1 Cor. 15:54-55). This of course garnered the ire of his former Sanhedrin associates who now sought to kill him for teaching such things (Acts 9:23; 26:21).
5 Great Truths Refute Soul Sleep
There is an erroneous doctrine known as “general resurrection, general judgment” that teaches one day all the dead throughout history will be awakened from their sleep and summoned to the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15) where they’ll stand before God to enter either Heaven or the Lake of Fire.
If that is true, and Scripture proves that it is not, every saint in history should be asleep somewhere awaiting judgment. And yet, such is not the case as we will see from the testimony of Jesus and several saints that died and yet were very much alive.
Note if you will, the following 5 great Scriptural truths that will easily repudiate the soul sleep heresy:
TRUTH #1: The Bible refutes soul sleep in that God is God of the living, not the dead! Since God is life and the source of all life (Gen. 1:20; Deut. 30:20; John 1:4; 14:6), apart from Him is considered death (Eph. 2:1,5). Toward the end of His physical ministry on earth, Jesus was confronted by the godless liberal Sadducees who had led the Jews to believe there was no future resurrection. Once while trying to trap Him, they disingenuously inquired about the status of marriage in the after life. Of course Jesus spotted the ploy and called them ignorant which not only sewed their mouths shut but no doubt helped seal His fate:
“Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mat 22:31-32).
What does this mean? If you believe in soul sleep, it means nothing. If you believe Jesus, you understand that it means these patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) along with all the saints of history, have been alive– not asleep– all these years (see Luke 16:22-31; Rev. 4:4, etc).
TRUTH #2: Jesus refuted soul sleep by promising we would never die! In a public pledge Jesus promised: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Later Jesus said, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). Again, Christ’s integrity is at stake here. Every person who heard the Lord utter this promise died, and their bodies were buried. In light of that, if Jesus was referring to the death of the body as soul sleepers are forced to maintain– and in view of the fact that all those disciples bodies eventually died (fell asleep)- wouldn’t that make a liar out of our Savior?
TRUTH #3: Paul refuted soul sleep when he taught that absent from the body is to be present with the Lord! As we have stated previously, Old Testament writers operated under the disadvantage of limited light and therefore viewed the resurrection as a one-time future event.
Paul, a converted rabbi, was given additional revelation, adding light to what had been known regarding the intermediate state of the body and soul at death. Remember, he had experienced a trip to paradise so he knew first hand how real and magnificent it was (1 Cor. 12:2). He taught more about death and resurrection than any other Bible writer. Although he agreed with the Old Testament writers that death brought about the appearance of a body falling asleep (1 Cor. 15:6; 1 Thess. 4:14), he never implied that a sleeping body brought about a sleeping soul or spirit- ever. Please consider God’s Word here:
“Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6, 8). Did you see that reinforcement? So not to confuse his readers, he said it one way, then repeated it another way. In the body, away from the Lord. With the Lord, away from the body. How much clearer can it get? Then, three years later this captivating thought surfaced again in a letter to the Philippians. “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23-24). Once again, to depart from earth (death) is to be with Christ. No soul sleep, no awaiting a general resurrection, and no confusion for those who are not bound by the fallacious traditions of religious rogues who continue to hold an eerie spell over their duped disciples.
TRUTH #4: Hebrews refutes soul sleep by teaching that the spirits of those who died exist right now in Heaven! “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in Heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Heb 12:22-24).
TRUTH #5: The Bible systematically refutes soul sleep on at least 15 separate occasions which again conclusively proves it to be a poorly concocted, grievous error!
- Samuel the Prophet wasn’t sleeping (1 Sam. 28:7-19)
- Moses and Elijah weren’t sleeping (Matt. 17:1-4)
- The thief on the cross didn’t sleep (Luke 23:43)
- When Stephen was stoned, his body slept but the Lord received his spirit (Acts 7:59-60)
- The Spirit of Jairus’ daughter was not sleeping (Luke 8:51-54)
- Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man were not sleeping (Luke 16:20-31)
- The Old Testament saints weren’t sleeping (Matt. 27:52-53)
- The souls in Sheol/Hades Christ preached to weren’t sleeping (Eph. 4:8-10)
- The Great Cloud of witnesses aren’t sleeping (Heb. 11-12)
- The Heavenly Saints are not sleeping at the Rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thess. 4:16)
- The elders in John’s Revelation aren’t sleeping (Rev. 4:4, 10)
- The martyred tribulation souls aren’t sleeping (Rev. 6:9-11; 20:11)
- The great multitude redeemed from the great tribulation aren’t sleeping (Rev 7:9, 14)
- The returning army of Heavenly saints are not sleeping at the Revelation of Christ (Rev. 19:11-14)
- Jesus Christ, the Firstfruits of the resurrection isn’t sleeping
SUMMARY STATEMENT: If soul sleep is true, Jesus was a liar, Matthew was a liar, Luke was a liar, John was a liar, Paul was a liar, Jude was a liar, the Book of Revelation, and in fact the entire Bible is nothing more than a collection of lies written by a prevaricating group of grievous wolves.
On the other hand, if what Jesus taught, John taught, and Paul taught time and again is as true as we believe it is, the clear choice for you will be to refute and reject the soul sleep heresy and embrace God’s Word which clearly promises us that “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).