Soul Sleep Disproved


By Mark Swarbrick

SDA and Soul Sleep

One of Seventh Day Adventist’s distinctive beliefs that separates them from Christendom is their heterodox teaching on the nature of the soul. They believe in what is called “soul sleep,” the idea that when a person dies, they no longer exist or are conscious in any way. While Adventists do believe in a resurrection of the dead at the end of the age, they teach that only members of the Seventh Day Adventist church have a chance at being resurrected to go to heaven. Everyone else – atheists, murderers, thieves, and Christians of all other denominations – are resurrected and then killed by God and return back to unconscious nonexistence. The kindest Baptist and the vilest sinner meet the same fate. Hitler and Reverend Billy Graham both suffer complete annihilation and eternal unconsciousness.

This teaching does not come from Scripture, but from the mind of the SDA’s founding prophetess, Ellen G White. Adventists cherry pick Bible verses out-of-context to try to support their doctrine. Notwithstanding, their doctrine fails, for the Bible explicitly states that when a Christian believer (of any denomination) dies, their spirit leaves the body and goes to heaven to be with Christ.

Soul Sleep Disproved

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The spirit or soul is that part of a person that constitutes the consciousness or essence. Thus, Christians who die, immediately enjoy the glories of heaven and the loving presence of Jesus and the fellowship of loved ones who have previously died in Christ. The Scripture clearly states, as I shall demonstrate, that not only are believers immediately in the presence of Christ at death, but also that we will all know each other, and we will have our memories intact regarding our life on earth.

The immortality of the soul has been the faith of the Church from the time of the apostles until today. However, there are a few cults and some theologians within Christianity who have postulated that man does not have a soul or spirit that consciously survives death. They claim that man is unconscious, asleep, or nonexistent until the resurrection.

As previously stated, this minority view is referred to as the doctrine of soul sleep, a term first coined by John Calvin when he wrote a disputation of the concept. Soul sleep is espoused mostly by cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and a few branches of the Church of God. Within Christendom, there are a few ministers in some Lutheran denominations who also hold to the doctrine of soul sleep, but they are in the minority among Lutherans.

Concerning Lutheran theology on the matter, most Lutherans believe in an immortal soul that continues after death. Martin Luther himself at first embraced soul sleep and condemned the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, calling it, “one of the endless monstrosities in the Roman dunghill of decretals…” But most of Luther’s followers disagreed with him on the matter and had many discussions with him on it.

One of Luther’s famous statements is: “I will gladly admit my errors and recant them, just as soon as I am shown from Scripture where I have been wrong!” True to his word,
eventually Luther changed his mind about the soul of man. In his Commentary on Genesis he says:

“In the interim (between death and resurrection), the soul does not sleep but is awake and enjoys the visions of angels and of God and has converse with them.”

Luther’s contradictory statements on the matter are probably the reason for some disunity of belief on the matter within Lutheran circles. Some do not realize Luther changed his mind later in life. The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) has an excellent written statement on the subject of soul sleep, which I quote in part:

“The Old Testament Scriptures contain many references to the continuation of life after death. For example, the patriarchs believed that after their death they would be “gathered to their fathers in peace.” This expression did not imply interment in a family grave, for it is used of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, even though they were buried far from the land of their fathers (Gen. 25:8-10; 35:29; 49:33; Num. 27: 13; Deut. 32: 50). The expression “he was gathered to his people” or “he slept with his people” shows the intense hope of the Israelite to be united with his ancestors, even in death. Our Lord summarized the Old Testament hope when He reminded the Sadducees that God was not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matt. 22: 32)

The fact that nearly all Christian churches today deny soul sleep and believe in the immortality of the soul is a point of considerable significance. Yet there are two other witnesses to the truth which carry even more weight: The testimony of Holy Scripture and the testimony of Historic Christianity. We shall examine both.

The Testimony of Scripture

 The overwhelming teaching of Scripture disavows soul sleep and strongly supports the belief that man has an immortal soul which continues consciously after death.

 The Rich Man and Lazarus

For Exhibit A in the evidence against soul sleep I present the account which Jesus told of the Rich Man and Lazarus:

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:22-31)

Here Jesus tells a story of souls in heaven and hell immediately after death. The events of the story take place before any kind of resurrection, for the rich man wants to warn his brothers who were still alive on earth. It matters not whether this is considered a parable or is accepted as a historical account of what happened to two men. Either way, Jesus still used imagery that disproves soul sleep. If the soul does not continue consciously after death, then Jesus would be guilty of teaching a falsehood in this account, for here we see the souls of these men immediately going to Paradise or hell upon death, where they are conscious and have their memories in eternity.

Judas Iscariot – Went to His Own Place

In Acts chapter one, the suicide of Judas is recounted, and the apostles come together to select a replacement for Judas. Peter prays and says,

“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:24-25)

Where did Judas go? The context has just recounted that Judas is dead. Where is he? The Scripture says he went somewhere. You can’t go somewhere if you don’t exist. This speaks of Judas’ soul, and that is how Judas went to his own place, which is reminiscent of Jesus’ words, “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Judas’ soul went immediately to a place of punishment that was appropriate for him.

 The Thief on the Cross – Today in Paradise

Jesus told one of the criminals being crucified next to him,

“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

This statement by Jesus is devastating to the doctrine of soul sleep. Jesus tells the man that after they die, they will be together that very day in Paradise. Soul sleep adherents try to evade the plain meaning of this passage by claiming that the original autograph had no punctuation and that the English translators got the comma in the wrong place, that it should have been “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

There are a number of problems with that contention. First of all, every translation of the Bible has the comma before today. All the committees of Greek scholars that worked on the translations agreed that the comma should be before today, not after. Why do you suppose that is? It is because, in their professional opinion, that is what the Greek text indicated. I think that the judgment of such scholars should be trusted over the views of a few.

There is another problem with the comma theory. The statement of Jesus, “Truly I say to you,” is one of Jesus’ most favorite expressions. We find it over one hundred times in the gospels. None of the apostles ever use this turn of phrase, only Jesus. Sometimes translated as “Verily I say unto you,” it is literally, “Amen, I say unto you.” Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus ever insert “today” into his idiom, “Truly I say unto you.” To move the comma and try to make “today” part of one of Jesus’ favorite sayings is to put words in Jesus’ mouth and twist them in a manner in which he never before used them.

Another evasion is to say that Jesus only meant it would seem like today to them since they would be unconscious until the resurrection. If that is what Jesus meant, then he would not have prefaced his statement with “Truly I say to you,” but rather with “Kind of, sort of, in a way but not really I say to you…” Either “truly” means truly, or it does not. Words mean things. The maxim is trustworthy, “If the plain sense of scripture makes good sense, seek no other sense, for anything else would be nonsense.”

Jesus was speaking plainly and literally when he promised the criminal that they would be together in Paradise that very day, and this falls right in line with what Jesus said as he died. He said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” and holy Scripture says, “And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.”

What did Jesus yield up, and where did it go? If this is not a reference to Jesus’ immortal soul or spirit leaving his body, then what is it? At that moment, Jesus’ spirit went to the Father, and so did the thief’s spirit when he died shortly thereafter. Then they were together in Paradise that day, precisely as Jesus said. This is the plain meaning of the passage.

Abraham Saw the Incarnation

Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we saw that Abraham was in Paradise, comforting Lazarus. Now we have Jesus declaring to the Jews that Abraham indeed was in Paradise with Jesus before the incarnation and that Abraham rejoiced that he was going to get to see it.

Jesus declares Abraham did see it. The first Christmas was celebrated in heaven by Abraham. If the soul of Abraham was not alive and conscious, it would have been impossible for Abraham to rejoice in Jesus’ day.

When the angel of the Lord appeared in the sky and proclaimed “for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” and while the multitude of angelic hosts were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest…” at that moment Abraham’s spirit in heaven was looking on and feeling the joy of the first Christmas! This was Jesus’ day, and Jesus says that Abraham “saw it and was glad.” This proves Abraham was in heaven and was allowed to witness this event.

The Jews didn’t understand how Jesus could know what Abraham’s feelings about current events would be because Abraham was dead long before this time. They mockingly point this out and say, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus explains how this is possible: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” In other words, Jesus, being eternally existent, was in heaven before his incarnation. Abraham was in heaven with Jesus and that is how Jesus had indeed seen Abraham. Abraham’s spirit was there with Jesus and was rejoicing as he observed these great events about to unfold.

This is the interpretation Calvin believed was correct for this passage, and it is also in line with Hebrews 12:1 which says (in reference to the deceased Old Testament saints) that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Although the passage in Hebrews could be taken in a metaphorical sense, there is no reason that it has to be. In any event, we have confirmation in this account that Abraham’s spirit was in heaven, and we find the same truth portrayed in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Apostle Paul – Departing to be with Christ

Paul is in prison not knowing whether he will live or die, and on this subject, he says:

“Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” (Philippians 1:19-26)

Notice his terminology which juxtaposes the spirit and the flesh: “life in the flesh,” “remain in the flesh,” or “depart and be with Christ,” Paul is picturing his soul or spirit living or remaining in the flesh. Paul is contemplating whether he will live or die – “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death.” So that is the subject, whether Paul lives or dies. He doesn’t know which he would prefer – “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” So when Paul dies he is going to depart and be with Christ. That’s crystal clear. Paul concludes by saying it is better for their sake that he not die yet as they still need his ministry.

If Paul did not have an immortal soul, then how could he speak this way? How could Paul contrast the concepts “remain in the flesh” with “depart and be with Christ?” If there is no immortal soul, Paul will remain in the flesh even when he is dead. The phrase itself “remain in” means there must exist something to be inside or in the flesh. That something would be the soul.

It does no good to try to say remain in the flesh only meant to remain on earth in the flesh, for Paul’s flesh will stay on earth even if he dies. Paul leaves no room for doubt. He will either remain or he will depart, and if he departs, he will be with Christ. And if he departs, then as James says, “the body without the spirit is dead…”[1]

 The Apostle Paul – To be Absent from the Body is to be Present with the Lord

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Co 5:1-9)

Here Paul likens our body to a tent that we live inside of. What a strange metaphor if we do not have souls that inhabit our bodies!  Paul says that if the tent, our body that we live in, dies, we have a home in the heavens. Now, look carefully at what Paul says:

“…knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord 7(for we walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.” (ASV)

Paul says he would rather be away from the body because then he would be at home with the Lord. The only way this is possible is if man has an immortal soul that continues consciously after death.

 Jesus is Coming with All His Saints

1 Thessalonians 3:13 speaks of “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” According to Scripture, Jesus is bringing the souls of the deceased saints from heaven with Him when he returns at the resurrection:

“For if we believe that Jesus has died and has risen again, so also God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.” (1 Th 4:14)

The euphemism “fallen asleep” refers to the body in death. Jesus is bringing the souls of believers who have died with him at the resurrection and the soul is reunited with the resurrected body. The text says Jesus is coming from heaven and bringing the souls “with him.” This is clear evidence that the souls of the righteous are with Jesus in heaven prior to the resurrection.

The Souls of Those Who Had Been Slain…Cried Out…

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

Here we have souls in heaven that speak. This is chronologically before the resurrection. That pretty well cinches it. There are immortal souls of saints in heaven before the resurrection. That should settle the matter. How can you have souls in heaven that cry out concerning their dead martyred bodies if there is no immortal soul?

I suppose the objection would be that this is symbolic language and can’t be taken literally.  I don’t think so, and neither do most Bible commentators. Yes, there is much symbolism in Revelation, but many passages are intended to be taken literally. Not all of Revelation is symbolic. There is nothing here in the context that prevents a literal interpretation of this passage.

Even if this was intended to be taken in a symbolic sense, what has been said about Jesus’ imagery with the Rich Man and Lazarus applies here as well: Why would God show John symbolic imagery that teaches a falsehood? Symbolic or not, if the idea of an immortal soul is such a bad thing, if such a thing does not even exist, why do we find that picture presented over and over in Scripture?

Then we have the appearances on earth of those who are dead and buried…

 And Behold, There Appeared to Them Moses…

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”

Moses died and was buried. The Old Testament tells us that. Yet here is Moses’ spirit talking to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

 It Was Samuel

King Saul had fallen away from God. God no longer spoke to him. So Saul went to a medium that was known for contacting the dead. This practice was forbidden by the Old Testament law. Mediums, then as now, operated by a combination of intuition, observation, guesswork, trickery, and by contacting demonic spirits that impersonate the dead. But in this case, something very unusual happened that surprised even the medium:

“Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah…Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’…and went, he and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night…Then the woman said, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’

He said, ‘Bring up Samuel for me.’ When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman said to Saul, ‘Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.’ The king said to her, ‘Have no fear; what do you see?’…And she said, ‘An old man is coming up; and he is wrapped in a robe.’ And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.

Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ Saul answered, ‘I am in great distress; for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.’

And Samuel said, ‘Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD, and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day.

Moreover the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.’

Then Saul fell at once full length upon the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel; and there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.”   (1 Sam 28:3-20)

Notice that the woman cries out in fear. Why?  Was she not accustomed to conjuring up dead people? In the past, the woman would pretend to talk to a departed spirit, or a demon pretending to be a deceased person would speak to her thoughts, but now God allowed something to happen that shocked and surprised her – the spirit of a real dead person appeared! How do we know this? First of all, by the woman’s surprise and fear, showing this was not a regular occurrence for her, but mainly because the Bible says so:

“And Saul knew it was Samuel…Then Samuel said…The Lord has done to you as He spoke by me…Then Saul (was)…filled with fear…because of the words of Samuel.

The text plainly says, “it was Samuel.” Any other interpretation would be twisting Scripture from what it actually says. This was not Saul’s conscience or imagination talking. We know that because that is not what the Bible says. The text says it was Samuel talking, not someone’s overactive imagination: “Then Samuel said…” the text reads.

We have to accept what the Word of God says and not put our own “private interpretation” upon it. Also, we find that Samuel speaks for himself directly to Saul. Mediums tell you what they think a spirit is saying. A spirit never actually appears and starts talking, as happened here.

Moreover, we find Samuel prophesying under the power of the Holy Spirit. Samuel here prophesies for the first time that by the next day, Saul and his sons would be dead. That prophecy came to pass the next day precisely as Samuel said it would. Now, if this was not the spirit of Samuel, how could this be? Saul himself said, “God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams,” so this prophecy could not have come from Saul’s imagination, for the Lord had rejected Saul and Saul could no longer hear from God.

This message could not have come from the medium, for even demons don’t know the future. Only God knows the future and can reveal it to His prophets. So the only conclusion and possibility we are left with is to believe exactly what the text tells us. While Samuel’s body was dead and buried in the grave, his spirit appeared and prophesied to Saul.

This is more proof positive that man’s immortal soul continues consciously after death. This interpretation is in complete harmony with the many scriptures we have studied so far, and there are yet more.

Scripture says the Spirit Returns to God

“The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

Here we have a proof text that shows the body goes to the ground while man’s spirit goes to God. Jesus knew this, and so did Stephen:

“Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said,Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)

And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59)

It is argued that the spirit is not the conscious soul of an individual, that it is only man’s life energy or breath or memory, or some other such esoteric and vague nonentity. But that dog won’t hunt. Why would dying men care one iota about what God does with their life force or where it goes when they die?

The context makes the meaning unmistakable. Both Stephen and Jesus knew that their spirit was about to leave their body at death. Jesus expects God the Father to receive his conscious spirit into His presence, and likewise, Stephen expects Jesus to receive his conscious spirit into heaven as well.

 The Ancient of Days, The Eternal Christ

It may not be at first apparent, but there is an insurmountable difficulty that is created by the denial of an immortal soul that concerns the nature of God. The second person of the Trinity became the man Jesus Christ. Now, if man does not have an immortal soul, then when Jesus died on the cross, for three days, the second person of the Trinity did not exist, and for three days, God was not a trinity. This is unthinkable and patently absurd — The eternal Son of God, who has always existed and always will exist, became temporarily non-eternal and nonexistent! This is impossible because Scripture tells us that God is immutable. He does not change. What is more, if Jesus was nonexistent when he was dead, then how did he raise himself from the dead?  Remember what Jesus said:

“I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again…”

“Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”…he spoke of the temple of his body.” (John 2:19-21)

How could Jesus have exercised His power to take up his life and resurrect his own body if he didn’t have an immortal soul? Jesus said, “I will raise it up.” If Jesus didn’t exist consciously when His body was dead, then Jesus could not have raised his own body. Denying Jesus, an immortal soul, results in making Jesus out to be a liar. Fortunately, Jesus’ statement that he would be in Paradise that very day assures us that the eternal existence of our triune God has never wavered.

 Believers now have eternal life

Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:240

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

So we see, believers now have eternal life. They have already passed from death to life. They shall never die. Jesus says so in the most unambiguous language possible. But if the soul or spirit does not exist consciously after death, then they are dead in every sense of the word. They are physically dead (the body is dead), and they are also spiritually dead as well.

To be spiritually alive, for the Christian, means conscious fellowship with God. But if one has no conscious fellowship with God (which you can’t have if you don’t exist), then one is spiritually dead. That would make Jesus wrong when he said they “shall never die.”

Of course, Jesus cannot be wrong. So it must be true that we will never die. Jesus is the one who promises this. Since we now have eternal life and will never die, we must, therefore, have an immortal soul.

The Testimony of Historic Christianity

 The Christian Church from the time of the apostles to the early church fathers and down through two thousand years of history has, nearly without any exception, been unanimous in maintaining that the soul continues in conscious existence after death. To believe in soul sleep is to say that all of Christendom has been wrong for two millennia, a preposterous statement. Likewise, the Jews in Jesus’ time predominantly believed in an immortal soul.

The 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus was a Hebrew priest. He tells of what the Jewish belief was at the time of Christ.

“These (the righteous) are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined… but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light in which the just…ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see…while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region…This is the discourse concerning Hades, herein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined, when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead…raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe…And to every body shall its own soul be restored.”[2]  

“Now, for the Pharisees…they also believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments… But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies…The doctrine of the Essenes is this…they teach the immortality of souls…” (Antiquities, Book 18, Ch 1)

Here we have a notable Jewish historian and priest of the first century who tells us that the Jews believe that souls are now conscious either in heaven or hell, that the soul will one day be restored to the body at the resurrection, and that the major sects of the Jews believe this, except for the Sadducees. This disproves the theory that the idea of an immortal soul was an idea that came into the Christian Church from pagan Greek influence. It was the predominant faith of the Jews from the get-go.

 Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus [A.D. 130.]

Mathetes was a disciple of the Apostles and was possibly a catechumen of the Apostle Paul. He makes this statement:

The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body…The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle…

Here we have someone who studied under the apostles, perhaps even Paul himself, and he believes in an immortal soul. If Paul and the other apostles didn’t believe in an immortal soul, then why does this person who was personally instructed by the apostles believe in an immortal soul? Surely this person would have been educated in something so fundamental as what happens to a person when they die!  The only logical conclusion is that the apostles themselves believed in, and taught, that man has an immortal soul.

 The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians & The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp  [A.D. 30-107]

 Ignatius was the Apostolic Father closest in thought to the New Testament writers. He and Polycarp were fellow-disciples under The Apostle John. He writes:

“…even as the soul also is in the body…”

“…thou art composed of both soul and body…”

Although these statements don’t give us a lot of detail, the terminology certainly does not support the idea that the apostles and their pupils saw man as a unit. “The soul also is in the body,” and “thou art composed of both soul and body” sounds more like he sees man as a composite, not a unit. These two statements are not conclusive but tend to lend weight to other declarations of the fathers.

 Justin Martyr [A.D. 110-165.]

Justin was a Gentile, born of Greek parents in Samaria. He went to Ephesus and studied the philosophies of the time, especially Platonism. After converting to Christianity, he wrote powerfully against the Greecian beliefs that had once captivated him.

Some adherents to soul sleep maintain that the immortality of the soul is a pagan belief that came from Greek philosophers. Justin Martyr’s statements destroy this hypothesis:

“And Plato loudly maintains that “the whole soul is immortal.” But Aristotle, naming it “the actuality,” would have it to be mortal, not immortal…it is impossible to learn anything true concerning religion from your teachers, who by their mutual disagreement have furnished you with sufficient proof of their own ignorance…”

Did you notice as you read that how Justin mentions that some Greeks believe in an immortal soul, and some do not, and then he says of the Greek philosophers, “their mutual disagreement have furnished you with sufficient proof of their own ignorance.” This shows that Justin is not getting his belief in an immortal soul from the Greeks, as is often maintained by soul sleep adherents. He goes on to tell that he gets his view from the scriptures and gives the example of Samuel being called up by the witch. He then writes that the Greek philosophers have no agreement on the matter of soul sleep.

Then Justin affirms:

“Even after death souls are in a state of sensation…and while we affirm that the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence, we shall seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers…”

 Irenaeus [A.D. 120-202.] Against Heresies

Irenaeus was personally instructed by Polycarp, and Polycarp had been tuaght by the Apostle John. Irenaeus maintained that the authority of “the faith” is established through the direct line of elders in the Church back to the apostles. We are told that Irenaeus was more Pauline than the apostolic fathers. He was also more biblical and less philosophical than the Greek church fathers who came later. Someone this close to the apostles can be expected to tell us what apostolic doctrine was concerning the soul. This is what he wrote:

“The Lord has taught with very great fullness, that souls not only continue to exist, not by passing from body to body, but that they preserve the same form [in their separate state] as the body had to which they were adapted, and that they remember the deeds which they did in this state of existence, and from which they have now ceased, — in that narrative which is recorded respecting the rich man and that Lazarus who found repose in the bosom of Abraham…By these things, then, it is plainly declared that souls continue to exist that they do not pass from body to body, that they possess the form of a man, so that     they may be recognized, and retain the memory of things in this world; moreover, that the gift of prophecy was possessed by Abraham, and that each class [of souls] receives a habitation such as it has deserved, even before the judgment.

Neither is the soul itself, considered apart by itself, the man; but it is the soul of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the spirit a man, for it is called the spirit, and not a man; but the commingling and union of all these constitutes the perfect man. And for this cause does the apostle, explaining himself, make it clear that the saved man is a complete man as well as a spiritual man; saying thus in the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, ‘Now the God of peace sanctify you perfect (perfectos); and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved whole without complaint to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Now what was his object in praying that these three — that is, soul, body, and spirit — might be preserved to the coming of the Lord, unless he was aware of the [future] reintegration and union of the three, and [that they should be heirs of] one and the same salvation?”

Notice in the above quote that Irenaeus specifically argues from Paul’s writings that man is a composite (as opposed to a unit) of soul, body, and spirit. He didn’t get this from the Greeks. He says he gets it from “the apostle.” He then speaks of the “future reintegration” of the soul with the body. Other quotes of his pertaining to the soul follow. Notice how he affirms that the soul is not mortal.

“The complete man is composed of flesh, soul, and spirit.”

“And therefore he says, ‘that mortality may be swallowed up of life. He who has perfected us for this very thing is God, who also has given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.’ He uses these words most manifestly in reference to the flesh; for the soul is not mortal, neither is the spirit.”

“The souls of the saints during the intermediate period are in a state of expectation of that time when they shall receive their perfect and consummated glory.”

“This event was also an indication of the fact, that when the holy soul of Christ descended [to Hades], many souls ascended and were seen in their bodies.”

 Soul-sleep Introduced by Heretics in the Third Century

The early church historian Eusebius had something very interesting to say about soul sleep. He wrote that the doctrine of soul sleep was introduced by third-century heretics:

“About the same time, 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.”

So, according to Eusebius, the doctrine of soul sleep did not arise until the third century and was quickly identified as false teaching. But according to soul sleep adherents, the early Church believed in soul sleep, and the doctrine of an immortal soul is the heresy that crept in. Both cannot be true. We must go with the facts of history. The actual records of church history affirm that the early Church believed in an immortal soul, and it is soul sleep that was the heresy that attempted to creep in.

The majority of the Hebrews of the first century believed that the soul continued consciously after death. The Hebrew historian Josephus believed in an immortal soul. Likewise, the early church fathers of the first and second centuries believed the same.

In contradiction to the idea that the concept of an immortal soul came from Greek paganism, we find the early church fathers stating that their faith in an immortal soul came from Scripture, or from the apostles, not from the Greeks.

We also find evidence that although some of the Greek philosophers shared that belief, the early Christian fathers were emphatic that their doctrine was that of the apostles and prophets of Holy Scripture. No evidence whatsoever seems to exist in either Hebrew writings or in the words of the early Christian Church that Greek influence had any bearing whatsoever on the Church’s belief in an immortal soul. The universal assent given by early church leaders to the doctrine of the immortal soul is recorded history. This affirmation of an immortal soul, given so early in the history of the Church, and so close to the apostolic age, is devastating to the theory that says such belief came later by Greek influence.

There are four reasons to reject the doctrine of soul-sleep:

  1. The Hebrews themselves believed in an immortal soul.
  2. The early Christian Church believed in an immortal soul.
  3. Scripture speaks powerfully in favor of an immortal soul
  4. Soul-sleep is contrary to the historic Christian faith.

To believe in soul-sleep one has to believe that the majority of the great theologians of all time have been mistaken, that Josephus was mistaken about the belief of the Jews, that the early church leaders, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and many others were also wrong and that the Church has been mistaken for two thousand years.

The Resurrection – An Objection Considered

It is pointed out by soul sleep adherents that there are several scriptures that speak of looking forward to the resurrection, and then it is put forward that if our souls go to heaven, it doesn’t make sense for the Scripture to place hope in a resurrection. With an immortal soul, you can go to heaven without a body. Thus, there is no need for a resurrection, or so they say.

This objection is easily dealt with. God’s plan is a complete restoration of his intentions for man before the fall into sin by Adam and Eve. He plans to set things right. God intends for us to have a body, not like what we have now, but a glorified body that is not ravaged by sin, sickness, and death. “Behold,” God says, “I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5) Not “all new things,” but “all things new.” God restores what was lost with man’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. Resurrection is God’s intended goal. Our soul’s existence in heaven is merely an intermediate state. Our full reward lies ahead after the resurrection. Thus, looking forward to resurrection is completely logical for those believing man is an immortal soul.

I have had many discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists on this matter. One Scripture they use is 1 Co 15:16-19: “For if the dead are not raised…then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” They argue, “See, they are asleep, they don’t exist, and with no resurrection, they stay that way and have perished.”

First of all, we must always keep in mind that the phrase “fallen asleep” when used in Scripture is a euphemism for death. It refers to the body in death, which appears to be asleep. It is not referring to the soul. The Scripture never refers to the soul as being asleep, but as we have seen, clearly speaks of disembodied souls as being fully conscious.

Furthermore, when this passage is examined in context, we see that it is not saying what they claim at all. It is not using the word “perished” to mean non-existence. Let’s look at the entire passage:

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” (1 Co 15:12-18)

First of all, remember what it is that saves us:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

According to Romans 10:9 above, believing in the fact of Christ’s resurrection is key to salvation. In Corinth, some Christians denied that there would be a resurrection. So Paul’s reasoning with the Corinthians is, if the resurrection is an impossibility, then Christ is not resurrected.

Then Jesus was mistaken when he said he would rise on the third day, and all the disciples are lying about seeing him, and the Corinthians are believing a lie also. If such was the case, then Jesus is not a living savior, and thus all Christians are still in their sins, for there is no savior, and if that be so, then all Christians who have died, have died in their sins and thus they have perished. In other words, their souls went to hell.

They perished because they “died in their sins.” They perished, not because they are unconscious, but because they found themselves in hell, being punished for their sins. When the Bible speaks of a person perishing it always means spiritual death, conscious separation from God. Nowhere does the Bible ever use the word “perish” to mean non-existence of a soul. Paul says they perished (went to hell) because there is no real savior.

Likewise, in another passage, we see that Jesus uses the word “perish” to mean eternal punishment rather than non-existence. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” he was not saying they would stop existing. He was warning them about the punishment that Jesus called “the unquenchable fire” in hell.

In this entire passage about the resurrection in First Corinthians, Paul is not making a statement about the immortal soul but rather is emphasizing that belief in the resurrection is fundamental to salvation and basic Christian doctrine.

What is a Spirit?

Let us now examine what the Bible says about the spirit of man. The nature of man’s composition as a soul or spirit living inside a body and its immortal nature can be deduced by how the Scripture speaks of the spirit.

Spirits Are Non-physical, But Can Sometimes Be Seen.

“As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:26-40)

When the disciples saw Jesus after the resurrection, they thought they saw his spirit. As Scripture says, they “supposed that they saw a spirit.” Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t be silly; there are no such things as spirits.” No, he told them, a spirit has not flesh and bones.”  So spirits exist, and from what is said here, we learn something about them. We see that Jesus and the apostles accepted the concept that the spirit of a man could appear and be visible, could resemble a man in form, and even be recognizable, but that it would not be a solid body of flesh and bone.

 God Is the Father of Our Spirit

“The LORD…formed the spirit of man within him.” (Zechariah 12:1)

“…submit to the Father of our spirits…” (Hebrews 12:9)

“You wove me in my mother’s womb…I was made in secret…Your eyes have seen my unformed substance… “(Psalms 139:13-16)

This tells us that God creates our spirit. This probably occurs at the moment of conception in our mother’s womb. The unformed substance of our very self is our spirit. Notice that the text says God forms man’s spirit “within him,” that is, inside his physical body.

We are told in Genesis, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Genesis 1:27 & John 4:24) So God is spirit, he does not have a physical body. Since we are created in His image, we also are a spirit. Jesus said in Luke 24:39 that “a spirit does not have flesh and bones.”

Scripture says that we are created in God’s image. This is not referring to our body, but to our spirit – and as God is spirit, so also, we are a spirit, because we are created in His image. Our soul or spirit is not our body, for “a spirit has not flesh and bones.” Mortalists claim that man’s body is a soul or spirit, but that is contrary to this passage of Scripture. Our very essence is spirit, for we are created in the image of God, who is spirit.

The Spirit Thinks and Knows

“For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1Co 2:11)

This passage shows us again that the spirit of man exists inside his body. Moreover, this demonstrates that the spirit of man thinks and knows. “What person knows,” Paul asks rhetorically, and then he answers and tells us which person: “the spirit of the man…” So the text tells us that a spirit is a “person” that “knows.

A Spirit Can Be In The Body Or Out Of The Body

The spirit was believed to be able to exist separate from the body in some instances. Paul wrote about himself, but spoke in the third person for humility’s sake, when he said:

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—4and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” (2 Co 12:2-4)

Paul had this experience while his body was alive. But Paul doesn’t know if he was in heaven with his physical body (in the body) or if God took his spirit to heaven while his body remained on earth (out of the body). So Paul believed it possible to be in the body or out of the body. He feels no need to explain this, as he assumes his readers understand that one’s spirit can leave the body.

Consider also that Jesus acknowledged the existence of evil spirits:

“For Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you evil spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.’” (Mark 5:8-9)

Whether these evil spirits are fallen angels, or disembodied spirits of men, or whatever they are, is beside the point. The point is that they, like us, are spirits, and although they have no physical body of their own, they are capable of inhabiting and controlling the bodies of men. They can be in a man’s body or go out of it; to wit:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’” (Matthew 12:43-44)

This shows us what a spirit can do. It can be in a body or out of a body, and when it is in a body, it can control it. This evil spirit had overpowered the man’s own spirit and had taken over control of the man’s body. Using the man’s mouth and vocal cords, the evil spirit answered and said, “My name is Legion.” So, a spirit can be inside a physical body and control it. That is exactly what our own spirit does as well. Just as a musician plays an instrument, so also our spirit “plays” our brain and directs our body through the nervous system.

 The Spirit Can Be Saved

“I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Co 5:5)

Here Paul is talking about casting someone out of the Church and removing God’s protection over his body so that Satan may afflict him, in the hope that even though his body may become sick or even die, the suffering will cause him to repent and thus “his spirit may be saved.” This clearly shows that the spirit is more than energy, breath, or force. It is not our energy or our breath that gets saved. It is us!

 Man Cannot Kill the Spirit or Soul

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

If man is an indivisible unit, as mortalists claim, and if it is true that when man dies, he is really like the old dog rover, when he is dead, he is dead all over, then when the body is   dead, his soul or spirit is dead as well. But Jesus said that man is “unable to kill the soul.” So apparently when man’s body is dead, he really isn’t dead all over.

The Spirit Leaves the Body at Death

“It came about as her soul was departing (for she died)…” (Genesis 35:18)

“The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”(Ecclesiastes 12:7)

The poor man died and was carried by the angels…” (Luke 16:22)

“The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades…” (Luke 16:22)

“And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died. He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Child, arise!” And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately…” (Luke 8:53-55)

Take note of what happens in Luke chapter eight above, where Jesus raises the girl from the dead. The text says, “she had died.” So the girl is dead. When Jesus raises her, the text says “her spirit returned.” If it returned, that means it had left when she died. So again, we see that the spirit leaves the body at death. We also understand that the spirit can return to the body when it comes back to life. This is exactly what will happen at the resurrection when Jesus “will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14), and the spirit is reunited with the resurrected body.

What is man’s spirit, according to the Bible?  The spirit is our non-physical self, the conscious part of us that knows and thinks, the part of us that can be saved.  Our spirit exists inside our physical bodies. God is the father of our spirit. He directly created our spirit while we were in our mother’s womb. Our spirit controls our body and lives in our body, but in rare instances may exist outside of our body, even when we are still alive. The spirit or soul cannot be killed, but it leaves the body at death.

 That None Should Perish

Now we shall examine what happens to unbelievers when they die. We read in 2 Peter 3:9 that Jesus lived and died for this reason:

“The Lord is…not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

The term Gospel means “good news.” To appreciate the good news, we have to understand first what the bad news is. Without Jesus Christ, all are condemned as sinners by a holy and righteous God. God is good, through and through, and let’s face it; we are not. Because of that, we are all destined to perish. That is the bad news. Romans 3:23 says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

It is honorable to do right and do all we can to live decent and upright lives. We should all do our best to follow the golden rule and love others. Nevertheless, this in itself does not redeem us. We cannot redeem ourselves.

Jesus is the only redeemer. His death on the cross is the atonement for our sins. His shed blood washes away all our sins. That sacrifice is not automatically applied to everyone’s life. It only applies to those who have put their faith in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9,13)

Christians who pass away immediately find themselves free from a body of infirmity and in the presence of Jesus. They are surrounded by friends, family, and their ancestors who died in Christ. They are joyfully welcomed by believers they have helped in this life. The reward for their good deeds follows them. They find themselves vibrantly alive, experiencing joy, and wonder beyond description.

There is not even a whisper of any bad thing they may have done in their life. They are redeemed. Micah 7:19 says that God has “cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” Hebrews 8:12 says that God will “never again remember their sins.” 1 Corinthians 1:22 says that there is “nothing left that he could even chide you for.” (LB) And that we will be “holy, faultless, and blameless.” (CSB)

I hesitate to speak of what happens to those who die without Christ, for it is terrible. Acts 4:12 says of Jesus:

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

For those who die without Jesus, there is no hope. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28:

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.

In Jesus’ day, some imagined that since they didn’t live overtly wicked lives, they need not concern themselves with judgment. However, in Luke 13:4-5, Jesus warned these people who thought that only the very wicked were in danger of hell. Referring to those killed in a recent disaster, he said:

Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Hebrews 9:27 says:

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

Jesus made it clear in John 12:48 and 14:6 that this judgment is based on whether or not someone has put their faith in him:

He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Without Jesus, people are immediately judged for their sins after death, and they are sent to a terrible place of punishment appropriate to their deeds. In Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man found himself in flames, anguishing from thirst. After Judas killed himself, Scripture says that he “went to his own place.” The idea being that everyone’s place of punishment is appropriate for the things they have done.

The most frightening aspect of this punishment is that it is eternal. The rich man in hell was not told to wait a hundred years, and he would have relief. His situation was forever. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus says:

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

There are numerous accounts of unbelievers who clinically died and were resuscitated. They give horrifying accounts of being dragged down to hell. Conversely, Christians who have been brought back from the brink tell of joyful reunions with loved ones and being surrounded by the love of Christ.

Scripture tells us that someday the bodies of all people will be resurrected. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 says that Jesus will “bring with him” the souls of Christians who have died, and those souls will be reunited with their resurrected body. It will be a “glorified body,” one that will never get sick or die.

The unsaved will find their souls dredged up and put into a resurrected body that is thrown into hell, where eternal destruction of both soul and body will take place for all eternity. There is no annihilation. The Bible says “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night.” (Revelation 14:11) The wording is clear.

So that is the bad news. It is indeed, frightening. But for those who know Jesus, we need have no trepidation when we face death. Scripture says that those who believe in Jesus have already passed from death to life. Jesus is our salvation. Not only does God save us through Jesus, but he also gives us new life right here and now and becomes a close and abiding friend. Our Heavenly Father, through Christ, comes into our hearts and changes us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

It takes only a change of heart and a decision to put faith in Christ and follow him, and Jesus comes into one’s heart and life. When that is done, a miracle happens. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

In case someone reads this who has not done that, I must say this: Why wait? Give your heart to Jesus now. He is only a prayer away. If you want to know more about Jesus before deciding, then get a Bible in a modern version that is easy to read and start in the book of John in the New Testament. Learn of him who can save your soul.


The Bible gives overwhelming support to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. In Scripture we see that believers now have eternal life. They have already passed from death to life. They shall never die“Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die,” said Jesus. He told the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (John 11:25-26 & Luke 23:43)

Jesus said he would raise his own body. “I will raise it up,” He said. This requires that Jesus have an immortal soul, as does the doctrine of God’s unchangeable nature and the eternal nature of Christ himself. Jesus’ and Stephen’s committal of their spirits to God are extraneous and nonsensical if the spirit is not understood to be the conscious soul of man. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” cried Stephen, as the blood was streaming down his face and the murderous rocks were hurtling into his dying body. (Acts 7:59) Just precisely what was Stephen asking Jesus to receive, if not his very self?

In the Rich Man and Lazarus, we find that dead people’s spirits are carried immediately to reward or punishment. Hear the words of Jesus again:

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out…”

Here we have the disembodied spirits of two dead people feeling, thinking, seeing, talking, reasoning, and crying out. Why does Jesus use such ideas if they aren’t true? The Word says that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light,” (2 Tim 1:10), but if His account here doesn’t reflect reality, then Jesus was obscuring the truth about immortality instead of bringing it to light.

The Apostle Paul speaks of being caught up to the third heaven, and he adds, “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know…” In another place, he uses the phrase “at home in the body to refer to the condition of physical life on earth and uses the phrase “absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord” to refer to the condition of physical death.

Paul likens his body to a tent that someone lives in: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed…” Paul desires to depart and be with Christ. He says, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.1 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:2-25)

The Apostle John sees the souls of martyrs in heaven before the resurrection:

“the souls of those who had been slain…they cried out with a loud voice…” (Revelation 6:10)

Paul says the souls of the righteous return from heaven with Christ to reclaim their resurrected bodies:

“so also God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14)

Moses, who had long been dead, appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration:

“And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” (Matthew 17:3)

Although it is possible that God resurrected Moses’ body, one would think the resurrection of such a noted saint would be recorded in Scripture, if for no other reason than to preclude the disciples from believing in an immortal soul, if such a thing were the abominable doctrine some make it out to be.

In the case of Samuel, we know from the context that Samuel’s body was dead and in the grave, yet he appeared. The Word of God records:

“It was Samuel…Samuel said, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’” (1 Samuel 28:15)

The statement “It was Samuel” settles the matter.

Likewise, we learn from Jesus that Abraham in heaven rejoiced to see Jesus’ day:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)

The writer of Hebrews describes godly people of ages past as a large cloud of witnesses observing us:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

Witnesses have to be alive and conscious to “witness” anything, so this passage in Hebrews tells us plainly that godly people that have passed on are, in a sense, still with us.

Paul tells us that the spirit of a man encompasses his consciousness that is capable of knowing and thinking:

For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him?”

And King Solomon, the wisest man of the earth, tells us that the spirit — the knowing, feeling, thinking essence of ourselves — will stand before God at death: “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

To recap:

  1. All the Jews in Jesus’ time (except the Sadducees) were united in their belief in an immortal soul.
  2. Numerous biblical passages describe the soul as being immortal.
  3. The writings of men who were personally taught by the original apostles avow the immortality of the soul.
  4. We have also seen that the testimony of the early church fathers is that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of the body.
  5. We also find that the Church throughout the centuries since Christ has believed in an immortal soul, with only a few exceptions.

The weight of evidence in favor of an immortal soul is abundant. Indeed, to believe otherwise forces one into the untenable position of thinking that the Church has been wrong all this time, which denies Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth.

The truth of the immortal soul is a great comfort to the Christian, both in contemplation of one’s own death, and also it is easier to contemplate that our loved ones have “passed on,” rather than “passed away.” Conversely, the non-Christian is given reason to pause and consider soberly the claims of Scripture.

We can rejoice that when we depart this life, we are departing to be with Christ and with our loved ones. When we are absent from this body we will immediately be with Christ in Paradise. That is Christ’s promise to all of us, which he prefaced with “Amen, I say unto you.” Let us believe Him.

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Soul Sleep Disproved

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[1] James 2:26

[2] Josephus’ Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades, Ages Software, Christian Library Heritage Edition.

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