Seventh-day Adventists are among the most well-known sects currently promoting the idea of soul sleep. From their perspective, the soul of a man is indistinguishable from the whole of a man. Thus, the soul cannot continue to exist consciously apart from the body.
First, as the Bible makes clear, the soul is not the whole of a human being. The New Testament unambiguously communicates that the soul continues to have awareness after the body has died. In Luke 16, for instance, Jesus told the parable of a rich man and a beggar who die physically yet experience conscious awareness in the intermediate state—a fact difficult to deny in that the rich man’s brothers are living and final judgment has not yet occurred.
Furthermore, sleep is a common biblical metaphor for the death of the body. John 11 provides the clearest of examples. Jesus told His disciples, “‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’” (vv. 11–14). Here, as in myriad other examples, the Bible speaks of the body asleep in death (e.g., 1 Kings 2:10; Daniel 12:2; Ephesians 5:14). Conversely, the Bible never speaks of the soul asleep in death.
Finally, if the soul did not continue in conscious awareness after the death of the body, it would be incongruent for the apostle Paul to desire to be away from the body in order to be at home with the Lord. Said Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21–24; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6–9). How could death be “better by far” than further fruitful ministry if it entails soul sleep? The point here, as elsewhere in the biblical text, is that far from soul sleep, to be with Christ is soul satisfaction (see Hebrews 12:23; Luke 23:42–43; especially Luke 23:46; cf. 24:37–39 and Acts 7:59; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2–4).
In short, soul sleep has nothing to commend it biblically. As the Bible makes clear, the soul continues to have conscious existence apart from the body that dies.
In part adapted from AfterLife
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, AfterLife: What You Need to Know About Heaven, the Hereafter, and Near-Death Experiences (Brentwood, TN: Worthy, 2013) and also Is Seventh-Day Adventism Orthodox?
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