Soul Sleep and Soul Annihilation


 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2Cor5:6-8


If the Jewish Christians in ancient times believed in soul sleep for the righteous and soul annihilation for the wicked, why was Paul looking forward to be present with the Lord? The Scriptures can be used to prove many things, but its always the full weight of scripture that defines the important matters. Certainly there is a resurrection of the Just and unjust, John5:28-29, but do all lay silent and unconscious in their graves until that great day? Many 'Christian type groups and individuals teach soul sleep and final annihilation, they include: 'Martin Luther, Seven Day Adventists, Advent Christians, Herbert W Armstrong world wide church of God, some Church of God adherents, to name a few. Cults like the JW's also teach it, the Catholics of course teach Purgatory and you will find variations of these teachings scattered throughout professing Christendom. But it's not my purpose to present an in-depth historical study into this teaching, just examine the scriptures and let the evidence speak for itself.


In Scripture man is shown to consist of 'Body, soma, Soul, psyche, and spirit, pneuma, 1Thess5:23, we understand that 'spirit, pneuma is defined as the movement of air, illustrating the breath of life, the essence of man, in Acts3:19 it speaks of a 'refreshing (recovery of breath) that takes place in redemption, the quickening, Rom8:11, that revives the spirit (dead in sin, cut off from God) that gives life to the mortal body as well as the immortal soul. As long as a regenerated person is abiding in Christ, eternal life (in Christ) is abiding in him, 'He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God, does not have life', 1Jh5:12, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? Jh11:25-26  The Saints, after physical death, exist as disembodied spirits, awaiting the final resurrection in which they will receive their glorified bodies. (1Thes5:16-17, 1Cor15:42-44, 50-54) In Revelation they are shown: standing before the throne, clothed in white robes, Rev7:9, (those who came out of great tribulation washed clean) again Rev15:1-3, shown as a sea of glass mingled with fire standing before the Lamb singing the song of Moses, Rev6:9-11, shown as the cry of the Martyrs asking the Lord how long until they are avenged. and Rev4:4 we see the 24 Elders sitting on their thrones clothed in white robes. It certainly doesn't sound to me like the Saints are unconscious, asleep in their graves awaiting the final Trump. Just because we can find certain passages Old and New, that speak of the dead sleeping, knowing nothing, the body returning to dust, doesn't balance against the full weight of scripture.


The Lord said in Matt22:32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  Again in Mk12:26-27

But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.


They were certainly dead physically, their mortal bodies in the dust, (sleeping) but He speaks of them as ALIVE, as the Apostles witnessed Him actually speaking with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration:
He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Matt17:2-3, Again many Saints who were said to have 'fallen asleep' (in physical death, another way of saying: 'passed-away) received their resurrected bodies at His Resurrection and appeared to many in the holy city, Matt27:52-53. The 'Sleep of death or in the grave spoken of in scripture, has to be the cessation of the mortal body as 1Cor15 talks about, not an unconscious state of soul sleep. David said of the child that died as punishment for his awful sin:  'But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. 2Sam12:23  Could David have meant he would join him in soul sleep, I don't think so. In another incident Samuel returns from the dead, fully conscience of events about to occur and warns Saul again the consequences of his disobedience, 1Sam28:9-20, you can argue the witch-craft aspect of this occurrence, but its pretty hard to dispute the fact that this spirit was Samuel (not some demon mimicking him) since what he said did come to pass as he said it would. Yes, the body (of man) returns to the dust, but the Soul returns to the Lord who gave it! Ecc12:7. That's why the Lord says 'all souls are mine, the soul that sins shall die', Ezk18:4, 20, we all know that a person does not drop over dead the moment they sin, God told Adam, 'Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for the DAY that you eat of it you shall surely die' Gen2:17, did he and Eve drop dead when they took of the tree and did eat … NO, yet the Scripture continually says that if you sin, you die, by any logical understanding we must come to conclusion that there's a difference between physical and spiritual death, since man has a physical life span in his mortal form as a sinner, cut off from God.

The Greek word they use for Soul in the NT is Psyche (as we have shown) Root of English word for: Psychic (psychology) we understand this as that which gives man the breath of life, his essence, life-force, feelings, desires, affections, the very heart of man and in which we are made self-aware of our mortality, over and above the animals who are said also to be living souls, Gen1:30, Job12:10, (not eternal souls, but living as a root meaning of the breath of life that comes from God) drawing a definite distinction between the Soul and Spirit of man is impossible in the sense they both represent our life essence, what we are, but in the sense of reviving our spiritual connection to God I think it’s the 'spirit' part of the soul that is refreshed and then opens the eyes of our understanding to the newness of life that is in Christ. Every human being is fearfully and wonderfully made by God, Ps139:13-16, but the 'spiritual connection to God cannot exist until the consciousness of our existence reaches a maturity wherein we can choose to serve Him or satisfy our self-indulgence. That's where the 'spirit comes into play, laying dormant (undeveloped, inactive) in our soul (psychic) must connect with our creator in a fully conscience and living state. Then the living waters will spring up unto eternal life! Jh4:13-14. 'Body, Soul and Spirit preserved blameless at the coming of the Lord', 1Thes5:23  Soul sleep in the sense of unconsciousness is not taught in the Scriptures, this mystical connection between man's soul and sprit in a disembodied form is shown as FULLY conscience after death:

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to Gehenna, into the fire that shall never be quenched where Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched Mk9:42-44

The 'worm' is used in scripture as a metaphor of the conscience, Isa66:24 says the 'worm dies not and neither shall the fire be quenched', The Lord repeats this warning three times in Mark 9:42-48 and each times uses the same illustration of unquenchable fire and full consciousness. Again in Luke16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus (IMO, not a parable) shown again a fully conscience man in the flames of torment crying out to Father Abraham across the great gulf to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers so they would be spared his fate. Many will cast aspersion on this story, claiming that Lazarus a poor beggar, is not shown as a Righteous man, so why was he taken to Abraham's bosom and the Rich man to torment. However the name 'Lazarus in scripture refers to 'whom God helps', a Hebrew form of Eleazar, the high priest son of Aaron. (a righteous man) so I think we can conclude that Lazarus was also a righteous man. Hades (not hell) is vaguely shown in Scripture as a kind of 'holding place' for the Righteous dead until Christ came and completed His mission. The Jews called it Abraham's bosom (the paradise of God) by tradition and it is most likely the place Jesus went to during the three days His body was in the Tomb. Eph4:8 speaks of Him ascending on high and led captivity captive, giving gifts to men', and Peter also mentions that His soul was not left in Hades nor did His flesh see corruption, Acts2:31. Understand that Hades is not Hell (as the KJV translates it) it may have indeed also been the holding place of the unrighteous dead (across the great gulf) before the resurrection, but we have very limited information in scripture concerning it. Of course the Jews understood the final place of punishment for the unrighteous dead to be Gehenna (which again the KJV translates hell) the 'trash dump' outside the city in the valley of hinnom. Lake of Fire in Scripture, liken unto this place, is the Greek Pyr, our word for pyro, fire. (IMO, illustration the burning of conscienceless, worm dying not, that haunts and torments the unrighteous dead in their misery and separation from God; time in length and duration, as we know it, is not relevant in degree to timeless suffering)


Eternal punishment is shown in many scriptures throughout the Bible:
We already mentioned Isa66 and Mark 9, here are several more:


And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matt25:46


 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. Matt18:8

in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power 2Thes1:8-9 (destruction olethros, in the sense of prolonged suffering, not annihilation)


as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude 7

Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. Rev20:14-15

Jesus also spoke of the weeping and gashing of teeth several times, who would weep and grid their teeth if they fall into a state of unconscious sleep and then their souls are annihilated. Paul said it is ‘appointed unto man once to die and after that the Judgment’, Heb9:27, and we must all 'appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ', 2Cor5:10-11, where is the terror he also spoke of in falling asleep and awaiting the resurrection. Remember the Sadducees didn't believe in a resurrection anyway, as many today scoff at any mention of eternal punishment. When Christ talked about the Judgment it is something fearful, full of terror and dread, 'It's a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God!' Heb10:31. The Gashing of teeth indicates extreme anguish, utter despair, again how does this fit into soul sleep at death and then soul annihilation, is the soul annihilated after it falls asleep in death, or it is awakened from sleep and then suffers some sort of horrible obliteration at the Great White Throne? Rather we see Judgment in scripture as occurring at any moment, 'tonight thy soul is required of thee', Lk12:20, and there's not a moment to spare if we want to escape the great gulf of Perdition. So let us not diminish the Lord's warnings of impending doom by casting them into the far off future or thinking its lights out for the soul and that's it.

There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. Lk13:28


And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Matt13:22

And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matt25:51

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matt25:30

Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matt22:13


The use of the word ‘destroyed’ in scripture, apollymi, that is used to in reference to the soul, can not be said to specifically mean the soul ceases to exist. The Matt10:28 passage is often used to imply this: 'And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.   But comparing scripture with scripture we find this same word is often used to describe the many other things that cannot be applied to complete annihilation. In Matt5:29-30, ‘its better for one of your members to perish then the whole body to end up in hell’. The disciples cried out to Jesus, ‘Save us least we Perish’, Matt8:25. Jesus said go to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’, Matt10:6. ‘The Son of man has come to save that which is lost’, Matt18:11. ‘You shall perish by the sword, Matt26:52. ‘For the gospel is hid to them that are lost’, 2Cor4:3. ‘Gold that perishes’, 1Pet1:7. ‘Look to yourself that we lose not the things we worked for’, 2Jh1;8. (to name a few)


The word can be used literally or figuratively to; ‘destroy, die, lose or perish, not necessarily to completely annihilate, as in ceasing to exist. So in the light of so many other scriptures that speak of ‘eternal torment, the fire not quenched, the worm dying not’, I think the stronger evidence is in favor of the soul’s immortality, separated from God in outer darkness or united with Him in Glory. And the concept of a soul sleep (until the resurrection) is definitely not tenable in light of Jesus saying things like:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.


How could He promise that his followers would be 'with Him', if there was a long duration of sleep in the grave before it took place. Death spoken of in scripture in such manner: 'fall asleep, he sleeps with his fathers, they who are asleep', is how we would say of someone who has 'passed-away', to us their living physical body is asleep, but we understand that their spiritual essence lives on. The Scriptural evidence that supports this is overwhelming. At the resurrection the (disembodied) soul is reunited with the (sleeping) body, (God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus, 1Thes4:14, the soul-spirit of those who passed-away in Christ, not unconscious dead!) There is no evidence that the soul of the dead person at the resurrection has been asleep (unconscious) in death and the passages they attempt to use as proof text that the (sleeping) dead know nothing, have no remembrance, cannot praise, or hope, lay in silence are taken from passages mainly in Psalms and Ecclesiastes, speaking of those who go down the grave in wickedness without hope, their plans perishing with them, unable to cry out and praise God, dumb (silent) with no remembrance of the Lord. (Ps6:5, 115:17, 146:4, Ecc9:4) The Grave (death) in OT, is Sheol, (hell, Hades, Pit) the Hebrew version of the holding tank, as the Greek Hades.

The implication of some kind of Greek Mythology influence skewing our biblical understanding of soul sleep and final annihilation is not valid, the Greeks believed in many gods, realms of under-world rulers and half-breed heroes who constantly warred against the powers of darkness. The Scriptures speak for themselves on this issue if we study them in harmony, without making sweeping conclusions about words and ignoring the obvious. (as most doctrinal bias operates) Man's essence is NOT his physical body, but what is within, his soul-spirit, 'What does a profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul!' Mk8:36. God could have created automatons to obey and worship Him for eternity, but He breathed into man a 'Living Soul', Gen2:7, with passions, emotions, desires, free to choose glory, honor and immortality in Christ or indignation, wrath and anguish in separation from God. (the vengeance of eternal fire, Jude7) Soul annihilation, soul recycling, reincarnation are pagan teachings as destructive as the sin nature, substitution and magic cover theories. They all serve to keep the focus off the foundational issues of repentance and faith proven by deeds. Eternal life is in Christ and in Him there is freedom form the corruption of sin.   


 By Mike D