1 Thessalonians 4:13—Did Paul teach the doctrine of soul-sleep?
Problem: Several times the Bible refers to the dead as being asleep. Does this mean that the soul is not conscious between death and resurrection?
Solution: The souls of both believers and unbelievers are conscious between death and the resurrection. Unbelievers are in conscious woe (see Luke 16:23; Mark 9:48; Matt. 25:41) and believers are in conscious bliss. “Sleep” is a reference to the body, not the soul. Sleep is an appropriate figure of speech for death of the body, since death is temporary until the resurrection when the body will “awake” from it.
The evidence that the soul (spirit) is conscious between death and resurrection is very strong:
2. David spoke of bliss in God’s presence after death (Ps. 16:10–11).
3. Elijah was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1).
4. Moses and Elijah were conscious on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:3) long after their time on earth.
5. Jesus said He went to the Father the day He died (Luke 23:46).
6. Jesus promised the repentant thief that he would be with Him in paradise the very day he died (Luke 23:43).
7. Paul said it was far better to die and be with Christ (Phil. 1:23).
8. Paul affirmed that when we are “absent from the body” then “we are present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
9. The writer of Hebrews refers to heaven as a place where “the spirits of just men [are] made perfect” (Heb. 12:23).
10. The “souls” of those martyred during the tribulation were conscious in heaven, singing and praying to God (Rev. 6:9).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.