Saturday, September 2, 2017

Soul Sleep: An Unbiblical Doctrine [Pt. 6]

[This study is available for purchase as an ebook or a paperback on]
[Continued from Pts. 123, 4, & 5.]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ 3. Non-Death Sleep Metaphors

In this last section, we will examine the non-death metaphorical usages of death in the Scriptures. The first of these appears in Psalm 76:5, where Asaph states:
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;they sank into sleep;all the men of warwere unable to use their hands.
Asaph uses the imagery of literal sleep, wherein the sleeper lacks motivity and EDC, to communicate how God’s enemies were rendered immobile by the Lord.

Similarly, in Isaiah 29:10 the prophet declares:
For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers).
“‘Deep sleep,’” notes Willem A.M. Beuken, “…suggests that every form of observation and activity has been interrupted, even the primitive urge to preserve one's own life.”[1] The associated images of “closed eyes” and “covered heads” indicates that “deep sleep” is a metaphor for a state of spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness, then, is symbolized by a lack of externally directed consciousness. Isaiah repeats this metaphor in 56:10 writing:
His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.
Here the emphasis on insensibility is clear, underscoring yet again that those who sleep lack EDC. Sleepers are blind, without knowledge (of the external world), silent, immobile (i.e. lying down) — slumbering.

In contrast to Isaiah’s use of sleep, Ezekiel 34:25 prophesies a time when the lack of EDC is no longer threat, for the Lord God promises his people that he
“…will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.”
Whereas lacking EDC normally makes one vulnerable to animal and human threats to one’s well-being and life, the Lord’s covenant of peace makes the lack of EDC during sleep, even in the midst of animals which would otherwise be considered a danger to one’s life, a blessing, nothing to fear.

Nahum uses the metaphor of non-death sleep in the same way that Isaiah does, in Nahum 3:17-18 declaring:
Your princes are like grasshoppers, your scribes like clouds of locusts settling on the fences in a day of cold—when the sun rises, they fly away; no one knows where they are. 
Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria;your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them.[2]
These metaphorical uses of sleep are not death-related, but like death-related metaphorical uses of sleep depend upon the sleeper’s lack of EDC for their strength as metaphors.

We see this same use continued in the New Testament, beginning with the Lord Jesus’ warning in Mark 13:33-37 —
Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”[3]
Christ here contrasts the state of sleeping with that of keeping awake. The former is a state of unawareness, the latter is a state of vigilance. Literally sleeping when one should be carefully tending to his crops or other material responsibilities, a theme repeated in the book of Proverbs more than once and insinuating spiritual truth,[4] is here given a completely spiritual meaning. Those who are asleep are unaware of what is occurring around them, i.e. the sleeping lack EDC.

Paul uses this metaphor in his epistle to the Romans, where he commands the church:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.[5]
Note the similarities between the apostle’s and Christ’s non-death metaphorical use of sleep. They both have reference to the eschaton, living in light of the truth that Christ will judge all men justly when he returns, and urge Christians to not live as the world does, specifically referencing drunkenness and quarrelling among the visible professors of faith in Christ. The metaphorical use is identical. Christians are not to live as though unaware of the truth that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, that he will divide between his people and those who profess to be his people but are actually hypocritical usurpers.

The apostle Paul repeats this message in Ephesians 5:1-20, reminding the church that “everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”[6] Those who are within the church not “become partners” with the children of darkness in their sinful deeds, seeing as we are now children of light.[7] We are to “awake,”[8] as the apostle says in Romans 13 as well, in light of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul declares:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.[9]
Moreover, Paul specifically identifies drunkenness as a sin which Christians must avoid as well, following the words of Christ earlier examined. And he repeats this same teaching in 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11, urging the church to not “sleep, as others do, but let…keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.[10] The contrast is between unawareness and vigilance, the former being signified by sleep.

Lastly, the apostle Peter states that the destruction of the wicked “is not asleep,”[11] i.e. God is ignorant of the ways of the wicked and the judgment they deserve.

Conclusion & Concluding Remarks

Having examined many, if not all, of the instances of literal sleep in the Scripture,[12] we must conclude that a Scripturally informed understanding of literal sleep in no way supports the doctrine of Soul Sleep. Sleepers in the Bible are consistently described as possessing internally directed consciousness, while at the same time lacking externally directed consciousness. If our understanding of the sleep euphemism for death were to be based on the Scriptures’ representation of literal sleep, in other words, it would necessarily entail belief in (i.)the inactivity of the dead body corresponding to the inactivity of the sleeping body, (ii.)the lack of awareness of what is occurring external to the dead body corresponding to a lack of awareness of what is occurring external to the sleeping body, (iii.)ongoing consciousness of one’s self, thoughts, ethical commitments, guilt, innocence, relationship to God of the soul separated from the body in death corresponding to the ongoing consciousness of the soul united to the body in sleep.

Holding to a literal understanding of the imagery of sleep, therefore, would draw emphasis to the distinct substances of body and soul. As Tertullian writes:
…as Adam was a figure of Christ, Adam’s sleep shadowed out the death of Christ, who was to sleep a mortal slumber, that from the wound inflicted on His side might, in like manner (as Eve was formed), be typified the church, the true mother of the living. This is why sleep is so salutary, so rational, and is actually formed into the model of that death which is general and common to the race of man. God, indeed, has willed (and it may be said in passing that He has generally, in His dispensations brought nothing to pass without such types and shadows) to set before us, in a manner more fully and completely than Plato's example, by daily recurrence the outlines of man's state, especially concerning the beginning and the termination thereof; thus stretching out the hand to help our faith more readily by types and parables, not in words only, but also in things. 
He accordingly sets before your view the human body stricken by the friendly power of slumber, strated by the kindly necessity of repose immoveable in position, just as it lay previous to life, and just as it will lie after life is past: there it lies as an attestation of its form when first moulded, and of its condition when at last buried— awaiting the soul in both stages, in the former previous to its bestowal, in the latter after its recent withdrawal. Meanwhile the soul is circumstanced in such a manner as to seem to be elsewhere active, learning to bear future absence by a dissembling of its presence for the moment. We shall soon know the case of Hermotimus. But yet it dreams in the interval.  
Whence then its dreams? The fact is, it cannot rest or be idle altogether, nor does it confine to the still hours of sleep the nature of its immortality. It proves itself to possess a constant motion; it travels over land and sea, it trades, it is excited, it labours, it plays, it grieves, it rejoices, it follows pursuits lawful and unlawful; it shows what very great power it has even without the body, how well equipped it is with members of its own, although betraying at the same time the need it has of impressing on some body its activity again. Accordingly, when the body shakes off its slumber, it asserts before your eye the resurrection of the dead by its own resumption of its natural functions. Such, therefore, must be both the natural reason and the reasonable nature of sleep. If you only regard it as the image of death, you initiate faith, you nourish hope, you learn both how to die and how to live, you learn watchfulness, even while you sleep.[13]
Tertullian’s understanding of literal sleep, although in part derived from “common-sense” observations and not Scripture alone, is in line with the findings of our study. Literal sleep is not a state of absolute unconsciousness, but one of limited consciousness in which the sleeper lacks externally directed consciousness but retains internally directed consciousness. Any understanding of the sleep euphemism for death that claims to be based on “the literal interpretation of the imagery of death,” therefore, must reject absolute unconsciousness as the relevant point of comparison between these two phenomena.
[1] Historical Commentary on the Old Testament: Isaiah II/Volume 2, trans. Dr. Brian Doyle (Belgium: Peeters, 2000), 94.
[2] Emphasis added.
[3] Emphasis added.
[4] cf. Prov 6:9-10; 24:30-34.
[5] Rom 13:11-14. (emphasis added)
[6] Eph 5:5.
[7] Eph 5:7-8.
[8] Eph 5:14.
[9] Eph 5:15-16.
[10] 1st Thess 5:6. (emphasis added)
[11] 2nd Peter 2:3.
[12] Thomas McAlpine’s Sleep, Divine and Human, in the Old Testament suggests that there are many other implied instances of literal sleep in the Old Testament. These instances of implied sleep, however, bear the same characteristics as what we have already demonstrated, viz. Literal sleep entails a lack of EDC, but the possession of IDC.
[13] “A Treatise on the Soul,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 3, ed. Phillip Schaff. Christian Classics Etheral Library,, Accessed August 5, 2017. (emphasis added)