Friday, July 7, 2017

Soul Sleep: An Unbiblical Doctrine [Pt. 3]

[Continued from Pts. 1 & 2]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ 2. Literal Sleep

In order to avoid circularity and arbitrariness when discussing literal sleep, we must examine the Scriptures’ various statements about sleep, about its affect on men, and how it stands in contrast to the state of not-sleeping. The need for doing so becomes evident in light of the fact that during literal sleep the phenomena of dreams in general, and lucid dreams in particular, reveal sleep to not be a state of absolute unconsciousness but limited consciousness. Specifically, the phenomena of dreams, and especially lucid dreams, indicates that in sleep, externally directed consciousness (EDC) is largely suspended while internally directed consciousness (IDC) persists. Modern studies on sleep, in fact, have found that it is not the case that “the mind…truly ceases activity during [literal] sleep.”[1]

A. Internally Directed Consciousness 
in The Old & New Testaments

Unsurprisingly, the infallible Scriptures present literal sleep in the same manner, viz. as being a state in which men lack EDC but not IDC. In the first recorded instance of sleep, for example, we learn that “the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.”[2] Adam is clearly depicted as lacking EDC. While in the second recorded instance of sleep, we learn that
…a deep sleep fell on Abram…Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.”[3]
Abram received direct revelation from God during his sleeping state, indicating that while he lacked EDC he did not lack IDC. The same is true of Abimelech, to whom “God came…in a dream,”[4] and with whom he discussed the penalty for daring to touch Abram’s wife.[5] Likewise, upon falling asleep, Abram’s descendant Jacob
…dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”[6]
Jacob was spoken to by God in his sleep, indicating again that his sleep was not a state of absolute unconsciousness but one in which IDC persisted, whereas EDC came to a halt. Additionally, the patriarch reveals in Gen 31:4-13 that his earlier actions in Gen 30:25-43 were acts of obedience to God, who had communicated to him in a dream. And as Abimelech had earlier been warned by God in a dream, so in Gen 31:22-29 Laban is warned by the Lord in a dream. And, finally, we later find that God communicated with Joseph,[7] the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker,[8] and the Pharaoh[9] as well in dreams. These individuals all retained the memory of what they had dreamed, indicating that they were conscious of what was occurring in their minds, although they were likely oblivious to their external conditions. The same is true of Joseph who, after seeing his brothers for the first time in many years, “remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them.”[10]

In fact, the Lord spoke through dreams very frequently in the OT, revealing that he communicates with his prophets via dreams in Numbers 12:6. This was common enough, it seems, that the Lord established a means of testing the authenticity of a prophetic utterance in the event that “a prophet or a dreamer of dreams [arose] among [the Israelites].”[11] This is later implied in 1st Samuel 28:6, where we learn that “when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him…by dreams.”[12] And it is explicitly shown in the Lord’s direct communication with king Solomon,[13] Jeremiah,[14] Daniel,[15] Joseph [Mary’s husband][16] and many in the early church.[17]

Noting the prevalence of God’s communication with his people in dreams in the OT, James G. S. S. Thomson states:
…for the Old Testament prophets dreaming and seeing in visions were forms of thinking….The prophet’s mind in the moment of insight or revelation was in a state of activity. His whole mind was engaged.[18]
While “the sleeper is closed against the outer world,”[19] therefore, it nonetheless remains the case that “the spirit that is active in the waking consciousness, is also active in the dream consciousness.”[20] And the reality of continued internally direct consciousness during sleep is attested to among all men, not merely the prophets. The Midianite who relays his dream to another in Judges 7:13-15 testifies to having IDC while sleeping, as do Solomon,[21] the Bride in Song of Solomon 5:2, hungry and thirsty sleepers,[22] men in general,[23] Job,[24] the writer of Psalm 126,[25] king Nebuchadnezzar,[26] the false prophets during Israel’s exile,[27] Pontius Pilate’s wife,[28] and false prophets in the last days.[29]

B. Memory and the IDC of Literal Sleep

Although IDC is present in sleepers, the Scriptures, and our own experiences, testify to the fact that we may remember having dreamt without remembering the content of our dreams. Nebuchadnezzar likely falls into the category of those who forgotten the content of their dream but not forgotten that they have dreamed, although there are some contestations to the contrary.[30] there are other indications in Scripture that the content of dreams is sometimes forgotten altogether upon one’s waking up. This is communicated by drawing attention to the ephemerality of dreams. For instance, Asaph writes:
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as a phantom.[31]
And, similarly, Moses writes:
You sweep [the children of men] away as with a flood;
they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.[32]
Job’s companion Zophar likewise likens the wicked to “a vision [i.e. dream] in the night,”[33] when speaking of their ephemerality. Isaiah also uses “dreams” to underscore ephemerality in Isaiah 29:7. 

Thus, contrary to the opinion of contemporary advocates and critics of SS, in literal sleep externally directed consciousness comes to a halt, but internally directed consciousness does not. IDC is found among all sleepers, moreover, not merely the prophets or those whose dreams have prophetic significance, further indicating that this is a universal phenomenon and not a special experience limited to a narrow class of persons. Finally, one may lack remembrance of the content of his dream (i.e. the content of his IDC during sleep), but seeing as Scripture draws attention to the fleeting nature of dreams, this indicates that a lack of remembrance of IDC during sleep does not necessarily indicate that one is absolutely unconscious during sleep. Scripturally, therefore, those who sleep have IDC; sleepers do not absolutely lack consciousness.


[1] Thorpy, Michael Yager, J. Jan. “Psychology and Sleep: The Interdependence of Sleep and Waking States,” in The Encyclopedia of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Second Edition, (New York: Facts on File, 2001), xxxi. (emphasis added)
[2] Gen 2:21.
[3] Gen 15:12-13.
[4] Gen 20:3a.
[5] Gen 20:3b-7.
[6] Gen 28:12-16.
[7] cf. Gen 37:1-11.
[8] cf. Gen 40.
[9] cf. Gen 41.
[10] Gen 42:9.
[11] Deut 13:1, 3, 5.
[12] cf. 1st Sam 28:15.
[13] cf. 1st Kgs 3:5 & 15.
[14] Jer 30:1-31:26.
[15] Dan 7:1.
[16] Matt 1:20; 2:12, 13,19, & 22.
[17] Acts 2:17. cf. Joel 2:28.
[18] “Sleep: An Aspect of Jewish Anthropology,” in Vetus Testamentum Vol. 5 (October, 1955), 432. (emphasis added)
[19] Thomson, Sleep: An Aspect, 423.
[20] Thomson, Sleep: An Aspect, 431.
[21] Ecc 5:7.
[22] See Isa 29:8.
[23] cf. Job 4:12-14 & 33:14-16.
[24] Job 7:13-15.
[25] cf. Ps 126:1-3.
[26] Dan 2 & 4.
[27] Jer 23, 27:9, & 29:8; Zec 10:2.
[28] Matt 27:19.
[29] Jud 1:8.
[30] See Regalado, Fernando O. “The Meaning of and אֲזַד Its Implications for Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream,” in DavarLogos 4.1 (2005), 17-37.
[31] Ps 73:20.
[32] Ps 90:5-6.
[33] Job 20:8.