Soul sleep

Soul sleep

In Christian theology, soul sleep is a belief that the soul sleeps unconsciously between the death of the body and its resurrection on Judgment Day. Soul sleep is also known as psychopannychism (from Greek "psyche" (soul, mind) + "pannuchizein" (to last the night)).

A similar belief is thnetopsychism (from Greek "thnetos" (mortal) + "psyche" (soul, mind)), the view that the soul dies with the body to be recalled to life at the resurrection of the dead, or that the soul is not separate from the body and so there is no "spiritual" self to survive bodily death.

In both cases, the deceased does not begin to enjoy a reward or suffer a punishment until Judgment Day.

The more common Christian belief about the intermediate state between death and Judgment Day is particular judgment, that the soul is judged at death. In Roman Catholicism, the soul is judged to go to heaven or hell immediately after death, a belief also held by most Protestants. In Catholicism some temporarily stay in purgatory to be purified for heaven. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the soul waits in the abode of the dead until the resurrection of the dead, the saved resting in light and the damned suffering in darkness. ["Because some have a prevision of the glory to come and others foretaste their suffering, the state of waiting is called 'Particular Judgment'" ( [ What Are the Differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism?] , 11] This Eastern Orthodox picture of particular judgment is similar to the 1st-century Jewish and early Christian ["Several places in the New Testament we clearly find the notion that the dead are conscious, dwelling somewhere in the heavenly realms beyond, and awaiting, either in torment or comfort, the final judgment (Luke 16:19-31, 23:43; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 4:6; Rev. 6:9-1 l; 7:9-12)." James Tabor [] ] concept that the dead either "rest in peace" in the Bosom of Abraham or suffer in Gehenna. This view was also promoted by John Calvin in his treatise attacking soul sleep.

Soul sleep was promoted by some Reformation as well as some minor Protestant denominations.


Famous historical psychopannychites and thnetopsychists have included:
*William Tyndale (1484-1536), English Bible translator
** "And ye, in putting them [the departed souls] in heaven, hell and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection...And again, if the souls be in heaven, tell me why they be not in as good a case as the angels be ? And then what cause is there of the resurrection ?" - William Tyndale, "An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue" (1530)
*Martin Luther (1493-1546), German reformer and Bible translator
**"Salomon judgeth that the dead are a sleepe, and feele nothing at all. For the dead lye there accompting neyther dayes nor yeares, but when they are awoken, they shall seeme to haue slept scarce one minute." - Martin Luther, "An Exposition of Salomon's Booke, called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher" (translation 1573)
**"It is certain that to this day Abraham is serving God, just as Abel, Noah are serving God. And this we should carefully note; for it is divine truth that Abraham is living, serving God, and ruling with Him. But what sort of life that may be, whether he is asleep or awake, is another question. How the soul is resting we are not to know, but it is certain that it is living." [Quoted in E.M. Plass, "What Luther Says", Vol. 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950. p. 385 and [ Harold A. Schewe: "What Happens to the Soul after Death?"] ]
**"But the soul does not sleep in the same manner (like a person on earth.) It is awake. It experiences visions and the discourses of the angels and of God. Therefore the sleep in the future life is deeper than it is in this life. Nevertheless, the soul lives before God." [J Pelikan, ed., "Luther’s Works", Vol. 4. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964. p. 313. Cf. [ Harold A. Schewe: "What Happens to the Soul after Death?"] ]
*John Milton (1608-1674), English poet and Latin secretary to Oliver Cromwell
** "Inasmuch then as the whole man is uniformly said to consist of body, and soul (whatever may be the distinct provinces assigned to these divisions), I will show, that in death, first, the whole man, and secondly, each component part, suffers privation of life...The grave is the common guardian of all till the day of judgment." - John Milton, "De Doctrina Christiana" (never published)

*Isaac Newton (1642-1727), English polymath

Present-day defenders of these doctrines include the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, the Church of God (Seventh Day), the Church of God Abrahamic Faith, and various other Church of God organizations including most Related Denominations which adhered to the older teachings of the Worldwide Church of God.


Opponents of psychopannychism and thnetopsychism include the Roman Catholic Church, most mainline Protestant denominations, and some conservative Protestants, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists. The Roman Catholic Church has called soul "mortality" a serious heresy:

"Whereas some have dared to assert concerning the nature of the reasonable soul that it is mortal, we, with the approbation of the sacred council do condemn and reprobate all those who assert that the intellectual soul is mortal, seeing, according to the canon of Pope Clement V, that the soul is [...] immortal [...] and we decree that all who adhere to like erroneous assertions shall be shunned and punished as heretics." Fifth Council of the Lateran (1513)

Calvinism and Eastern Orthodoxy both affirm a conscious interim state, and both deny that the interim state of rest or suffering is the final state of 'heaven' or 'hell'.
*John Calvin
** "As long as (the soul) is in the body it exerts its own powers; but when it quits this prison-house it returns to God, whose presence, it meanwhile enjoys while it rests in the hope of a blessed Resurrection. This rest is its paradise. On the other hand, the spirit of the reprobate, while it waits for the dreadful judgment, is tortured by that anticipation. . ."

Contemporary opponents include Millard Erickson. [Millard Erickson, "Christian Theology" 2nd edn. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1183]

upporting Bible verses

Supporters of these doctrines claim that biblical support is given by both the Old and New Testaments:
*Genesis 3:19. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou returnest unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

*2 Samuel 7:12 "And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom."

*Job 3:17. "There [the grave] the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest."

*Job 7:21 "And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be."

*Psalms 6:5. "For in death there is no remembrance of thee:in the grave who shall give thee thanks?"

*Psalm 13:3 "Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;"

*Psalm 90:5 "You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-"

*Psalms 146:3-4. "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whome there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."

*Ecclesiastes 3:19-20. "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust and all turn to dust again."

*Ecclesiastes 9:4-6,10. "For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing [....] Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished [...] Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."

*Isaiah 14:18 "All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, everyone in his own house."

*Daniel 12:2 "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."

*Daniel 12:13 "But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."

*Luke 8:52, 53 "Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. 'Stop wailing,' Jesus said. 'She is not dead but asleep.' They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead."

*John 3:5, 6 "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

*John 11:11-14. "These things said he [Jesus] : and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead."

*John 14:3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] ye may be also."

*John 20:17. "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."

*Acts 2:34 "For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand".

*Acts 13:36 "For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption."

*1 Corinthians 15:16-50 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished [....] If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die. […] So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: [....] And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

*1 Corinthians 15:51, 52 "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."

*2 Corinthians 4:7-5:4 "For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake [....] Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you [....] For which cause we faint not [...] While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."

*Ephesians 5:14 "...for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: 'Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'"

*1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first".

*2 Peter 3:4 " [...] for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."

*Revelation 20:4 "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Controversial Bible verses

*Genesis 35:18 "And it came to pass, as her soul ("nephesh" [ [ NETBible: Strong - 05315 ] ] ) was in departing [or "As she breathed her last," [] .] , (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin." (This verse was used until Gesenius' time [c. 1850] as a proof that "nephesh" could also mean the immaterial part of man that survives after the death of the body. However, since the time of Brown, Driver and Briggs [c. 1900] , this opinion has been abandoned among the scholars, as it evident by a comparison of the modern Hebrew lexicons and the modern Bible tranlsations, which render "nephesh" as "breath" or "life". That is why the "New Bible Dictionary" states: "Usually the nepheš is regarded as departing at death (e.g. Gn. 35:18), but the word is never used for the spirit of the dead" [Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. 1996, c1982, c1962. "New Bible Dictionary". InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, p. 1124.] . The current scholarly opinion of the verse is reflected by the comments of "The KJV Bible Commentary:" "The phrase as her soul was in departing does not indicate that the soul was considered a separate entity from the body, with an existence of its own, but only that the life was departing" [Edward E. Hindson, Woodrow Michael Kroll. 1997, c1988. "The KJV Bible Commentary". Thomas Nelson: Nashville, p. 88.] .)

*Ecclesiastes 12:5-7 "Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit (literally "wind" [The Hebrew word ruach means "wind," the breath of life that God breathed into Adam's nostrils. At death, this vital principle returns to its source. [] ] ) shall return unto God who gave it." (This verse is also not believed by many modern scholars to refer to an immortal soul. ["The note of death continues. The process described here is the reversal of Gen 2:7. The end of life is the dissolution (not annihilation; the Israelites never speculated how the “I” was in Sheol; cf. Eccl 9:10). Humans return to the dust (Gen 3:19) whence they came, while the life-breath given by God returns to its original possessor. This is a picture of dissolution, not of immortality, as if there were a reditus animae ad Deum, “the return of the soul to God.” There is no question of the “soul” here, but of the life-breath, a totally different category of thought. Hence there is no reason to deny this verse to Qoheleth. K. Galling, A. Lauha, and others argue that it must belong to a glossator because it contradicts 3:21, where Qoheleth denies the affirmation that the human רוּחַ rûah goes upward in contradistinction to the רוּחַ rûahi of animals. But the context of 3:21 is polemical. Some assert there is a difference between life-breath in humans and animals; Qoheleth’s query (“who knows?”) denies any qualitative difference. But he certainly shares with the rest of the OT that God is the owner and donor of life, i.e., the life-breath (Ps 104:29–30; Job 33:4; 34:15; see also Sir 40:11b, Hebrew text)". (Murphy, R. 2002. "Word Biblical Commentary: Ecclesiates." Word, Incorporated: Dallas. 23:120). Similarly the "Oxford Bible Commentary" says: "In any case, v. 7 certainly concerns death, and seems to have in mind the ideas of Gen 2:7 and 3:19. The breath here is not a ‘spirit’, but the animating breath lent to humans for the duration of their lifetime".—Barton, J., & Muddiman, J. 2001. "Oxford Bible commentary." Oxford University Press: New York.] )

*Matthew 22:23-33. "The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine."

*Luke 16:19-31. "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."

*Luke 23:43. "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." The placement of the comma, however, not indicated in the Greek, can totally alter the meaning of this text. Hence: "I say unto thee today, you shall be with Me in paradise." [In Jewish tradition paradise was a place the just went to immediately after death, for example: "if thou acceptest God's judgment, by to-morrow thou wilt be united with me in Paradise" [ Samuel and Saul "The Legends of the Jews"] ] ["The Rabbis refer to the grave's "good department" as 'paradise', in other words, the Garden of Eden." [ "The Lord's Holy Communion" interpreted with rabinnical thought] ]

*Acts 7:59. "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

*2 Corinthians 5:1-10. "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."

*Philippians 1:21-25. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;"

*1 Peter 3:18-20. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water." [Cited by James Tabor [] ]

*Revelation 6:9-11.“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”(ESV)

Historical-critical view

Historians using the historical-critical method analyze the Bible the same way they would analyze any other ancient religious text. These scholars often link the doctrine of soul sleep to the ancient Hebrew concept of sheol. According to these scholars, the ancient Hebrews did not have the concept of an immortal soul. This is, for example, why the book of Job never mentions that Job will receive rewards for his faithfulness in the afterlife. Any reference to the dead being rewarded or punished refers to a physical resurrection instead of to a spiritual life after death. The concept of the dead enjoying a reward or suffering a punishment after death doesn't appear until the Pharisaic tradition of Second Temple period, which in turn influenced Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.


Recommended resources

* cite book
last = Bultmann
first = Rudolf
authorlink = Rudolf Bultmann
title = Theologie des Neuen Testaments
publisher = Mohr
date = 1953
location = Tübingen
language = German
pages = 189–249
url =
doi =
isbn =
(English translation "Theology of the New Testament" 2 vols, London: SCM, 1952, 1955). The leading scholarly reference supporting a holistic anthropology (similar to soul sleep)
* cite book
last = Jewitt
first = R.
authorlink =
title = Paul's Anthropological Terms
publisher = Brill
date = 1971
location = Leiden
url =
doi =
isbn =

* cite book
last = Kümmel
first = W. G.
authorlink =
title = Das Bild des Menschen im Neuen Testament
publisher = Zwingli
date = 1948
location = Zürich
language = German
url =
doi =
isbn =
(English translation "Man in the NT". London: Epworth, 1963)
* cite book
last = Ladd
first = George Eldon
authorlink = George Eldon Ladd
title = A Theology of the New Testament
publisher = Eerdmans
date = 1974
location = Grand Rapids, MI
pages = 457-78
url =
doi =
isbn =

* cite book
last = Cullmann
first = Oscar
authorlink = Oscar Cullmann
title = Immortality of the soul or resurrection of the dead?: the witness of the New Testament
publisher =
date =
location =
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
More readable; supports holistic anthropology
* cite book
last = Burns
first = Norman T.
title = Christian Mortalism From Tyndale to Milton
publisher = Harvard
date = 1972
location = USA
isbn = 0674128753
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
Covers all major strands of psychopannychism and thnetopsychism in English Reformation and Revolution.


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