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The Consciousness of the Soul After Death

Is the soul conscious after death? This is not a new question. For centuries there have been certain religionists who have contended that the soul existed after death but that it was not conscious. Upon investigation, some of you may be surprised to know of the wide-spread belief in the teaching of the sleeping of the soul. Because of the universal interest in the whereabouts of the dead, false sects prey upon the public, claiming complete knowledge of the subject. Such groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses, spiritualists and others have spread the sophistical conclusion that at death the body returns to dust and the soul becomes unconscious.

Such statements as the following are but a few of the distortions and perversions of the Holy Scriptures that have to do with the soul after death. “At death, it is not the body but the soul which dies.” “The interim from death until the soul is resurrected is one of unconsciousness.” “Even the apostles were unconscious for centuries.” These assertions are being made by the advocates of the teachings of Russell and Rutherford, but they are the views of the men themselves, imposed upon the Holy Scriptures. These ideas were read into the Bible, but were never in the mind of the inspired writers.

Man Is Created to Endless Existence 

Every human being enters the world possessed with endless existence. It is true that at death the soul is separated from the body. It is not consistent with the teaching of the Bible to say that at death the soul lapses into a state of complete unconsciousness or even into a deep sleep. If at first glance it would seem that the Bible teaches this, then we will do well to examine those passages where death is referred to as sleep. The few texts that mendacious scholars have dislodged from their context in order to prove that physical death is the cessation of all consciousness can be easily and understandingly explained when interpreted in the light of the many other passages that deal with this subject.

In Ecclesiastes we read “The dead know not anything” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Certainly we all agree that a dead and deteriorating body has absolutely no consciousness of anything past, present, or future. But are the advocates of “soul-sleep” justified in using the above text as evidence of the unconscious state of the soul after death? We believe that this method using a text to support a false theory that elsewhere is denied in Scripture, proves that those who stoop to such methods either are untruthful or deficient. Those who teach “soul-sleep” will find it quite difficult to harmonize their views with other statements that are made by the same writer of Ecclesiastes:

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

All go unto one place; for all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again (Ecclesiastes 3:20).

Now we know that this verse is speaking of the body, for in the next verse we read:

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward? (Ecclesiastes 3:21).

Only Man’s Body Dies (or sleeps)

In Scripture we read that man sleeps, but the sleep always is identified with the body. Never once does the Bible refer to the soul sleeping. Where some fall into danger is in identifying man merely with his body and in ignoring the fact that he is a triune being. Man is a trinity; body, soul and spirit. Now the body is not the whole man. Therefore it cannot be concluded that the death of the body is the death of the whole man.

Another misconstrued verse is found in the prophecy of Daniel where we read:

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 12:2).

Some scholars question whether this verse has anything to do with physical resurrection. Dr. A. C. Gaebelein in his commentary on Daniel says that if physical resurrection were taught in this verse, the passage would clash with the revelation concerning resurrection in the New Testament, for there is no general resurrection for the righteous and wicked together. “We repeat the passage has nothing to do with physical resurrection. Physical resurrection is, however, used as a figure of the national revival of Israel in that day. They have been sleeping nationally in the dust of the earth, buried among the Gentiles. But at that time there will take place a national restoration, a bringing together of the house of Judah and of Israel. 

It is the same figure as used in the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. This vision is employed by men who have invented the theory of a second chance and larger hope for the wicked dead to back up their evil teaching; but anyone can see that it is not a bodily resurrection, but a national revival and restoration of that people. Their national graves, not literal burying places, will be opened and the Lord will bring them forth out of all the countries into which they have been scattered. The same distinction holds good which we have already pointed out. The great mass of Jews, who cast their belief in God and His Word to the winds, who accepted the man of sin and acknowledged the wicked King, will face everlasting contempt, but the remnant will possess all things promised to them and become the heirs of that Kingdom, which is prepared from the foundation of the world. And besides the national blessing which they receive, they will be in possession of everlasting life, for they are born again.” We have given this rather lengthy quotation for the reason that some readers may not be acquainted with this view.

However, even if the above interpretation of verse two is not correct, but a physical resurrection is intended, certainly Daniel would not be referring to anything except the resurrection of the body. We are not to conclude for his body.