Does the Bible teach about “soul sleep”?

JWs and Seventh-Day Adventists believe that when a person dies, his soul doesn’t immediately go to heaven or hell, but “sleeps” in the grave awaiting the resurrection.

While the Bible doesn’t contain the term “soul sleep”, it does use the term “sleep” to describe death. Is the Bible teaching that once a person dies, he is no longer conscious until the time he is resurrected again?

JWs quote the following verses to support their teaching.

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they no longer have any share in what is done under the sun.

These verses are talking about what happens “under the sun” (i.e. “on earth”). After a person dies, he no longer knows anything, has any more memories or feelings or further reward or share of anything on earth. These verses do not refer to the afterlife. If these verses refer to the soul, as JWs claim, then even JWs won’t have their reward or paradise on earth.

According to JWs, man and animals are the same as all return to dust.

Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 for there is an outcome for humans and an outcome for animals; they all have the same outcome. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit. So man has no superiority over animals, for everything is futile. All are going to the same place. They all come from the dust, and they all are returning to the dust.

One only needs to look at the verse immediately following to know that man and animals are not the same.

Ecclesiastes 3:21 Who really knows whether the spirit of humans ascends upward, and whether the spirit of animals descends down to the earth?

JWs teach that the same day a man dies and returns to the ground, his thoughts perish. This proves that there is no conscious existence.

Ps 146:4 His spirit goes out, he returns to the ground; On that very day his thoughts perish.

The word “thoughts” is not referring to conscious thought. It refers to “purposes” or “plans”. This same idea is taught in the verse below.

Isa 55:7 Let the wicked man leave his way And the evil man his thoughts; Let him return to Jehovah, who will have mercy on him, To our God, for he will forgive in a large way.

JWs also use the following verses to teach about “soul sleep”.

Job 14:10-12 But a man dies and lies powerless; When a human expires, where is he? Waters disappear from the sea, And a river drains away and dries up. Man also lies down and does not get up. Until heaven is no more, they will not wake up, Nor will they be aroused from their sleep.

The verses above talk about the body going to sleep (i.e. die) and never getting up again until the resurrection of the dead. The “man” referred to is the physical body (and not the soul) as the verse says a man “lies powerless”.

Revelation 6:9-10 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness they had given. They shouted with a loud voice, saying: “Until when, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

The “souls of those who had been slain” are still conscious.

JWs claim that it is the devil that teaches immortality of the soul.

Genesis 3:4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.

The penalty for sin was physical death. In that same day Adam sinned, he died physically. One day is 1000 years.
Christians agree that humans die physically. But the other verses show that the soul is still conscious after death.

In Luke 23:43, Jesus told the criminal beside Him that he will be paradise together with Him that same day.

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (King James Version)

And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. (American Standard Version)

and he said to him “I tell you verily, today you shall be with me in Paradise.” (The Bible in living English)

To avoid this clear teaching, JWs have translated this verse in their New World Translation as follows.

Luke 23:43 And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” (New World Translation)

The New World Translation puts the comma after “today” as they do not believe that the criminal will be in paradise the same day. They argue that the Greek text does not contain a comma. Therefore it is up to one’s interpretation of the text. However in the other seventy three verses where the words “I tell you the truth” appears, it is always followed by a comma. Lk 23:43 is the only exception. Jesus use these words when he was about to say something very important or hard to understand. Also, why would Jesus say “Today I tell you…”.Isn’t that understood if He is already speaking.

Questions JWs should ask themselves:

Why do the other three versions approved by Watchtower and listed on their website, along with most other translations, put the comma before “today”?

What is the purpose of Jesus saying to the criminal that he is saying those things today? Would the criminal think that those words which he hears Jesus speaking were only spoken tomorrow?