Thursday, September 11, 2008

What Do the Proof Texts Prove?


There are a number of scriptures used to support the teaching of soul sleep by conditionalists and other advocates. Those proof texts will be explored in this chapter. To be clear about what we are discussing, we will review the definitions of conditional immortality, annihilation and soul sleep.

Soul sleep is the belief that when one dies, the body decays and without the body the spirit ceases to exist except in the memory of God. At death the spirits of the saved and the lost are nonexistent until the resurrection. The spirit is believed by both SDA’s and JW’s to be simply animating breath or a spark of life from God - a little like holy CPR.

Conditional immortality is the belief that only those who are saved will be granted immortality at the time of resurrection. Before that time, no part of them is immortal; immortality is conferred on the redeemed by God at the resurrection, but never to the lost.

Annihilation is the related belief that the wicked will be utterly destroyed and their souls will cease to exist. The original doctrine of annihilation included the belief that humans are innately immortal, so after the judgment God, would exterminate them as a punishment for rejecting Him. Seventh-day Adventists teach that this will happen after they are resurrected to receive judgment at the Great White Throne. Their punishment will consist of being thrown, along with Satan and his angels, into the lake of fire where they will all be burned up completely. They do not believe in the innate immortality of the soul. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that there is no resurrection for the wicked and that when they die, they will be as if they had never been. In their version, there is no later judgment or punishment. Both groups agree that the wicked will cease to exist for the remainder of eternity. With that as background, we will investigate the scriptures used to support those conclusions.
Ecclesiastes 9:5

“For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten.” Eccl 9:5 (NASB)


This is probably the most often quoted text to support soul sleep. Most Adventists could quote this without even having to look it up. The problem is that the statements before and after the quoted portion is left out, leaving the impression that it says that the dead are unconscious. Let’s put the text into context with the rest written around it to see what Solomon was actually trying to say. Be patient, it takes longer to do it right. It does pay off, however, in more complete understanding. We will begin in verse three and go straight thru to verse nine, making comments as we go. Here is what Solomon really said.

“It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men.” Eccl 9:2 & 3

The books of Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Job, while they contain varying amounts of prophetic information and insights into God, are not generally considered to be strong sources from which to draw doctrinal elements. They are called Wisdom Literature, though at times one wonders. Ecclesiastes is particularly problematic in that regard. If Ecclesiastes were used to form doctrine, we would have a very bleak view of God, indeed. From Eccl. 9:2 & 3 we would have to conclude that the righteous and the wicked would ultimately end up in the same place, and in the same circumstances. Of course, the rest of the biblical record strongly refutes that assumption. Do we believe that it is hopeless - that no matter what, we will all end up with the same end game? No. Obviously the “same fate” spoken of here is death, not what happens after death. Both the good and the bad die and Solomon thinks it stinks. So, let’s go on.

“Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.” V. 3.

We would agree with this statement. We have been shown elsewhere in scripture, and in our own experiences, that all are sinful, and all die. This agrees with our conclusion that whether good or bad, all die.

“For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.” V. 4.

Ah, now we see that Solomon doesn’t know what will happen to him, or anyone else after death. This is consistent with much of the other content of the Old Testament. There is a vague, sketchy understanding of what comes next. Solomon takes a pessimistic approach that as long as he is alive he has some awareness and control. He sees very little difference between a dead lion and a dead person. So, to be alive is much preferable to dying, since, once he is dead, he won’t know what’s happening on earth. Compare that to the much greater understanding that Paul has when he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better…” Phil 1:21-23 (NASB) Do you see the difference? Solomon hasn’t had the revelation of Christ and is uncertain about the future - about what happens to him after death. Paul has seen the full plan of salvation, and faces death with eager anticipation. He’s ready to get on with it. Back to Ecclesiastes.

“For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.” v. 5-6

Now we see that Solomon is speaking in terms of what he knows and has experienced in this life (under the sun). Do the dead have a further reward after death? On the earth, no; on the other side, yes. Certainly we do not believe that there is no more reward for us after death. Then why would we pick out that one, disjointed phrase that the dead know nothing and hang on it an entire doctrine of unconscious nonexistence after death? Solomon is saying that once a person dies, there is no more earthly reward for them, Therefore they have no more share in anything that is done under the sun. It’s actually not that complicated, nor is it confusing. He says that even the memory of the lives of those who have died is lost to the world. The NRSV says it this way: “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost.” As Solomon’s reasoning continues there seems to be even more pessimism. It reminds me of the song that says, “If that’s all there is to love, then let’s go on dancing.” where the writer sees love as being a great disappointment. Solomon says, if that’s all there is to life…

“Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart…Let your clothes be white all the time, (with no washing machines!) and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” Eccl 9:2-9 (NASB)

I’m not at all sure that any of us, nor the rest of the Christian world, would want to take our cues for life primarily from Solomon - most specifically, not from Ecclesiastes. In this short little book of twelve chapters he manages to infect his readers with nearly complete doom and gloom. This is his perspective of life apart from God. You will remember that he is not our shining example in much of anything. This book was written during a time when he was not exactly moving in the fullness of intimacy with God. He was given over to depression -when Prozac was not an option. No less than fifteen times, he characterizes life as “meaningless.” Here are some of those instances:

"So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Eccl 2:17 (NIV)

“In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be over righteous, neither be over wise-- why destroy yourself?” Eccl 7:15-16 (NIV)

This attitude pervades the text we evaluated above (Eccl 9:2-9), where he again says that life is meaningless. It doesn’t matter whether you are good or bad, you are going to die anyway, so don’t strain yourself by trying to be too good. It’s a waste of energy, because you will end up in the same place as the really bad people - namely, dead. “So eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.” Now, in my opinion, that puts an end to the Ecclesiastes proof text for soul sleep. How about you? If we were going to pick out texts that harmonize with the rest of scripture in Ecclesiastes, we would be better advised to go to:

“Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets. Remember him--before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Eccl 12:5-7 (NIV)

Now that we know what the spirit is, Ecclesiastes 12:5-7 (which has been used to support the teaching of soul sleep) is blown out of the water, because it teaches exactly the opposite. It says that when a person dies the body decays and returns to dirt and the spirit goes to its eternal home, God. So, scratch that one too. Both of these “proof texts” are paper dragons with nothing to contribute to a doctrine of soul sleep.
Ezekiel 18:4, 20

“For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son--both alike belong to me. The soul (“Nephesh” not “Ruach”) who sins is the one who will die.” Ezek 18:4 (NIV)

First, let’s look at this text in a different translation and the meaning will become clear.

“As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.” Ezek 18:3-4 (NRSV)

The word Nephesh is often used in the Old Testament to denote the whole person. We use it that way today when we speak in evangelism of “saving souls.” “One hundred souls were saved today.” The translators of the NRSV understood that was the context in which this text was written. This thought is carried on later in this study, where it is made clear that the text is not referring to the future or ultimate disposition of the spirit. It speaks instead of what was to be done with the person who sins and what was to be done with their offspring. It concludes that if the son has not done the things that the father has done, he will not be executed - only the father.

“But if this man has a son who sees all the sins that his father has done, considers, and does not do likewise, who does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor's wife, does not wrong anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no advance or accrued interest, observes my ordinances, and follows my statutes; he shall not die for his father's iniquity; he shall surely live. As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, he dies for his iniquity." Eze. 18:14-18
(NRSV)

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.” Ezek 18:19 & 20 (NRSV)

Because the word Nephesh has been interpreted as soul in some translations, there has been some confusion that it is referring to the ultimate fate of the spirit. The NIV is an example of that. However, if you read more than just the one phrase, even in that translation, the meaning becomes crystal clear again.

He will not die for his father's sin; he will surely live. (He will live – the person) But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

"Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

"But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.” Ezek 18:17-21 (NIV)

Now to bring this point home and make it even clearer, let’s take a look at the origin of these rules. They come from, not surprisingly, the law of Israel. Ezekiel is acknowledging the laws of the land that children are not to be executed for the deeds of their fathers.

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” Deut 24:16 (NIV)

This is equivalent to the laws that govern our own actions. Many years later, King Amaziah of Judah used this law to decide the fate of those who had murdered his father, Joash.

“After the kingdom was firmly in his control, he executed the officials who had murdered his father the king. Yet he did not put their sons to death, but acted in accordance with what is written in the Law, in the Book of Moses, where the LORD commanded: ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins.’" 2 Chron 25:3-4 (NIV)

This seems very clear and could not be confused with a statement that suggests the spirit ceases to exist at death. Nor does it suggest at the end of time, after the resurrection of the dead, they will be annihilated. That would be totally out of context and apply a meaning that did not have anything to do with what was being said. It would also be contradictory to the teaching of the final judgment.
Proverbs 23:14

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” Prov 23:13-14 (NIV)

Once again, we have the translation of Sheol into death instead of using the word Sheol. We have demonstrated that Sheol does not mean death. The NASB, which is considered to be a much more literal translation of the Hebrew, renders Proverbs 23:14 this way:

“Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod. And rescue his soul from Sheol.” Prov 23:13-14 (NASB)

In the study on The Intermediate State, we have established that Sheol is the destination for the departed souls of the dead. Incorporating that understanding into the text in Proverbs, one can see that parents are being advised to appropriately discipline their children so that their souls will be saved for the kingdom of God. This is not speaking about annihilation.

The Amplified Bible goes on to state it more conclusively. “Withhold not discipline from the child; for if you strike and punish him with the [reedlike] rod, he will not die. You shall whip him with the rod and deliver his life from Sheol (Hades, the place of the dead).” Prov 23:13-14 (AMP) This could even be suggesting that parental discipline could keep their children from engaging in activities that might get them killed. Wiith either interpretation, it cannot be construed from this passage that the writer is saying that if parents discipline their children, even severely, they will keep them from annihilation.
Psalm 146:4

“His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalms 146:4 (KJV)

The critical examination of this scripture can easily be accomplished simply by quoting the more accurate contemporary translations.

“When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” Psalms 146:4 (NIV)

“When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.” Psalms 146:4 (NRSV)

“When his breath leaves him, he returns to his earth; in that very day his [previous] thoughts, plans, and purposes perish.” Psalms 146:4 (AMP)

This is reminiscent of issues we've covered already with respect to Ecclesiastes 12:7, where it says that the dust returns to the ground and the spirit returns to God. The idea that their plans perish would parallel the statements in Ecclesiastes 9:5, where it says that even the memory of them is lost. Once a person has died, the things he or she has done here are quickly lost sight of, and they are no longer able to exert influence on the earth - their “plans come to nothing.”
Psalm 6:4-5

“Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?” Psalms 6:4-5 (NRSV)

This is very similar to the previous text. David is asking the Lord to keep him from dying so that, for His sake, he can continue to glorify His name on Earth for others to hear.

Psalm 115:17

“The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings. The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any that go down into silence. But we will bless the LORD from this time on and forevermore. Praise the LORD!” Psalms 115:16-18 (NRSV)


In other words, from the perspective of the living, the dead are no longer able to glorify God to others on Earth. Those who are still living will continue to bless the Lord on Earth.
Psalm 88:10

“Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?” Psalms 88:10 (NIV)

In this text as in Psalm 6:5 and Psalm 117:15 the Hebrew word used for praise is yadah which always refers to public worship in congregations of people, or to public testimony. Hebrew scholar, John Gill, says of all of them, “These passages only respect praising God before men, and to the church militant, as is done by saints in the land of the living.” Body of Divinity
Psalm 9:6

“You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.” Psalms 9:5 (NIV)


This seems obvious, but it has been used to suggest permanent annihilation. It is simply stating that those who were destroyed during Israel’s conquest to inhabit the Promised Land, were destroyed, and that the wicked among them were blotted out of the book of life. They will not be in Heaven for eternity.
Genesis 3:19

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Gen 3:19 (NRSV)

It probably goes without saying that this is speaking of the body not the spirit or the life-giving breath of God because neither of those came from the ground.
Summary of What Do the Proof Texts Prove?

1) The “proof texts” used to support soul sleep come from the Old Testament before the full revelation of the resurrection, and are taken out of context.
2) Ecclesiastes 9:5: The dead are no longer aware o,f or involved with, things on Earth.
3) Ezekiel 18:4 & 20: comes from The Law of Moses that states that a son shall not be executed for the sins of his father, nor the father for the son.
4) Proverbs 23:14: Parental discipline will prevent behavior that leads to irreparable damage.
5) Psalm 146:4: When a person dies all of his or her plans come to an end.
6) Psalms 6:5, 115:17, and 88:10 all allude to the fact that if David, or someone, else died, they could no longer join in the assembly, and be heard by others as they praise and glorify God.
7) Psalm 9:6: is referring to the final disposition of salvation or damnation.
8) Genesis 3; 19: is a restatement of the fact that at death, the body returns to dust, while the spirit returns to God.
9) The great weight of evidence in scriptures teaches that after death, the spirit continues on in a conscious state.
Quiz for What Do the Proof Texts Prove?
Choose the correct answers:

1. “For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any
longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten.” Eccl 9:5 (NASB)
Choose the most accurate meaning:
A. The dead are unconscious.
B. The dead are no longer involved in anything that happens on Earth.
C. The dead are in soul sleep.
D. The dead can’t see thru all that dirt.

2. Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon during a time of apostasy:
A. Is a reliable resource on which to base doctrine
B. Proves that all life is meaningless
C. Reveals the human condition when in rebellion from God
D. Is a sure cure for depression

3. “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son--both alike belong to me. The soul (“Nephesh” not “Ruach”) who sins is the one who will die.” Ezek 18:4 (NIV)

Choose the most accurate interpretation:
A. Those who sin will be annihilated.
B. If a father sins, he will cease to exist, but his son will go to Heaven.
C. The wicked will be burned for a while, then exterminated.
D. In Jewish law, a son was not punished for his father’s sins.

4. “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” Prov 23:13-14 (NIV)

Choose the most accurate interpretation:
A. If you only give a kids a time-out for doing something bad, instead of beating them, God will annihilate them.
B. If a parent wants to save a child from being lost they will respond to wrongdoing with appropriate discipline, and guide them in the right direction.
C. Unless a parent disciplines a child, the child will cease to exist after being thrown into the Lake of Fire.
D. We always knew that grounding never worked anyway.

5. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalms 146:4 (KJV)

Circle the most accurate interpretation:
A. After death, a person’s plans and purposes on Earth come to an end.
B. Between death and resurrection, a person is in soul sleep
C. At death, the person goes into nonexistence until the Second Coming
D. Some people you know don’t think worth beans anyway, so who's going to miss it?

6. “Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death
there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?” Psalms 6:4-5 (NRSV)

Choose the most accurate meaning:
A. Isn’t that what most people look like during song service?
B. Dead people don’t praise God, because they are in suspended animation, unconscious.
C. Praising God in Paradise will not affect others on Earth for the Kingdom.
D. You mean when I die my memory will get even worse?

7. “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings. The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any that go down into silence. But we will bless the LORD from this time on and forevermore. Praise the LORD! Psalms 115:16-18 (NRSV)


Choose the most accurate interpretation:
A. The dead don’t praise the Lord because they will not become conscious until the
resurrection.
B. God will annihilate anyone who attends a Grateful Dead concert.
C. The Frozen Chosen don’t know how to “get down” like “homies.”
D. From the perspective of the Earth, those who have left the Earth are silent. So David says that everyone who has breath should praise the Lord while they still can.

8. “Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?” Psalms 88:10 (NIV)

Choose the most accurate meaning:
A. If you die, even if you are saved, God will never tell YOU any secrets!
B. This is referring to public worship (Yadah) on Earth. The dead are, of course, exempt.
C. “I’m not showin’ you nothin’”, Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah
D. I’ve played to audiences like that, how about you?

9. “You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.” Psalms 9:5 (NIV)

Choose the most accurate interpretation:
A. The wicked are soul sleeping, and after the judgment will be exterminated.
B. The wicked will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, then annihilated.
C. The enemies of Israel, who sinned against God, will never inhabit Heaven.
D. Does He have a suggestion box?

10. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Gen 3:19 (NRSV)

Choose the most accurate meaning:
A. This refers to the body, because neither the spirit, nor the spark of life, came from the dust to begin with.
B. What is this? Prison? Bread and water, bread and water. Where’s the chocolate?
C. All that’s left of you after you die is dirt.
D. This is the most conclusive text I’ve seen on soul sleep!

11. I am so impressed with the proof texts.
A. False (now think hard!)











Answers: 1-B, 2-C, 3-D, 4-B, 5-A, 6-C, 7-D, 8-B, 9-C, 10-A, 11-A (Good Job!)



Spirit Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: The Final Outcome
If you have accepted that we have a spirit, and that spirit goes to Paradise on death to be with Christ, inevitable questions arise about those who are lost. It has been ingrained in us to abhor the concept of eternal hell. Annihilation seems like a gentler resolution to the problem of sin. Could that be because we have unconsciously identified with the lost rather than with the saved?

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