Question: You once used the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to support the pagan idea of the immortality of the soul. What scripture do you use to support the idea that the “soul” is a separate entity from the body? Ecclesiastes:9:5 very clearly tells us that “the dead know not anything....” First Thessalonians 4:13-18 says that the dead in Christ are “asleep.”
Response: Regarding your comments on 1 Thessalonians:4:13-18 and the other scriptures to which you refer, we must respectfully disagree with your conclusions about the state of the dead. To speak of the dead as those “asleep” is a common metaphor, particularly applicable from Paul, who was fond of using what some commentators refer to as “Paulisms.” Just one example is his usage of “letter” as a metaphor for a legalistic approach to the gospel.
You mention that the Scriptures support soul sleep. It is interesting to note how heavily supporters of this doctrine rely on passages from the psalms and Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is very clear that its observations are drawn from the viewpoint of the natural man. To the limited vision of the “natural man” it does appear that the dead know nothing. If Ecclesiastes:9:5 is speaking literally, as some indicate, is it then also true that their memory is forgotten as well? Verse 6 explains that they (the dead) do not have a “portion forever” in anything “that is done under the sun.” That is all the writer is commenting on.
We need to understand the clear statements in the New Testament. Paul did not say that it was better to depart and “sleep until the Resurrection” but rather to “be with Christ” (Philippians:1:23). Nor did he say that to be absent from the body was to be “asleep” (2 Corinthians:5:8). The words used in these scriptures help us to discern where the misunderstanding takes place. It involves the makeup of a man. Those who would deny the “spirit, soul, and body” (1 Thessalonians:5:23) will certainly have trouble distinguishing the differences and implications involved. As Peter pointed out in Acts:2:34, David (his body) certainly had not ascended into heaven. It is a reasonable conclusion that the soul and spirit of David were in heaven. His statement after his baby son died, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel:12:23), was not in expectation of a resurrection but of a reunion that would take place immediately upon David’s death. As the old hymn tells us, ’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word.
We must seek to avoid the trap of letting our preconceptions establish our doctrine. Consider the case of the thief on the cross. Jesus did not say, “Verily I say unto thee, you will sleep today,” but “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Some feel that the teaching of soul sleep avoids contradictions in the Scriptures, but a few examples would seem to create myriad contradictions. What about the spirits in prison to whom Christ preached during His time in the grave (1 Peter:3:19-20)? What about the rich man and Lazarus?
These events to which Christ referred were real. There are no parables that specifically name an individual.