In Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, and Luke 8:40-56 are the accounts of the miracle of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Bible students may wonder what the Lord meant by saying that the ruler’s daughter was not dead, but sleeping. Did he mean that she was not actually dead (as had been reported), but was only sleeping in the literal sense of that word? Or, was Jesus speaking figuratively? That is, was he saying that her state of death, though real, was nothing more than a temporary sleep? The fact that Luke tells us that the people knew she was dead (Lk. 8:53) should prevent us from believing that they only thought she was gone. And, after Jesus spoke the words, “Maid, arise” (Lk. 8:54), Luke says, “Then her spirit returned” (Vs. 55), proving that “the body without the spirit is dead” (Jas. 2:26).

Some hold that this is an example of the human doctrine of “soul sleeping.” The premise behind the idea of soul sleeping is that the “sleep” attributed to Jairus’ daughter in reality ascribed an unconscious state to her soul in death. The case for soul sleeping requires the belief that body and soul are inseparable. If one ceases to function so must the other. Also, it is alleged that the scriptural word “sleep” is sufficient to prove that in death the soul is unconscious. Primarily, the Seventh-day Adventists espouse this error: “The grave is not a place of consciousness. Since death is a sleep, the dead will remain in a state of unconsciousness in the grave until the resurrection, when the grave (Hades) gives up its dead” (Seventh-day Adventists Believe, 353). Additionally, F. LaGard Smith holds this view, saying, “In the absence of any direct, explicit teaching that the dead are sentient, lively, and communicative, surely we must come down on the side of passive unconsciousness. Call that what you will. The Scriptures call it ‘sleep’” (After Life: A Glimpse of Eternity Beyond Death’s Door, 108). Soul sleeping is a doctrine commonly called, “conditional immortality,” or the idea that life after death is only for believers who will be in an unconscious state between death and the resurrection. For the unbelieving there is the false promise of annihilation, that is, they will be snuffed out of existence.

Both doctrines are wrong for the following reasons: “Sleep” is a common Biblical metaphor for death, as when Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth” (Jn. 11:11). When the disciples misunderstood (Vs. 12), Jesus said, “Lazarus is dead” (Vs. 14). Both here and in the case of Jairus’ daughter the point is that death will have an awakening. The prophet Daniel wrote, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (Dan. 12:2). The part of a person that “sleeps” is that which is resting in the grave – the physical body. The awakening is in regard to the bodily resurrection. The account of the rich man and Lazarus demonstrates consciousness in the intermediate state of the dead (Lk. 16:19ff). Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ…” (Phil. 1:21-23). This does not resemble sleep.


by Dennis Gulledge