Do Baptists Believe in Soul Sleep?

by Christina Lee
The soul sleep doctrine holds that souls sleep in graves after death.

The soul sleep doctrine holds that souls sleep in graves after death.

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Soul sleep, often called the "sleep of the soul doctrine," is a teaching within some Christian denominations. It holds that the soul sleeps unconsciously in the grave with the body after a person dies. The doctrine concludes that the soul will stay there, in a coma-like state, until Jesus returns to Earth for final judgment of all people. Then the body and soul will be resurrected, and Jesus will decide whether the person enters heaven or hell. When woken, people will not feel as if time has passed. Many Christian denominations, including Baptists, view this as an incorrect teaching.

The Intermediate Stage

Baptists do not believe the soul sleeps, but beyond this, they disagree about what exactly happens between death and the final judgment. Some share a view originated by John Calvin. In a Calvinist perspective, the righteous soul does not "sleep" in the grave, but is both restful and conscious after death. A person who has not received Christian salvation will go to hell right away. However, a faithful Christian will remain in an intermediate stage if she dies before the final judgment. She will not experience heaven in its fullness, but her soul will experience God and the divine before the final judgment.

Immediate Judgment

Many Baptists do not accept the idea that there is a transitional phase between death and heaven. They hold that the soul is judged immediately after death. As in the Calvinist perspective, an unrighteous person goes directly to hell, while a righteous person automatically enters the fullness of heaven. In this view, the afterlife begins as soon as someone dies, whether or not the person goes to heaven, and souls need not wait until the final judgment.

How Some Baptists Defend Immediate Life After Death

Baptists and other Christian denominations point to the words of Jesus on the cross in defending the idea that the soul enters either heaven or hell right away. In the Gospel of Luke, he tells a thief who is being executed at his side, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." In this reading, according to Baptists, paradise is understood to mean heaven -- and not any intermediate stage.

Baptists vs. Other Denominations

Protestants have never seen eye-to-eye on the issue of soul sleep. All Adventist denominations, such as the Seventh-day Adventists and Church of God, teach soul sleep. So do the Jehovah's Witnesses, a conservative sect that broke from more mainstream Seventh-day Adventists. Like many other Protestants, Baptists disagree even within their own ranks about what exactly happens to the soul between death and the final judgment, if not sleep.

About the Author

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.

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