How the Bible Really Describes Death

Several years back, I wrote numerous blogs and even a rather lengthy book about the state of the dead. Specifically, this was all about how the Bible describes what happens when we die and how the afterlife will play out.

Now, I would like to revisit some of these concepts since many readers were probably not familiar with this website at that time. Since the topic can be extremely expansive, what I hope to offer here is a brief snapshot of my views on the matter.

To state it plainly, I believe that the Bible describes death as the absence of life and a time of unconsciousness until Christ’s return and the resurrection. Put another way, we do not die and go to heaven (or anywhere else).

Instead, we will be resurrected when Christ returns, given new bodies, and then proceed to reign with Christ in the new heavens and new earth that will be made at that time. Only at the resurrection will we live again.”

Let me provide a few of the reasons why I believe this is the case.


Death as Sleep

The first thing I would like to point out is that the Bible consistently refers to death as “sleep.” In fact, the sleep-death comparison is easily the most widely used association within Scripture. Here is just a sampling of these occurrences:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 The. 4:13).

“After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (Jn. 11:11).

“Then he (Stephen) fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60, my addition in parentheses).

“That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 11:30).

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:50).

“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).

This terminology is used in many other parts of Scripture; the sleep-death analogy is an irrefutable aspect of the Bible.

The question must be raised, then, as to why the biblical authors—and of course God, who inspired them—chose to refer to death as sleep. When you think about it, a couple thoughts emerge as logical explanations.

1). Sleep is an unconscious state of being. Like being in a coma, being asleep is exactly when we would consider ourselves to be unconscious; we have no awareness of the passing of time or what is going on in the world.

2). Sleep is a temporary state of being. So long as one does not pass away in their sleep, they will always wake up. Death, like sleep, is not an endless mode of existence. This reality is, of course, part of the “good news” that Jesus died for our sins and conquered death on our behalf.

I believe this is what the Bible is portraying with its consistent comparison of death and sleep. When we die, we are no longer conscious. As the author of Ecclesiastes said, “The dead know nothing” (9:5). This means that, upon death, the soul—however that is viewed (discussed later)—does not consciously survive the death of the body.

We do not go on to live in heaven, hell, Abraham’s bosom, Hades, or anywhere else in between death and the general resurrection.


The Resurrection of the Dead

As the church creeds affirm, believers hold to the resurrection of the dead. That is, there will be a day in the future when Christ returns and raises the dead to life.

Biblically, this is undeniable. For those who doubt this, please see my blog here on the resurrection.

With this said, here is the problem with the typical understanding of the afterlife that is taught within most churches and institutes of higher learning: if we continue to persist upon death, then the resurrection is rendered null and void.

Think about it: what is the purpose of being resurrected—that is, raised back to life—if we are already living in heaven or elsewhere?

It is just as the legendary scholar (and martyr), William Tyndale said:  

“And ye, in putting them [the departed souls] in heaven, hell, and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection . . . And again, if the souls be in heaven, tell me why they not be in as good case as the angels be? And then what cause is there of the resurrection?”[1]

Tyndale is correct on all counts, including the objection that we should be given bodies like the angels possess. That is, if believers die and go directly to heaven.

I would go a step further though. Not only does life as a disembodied soul destroy the very purpose of the resurrection, but it in fact destroys the purpose of getting a body at all. If we are able to survive and live in a blissful existence as disembodied souls, then why does God need to add the body at the resurrection?


Soul Damage

I have separate blogs dedicated to this issue but let me again summarize it here.

One of the major problems with the view that people die and depart to a conscious realm of the dead is the nature of the soul. For such a thing to occur, it would mean that human beings are souls which are trapped within bodies. Oddly, this is exactly how many Christian hymns and teachings describe things.

The immortal Albert Brumley hymn, “I’ll Fly Away,” comes to mind, with its focus on shedding this body so that we (our souls) can “fly away” to heaven.

The very notion of the immortal soul—as described in Neo-Platonic thought and elsewhere—is antithetical to Christian teaching. The Bible does not describe human beings as conscious souls that simply join bodies but could live without them. Rather, the Bible describes us as beings who only live because of the union between the body and the soul.

Simply put, we do not have souls but are living souls. This is very much like the hardware and software of a computer; neither can function apart from the other. Likewise, the body and the soul are both required for life. Take one element away and we no longer have a living being.

But this leads to the problem I am describing here. If the soul really is the “us” that lives within (or attached to) the body, then why on earth would sustaining a physical injury impair our souls? If one sustains a traumatic brain injury, why should the soul—the “real me,” that will later live by itself after death—be harmed? Why should a car wreck or a blow to the head change my identity, if “I” am really the immaterial soul that is living within the body?

This is just one of the many logical problems involved with the popularly held view that people die and go to heaven or hell at death.


I understand that I have by no means explained every aspect of what is at stake within this one article. I am fully aware that certain passages of Scripture have been widely interpreted to suggest that we do survive death as disembodied entities. Among these are the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the account of the “thief” on the cross, and select other passages of Scripture.

I strongly urge anyone interested in this topic to read my book, The Death Myth, because it covers nearly every argument and passage used to promote disembodied life after death. Of course, it also details all of my arguments to the contrary.

For the time being, please reflect upon the points made here and try to approach the topic with an open mind. I fully understand that there is a strong emotional drive to believe that we and our loved ones will experience an immediate life of bliss upon death. We often badly want to believe that the deceased are “in a better place” and that they are enjoying the splendors of heaven.

However, reality is not determined by what we wish to be true but by what is actually true. In this case, an unconscious state of the dead—as described in the sleep-death analogy and in many other ways throughout the Bible—seems to best adhere with reality.

For those interested, part two of this discussion is on its way. Please check back in and consider subscribing to my blog so that you will be updated whenever new material is available.

I also have numerous videos here, if you would like to check them out.

Until next time, never stop searching for the truth and God bless.

[1] William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, book four, chapter four, 180-81.

Author: Brian M. Rossiter

I am a Christian teacher, author, and lecturer. Most importantly, I am a truth-seeker. My research has led me to both believe in and defend the veracity of the Bible, evaluating my own personal views in light of its teachings along the way. In addition to my blogs, I have written several books: "The Death Myth," "God Made the Aliens," "Spiritual Things," and most recently, "Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn't Teach." My hope in these endeavors is to give skeptics reasons to believe, to strengthen the faith of those who already do, and to challenge each of us to truly evaluate our own worldviews.

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