The Nature of Death


Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that:

  • The soul sleeps at death [1]
  • There is no afterlife immediately following death and preceding the resurrection [2]

Q1. Is the term “sleep” ever applied to either the spirit or the soul in the Bible, or only to the body?

Answer: This sleep is always identified with the body. Never once does the Bible refer to the soul sleeping.

Matt 27:52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised

John 11:11 “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” [Verse 44: “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes.” The part of Lazarus that was in death sleep was that part of him that was bound “hand and foot”.]

Acts 7:59-60 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 13:36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption

(Also, Matt 9:24; 1 Thess 4:14).

Q2. Does the Bible speak of an afterlife immediately following death and preceding the resurrection?

Answer: Yes, we read of our spirit in an afterlife before a bodily resurrection

Deut 18:10-11 There shall not be found among you anyone who … inquires of the dead

1 Sam 28:11-15 “Bring up Samuel for me.” … “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?

Isa 14:9-10 Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades [spirits, NIV, NAS, NET] to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’

Matt 27:49 “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

Luke 16:22-30 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me … ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime [as opposed to his present condition-death] received your good things … ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

Luke 23:43-46 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” …Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  

John 8:51 “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

John 11:25-26́ “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Acts 7:59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

2 Cor 5:8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Phil 1:23-24 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

2 Tim 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.

Heb 12:22-23 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect

2 Pet 1:13-15 I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

Rev 6:9-11 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer

(Also, Eccl 12:7; Matt 10:28; 17:3; 27:50; Luke 12:5; John 19:30; Acts 20:10; Rev 20:4)

Additional info here


  1. The term “sleep” is never applied to the spirit or the soul but only to the body
  2. Immediately following death, the Bible speaks of an afterlife in the spirit. In this state the individual awaits resurrection of the body


  1. Insight Vol 2 p 980
  2. Reasoning p 101

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