Adherents of the 'soul sleep' doctrine believe that human beings become unconscious upon death, and that they will only recover their consciousness at the time of the resurrection. Therefore, a corollary of the 'soul sleep' doctrine is that communication with deceased people who have not yet experienced the resurrection should be an impossibility. If someone died in the past and is still awaiting the resurrection, their soul is in deep sleep, the person is deeply unconscious, and in that state it would be impossible for them to hear prayers, let alone answer them and pay visits to the living. However, testimonial evidence of Catholics and other Christians praying to deceased saints, friends and relatives abounds, and many times people have reported having their prayers answered, and even actual communication with and visitations by those they were praying to. Marian apparitions are illustrative examples of this. Other testimonies can be found in the related question Do Catholics believe in other apparitions like Mary? Or is she unique in this respect? and in the book Apparitions of Modern Saints : Appearances of Therese of Lisieux, Padre Pio, Don Bosco, and Others.

How do adherents of 'soul sleep' explain the cumulative testimonial evidence from Catholics and other Christians who report having rich interactions with those who have passed away?

A similarly formatted question: How do Protestants explain the incorruptibility of Catholic and Orthodox saints?

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    Almost all Protestants, whether soul sleep adherents or not, would say that the claimed Marian apparitions are not real. Their doctrine of the afterlife only plays a tiny part in rejecting those claimed apparitions.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 11:19
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    Apparitions may take various forms, up to and including the intellectual vision, which is uniquely seen so as to speak by the intellect of a particular person concerned. Can not help it if some would consider it hallucinating or whatever they desire.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 15:29
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    Is this question directed at Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians? As far as I am aware, Catholics do not subscribe to "soul sleep".
    – Lesley
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 16:07
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    @Lesley - the question is directed at all soul sleep adherents in general. I'm essentially asking soul sleep adherents to provide an explanation for the experience of many Catholics which appears to contradict the 'soul sleep' doctrine. Soul sleep entails that intercession of saints should not be possible, yet there is abundant testimonial evidence for the apparition of deceased saints, relatives and friends to Catholics and other Christians. How come?
    – user50422
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 23:16
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    @Lesley I'm not sure if there are any denominations that as a whole support Christian mortalism. It may just be isolated people or isolated churches. Or there could be some small denominations. Either way, questions can be scoped to a theological camp instead of a denomination, so this question is fair.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 11:00

1 Answer 1


I'm one of Jehovah's Witnesses. We don't use the term "soul sleep," but we do believe that a person (or "soul") ceases to exist when they die, meaning that they return to the dust (Genesis 3:19), and they have no consciousness or ability to communicate with the living. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) Sleep is a good analogy (and it was used by Jesus himself concerning Lazarus at John 11:11-14) because it implies that they are in a state of suspended animation, and they can be "woken up" by being resurrected, as Jesus did for Lazarus. This could be a heavenly resurrection with a spirit body or an earthly resurrection with a fleshly body.

I won't directly address those testimonies of Catholics and others who claim to have communicated with the dead, but the Bible itself contains one such story of someone allegedly communicating with a dead person, and I'll address that one. The story is at 1 Samuel chapter 28.

For some context, the Law from Moses specifically forbade trying to inquire of the dead, and it prohibited consulting a spirit medium. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) Leviticus 20:6 even calls such an act "spiritual prostitution." It was a common practice of the surrounding nations to try to consult the dead.

At that time in 1 Samuel 28, the Israelite King Saul had become alienated from God. Unsure of what to do in the war against the Philistines (verses 4-6), Saul went to a woman who was a spirit medium in the city of Endor (verse 7), and he requested to speak with the prophet Samuel (verse 11), who had died some time ago (verse 3). The spirit medium then claimed that she could see Samuel, and she related what Samuel had to say to Saul (verses 12-19). This resulted in a damning judgment message against Saul.

An article published by Jehovah's Witnesses in the Watchtower of January 1st, 2010, comes to this conclusion:

Think about it. The Bible states that at death a person “goes back to his ground” and that “his thoughts do perish.” (Psalm 146:4) Both Saul and Samuel knew that God condemned contact with spirit mediums. Why, Saul had earlier taken the lead in ridding the land of spiritistic practices!​—Leviticus 19:31.

Reason on the matter. If faithful Samuel were still alive as a spirit, would he violate God’s law and cooperate with a spirit medium in order to meet Saul? Jehovah had refused to talk with Saul. Could a medium, in effect, force God Almighty to communicate with Saul by means of dead Samuel? No. Clearly, this “Samuel” was not God’s faithful prophet in any form. It was a spirit​—a wicked demon pretending to be dead Samuel.

Demons are angels who rebelled against God’s authority early in man’s history. (Genesis 6:1-4; Jude 6) These demons can observe people while they are alive; they know how each one talked, looked, and acted. They are eager to promote the idea that what the Bible says is untrue. No wonder the Bible warns against having any contact with such spirit forces! (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) These wicked spirits are still active today.

Now we may see why many tell of “hearing” or “seeing” dead loved ones. Though such apparitions at times may seem friendly, wicked spirit forces are out to deceive humans. (Ephesians 6:12) Also, think about this: Jehovah is a loving God who cares for us. If the dead were alive somewhere and they could come to the aid of their friends and family, would our loving Creator forbid such contact and refer to it as “detestable”? Surely not! (1 Peter 5:7) Is there, then, any reliable source of help?

Considering that God prohibits the living from speaking with the dead, it would be natural to conclude that God is trying to protect people from something bad. God and his faithful servants would never violate God's stated law, so we can conclude that all such occurrences of the dead are actually intelligent demons who are deceiving ones into thinking that God's Word is wrong and that humans actually do continue to live on as conscious spirits.

Jehovah's Witnesses are empathetic with the desire to speak again to our dead loved ones. They eagerly look forward to the time of the resurrection when we will live with our loved ones again, as you can see by continuing to read the article cited above. In fact, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that some faithful Christians (spirit-anointed Christians such as ones who lived in the first century and thereafter) have already begun to be resurrected to life in heaven ever since the year 1918, but these resurrected ones do not communicate with or reveal themselves to humans on earth (yet). They are waiting for the time when the full number of 144,000 of them has been fulfilled (Revelation 6:11) and it is time for them to accompany Jesus in waging the war of Armageddon. (Revelation 17:14)

  • Are JWs happy with the term "Christian mortalism"?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 10:05
  • @curiousdannii The term doesn't appear in any of our publications. I wouldn't personally object to using that term if people are familiar with it. I see there's an entry about Jehovah's Witnesses for it on Wikipedia Generally JWs avoid using modern technical terms, and try to stick to terms that are used in Scripture in order to describe their own beliefs.
    – user32540
    Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 10:27
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    Jehovah's Witnesses aren't the only denomination that believes that spiritualism etc. involve demons, not dead humans. Except for the final paragraph, which is specific to Jehovah's Witnesses, they would generally agree with the above explanation. For instance, see Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel 28:3-25 and Related | United Church of God. Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 2:31

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