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What is the biblical basis for the belief that the spiritual part of a person remains conscious after their bodily death? In other words, what is the biblical basis against Christian mortalism / 'Soul Sleep'?

Note: the definition of the terms 'soul' and 'spirit' is quite controversial (e.g. see In Hebrews 4:12 what is the difference between ψυχή ("soul") and πνεῦμα ("spirit")?), so instead of imposing axiomatically my own views and definitions, I prefer to give answerers the freedom to provide their own definitions of those terms, and, of course, the biblical basis for said definitions.

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    You start by asking for a biblical basis for a person's spirit remaining conscious after bodily death. Then you equate that with providing a biblical basis against soul sleep. For clarity, please define what you mean by 'spirit', and what you mean by 'soul'. Thanks.
    – Anne
    Jan 12 at 12:32
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    Deliberately so, SRI, because without defining those terms we will be in a mire of confusion. The Wiki article you linked proves that point. The subject is massively controversial, largely because different people over the centuries have not first established common ground on what they mean by the spirit, and the soul. Tell us what YOU mean, and we can attempt to answer YOU.
    – Anne
    Jan 12 at 12:44
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    Just to clarify Christian position: despite OT Hebrew nephesh refers to a living, breathing conscious body, rather than to an immortal soul, Christians (at least mainstream) are unanimous in saying there is an immaterial something that survives death, although incomplete without the body. It's the experience of this something that this Q is asking. An answer can leave out or can assume or any Christian scheme of the nature of body and soul/mind/spirit/consciousnesses but concentrate on how God preserves/recreates this something in the intermediate state. Jan 12 at 16:49
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    @jeh a witch summoning the ghost of Samuel suggest that Saul was guilty of directly disobeying Gods Command against inquiring of the dead. Saul thus was actually being advised by demons. he paid for it with his life 1chronicle 10:13 this unfaithful man and the medium prove only that demons are ready to deceive those who don't believe the simple truth found in Ecclesiaste 9:5
    – Kris
    Jan 15 at 21:36
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    That Paul refers to living, breathing people as having been dead prior to life in Christ indicates that a certain aspect of death and life has nothing to do with an animate body. Jan 16 at 1:08
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Well, there are two scriptural evidences I would like to cite as an answer to the OP.

  1. Lazarus and the rich man

"22 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’" (Luke.16:22-24)

The following points are in order with regard to the above incident that was related by the Lord Jesus Christ:

(a) Some believe it's only an inventive parable, not a real historical incident. But there is no evidence in the Scriptures that lends credence to the assumption that Jesus told purely unreal stories to get His point across.

(b) Facts about the existence after death are some of the most important matters to know about. Jesus wouldn't possibly talk about them in such a way that would give a totally wrong impression to His hearers.

(c) As a person who knows history from the time it began Jesus talked about what used to happen to the dead--both good and bad--before His own death and resurrection. Individuals were very much conscious after their death as we can see in the above incident.

  1. Paul's dilemma

"21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes." (Philippians.1:21-24)

Apostle Paul is categorical in stating that there are only two possibilities before him. One, to continue in the body, which is beneficial to the other believers. Two, to die and be with Christ, which is beneficial to himself. He is hard-pressed between those two options! There is no hint of a third option, namely, 'soul sleep' between the two that were before Paul.

If it were true that there is a time period for 'soul sleep' between life and resurrection, following death then why would the apostle Paul avoid talking about that period? Furthermore, how could he wish to leave the body or choose death in order for him to be with his Lord? If death leads into 'soul sleep' until resurrection how can death be considered as gain by Paul? In fact, it would only cut short his productive time in this life by being beneficial to others. If 'soul sleep' were the inevitable step after life then Paul would have chosen to stay alive as long as possible so that he could be of much benefit to the believers, instead of leaving the body and entering into a state of 'soul sleep,' which is of no use to Paul or the other believers he was ministering to.

For Paul death does not mean 'soul sleep.' For him it means 'to be with Christ,' nothing more nothing less! This, of course, is what happens to all those who are made righteous in Christ. This is not just being in a state of 'consciousness' but 'bliss!'

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Jesus told the thief on the cross "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43) and Paul said that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8).

Also, after Jesus heals Jairus' daughter in Luke 8 it says:

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.

Her 'spirit' is here clearly portrayed as separate from her body, though one might argue that this was simply a way of saying that she came back to life.

Biblical instances such as these imply that we will be with Christ immediately after death, though our physical bodies will not yet be resurrected.

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  • Especially since it was "her" spirit that returned and not "a" spirit or "the"spirit". +1 Jan 16 at 1:09
  • Unfortunately, this is a weak support for Jesus said she was not dead, but sleeping! ”And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.” - Luke 8:52 Jairus' daughter may have been very sick and seemed dead to those around her. Her spirit returned, yes. But was it unconscious before being awoken?
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 16 at 2:36
  • The term sleep is used in the Bible to refer to being dead - see christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/28482/…. In verse 53 it says the people knew she was dead.
    – Zanarkand
    Jan 16 at 12:27
  • Did Christ go to paradise on the day of His death?
    – One Face
    Jan 19 at 8:24
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The belief that the dead remain conscious is shown in scripture.

This is for the believer, the one who is born-again of incorruptible seed.

For I [Paul] am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Phl 1:23

We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 2 Cor 5:8

Where is the Lord? At/on the right hand of God the Father in heaven (Acts 7:55, Heb 8:1)

Paul knows this.

I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

And what of the unsaved? This is more controversial, not as to conscious existence, but as to place. In Jewish thought, there is a place called paradise (Abraham's bosom) and Gehenna. This is referenced in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31).

So, we have seen that for all peoples, there is a conscious soul or spirit after death of this earthly body.

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  • God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - Jesus used this to emphasis resurrection - which was the question in context and not about consciousness after death
    – One Face
    Jan 19 at 8:25
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+100

What is the biblical basis for the belief that the spirit of a person remains conscious after death?

There seems to be more or less four clear possible biblical references that one could possibly see for this. Two are already mentioned in previous answers, the rich man and Lazarus and Jesus’ words to the Repentant Thief on the Cross: This day you shall be with me in paradise. Thus I would like to dwell on a couple of other biblical passages.

One Old Testament reference that seems to support belief the notion that the spirit of a person remains conscious after death is from the First Book of Samuel in which Saul summoned Samuel from the dead through the workings of the Witch of Endor. Saul knew that it was Samuel and Samuel rebuked him: “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Samuel also said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”

The spirits of the dead must remain conscious after death, otherwise Samuel would not have been able to speak to Saul.

Saul and the Medium of En-dor

28 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” 2 David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”

3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. 4 The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”

8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”

20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. 21 And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. 22 Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.” 23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed. 24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, 25 and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night. - 1 Samuel 28:1-25

Another possibility would be when Christ preached to the spirits in prison.

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. - 1 Peter 3:19-20

Augustinian interpretation

This is also found in Thomas Aquinas; Summa Theologica (3,52,2). A variant of this view is the view of the Rev. Archibald Currie (1871) that Christ through Noah preached to "the spirits in prison ;" meaning the eight persons interned in the Ark as in a place of protection.

Harrowing of Hell

The Anglican Edward Hayes Plumptre, Dean of Wells, in The Spirits in Prison starting from the verse in Peter argued for revival in the belief in the harrowing of Hell and the spirit of Christ preaching to the souls of the dead in Hades while his body was in the grave.

Release from purgatory

This view originates with Robert Bellarmine (1586) and has been followed by some Catholic Church commentators in relation to a belief in Purgatory.

Spirits in prison

In any case, if the spirits of the dead are unconscious, why did Christ preach to them?

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About consciousness, there are 4 phases:

  1. The Earth.
  2. The Grave.
  3. The Resurrection, and the Day of Judgement.
  4. The Afterlife.

It is certain consciousness exists in those except the second one, the grave. There are implications of the Afterlife in Torah:

Genesis 25:8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

Abraham joined the dead, but without details how he joined them, and this keeps repeating with his descendants like Ishmael [25:17], Isaac [35:29], Israel [49:33], and Moses [Deuteronomy 32:50].

Yet, the second group uses a different term:

Exodus 31:14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

Breaking the covenant of Abraham holds an identical term as in Genesis 17:14, but no details whether this damnation includes the grave or not.

The Gospels are slightly extensive about the Hereafter, to the point you can sense a kind of evolution, not about the Hereafter itself, it's just how God planned the revelation to flow:

John 14:24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.

Even that the Israelites had a [thin] belief in the Hereafter, it was not detailed in the Torah like how Jesus speaks about it in front of them as in Matthew 25:41-46, and even when he mentions the covenant:

Matthew 26

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.

&

John 11

23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.

24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Although Lazarus didn't mention what he felt in the grave, did he? ... Not that there's definitely no consciousness in the grave, it's the Gospels that doesn't speak about it.

Being Muslim, I admit I didn't read much in the Epistles, maybe the grave was mentioned in them, but I'm not sure. What I'm referring at; whether the grave was mentioned in the Bible is not an issue, it's noted how the Hereafter was not completely revealed with the Torah, it was gradually revealed after it.

Even Judaism has beliefs about the Hereafter that does not directly stem from the Tanakh, but the oral Torah. I don't think the Bible answers this question, given how Judaism and Christianity are differed about the Afterlife, not the grave.


EDIT:

Just a notable part about it:

John 8

51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.

52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.

53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?

54 Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God:

55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

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    I may be misreading your answer, but it appears that you are giving a biblical basis for Soul Sleep, the opposite of what SRI asked.
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 13 at 1:41
  • @LukeHill The OP [in older question] asked about Psalm verses that imply unconsciousness in the grave. The question above is looking for verses that the dead are aware of the world. John 8 expresses Abraham [in heaven] knew about Jesus ministry, but the verses in Psalm can differ on interpretation whether the dead are really conscious or not: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/88949/…
    – Ahmed Ali
    Jan 14 at 15:45
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First of all, there is no biblical basis for a spirit in a natural person who is ungodly and unsaved unlike someone saved by the perfect and complete work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Soul alone or with Spirit?

Unsaved person: body and soul only but no Spirit. Soul is a also known as spirit of life, hence man in Genesis is described as flesh wherein is the spirit of life. So context is king to understand the word spirit whenever it occurs. When we read about Pharaoh's spirit was troubled here is soul, spirit of life in the flesh of Pharaoh (Gen 41:8).

Saved person: body, soul, then dwelling by the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit) in the new birth (new creation). Make also the distinction between the Holy Ghost dwelling in a person (always saved) and the Holy Ghost coming upon a person (could be saved but not necessarily as Saul of the OT).

Jesus Christ is an exception as He has eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14) referring to His deity. He made his Soul naked for death, he also bare our sins in His own Body.

Keep in mind, in earlier Scriptures, we read about flesh and blood, blood is often linked with the soul there, so flesh and blood means body and soul.

And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen 2:7)

As you can see no Spirit but breath of life (a special word in Hebrew was used here to distinguish man from animals), but not the Spirit here definitely, as the natural man has no Spirit. There is no evidence that man was tripartite at first, he becomes so once born from above by the Spirit.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)

So your question seems to be, given the above, as if directed toward the saved souls with a spirit but not toward unsaved ones who have no spirit but souls. Either way, there is consciousness.

Evidence of consciousness after death

The evidence of that soul being conscious after death is in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar in Luke 16:

And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Luke 16:24,25)

Obviously the rich (unsaved) was in pain, had he not been conscious how could he state his torment then, in contrast, Lazarus (saved) was comforted.

This witness was from the NT, we have something about Samuel in the OT while he was in Hades (the part for the righteous not for the evil ones) after his death.

And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. (1Sam 28:15)

Samuel was disquieted while he was in Sheol or Hades (in the earth), this also implicates a conscious change from comfort to discomfort.

Note

Hades part for the righteous ones (who are made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ not they are righteous themselves), was inside the earth but it is separate from the part of the evil ones, and they were taken by Jesus Christ to paradise above first after His death on the cross.

Another evidence of consciousness and knowledge we see in the Psalms:

Consume [them] in wrath, consume [them], that they [may] not [be]: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. Selah. (Ps 59:13)

Here, let them know, indicates there is no thought of annihilation or ceasing to exist.

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