by Wayne Jackson


A sincere brother adamantly insists that the dead are not conscious.  His argument runs as follows: Following the murder of Abel, Jehovah rebuked Cain, saying, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10).  Centuries later, the writer of Hebrews would declare that Abel, though dead “is speaking yet” (Hebrews 11:4).  He reasons that these passages obviously are not literal; Abel was neither crying out nor speaking from the ground—in a literal sense. He is correct thus far.

However, his problem is this.  From this solitary example of the use of figurative language (personification), he generalizes and concludes that all other texts that represent the dead as being conscious must likewise be figurative.  And why must this be the case?  Because he has decided already that the soul is not conscious after death, hence, all passages that suggest otherwise must be “bent” to fit the presupposition.

But note these points:

1.      Christ informed the penitent thief that later in that day the two would be together in Paradise (Luke 23:43).  Such would have been entirely misleading if neither of them would be conscious.

2.      Paul said that “departing” to be “with Christ,” i.e., dying, is “very far better” than remaining (Philippians 1:23).  Would that suggest that being unconscious is very far better than being conscious?

3.      The apostle said that being “absent from the body,” i.e., dead, is being “at home with (pros, literally face-to-face with) the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).  If the righteous saint is unconscious, is the Lord likewise so?

4.      The souls of the martyrs under the altar of God cried out for retribution (Revelation 6:10).  If this is mere figurative language, and these martyrs actually were unconscious, would this signify that the “holy and true Master” who was addressed, and who responded with encouragement, likewise is unconscious?

5.      If the narrative regarding the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19ff) indicates that all the principals of the illustration were unconscious, how would the text have been worded if they were conscious?  May we learn to treat scripture honestly!