Death "asleep"?


Why does Christ use the term "asleep" or "sleeping" to describe someone who has died ? It's almost as saying they do not have consciousness...

We believe that they are alive. I know many verses that show that they are involved and have knowledge of what goes on on earth. And that they are truly conscious and alive .

God bless


It’s just a figure of speech from that era, referring to the condition of the body. Like all figures of speech, it is not meant to walk on all fours.


Thank you. That’s the only conclusion I could come up with as well.


A dead human body looks, from a distance, much like a sleeping body. And both bodies are in a similar state of quiescence.

The difference is that death is fearsome, owing to its duration; sleep is not; so the euphemism is used to alleviate the fear and grief surrounding it. Someone who is asleep is not lost, they are only quiescent in body (and their mind is busy dreaming, etc).

This is why the modern funeral culture fixes up the bodies to look asleep (no coins on the eyes, or full-length shroud with bare feet protruding, etc.) although mostly this does not succeed.



St. Paul also uses this term in referring to having hope in the Resurrection in 1 Thessalonians, 4:13-18:

I like this explanation of “falling asleep” as phenomenonlogical language:

"Phenomenological language occurs when we describe something as it looks, irrespective of how it is. The classic example of phenomenological language is talk of the sun rising and setting. The sun appears to rise and set , but this motion is actually due to the rotation of the earth rather than to motion of the sun around the earth.
Verses that speak of the dead sleeping use phenomenological language. For example, Daniel 12:2 states, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This image is of people getting up much as a sleeper rises in the morning. The sleep being discussed is phenomenological sleep, not literal sleep (Daniel is not talking about living people who sleep on the ground). Because dead people look like they are sleeping, especially when lying on their deathbeds (and notice that people often die on beds, enhancing the sleep analogy), the Bible often uses “sleep” as a euphemism for “death.” In fact, this euphemism is common today. "


St. Bede the Venerable and St. Aurelius Augustine explain Christ uses the term "sleeping" because He as God could raise people again, while St. John Chrysostom teaches He thus shows it easy for Him to raise the dead and that we should not be afraid of dying. Further Saint Paul the Apostle calls (1. Cor 15:20) the risen Christ "the first fruits of all those who have fallen asleep" which St. Thomas Aquinas explains to mean the dead in hope of Resurrection.

Catena Aurea Matthew 9:23-26:

Bede, in Luc.: As though He had said, To you she is dead, but to God who has power to give life, she sleeps only both in soul and body.

Chrys.: By this saying, He soothes the minds of those that were present, and shews that it is easy to Him to raise the dead; the like He did in the case [p. 352] of Lazarus, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” [John 11:11] This was also a lesson to them not to be afraid of death; forasmuch as He himself also should die, He made His disciples learn in the persons of others confidence and patient endurance of death. For when He was near, death was but as sleep.

Catena Aurea John 11:11-16:

AUG. It was really true that He was sleeping. To our Lord, he was sleeping; to men who could not raise him again, he was dead. Our Lord awoke him with as much ease from his grave, as you awake a sleeper from his bed. He calls him then asleep, with reference to His own power, as the Apostle says, But 1 would not have you to be ignorant, concerning them which are asleep. Asleep, He says, because He is speaking of their resurrection which was to be. But as it matters to those who sleep and wake again daily, what they see in their sleep, some having pleasant dreams, others painful ones, so it is in death; every one sleeps and rises again with his own account.

St. Thomas Aquinas on 1. Corinthians 15:20-28

The first fruits, I say, of those who have fallen asleep, i.e., of the dead who rest in hope of the resurrection. From this can be inferred the conditional statement previously made, because we say and it is true, if Christ Who is the first fruit of those that sleep, arose, then also all others asleep.


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