The Meaning of “Sleep” in 1 Thessalonians 5:10— A Reappraisal -- By: Tracy L. Howard

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 06:2 (Fall 1985)
Article: The Meaning of “Sleep” in 1 Thessalonians 5:10— A Reappraisal
Author: Tracy L. Howard

The Meaning of “Sleep” in 1 Thessalonians 5:10—
A Reappraisal

Tracy L. Howard

It has recently been argued that καθεύδω in 1 Thess 5:10 meansspiritual insensibility.” However, the context indicates that the word is used as a euphemism for death. This is within the semantic range of the word and is supported by structural parallels between 1 Thess 4:13–14, 18 and 1 Thess 5:9–11 in which καθεύδω is paired with κοιμάω.

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Until recently, most commentators have understood Paul’s reference to “sleep” in 1 Thess 5:10 as a metaphor for “physical death.” This would seem reasonable since Paul frequently uses the metaphor of “sleep” to describe a believer who has died in the Lord. In fact, he uses the metaphor earlier in the same eschatological discourse in which 1 Thess 5:10 is located (cf. 1 Thess 4:13–14). However, in 4:13 he uses the verb κοιμάω whereas in 5:10 he employs καθεύδω. The question therefore immediately arises whether or not Paul uses καθεύδω as a synonym for κοιμάω; in other words, does he use both verbs as a metaphor to describe “physical death”? 1 Thess 5:10 states that Christ “died on our behalf, in order that whether we are awake or asleep (καθεύδωμεν) we might live together with Him.” The commentators and lexicographers are virtually unanimous in their interpretation of καθεύδω as a euphemism for “death” in this text. However, several recent articles suggest that καθεύδω means “spiritual insensibility” instead of “physical death.”1 Although some of the

arguments appear convincing on the surface, they reflect a failure to consider other contextual, literary, and lexical features which strongly suggest that in 1 Thess 5:10 καθ...

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