The Meaning Of “Sleep” In 1 Thessalonians 5:10 -- By: Thomas R. Edgar

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 22:4 (Dec 1979)
Article: The Meaning Of “Sleep” In 1 Thessalonians 5:10
Author: Thomas R. Edgar

The Meaning Of “Sleep” In 1 Thessalonians 5:10

Thomas R. Edgar*

Many exegetes do not engage in independent original study of every Biblical term they discuss. Such time-consuming study is reserved for passages where there is some indication that additional work will bear fruit. Further study of the term “sleep” in 1 Thess 5:10 does not seem to promise much return, since the commentators and lexicographers are virtually unanimous in stating that in this verse the term means “to be dead.” Despite the opinion of the majority, 1 Thess 5:10 is not devoid of implications that it is worthy of original study. This verse, referring to Jesus Christ, states that he “died for us, that whether we watch or sleep we shall live together with him.” To the reader of the English translation this seems clear enough; the verb “sleep” means the same as the verb “sleep” in 4:13. There it plainly refers to physical death. The verbs are not the same, however, in both verses. The verb koimaō is used in 4:13, but katheudō occurs in 5:10. The standard lexicons reveal that both verbs mean “to sleep” and both have such additional meanings as to be idle, to lack vigilance, to engage in sexual relations, or to be dead.1

Since Paul has used a different verb in 1 Thess 4:13 (koimaō), and since katheudō is used in the immediately preceding context (5:6, 7) with a meaning other than physical death, there is an implication that such a meaning may not be correct for 5:10.

I. The Majority Opinion

Turning to the commentaries, one finds a great many who feel that katheudō in 5:10 means “to be dead.” Alford, discussing the meaning of the verbs grēgoreō and katheudō in this verse, states that they are to be taken

surely not in an ethical sense … If not in an ethical sense, it must be in that of living or dying, and the sense as Rom. xiv.8 … Thus understood, however, it will be at the sacrifice of perspicuity, seeing that g...

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