"For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him" (1Thess. 5: 10).


The words "wake or sleep" are understood differently. "Cocceius includes (1) the alternate states of the body in this life; (2) life and death; (3) and principally, spiritual slumber and its opposite. Whitby’s restriction of the words to the first of these senses (natural sleeping or waking) was preferred also by Musculus, Aretius, Cajetan as cited by Estius, and has been allowed by Calvin, Bengel, Gill, Pelt. I agree with Alford in regarding this sense as ‘trifling,’ but not in thinking the third sense as any better worth mentioning even as a possibility" (John Lillie, D.D., Lectures on the Epistles to the Thessalonians, 309).

Yet the third sense is strongly maintained by some, as part of the argument in support of the view that rising in the first resurrection, and sharing with the Lord the sovereignty of the Millennial Kingdom, is not at all dependent upon the moral condition of the believer but is wholly a gift of unconditional Divine grace. The words are held to mean that this high privilege is assured to every believer of this age whether he live in spiritual wakefulness or spiritual sleep. The following is a careful and temperate statement of this view.


The discussion turns chiefly upon the meaning of gregoreö. I maintain that it means in verse 10 what it means throughout the rest of that chapter and throughout the rest of the N. T., viz. To be "spiritually wakeful" and not to be "physically alive." Many scholars, such as A. T. Robertson, Abbot-Smith, Lightfoot, and Alford hold that it means to be "physically alive." My reasons for believing gregoreö in 1Thess. 5: 10 means to be spiritually wakeful are these:

1. In the other twenty-two instances of the use of gregoreö in the N. T. it never means "to be alive"; but in the majority of instances "to be spiritually wakeful," and in the few others "to be or keep literally awake" in contrast to literal, physical sleep.

2. In verse 6 of 1Thess. 5 gregoreö unquestionably means "to be spiritually wakeful."  To translate there "to be alive" would be to make nonsense of the whole passage.  And therefore it is extremely likely that Paul in almost the very same breath would use the word in a sense not only different from verse 6, but from the whole of the rest of the N. T.; and so risk the Thessalonians understanding the word in its normal sense, when according to you and others he wished them suddenly to understand it quite differently.

3. The unlikelihood is further much increased when we observe that the word Paul uses for sleep, as the opposite to gregoreö, is not the word he uses in the previous chapter for sleep in the sense of death. It is katheudö not koimaomai.

4. Koimaomai in the N. T. is never used of spiritual sleep: always of death or literal physical sleep. Katheudö, however, is ever the word used to convey the idea of spiritual sleep: it is sometimes used of literal physical sleep, but never of death, unless we allow the very doubtful case of Jirus’ daughter, where the Lord said of her ouk apethane (she is not dead).

5. In the immediate context of 1Thess. 5: 10 katheudö is used three times in verses 6 and 7; each time of slothfulness, literal or spiritual, without the faintest possibility of meaning death. Therefore to translate katheudö in verse 10 by "death," or so to interpret it, is linguistically exceedingly arbitary.

6. Alford in his commentary owns the difficulty of interpreting verse 10 in the sense of life and death. He offers no N. T. linguistic evidence for departing in verse 10 from the normal meaning of the words in question. His theology however forces him so to depart.  The other scholars I have mentioned baldly state that the words in verse 10 are there to be interpreted in the sense of life and death. They offer not a scrap of N. T. authority based on N. T. linguistic usage.  Presumably again their theology forces them to these linguistically arbitrary assertions.

7. Yet if one is prepared to allow the words to mean in verse 10 what they mean in the intermediate context and consistently throughout the N. T. , the meaning of verse 10 is then consistent with the doctrine of the whole of the N. T., which teaches that our salvation, initial or final, depends not on our works but is "by grace through faith." "We believe that by the grace of the Lord we shall be saved" (Acts 15: 11). Hence there is no need to depart in verse 10 from the usual meaning of gregoreö.

8. Now the point at issue in 1Thess. 5: 10 is strictly not the translation of gregoreö or katheudö. To be faithful to the Greek we must translate "whether we are wakeful or asleep, whether we wake or sleep." The question is the interpretation of the meaning of these words. Now all of us are, I judge, at liberty in the fear of God to state what we feel to be the right interpretation, provided that we allow our hearers or readers to perceive that it is but our interpretation. But if to secure our interpretation we categorically state that the word gregoreö in 1Thess. 5: 10 means "to be alive," then we are not only arbitrarily imposing on gregoreö a meaning which it nowhere else in the N. T. bears, but in stating our interpretation as if it were the linguistic meaning of the word we are taking a license which done in the cause of truth is regrettable, indeed.


Taking separately the reasons here given it is to be observed:


1. As regards the uses of gregoreö and katheudö in the rest of the New Testament, this could have been no guide or help to the Thessalonians, for the New Testament did not exist. This letter was probably the first part of the New Testament to have been written. Yet they were expected to understand the statement, and for this they were dependent upon their knowledge of the senses in which the words could be used in the native language, guided by the Spirit of truth as to which meaning was intended in each place. This means that they were cast principally upon the moral, spiritual, and doctrinal considerations involved to settle which meaning of a word was intended.

The use of a word in the New Testament is, of course, a very important matter, but it cannot be necessary or decisive for us in this instance; it may be helpful, but it cannot be conclusive, especially if a word is known to have other meanings than those found in the New Testament.

2. Was it, then, possible for gregoreö to be used in the sense of being alive on earth?  It is the fact that it is not so used elsewhere in the New Testament.  It is there used eight times and its cognate gregorësis twice, always in the sense of watchfulness.  But this does not establish that the word could not mean to be alive.  It is derived from egeirö, the first meaning of which is to rise from sitting or lying, to awake from sleep; but it then takes other senses, as to raise up children to a man, and it acquires what is its most important sense in the New Testament, that of rising bodily from the dead to new life, This became the dominant sense of its other derivative exegeirö.  The Lexicons give Aeschylus and Euripides as so equivalent to its root egeirö: "God both raised (egeirö) the Lord, and will raise up (exegeirö) us." Rom. 9: 17 is its other place in the New Testament.

As the root and the cognate of gregoreö were thus used of resuming bodily life it is difficult to see why the same sense must be ruled out of the question, so as to forbid that meaning in our verse.  Four scholars have been named who do so take it.  Others may be mentioned, as Cremer, Ellicott on this place, the Speaker’s Commentary in loco., and J. N. Darby, who says (Synopsis, vol. 5, 95), "That whether we wake or sleep (have died before His coming or be then alive)."  Were all these competent Greek scholars mistaken and unjustified in holding this meaning of the word?  There would appear to be no sound linguistic reason against our passage having this sense, even though it be the only known instance.  A well-known living scholar writes to me: "There is no reason in the words gregoreö and katheudö themselves why they should not be used figuratively for ‘live’ and ‘die’ respectively" (F.F. Bruce).

3. But it is urged that Paul himself had only just before used the word in the sense of moral watchfullness, so that it must be thought improbable that he would so quickly employ it differently. Yet such sudden employment of a word in a changed sense is common in everyday speech.  For example: "Well! I hope you’re well."  In only six words "well" is used in quite unrelated senses. Or again:"I shall presume that all present have experienced the new birth; and I hope that this presumption is not presumption, but accords with the fact." Here in immediate contact, "presumption" is used with two quite distinct meanings. Look now at the New Testament.

1 John 2: 19: "They went out from us (ex hemön) but they were not of us (ex hemön): for if they had been of us (ex hemön) they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest how that they are not all of us (ex hemön)." Here ex hemön is first used of bodily, personal removal from a local company, and then, at once, three times of an inward spiritual union. Only the inner judgment of the reader can see and feel the diverse meanings.

Luke 20: 37. Observe our Lord’s use of nekrös (dead) in two incompatible senses in one verse.  "But that the dead (nekrös) are raised, even Moses showed . . . when he called the Lord the God of Abraham. Now he is not the God of the dead (nekrön) but of the living: for all live unto him."  Here "dead" is first used in its common meaning of physically dead, as was the case with the Patriarchs; but then it is at once used in the sense that the Sadducees held, of non-existence, the argument against them being that God cannot be the God of the non-existent and therefore the continued existence of the dead is certain and their coming RESURRECTION to be inferred. *

1 Cor. 15. Consider Paul’s usage of apothneskö in this chapter. In verses 3, 22, 36 it means ordinary physical death:  "Christ died . . . in Adam all die . . . is not quickened except it die." In verse 31 it is used metaphorically: "I die daily," i.e. I am daily in danger of death. In verse 32 it is used of annihilation, parallel to Christ’s usage of nekrös just mentioned, these being the only places I have noticed in Scripture where "death" is allowed this meaning, it being used controversially in the sense given to it by the opponents being answered: "let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die" and are done with, there being no resurrection.

In view of this last instance we may accept Dr. Lillie’s remark (at the place before cited) : "That a word is employed with different meanings in the same context need not offend any one familiar with Paul’s style."

4. The difficulty advanced as to katheudö not meaning death, but moral sloth, is equally met by the argument just given.  The word does usually mean sleep, physical or moral; but it can mean death, and therefore Paul could rightly so employ it.  In the Septuagint it plainly means death at Psm. 88: 5: "the dead asleep in the tomb," and at Dan. 12: 2, "them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake to everlasting life." Nor does the case of Jairus’ daughter mentioned seem "very doubtful" or doubtful at all. Mat. 9: 24: Mk. 5: 39: Lk. 8: 52.  Before the Lord had reached the house the message had come to the ruler "Thy daughter is dead," as all in the house knew (Lk. 8: 49, 53).  The Lord’s words "she is not dead but sleepeth" could not be a denial of what was obviously a fact, the physical death of the child.  To force that idea robs the incident entirely of its miraculous character.  Anybody could have roused her from natural sleep; only Jesus could raise her to life.  Godet’s words are very just: "Jesus means that, in the order of things over which He presides, death is death no longer, but assumes the character of a temporary slumber" (Luke1. 394; 3rd ed., Clark).  Therefore in this place apetane and katheudö are descriptions of the same state of existence viewed differently.  Therefore in our passage the earlier word can have the meaning of death, even though a little before it has its moral force.

This is the more demanded seeing that in the immediately preceding verses moral sleep is emphatically reprobated as being utterly unworthy of the sons of light because it characterizes the non-Christian and his dark night.

5. To argue that it is unlikely that Paul here used katheudö in the sense of death because elsewhere he used the more usual word koimaomai is really to deny to a versatile and educated writer the right to vary his vocabulary, or to chose an unusual word which may properly express his thought.  Since katheudö can mean bodily death the apostle cannot be denied liberty so to use it.

6. The true crux of the question is stated in para. 7 above as follows:

Yet if one is prepared to allow the words to mean in verse 10 what they mean in the immediate context and consistently throughout the New Testament, the meaning of verse 10 is then consistent with the doctrine of the whole of the New Testament, which teaches that our salvation, initial or final, depends not on our works but is "by grace through faith." "We believe that by the grace of the Lord we shall be saved" (Acts 15: 11). Hence there is no need to depart from the usual meaning of gregoreö in verse 10.

As regards what is here called "final" salvation this assertion is simply to be denied.  We take the writer’s "initial" salvation to mean the justification of the guilty and the gift of eternal life.  These two acts of God are the minimum indispensable to salvation in any degree.  The sinner cannot acquire these by merit or work, because he cannot remove his guilt or bring himself from spiritual death to life; therefore they are what they must be, free gifts by grace to faith, and both are so described most distinctly: "being justified freely (dörean, unconditionally) by his grace" (Rom. 3: 24), and "the free gift of God (charisma) is eternal life" (Rom. 6: 23).

This change of legal status and of spiritual condition brings the now living man into a vast realm, the kingdom of God, with grand possibilities and privileges.  These possible privileges are not described as "free," i.e. unconditional gifts.  Most true it is that they are all provided by grace, and that grace is available to win them; but then it is possible to "receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. 6: 1), to "fall short" of that grace and to "come short" of attaining to what that grace had promised (Heb. 12: 15; 4: 1).

These warnings are addressed to Christians.  They apply in particular to the matter of sharing the sovereignty of Christ in HIS KINGDOM, as it is written that we are "heirs indeed (men) of God, but (de) joint heirs with Christ [Messiah], if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified with him" (Rom. 8: 17); and again, "If we died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us; etc." (2 Tim. 2: 11-13).  Although these "ifs" stand with the indictive of the verbs, it is impossible to read them as "since" we do this or that, for it is not true that all believers do in fact die, suffer, and endure with Him, and obviously it is not true that all deny Him.  The conditional force is not to be avoided.  To assert the opposite is to assert that there is no backsliding, and to make void the warnings of the New Testament to Christians.  This subject I have discussed at length in Firstfruits and Harvest, Ideals and Realities, Revelation, and Hebrews

Our passage (1 Thess. 5: 1-11) is concerned distinctly with the future aspect of salvation, not the "initial" aspect.  It deals with the "hope of salvation," not the entrance thereto.  For it is not the intention of God that the sons of light and day (verse 5) should meet His wrath at the return of Christ, but that they should then obtain "salvation," that is, that "salvation which is ready to be revealed in the last time."  Which is the "inheritance" (the portion of the heir), as yet "reserved in heaven" (1Pet. 1: 4, 5). This magnificent and heavenly inheritance is the highest possible development of salvation to which faith can aspire, and in His very first recorded mention of it the Lord set it forth as a reward for suffering on His behalf (Matt. 5: 12: "Blessed are ye when men shall reproach and persecute you . . . great is your reward in heaven").  This is the key to all later references to the subject.

Of this most noble and of prospects the noblest element is that it assures continuous enjoyment of the personal company of the Lord. All the saved will be blessed in His kingdom1, but not all will be the personal companions of the King. Heb. 3: 14 says that "we are become companions of Christ [the Messiah tou Christou] if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end." This high privilege is for those who "hate their life" in this age, who serve and follow Him in reality. Of such He says "where I am there shall also my servant be" and will be honoured by His Father (John 12: 25, 26). This may be followed throughout the New Testament. To the few who keep their garments undefiled in this foul world it is promised that "they shall walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. The one overcoming shall thus be arrayed in white garments" (Rev. 2: 4, 5).

Now it is distinctly of this salvation that Paul speaks in our verse: "that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him," and all relevant passages likewise show that this privilege is contingent upon the sons of light not sleeping as do the rest of men, but being watchful, sober, having on the armour of light and fighting the good fight of faith.  This Christ stated impressively when Peter objected to Him washing his feet.  The act was symbolic of the need a saint has of daily cleansing from the defilement caused by contact with this defiled world.  This cleansing the Lord is ready to effect by the laver of His word and Spirit (Eph. 5: 25-27); and to one who refuses sanctification the solemn word applies "If I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me."

The 1946 Revisers of the American Standard Version make this read, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." This would cut off the unsanctified believer from salvation entire.  It is a flagrant and culpable mis-translation.  But what Christ said to Peter did not put in jeopardy his justification or eternal life, but it did make the enjoyment of the personal company of the Lord to depend upon daily sanctification, as does the whole New Testament, and as the believer finds by present experience.

Therefore in place of accepting the above view, that to take "wake or sleep" to mean watchfulness or slothfulness, puts the passage into harmony with the doctrine of the whole New Testament, we then rather see it as forcing the verse into open conflict with the whole New Testament upon the matter Paul states, that of living with Him. If we are right in this, the point is settled that the words in question cannot here have this moral sense.

7. This leads to the final consideration, which also by itself determines the matter.  When the words in question are taken to mean moral watchfulness or slothfulness the plain effect is that the carnally-minded believer is as sure to be a personal companion of the King in His glory as is the heavenly-minded saint; for says this view, God appointed that, whether we are watchful or slothful, we shall live together with Christ.  What a premium is thus put upon slothfulness, and by the predetermination of God Himself!  Demas forsook Paul, the aged prisoner, having learned again to love this present age; yet he is as absolutely certain as the faithful apostle to reign with Christ in the heavenly glory.  This was put bluntly by a teacher of this view, when he said at a public meeting, "No matter how you live as a Christian, you are certain to be a part of the bride of Christ and to reign with Him."  He emphasized the words in italics, it being the express point he was urging.

On this view it matters not a straw that Demas, because he loved this world, did thereby "constitute himself (kathistanai) an enemy of God," being spiritually an adultress (James 4: 4).  The "adultress" shall nevertheless be part of the Bride of the Lamb!  And even Paul is made to teach this rank antinomianism, Paul who solemnly and regularly warned his children in the faith that unrighteous persons shall not have inheritance in the kingdom of God, on which very point they were on no account to suffer themselves to be deceived. 1 Cor. 6: 9-11; Gal. 5: 18-21; Eph. 5: 5.  He tells the Corinthians that they themselves were the unrighteous persons he meant, saying, "ye yourselves do wrong (adikeite) . . . know ye not that wrong-doers (adikoi) shall not inherit?"

8. It was suggested above that it was the theological views of the scholars named which forced them to hold that the passage speaks of bodily death or life at the coming of the Lord.  There is always danger that one’s opinions may affect the judgment upon a particular point or passage, but this applies equally to those who wish to hold the moral sense of the words, it being a great support to the view that reigning with Christ is guaranteed irrespective of conduct.  But the objection cannot apply to J. N. Darby, at least, for he held the opinion just stated yet took the opposite view of our verse, nor were the other scholars named of any one school of theology so as all to be biased in one direction.  It would be fairer to allow that, apart from linguistic reasons, it was a just sense of morality that made them reject the meaning desired by some and which dulls the sense of moral urgency everywhere included by the Word of God.

The view in question amounts to this - that in verses 6 and 7 Paul urges that to sleep in the night is natural enough for the sons of darkness but most unbecoming in the sons of light and day, who ought to be ever watchful, armed, and sober, like soldiers on duty. Yet nevertheless, says this view, in verse 10 he cancels this by assuring them that, even if the Christian does not watch, but goes to sleep while on duty, it won’t seriously affect his heavenly prospects, because the soldier of Christ may sleep through the battle but be sure of sharing the triumph banquet!  Is it not unjustifiable to force upon the apostle this moral contradiction?  Is it not obvious that Paul must have used katheudö in different senses?

From the foregoing it appears:

1. That there is adequate linguistic ground to allow "wake or sleep" to mean "alive or dead."

2. That the objection that the writer would not in close contact use a word in two different senses is unfounded.

3. That it is contrary to the consistent teaching of the New Testament to regard the high and heavenly prospects of the saints as free of moral conditions.

4. That the view here rebutted is calculated to diminish fidelity and morality.

5. That therefore the words must be taken to mean that whether those who live godly in Christ are alive when He shall come, or shall have died, they shall live with Christ in His kingdom.