We Will All Fall Asleep

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall all fall asleep, but we shall not all be changed in a moment." (1 Corinthians 15:51,52 RVIC)

This is a familiar text, but the rendering above is a surprising one—surprising, in that it differs notably from the common versions rendering. However, as the RVIC footnotes show, this reading is well attested.

Upon close inspection it seems vital. The common versions say "we shall not all sleep." However, the Greek word for "sleep" here, koimethesometha, means not a state of repose, as in sleep, but the act of falling into sleep—"fall asleep." It is Strong’s word number 2838. Another form of the word ekoimethe, Strong’s number 2837, which was used to describe the death of Stephen in Acts 7:60, "he fell asleep." This describes not the state of death, but the act of dying, falling into the sleep of death.

Thus, with the word "not" in the 1 Cor.15:51 phrase, before "all fall asleep," Paul would be saying that not all the saints would die. That would fit nicely with the traditional view of the rapture, and perhaps that is the reason the text was changed at some time, away from the original intent of Paul.

With the word "not" omitted in this phrase, Paul’s words affirm that all the saints must die in the flesh, in order, to be raised to life in the spirit. A little reflection indicates that this text, in the original, before becoming corrupted, is unique. It is the only text in the New Testament that declaratively affirms that all of those called to a heavenly reward must die in the flesh, in order to receive their life in the spirit.

The word "not" does appear in the text, but not in the phrase discussed above. The word "not," in the better manuscripts, appears in the next phrase: "we shall not all be changed in a moment." Those who die after the return of Christ are changed "in the twinkling of an eye" when they die. But those who died long ago, before the return of Christ, are required to rest in the sleep of death, awaiting the end of the age.

In 1 Cor.15:52, Paul used the word "raised" for those who died earlier and slept, awaiting the resurrection. He uses the word "changed" for those who remain until the return of Christ, and thereafter complete their course. "For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we (the living who continue into the presence of Christ) shall be changed." (1 Cor.15:52) That all the saints complete their course in death is consistent with Jesus’ promise in Revelation 2:10, "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

Augustine of Hippo, one of the revered figures of Christian history, is of interest here in that he reflected this same understanding. He was born on November 13 354AD, and died on August 28 430AD. He is the well‑known author of a Christian classic, "The City of God." The Church had already changed in doctrine by his day. But on this point, Augustine affirms the proper view.

This has been brought out in recent years by some studies by Robert Virgil, of the San Francisco area. He states, "Concerning Augustine’s view that it is necessary for all saints to die, even if they survive into the time of the Lord’s presence, see The City of God, Book XX, section 20. This reference system should work regardless of which edition is used.

"Augustine also uses the manuscript variation of 1 Cor.15:51—’we shall all sleep’—and says, ‘not even the saints shall be quickened to immortality unless they first die, however briefly; and consequently they shall not be exempt from resurrection which is preceded by sleep, however brief.’"

We Will All Fall Asleep "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall all fall asleep, but we shall not all be changed, in a moment." (1 Cor.15:51,52 RVIC)

April / June 2020 —People’s Paper, Australia