This is a sad, yet interesting irony about Reformation history- many want to either claim Luther, or disown Luther. For a man so despised by so many groups, it’s ironic how those with a particular viewpoint think if they appeal to Luther, somehow or another the large majority of Protestant Christendom will take them seriously. On the other hand, those wishing to distance themselves from historic Protestantism appeal to Luther as well; they argue that Luther was immoral and therefore Protestantism is fraudulent. Both approaches are futile.
The last blog entry documented the alleged Pentecostal Luther who spoke in tongues. Then of course, there’s the Roman Catholic Luther who was “quite devoted” to the Virgin Mary. There’s the anti-Semite Luther used by Neo-Nazi’s. There’s even a polygamist Luther, precursor to the Mormons. This just scratches the surface- there’s a lot more Luther’s out there.
Let’s take a look at another Luther: The Seventh Day Adventist Luther who advocated ‘soul sleep.’
For those of you who aren’t quite sure what this is- ‘soul sleep’ is the idea that after death the soul ‘sleeps’ until the final resurrection. In other words, after dying the soul doesn’t go consciously into the direct presence of God. Rather, it hibernates until the resurrection- when it is then awakened and reunited with its body.
I was sent a link to this discussion thread. The Seventh Day Adventist who started this discussion quoted this from a pro-SDA website :
“Archdeacon Francis Blackbume states in his Short Historical View of the Controversy Concerning an Intermediate State, of 1765: Luther espoused the doctrine of the sleep of the soul, upon a Scripture foundation, and then he made use of it as a confutation of purgatory and saint worship, and continued in that belief to the last moment of his life.”
Before actually delving into Luther’s understanding of ‘soul sleep’ - it’s interesting to look at the facts above carefully. While Luther did affirm 'soul sleep', it would be incorrect to think that his view on this topic was the reason he denied purgatory and saint worship.
I don’t recall ever reading Luther use ‘soul sleep’ to refute purgatory or saint worship. Most often Luther pointed out that Purgatory was not taught in Scripture, and also that it served as an income generating doctrine for the Papacy. Both of these were strong enough arguments to refute Purgatory. I haven’t read Luther anywhere using ‘soul sleep’ to refute saint worship either- this may exist, but I haven’t read it. Luther knew that prayers to, and faith in the saints violated the First Commandment. If Luther ever did apply ‘soul sleep’ to “confute purgatory and saint worship”, it must have been sparsely. So right from the beginning, it’s obvious that Luther’s view on ‘soul sleep’ is being mishandled by the Adventists.
According to the Seventh Day Adventists, once the soul awakes it is either sent off to eternity or annihilated- thus they deny the immortality of the soul. Interestingly, they try and grab Luther for this one as well. The Adventist gentleman who gave this quote also linked to an article by an Adventist. The article wants one to believe that Luther was part of a growing group"of those who denied the natural immortality of the soul, and avowed the conditional immortality of man." The article notes, "On December 19, 1513, in connection with the eighth session of the fifth Lateran Council, Pope Leo X issued a Bull (Apostolici regimis) declaring, "We do condemn and reprobate all who assert that the intelligent soul is mortal."
Here was a fascinating quote found in the link:
"Then, on October 31, 1517, Luther posted his famous Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. In his 1520 published Defence [sic] of 41 of his propositions, Luther cited the pope's immortality declaration, as among "those monstrous opinions to be found in the Roman dunghill of decretals" (proposition 27). In the twenty-seventh proposition of his Defence[sic] Luther said:
'However, I permit the Pope to establish articles of faith for himself and for his own faithful—such are: That the bread and wine are transubstantiated in the sacrament; that the essence of God neither generates nor is generated; that the soul is the substantial form of the human body that he [the pope] is emperor of the world and king of heaven, and earthly god; that the soul is immortal; and all these endless monstrosities in the Roman dunghill of decretals—in order that such as his faith is, such may be his gospel, such also his faithful, and such his church, and that the lips may have suitable lettuce and the lid may be worthy of the dish.—Martin Luther, Assertio Omnium Articulorum M. Lutheri per Bullam Leonis X. Novissimam Damnatorum (Assertion of all the articles of M. Luther condemned by the latest Bull of Leo X), article 27, Weimar edition of Luther's Works, vol. 7, pp. 131, 132 (a point-by-point exposition of his position, written Dec. 1, 1520, in response to requests for a fuller treatment than that given in his Adversus execrabilem Antichristi Bullam, and Wider die Bulle des Endchrists).'
Note what’s being perpetrated: Luther denies the immortality of the soul. How can this be? It can’t. Imagine, a Christian who didn’t believe at least some souls are immortal. Now a Seventh Day Adventist is trying to use this to prove Luther believed in the annihilation of souls that won’t be saved after they awake from ‘soul sleep’- hence the soul is not necessarily immortal.
But Luther hasn’t said this at all, nor was he part of a growing group"of those who denied the natural immortality of the soul, and avowed the conditional immortality of man." . In LW 32:77 in his expounded defense of the 95 Theses, Luther says:
“Hence the experts in Rome have recently pronounced a holy decree[At the Fifth Lateran Council, 1512–1517] which establishes that the soul of man is immortal, acting as if we did not all say in our common Creed, “I believe in the life everlasting.” And, with the assistance of the mastermind Aristotle, they decreed further that the soul is “essentially the form of the human body,” and many other splendid articles of a similar nature. These decrees are, indeed, most appropriate to the papal church, for they make it possible for them to hold fast to human dreams and the doctrines of devils while they trample upon and destroy faith and the teaching of Christ.”
A helpful footnote explains, “ Luther objects to the substitution of philosophical ideas concerning the immortality of the soul for the biblical teaching of the resurrection and the life everlasting. Cf. Carl Stange, Studien zur Theologte Luthers (Gütersloh, 1928– ), pp. 287–344.” So, Luther is condemning philosophical speculation in the guise of infallible church pronouncements- he’s not denying the immortality of the soul. Elsewhere Luther explains, “When the last Lateran council was to be concluded in Rome under Pope Leo, among other articles it was decreed that one must believe the soul to be immortal. From this one may gather that they make eternal life an object of sheer mockery and contempt. In this way they confess that it is a common belief among them that there is no eternal life, but that they now wish to proclaim this by means of a bull.” (LW 47:37)
Luther repeatedly affirmed the immortality of the soul, and often made it a point to note it is not to be believed because of philosophical speculation. It is to be believed because God has spoken in his Word:
“Although some of the philosophers, like Socrates and others, maintain the immortality of the soul, they were ridiculed by the rest of the philosophers and all but scorned. But isn’t it folly for human reason to be so offended, since it sees that even now the procreation of man is full of wonder? Does it not seem contrary to reason that man, who is to live forever, is born, as it were, from one single droplet of semen in the loins of the father? This is even more absurd than when Moses says that man was formed from a clod by the fingers of God. But reason shows in this way that it knows practically nothing about God, who, merely by a thought, makes out of a clod, not the semen of a human being but the human being itself, and, as Moses states later, makes the woman out of the rib of the man. Such was the origin of man.” (LW 1:84)
“The philosophers have indeed disputed about the immortality of the soul, but so coldly that they seem to be setting forth mere fables. Aristotle above all argues about the soul in such a way that he diligently and shrewdly avoids discussing its immortality anywhere; nor did he want to express what he thought about it. Plato related what he had heard rather than his own opinion. Nor can its immortality be proved by any human reason, for it is not a thing “under the sun” to believe that the soul is immortal. In the world it is neither seen nor understood as certain that souls are immortal.” (LW 15:59)
The Seventh Day Adventist Luther: Soul Sleep and the Immortality of the Soul(Part two)
The Seventh Day Adventist Luther: Soul Sleep and the Immortality of the Soul(Part three)