Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Luther on Soul Sleep: "Salomon judgeth that the dead are a sleepe, and feele nothing at all"

Here's an obscure Luther quote being used in the webpage, Martin Luther- The Bare Truth Unfolded:

Shocking but true, and in fact, Luther has his admirers in none other than the Seventh Day Adventists, for this heresy of annihilationism also known as soul sleep. Luther clearly taught this:
“Salomon judgeth that the dead are a sleepe, and feele nothing at all. For the dead lye there accompting neyther dayes nor yeares, but when are awaked, they shall seeme to have slept scarce one minute.”
An Exposition of Salomon’s Booke, called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, 1553, folio 151v. (A direct English translation of Luther’s German done in 1553)

What Seventh Day Adventists Believe
According to this webpage, Luther "clearly taught" the Seventh-Day Adventist view of "annihilationism also known as soul sleep."  It's my understanding that Seventh-Day Adventism holds that after death, once the soul awakes, it is either sent off to eternity or annihilated- thus they deny the immortality of the soul (that the soul is necessarily immortal). For Adventism, soul sleep is not equivalent to annihilationism. This website points out that these terms would be more equivalent in the way Jehovah's Witnesses use them:
Soul sleep is the teaching that when a person dies that his soul "sleeps" until the time of the future resurrection. In this condition, the person is not aware or conscious. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-day Adventists hold to this doctrine. But the Jehovah's Witnesses teach annihilation. This means that after death, a person ceases to exist. At the future resurrection they maintain that the soul is made again. Basically, it is a re-creation of the individual. The Seventh-day Adventists teach that the soul is simply inert and resides in the memory of God.
The official site the Seventh-Day Adventists affirm soul sleep for all, and annihilation for some:
At death, all consciousness ends. The dead person does not know anything and does not do anything (Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10). Jesus and the apostles (as well as writers in the Old Testament) frequently referred to death as sleep (e.g.,Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; John 11:11-14; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:4; Dan. 12:2; Job 14:10-12; Ps. 13:3). The image of sleep emphasizes that death is not the end, but is rather an unconscious state prior to the resurrection (note in this regard the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11:11-14,23-25, 43).
And also:
The punishment of the unrepentant is called the second death: After the final judgment the unrepentant receive their punishment. This punishment is called the second death. “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14, 15; see also 21:8). The Bible also uses words such as “perishing” and “destruction” in speaking of the ultimate fate of the unrepentant (e.g., 
2 Peter 3:7, 9; John 3:16; Heb. 10:28; Mal. 4:1). These descriptions confirm that the second death refers to annihilation (or extinction) of the unrepentant, rather than a continual and eternal conscious torment.
Luther did not believe in annihilationism for the damned- see his comments on Psalm 21:9 (WA 5:590) "Constantly the damned will be judged, constantly they will suffer pain, and constantly they will be a fiery oven, that is, they will be tortured within by supreme distress and tribulation"; and his sermon on Matthew 22:1-4, "...their hands and feet shall be tied, and they shall be cast into outermost darkness, that is, they must eternally lie captive with the devil in hell-fire" (WA 52:513).

Whatever Luther's view was on soul sleep (see discussion below), there is a fundamental mistake with how the argumentation is presented: the comparison is being made between Luther and an incorrect presentation of Seventh-Day Adventism. 

The documentation provided refers to "An Exposition of Salomon’s Booke, called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, 1553, folio 151v. (A direct English translation of Luther’s German done in 1553)." The reference is probably wrong at least in two respects. First, the English translation was probably from 1573, not 1553. I could find no verification of any such English translation being done in 1553, and even the source I believe first pulled this quote said 1573, not 1553. Second, Luther didn't write this in German. Luther's material on Ecclesiastes is the result of lectures notes taken in Latin by Georg Rörer who listened to Luther's lectures on Ecclesiastes.

Given that so many of Luther's writings have been translated into contemporary English (including his exposition on Ecclesiastes), I found this reference curious. I believe that this quote probably was taken from a 1957 Seventh-Day Adventist publication: Seventh-Day Adventists Questions on Doctrine. The reason why they relied on such an old English translation is because that's probably all there was at the time in regard to Luther's Exposition of Ecclesiastes in English. The current English version contained in Luther's Works came out in 1971,  so, some Adventist managed to track down the 1573 old English edition!

In Questions on Doctrine (page 517) the Adventists state:
Here are sample Luther citations. In the quaint 1573 English translation we read:
Salomon iudgeth that the dead are a sleepe, and feele nothing at all. For the dead lye there accompting neyther dayes nor yeares, but when they are awaked, they shall seeme to haue slept scarce one minute.—An Exposition of Salomon's Booke, Called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, 1573, folio 151v.
There's the quote in its exact form. The Latin this was taken from can be found in WA 20:162.

This text was translated into English in LW 15:150. It's Luther's comments on Ecclesiastes 9:10. Luther's lectures on Ecclesiastes date from 1526.

10. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in the pit, to which you are going.
This is the second part of the exhortation. In it he opposes those idle men who, because they see that the world is ungrateful and because they are aware of its pain, refuse to achieve anything at all or to do any good. Therefore he commands both, that we should be merry, but in such a way that we do not become idle but labor in accordance with the command in Gen. 3:17–19. The labor must be present, but the burdensome and troublesome anxieties must not. One must tire his body with labor, but one’s heart must be free of anxiety and be content with what is in the present. Add a third element: Do not afflict your heart with grief because you see that the world is ungrateful. Now, he says finds deliberately; that is, “do not pursue your own plans but what lies at hand, what God has commanded and provided, without any concern about the future.” When he says with your might, he is demanding industry and diligence. For there is no work, etc., in the pit. This is another passage which proves that the dead do not feel anything. There is, he says, no thought or art or knowledge or wisdom there. Therefore Solomon thought that the dead are completely asleep and do not feel anything at all. The dead lie there without counting days or years; but when they are raised, it will seem to them that they have only slept for a moment. Pit means the grave or the sepulcher. In my opinion it refers to the hidden resting-place in which the dead sleep outside of the present life, where the soul departs to its place. Whatever it may be, it cannot be physical. Thus you should understand the pit to mean the place where the souls are kept, a sort of sepulcher of the soul outside this physical world, just as the earth is the sepulcher of the body. What this is, however, is unknown to us. So in Gen. 42:38 and 44:29: “I shall descend with sorrow to the pit” and “You will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to the pit.” For true saints do not descend to the pit in order to suffer something there. Therefore the dead are outside of space, because whatever is outside of this life is outside of space. In the same way we shall be removed from space and time after the resurrection. Thus also Christ is outside of space. This we say in opposition to those who want to take Christ captive in space, although He is everywhere. The Word of God is not separated from the flesh. Where God is, there the flesh of Christ is. But God is everywhere; therefore Christ is everywhere also. [Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 15: Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Last Words of David, 2 Samuel 23:1-7. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 15, pp. 150–151). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House].

Did Luther believe in soul sleep? The answer is a hesitating yes, speculatively at times. He did so in somewhat undogmatic terms, at times cautioning his readers that we don’t have full understanding of this subject. At times he says things that contradict "soul sleep."’His was not a dogmatic conclusion. Luther knew that describing the state of the dead was speculative theology. The state of the dead was prone to wild speculation during his time. This can be seen early in his career in a letter to Nicholas von Amsdorf (January 13, 1522). Luther responded to the question of what happens to the soul after death. Note how Luther responds cautiously:
“Concerning your “souls,” I have not enough [insight into the problem] to answer you.  I am inclined to agree with your opinion that the souls of the just are asleep and that they do not know where they are up to the Day of Judgment. I am drawn to this opinion by the word of Scripture, “They sleep with their fathers.”  The dead who were raised by Christ and by the apostles testify to this fact,  since they were as if they had just awakened from sleep and didn’t know where they had been. To this must be added the ecstatic experiences of many saints. I have nothing with which I could overthrow this opinion. But I do not dare to affirm that this is true for all souls in general, because of the ecstasy of Paul,  and the ascension of Elijah and of Moses (who certainly did not appear as phantoms on Mount Tabor). 
Who knows how God deals with the departed souls? Can’t [God] just as well make them sleep on and off (or for as long as he wishes [them to sleep]), just as he overcomes with sleep those who live in the flesh? And again, that passage in Luke 16 [:23 ff.] concerning Abraham and Lazarus, although it does not force the assumption of a universal [capacity of feeling on the part of the departed],yet it attributes a capacity of feeling to Abraham and Lazarus, and it is hard to twist this passage to refer to the Day of Judgment.
I think the same about the condemned souls; some may feel punishments immediately after death, but others may be spared from [punishments] until that Day [of Judgment]. For the reveler [in that parable] confesses that he is tortured;  and the Psalm says, “Evil will catch up with the unjust man when he perishes.” You perhaps also refer this either to the Day of Judgment or to the passing anguish of physical death. Then my opinion would be that this is uncertain. It is most probable, however, that with few exceptions, all [departed souls] sleep without possessing any capacity of feeling. Consider now who the “spirits in prison” were to whom Christ preached, as Peter writes:  Could they not also sleep until the Day [of Judgment]?  Yet when Jude says concerning the Sodomites that they suffer the pain of eternal fire, he is speaking of a present [fire]."[LW 48:360-361]."
The same sort of caution was peppered throughout his writings. Some years back I put forth a number of quotes from Luther demonstrating that his position on this subject was undogmatic and speculative. See Luther's Understanding of soul Sleep (Part three). A fascinating study on Luther's view of the state of the dead can be found in Concordia Theological Monthly (July - August 1967) in the article, "Martin Luther's View on the State of the Dead" by Philip J. Secker. The article surveys numerous writings from Luther demonstrating how varied Luther was on this topic. The author presents such a numerous amount of citations so that "the reader can evaluate for himself the conclusion of this study that Luther was not wholly consistent in his teachings about the state of the dead." Or, note the conclusion of another study on the same topic cited by Secker:
Although Luther sometimes expressed opinions in favor of the unconscious state of the dead and placed their punishment or reward after the last judgment, the main bulk of his teaching indicates that he believed in the conscious state of the dead and its attendant immediate punishment or reward. As a rule, he considered the righteous dead as being in a place of reward and the ungodly dead as being in a place of punishment although he plainly taught that it can be neither real hell or [sic] purgatory" (Toivo Nikolai Ketola, A Study of Martin Luther's Teaching Concerning the State of the Dead [A master of arts thesis presented to the faculty of the SeventhDay Adventist Theological Seminary, Takoma Park, Washington, D. c., January 1956].
Interestingly as well, The Journal of the Adventist Theological Society put forth an article in 2011 entitled, "A Re-examination of Luther’s View on theState of the Dead." That article seeks to argue that Luther was inconsistent, but the scale tips in favor of his main view being soul sleep. I would follow that view put forth by Secker. I think the Adventist view put forth by The Journal of the Adventist Theological Society is simply a broader attempt at was was done sparsely in 1957: to find historical support for one of their main doctrines. The fact of the matter is that Luther wasn't overly concerned about the state of the dead like they are because it wasn't one of his main doctrines. That's why his views were inconsistent and so varied as Secker demonstrates. I still stand by my 2006 conclusion when I first encountered the Adventists using Luther on this subject:
What can be concluded of Luther’s view? I would assert the following: Luther’s position on this subject is undogmatic. He considers the subject speculative theology. Hence, his opinion doesn’t always add up. What can be said of Seventh Day Adventist usage of Luther on this point? I suggest they incorrectly present a dogmatic Luther who uses “soul sleep” to refute purgatory and saint worship, which I maintain is not the case. To use Luther correctly, they should at least note Luther’s opinion was speculative and undogmatic. He didn’t approach the text of Scripture with the same certainty on “soul sleep” they do. Luther doesn’t even have the same theological motivations for the doctrine of “soul sleep” that the Adventists do. What motivates the Adventists on this doctrine? What motivated Luther? These seem to be crucial questions for anyone wishing to use Luther as an authority.

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