know what role the teaching of the "immortal soul"
played in Martin Luther's Reformation? The Reformation endeavored
to reclaim the Biblical doctrines and practices that the church of
the establishment had discarded or corrupted. The 16th Century
Reformation primarily dealt with the most serious errors and
misguided practices of the Roman Church, such as, indulgences,
purgatory, the Mass, prayers to the saints, forbidding to marry,
antichrist and the infallibility of the Pope. The deflection from
"the faith once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 2)
intensified over many centuries. The Reformation from these errors
would also require centuries. The recovery from the errors of
church-state union, eternal torment, the trinity, etc., would be
the Reformation work of the 17th-19th centuries.
the Apostles predicted a great "apostasy" or deflection
from the Truth (II Thessalonians 2:2,3; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; 2 Peter
2:1-22). By the time Jude wrote the book that bears his name, some
of the apostles had already died in the Lord. Jude 3 and 4 warns
that just as predicted, "certain men crept in unawares"
and were teaching error. Then he devoted the rest of his epistle
to warning against the dire consequences of their doctrine. The
deflection from pure doctrine that continued in the following
centuries was incredible.
By the 16th Century, the corruption of
doctrine and practice degenerated to the selling of
indulgences-the salvation of souls could be purchased by money.
This nefarious practice was fine-tuned by the Dominican monk
Tetzel. With the authority of Rome, he said:
I will give you letters, all properly sealed, by which even the
sins that you intend to commit may be pardoned. I would not change
my privileges for those of St. Peter in heaven; for I have saved
more souls by my indulgences than the apostle by his sermons.
There is no sin so great, that an indulgence cannot remit… .
noble! merchant! wife! youth! maiden! do you not hear your parents
and your other friends who are dead, and who cry from the bottom
of the abyss: We are suffering horrible torments! a trifling alms
would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not!…at the very
instant," continued Tetzel, "that the money rattles at
the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes
from purgatory, and flies liberated to heaven. O stupid and
brutish people, who do not understand the grace so richly offered!
Now heaven is every where opened!"(1)
On October 31,
1517 a Franciscan Monk, seething with righteous indignation at
this diabolical affront to the grace of God in Christ Jesus,
nailed 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. The
blow of Martin Luther's hammer resounded throughout Europe. The
Reformation began! The 95 Theses dealt primarily with true
repentance versus indulgences. In 1520 Luther struck out against
the doctrine of the immortality of the soul as this quote
. . 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
monstrous fictions [portenta] in the Roman rubbish heap of
Luther didn't believe in the immortality of the soul, what
happened at death? Luther said:
just as a man who falls asleep and sleeps soundly until morning
does not know what has happened to him when he wakes up, so we
shall suddenly rise on the Last Day, and we shall know neither
what death has been like or how we have come through it. We are to
sleep until he comes and knocks on the grave and says, 'Dr.
Martin, get up.' Then I will arise in a moment and will be
eternally happy with him."(3)
logic was simple yet devastating to the errors of purgatory,
indulgences and the worship of saints. If the soul was
"asleep" and not suffering in purgatory there would be
no need of indulgences. This also provided Luther with an
effective argument against saint-worship. How can you pray to
saints who are asleep?
Note well that Luther's
hope of eternal life was not based on an immortal soul that
survives death, but on the resurrection in the "last
day" when all believers would be awarded eternal life. He
reclaimed the long discarded Biblical teaching on death and the
resurrection of the dead.
main point of the Apostle Paul's discussion on the resurrection (1
Corinthians 15) is that Jesus' death and resurrection guarantees
that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made
alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). In Acts 24:15 Paul also speaks
of the resurrection of the just and the unjust. After the death of
the Apostles, history records that the main Christian teachers of
the second century did not believe in the immortality of the soul.
Tatian and Theophilus, on various grounds, supposed that the soul,
though mortal in itself, or at least indifferent in relation to
mortality or immortality, either acquires immortality as a
promised reward, by its union with the spirit and the right use of
its liberty, or, in the opposite case, perishes with the
were a minority in a hostile heathen world. Grecian philosophers
came into the Christian Church and brought with them Plato's
doctrine of the immortality of the soul. To make Christianity more
palatable to the heathen, Christians accepted Plato's error and
heathens poured into the church. Christians now believed that at
death the soul lives on. Then they distorted the resurrection to
mean that at some future point the soul will again be confined to
a human body for the balance of eternity. No wonder Luther
whimsically remarked, "It would take a foolish soul to desire
its body when it already was in heaven!"(5)
Is The Soul?
The error of all heathen
religions is that we have a soul; whereas, the Bible plainly
states we are a soul. Genesis 2:7 states, "God formed man out
of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the
breath of life and man became a living soul." God didn't put
a soul in man. Rather the combination of the body and breath
(power) of life made man a living soul, a sentient being. Take
away the power or energy of life and you have a dead soul. As
stated in Ezekiel 18:20, "The soul that sinneth, it shall
die." Yes, souls can die. Psalms 146:4 reveals what happens
to all at death: "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his
earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." Since all
sentient beings (living souls) die, the Christian hope is in the
resurrection of the dead.
Hebrew word translated soul is NEPHASH (Strong # 5315). In
Leviticus 5:1, 2, 4 (KJV) a "soul" or "nephash"can
see, hear, touch and speak with lips. Why? Because in verse 4
"soul" is interchangeable with "man." ".
. .or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to
do good, whatsoever it be, that man shall pronounce with an
souls can eat and be cut off or destroyed (Leviticus 7:20, 25,
27). Souls can also be torn to pieces by lions (Psalms 7:2) and
can be utterly destroyed by the sword (Joshua 11:11). This is
further proof that man does not possess a soul but man is a soul.
Consequently the NAS and NIV both translate NEPHASH in these
Soul Not In The Bible
Nowhere do the terms
immortal soul or immortality of the soul appear in the Bible. The
words immortal and immortality only appear five times in the whole
Bible (1 Timothy 1:17; Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54; 1
Timothy 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:10) and refer once to God, once to the
risen Christ, and three times immortal life is held out as a
reward in the resurrection for Christ's faithful followers.
Scriptures speak of death as a sleep (Daniel 12:2; John 11:11; 1
Thessalonians 4:13-14) because in death there is no conscious
thought (Psalms 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:10). But at the resurrection
all shall be awakened from the sleep of death. Jesus said (John
5:28, 29) "the hour is coming in which all that are in their
graves shall… come forth, they that have done good, unto the
resurrection of life (faithful Christians are given immortality in
the resurrection - 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54) and they that have
done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment (Greek Krisis)."
The majority of mankind died without hearing the name of Jesus
(Acts 4:12), which is the only means of salvation. Many scriptures
show that their crisis or trial time will be in the resurrection.
Martin Luther was right-the soul is not immortal. At death the
soul sleeps until the resurrection in the last day.
(1) J. H.
Merle D'Aubigne', D.D., HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION (Grand Rapids:
Baker Book House, 1976), 86, 87.
Luther, ASSERTION OF ALL THE ARTICLES OF M. LUTHER CONDEMNED BY
THE NEWEST BULL OF LEO X, Nov. 29, 1520, Art. 27, in his Works,
Vol. 7 (Weimar: Hermann Bohlhaus Nachfolger, 1897), pp. 131, 132.
(3) Paul Althaus, THE THEOLOGY OF MARTIN LUTHER (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1966), 414, 415.
(4) Rev. John
McClintock D.D. and Dr. James Strong STD, CYCLOPAEDIA OF
THEOLOGICAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL LITERATURE, Vol. IV (New York:
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS, 1872), 517.
(5) Paul Althaus, THE THEOLOGY OF MARTIN.