Psychopannychy, or soul sleep, is the doctrine that the soul sleeps between death and resurrection. It has been held sporadically in the church. It is not a heresy in the narrower sense, due to the paucity of Scripture teaching on the intermediate state, but it may be called a doctrinal aberration. Some Anabaptists endorsed it. In the Forty-two Articles of Edward VI, which preceded the Thirty-nine Articles, the following statement, as the Fortieth Article, was included: "They which say that the souls of those who depart hence do sleep being without all sense, feeling or perceiving till the Day of Judgment, do utterly dissent from the right belief disclosed to us in Holy Scripture."
The case for soul sleep rests principally on these considerations: (1) Human existence demands the unity of soul and body. If the body ceases to function, so must the soul. (2) The use of the term "sleep" in Scripture for death is alleged to point to the cessation of consciousness. (3) A state of consciousness between death and resurrection, characterized by bliss or woe, unwarrantably anticipates the judgment of the last day, when the basis for these experiences provided.
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Continuing consciousness after death seems to be a necessary (rather than an accidental) element in Jesus' account of the rich man and Lazarus, and also in our Lord's promise to the dying thief. The clearest and strongest passages, however, are in Paul's writings (Phil. 1:23; II Cor. 5:8). If it be contended in the case of the former passage that the sleep of the soul so effectually erases the interval between death and resurrection that the prospect of being with Christ, even though actually long delayed, could produce joyful anticipation, in any event the same thing can hardly be said for the second passage, where not only the resurrection body but the intermediate state is directly contemplated, being a less desirable alternative than the change to the resurrection body without death (vs. 4).
E F Harrison
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
J. Calvin, Psychopannychia; O. Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? E. Lewis, Christ, the First Fruits; R. Whately, A view of the Scripture Revelations concerning a Future State.
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