With the condemnation of Origen, so much that is implied in reincarnation was officially stigmatized as heresy that the possibility of a direct confrontation with this belief was effectively removed from the corporate Roman State Church. In dismissing Origen from its midst, the Church only indirectly addressed itself to the issue of reincarnation. The encounter with Origenism did, however, draw decisive lines in the matter of preexistence, the resurrection of the dead, and the relationship between body and soul. What an examination of Origen and the church does achieve, however, is to show where the reincarnationist will come into collision with the posture of orthodoxy. The extent to which he may wish to retreat from such a collision is of course a matter of personal conscience.
There are many Bible verses which are suggestive of reincarnation. One episode in particular from the healing miracles of Christ seems to point to reincarnation:
"And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'" (John 9:1)
The disciples ask the Lord if the man himself could have committed the sin that led to his blindness. Given the fact that the man has been blind from birth, we are confronted with a provocative question. When could he have made such transgressions as to make him blind at birth? The only conceivable answer is in some prenatal state. The question as posed by the disciples explicitly presupposes prenatal existence. It will also be noted that Christ says nothing to dispel or correct the presupposition. Here is incontrovertible support for a doctrine of human preexistence.
Also very suggestive of reincarnation is the episode where Jesus identifies John the Baptist as Elijah.
"For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:13-14)
"And the disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' But he answered them and said, 'Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:10-13)
Here again is a clear statement of preexistence. Despite the edict of the Emperor Justinian and the counter reaction to Origen, there is firm and explicit testimony for preexistence in both the Old and the New Testament. Indeed, the ban against Origen notwithstanding, contemporary Christian scholarship acknowledges preexistence as one of the elements of Judeo-Christian theology.
As for the John the Baptist-Elijah episode, there can be little question as to its purpose. By identifying the Baptist as Elijah, Jesus is identifying himself as the Messiah. Throughout the gospel narrative there are explicit references to the signs that will precede the Messiah.
"Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Malachi 4:5)
This is one of the many messianic promises of the Old Testament. One of the signs that the true Messiah has come, according to this passage from Malachi, is that he be preceded by a forerunner, by Elijah.
Although the Bible also contains other reincarnational passages, these Elijah-John passages constitute clear proof of reincarnation:
1. The Old Testament prophesied that Elijah himself (not someone "like" him or someone "similar" to him, but Elijah himself) would return before the advent of the Messiah.
2. Jesus declared that John the Baptist was Elijah who had returned, stating bluntly "Elijah has come".
Now, based on these passages alone, either (A) or (B) must be true:
(A) John the Baptist was Elijah himself, meaning that Elijah had reincarnated. If this is true, then reincarnation must belong in Christian theology, and the West's entire doctrinal interpretation of "Life After Death" in general, and the "Last Day Resurrection" in particular, must be radically revised, or...
(B) John the Baptist was not Elijah himself, meaning that Elijah himself had not returned. If this is so, then either:
(1) The Old Testament prophecy about Elijah returning before the Messiah failed to come to pass (meaning that Biblical prophecy is fallible), OR
(2) Jesus was not the Messiah.
Basically, it comes down to this simple question: What do you want to believe? One of the following A, B, or C, must logically be true:
A. Reincarnation is true, or
B. Jesus was not the Messiah, or
C. The prophecies of the Bible are unreliable.
As surely as two and two make four, one of the above must be true. At any rate, the passage in which Jesus says in no uncertain terms that John was Elijah is "overt" and direct:
"But I tell you, Elijah has come." (Mark 9:13)
The following verse is used to refute the John the Baptist/Elijah reincarnation connection. The Bible tells us that John the Baptist possessed,
"... the spirit and power of Elijah." (Luke 1:17)
Those who refute this reincarnation connection say that John the Baptist merely came in the spirit and power of Elijah. However, this is a perfect description of reincarnation: the spirit and power. This is reincarnation - the reincarnation of the spirit. The Bible itself states that John the Baptist possessed the spirit that had previously lived in, and as, the man Elijah - not his physical being and memory, but his spirit.
John carried Elijah's living spirit, but not his physical memory. And since John did not possess Elijah's physical memory, he did not possess the memories of being the man Elijah. Thus, John the Baptist denied being Elijah when asked:
They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'" Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" "I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." (John 1:21-27)
But Jesus knew better, and said so in the plainest words possible:
"This is the one ... there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.... And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 11:11-15).
It comes down to this: Jesus said John was Elijah, and John said he wasn't. Which of the two is to be believed - Jesus or John?
There is a prophecy in the Book of Revelation concerning the days before the second coming of Christ. Two prophets are predicted to appear at this time working the same miracles and performing the same ministries as those of Elijah and Moses.
"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want." (Revelation 11:3-6)
While the verses in Revelation do not specifically identify the two prophets to come as Elijah and Moses, it strongly suggests that it is them. If Elijah and Moses are to "rise" again before the second coming of Christ, then it is clear they only possible way for them to do so is through reincarnation. After the death of John the Baptist, whom Jesus identified as Elijah, Elijah appears again along with Moses at the Mount of Transfiguration:
"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters-- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:1-13)
The scriptures strongly suggest a connection between Elijah and Moses with the ministries of Jesus. Since Jesus already identified Elijah as appearing during his first ministry, it is not hard to conclude that Elijah will appear again at Jesus' second coming. Even the Old Testament suggests this will be the case:
"Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Malachi 4:5)
This is one of the many messianic promises of the Old Testament. It was fulfilled during Jesus' first coming and there is reason to believe it will happen again during Jesus' second coming.
Due to the condemnation of reincarnation by Roman Church authorities some 500 years after Jesus left the scene, this doctrine has become an alien, even enemy concept to the Judeo-Christian West. However, it is reasonably certain that reincarnation was not an alien concept to the people Jesus preached to, nor, to Jesus himself. As a natural geographic crossroads, the land of Israel enjoyed a strong and steady flow of both foreign travelers and foreign ideas; the doctrine of rebirth is not only likely to have been a familiar concept in 1st century Israel, but actually seems to have been widely considered a distinct possibility. Even though the idea later became a heresy to the people of the Christian Empire, during the life of Jesus, at least, reincarnation was an open question in the minds of many.
From time to time in Jewish history, there had been an insistent belief that their prophets were reborn. The Samaritans believed that Adam had reincarnated as Seth, then Noah, Abraham, and even Moses. Christ's countrymen seem to have thought of the doctrine of reincarnation as an intriguing, if unproven theory; the Israelites were aware, of course, that their sacred scriptures didn't specifically endorse this theory, but, since they didn't condemn it either, the general population apparently felt it best to keep an open mind about the whole idea. To the chagrin of traditional Christian doctrine, it was apparently actually rather common for Christ's contemporaries to innocently wonder aloud if Jesus himself was the reincarnation of some earlier prophet:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:14)
His disciples replied:
"Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Considering such widespread conjecture about the doctrine of reincarnation in 1st century Israel, the people of his own time undoubtedly assumed Jesus had been openly promoting this doctrine when he claimed that the man now known as John the Baptist was the same man who centuries earlier had been the famous prophet Elijah.
Confronted by these rumors that His countrymen believed in reincarnation, did Jesus take this opportunity to deny and refute this doctrine? No. Instead, He made statements that seem to support reincarnation.
Jesus was sometimes taken to be a reincarnation of one of the prophets. An example of this is when Jesus asked:
"Whom do people say that I am?" (Mark 8:27)
The consensus of opinion seems to have been that He was a reincarnation of either John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets. It is hard to see how Jesus could have been a reincarnation of the prophet by whom He was baptized, but that has not deterred these believers in reincarnation around Jesus.
Another Bible verse has Paul discussing the process of "resurrection" (i.e. reincarnation):
"But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?' How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
Another verse suggestive of reincarnation can be found when Jesus declares the following to the believers in the Church of Philadelphia:
"Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it." (Revelation 3:12)
Jesus is stating that people were once inhabitants of the temple of God. This is strongly suggestive of preexistence and reincarnation. As soon as the person overcomes (the world) the person becomes a permanent inhabitant of this temple and never again has to leave it. The flip-side to this is that those who do not overcome must leave this temple of God only to return when they overcome the world.
Another verse in the Book of Revelation suggests reincarnation:
"She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne." (Revelation 12:5)
This verse describes the birth of a child who is taken to heaven after birth. The interesting aspect is that this child is to rule all the nations with an iron scepter. Because the child was taken to heaven after birth, reincarnation is the only way the child can return to the world in order to grow up and "rule all nations". Although Revelations is mostly symbolic and is often quite abstract, this verse implies the ability to incarnate more than once.
There is another reference to reincarnation in the gospels; an indirect reference, yet an unmistakable one. In all three of the synoptic gospels, Jesus promised that anyone leaving their homes, wives, mothers, fathers, children, or farms to follow him would personally receive hundreds more such homes, families, and so on in the future. Jesus said:
"No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or wife or children or land for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age - homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields ... and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30)
Outside of the doctrine of reincarnation it's difficult to imagine how such a promise could be fulfilled. In one lifetime, one can only have a single set of real parents, and no one seriously proposes that each of the 70 original disciples, who actually did leave their homes and families, ever received as compensation a hundred wives, a hundred fields, and so on. Either this statement of Jesus' occurred when he was waxing so poetic as to allow a falsehood to pass his lips, or he was making a promise that only many reincarnations could fulfill.
The following passage in the Book of Hebrews, especially the italisized sentence, is a clear statement of the concept of reincarnation.
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Indeed, the reincarnationist can even find scriptural support for personal disincarnate preexistence. Origen took the following Bible verse as proof of preexistence:
"He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight and love." (Ephesians 1:4)
Jerome, who is just as uncomfortable as Justinian about preexistence, interprets the passage to mean that we preexisted, not in distinct disincarnate form, but simply in the mind of God (Against Rufinus 1.22), and from this throng of thoughts God chose the elect before the creation of the world. The distinction is indeed a fine one, for Jerome is asking us to distinguish between that which exists as a soul and that which exists as a thought. What is illuminating for the reincarnationist is that this passage from Ephesians offers very explicit scriptural testimony for individual preexistence.
Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:11-13 both state that God loved Jacob, but hated Esau even before they were born. These verses are highly suggestive of the pre-existence of Esau, a necessary tenet associated with reincarnation.
The same concept of pre-existence can also be found in the following Bible verse:
"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58)
Other words uttered by Christ are suggestive of reincarnation. In the gospels, Jesus reveals information about His return and who will witness it. Several times, He has mentioned that some people alive during His day will be around when He returns. One example is when Jesus gave His Olivet Discourse about His second coming. His disciples ask about His return and inquire as to the signs that would proceed His return. After Jesus reveals the signs of His coming, He states,
"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." (Matthew 24:34).
It can be argued that Jesus is pointing to a time in the future when those around Him inquiring about this will reincarnate and experience His second coming. Another example is when Jesus states,
"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Matthew 16:24-28).
The question now is this: what is it to "taste death until He comes"? The concept of a person having to "taste death until the Lord comes" is a good description of reincarnation and of what the Bible refers to as the "First Death". The First Death is spiritual death, separation from God. When we are born, we are born into spiritual death and it requires some action on our part to break out of it and enter into spiritual life. These verses all are suggestive of reincarnation.
It can be deduced from the scriptures the fact that Christ Himself had many incarnations in the flesh. It is well known that the apostle Paul wrote of Adam as:
"... a pattern of the one who was to come (i.e. Jesus)" (Romans 5:14)
Paul drew between Adam and Christ a parallel that was also a contrast:
"The first Adam became a living being; the last Adam (i.e. Jesus) became a life-giving spirit." (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Christ is thus seen as the last Adam, the "one man" who by his obedience undoes the results of the disobedience of the first (Romans 5:12-21). Jesus Christ recapitulated the stages of Adam's fall, but in reverse order and quality.
The belief in many incarnations of Jesus is not a new belief. The early Judeo-Christian group known as the Ebionites taught that the Spirit had come as Adam and later reincarnated as Jesus. Other Jewish Christian groups such as the Elkasaites and Nazarites also believed this. The Clementine Homilies, an early Christian document, also taught many incarnations of Jesus.
Another possible incarnation of Christ is the Old Testament figure known as Melchizedek, the High Priest and King of Salem, who:
"...without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever." (Hebrews 7:3).
It is clear from the scripture that Melchizedek was no ordinary man, assuming He even was a man - for what kind of man has no father or mother, is without genealogy, and without beginning of days or end of life? Whoever this Melchizedek was, the scriptures declare Jesus to be a:
".. priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 7:17).
It may be argued that Melchizedek was one of the incarnations of Jesus. Certainly it has to be acknowledged that Melchizedek was no ordinary man.
There are Bible verses that are highly suggestive of the "mechanics" of reincarnation. Before His arrest, Jesus stated:
"All who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)
Common sense tells us that not all people who live "by the sword" will die by the sword. This statement can only be true if meant in the context of a future life. If in this life you "live by the sword", you will most certainly die, if not in the same life but a future life, "by the sword". In fact, this concept is the ancient doctrine of "karma" as it is known in the East where reincarnation is the foundation of reality. Here are some other Biblical references to this concept:
"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7)
"Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (Exodus 21:24-25)
"In anger his master turned him over to the jailers until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18: 34-35)
"If any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain." (Revelation 13:10)
"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny." (Matthew 5:25-26)
The above passages can be seen to at least be suggestive of reincarnation.
In James 3:6, some translations (such as the American Standard Version) mention "the wheel of nature" which seems to resemble the cycle of endless reincarnation stated by the Eastern religions. However, in this context the reference is made to the control of speech in order not to sin. The ASV translation states:
"And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell." (James 3:6)
The tongue out of control is compared with a fire that affects all aspects of existence, thought and deed, in a vicious cycle. This means that sinful speech is at the origin of many other sins, which are consequently generated, and conduct man to hell.
Nowhere in the Old Testament is reincarnation denied. Job asks:
"If a person dies will he live again?" (Job 14:14)
But he receives no answer.
Another Old Testament verse states:
"Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again...What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:4-9)
The Hebrew kabbalists interpreted this quote to mean that a generation dies and subsequently returns by the process of reincarnation.
In the New Testament, one verse in particular is often used to refute reincarnation. It is Hebrews 9:27.
"... man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment...." (Hebrews 9:27)
This is often assumed, reasonably enough, to declare that each human being lives once as a mortal on earth, dies once, and then faces judgment. But this verse, on it's surface, not only applies to reincarnation, but to the modern concept of resurrection. In fact, if anything, this verse can be most applied to refuting modern Christianity's definition of resurrection. Reincarnation states that the spirit leaves the body at death, faces judgment, then can enter a new and different body at a later time. In this way, Hebrews 9:27 does not refute reincarnation because it is not the same body that dies again. It implies one man/one death, which agrees with reincarnation, but totally disagrees with modern Christianity's definition of resurrection which holds that after a body dies and faces judgment, his physical body will rise from the grave at a later day to face possible death again and judgment. So Hebrews 9:27 does not refute reincarnation after all, but does refute resurrection as modern Christianity defines it.
From all that has been said here, one can safely draw the conclusion that reincarnation was not only known by those in Christ's day, by that Christ Himself and the Bible teaches it and reincarnation should be a doctrine acceptable by every follower of Christ.
Ancient writings were discovered in 1945 which revealed more information about the concept of reincarnation from a sect of Christians called "Gnostics". This sect was ultimately destroyed by the Roman orthodox church, their followers burned at the stake and their writings wiped out. The writings included some long lost gospels, some of which were written early than the known gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gnostic Christians claimed to possess the correct definition of "resurrection" - based on Jesus' secret teachings, handed down to them by the apostles.
The existence of a secret tradition can be found in the New Testament:
"He [Jesus] told them, ' The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'" (Mark 4:11-12)
"No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." (1 Corinthians 2:7)
"So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God." (1 Corinthians 4:1)
A fragment of the Secret Gospel of Mark, one of the Gnostic texts discovered, describes Jesus performing secret initiation rites. Before the discovery of Gnostic writings, our only knowledge of it came from a letter written by Church Father Clement of Alexandria (150 AD - 211 AD), which quotes this secret gospel and refers to it as "a more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected." He said, "It even yet is most carefully guarded [by the church at Alexandria], being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries." Clement insists elsewhere that Jesus revealed a secret teaching to those who were "capable of receiving it and being molded by it." Clement indicates that he possessed the secret tradition, which was handed down through the apostles. Such Gnostics were spiritual critics of the orthodox Church of what they saw as not so much a popularization as a vulgarization of Christianity. The orthodox church stressed faith, while the Gnostic church stressed knowledge (gnosis). This secret knowledge emphasized spiritual resurrection rather than physical resurrection. Indeed, the Gnostic Christians believed reincarnation to be the true interpretation of "resurrection" for those who have not attained a spiritual resurrection through this secret knowledge.
The New Testament talks about this gnosis (knowledge):
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:7-10)
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding." (Colossians 1:9)
The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus states that the Pharisees, the founders of rabbinic Judaism for whom Paul once belonged, believed in reincarnation. He writes that the Pharisees believed that the souls of bad men are punished after death but that the souls of good men are "removed into other bodies" and they will "have power to revive and live again." The Sadducees, the other prominent Jewish sect in Palestine, did not emphasize life after death and according to the Bible "say there is no resurrection" (Matthew 22:23). From what we have just discussed, it is clear that what Matthew really states is that the Sadducees "say there is no reincarnation".
The following are some the secret teachings of Jesus from the Gnostic gospels that affirm reincarnation, revealing the secret knowledge:
"Watch and pray that you may not be born in the flesh, but that you may leave the bitter bondage of this life." (Book of Thomas the Contender)
"When you see your likeness, you are happy. But when you see your images that came into being before and that neither die nor become visible, how much you will bear!" (Gospel of Thomas)
In the Book of Thomas the Contender, Jesus tells the disciple Thomas that after death those who were once believers but have remained attached to things of "transitory beauty" will be consumed "in their concern about life" and will be "brought back to the visible realm".
In the Secret Book of John, reincarnation is placed at the heart of its discussion of the salvation of souls. The book was written by 185 AD at the latest. Here is the Secret Book of John's perspective on reincarnation:
All people have drunk the water of forgetfulness and exist in a state of ignorance. Some are able to overcome ignorance through the Spirit of life that descends upon them. These souls "will be saved and will become perfect," that is, escape the round of rebirth. John asks Jesus what will happen to those who do not attain salvation. They are hurled down "into forgetfulness" and thrown into "prison", the Gnostic code word for new body. The only way for these souls to escape, says Jesus, is to emerge from forgetfulness and acquire knowledge. A soul in this situation can do so by finding a teacher or savior who has the strength to lead her home. "This soul needs to follow another soul in whom the Spirit of life dwells, because she is saved through the Spirit. Then she will never be thrust into flesh again." (Secret Book of John)
Another Gnostic text, Pistis Sophia, outlines an elaborate system of reward and punishment that includes reincarnation. The text explains differences in fate as the effects of past-life actions. A "man who curses" is given a body that will be continually "troubled in heart". A "man who slanders" receives a body that will be "oppressed". A thief receives a "lame, crooked and blind body". A "proud" and "scornful" man receives "a lame and ugly body" that "everyone continually despises." Thus earth, as well as hell, becomes the place of punishment.
According to Pistis Sophia, some souls do experience hell as a shadowy place of torture where they go after death. But after passing through this hell, the souls return for further experiences on earth. Only a few extremely wicked souls are not allowed to reincarnate. These are cast into "outer darkness" until the time when they are destined to be "destroyed and dissolved".
Several Gnostic texts combine the ideas of reincarnation and union with God. The Apocalypse of Paul, a second-century text, describes the Merkabah-style ascent of the apostle Paul as well as the reincarnation of a soul who was not ready for such an ascent. It shows how both reincarnation and ascents fit into Gnostic theology. Click here to read more.
As Paul passes through the fourth heaven, he sees a soul being punished for murder. This soul is being whipped by angels who have brought him "out of the land of the dead" (earth). The soul calls three witnesses, who charge him with murder. The soul then looks down "in sorrow" and is "cast down" into a body that has been prepared for it. The text goes on to describe Paul's further journey through the heavens, a practice run for divine union.
Pistis Sophia combines the ideas of reincarnation and divine union in a passage that begins with the question: What happens to "a man who has committed no sin, but done good persistently, but has not found the mysteries?" The Pistis Sophia tells us that the soul of the good man who has not found the mysteries will receive "a cup filled with thoughts and wisdom." This will allow the soul to remember its divine origin and so to pursue the "mysteries of the Light" until it finds them and is able to "inherit the Light forever." To "inherit the Light forever" is a Gnostic code for union with God.
For the Gnostic Christians, resurrection was also a spiritual event - simply the awakening of the soul. They believed that people who experience the resurrection can experience eternal life, or union with God, while on earth and then after death, escape rebirth. People who don't experience the resurrection and union with God on earth will reincarnate. Jesus states this in the following the Gnostic Gospels:
"People who say they will first die and then arise are mistaken. If they do not first receive resurrection while they are alive, once they have died they will receive nothing." (Gospel of Philip)
Paul writes in several places that resurrection involves a spirit body. Such a definition corresponds with spiritual resurrection and reincarnation:
"It [the dead body] is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:44)
"I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." (1 Corinthians 15:50)
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ." (Colossians 2:13)
The Gnostics claimed their terminology was sprinkled through the Epistles. For example, the author of Ephesians uses the words "awake", "sleep" and "dead" in a Gnostic sense:
"But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:13-14)
Some of the Greek words in the New Testament translated as "resurrection" also mean to "rise" or "awake". Therefore, argued the Gnostics, when Paul says people can be part of the resurrection, he is really saying that their souls can be awakened to the Spirit of God.
We know that in some passages Paul writes about the resurrection as a present rather than a future event:
"Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:3-11)
Colossians also seems to describe the resurrection as a present-day event:
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." (Colossians 3:1)
"Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." (Colossians 3:9-10)
In the above passage, taking off the old self and putting on the new is a code for the resurrection, which, again, is described as a present-life event.
The Gnostic manuscripts present a clear, simple and strong vision of the resurrection. First, the Gospel of Thomas disabuses people of the notion that the resurrection is a future event:
"His followers said to him, 'When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?' He said to them, 'What you look for has come, but you do not know it.'" (Gospel of Thomas)
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is saying that the resurrection and the kingdom are already here. We simply do not realize it - or, in the Gnostic sense, we simply have not integrated with them.
Jesus explained the concept of resurrection before raising Lazarus from the dead:
"Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:23-26)
In these verses, Jesus tells Martha her brother Lazarus will "rise again". Martha mistakenly thinks Jesus means Lazarus will come out of his grave at Judgment Day. Jesus corrects her by stating that those who believe in Him will live, even before they die. Jesus is referring here to spiritual regeneration. Jesus also states that those who die believing in Him, will never die. This clearly implies reincarnation. The flip-side to this is that those who die not believing in Him, will have to die again (i.e. reincarnate). It is interesting to note that by raising Lazarus from death, Jesus is forcing Lazarus to live out the rest of his life only to die physically again. By raising Lazarus from death, Jesus seems to be demonstrating that one does not wait until Judgment Day to rise.
Jesus flatly tells Nicodemus:
"I tell you a truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3)
Nicodemus misunderstands what Jesus means by "born again":
"How can a person be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" (John 3:4)
In response, Jesus states:
"I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:5-6)
In context of these verses, Jesus is talking about the process of resurrection, that is, being born of water and being born of the Spirit. Jesus describes physical resurrection (to be born of water) and spiritual resurrection (to be born of the Spirit). They are two similar yet different processes. From these verses, the case can be made that Jesus taught the concept of resurrection as being physical rebirth as well as spiritual rebirth.
In the Apocryphal book Wisdom of Solomon, recognized by the Catholic Church, is the following verse:
"... I was given a sound body to live in because I was already good." (Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20)
This verse raises the following question: How is it possible to get a body after you have already been good if reincarnation is a fact?
Flavius Josephus records that the Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls lived "the same kind of life" as the followers of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras who taught reincarnation. According to Josephus, the Essenes believed that the soul is both immortal and preexistent which is necessary for belief in reincarnation.
One scroll entitled "The Last Jubilee" mentions reincarnation. This scroll is about the "last days" during which time it says, a "Melchizedek redivivus" (reincarnate) will appear and destroy Belial (Satan) and lead the children of God to eternal forgiveness. Parts of this scroll has been unreadable and will be denoted by this '. . .' symbol. Here is it's message:
"Men will turn away in rebellion, and there will be a re-establishment of the reign of righteousness, perversity being confounded by the judgements of God. This is what scripture implies in the words, "Who says to Zion, your God has not claimed his Kingdom!" The term Zion there denoting the total congregation of the "sons of righteousness" that is, those who maintain the covenant and turn away from the popular trend, and your God signifying the King of Righteousness, alias Melchizedek Redivivus, who will destroy Belial. Our text speaks also of sounding a loud trumpet blast throughout the land on the tenth day of the seventh month. As applied to the last days, this refers to the fanfare which will then be sounded before the Messianic King." (The Last Jubilee)
Melchizedek was the High Priest described in the Bible. It is interesting to note that some early Christians believed Melchizedek to be an early incarnation of Jesus. If this is true and the above passage of the Dead Sea Scrolls can be believed, then the passage is very likely referring to Jesus Himself and His second coming.
The Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that the Jewish mystical tradition of union with God went back to the first, if not the third, century before Christ. Jewish mysticism has its roots in Greek mysticism which espouced reincarnation. Some of the hymns found with the Dead Sea Scrolls are similar to the Hekhalot hymns sung by the Jewish mystics. One text gives us unmistakable evidence of Jewish mysticism. It is called "Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice". Also, fragments of 1 Enoch, which is considered the oldest evidence of Jewish mysticism, were also found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since Jewish mysticism existed in the third century before Christ, as Enoch indicates, then it would certainly have been present in first-century Judaism. As stated earlier, this twin idea of divine union and reincarnation can be found in early Christianity and one can easily conclude that it was the key to the heart of Jesus' message.
Reincarnation has been a tenet for thousands of years for certain Jews and Christians. The Zohar is a work of great weight and authority among the Jews. In II, 199 b, it says that "all souls are subject to revolutions." This is metempsychosis or a'leen b'gilgoola; but it declares that "men do not know the way they have been judged in all time." That is, in their "revolutions" they lose a complete memory of the acts that have led to judgment. The Kether Malkuth says, "If she, the soul, be pure, then she shall obtain favor.. . but if she hath been defiled, then she shall wander for a time in pain and despair. . . until the days of her purification." If the soul be pure and if she comes at once from God at birth, how could she be defiled? And where is she to wander if not on this or some other world until the days of her purification? The Rabbis always explained it as meaning she wandered down from Paradise through many revolutions or births until purity was regained.
Under the name of "Din Gilgol Neshomes" the doctrine of reincarnation is constantly spoken of in the Talmud. The term means "the judgment of the revolutions of the souls." And Rabbi Manassa, son of Israel, one of the most revered, says in his book Nishmath Hayem: "The belief or the doctrine of the transmigration of souls is a firm and infallible dogma accepted by the whole assemblage of our church with one accord, so that there is none to be found who would dare to deny it. . . . Indeed, there is a great number of sages in Israel who hold firm to this doctrine so that they made it a dogma, a fundamental point of our religion. We are therefore in duty bound to obey and to accept this dogma with acclamation . . . as the truth of it has been incontestably demonstrated by the Zohar, and all books of the Kabalists."
With the Council of 553, one can just about close the book on this entire controversy within the Roman Church and it's Protestant branches. There are merely two footnotes to be added to the story, emerging from Church Councils in 1274 and 1439. In the Council of Lyons, in 1274, it was stated that after death the soul goes promptly either to heaven or to hell. On the Day of Judgment, all will stand before the tribunal of Christ with their bodies to render account of what they have done. The Council of Florence of 1439 uses almost the same wording to describe the swift passage of the soul either to heaven or to hell. Implicit in both of these councils is the assumption that the soul does not again venture into physical bodies.
What are your thoughts about all this? Without applying misconceived labels, is reincarnation a part of what the Logos taught us as Jesus the Christ?