Christian Reincarnation-The Controversy
- Hebrews 9:27 Does Not Disprove Reincarnation
- Christian Reincarnation-The Controversy
- The Doctrine Itself
- Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
- More Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
- The Book of Revelation Teaches Reincarnation Part I
- The Book of Revelation Teaches Reincarnation Part II
- The Mystery of God in Humanity
- The Council of Nicea
- The Fifth General Council
More Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
More Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
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.
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 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 espoused 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.”