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Reincarnation in the NT?

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  • Mike Grondin
    Although this subject wouldn t normally be relevant on our list, it s been way too quiet around here, so I m giving myself a little leeway. Besides, the issue
    Message 1 of 7 , Jul 23, 2012
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      Although this subject wouldn't normally be relevant on our list, it's been way
      too quiet around here, so I'm giving myself a little leeway. Besides, the issue
      was raised originally with respect to the Gospel of Thomas on:
       
      As the discussion developed, two passages were cited as indications that a
      belief in reincarnation was common:
       
      1. Jn9.2: His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
      that he was born blind?"
       
      2. Mk8.27b-28: "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John
      the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." (synoptics)
       
      The reincarnationists interpreted the latter passage as implying a belief that the
      soul of someone else had passed into Jesus, i.e., that it was reincarnated. One
      passage that tells against this interp, however, is Lk9.7-8:
       
      "... it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that
      Elijah had reappeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen."
       
      This indicates that what Luke thought to be involved was something other than
      the reincarnation of a soul. When the folks opined that Jesus was JB, Elijah, or
      one of the prophets, they evidently didn't mean that the soul of one of those other
      persons had been reincarnated in the body of Jesus, but that Jesus was actually
      identical with one of those other persons (whatever that might mean.)
       
      Jn9.2 is harder to unravel. Notice that Jesus isn't made to deny the possibility
      that the man born blind had sinned before his birth, but only that that was in
      fact the case. But how could the man have sinned before being born? As to
      be expected, the reincarnationists assert that the thinking behind this passage
      is that the man's soul must have been in another body previously, and that it
      sinned there. But isn't it also possible that the thinking was that a pre-existing
      soul never incarnated could sin? (I believe that angels were considered
      capable of sinning, so why not disembodied souls?) Or is there some other
      piece of theological thinking that explains Jn9.2? Some Pharisaical belief?
      My meager commentaries tell me nothing.
       
      Mike Grondin
      Mt. Clemens, MI
    • Mark M. Mattison
      I don t remember now where I heard it, but one possibility I had heard floated was that some may have believed a person could sin as an embryo before birth.
      Message 2 of 7 , Jul 24, 2012
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        I don't remember now where I heard it, but one possibility I had heard
        floated was that some may have believed a person could sin as an
        embryo before birth.

        Otherwise, yes, it would imply the pre-existence of human souls (a
        view which we know is attested elsewhere in Hellenistic Judaism) ...
        but not necessarily reincarnation.

        -Mark Mattison
      • chaptim45
        Mark, If I may. I d like to offer some thoughts. If the human soul is truly eternal, existance must not only go forward after death but it also goes backward
        Message 3 of 7 , Jul 25, 2012
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          Mark,

          If I may. I'd like to offer some thoughts.

          If the human soul is truly eternal, existance must not only go forward
          after death but it also goes backward in time as well. That's the
          nature of what it means to be "eternal".

          And if the soul is eternal, then how much more sense would it make that
          the soul would experience multiple lifetimes throughout that period
          rather than just be incarnated once?

          At the hospital where I work there are babies who die soon after they
          are born. If there is only one life then it is very unfair for them to
          live such a short time, plus it is hard to make sense of why. If this
          is only one of many lives then at least they have a chance to be born
          into a longer life the next time. I have noted that Hindu families have
          such comfort in these times of tragedy.

          The Pharisees were saying that blindman who was born blind had sinned in
          a previous life in which he did something evil and was now being
          punished by being born blind.

          There are other passages that allow for the possibility of being
          understood within the context of reincarnation (such as Heb 11:15), but
          I think that most of them are cases of eisegesis.

          There is one logia in ThomasÂ’ Gospel that recognizes that the soul
          exists previously to being incarnated: "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!" (L84)

          Tim Staker
        • Mike Grondin
          Hi Tim, First off, I need to caution that we have to avoid statements of personal religious belief. Second, a minor correction: it was the disciples, not the
          Message 4 of 7 , Jul 25, 2012
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            Hi Tim,
             
            First off, I need to caution that we have to avoid statements of personal
            religious belief. Second, a minor correction: it was the disciples, not the
            Pharisees, who were given to speak in Jn9.2. Of course, a Pharisaical idea
            might have been put into their mouths, but that's uncertain. Third, two related
            thoughts: (1) that a person's soul might have existed prior to his/her being born
            doesn't logically imply reincarnation, whether it makes sense that it do so or not,
            (2) the Thomasines do seem to have believed that souls were eternal, but it isn't
            at all clear that orthodox Christians did or do. That is to say, they of course
            believe that saved souls will live forever after, but they also believe that some
            souls will perish, and it isn't clear whether they believe that souls have always
            existed. I've looked at statements of Catholic thought on the soul, for example,
            but it's a bit murky. They don't directly address the pre-existence issue, but
            what they do say seems to imply that a person's soul (what Thomas Aquinas
            called 'the rational soul') is created at the point of conception. My guess is that
            the orthodox position would thus be at odds with Thomas, which seems to
            favor pre-existence but has no apparent implication of reincarnation.
             
            Cheers,
            Mike
          • chaptim45
            Mike, Understood. I actually do not personally believe in reincarnation, but I respect those who do. I ll also refrain from using personal anecdotes like the
            Message 5 of 7 , Jul 26, 2012
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              Mike,

              Understood.  I actually do not personally believe in reincarnation, but I respect those who do.  I'll also refrain from using personal anecdotes like the one from the hospital.

              I agree that the Gospel of Thomas affirms pre-existence of the soul but does not speak of multiple incarnations. 

              In the original discussion on Amazon.com the post there comments on GThom L1 "And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death." saying that this meant a liberation from cyclical rebirths. I think this is a case of eisegesis.

              As for other texts in the Nag Hammadi collection, there has been an assertion that reincarnation has been found there.  But I think a lot depends on how the texts are translated.  For example, in the Book of Thomas the Contender 9:5 one translation I found reads:

                     "Watch and pray that you may not be born in the flesh, but that you may leave the bitter bondage of this life." (Bk Thom Contend 9:5).

              This sounds like reincarnation. However, Nag Hammadi scholar John D. Turner translates "born in the flesh" as "come to be in the flesh" which might just mean coming into temptation rather than being reborn.

              Then in the Apocryphon of John 14:20 is another text that sounds like it refers to reincarnation:

                   "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" (Apocryph Jn 14:20, SBL).

              Waldstein and Wisse translated the end of this saying as "not cast into another flesh" (NHL II,1) and as "does not enter another flesh" (NHL III,1),  Does this mean reincarnation or entering into "another" physical temptation?

              It would seem that much of this is in the eye of the interpreter.

              Tim Staker

              Indianapolis, IN

            • chaptim45
              ... Mike, Could a pre-existing soul sin? The Book of Wisdom suggests that it could: I was given a sound body to live in because I was already good (Wis
              Message 6 of 7 , Jul 26, 2012
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                --- In gthomas@yahoogroups.com, "Mike Grondin" <mwgrondin@...> wrote:
                > But isn't it also possible that the thinking was that a pre-existing
                > soul never incarnated could sin? (I believe that angels were
                > considered capable of sinning, so why not disembodied souls?)

                Mike,

                Could a pre-existing soul sin? The Book of Wisdom suggests that it could:

                "I was given a sound body to live in because I was already good" (Wis 8:19).

                That is, if there is no previous incarnation, then it would have to be
                the pre-incarnated body that could be good or could sin.

                Tim Staker
                Indianapolis, IN
              • Mike Grondin
                Hi Tim, The RSV translation of Wis 8:19-20 gives a slightly different slant: As a child I was by nature well endowed, and a good soul fell to my lot, or
                Message 7 of 7 , Jul 26, 2012
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                  Hi Tim,
                   
                  The RSV translation of Wis 8:19-20 gives a slightly different slant:
                   
                  "As a child I was by nature well endowed,
                  and a good soul fell to my lot,
                  or rather, being good, I entered into an undefiled body."
                   
                  Mike
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