Reincarnation in the NT?
- Although this subject wouldn't normally be relevant on our list, it's been waytoo quiet around here, so I'm giving myself a little leeway. Besides, the issuewas raised originally with respect to the Gospel of Thomas on:http://www.amazon.com/forum/religion/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1M9TK6UGAX6EO&cdPage=1&cdThread=Tx3LTAFIJT1Q2B4As the discussion developed, two passages were cited as indications that abelief 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, "Johnthe Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." (synoptics)The reincarnationists interpreted the latter passage as implying a belief that thesoul of someone else had passed into Jesus, i.e., that it was reincarnated. Onepassage 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 thatElijah 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 thanthe reincarnation of a soul. When the folks opined that Jesus was JB, Elijah, orone of the prophets, they evidently didn't mean that the soul of one of those otherpersons had been reincarnated in the body of Jesus, but that Jesus was actuallyidentical 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 possibilitythat the man born blind had sinned before his birth, but only that that was infact the case. But how could the man have sinned before being born? As tobe expected, the reincarnationists assert that the thinking behind this passageis that the man's soul must have been in another body previously, and that itsinned there. But isn't it also possible that the thinking was that a pre-existingsoul never incarnated could sin? (I believe that angels were consideredcapable of sinning, so why not disembodied souls?) Or is there some otherpiece of theological thinking that explains Jn9.2? Some Pharisaical belief?My meager commentaries tell me nothing.Mike GrondinMt. Clemens, MI
- 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.
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 Thomas 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
- Hi Tim,First off, I need to caution that we have to avoid statements of personalreligious belief. Second, a minor correction: it was the disciples, not thePharisees, who were given to speak in Jn9.2. Of course, a Pharisaical ideamight have been put into their mouths, but that's uncertain. Third, two relatedthoughts: (1) that a person's soul might have existed prior to his/her being borndoesn'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'tat all clear that orthodox Christians did or do. That is to say, they of coursebelieve that saved souls will live forever after, but they also believe that somesouls will perish, and it isn't clear whether they believe that souls have alwaysexisted. 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, butwhat they do say seems to imply that a person's soul (what Thomas Aquinascalled 'the rational soul') is created at the point of conception. My guess is thatthe orthodox position would thus be at odds with Thomas, which seems tofavor pre-existence but has no apparent implication of reincarnation.Cheers,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.
- --- In email@example.com, "Mike Grondin" <mwgrondin@...> wrote:
> But isn't it also possible that the thinking was that a pre-existingMike,
> soul never incarnated could sin? (I believe that angels were
> considered capable of sinning, so why not disembodied souls?)
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.
- 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