The Resurrection. (c. 1715-1716) By S. Ricci.

Hidden Beliefs Covered by the Church? Resurrection and Reincarnation in Early Christianity


Is it possible that early Christians believed in reincarnation? Although some may find this idea unbelievable, several Christian sources (including the Bible) suggest that many centuries ago, it was common to believe that one does not come to Earth just once, but various times.

In 1945, researchers discovered some early Judeo-Christian writings. Two years later, the world heard about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the discovery which changed biblical history.  The early Christians and Jews followed the teachings of Jesus - including the concept of resurrection. There are several examples of this found in ancient resources.

The oldest texts provide two concepts of resurrection: spiritual and bodily. The spiritual rebirth by the Holy Spirit is also known as being born again. A bodily resurrection of a human could also be called reincarnation. According to the first important father of the early Orthodox Church, Origen (185 – 254 AD), the soul exists before birth. He suggested that pre-existence was found in the Hebrew scriptures and the teachings of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, (c. 1677).

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, (c. 1677). (Public Domain)

Moreover, the writings of Clement of Alexandria - a disciple of the apostle Peter, suggest that his master received a few secret teachings from Jesus. One of them was related to the concept of physical and spiritual rebirth. The secret teachings confirm some writing in the Bible. There is a fragment which suggests that Jesus knew about reincarnation and past lives. Someone in the crowd apparently asked him: “What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven” - John 6:30-32

Jesus doesn't refer to “your fathers”, but “you”, signifying that the story is connected with every person. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses said: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.”

Once more, Moses doesn't say “your children”, but “you”, indicating that it would be the same people to whom he was speaking that would see and hear the Messiah. According to many specialists in the Bible, there are many examples which promote the belief that reincarnation was well known and a fully accepted fact for early Christians.

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 6:1-15.

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 6:1-15. (Public Domain)

Major Medieval Alterations

In the early medieval period, the doctrines of pre-existence and reincarnation only existed as Jesus’ secret teachings. In 553 AD this information was declared heresy at the Second Council of Constantinople. The Roman Church decided to destroy all the teachings which talked about it. The Catholic doctrine and the priests’ source of wealth could have been in danger if people believed that they would come back to life many times. The old knowledge faced the same fate as many ancient books by pre-Christian writers. The bishops were afraid of the knowledge which could prove that the institution of the Church wasn't the only option to bring “eternal life” to people.

During the Middle Ages, the growing Christian religion faced new unexpected problems. With the rising number of priests, bishops, parishes, and churches the new religious structure needed more money. Due to these needs, they also invented celibacy, to allow the church to own everything what belonged to their priests.

Moreover, they decided to invent more terrible outcomes for Christian followers if they didn't do what the bishops expected of them. In the ancient writings, there is nothing about asking the priest to ask God to release individuals from their sins…or even a place called Hell - where the people who broke God’s rules were said to go after death.

А fresco detail of Hell from the medieval church St. Nicolas in Raduil village, Bulgaria.

А fresco detail of Hell from the medieval church St. Nicolas in Raduil village, Bulgaria. (Edal Anton Lefterov/CC BY SA 3.0)

Another aspect which made the Church even more resistant in allowing the belief in reincarnation was related to the Crusades. During the Crusades, people were offering all they had to the Church and fought in the name of Jesus. The religious fighters may have been less intent to lose their lives for their religion if they thought they would be reborn in the future.

When the Inquisition started to kill people for crimes of heresy and witchcraft, the religious society remained silent. Although they were losing neighbors, friends, and family, the Christians believed that it was necessary to stay on the right side of the Church and Inquisition if they wanted to go to Heaven. A belief in the rules of karma and reincarnation wouldn't have allowed the leaders of the Inquisition to hurt so many people.

Images representing immortality.

Images representing immortality. (Gnostic Warrior)

The Church’s Current Views on Reincarnation

Nowadays, some Christian churches say that it is possible that reincarnation exists. One of the most liberal of these organizations seems to be the Church in the USA. However, the belief in reincarnation is still more applicable to Buddhism or even New Age followers. The idea of reincarnation has never been fully accepted by the Catholic Church. If they would permit reincarnation as a belief, it would ruin all of the doctrine they had created over the years. It may not fully destroy Christianity, however, it would bring it back to the beginning, before the transformations the Church made. As long as people believe that only God can punish evil, the Church sees no need to apply the impersonal law of karma and other lessons which reincarnation brings.

Reincarnation.

Reincarnation. (Himalayan Academy)

Top Image: The Resurrection. (c. 1715-1716) By S. Ricci. Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Reincarnation in the Bible by Kevin Williams, available at:
http://www.near-death.com/reincarnation/history/bible.html

May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation? By Abbot George Burke
http://ocoy.org/original-christianity/may-a-christian-believe-in-reincarnation/

Reincarnation and Christianity, available at:
http://www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation3.html

Christians and reincarnation, available at:
http://americamagazine.org/issue/christians-and-reincarnation

Ernest Valea, (2016) “REINCARNATION: Its meaning and consequences” ComparativeReligion.com [Online] Available at: http://www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation3.html#01

The Reluctant Messenger (2016) “Christian Reincarnation”. Reluctant-Messenger.com [Online] Available at: http://reluctant-messenger.com/origen10.html

"The Big Book of Reincarnation", by Roy Stemman, p. 14
"CHURCH FATHERS: Letter 124 (Jerome)".

Comments

Here's a really good example showing that early Christians (and Jews) believed in reincarnation. When the people asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah:

John 1:19-27

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leadersc in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

24Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26“I baptize withe water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

Matthew 11:7-14

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15Whoever has ears, let them hear.

davemackey.net's picture

I like Ancient Origins, I read the articles here with a good amount of skepticism, but I still enjoy it. However, this article has significantly undermined my confidence in Ancient Origins’ articles overall. I expect some minimal amount of accountability and professionalism in Ancient Origin’s articles and this one is severely lacking.

On most articles I can’t speak, since I am not an expert in the field – but on this topic I am familiar (not an expert) – and this article is unconscionably misleading. :-(

I don’t have a problem with Ancient Origins posting articles that criticize Christianity or that provide information on “hidden” Christianity – but I do hope and expect that these articles will mention sources…

For example, this statement, “According to many specialists in the Bible, there are many examples which promote the belief that reincarnation was well known and a fully accepted fact for early Christians.” is completely unsourced. I am sure there are a few experts who have suggested such, but there certainly are not many. 

Ms. Klimczak – I hope you will consider rewriting your article. If you truly have these many expert sources, show us them. Also, please do some more work on the way you are interpreting Scriptures as supporting reincarnation – I don’t think they mean what you think they mean. :-(

chris6a2's picture

Thanks for your comment. The article has been updated to reflect the several sources which cite the early Christian Biblical references to reincarnation. Please see references at the end of the article.

The belief of past live/future lives is not openly taught in the Bible....some find scriptures that hint at it, others point to scriptures that seem to deny it...Jews living in the New Testament times and times before King Constantine believed in reincarnation. They brought the belief with them when they converted. The belief was sometimes privately held by Christians during these times.

The majority in the early church were converts from Judaism which lived in the east. After Jerome's Vulgate was published, and the west converted, the majority of Christians were in the west. Jews and eastern peoples believed in past lives. Western peoples did not. The view went underground in the east after the roman patriarch assumed more and more dominance and control of the church in his role as pope.

The church outlawed belief in "prior existence" or past lives at the 2nd Constantinople church council (AD 553). This means someone who openly mentioned it could be excommunicated and burned at the stake as a heretic. This is why Christians don't hold that belief these days. There are a few exceptions. This belief is held privately if at all. No preacher will ever teach this, since it is not clearly taught in the scripture, and since western bias against this belief is strong.

The majority in the early church were converts from Judaism which lived in the east. After Jerome's Vulgate was published and the west converted, the majority of Christians were in the west. Jews and eastern peoples believed in past lives. Western peoples did not. The view went underground in the east after the roman patriarch assumed more and more dominance and control of the church in his role as pope after the goth (german) conquest of Rome.

The church outlawed belief in "prior existence" or past lives at the 2nd Constantinople church council (AD 553). This means someone who openly mentioned it could be excommunicated and burned at the stake as a heretic. This is why Christians don't hold that belief these days. There are a few exceptions. This belief is held privately if at all. No preacher will ever teach this, since it is not clearly taught in the scripture, and since western bias against this belief is strong.

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