Reincarnation and the Early Christians
Here is an article on early Christianity and the concept of reincarnation. It is long but well-researched by Kevin Williams. It is worth reading. So many near-death experiencers come to embrace the concept after their episode. Quite a number of them had components in their near-death episode or immediately afterward that revealed past lives, inner connections between lives, and a completely new way for them to understand life itself and the soul’s passage as it matures in and through life cycles. The author, by the way, is Kevin Williams and this article is posted on my blog with his permission. Blessings, PMH
Reincarnation and the Early Christians
In December, 1945, early Christian writings containing many secrets of the early Christian religion were found in upper Egypt, a location where many Christians fled during the Roman invasion of Jerusalem. Undisturbed since their concealment almost two thousand years ago, these manuscripts of Christian mysticism rank in importance with the Dead Sea Scrolls. These writings affirmed the existence of the doctrine of reincarnation being taught among the early Jews and Christians. These Christian mystics, referred to as Christian Gnostics, were ultimately destroyed by the orthodox Church for being heretics. Their sacred writings were destroyed and hidden with the belief that they would be revealed at an appropriate time in the future. The discovery in 1945 yielded writings that included some long lost gospels, some of which were written earlier than the known gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Brian A. Bain, M.A., has this to say about the 1945 discovery:
"Long considered to be heretical, ancient Gnostic Christian texts unearthed this century display compelling similarities between Gnostic conceptions of life and death and modern near-death experiences. The Gnostic texts devoted extensive tracts to what readers could expect to encounter when they died. Other passages make numerous allusions to near-death-like experiences that can be realized in this life, most notably the human encounter with a divine light. The Gnostic Christian literature gives us one more example of NDEs and similar experiences in the ancient world."
Another interesting fact comes from Edgar Cayce (a near-death experiencer) who affirmed that Gnosticism is the highest form of Christianity.
The Christian Gnostics were regarded by some as a new Jewish sect who believed they had finally found the long-awaited Messiah and not a new religion. Some of the apostles became Gnostic and because of this, Christianity could well have grown up as a Gnostic religion had it not been for their eventual persecution by the organized Church centuries later.
The Secret Teachings of Jesus
An important Christian Gnostic teaching was the "Logos" which in Greek is translated as "the image of the Word." It is an important concept found in the gospel of John:
"In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)
Logos is the part of God that acts in the world. It is the perfect unity of the human and the divine. This is affirmed by John when he wrote that "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." When John stated that Jesus is the Logos, he is stating that Jesus became the Logos, the Christ. The Logos is the divine "spark" of God within humans that needs to awakened. Everyone has the "image of the Word (Logos)" within them and it is for this reason that Genesis describes humanity as created "in the image and likeness of God." The Logos is the divine Spirit in humanity. By using the Christian Gnostic idea of the Logos, John is not only affirming the preexistence and divinity of Jesus, but he is affirming that all sons of God created in the "image of the Word" as Jesus was, preexisted in spirit before being born. In other words, every human is an incarnation of the Logos and every human has to potential of becoming like Jesus, a manifestation of the human-divine unity. Every human can be a "Christ" and because of this, every soul will eventually be drawn back to God.
The Roman Church misunderstood what the Logos was in John and incorrectly concluded from this that only Jesus is divine - the Word made flesh. The orthodox Church either rejected or ignored this Christian Gnostic concept found in John. This may have been a factor when the gospel of John was almost rejected from New Testament canon when it was being put together. This was during a time when Christian Gnosticism became an enemy of the organized Church. Nevertheless, it was the idea of the preexistence of the soul and its corresponding doctrine of reincarnation that the Roman Church had great difficulty with.
The Christian Gnostics emphasized spiritual knowledge rather blind faith as the road to salvation. They indicated that they possessed secret knowledge (i.e., "gnosis" in Greek) concerning the hidden meaning of the "resurrection." This was a part of the secret teachings of Jesus handed down to them by the apostles. This special knowledge was restricted to people who were given the public teachings of Christianity before qualifying to be initiated and receive the secret teachings. In contrast, the very term "Catholic" means "universal", implying that anyone could become a member of the Church by adhering to the public teachings of faith and rituals. The Christian Gnostics were harsh critics of the orthodox Church. The Christian Gnostics accused the Church of watering down the gospel in order to popularize it for the masses. The orthodox Church stressed salvation through faith alone and by the rituals of the Church.
This secret gnosis emphasized spiritual "resurrection" (i.e,. spiritual rebirth) and physical "resurrection" (i.e., reincarnation) as opposed to a resurrection defined as people sleeping in their graves until it is time their corpses to crawl out of their graves at the last day. Christian Gnostics held the view that if spiritual resurrection was not attained in one lifetime, then the soul would be subjected to as many reincarnations as it takes until spiritual rebirth is attained.
One of the great Church leaders was Clement of Alexandria in Egypt (150-211 A.D.) who indicated that he possessed the secret teaching handed down from the apostles.
In the Gnostic text entitled The Secret Gospel of Mark, one of the Christian Gnostic texts discovered in 1945, describes Jesus performing secret initiation rituals. Before the discovery of this secret gospel, our only knowledge of it came from a letter written by Clement. Clement quotes from this secret gospel and refers to it as, "a more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected." He also states, "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 mentions elsewhere that Jesus revealed a secret teaching to those who were "capable of receiving it and being molded by it" He also affirmed that, "The gnosis (secret knowledge) itself is that which has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the apostles." (Miscell. Book VI, Chapter 7)
The existence of a secret teaching can be found in the New Testament:
“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…'” (Mark 4:11-12)
"He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance." (Matt. 13:11-12)
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 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 Cor. 2:6-8)
"So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God." (1 Cor. 4:1)
"At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and Earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Matt. 11:25-26)
Paul wrote about teachings which are taught to spiritual "babies," teachings about righteousness for the more mature, and then teachings for the spiritually mature. Paul reveals this fact immediately after equating Melchizedek to Jesus by stating:
"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:11-14)
According to tradition, after the Roman invasion of Jerusalem, the author of the Gospel of Mark established a church in Alexandria, Egypt. Mark may also have been the author of a "secret gospel" containing more advanced teaching for those being initiated into the Christian mysteries. This secret gospel contains passages portraying Jesus teaching secret doctrines.
The Champion for the Secret Teachings of Jesus
As the orthodox church in Rome gained more and more political power the more it viewed secret teachings as a threat to their own public teachings. But the Church leader who made the final and greatest attempt to revive the secret teachings of Jesus within the orthodox teachings was the first Church Father named Origen (183-253 A.D.) of Alexandria in Egypt who was a disciple of Clement of Alexandra. Origen was the first person since Paul to develop a system of theology around the teachings of Jesus. His effort was the first within the orthodox church to systematize a theology on so vast a scale. Although Origen defended orthodoxy, he included in his system the wisdom of the Christian Gnostics. His theology was a perfect synthesis of "orthodox" and "gnostic" teachings and came the closest to reviving the "Lost Christianity" of the original sects, communities and schools, at a time when the Christian Gnosticism was falling into disrepute. Unfortunately, hundreds of years later, the Church declared him a heretic and his teachings as heresy mostly because they affirmed preexistence and therefore reincarnation.
Origen had this to say about the secret teachings of Jesus:
“[Jesus] conversed with His disciples in private, and especially in their sacred retreats, concerning the Gospel of God; but the words which He uttered have not been preserved, because it appeared to the evangelists that they could not be adequately conveyed to the multitude in writing or in speech… and they saw… what things were to be committed to writing, and how this was to be done, and what was by no means to be written to the multitude, and what was to be expressed in words, and what was not to be so conveyed”. (Contra Celsus, Chap. VI. 18)
Concerning these secret teachings, Clement stated:
“James the Righteous, John and Peter were entrusted by the Lord after his resurrection with the higher knowledge. They imparted it to the other apostles, to the seventy…” (Outlines Book VI)
The Theology of Christian Gnosticism
According to Gnostic theology, a series of "falling away" from the Whole that is God occurred in eternity which resulted in all that there is today. After the first "fall", the divine consciousness descended to the level of the divided consciousness; now after another "fall", it has fallen even further, into the depths of the unconscious; it has been "forgotten." It is now humanity's privilege to discover the potential realms of human existence and face the great challenge of the "ascension of consciousness" through the Man-God-Spirit transformation.
Once souls fell into the lower levels of consciousness, they became enamored of it and burned with the desire to experience the pleasures of matter. The souls then no longer wanted to disengage itself from these lower levels. Thus the world was born. From that moment souls forgot themselves. They forgot they original habitation, their true center and eternal being.
Gnosticism proceeds from one fundamental insight: this world in which we find ourselves is thoroughly and irretrievably less than holy. The soul is trapped in a prison of flesh, and the flesh is intrinsically less than divine. According to Gnostic theology, the creation of the cosmos came about as the result of a tragicomic mistake: the fall of the soul from God. Thanks to the advent of Christ in the lower realms of consciousness, the power of reconciling the fallen souls has been given to restore the One-ness and usher in the kingdom of light over the kingdom of flesh and matter. The unity of the Godhead is assured thanks to the introduction of the new uniting force, the Logos, the part of God who acts in the flesh and the material. It is important to distinguish the Logos (Christ) from the soul named Jesus. Any person has the potential of becoming a Logos but it was the soul known as Jesus who actually incarnated as a Logos and therefore became a Christ on Earth.
We, as humans, cannot comprehend the omnipotent power available to us until we utilize the Christ power. When we effectively use the divine "Christ awareness" we have the ability to help in the liberation of the imprisoned "sparks of divinity" from flesh and rejoin them to the Source. The divine plan of creation will become complete as the divine outpouring of Christ gnosis liberates humanity from ignorance. The result of this will be the redemption of all human beings.
The Christ power can only liberate souls through the call and revelation of Christ gnosis to, "Awake, remember who you are and where you come from!" But since the soul cannot by itself hear the gnosis, the Christ power resorts to elaborate strategies to create the conditions for which all souls will be saved.
Christian Gnostics felt that initiation into the Cosmic Christ gnosis is inseparable from "the light which lighteth every person coming into the world." It is this light within, our Higher Self, which each individual must bring to at-one-ment with the divine Source if liberation is to occur.
As more and more people hear the call to "Wake up!" and attain the Christ gnosis and become liberated, their souls are received back into the bosom of Divine Consciousness. The soul becomes free from unholy flesh and the cycle of birth and rebirth. Christian Gnostics seek to achieve this by cultivating the Higher Self within people to seek reunification with the Godhead. But each soul returning to its divine source must, after death, pass through the various levels of consciousness. Sometimes Christian Gnostics describe seven of these heavenly realms, other times ten.
Christian Gnostic Writings
The quote from Jesus from the Christian Gnostic gospel, the Book of Thomas the Contender, describes Jesus teaching reincarnation:
"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 9:5)
In another part of the Book of Thomas the Contender, Jesus tells the disciple Thomas that after death, those people 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."
The following quote from Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas affirms Jesus teaching reincarnation to his disciples:
"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, saying 84)
More excerpts from this very interesting gospel will be profiled later.
In the Secret Book of John, written by 185 A.D. at the latest, reincarnation is placed at the center of the discussion concerning the salvation of souls. The following is a summary of the Secret Book of John's perspective on reincarnation.
Everyone has drunk from the water of forgetfulness and lives in a state of ignorance. Some people are able to overcome ignorance by having the life-giving Spirit descend upon them. These souls "will be saved and will become perfect," that is, escape the cycle of birth and 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 Christian Gnostic symbol for a new body.
Jesus says the only way for these souls to escape is to acquire knowledge after coming from forgetfulness. A soul can accomplish this by finding a teacher who can lead the soul in the right direction:
"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 14:20)
Another Christian Gnostic book, the Pistis Sophia (Greek for "Faith Wisdom"), outlines a system of punishment and rewards that includes reincarnation. The book explains the differences in one's fate as a result of past-life actions. A "man who curses" will be given a body that is continually "troubled in heart." A "man who slanders" will be given an "oppressed" body. A thief will be given a "lame, crooked and blind body." A "proud" and "scornful" man will be given "a lame and ugly body" that "everyone continually despises." From this, we can see how this Earth, as well as hell, is a place of education through suffering.
According to the Pistis Sophia, some souls experience hell as a place of shadows and torture. However, after these souls pass through hell, they return to Earth for further experiences. Only a relatively few extremely evil souls are not permitted to reincarnate. These souls are cast into "outer darkness" until a time when they are "destroyed and dissolved."
The Pistis Sophia combines the ideas of reincarnation and divine union in a verse beginning with the question:
"[What happens to] a man who has committed no sin, but done good persistently, but has not found the mysteries?" (Pistis Sophia)
The Pistis Sophia reveals such a soul will receive "a cup filled with thoughts and wisdom," allowing the soul to remember its divine origin and 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 term for union with God.
In the Gospel of Phillip, Jesus makes a clear distinction between the resurrection of the spirit (i.e., spiritual rebirth) and the resurrection of the body (i.e., physical rebirth, reincarnation):
"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 73:1-4)
In the Apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon, recognized as canonical 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, unless reincarnation is true?
Among the works of the Christian Gnostics are some of the early gospels, including secret gospels which were not preserved in the New Testament. The Gospel of Thomas was the first gospel ever written and is considered by scholars to be the most reliable gospel. Much of this gospel contains sayings of Jesus that are contained in the four New Testament gospels.
The Christian Gnostic gospels reveal a clear and strong vision of the resurrection as a past and present event. Below is a verse from the Gospel of Thomas that shows the "resurrection" to be a past 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, saying 51)
In the verse above, Jesus says the resurrection and the kingdom are already here. In Gnostic terms, this quote from Jesus refers to a person's past "resurrection" (i.e., physical rebirth, reincarnation) and the fact that we are already living in the kingdom of God which exists within us. Only through the Christ gnosis can this kingdom be realized and the cycle of resurrection end.
The sayings that are presented below are excerpts of the Gospel of Thomas that are not present in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Gospel of Thomas
"These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Judas Thomas the Twin recorded.
Jesus said, "Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death."
Jesus said, "Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be disturbed. When one is disturbed, one will be amazed, and will reign over all."
Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Behold, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds in the sky will get there before you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will get there before you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and embody poverty."
Jesus said, "Know what is within your sight, and what is hidden from you will become clear to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed."
Jesus said, "I have thrown fire on the world and, behold, I am guarding it until it is ablaze."
Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me with someone, and tell me whom I am like." Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a just angel." Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher." Thomas said to him, "Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say whom you are like." Jesus said, "I am not your teacher. You have become intoxicated because you have drunk from the bubbling spring that I have tended." And he took Thomas and withdrew, and told him three things. When Thomas came back to his friends, they asked him, "What did Jesus tell you?" Thomas said to them, "If I tell you even one of the things he told me, you will pick up rocks and stone me. Then fire will come forth from the rocks and devour you."
The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us about the end." Jesus said, "Have you already discovered the beginning, that now you can seek after the end? For where the beginning is, the end will be. Blessed is one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end, and will not taste death."
Jesus said, "Blessed is one who came to life before coming to life."
Jesus said, "If you become my disciples and hearken to my sayings, these stones will serve you."
Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom." They said to him, "Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?" Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female, when you make eyes replacing an eye, a hand replacing a hand, a foot replacing a foot, and an image replacing an image, then you will enter the kingdom."
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are alone and chosen: you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again."
His disciples said to him, "When will the final rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?" He said to them, "What you look for has already come, but you do not know it."
Jesus said, "I disclose my mysteries to those who are worthy of my mysteries. Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."
Jesus said, "Whoever knows everything but lacks within lacks everything."
Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you will kill you."
Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: all came forth from me, and all attained to me. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there."
Jesus said, "Whoever is close to me is close to the fire, and whoever is far from me is far from the kingdom."
Jesus said, "Images are visible to people, but the light within is hidden in the Father's image of light. He will reveal himself, but his image is hidden by his light."
Jesus said, "When you see a likeness of yourself, you are happy. But when you see your images that came into being before you, and that neither die nor become visible, how much you will be able to tolerate!"
Jesus said, "When you make the two into one, you will become sons of man, and when you say, 'Mountain, move!' it will move."
Jesus said, "Whoever drinks from my mouth will be like me, and I shall be that person, and what is hidden will be revealed to that one."
Jesus says, "Whoever finds self is worth more than the world."
His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?" "It will not come by looking for it. Nor will it do to say, 'Behold, over here!' or 'Behold, over there!' Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out on the Earth, but people do not see it." (Gospel of Thomas)
The Apocalyptic Texts
Among the Christian Gnostic writings were no less than five separate apocalypses. Here they are.
The First Apocalypse of James contains the secret teachings of Christ that were given to James the Just, the Lord's brother. In it, James refers to Jesus as "rabbi." Jesus warns James to leave Jerusalem, for the city is a dwelling place of a great number of "archons" or evil angels. Jerusalem is stigmatized as the city which "gives the cup of bitterness to the sons of light." Jesus coaches James on what to say when he is judged and challenged by the "toll collectors" of heaven in order to pass through the gates of heaven.
The Second Apocalypse of James
The Apocalypse of Adam
The Apocalypse of Peter is a record of the vision of Peter the apostle in which he speaks with Christ in the spirit. In this, Peter is clearly seen as the true successor to Christ and the founder of the Gnostic community. In the vision, Peter first sees hostile priests who seem to be intent upon stoning him and Christ to death. Next, Peter recalls the crucifixion during which Jesus stood nearby talking with him.
Peter asks, "Who is this one glad and laughing on the tree (i.e., cross)? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?"
Christ replies, "He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshy part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me."
Peter seemed to realize that it would be a long time before his book was read and understood, for he writes:
"These things, then, which you saw you shall present to those of another race who are not of this age."
He seems to be right, as this apocalypse has only just seen the light of day before we enter the age that many believe will begin with the second coming of Christ.
The Apocalypse of Paul
The Apocalypse of Paul is an account of the apostle's ascent into heaven and what he found there, with instructions for other souls on how to conduct themselves during judgment. One of the most interesting aspects of this text is that it corresponds to events found in the New Testament and includes references to reincarnation. Several Christian Gnostic texts combine the ideas of reincarnation and union with God.
As Paul passes through the fourth heaven, he witnesses a soul being punished for murder. This soul is brought "out of the land of the dead" (i.e., Earth) by angels where three witnesses charge the soul with murder. The soul looks sorrowfully down and is cast down into a body that has been prepared for it. The book describes Paul's journey through the heavens, which is also symbolic for the Gnostic process of union with God.
The New Testament contains a letter by the apostle Paul to the Christians in the city of Corinth, Greece, where he had founded a church on his first visit there. The Christians at this church were being divided by the teachings of so-called "false teachers" that were infiltrating the church there and Paul wrote a letter telling them to not forget what they were taught by Paul. These "false teachers" were trying to get people to follow their teachings and not Paul's. In order to put these false teachers to shame, Paul rebukes the Corinthians by using false pride and boasting about himself and telling the church why he is more qualified than the false teachers. He tells them of his sufferings and how he was once stoned and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:23-26). The letter goes on to say:
"I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows. And I know that this person - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows - was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that humans are not permitted to tell." (2 Cor. 12:1-4)
In the above passage, Paul continued his "boasting" by telling about visions and revelations he had received from the Lord. "I know a person in Christ" means that he was speaking about himself. He explained that he didn't know if he was taken up in his body or in his spirit, but he was in paradise ("the third heaven"). This incident cannot be positively identified with a recorded event in Paul's career, although some think this may have been when he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). Paul told about this incident to show that he had been uniquely touched by God.
Many people are unaware of this passage of the Bible and that it is a near-death experience which Paul had. The person who wrote most of the New Testament, the sacred writings of orthodox Christianity, had a near-death experience which he based his authority as an apostle of Christ to the Corinthian church. It can even be argued that his near-death experience directly or indirectly inspired his epistles.
The Apocalypse of Paul reveals how each soul must rise as best it can after death through a hierarchy of heavens and face the increasingly difficult challenges posed by the guardian angels of each heaven. The journey begins with Paul meeting a child on the mountain of Jericho on the way to heaven (symbolized by Jerusalem). This child turns out to be the Holy Spirit, who takes Paul first to the third heaven.
The Holy Spirit warns Paul to keep his wits about him for they are about to enter the realm of "principalities ... archangels and powers and the whole race of demons." The Holy Spirit also mentions that they will pass "one that reveals bodies to a soul-seed," that is, the being that takes souls and plants them in new bodies for reincarnation. For the soul who wished to ascend to the highest heaven, reincarnation was to be avoided.
When Paul reaches the fourth heaven, the Holy Spirit encourages him to look down upon his body which he has left behind on the mountain of Jericho. As Paul ascends, he witnesses in the fourth heaven the judgment and punishment of another soul. He says, "I saw the angels resembling gods ... bringing a soul out of the land of the dead." The soul has been resurrected so that it can be judged, one of the four events promised for the end of the world. The angels were whipping it.
The soul spoke, saying, "What sin was it that I committed in the world?" The "toll collector" of this heavenly gate accuses the soul. The soul replies, "Bring witnesses! Let them show you in what body I committed lawless deeds." Three bodies rise up as witnesses and accuse the soul of anger and envy, and finally murder. When the soul heard these things, it gazed downwards in sorrow ... It was cast down.
At this point we expect the soul to be cast into hell, as in later Christian doctrine, but no: "the soul that had been cast down went to a body which had been prepared for it," and was reincarnated.
Paul, somewhat shaken by this experience, was beckoned forward by the Holy Spirit and allowed to pass through the gate of the fifth heaven. Here he saw his fellow apostles and "a great angel in the fifth heaven holding an iron rod in his hand." This angel and three other angels, with whips in their hands, scourge the souls of the dead and drive them on to judgment. Paul remains with the Holy Spirit and the gates to the sixth heaven swing open effortlessly before him.
In the sixth heaven, Paul sees a strong light shining down on him from the heaven above. He is motioned by the "toll collector" through the gates of the seventh heaven. Here, he sees "an old man filled with light and whose garment was white. His throne, which is in the seventh heaven, was brighter than the sun by seven times." This old man bears a striking resemblance to Jehovah as he is described in the vision of Ezekiel.
The old man asks, "Where are you going, Paul?" Only reluctantly, after some encouragement from the Holy Spirit, does Paul speak with him and give the Gnostic sign he has learned. The eighth heaven then opens and Paul ascends. Here he embraces the twelve disciples, most of whom he has not met before, and together they rise to the ninth heaven. Finally, Paul reaches the tenth and highest heaven, where he is transformed.
The Suppression of Christian Gnosticism
The Christian Gnostics believed in reincarnation and the preexistence of the soul. They refused to believe in a resurrection of corpses at the end of time. They emphasized meeting Jesus on a spiritual level to become liberated and attain permanent citizenship in heaven. The Church of Rome of the second century A.D., on the other hand, declared that those who deny a Last Day resurrection of corpses are heretics.
Many Christian Gnostics regarded themselves as part of the organized body of Christians of the early church. However, as the organized Church gained political control of the Roman Empire, the Christian Gnostics were persecuted by the organized Church and many were martyred. The Christian Gnostic tradition is one of many branches of early Christianity labeled as heretical by the early Church fathers. The Gnostic influences and writings were cut out of official Church doctrines as heresy. Because of their suspected Christian Gnostic origins, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation was almost rejected from the New Testament. Nevertheless, the organized Church succeeded in hiding its Christian Gnostic doctrines.
It is not surprising that the orthodox Church bishops edited out the practical spiritual knowledge which was once an integral part of Christianity and was known and practiced by the apostle Paul. For these fathers, it was far more convenient and gratifying for their egos to assert that spiritual grace could only be attained through them as Christ's representatives on Earth. To control the masses, the political organization of the church declared that salvation was attained only through the church rituals and through the priesthood. Salvation through a personal mystical experience with Christ apart from the organized church was cast away. In a move that is very likely to have met with the disapproval of Christ himself, the worldly political aspirations of a few priests won out over the spiritual enlightenment of the many.
And as it is with any religion or movement, the successors of its founder decided which things to keep and which to throw out. The organized Church discarded the spiritual knowledge of Christian Gnosticism as being too dangerous and kept the concept of blind acceptance of church doctrine.
Ultimately, the organized Church declared Christian Gnosticism a heresy and began killing those who adhered to its doctrines. Thus the powerful Roman Church began its crusade of eliminating all rivals to its authority. Christian Gnosticism was obliterated and relatively little historical and theological information was left to fully understand early Christian history. This all changed in 1945 with the discovery of the Gnostic Christian scriptures discovered in Egypt. Then in 1947, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls of early Jewish Gnostic writings occurred. Today, with many Christians wondering if the Second Coming of Christ is soon to happen, it may not be a coincidence that these secret writings have come to surface after two thousand years of being hidden. Finally, after two thousands years, the secret is finally out again.
"The soul has neither beginning nor end… [They] come into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of their previous lives" - Origen
Copyright © 2007 Near-Death Experiences & the Afterlife
Peace and Light,
Kevin R. Williams
Webmaster of "Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife"
Author of the NDE book "Nothing Better Than Death"