Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reincarnation and Luke 16


The Scriptures do not clearly state anything using the word "reincarnation." But this was a very common teaching among some of the Jews of the time, and was also embraced by many if not most of the nontraditional Christians called "gnostics." (These are not to be confused with the "cap G" Gnostics, small cultlike groups during the first two centuries. These were the mystics among early Christians.)

Jesus, and the angel, said that John the Baptizer was Elijah. In the Gospel of John, chapter 11, the disciples were passing a "man born blind." They asked Jesus, "Who sinned, this man, or his parents, so that he was born blind?" How could the man himself have sinned even before he was born, unless it had been in a past life? The disciples assumed that he had been born blind due to karma, but Jesus made it clear that the man had chosen to be born blind,so that God might be glorified.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Job is identified as the "wises of the Orientals," according to some older translations. He said the famous words, "Naked came I from my mother's womb, and naked shall I returnthere."

Also, when Jesus asked his disciples whom the people thought that he was, they replied that some thought him to be Isaiah or "one of the prophets." Jesus never corrected the disciples, or gave lectures against reincarnation when they seemed to be discussing the subject. In fact, in some of the more ancient documents, he embraces the teaching, and so do some of his disciples.

In some documents, including the Indian classic Bhagavad-Gita, which was written as early as four hundred years before Jesus' birth, reincarnationis taken for granted. Also, the Indian classics the Upanishads were written even earlier, going back to from six to eight centuries before his birth. since Palestine was a very busy trade-route, there can be little doubt that a person of the time, who was religiously educated at all, could, and probably did, read these ancient works.

We know that the heretical Cathars believed in reincarnation, in the Middle Ages. These Christians traced their heritage to the early gnostic schools. Gnostics got their name from the Greek verb gnosein, which means, "to know, in a very immediate and direct way." This was the verb used by Jesus in John 17:3: "This is timeless life, to know you, the only true God..." Many if not most of the first Christians, in the first century, were gnostic Christians (mystics), as was Jesus.

Reincarnation was a universal beleif among mystics (gnostics), then as now. Most mystics from most countries, in all centuries, have believed it. How else can you claim that this is a just universe? Has anyone ever come up with a better explanation for the existence of evil and unfairness? I do not think so; before I embraced the idea, I carefully studied the beliefs of dozens of varieties of Christianity. The very final "piece" to that "puzzle" was the discovery that many types of early Christians also embraced it. For early Christians had a wide spectrum of beliefs; they did not all believe exactly alike. They did share a belief in the power of Love in the Christ-spirit, but had different views about many things. They were people of spiritual adulthood, spiritual independence. They did not share the leadership of one man, such as the pope, and did not share any doctrinal "tests of faith." Each was free to choose her or his own beliefs, depending on what the individual could prove to herself. It was a belief in freedom, as both Jesus and Paul indicate. (Jn. 8:32 and 1 Cor. 3:17) That freedom was sacred,a gift of the Holy Spirit.

The parable of Luke 16: 19, which includes a symbolic story of a man who died rich, and who had abused a poor man, uses the symbol of the rich guy waking up in suffering, and the poor guy going to the "bosom of Abraham,"which, to his Jewish listeners, meant paradise.

Almost all professional Biblical scholars believe that this, just like all of Jesus' other parables, was a symbolic story, not a literal one. (Indeed, the very meaning of "parable" is "a symbolic story.")

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