Gnostic Doctrine

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Did the Valentinians believe in Reincarnation?

Did the Valentinians believe in Reincarnation?

reincarnation soul


28 The followers of Basilides refer “God visiting the disobedient unto the third and fourth generation” to reincarnations, but the followers of Valentinus maintain that the three places mean those on the left, while the “fourth generation” is their own seed, and “showing mercy unto thousands,” refers to those on the right. (Extracts from the Works of Theodotus)

It seems from this quotation that the followers of Valentinus did not agree with the followers of Basilides about a biblical verses, the followers of Valentinus rejected the teaching of reincarnation and instead understood this verses to allude to "those on the left" a Valentinian term used to refer to the psychical 

According to April D. DeConick in her book The Gnostic New Age "most Gnostics thought that the psyche, or soul, was mortal." (The Gnostic New Age, Page 21 )

This is true for the Jewish-Christian Gnostics like the Valentinians however some pagan Gnostics believed in the immortal soul. This study will look at those Gnostic texts which believe the soul is moral.

The concept  of the immortality of the soul comes from Greek philosophy it is not an idea found in Jewish-Christian scriptures known as the Holy Bible

So what is a Christian Gnostic understanding of the soul?


According to the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus found in the works of Clement of Alexandria, the "soul is a body" (Extract 14) it was created from "dust from the earth" with which "he fashioned a soul, earthly and material" (Extract 50)
 Therefore according to Valentinian Christians he soul is a natural or physical body:

14 The demons are said to be incorporeal, not because they have no bodies (for they have even shape and are, therefore, capable of feeling punishment), but they are said to be incorporeal because, in comparison with the spiritual bodies which are saved, they are a shade. And the angels are bodies; at any rate they are seen. Why even the soul is a body, for the Apostle says, "It is sown a body of soul, it is raised a body of spirit." (1cor 15:44) And how can the souls which are being punished be sensible of it, if they are not bodies? Certainly he says, "Fear him who, after death, is able to cast soul and body into hell." () Now that which is visible is not purged by fire, but is dissolved into dust. But, from the story of Lazarus and Dives, the soul is directly shown by its possession of bodily limbs to be a body. (Extracts from the Works of Theodotus)

Here the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus is quoting from 1 Corinthians 15:44 this is to show the soul is a body notice it says "is a body" not "has a body"

1cor 15:44 It is sown a body of the soul (literally in Greek - a soulical body) , it is raised a body of the spirit; if there is a body of the soul, there is also of the spirit:— 

45 Thus, also, it is written—The first man, Adam, became, a living soul, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 
46 Howbeit, not first, is the [body] of the spirit, but that, of the soul,—afterwards, that of the spirit. (Rotherham's Emphasized Bible)

Also  the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus shows that the soul can be destroyed in Gehenna



The Origin of the Soul
Do the Gnostic texts speak about the the origin of the soul?

Yes the gospel of Philip and the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus describe the creation of the soul:

50 “Taking dust from the earth”: not of the land but a portion of matter but of varied constitution and colour, he fashioned a soul, earthly and material, irrational and consubstantial with that of the beasts. (Extracts from the Works of Theodotus)

Adam’s soul came from a breath. The soul’s companion is spirit, and the spirit given to him is his mother. (Gospel of Philip).

hebrew soul


spirit soul

Is there a distinction between soul and spirit

Yes like the Bible the Gnostic texts or apocryphal gospels make a distinction between soul and spirit


Then Peter answered, “Look, three times you have told us, ‘Be filled,’ but we are filled.”
The savior answered and said, “For this reason I have told you, ‘Be filled,’ that you may not lack. Those who lack will not be saved. To be filled is good and to lack is bad. Yet since it is also good for you to lack but bad for you to be filled, whoever is filled also lacks. One who lacks is not filled in the way another who lacks is filled, but whoever is filled is brought to an appropriate end. So you should lack when you can fill yourselves and be filled when you lack, that you may be able to fill yourselves more. Be filled with spirit but lack in reason, for reason is of the soul. It is soul.” (The Apocryphon of James)


The Soul is Temporary

Some apocryphal text speak about the death of the soul 


“He  knows about desire and what the flesh needs. Does it not desire the soul? The body does not sin apart from the soul just as the soul is not saved apart from the spirit. But if the soul is saved from evil and the spirit too is saved, the body becomes sinless. The spirit animates the soul but the body kills it. The soul kills itself. (The Apocryphon of James)



Heracleon was a Valentinian Gnostic in his Commentary on the Gospel of John he rejects the doctrine of the immortal soul

Fragment 40, on John 4:46-53 (In John 4:46, “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose child was ill.) The official was the Craftsman, for he himself ruled like a king over those under him. Because his domain is small and transitory, he was called an “official,” like a petty princeling who is set over a small kingdom by the universal king. The “child” “in Capernaun” is one who is in the lower part of the Middle (i.e. of animate substance), which lies near the sea, that is, which is linked with matter. The child’s proper person was sick, that is, in a condition not in accordance with the child’s proper nature, in ignorance and sins. (In John 4:47, “When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his child , for it was at the point of death.”) The words “from Judea to Galilee” mean ‘from the Judea above.’. . . By the words “it was at the point of death,” the teaching of those who claim that the soul is immortal is refuted. In agreement with this is the statement that “the body and soul are destoyed in Hell.” (Matthew 10:28) The soul is not immortal, but is possessed only of a disposition towards salvation, for it is the perishable which puts on imperishability and the mortal which puts on immortality when “its death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) [Heracleon: Fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John]






So some Gnostic teachers say that the soul is mortal and can be annihilated completely at death and does not reincarnate. This is in harmony with proto-orthodox teachings of the second century:

Then I answered, "I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and[believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise. Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. But that you may know that I do not say this before you alone, I shall draw up a statement, so far as I can, of all the arguments which have passed between us; in which I shall record myself as admitting the very same things which I admit to you. For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genist , Meristae,Gelilaeans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are[only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare. (Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 80)

So both the Gnostic and orthodox Christians did not believe in the doctrine of immorality of the soul, reincarnation or going to heaven


The Gnostics thought that the human soul is limited by language, emotion, and ethics, leaving us with an inadequate and false sense of who we really are. (The Gnostic New Age,Page 177)

When we realize that Gnostic spirituality is not focused on the liberation of soul but on the spirit, we find an innovation that makes its way into Gnostic myth and ritual performance. If the gods of this world are false, then the spirit has to come from wherever the true God lives. So we see in Gnostic thought the emergence of a transcendent realm that houses the true God and the human spirit. It is this spirit that descends down through the spheres and takes on a soul and a body in the process. Its liberation means purgation of the soul’s negativity and the body’s inclinations so that the spirit can become lighter and fl y home
(The Gnostic New Age, Page)
sacrifice and redemption
The Gospel of Philip uses biblical terms like Resurrection ransom, redeem and sacrifice(s) if reincarnation is being taught in the gospel of philip than these terms would be meaning less

Christ came [53] to purchase some, to save some, to redeem some. He purchased strangers and made them his own, and he brought back his own whom he had laid down of his own will as a deposit. Not only when he appeared did he lay the soul of his own will as a deposit, but from the beginning of the world he laid down the soul, for the proper moment, according to his will. Then he came forth to take it back, since it had been laid down as a deposit. It had fallen into the hands of robbers and had been stolen, but he saved it. And he redeemed the good in the world, and the bad.

 is the sacrifice of [...], whom Death deceived. When he died, he bound them with the natures which are leading them astray. Yet he offered up offerings [...] cattle, saying, "I gave them to Death, and the angels, and the [...] demons [...] living offering [...]. I have offered up myself to you as an offering, together with those that are mine, to you yourself, (O) Father of the All, and those whom you love, who have come forth from you who are holy (and) living. And <according to> the perfect laws, I shall pronounce my name as I receive baptism now (and) forever, (as a name) among the living (and) holy names, and (now) in the waters. Amen."

 He included himself in the living offering, together with your offspring. He offered them up as an offering to the All. For it is not cattle that you will offer up for sin(s) of unbelief, and for the ignorances, and (for) all the wicked deeds which they will do [...]. And they do not reach the Father of the All [...] the faith ..

There are forces that do [favors] for people. They do not want people to come to [salvation], but they want their own existence to continue. For if people come to salvation, sacrifice will [stop]…and animals will not be offered up [55] to the forces. In fact, those to whom sacrifices were made were animals. The animals were offered up alive, and after being offered they died. But a human being was offered up to God dead, and the human being came alive. (Gospel of Philip)



The Resurrection

In the Gospel of Phillip, Philip makes a  great emphasis on resurrection of the body

Some people are afraid that they may arise from the dead naked, and so they want to arise in flesh. They do not know that it is those who wear the [flesh] who are naked. Those who are [able] to take it off are not naked.
“Flesh [and blood will] not inherit God’s kingdom.” What is this flesh that will not [57] inherit? It is what we are wearing. And what is this flesh that will inherit? It is the flesh and blood of Jesus.
For this reason he said, “One who does not eat my flesh and drink my blood does not have life within.” What does this mean? His flesh is the word and his blood is the holy spirit. Whoever has received these has food, drink, and clothing.
And I also disagree with others who say that the flesh will not arise. Both views are wrong. You say that the flesh will not arise? Then tell me what will arise, so we may salute you. You say it is the spirit in the flesh, and also the light in the flesh? But what is in the flesh is the word, and what you are talking about is nothing other than flesh. It is necessary to arise in this sort of flesh, since everything exists in it.
In this world those who wear clothes are superior to the clothes. In heaven’s kingdom the clothes are superior to those who wear them. (The Gospel of Philip)

The lord rose from the dead. He became as he was, but now his body was perfect. He possessed flesh, but this was true flesh. Our flesh isn’t true. Ours is only an image of the true. (The Gospel of Philip)

It is commonly said that the Gnostics denied the resurrection of the flesh on the ground that the flesh (being material) was evil and could have no part in the world of the spirit but Philip and the Treatise on the Resurrection addressed to Rheginus show that the situation is somewhat more complex.

the readers are warned in another saying in the Gospel of Philip "neither to fear nor to love the flesh" but at a distinction is apparently drawn between the true flesh and a flesh which is only an image of the true 

Flesh and blood are allegorized as the logos and the holy spirit. while literal flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom the word and holy spirit surely can

Ignatius identifies the flesh with faith and the blood with love (Trall 8 Ign Rom 8:3)

The exposition of john 6:53 forms the transition between the two parts of this saying and is possibly the link which connects them. The flesh and blood we now have will not inherit the kingdom but the flesh of Jesus is true flesh and will inherit.

"It is necessary to arise in this sort of flesh, since everything exists in it."

The idea is that the true believer must rise in this mortal flesh in order to put on immortality to be clothed with the heavenly garment

By the words “it was at the point of death,” the teaching of those who claim that the soul is immortal is refuted. In agreement with this is the statement that “the body and soul are destoyed in Hell.” (Matthew 10:28) The soul is not immortal, but is possessed only of a disposition towards salvation, for it is the perishable which puts on imperishability and the mortal which puts on immortality when “its death is swallowed up in victory.” [1 Corinthians 15:54] (Heracleon: Fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John)

As Christ rose from the grave and had his mortal body changed to an immortalized body, so the true believer will share his reward (Phil. 3:21). Through baptism we associate ourselves with Christ's death and resurrection, showing our belief that we, too, will share the reward which he received through his resurrection (Rom.6:3-5). Through sharing in his sufferings now, we will also share his reward: "Bearing about (now) in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10). "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit" (Rom. 8:11). With this hope, we therefore wait for "the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23), through that body being immortalized.

For if you remember reading in the Gospel that Elijah appeared and Moses with him, do not think the resurrection is an illusion, but it is truth! Indeed it is more fitting to say that the world is an illusion, rather than the resurrection which came into being through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (From The Treatise on the Resurrection)

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the author here is defending the doctrine of the resurrection.


Those who seek reincarnation as eternal life are destined to die over and over again, return as a tree or a bug, or a rock, they fail to understand soul is the pearl of great price and Jesus saves souls from man's ignorant darkness, this is the sin, the flesh he is in kept alive by the instinctual spirit.

https://thegodabovegod.com/gnosticism-reincarnation-religion/

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