Closing the Door on Reincarnation in Early Christianity: Limiting the Options

Among early Christians, belief in reincarnation was rare, but is manifest in the Apocryphon of John from Nag Hammadi (NHC II.26.32-27.21; III.35.4; BG 69.4), and is claimed for Basileides, the Carpocratians, and Origen. This paper will examine the evidence for such belief in early Christian circles, and it will discuss how and why it was combatted by its opponents, including Origen himself in writings after the De Principiis. For most early Christian authors, it was important that there be only one incarnation for each individual, one chance at salvation in this body. This paper will also address a related issue: early Christian speculation on the reunion of body and soul in the general resurrection. For most early Christian authors, it was important that the new glorified body somehow be in continuity with our current body, and not a totally new body. Even a one-time “reincarnation” into a new body for all eternity was usually seen to be beyond the pale. The paper will focus on the reasons for and implications of the rejection of all forms of reincarnation among most early Christians.