Commentary on Matthew

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    I’ve taken an interest in Origen lately, and this seems like a good place to ask a question.:)

    While Origen did teach pre-existence, are we really sure that he taught reincarnation? My main reason for asking is his Commentary on Matthew (, where he states the following:

    But now according to our ability let us make investigation also into the things that are stored up in it. In this place it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I should fall into the dogma of transmigration, which is foreign to the church of God, and not handed down by the Apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the Scriptures; for it is also in opposition to the saying that “things seen are temporal,” 5827 and that “this age shall have a consummation,” and also to the fulfilment of the saying, “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” 5828 and “the fashion of this world passeth away,” 5829 and “the heavens shall perish,” 5830 and what follows. For if, by hypothesis, in the constitution of things which has existed from the beginning unto the end of the world, the same soul can be twice in the body, for what cause should it be in it? For if because of sin it should be twice in the body, why should it not be thrice, and repeatedly in it, since punishments, in respect of this life, and of the sins committed in it, shall be rendered to it only by the method of transmigration? But if this be granted as a consequence, perhaps there will never be a time when a soul shall not undergo transmigration: for always because of its former sins will it dwell in the body; and so there will be no place for the corruption of the world, at which “the heaven and the earth shall pass away.” 5831 And if it be granted, on this hypothesis, that one who is absolutely sinless shall not come into the body by birth, after what length of time do you suppose that a soul shall be found absolutely pure and needing no transmigration? But nevertheless, also, if any one soul is always thus being removed from the definite number of souls and returns no longer to the body, sometime after infinite ages, as it were, birth shall cease; the world being reduced to some one or two or a few more, after the perfecting of whom the world shall perish, the supply of souls coming into the body having failed. But this is not agreeable to the Scripture; for it knows of a multitude of sinners at the time of the destruction of the world. This is manifest from consideration of the saying, “How-beit when the Son of man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?” 5832 So we find it thus said in Matthew, “As were the days of Noah so shall also be the coming of the Son of man; for as they were in the days of the flood,” etc. 5833 But to those who are then in existence there shall be the exaction of a penalty for their sins, but not by way of transmigration; for, if they are caught while still sinning, either they will be punished after this by a different form of punishment,—and according to this either there will be two general forms of punishment, the one by way of transmigration, and the other p. 475 outside of a body of this kind, and let them declare the causes and differences of these,—or they will not be punished, as if those who were left at the consummation of things had forthwith cast away their sins; or, which is better, there is one form of punishment for those who have sinned in the body, namely, that they should suffer, outside of it, that is, outside the constitution of this life, what is according to the desert of their sins. But to one who has insight into the nature of things it is clear that each of these things is fitted to overturn the doctrine of transmigration. But if, of necessity, the Greeks who introduce the doctrine of transmigration, laying down things in harmony with it, do not acknowledge that the world is coming to corruption, it is fitting that when they have looked the Scriptures straight in the face which plainly declare that the world will perish, they should either disbelieve them, or invent a series of arguments in regard to the interpretation of the things concerning the consummation; which even if they wish they will not be able to do.


    So much of what Origen wrote was destroyed, and much of what was left was “translated” to fit with the dogma of the time. (See the apology of Rufinus ) This is the case for book 8 of the Commentary on Matthew. It comes from a Latin translation out of the sixth century and it is clear that the translator only took what he wanted out of Origen’s work to suit his purposes. (See Hermann J. Vogt’s introduction to his German translation of the Commentary on Matthew.) Only books 10 to 17 are available to us in the original Greek, so we are unable to find Origen’s original teachings about the second coming of Elijah from this section.

    When you look at what is missing from Origen’s commentary on John, you find that the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus about reincarnation in John 3.2-21 is also missing. (Book 10 goes to John 2.25 and book 13 starts up again at John 4.13; books 11 and 12 are conveniently missing/destroyed.) Everything that directly supported his teaching of the Restoration of All Things was destroyed after the “The Anathematisms of the Emperor Justinian against Origen” in 543 AD.

    It is important to remember though that Origen’s teaching of reincarnation was different that that of Pythagoras and some of this may be coming through in the quoted section. The Restoration of All Things was not possible at the time of Pythagoras, since Jesus had not yet performed His act of redemption that allows all the fallen souls to re-enter Heaven through a long, slow purification on Earth. Origen taught only a reincarnation that fulfills this purpose, not a continuous rebirth of a soul without any higher purpose as is taught in other places. Without understanding the basic difference, a translator could have real problems with the fine points made by Origen.

    Edward Moore presents a strong argument for the Restoration of All Things in his paper and Robert Strauli presents a very strong case for this in his book “Origenes Der Diamantene”, which is only available in German currently.

    I hope this is of some help for you!

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