Origens Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew by Origen
2. |The Spirit and Power of Elijah|--Not the Soul--Were in the Baptist.
I have thought it necessary to dwell some time on the examination of the doctrine of transmigration, because of the suspicion of some who suppose that the soul under consideration was the same in Elijah and in John, being called in the former case Elijah, and in the second case John; and that, not apart from God, had he been called John, as is plain from the saying of the angel who appeared to Zacharias, |Fear not, Zacharias, for thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John;| and from the fact that Zacharias regained his speech after he had written in the tablet, that he who had been born should be called John. But if it were the soul of Elijah, then, when he was begotten a second time, he should have been called Elijah; or for the change of name some reason should have been assigned, as in the case of Abram and Abraham, Sarah and Sarrah, Jacob and Israel, Simon and Peter. And yet not even thus would their argument in the case be tenable; for, in the case of the aforesaid, the changes of name took place in one and the same life. But some one might ask, if the soul of Elijah was not first in the Tishbite and secondly in John, what might that be in both which the Saviour called Elijah? And I say that Gabriel in his words to Zacharias suggested what the substance was in Elijah and John that was the same; for he says, |Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God; and he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah.| For, observe, he did not say in the |soul| of Elijah, in which case the doctrine of transmigration might have some ground, but |in the spirit and power of Elijah.| For the Scripture well knows the distinction between spirit and soul, as, |May God sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ;| and the passage, |Bless the Lord, ye spirits and souls of the righteous| as it stands in the book of Daniel, according to the Septuagint, represents the difference between spirit and soul. Elijah, therefore, was not called John because of the soul, but because of the spirit and the power, which in no way conflicts with the teaching of the church, though they were formerly in Elijah, and afterwards in John; and |the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,| but the souls of the prophets are not subject to the prophets, and |the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha.| But we ought to inquire whether the spirit of Elijah is the same as the spirit of God in Elijah, or whether they are different from each other, and whether the spirit of Elijah which was in him was something supernatural, different from the spirit of each man which is in him; for the Apostle clearly indicates that the Spirit of God, though it be in us, is different from the spirit of each man which is in Him, when he says somewhere, |The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God;| and elsewhere, |No one of men knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of the man which is in him; even so the things of God none knoweth save the Spirit of God.| But do not marvel in regard to what is said about Elijah, if, just as something strange happened to him different from all the saints who are recorded, in respect of his having been caught up by a whirlwind into heaven, so his spirit had something of choice excellence, so that not only did it rest on Elisha, but also descended along with John at his birth; and that John, separately, |was filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb,| and separately, |came before Christ in the spirit and power of Elijah.| For it is possible for several spirits not only worse, but also better, to be in the same man. David accordingly asks to be established by a free spirit, and that a right spirit be renewed in his inward parts. But if, in order that the Saviour may impart to us of |the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and reverence,| he was filled also with the spirit of the fear of the Lord; it is possible also that these several good spirits may be conceived as being in the same person. And this also we have brought forward, because of John having come before Christ |in the spirit and power of Elijah,| in order that the saying, |Elijah has already come,| may be referred to the spirit of Elijah that was in John; as also the three disciples who had gone up with Him understood that He spake to them about John the Baptist. Upon Elisha, then, only the spirit of Elijah rested, but John came before, not only in the spirit, but also in the power of Elijah. Wherefore, also, Elisha could not have been called Elijah, but John was Elijah himself. But if it be necessary to adduce the Scripture from which the scribes said that Elijah must first come, listen to Malachi who says, |And behold I will send to you Elijah the Tishbite,| etc., down to the words, |Lest I come and smite the earth utterly.| And it seems to be indicated by these words, that Elijah was to prepare for the glorious coming of Christ by certain holy words and dispositions in their souls, those who had been made fittest for this, which those upon earth could not have endured, because of the excellency of the glory, unless they had been prepared before hand by Elijah. And likewise, by Elijah, in this place, I do not understand the soul of that prophet but his spirit and his power; for these it is by which all things shall be restored, so that when they have been restored, and, as a result of that restoration, become capable of receiving the glory of Christ, the Son of God who shall appear in glory may sojourn with them. But if also Elijah be in some sort a word inferior to |the Word who was in the beginning with God, God the Word,| this word also might come as a preparatory discipline to the people prepared by it, that they might be trained for the reception of the perfect Word. But some one may raise the question whether the spirit and power of Elijah, suffered what was suffered in John, according to the words, |They did in him whatsoever they listed.| And to this it will be said on the one hand, in simpler fashion that there is nothing strange in the thought, that the things which assist do, because of love, suffer along with those that are assisted; and Jesus indeed says. |Because of the weak I was weak, and I hungered because of the hungry, and I thirsted because of the thirsty,| and, on the other hand, in a deeper sense that the words are not, |But they did unto him whatsoever they listed in him,| for the things which suffered leaned upon the spirit and the power of Elijah, the soul of John being in no wise Elijah; and probably also the body (leaned upon them). For in one fashion is the soul in the body, and the spirit, and the power; and in another fashion is the body of the righteous man in these better parts, as leaning upon them, and clinging to them; but |they who are in the flesh cannot please God; but ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if the Spirit of God dwell in you;| for the soul of the sinner is in the flesh, but of the righteous man in spirit. And likewise, further, this might be inquired into, to whom refer the words, |But they did in him whatsoever they listed.| Was it to the scribes in regard to whom the disciples inquired and said, |Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must first come?| But it is not at all evident that John suffered anything at the hands of the scribes, except, indeed, that they did not believe him; or, as we said also before, that they were accomplices in the wrongs which Herod dared to inflict on him. But another might say that the words, |But they did in him whatsoever they listed,| refer not to the scribes but to Herodias and her daughter, and Herod, who did in him whatsoever they listed. And that which follows, |So shall the Son of man suffer from them,| might be referred to the scribes, if the former were referred to them; but, if the former refers to Herod and Herodias and her daughter, the second passage will also refer to them; for Herod also seems to have joined in the vote that Jesus should die, perhaps his wife also taking part with him in the plot against Him.