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Reincarnation in the Bible: Facts and Different Beliefs

Tom May
Happy Worship God in morning view

Most religious traditions carry concepts about life after death in their sacred writings. The idea of reincarnation appeals to many, reflecting a desire to improve their circumstance while finding ways to reunite with others on earth throughout time. Many wonder "Is there a doctrine of reincarnation in the Bible?" Several important concepts flavor the discussion.

Do Christians Believe in Reincarnation?

According to many surveys, about a quarter of American Christians believe in some sort of reincarnation. This suggests a significant shift from the traditional beliefs of the Judeo-Christian theology, which has accepted for centuries that one is born, lives, dies and then comes a judgment and an eternal destiny. The difference may be accounted for by the increasing diversity of the world today.

Reincarnation in the Bible

There is no clear passage in the Bible that mentions or supports the idea of reincarnation, though there are similar beliefs. The Western world accepts a more positive spin on reincarnation than the fearful notions supported by the original teachings. The Bible teaches several doctrines which appear to contradict the basic premises of reincarnation. If the teachings of the Bible are correct, there seems to be no need to come back again, attempting to clear the misdeeds of the past by present, more positive actions.

Some Scriptures Reach Different Conclusions

The Christian faith teaches doctrines which part from the beliefs of reincarnation. The following are a handful of the recognized differences.

The Nature of Time

While some religions see time and history as an ongoing cycle, the Bible views history as linear, having a beginning and an end. Genesis tells the story of the beginning of time, while Revelation predicts of the moments of the end of history and the commencement of eternity.

The Unity of Body and Soul

The Bible teaches that humans are made of three parts that are a unique blend: the body, the soul, and the spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). While some disagree about the nature and differences of the soul and the spirit, theologians agree that there is a unity of the parts.

The Finaly of Death Before a Judgment

The letter to the Hebrews appears to respond to the question, "Do we have more than one lifetime to get this right?" It teaches "it is appointed once to die, and after that comes the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Salvation by Grace Opposed to Through Works

Probably the most significant difference between reincarnation and Christianity is the question of how one is saved. Many religions teach that one is saved as a result of efforts. Reincarnation proposes humans continue to live lives until they perform enough good deeds to get to eternity. Christianity teaches that humans can never accumulate enough good efforts. "All sin and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The result of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

The Meaning of Suffering

Reincarnation recognizes suffering as a result of past failures and negative karma. The Christian sees that suffering is a part of everyone's life. It rains on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). The Christian understands suffering as an opportunity to test the application of faith to life.

Resurrection Instead of Reincarnation

Instead of reincarnation, Christianity sees the resurrection as a pivotal point of faith. The resurrection of a perfect, sinless Jesus provides an atoning sacrifice that can lovingly be counted as righteousness for the prone-to-sinful human. Understanding the nature of such an unselfish act on one's behalf transforms daily living. Eternity is ushered in at a final judgment and the resurrection of the faithful and the wicked (Matthew 25:31-46). Eternal rewards or punishment follow such a judgment.

woman reading bible

How Do Some Support the Belief of Reincarnation From the Bible?

Those who support the idea of reincarnation from the Bible usually try to use passages from Scripture to support the idea. Often reincarnation is not supported by the context (the details and setting of what surrounds the passage) nor by other passages of Scripture. These are often incidents that are cited.

The Prophet Elijah

Some see the Old Testament prophet Elijah as proof of reincarnation. Some thought that John the Baptist was Elijah (Mark 6:14-15). But to say there are similarities between two individuals and to claim it is reincarnation are quite different. Jesus mentioned several times that an Elijah-like figure would come before him. On another occasion, Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with Jesus (Matthew 17:3).

John 3:3

Another passage used to support reincarnation is the John 3:3 passage of Scripture. Jesus teaches that people cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. Two verses later, Jesus clearly is speaking about a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one.

What Is Reincarnation?

Reincarnation is the rebirth of a soul into a new body. The person carries personality threads from one body to the next but often has little or no memory of past lives. Past thoughts and memories may be "triggered" by déjà vu, the uncanny feeling that you have already experienced something before. Reincarnation is derived from a Latin word meaning "to take on flesh again." Some traditions hold the soul may take on life forms of a human, an animal or a plant depending upon the quality of the previous life's experiences. Reincarnation is also known by other terms:

  • Rebirth
  • Metempsychosis
  • Transmigration

What Religions Teach Reincarnation?

Belief in reincarnation is a foundational characteristic of Asian and Indian traditions. The major religions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism embrace reincarnation as a foundational principle. It also appears in the religious and philosophical thought of several Greek traditions as the Greek Orphic mystery and Gnosticism. Reincarnation constitutes a portion of Manichaeism and the modern religious movement known as theosophy.

What Is the Purpose of Reincarnation?

For thousands of years a large group of people have held to a cyclical rotation of life. The human soul strives for perfection, but no one is perfect. Everyone falls short of such a high standard. The soul is born again and will continue to be born again until the negative stains of karma are cleansed from the soul. Negative imprints can be made from bad thoughts, words or deeds. The doctrine of reincarnation searches for a meaningful society and a more moral individual.

Matters of Faith

Both reincarnation and resurrection share the desire for a similar end result. Neither can be tested or proven by the scientific method. Both, then, are rooted as an issue of faith, the acceptance of things that are not known or seen. Many accept beliefs without processing through its implications and applications to other aspects of life and faith. The idea of reincarnation in the Bible supports the biblical belief that humans fall short of moral and ethical goals, but compromises Christianity's understanding of the tenets of faith, particularly the atoning role of Jesus' death.

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Reincarnation in the Bible: Facts and Different Beliefs