Reincarnation and the Bible: Past Lives and Scripture

By Todd Clay / November 25, 2018

Defining reincarnation, the major religions that teach reincarnation, a major danger in believing in reincarnation – reincarnation and the Bible.

Short Answer

Reincarnation, the belief in the transmigration of a human soul to another entity at death is taught by some Eastern religions like Hinduism. Reincarnation is not found in the Bible and is contrary to the Biblical concept of resurrection at the judgment.

Long Answer

What happens when we die?

There are several theories about what follows death. One of the more popular, non-Christian ideas is reincarnation. Reincarnation suggests you don’t merely die and worms eat you (materialism) or that your soul travels to another place like heaven or hell (immortality). Instead, in reincarnation your soul “transmigrates” to another body so your essence can live again. In recent decades this idea has really taken hold in the Western world, but it’s not a Biblical concept.

In this post, I aim to define reincarnation, discuss the major religions that each reincarnation, explore what the Bible teaches, and reveal a major spiritual danger in believing in reincarnation.

Reincarnation Defined

According to The Handbook of Christian Apologetics at Bible.org, reincarnation is the idea where…

“The individual soul survives and is reincarnated into another body. Reincarnation is usually connected with the next belief, pantheism, by the notion of karma: that after the soul has fulfilled its destiny, and learned its lessons and become sufficiently enlightened, it reverts to a divine status or is absorbed into (or realizes its timeless identity with) the divine All.”

More crudely, reincarnation is a process by which a soul is “recycled” into other life forms after death. If you live a good life you’re reborn as a more enlightened being. If not, you become a dung beetle. And so on.

According to DeathReference.com, the concept is at least 3,000 years old but has now spread to the point that more people believe in it than do not worldwide. Though it’s not as popular in the United States and Western Europe, the idea continues to take root and expand in our Post-Christian culture.

“And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7

Religions That Teach Reincarnation: Hinduism, etc.

The idea of reincarnation originated in Eastern religions. For instance, Hinduism strongly teaches reincarnation as a religious truth. According to Vedanta-Seattle.org

The idea of reincarnation in Hinduism is perhaps as old as Hinduism itself. To students of religion reincarnation is a theological doctrine. Most Hindus consider it a fact. The evidence in support of reincarnation comes from two sources: (1) Jatismaras–people who can remember their past birth or births and (2) the testimony of the scriptures or saints.

Hinduism is the most popular faith tradition to teach reincarnation. However, other religions also believe in reincarnation. According to Britannica.com, Jainism and Sikhism teach a form of reincarnation. Both of those religions originated in India, where Hinduism arose. Some ancient religions like Manichaeism and Gnosticism taught reincarnation. In addition, other minority religions teach a form of reincarnation like Theosophy and Venda traditional religion in southern Africa.

Interestingly, Buddhism does not understand reincarnation in the same way described above. According to Alan Peto, a 30-year practitioner of Buddhism, his religion teaches the concept of “rebirth” which is similar to reincarnation but not the same since “there is ‘no self’ or ‘no soul’ in Buddhism.” Hence it would be impossible to be reincarnated as the same person in an animal, for instance, because there is no self to be reincarnated.

To see which major religions believe in reincarnation, checkout this helpful but non-Christian overview on the topic: ComparativeReligion on Reincarnation

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:46

The Bible Does NOT Teach Reincarnation

The Bible does not teach reincarnation. As a result, there is no mainstream Jewish or Christian group that affirms reincarnation. On the contrary, the Bible teaches several ideas that stand in opposition to the Eastern religious doctrine of reincarnation:

  1. A person only lives once (Hebrews 9:27).
  2. The spiritual essence of a person goes to another place immediately after death (Luke 23:43).
  3. After the resurrection, some enter eternal life and others go to eternal death (Matthew 25:46).

The Bible rejects reincarnation because it describes another destiny for human beings. Since Old Testament times – and continuing into New Testament times – believers have affirmed another truth that stands in direct opposition to reincarnation: resurrection. After a human dies, the soul of that person returns to God but the decaying body remains on earth, but the body will one day be resurrected.

Resurrection teaches that after you die, your body “sleeps” for a time. Your soul continues to live in either Paradise or Hades, but your body remains on earth until the first or second resurrection. The first resurrection is the Resurrection of the Just and the second resurrection is the Resurrection of the Wicked. The Book of Daniel summarizes this teaching: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Warning: Eternal Danger For Believing In Reincarnation

Christians cannot affirm reincarnation if they are faithful to the Biblical text. There is no way to hold to both reincarnation and resurrection because those beliefs are incompatible. Reincarnation is false.

Anyone who believes in reincarnation risks an erroneous assurance that you’ll get an infinite number of times to ‘get life right’. That person may say “it’s okay if I mess up this life, I’ll always have another life to make things better.” That’s both wrong and dangerous to your eternal soul.

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20)

That belief would be akin to someone who jumps out of an airplane without a parachute expecting to get another chance at life. In Biblical vernacular it’s foolish, because that’s not how life works and that’s not how death works.

I encourage you to explore the Bible’s teaching on both judgment and resurrection. It encourages you and me to take the one life God gave us more seriously and to connects us to how life is constructed in God’s universe.

Resources

Bible.org: What Does The Bible Say About Reincarnation?   

OpenBible.info: Reincarnation Verses

ComparativeReligion.com: Non-Christian Overview of Reincarnation: Reincarnation

Sue Bohlin (probe.org): Was Reincarnation Ever In The Bible?

Todd Clay is a husband, dad, and a Christian (Reformed Baptist). Todd holds a BA in history from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Theological Studies from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

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