Reincarnation and the Bible: Past Lives and Scripture

By Brandon 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 people 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

Brandon Clay is a Christian (Reformed Baptist) and an apologist. He earned a BA in history from the University of Texas and an MA in theological studies from Southern Seminary. Brandon is married and has 4 children, one of whom (Knox) is now with the Lord.

20 responses to “Reincarnation and the Bible: Past Lives and Scripture”

  1. Lynn says:

    When young children supposedly recall a past life and various facts are found to be accurate, is it demonic influence?

    • Todd Clay says:

      Demons know things that many people don’t know. Demons are ancient spirits that have observed previous generations and could seed false ideas in people to perpetuate the idea of reincarnation. Perhaps a so-called ‘old soul’ could be influenced by demons in dreams to think they lived at another time.

      • Tamar says:

        Reincarnation does exist and the scriptures teaches it. Most of us just cannot take it. That’s why Christ will always say if ye can believe it. God speaking to us through Malachi the prophet said that He will send Elijah the prophet who lived in the time of Ahab before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Meaning Elijah will come before the second ministry of Christ – the day of vengeance.
        Now the truth about Elias is that he will come into this world three times. His first was during the days of Ahab (1Kings 17 through to 2Kings 2). His second coming was John the Baptist. Christ in Matthew 11:7-14, especially in vs 14 made it clear that John was Elias. Twill be hard for people including his disciples to believe, so He said, “If ye can receive this, this is Elias which was for to come.” Also in Matthew 17, u can see where the disciples finally understood that John was Elias. The third time Elias will come is before the great and dreadful day of the Lord which was prophesied by Malachi. This time around he will be joined by Moses another man who has lived before. The two of them are the two witnesses as prophesied in Revelation.
        Now folks will say, John denied been Elias when the Pharisees sent messengers to ask him who he was. So he cannot be Elias they will say. The question I have for such folks is, who will you believe? The Lord Jesus Christ or John. John said he’s not Elias but Christ said He is. Who will you believe? John or the Lord Jesus Christ who created John?
        I believe John did not really know who he was. He didn’t know that he was Elias. Even if he knew, it wouldn’t make sense if he had said he is. Realize that even the Lord only said John was Elias after John has fulfilled his ministry. So some things are kept shut until after it has happened.
        So reincarnation does exist but not like every single person who die get to come back to the world. Only a few comes and only God really knows why. Some maybe to come and do a work just like Elias who will come again to do a work.
        You quoted a verse in Hebrews which say tis appointed to man to die once and afterwards judgment. If you read well that verse, it was talking about the death of Christ for our sins. If you say that it refers to all men, then what about people who died, but came back to life after they were prayed for, and then died again after some years. Like Lazarus died, Christ brought him back to life and he died again maybe in old age. Does that not contradict the verse in Hebrews? So you can see that the verse it’s appointed unto men to die once…” refers to Christ death for our sins. This other scriptures also affirms. Thank you

        • Thanks for dropping by, Tamar. I defined “Reincarnation, the belief in the transmigration of a human soul to another entity at death.” As I read your response, the main reason you gave for the Bible teaching reincarnation was Elijah being reincarnated as John the Baptist. And then again in the future. Admittedly, this is a challenging area in Scripture. What you presented is a minority position where Elijah actually “reincarnated” in John the Baptist. That’s a stretch. Even John the Baptist denied he was Elijah (John 1:21). Instead, John was in the likeness of Elijah, but he was not the same person. Later, you mistakenly said Lazarus was ‘reincarnated’. Nope. Lazarus was raised from the dead, not reincarnated – see above definition. Reincarnation is not a doctrine you can support in Scripture.

          • Tamar says:

            John was Elias and not in the likeness of Elias. You denying the truth Sir. You heard Christ said in Matthew 11:14 that John is Elias and yet you say John was in the likeness of Elias. That’s a denial of the truth Sir. I asked a question in my earlier comment saying who would you believe? John who said he’s not Elias or Christ who said he is? If you take the confession of John over Christ, then how are you a believer? Also I never said Lazarus was reincarnated. Read well my write up. Sir again go and read Matthew 11:7-14 and Matthew 17:9-13. Don’t deny the truth in these scriptures I highlighted. Remain blessed.

        • Rhian Payne says:

          Really glad i stumbled upon what youve written Tamer because its what iv thought myself, but fear of belueving it and going against God not allowing me to fully open up to the idea. I have been asking the Lord about this topic a lot recently. I admire the guts you have to express your opinions.
          It seems that this area of discussion is quickly cut off by a lot of christians and it bugs me, especially when scripture is used out of context to support a case.
          Anyway, whether it is or it isnt, God knows what were thinking even if we dont say it. So if we have questions and things dont make sense He will make things known to us. We know the truth, we can feel it in our spirits. It is alive, it is invigorating and we grow. It is the Holy Spirit in us confirming.
          Our motives for finding out is to get a better understanding and not for any evil deed. Its our search for truth, for God.
          Anyway, thank you.
          Rhian

  2. CYNTHIA says:

    I believe in reincarnation and have for about 20 years. Before that I was a Christian, first a Baptist then 7th Day Adventist. I won’t get into how I came to believe in reincarnation or argue translation and interpretation of the Bible. What I want to address is the common pat response to the belief of reincarnation by Christians and it’s what you said a few times, that when you believe you have another life, you don’t take the one you have as seriously (in regards to the salvation of your soul). That is absolutely flawed logic and it’s extrapolated from nothing. Ask ANY person that believes in reincarnation if they’re going to decide to “live it up” and waste this life because they’ll have another chance. Seriously, I would like you to do that because I know that you won’t find one that says that. In fact, it’s the opposite. I took the salvation of my soul much more seriously than I did before. Why? Because it’s impossible to truly believe in eternal hellfire. You may say you believe it and understand it and still love God, but if you believe in eternal hellfire then you can’t believe that God is Just, or good. How can a truly Divine and Holy Being like God create a flawed species and then give them the most horrifying punishment for being flawed? How can He even create a flawed species to begin with? I highly encourage people to at least take a look at alternative interpretations about what hell is. It is the loss of your soul eternally, it’s even blatantly called the “second DEATH’ in Revelation. So truly, even though I was Baptist for years, I didn’t deep down believe in eternal punishment of endless torment of the worse possible kind by God. There is just no way that is the fate of ANYONE. It’s ludicrous! I love my Father and it sickens me that Christianity has marred his face like this. Anyway, my point is that if you ask anyone like me that believes in reincarnation that question, they’ll tell you that they take life and salvation MORE seriously than they did before. I absolutely do not want to come back here, I WANT TO GO HOME TO JESUS!! NOT BACK HERE! I can’t stand that erroneous belief that people who believe in reincarnation piss away their life because they “get another chance”. Look into other denominations that teach that hellfire is the second death by fire, not eternal burning and torment of pain. Please, at least for the Sake of God and to strike a blow at the adversary. He LOVES that you believe that about God, my loving Father.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Cynthia. You brought up many points, but I wanted to address the topic at hand. The reason Christians should NOT believe in reincarnation is the Bible does NOT teach it. It has nothing to do with hell or not “taking (the life) you have as seriously.” Reincarnation is not true because the Bible does NOT teach it. It’s an imported idea from outside Christianity. Since you didn’t want to discuss the interpretation of the Bible, the foundation for any biblical doctrine, there’s not much to discuss.

      • Tamar says:

        Matthew 11:12-15
        [12]And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
        [13]For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
        [14]And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
        [15]He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

        In vs 14 you heard Christ said John is Elias. He said “And if you can believe or receive it, this (referring to John) IS Elias which was for to come.”

        How can u deny this truth Sir? You do so because you cannot take it. Christ knew that many will not believe it and he was prepared for the likes of you, so He said, “He that hath ear to hear, let him hear.”

        If Christ said John is Elias, then reincarnation does exist but like said, not everyone who die get to come back again. Only a few who have a work to do.

        • Brandon Clay says:

          Tamar – We don’t interpret the Scripture based on one ambiguous instance. When there are multiple ways to understand something in Scripture, we look for the clear parts to help us interpret the unclear parts. The clear truth is Hebrews 9:27: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” We live once, die, and face judgment. That’s clear. In your methodology, you’re forcing a non-traditional reading on this passage. You’re reading the Bible like a Hindu, not a Christian.

  3. Denise Ryan says:

    Why have children knowing that it’s possible they might be subject to eternal damnation?

    • You bring up a good question. Indeed, the eternal punishment of a soul is a serious issue. To think that a parent might have a part in a person’s damnation can be daunting – since they weren’t here until you had them. Two things I would consider: for one, I would consider a more biblical perspective on the issue of having and raising children. Scripture sees children as a blessing: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3). So the Bible doesn’t seem to dissuade parents from having children, but actually having more of them (See Genesis 1:28). Secondly, parents should consider it our Christian duty to carefully raise children in the fear of the Lord. We are commanded to teach them diligently (Deuteronomy 6:7). Do it wisely, do it with care, because if you don’t many will fall away and ultimately be lost. But God is faithful to bring many of our children to himself through our faithful leading. Blessings as you consider his will.

  4. John says:

    You really should not teach that which is false. There is a difference between “believing” and “knowing”. Believing means that you have accepted something without really knowing it, and then you pass on the misconception to others. No good will come from that. Come to rest on the truth that you really know, not what someone else has told you is true. I’m sure you are a good man. Become a better man. There is no eternal punishment for any mistake no matter how bad it is simply because God loves us, really loves us, even though we make very big mistakes. Go directly to the source, be in the presence of God. When you experience him directly, then you will know, without needing someone else’s words about what is true and what isn’t. You will speak only what you know to be true, by your own experience. Do not confuse religious doctrine with the truth, because often it isn’t.

    • Hi John – Thanks for dropping by. If I understand your perspective, you’re proposing a loving god who doesn’t punish people because he just loves us. It also sounds like you get your understanding of this god “when you experience him directly.” I don’t doubt we can know more about the true God though personal experience. When I walk in the morning in prayer, I am learning to hear the Lord better. But friend, I want to make sure I’m hearing the right God – not the other pretend deities. The true God revealed in Scripture is also the judge of the universe. And hell is real – according to the Bible. Just punishment awaits those who reject Christ’s sacrifice and continue in their sin. Or as Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).

  5. Diamond Foxxx says:

    Sometimes i feel like i was Virgin Mary in my past life.

  6. Justin says:

    I had a reverend out here somewhat recently from christs favor ministry because I had an incubus in me a black wing in me and a succubus in my house and he got rid of everything but the black wing and he said somthing interesting he said I had been possesed in past lives just thought I’d share

    • Brandon Clay says:

      Thanks for replying, Justin. Theology should come from the Word of God – the ‘reverend’ isn’t getting that idea from the Bible. Dealing with what you are dealing with, I would really aim to attend a Bible-teaching church and listen to the Psalms at night as you fall asleep. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

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