Reincarnation in the Bible
An angry 12 year old boy walks through the midday heat of the old south toward the convenience store. It may have been the extreme temperature, or the frustration with his lot in life, but his anger boils over and he picks up a rock and throws it through the store window. It isn’t long until the sheriff arrives and the boy is sitting in the back of the police car.
When he is hauled into court to explain himself to the judge he is scared but manages to maintain his defiant attitude. The judge glares down at the boy and declares, "Lad, you have been nothing but trouble since the day you were born. I don’t believe you will every change, therefore; I sentence you to life in prison - no chance for parole."
Now, most people reading the above story would probably be a little shocked. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Life in prison is a sentence way too severe for throwing a stone through a window. What makes it even more disturbing is in the above story the judge is actually the boys own father. What kind of dysfunctional parent would send their own child to prison for life?
Unfortunately, this is exactly what traditional Christianity believes of its own heavenly parent. God sends some of His own children to the prison of hell for eternity. Even worse, since God knows everything, he knew what choices those sinners would make and that they would go to hell, but he still created them. Even worse than that, God arranges that some of His children are born in non-Christian families. They grow up dedicating their lives to Him and worshiping and praising Him in a non-Christian religion. Then, at their deaths, they are sent to hell because they are not Christians.
What about those souls born into atheist families where they are taught at a young age that there is no God. What chance do they have for salvation? How about all those poor souls that God has born into extreme poverty, war and famine where survival is more important than faith. A God who places His children into hopeless situations then punishes them for being in that situation doesn’t sound like a God of Justice, mercy and love. Either God has a really sick sense of humor or we need to take another serious look at what Christianity really does believe. The current model of a dysfunctional heavenly father showing favoritism to only some of His children is unacceptable.
Reincarnation as an Option Reincarnation in the Bible
The fundamental premise of reincarnation is that God loves His children unconditionally. Most humans love their own children unconditionally. Are we more compassionate than God? It is very unlikely that we are a better parent than God. The idea that God only loves us when we are good could be a subtitle from "Bad Parenting Magazine." If we told our children that we only love them when they are good, we would probably get a visit from child services with a recommendation for parenting classes. Reincarnation, like the story of the prodigal son, is the means whereby we all can return to our Father, no matter how far astray we have gone.
In definition, reincarnation is when human souls are reborn into another human body to live another life. It is not being reborn as a cow or a mosquito - this is called transmigration. With the concept of reincarnation, each successive life is like a day in school where we learn lessons and confront mistakes from the past. We don't go to heaven, we grow to heaven.
"And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment," Hebrews 9: 27
This scripture is often used as biblical proof that reincarnation is not a Christian concept, usually by people who clearly do not understand the concept of rebirth. Once this scripture is quoted, all debate ceases. Unfortunately for fundamental Christians who deny reincarnation, this scripture is a complete none starter. First, it is a half sentence taken out of context from the issues being discussed in chapter 9. If the author of Hebrews wants to tell us that there is only one earthly life, then why not at the very least, use a full sentence, or full paragraph, to discuss something so important.
Secondly, people who do believe in reincarnation have no problem whatsoever with Hebrews 9: 27. The fact is we do only die once. When we die, we are dead, gone! Our physical body and the personality that goes with it will return to dust! That aspect of ourselves will not reincarnate because it will be dead. Our soul, on the other hand, is eternal and it is the soul that will be reborn. It is true that many of the qualities of our character will be stored after death in our subconscious – the mind of the soul – and they will influence the personality of our next physical body. Yet, it is the physical body that is appointed one permanent death, not the eternal soul! Our soul could occupy many physical bodies, each of them appointed once to die.
For the fundamental Christian who denies reincarnation, the problem lies in identifying ourselves as a physical body which just happens to have a soul. We should rather think in terms that we are a soul, which has temporarily projected itself into a physical body. We are like an iceberg. The physical part is above the water line. The soul is that larger part of us below the surface. If Hebrews 9: 27 is the best biblical proof against reincarnation then it really is a rather weak case.
The truth is, there is very little in the bible that offers any kind of irrefutable proof for or against reincarnation. There are apparently about 30 biblical references that some people feel suggests reincarnation to be a fact and we will discuss some of them later in this article. There is at least one vague reference against it. Nothing can be proven absolutely in the bible as it is all subject to an individual’s interpretation.
All the same, the concept of reincarnation is such a wonderful equalizer. It is the old Mosaic Law that states: a life for a life, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In Sanskrit, the term is "karma" and usually means action or deeds. It means that, like it or not, you will understand how it feels to walk in someone else’s shoes. If you take advantage of people or institutions, expect to be taken advantage of by people or institutions in future lives. If you hate someone because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, you may come back born into that race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion. Karma also means memory. If in past relationships you were abusive and oppressive you may experience a lifetime of the same where you meet those memories in one form or another. The bully will become the bullied. He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword - unless, of course, you only believe in the one life concept, in which case those scriptures are nothing more than a myth.
On the other hand, karmic memories of a selfless kind will also see their rewards in future lives. People who generously give of their money to those less fortunate than themselves, may come back wealthy. Those who care for and love others will come back cared for and loved. Those who show friendship will come back with friends. He who is first will be last and he that is last will be first! We can either choose to selflessly be a blessing to others, or we can choose to selfishly harm others. Like a boomerang, what we give out is what we will get back. When adversity comes into our lives, give thanks for the opportunity to correct mistakes from the past.
The Bible tells us to Judge Not, lest the same judgment befall us. (Sounds like karma) For those who believe in reincarnation, there is always the temptation to decide the cause of someone else’s lot in life. We see someone in a wheelchair. We want to fit this person somewhere in our belief system so we try to determine what terrible thing they must have done in a previous life to deserve their particular bad luck. A question like this was put to Jesus by His disciples in John 9:1
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him. "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind." John 9: 1-2
How could this man have sinned before he was born? The disciples were asking Jesus a question about reincarnation. Like the people who believe in reincarnation today, the disciples were looking to lay the blame somewhere for this man blindness. Jesus’s response deflects away from blame and turns his answer into a lesson on judging others.
Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him." John 9: 3
Jesus was saying that this man was born blind so that when He healed him, people would glorify God. From a reincarnation point of view, this man had chosen to incarnate blind so that Jesus would heal him and then onlookers would praise God. The question of blame was never addressed by Jesus, simply because it is not our place to lay blame. By the same reasoning, it is not our place to lay blame with that person in a wheelchair. The person in a wheelchair might have chosen a life of disability as a way of service to others. They might be here working toward better access and conditions for the disabled. That Down’s syndrome child may be an advanced soul here to help his family, and others around him, to learn love and caring. The truth is, we can never know the "why" of it with any certainty. There could be thousands of different reasons someone appears to have a difficult life. Which is why we should never judge another person’s situation.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Jesus’s response to the question about the blind man is what he didn’t say. This was not a question asked by the Pharisees meant to trick him. It was from the disciples who had been learning from Jesus for some time. These were the people that Jesus was preparing to carry His message throughout the world. Here was the opportunity for Jesus to set the record straight concerning that evil concept of reincarnation. The fact that the disciples even asked the question, and the fact that Jesus did not deny it, is compelling biblical evidence that reincarnation is an acceptable belief system.
As stated above, nothing can be proven by scripture alone. No matter our best intentions, our best reasoning, or our best spiritual insights, someone else will interpret that particular scripture differently. This is one of the reasons that there are about 5,000 different Christian denominations. Each of them view the scriptures from a slightly different perspective. A couple of those passages that defy absolute clarity are focused around the question of Elijah reincarnating as John the Baptist.
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes." Malachi 4:5
The question of whether John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah is an interesting one. After the transfiguration on the mountain where Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, the disciples asked Him about the return of Elijah.
And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" He replied, "Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things: but I tell you Elijah has already come, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the son of man suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17: 10-13
For believers in reincarnation, this sounds a lot like Jesus saying that John the Baptiste is Elijah reborn. To the bible hardened Christians, John simply reflected the "spirit" of Elijah. This idea stems from a scripture in Luke when the Angel Gabriel was speaking to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. The angel was telling Zechariah about his future son, John the Baptist.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah. Luke 1:16-17
Of course, having the spirit and power of the famous prophet in no way precludes John from actually being the reincarnation of Elijah. It would make sense that Elijah reborn could carry over character traits and the spirit and power from his previous life time.
In yet another twist in this saga we find that John himself denies that he is Elijah. In John 1: 21, the Levites asked John the Baptiste if he was Elijah. John replied "I am not." While there are thousands of documented cases where children do remember past lives, the memories are usually not carried into adulthood. John the Baptiste, like the rest of us, had no recall of his past lives so he gives the only possible answer. That he is not Elijah. Again, none of this either proves or disproves reincarnation.
All the same, there is another way to look at this argument. Malachi 4:5 clearly states that the Lord will send “Elijah the prophet” to precede the Messiah. “Elijah the prophet” is a very specific title for a very specific person. This scripture does not say that God will send someone like Elijah, or someone with the same prophetic mission as Elijah, nor someone who will only have the spirit of Elijah. The scripture is quite explicit that it will be “Elijah the prophet,” period. Jesus says it even more clearly in Matthew 11: 14-15. …if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah….. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. If it was not “Elijah the prophet” that preceded the ministry of Jesus, but someone else, then the prophecies were not fulfilled and Jesus cannot be the Messiah. Since Christians universally accept Him as the Messiah, then John the Baptiste must be the reincarnation of Elijah himself. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Ephesians 1:4 "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight" This is another interesting scripture that seems to support the pre-existence of the soul (reincarnation). God apparently knew us and chose us before the foundations of the world. This seems to fit quite nicely with Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. "All the host of them" are the angels and the souls.( From a reincarnation point of view, we are the fallen angels.) God then rested on the seventh day because everything had already been created. In other words, God had already created us and he therefore already knew us on a soul level long before our present physical existence. This also fits nicely with Jeremiah 1: 5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you."
Of course, fundamental Christianity sees Ephesians 1:4 as God knowing us, or envisioning us, as we would exist at some time in the future. If this is true, then God knew way back then how our lives would turn out. Apparently, according to the fundamental Christians, God knew in the beginning which of His children would end up in hell and yet He still created them. It does not make any kind sense rationally that a God of love, mercy and justice would create people knowing that they would go to eternal damnation. Reincarnation is the only plausible explanation for Ephesians 1:4.
Job 1:20-21 "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground and worshipped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Here is a Bible passage that shows Job stating that he had nothing when he came from his mother's womb and he will have nothing when he returns to it. Sounds a lot like he expects to return to his mother's womb to be reborn again.
Why is it that fundamental Christianity takes the Bible so literally and allows for no interpretation, allegorical or symbolic, or any understanding beyond the literal? Yet, when it comes to the scriptures concerning reincarnation, they immediately abandon that literal mindset (You must be born again. John 3:3) and scramble to interpret and explain away anything pertaining to a compassionate God whose mercy allows for more than one lifetime to get it right. They even go so far as to call reincarnation evil.
If reincarnation is evil, what would you call a concept that believes God is an angry, vengeful, jealous, dysfunctional parent who tortures his own children in an eternal hell? What would you call a concept where God is loving, kind and merciful, yet shows justice to only some of His children?
Don’t answer that! When you are hauled before the heavenly judge to answer for your actions you might have to account for it. This one life, held up to eternity, is but the blink of an eye. If you don’t blink right, our loving heavenly Father, who exemplifies the qualities of justice and mercy, the Father of Jesus – the most compassionate man to ever live - may choose to torture you in the fires of hell for eternity. That last sentence was a bit sarcastic maybe, but you can’t have it both ways. God is either loving, just and merciful, or the opposite. Choose which one you prefer to worship, and stop calling Him a God of love, mercy and justice if your beliefs blatantly contradict it!
So, what have we left? Reincarnation is a concept based on the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. Through trial and error, through love and grace, all of God’s prodigal children have the choice to eventually return home. There really is nothing in the bible that denies reincarnation and it does help explain some otherwise unexplainable scriptures and situations in life. To deny reincarnation is to put limits on God's mercy, His grace and His compassion!
To Read Page Two, History of Reincarnation in Christianity, click Here!
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