WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT REINCARNATION?
by Vijay Chandra
The whole thrust of the Bible opposes reincarnation. It shows that man is the special creation of God [man is the apex of God’s creation]. Man was created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. He is presented as ‘distinct’ and unique from all other creatures—angels and the animal kingdom alike.
The Bible also teaches that at death, while man’s body is mortal, decays and returns to dust, his soul and spirit continue on either in a place of torment for those who reject Christ or in paradise [heaven] in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Savior Jesus Christ. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body [John 5:25, 26, 27, 28, 29]. The emphatic statement of the Bible, as will be pointed out below, is that “it is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27].
This statement and the concept that mankind’s creation in God’s image is unique from animals and even angels stands totally opposed to the idea of ‘reincarnation’—dying and coming back as another person or in the form of an animal or insect, etc. The claim of some that they have information of their past history is nothing more than some kind of encounter with demonic powers who have been present throughout history. In the Hindu scriptures, this is emphasized and this puts fear in the hearts and minds of Hindus.
There are six basic theories.
The human race has come up with six theories about what happens to us when we die.
- Materialism: Nothing survives. Death ends all of me. Seldom held before the 18th century, materialism is now a strong minority view in the industrialized world. It leads to atheism.
- Paganism: A vague, shadowy semi-self or ghost survives and goes to the place of the ‘dead’—the dark gloomy underworld. This is the standard pagan belief. Traces of it can be found even in the O.T. Jewish notion of ‘sheol’. The ghost that survives is less alive, less substantial, less real than the flesh and the blood organism now living; it is something like a ‘ghost image’.
- Reincarnation: 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 lesson sufficiently, it reverts to a divine status or is absorbed into [or realizes its timeless identity with] the divine All.
- Pantheism: Death changes nothing, for what survives death is the same as what was real death, only the one, changeless, eternal, perfect, spiritual, divine all-inclusive. Reality is sometimes called by a name [Brahman] and sometimes not [as in Buddhism]. In this view—that of Eastern mysticism—all separateness, including time, is an ‘illusion’. Therefore, in this view, the very question of what happens after death is mistaken. The question is not solved but dissolved.
- Immortality: The individual soul survives death, but not the body. This soul eventually reaches its eternal destiny of heaven or hell, perhaps through intermediate stages, perhaps through reincarnation. But what survives is an individual, bodiless spirit. This is Platonism, often confused with Christianity.
- Resurrection: At death, the soul separates from the body and is reunited at the end of the world with its new, immortal, resurrected body by a divine miracle. This is the Christian view. This view, the supernatural resurrection of the body [1 Corinthians 15:1-25] rather than the natural immortality of the soul alone, is the only version of life after death in Scripture. It is dimly prophesied and hoped for in the Old Testament, but clearly revealed in the New Testament.
For both  and , the individual soul survives bodily death. That is the issue we shall deal with here. We do not take time to argue against paganism, reincarnation, or pantheism, but only against modern materialism  since that is the source of most of the philosophical arguments against immortality in our culture.
Why does Christianity reject Reincarnation?
We can give ten reasons for the rejection of the devilish doctrine of reincarnation:
This doctrine was developed to put fear into the hearts of Hindus and Buddhists.
- It is contradicted by scripture [Hebrews 9:27].
- It is contradicted by the orthodox tradition, in all churches.
- It would reduce the incarnation, referring to Christ’s incarnation [John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:5-11] to a mere appearance, the crucifixion to an accident, and Christ to one among many philosophers or ‘avatars’—a mere reincarnation. It would confuse what Christ did with what creatures do: incarnation with reincarnation.
- It implies that God made a mistake in designing our souls to live in bodies, that we are really our spirits in prison or angels in costume.
- It is contradicted by psychology and common sense, for its view of souls as imprisoned in alien bodies denies the natural psychosomatic unity.
- The false doctrine of reincarnation has a very low view of the body, as a prison, a punishment.
- It usually blames sin on the body and the body’s power to confuse and darken the mind. ‘This passing the buck’ from soul to body [just like Gnosticism] as well as from will to mind, confuses sin with ignorance.
- The idea that we are incarnated in order to learn lessons we failed to learn [so getting another chance to do good, etc.] in past earthly life is contrary to both common sense and basic educational psychology. I cannot learn something if there is no continuity of memory. I can learn from my mistakes only if I remember them. People do not remember these past ‘reincarnations’.
- The supposed evidence for reincarnation—remembering from past lives while under hypnosis or ‘past life regression’ can be explained—if they truly occur at all—as mental telepathy from other living beings, from the souls of the dead humans in purgatory or hell, or from demons. The real possibility of the latter should make us extremely skittish about opening our souls to ‘past life regression’.
[It must be noted that while I agree with the demonic aspect, I do not agree with the idea of purgatory nor can I agree with the idea of the souls of the dead humans communicating with living people. The dead are confined, according to Scripture, and cannot reveal themselves. This is suggested in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 and the extreme surprise of the witch of Endor when she saw Samuel who was dead (1 Samuel 28:8 ff). She claimed to be a medium or one who contacts the dead, but when Saul requested that she contact Samuel and when God brought him forth, it startled her and brought great fear. This appeared to be her first experience with the real thing, i.e. with seeing the dead because this is normally not possible. When people do experience such experience or contact, what they are seeing or experiencing is better identified as demonic].
- Reincarnation cannot account for itself. Why are our souls imprisoned in bodies? Is it the just punishment for evils we committed in past reincarnations? But why were those past reincarnations necessary? For some reason at the beginning of the process that justly imprisoned our souls in bodies in the first place? This must have antedated the series of bodies. How could we have committed evil in the state of perfectly pure, heavenly spirituality? If we sinned in that paradise, it is not paradisiacal after all. Yet that is the state that reincarnation is supposed to lead us back to when all our embodied yearnings are over.
If the answer is given that our bodies are not penalties for sin but illusions of individuality, the pantheistic One becoming many in human consciousness, no reason can possibly be given for this. Indeed, Hinduism calls it simply [lila], a divine play. What a stupid game for God to play! All the world’s sins and suffering are reduced to meaninglessness.
And if evil is itself only illusory [the answer given by many Hindu Gurus and mystics] then the existence of this illusion is itself a real and not just illusory evil. Augustine makes this telling point:
Where then is evil, and what is its source, and how has it crept into the creation? What is its root, what is its seed? Can it be that it is wholly without being? But why should we fear and be on guard against what is not? Or if our fear of it is groundless, then our very fear is itself an evil thing. For by it the heart is driven and tormented for no cause, and that evil is all the worse if there is nothing to fear yet we do fear, thus either there is evil which we fear, or the fact that we fear is evil [Confession, VII.5].
So what is the answer? It is found in the Holy Scripture, the Bible:
- The first, most glaring dissimilarity between reincarnation and Biblical doctrine occurs in the idea of a recurring cycle of existence. Does each person live many times in the same or different form?
- The answer from the Bible is “it is appointed for men once to die, and after this comes judgment” [Hebrews 9:27].
- The Bible pictures death as a separation of the soul from the world, Christ himself describing death as God requiring man’s soul [Luke 12:20].
- When a believer in Christ dies, rather than merely being promoted to a higher status for another lifetime, he or she enters his or her eternal estate, secured for him by God’s grace. The divinely inspired apostle said ‘We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and be home with the Lord’ [2 Corinthians 5:8]. Christ’s record of the rich man and Lazarus shows that both the saved and the unsaved enter their respective rewards following death [Luke 16:19-31].
- So then, one’s life is not followed by an indefinite number of succeeding lifetimes. This vital difference established, more tangible differences emerge.
- Classical ideas of reincarnation know nothing of a “Personal God” who enters a holy relationship with His creatures [John 3:1-16]. In fact, Ultimate reality is usually conceived as a cognitive process within man himself, rather than a personal God. Further, reincarnation schemes make men’s spiritual advancement contingent upon his mortal efforts, attempting to make merit outweigh demerit. Christianity shows, however, that salvation cannot be earned by sinful man, but rather, it is merited by Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection for all who believe [Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works; that no one should boast”.
- Also, many theories of reincarnation hold that man’s spiritual, physical, and moral conditions are determined by a former life and therefore not under his control [Bible rejects this theory]. Physically, this has led to a passive, pessimistic acceptance of untold misery that was actually unnecessary. Spiritually, it is even more devastating. The Bible reveals that no one is bound in his sins against his or her will, and though born under Adam’s curse, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:9]. As Isaiah says in Isaiah 1:18, through God’s forgiving grace, “though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow, they are red like crimson, they will be like wool”. Consequently, the Christian does not worry about his or her merit outweighing his demerit, for his or her sins have been forgiven, God having promised that “I will remember their sins no more” [Hebrews 8:12]. The Hindus or other religions that believe in reincarnation must deal with the sin issue. If, as they believe, by their good deeds they will come as human beings and if they continue with their sins and then die and coming as human beings again—it is like a prison house with no way out. Hindus need liberation from this devilish doctrine of reincarnation. It will only happen when Jesus Christ frees them from their sins.
- Some people attempt to equate reincarnation with the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, but in doing so violate the meaning of both reincarnation and resurrection. Reincarnation advances a future life on earth, bound by similar constraints and physical laws while the resurrection speaks of that time when earthly bodies with all their accouterments will be transformed and fitted for their eternal estate [John 5:29]. Reincarnation holds that matter is essentially evil [Gnosticism’s teaching], while resurrection demonstrates that there is moral dualism between matter and spirit. Reincarnation posits a future life in a different body [or even a different physical order entirely], while resurrection promises that one’s body will take on a new, incorruptible glorified form. Describing the resurrection, Paul says [in 1 Corinthians 15:42, 44] “it is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body—it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”.
Dear Hindus – seek forgiveness of your sins through Jesus Christ or the doctrine of reincarnation will lead you to eternal hell from which there is no escape.