Recent statistics indicate that 23% of the people in the United States of America believe in the concept of reincarnation. Many people today are asking, “What is reincarnation all about?”—and, “Can it be justified or refuted by a careful study of the Bible?” In this issue of Bible Helps we want to look closely at reincarnation.
One of the fads that is sweeping the land today is called “The New Age Movement.” The New Age Movement is the name given to those who believe that humanity is poised between two ages – an age of ignorance (in the past) and a new age of enlightenment (in the future). One of the chief doctrines of the New Age Movement is that each human being must become strongly aware that he is god. God is not “out there” somewhere. God does not occupy a throne in heaven. God is within every human being. The key phrase of the New Age Movement is “unlimited potential.” The major teaching is that “you can be whatever you want to be.”
People from many backgrounds share the feeling that humanity is at a crossroads, and that the human condition has come to a desperate state. But instead of despair, the New Agers claim that we are on the brink of changes which will transform our society, our behavior, and our very natures. The “buzz words” of the Movement are “global village,” “networking,” “channeling,” and “holistic.” The appeal is to the upper and middle classes of society. The Movement is hard to define. It is a combination of pantheism, Hinduism, and sorcery. It calls for the unity of all religions and the cooperation of all governments. It is a strong force behind the modern peace movements and some of the ecumenical endeavors. One leader of the Movement claims to be the embodiment of a 35,000-year-old man named “Ramtha,” who speaks through her as a channel, with the message that man is god, man can achieve whatever he wants, and man can create whatever he needs.
New Agers believe in reincarnation, that is, that they previously (before this life) existed in other forms—and that after this life they will exist in yet another more sophisticated form. One movie star thinks he was once a martyr eaten by a lion. Another star is sure she was a prostitute who was later beheaded. Still another thinks he was a monkey in Guatemala in his previous life. The philosophy is this: If we reach our potential as gods, and if we all stick together (harmonic convergence) we can bring about a new age of peace and harmony on the earth.
We want to concentrate in this present study however, not so much on the New Age Movement itself, but rather we intend to take a look at one of its chief pillars of faith—the doctrine of reincarnation.
1. The Meaning of the Term Reincarnation
Reincarnation is the belief that when the body dies, the soul is reborn and passes into another body. The soul may be reborn either as an animal or an insect (taught by reincarnationists in India, Southeast Asia, etc.), or the soul may be reborn as a human being in a higher or lower social standing (as taught by the ancient Hindus and by the newer cults). The process of reincarnation continues (that is, the cycle of births, deaths, and rebirths continues) until the soul has reached a state of perfection and merges back with its source—the all-encompassing god. In each case, the nature of the next reincarnation depends upon the “karma” accumulated by the soul in its previous incarnation.
The word “karma” is closely connected to the idea of reincarnation. The Law of Karma says that every living thing has been given a task (a mission or a function) in life. The task that each person has is his “karma.” If a person fulfills his karma properly, he can be reborn to life in a more sophisticated form. If he deals poorly with his karma, the next stage will be in some degraded form. Thus, a woman who does a good job with her task in life can be reborn as a person with great wealth and with greater abilities. But a soldier who does a poor job of being a soldier may be reborn as a homeless peasant. If a person lives a good life, the soul will be born into a higher state (perhaps as a king or a princess). If he leads a bad life, the soul will be born into a lower state (perhaps even into the body of a worm). A leader of the Church Triumphant cult claims that he previously existed as the prophet Samuel, as Joseph the husband of Mary, and as Christopher Columbus.
The law of karma states that every action of a person (no matter how small the act) influences how the soul will be reborn in the next reincarnation. The ultimate goal is to deliver the soul from the endless cycle of births and deaths and rebirths. When this happens, the individual achieves liberation and enters a state of fullness and completion. This is called “moksha” or “salvation.”
Reincarnation is the belief that when the body dies, the soul is reborn, and passes into another body. The teaching about reincarnation denies the reality of death and rules out the possibility of God’s judgment (in man’s thinking). No judgment follows death. Instead, there is a transition to another (hopefully higher) incarnation. Life begins again, in another body, in another setting.
2. Arguments Used To Support Reincarnation
Those who advocate the teaching about reincarnation have some basic arguments which are given to try and justify the validity of the doctrine.
a) They say, “Reincarnation is a fact because it answers the problem of evil and explains why people are born with physical defects. It explains why some are born into wealth or poverty and why there are differences of IQ and personality characteristics. People suffer in this life for the evil they did in past lives, or, they are blessed because of their good performance in a past life.”
Why is it that some people are “brighter” than others? Why do some people find it much easier to learn facts than others do? How can we explain the fact that one of our good friends is a person who has been “stone deaf” since the day of birth? The Bible does not give clear answers to these questions, but in the Book of Job we learn that God is sovereign and does what He does because He is who He is—and we are simply to trust Him—because He will always do what is for our welfare.
If the reincarnationist’s law of karma is right, then we should not interfere with nature’s handling of suffering. We should not seek to alleviate suffering, for if we do, then the one who suffers will suffer even more in the next life. He is suffering now because of evil deeds or poor performance in the past life, and we should not interfere with that suffering so that his body in the next reincarnation will be on a much higher level. This is why proper medical care for expectant mothers and handicapped people has never been highly developed in countries that embrace the reincarnation teaching on a wide scale.
b) Another argument: “Reincarnation must be true, because many people have remembered (through various means) experiences from their past lives.”
Most of us have the capacity for “intuitive recall.” We have a kind of natural ability to recall events from the past. Did you ever imagine that you had certain experiences before? You see a certain street in a new community for the first time—and you feel certain that you saw that same street before—yet you had never been in the community before. You meet a person you had never met before, and you are almost certain that you saw that individual before! You eat a meal prepared in a home where you had never been, and you sense that you may have sat at that very same table before! I have. I have seen places, for example, that I was sure I had seen before, yet I had never been near the vicinity previously.
We must remember that many places look alike and some people look alike. Much of what was just described in the previous paragraph is the result of imagination at work. And then too we may have seen pictures of people or places, and later met the persons and visited the places, and our minds associate the persons and places with what we had earlier seen in photographs. Reincarnationists insist that such sensations (meeting people, eating meals, seeing places—experiences we are sure we had before) – such sensations, they say, indicate that the individual actually met that person or visited that place—in a past life. In light of our intuitive recall and our vivid imaginations, such conclusions need not be true at all. The argument that reincarnation must be true because some people remember experiences from past lives, has a very shallow base.
c) Some advocates say, “Reincarnation is taught in the Bible. Was not John the Baptist a reincarnation of Elijah the prophet, as indicated in Matthew 11:13-14? Jesus said John the Baptist was Elijah.”
Matthew 11:13-14 says, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” “Elias” is the Greek version of the name “Elijah.” In its setting, Jesus in Matthew 11 was praising John the Baptist as a man of God, and said in essence, “This is Elijah who was to come.” And in Matthew 17:11-13, Jesus said that Elijah “truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”
The explanation for the statements in Matthew 11 and in Matthew 17 are found in Luke 1:17, where the angel of the Lord said to Zacharias (the father of John the Baptist): “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” The angel was saying to the father of John the Baptist, that when John grows up, he shall preach repentance and rebuke idolatrous kings just like Elijah did. He was not Elijah, but he ministered “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” For example, just as Elijah rebuked King Ahab (1 Kings 21:17-24), so John the Baptist rebuked King Herod (Matthew 14:3-10).
John the Baptist was not the ancient prophet Elijah, now inhabiting a new body in this next stage of reincarnation. John the Baptist was a man of God who preached and called people to repentance “in the spirit and power” of Elijah. In fact, Elijah never died, but was translated into heaven without ever tasting death (2 Kings 2:11). Elijah showed himself alive (and undoubtedly not in another person’s body) on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:30-33). The Levites flatly asked John the Baptist, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And John answered, “I am not.” See John 1:21.
3. Biblical Teaching Against Reincarnation
Reincarnation is the belief that when the body dies, the soul is reborn, and passes into another body. The arguments used to support the teaching about reincarnation are shallow and illogical. In contrast to the arguments made by the reincarnationists to justify their beliefs, the Bible is filled with passages which deal a fatal blow to the whole concept of reincarnation. Note carefully the following Bible passages which may be used to refute the doctrine of reincarnation.
2 Corinthians 5:8: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” The Apostle Paul says that to leave the present body is to be instantly in the presence of Jesus—not floating around in the realms of the spirit-world, waiting in line for another body to inhabit after this life is over.
Acts 7:59: “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” While being stoned to death, Stephen beheld Christ waiting for him in glory. This was at the moment of his death. There was no instruction about completing his karma by struggling through further lives.
Hebrews 9:27: “And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Death is very real, and those who die outside of faith in Jesus Christ, will face the judgment of God.
Philippians 1:21-23: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain . . . for I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.” The Apostle Paul again speaks positively of death, viewing it as “gain” and longing to be immediately “with Christ.”
Ecclesiastes 12:7: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Solomon spoke as he was moved by the Spirit of God, and in wisdom he declared that the destination of the human spirit is not another body, but an appearance before God to be judged.
1 John 3:2: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Every true Christian expects to be like Christ in the resurrection. There is absolutely no hint that any person will ever go through a series of reincarnations.
Revelation 3:21: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” We look forward at death to be joined with Christ and to reign with Him. We will not be living again on earth in a body inhabited one time by another being.
John 9:1-3: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” The disciples thought that in the past either the parents or the son had committed some grievous sin, and that the blindness was given as suffering for that sin. Jesus flatly stated that the boy’s blindness since birth was in no way associated with either his past conduct nor with the conduct of his parents. God allowed the handicap for the distinct purpose of getting glory for Himself.
Reincarnation produces pride among the rich and healthy, and shame among the poor and sickly. It is a convenient tool of the rich upper classes to say that the rich deserve the “good life” and the poor deserve their suffering. It leads to human misery on a massive scale.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes it clear that Jesus paid the full debt of our sin, and thus cycles of rebirths are unnecessary. When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He uttered a far-reaching truth. “Finished” was the common word (in earlier times) that was stamped on a bill-of-sale when that bill was paid in full. Jesus “paid in full” all that we owed to satisfy divine justice. Thus salvation is now declared a free gift given to all who believe in Christ (Romans 6:23). Christ on the Cross purged us from all our sins. There is no need for anyone to purge himself by his own suffering in life after life after life!!
The next time you have the opportunity to speak to a person who believes in reincarnation, tell him that a person does not have to chant and work and dance to please God, but that God loves us and knows that we could never do enough to pay the debt which our sins incurred. That is why God took the initiative and sent Christ to die for us. One who has received Him does not need to hold a cringing fear of death. I pray that God will have mercy on the multitudes who have embraced the concepts of reincarnation, and that each individual who knows Christ will have a new appreciation for his spiritual heritage—the abiding presence of the Lord Jesus, the sure word of prophecy as we have it in the Bible, the truth about heaven and hell, and the assurance that the blood of Christ “cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).