Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can a Christian Believe in Reincarnation?

Today is the fourth day in our 44th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Ezekiel 25-27; John 9; Psalm 85.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
(John 9:1-2)

Every now and then, somebody will ask me if a Christian can believe in reincarnation.  Is reincarnation taught anywhere in the Bible?  Is this a system of belief that's compatible with the Christian faith?

The Hindu notion of reincarnation is incompatible with Christianity.

The disciples asked Jesus whether the blind man's parents sinned, or whether he sinned, that he was born blind.  Neither Judaism nor Christianity teaches reincarnation as a true doctrine.  However, this doesn't mean that the idea wasn't floating around in the culture of Jesus' day.  There was a lot of commerce back and forth from one region to another, and certainly the notion of reincarnation had made its way to Israel.

This is clear in the very question that the disciples asked.  They had a concept of karma which comes from Hinduism-- basically a teaching that says, "what goes around, comes around."  They also thought it possible that a moral violation committed in a previous lifetime might result in karmic retribution in a subsequent incarnation.  "Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"  This question says that, at least in their imaginations, his blindness could be the result of divine judgement against his soul because of a sin he had already committed.  How could he commit a sin before he was born?  Only if he'd lived at least one previous lifetime.  

Bear in mind that the disciples didn't get this idea from their Jewish upbringing, or their learning of the Hebrew scriptures.  This notion could only have come from the culture itself, which was full of ideas from all over the world.  The idea of reincarnation is completely incompatible with either Jewish or Christian teaching.

There are people who will use John 9:1-2 in order to say that the Bible teaches reincarnation.  However, just because the disciples thought it might be a possibility, that doesn't mean the Bible teaches it as truth.  There are some other passages that pro-reincarnation Christians will use.  I've listed them below.

Matthew 17:1-8 is the story of Jesus glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Moses and Elijah appear with Him as well.  This has nothing to do with reincarnation.  Moses and Elijah appeared in spirit form (see the evidence of the glorified bodies).

Luke 1:17 mentions John coming in the spirit and power of Elijah.  This is not reincarnation, but a transfer of spiritual power from one to another, similar to the way Elijah transferred his power to Elisha in 2 Kings 2.

John 11:1-44, the story of Lazarus, again has nothing to do with resurrection or reincarnation.  This involves resuscitation, not reincarnation.  It has also erroneously been said that Lazarus was resurrected here.  Resurrection involves a person receiving a glorified body, similar to the one that Jesus had when He was raised to life again.  Jesus' body could appear and disappear at will.  He could allow Thomas to put his hand inside gaping wounds, without any pain.  He could ascend to heaven (meaning, He could fly!).  The resurrection body is quite different from a reincarnated body or resuscitated body.

Further, there are passages in scripture (besides John 9:1-2) that refute reincarnation:.

1 John 1:9 - "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  This means that the notion of karmic retribution is thwarted by God's generous grace.  We don't have to worry that God will "get us" for what we've done, in this life or in the next--if we choose to receive His gift of grace.

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 - "Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
     “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
       Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Hebrews 9:27 - "...It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment."

Philippians 1:23-24 - "I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you."  Here, Paul says that to depart from the body is to be with Christ.  He has no notion of reincarnation, but eagerly anticipates union with his Lord, when he dies.

2 Corinthians 5:6-9 - "So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,  for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him."  Again, to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ.

These scriptures ought to give you a pretty good idea about what the Bible teaches regarding the afterlife.  Certainly there are many more that we could have looked at, but these are more fit for a different study.  At least you can see that the Bible leaves no room for the concept of reincarnation in the hereafter.  

Besides, simple population growth on the planet can show you that reincarnation is an untenable doctrine.  According to one website, It's estimated that in the year 10,000 BC, only about a million people lived on this planet.  By the time of Jesus' birth, there were about two hundred million.  Today, about 7.1 billion call the earth home.  By 2050 AD, if the Lord tarries, we'll reach 10.5 billion people in the world.  If everybody who's now alive used to be somebody else, it would be impossible, without souls splitting into many parts to account for population growth.  And who wants to live with a fraction of a soul, anyway?

Certainly there are Christians who like to dabble in other religions, thinking that they can pick this doctrine from one and choose that teaching from another.  That isn't a very good way to develop a healthy spiritual foundation for life.  If you're going to call yourself a Christian, then you can't borrow incompatible notions from other systems of belief.  The Bible teaches a view of the afterlife that blows a hole in reincarnation.  No amount of hypnosis-induced, past-life regression "experience" can prove otherwise.

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