Reincarnation: A Biblical Analysis Author:
Russ Wise Date:1/29/2004 6:25:32 PM
A Brief History
Reincarnation is rapidly becoming the philosophy of the day when it comes to the eternal state of mankind. Westerners are embracing reincarnation in alarming numbers and Christians are not exempt.
A 1990 poll by CNN indicated that roughly 35 percent 1 of Americans accept reincarnation as a valid belief. A breakdown of those who believe in reincarnation reveals that the majority are college age. According to one survey, sixty percent of Americans now believe in reincarnation. 2
The failure of the Judeo-Christian worldview to maintain a strong presence in our culture has led to the acceptance of an Eastern form of thought regarding life and death. Another key element to this change in direction is the desire to explore one’s full human potential in the area of spirituality. As a result, this shift has redirected much of Western thinking and has ultimately displaced Christian orthodoxy as the prevalent worldview.
This shift in thinking has become the greatest issue facing the Christian faith in our times. As we attempt to evangelize the nations it becomes imperative that we as Christians rightly understand what the East has so boldly brought to our shores. Reincarnation lies at the center of this New Age occultic philosophy.
Reincarnation is expressed in several popular models that find their roots in religions that have gained prominence in this century. Hinduism and Buddhism are becoming more a part of the American religious scene and have become the major avenue for the teaching of reincarnation.
Hinduism is the primary religious world view that introduced reincarnation to the world. Buddhism is secondary only because it is a break-off of Hinduism. Hinduism has spawned countless other religions and cults that have promoted reincarnation.
Arguments for Reincarnation
The most understandable of all the reasons for embracing reincarnation over resurrection is that it does away with the need of judgment and the prospect of damnation to an eternal hell. It offers individuals the opportunity to gain their future state on their own terms.
There is a growing swell of agreement that God would certainly not condemn man to an eternal everlasting hell, because it would be out of character for a ‘loving and all forgiving’ God. On the surface this argument sounds noble and within God’s character. However, we must not forget that the God of the Bible is a loving God but that He is likewise a just God who must punish sin (I Thess. 1:8-9, Heb. ).
Another argument which has gained prominence is that man cannot achieve the moral perfection demanded by God without many opportunities, or lives, to complete his moral evolution. The argument goes on to add that since God is love, He would certainly give man many chances to work out his own salvation by reincarnation. Once again Hebrews 9:27 offers another perspective, one that the Bible is most clear about. That perspective is that man has only one lifetime in which to get right with God.
Reincarnation as a philosophical construct implies an ethical type of evolution by which an individual grows into moral perfection. Many reincarnationists believe in physical, mental, and spiritual evolution and think of God as impersonal. Consequently, if there is no moral judge, then there is no need for judgment, whether it be for moral or for physical sin.
Reincarnation is also appealing to many people because it seems to give an answer for the suffering of mankind. These individuals reason that justice demands reincarnation because the suffering of the innocent is outside of God’s character and therefore could only be the result of prior sin or ‘karma.’ That is, the innocent who suffer and who could not have committed sin to justify their state must have residual sin from an earlier incarnation. Therefore, they are to live it out in this lifetime.
For the reincarnationist, Jesus’ death on the cross opened the door for man to pursue his own salvation through his works rather than the work of Christ on the cross. Man is the solution to his dilemma, and the work of Christ on the cross simply allows man to move forward and complete his own salvation. This salvation is achieved through his good works, rather than relying on the Work of Christ which, according to Scripture, is the only acceptable solution to the true God, the God of the Bible.
Karma and the Law
“The theory of reincarnation holds, briefly, that each individual human soul or essence is reborn again and again, in a series of bodily incarnations on this earth, learning its lessons and facing the consequences of its actions, until it is sufficiently advanced to progress to the next stage (whatever that may be).” 3
Central to the theory of reincarnation is the Law of Karma. This law is believed to be the immutable law that a person pays for the evil he commits in this life by suffering for it in the next life. In other words, the suffering one experiences is directly attributed to the individual because of his prior life and the evil done by him. Simply, it is his own fault.
The Law of Karma was developed in Hinduism as ‘the law of cause and effect that underlies personal existence.’ 4 This law not only dispenses suffering for wrong doing, but it also recognizes the good that the individual does as well. At the end of one’s life the law of karma comes into play. If the individual has accumulated more positive karma than negative karma, he gains a positive reward. However, if he has accumulated more negative karma, he receives more suffering in the life to come.
“Karma means that a human being is locked into action by the iron law of cause and effect. Past acts determine the present and the future. What a person does now results from past actions, and these present actions will determine future actions.” 5 Humanity is held hostage to a law that determines one’s present and future life without the ability to defend one’s actions. Karma dictates that “One never gets away with anything, for every act has a consequence.” 6
Karmic Debt and Hard Questions
1. How is justice served if people have no knowledge of why they are suffering?
2. If the individual does not know why he is suffering, how can he avoid the same suffering in the future if he cannot correct his mistakes?
3. How can Karma be just if the individual is destined to commit the same evil over and over again without knowing its root cause?
4. How can progress be made without an understanding of the past cause of suffering?
These questions present difficulties for the reincarnationist. He must either accept them as legitimate and question his beliefs about life after death, or he must dishonestly rationalize them and accept only his experience as truth. He cannot have it both ways.
Robert Morey in his book, Reincarnation and Christianity, lists several inadequacies of the Law of Karma; he notes that it is a myth and not a good one at that. As a matter of fact, it does not exist except in the mind of reincarnationists. The law of Karma has caused an untold amount of suffering as a result of its impersonal dealings with humanity.
1.It has no scientific evidence to support it.
2.It has no analogy in nature that would offer us an example of it in the world in which we live.
3.There is no beginning or climax to history. History has no meaning because of the endless reoccurrence of events.
4.It does not satisfy man’s moral sensitivity or sense of justice.
5.It does not provide any absolute standards of right and wrong.
6.It teaches that suffering is the only real purpose in life.
7.Since it views each individual life as having no purpose outside of its ownsuffering, there is no concept of living for the glory of God or for the good of others.
8.It destroys the unity of humanity, since each soul is primarily concerned withits personal destiny.
9.It produces despair, fatalism, and pessimism in the life of individuals.
10. It cannot apply any pressure to live a life of righteousness now as opposed towaiting until a later life.
11. It teaches that all suffering is one’s own fault.
12. It causes people to ignore the suffering of others.
Reincarnation “does not explain the world in which we live. It is devastating to every level of human existence. Its arguments have been examined and found to be invalid. The life-style which arises out of a reincarnational world and life view leads to political, economic, and sociological disaster. It is rooted in the world of the occult which is clearly denounced in the Scriptures.” 7
The Bible and Reincarnation
Reincarnationists often turn to the Bible for credibility. Edgar Cayce, the noted mystic and trance medium, considered himself to be a Christian. He discovered that as a young boy he had the ability to see visions and interact with people in those visions, including the dead.
Cayce believed that since he was able to help people physically by his trance work then his ability must be from God. But, in 1923, Cayce began to do readings, or trance work, on individuals seeking spiritual information, and because of those sessions Cayce gained a belief in reincarnation. In his readings he was told that the Bible was not inerrant or infallible. Rather, it suppressed the teachings of reincarnation held by the early church fathers.
He decided to follow his feelings and visions rather than exercise complete trust in the Bible as his final authority. These readings by Cayce set up an atmosphere of deception that continues to this day regarding spiritual teachings.
Janet and Stewart Farrar in their book, A Witches Bible Compleat, make this observation regarding Jesus’ teaching ministry. “As for his (Jesus) teachings, even the Gospels make it clear that he distinguished sharply between his exoteric preaching to the masses and his inner teaching to his chosen disciples. One interesting occult theory is that he left reincarnation out of his public teaching, because his message to the masses concentrated on the transformation of the Personality as the immediate step towards perfection, and the most they could grasp at the time, but that to his disciples he taught the inner truths of the reincarnating Individuality.” 8
Over the centuries reincarnation has been rejected by orthodox Christianity for two reasons. First, the church has clearly taught the doctrine of Resurrection as being the future for humanity. And, second, it has taught that God is a God of mercy and forgiveness who is just.
The reincarnationists quote several Scriptures attempting to justify their position. Here are a few to consider.
They claim that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah the prophet (Matthew 11:14; Mark 8:11-13).This would be a feat bordering on the miraculous since Elijah never died, but was taken to heaven without ever tasting death (2 Kings ). Elijah appeared still alive and in his body on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke -33). John records John the Baptist denying that he was Elijah. Luke lends understanding to the fact that John the Baptist would minister in the power and spirit of Elijah.
Others maintain that the passage in which Nicodemus was told that he must be born again is proof of reincarnation (John 3:3). The Greek word for “again,” anothen, has a double meaning; it can be translated as “again” or “from above.” To be “born again” or “born from above” is equated in v. 8 with being “born of the Spirit.” This passage is not referring to a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth.
John 9:1-3 tells of a man blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus if his blindness was a result of the man’s sin or that of his parents. Jesus’ answer was straightforward, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
The early church did not embrace reincarnation either because it was taken out of Scriptural teaching or because it was hostile towards it; the early church was simply apathetic toward the idea. If the idea of reincarnation was ever discussed, it was considered irrelevant.
Key Distinctions: Christianity and Reincarnation
There are definite differences between biblical Christianity and reincarnation. They differ on key doctrinal points. Let’s look at a few.
Doctrine of God. Reincarnation does not perceive God as being personal, but impersonal. For the reincarnationist, God is not knowable and therefore one cannot have a personal relationship with God. Christianity teaches that God is a personal Being and is knowable. God desires a relationship with the human beings whom He created.
Nature of Mankind. Reincarnation views man as being transient. Man lives many lifetimes seeking ultimate union with an impersonal god. Christianity views man as being created in the image of his Creator (Genesis ) and possessing a unique personality that experiences one life with personal choices (moral responsibility) regarding his ultimate destiny.
Salvation and Atonement. Salvation is achieved through the perfection of many incarnations. The individual must work off the bad karma that keeps him from perfection, thereby completing his own salvation by his own works. Christianity views salvation as a gift from God offering atonement for man, who is unable to achieve it for himself. In the process man retains his unique personality and receives God’s grace irrespective of his merit.
The Person of Christ. Jesus, according to the reincarnationist, is a wayshower; he simply points us in the way to our salvation. Christianity views Jesus as the God-man. He is the unique Son of God. He is man’s only hope for salvation (John 14:6).
The World. The world evolved out of an impersonal force, an energy that reincarnationists believe to be God. Christianity views the world as being created out of nothing by a transcendent personal God who declared it to be good.
Source of Evil. For the reincarnationist, evil is a product from a prior life visited upon this life. Evil will ultimately be reabsorbed back into the impersonal force - god. The Christian sees evil as a free choice by the individual which will ultimately be destroyed by a holy God.
Paul Edwards in his book, Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 9 makes these observations about reincarnation. Although Edwards is not a Christian, he offers a sound critique of the subject.
Edwards raises the population problem as a significant issue for the reincarnationist to address. The problem is that “if everyone alive today once inhabited a previous human body, how can the world’s population explosion be explained?” 10 He continues by pointing out that there “are not enough former earthlings to account for today’s population, and each year the problem gets worse.” 11
The reincarnationist’s attempt to answer the above objection becomes an exercise in futility that stretches credulity. One solution to this problem is that souls from other planets have populated the earth. Edgar Cayce often referred to the lost island of Atlantis as being the point of origination for many souls who would later appear on earth.
Another bizarre solution to the problem is that some believe that one soul can occupy more than one body at the same time.
A second powerful argument against reincarnation according to Edwards is the sudden death of tens of thousands of people in earthquakes or other natural disasters. “A reincarnationist must believe that all the victims were simultaneously punished for past sins. ‘How did this non-intelligent principle (karma) set up the geological forces so as to achieve the desired result with complete precision?’” 12
If the law of karma is infallible, how can the six million Jews all deserve the same fate without the reincarnationist questioning the justice of the atrocity?
Conclusions about Reincarnation
We have seen that reincarnation is not scientific. It is based on experiential data and does not offer us any help in its justification. Likewise, the “Law of Karma” cannot be considered scientific.
The reincarnationists’ arguments for their view have been exposed and discarded as displaying poor logic and unfounded faith. The Bible does not teach reincarnation, but resurrection, as the only future state of mankind. Some are resurrected to eternal bliss and others to eternal punishment. The Bible is clear that it is appointed once for man to die then judgment by God (Heb.9:27).
There are key distinctions between Christianity and reincarnational theory. They are not compatible on any level. It is evident that Christianity is far superior in its treatment of mankind. Christianity offers the only hope for man’s future.
1. William Honsberger and Dean C. Halverson, The Compact Guide To World Religions (Minneapolis, MN,: Bethany Fellowship, 1996), 160.
2. Ray Exum, Reincarnation (Crystal Lake, IL http://clcoc.simplenet.com 1994), 2.
3. Janet and Stewart Farrar, A Witches Bible Compleat (New York, NY.: Magickal Childe, 1984), 122.
4. H. Wayne House, “Resurrection, Reincarnation, and Humanness” (Dallas, TX.: Biblioteca Sacra, 1991), 138.
5. David L. Johnson, A Reasoned Look at Asian Religions (Minneapolis, MN.: Bethany Fellowship, 1985), 78.
6. Ibid, 79.
7. Robert A. Morey, Reincarnation and Christianity (Minneapolis, MN.: Bethany Fellowship, 1980), 41-44.
8. Farrar, A Witches Bible Compleat, 177.
9. Martin Gardner, “Reincarnation Undressed” Free Inquiry, (Summer 1997), 59.
Albrecht, Mark C., Reincarnation, IVP
Geisler, Norman L. and Amano, J. Yutaka, The Reincarnation Sensation, Tyndale
Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, P&R Publishing
Peter Jones, Spirit Wars, Wine Press Publishing`
Morey, Robert A., Reincarnation and Christianity, Bethany Fellowship
Petersen, William J., Those Curious New Cults, Keats
Snyder, John, Reincarnation VS Resurrection, Moody Press
Swihart, Phillip J., Reincarnation Edgar Cayce & The Bible, IVP
Reincarnation has become a growing problem in the Christian community. It has gained unequaled acceptance in the church at large. A true biblical analysis is much needed if we are to stand on firm ground - Scripturally.