Is Reincarnation Scriptural?

By James L. Morrisson



"Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment."
Hebrews 9:27.



     For 13 years I was a member of an organization devoted to the psychic "readings" of Edgar Cayce. Like most members of that organization I believed in reincarnation. I eventually left that organization, largely because I could not reconcile the idea of reincarnation with what the Bible says about final judgment, and I chose to believe the Bible. Since then I have become increasingly convinced that reincarnation is completely incompatible with what the Bible teaches.

     Reincarnation is an old concept, but with the growth of "New Age" thinking it has become increasingly popular. So it needs to be dealt with.

     Reincarnation is the concept that, after a person dies, he or she will return to earth in another body for another life on earth. People are said to go through a series of such earthly lives. In the Hindu version of reincarnation, from which most modern Western concepts are derived, this is an endless series of lives. Some Western concepts have modified this to say that eventually, through an evolutionary "learning" process, a soul can reach the point where it no longer needs to come back and can be united with whatever god or universal force the reincarnationist believes in. (What it is that we are supposed to learn is usually not well-defined.) In the Hindu version, one can come back as an animal, such as a cow or dog. The modern Western versions usually speak of people as coming back only in human form.

     Closely associated with reincarnation is the concept of "karma". Our actions in one lifetime are said to affect our future lives. We are said to come back in favorable or unfavorable circumstances, to have difficult and painful experiences or more pleasant ones, depending on what we did in one or more previous lives. The problem is that in the new life we would have no way of knowing what our actions in a previous life were, that supposedly caused us to experience what we are now experiencing. Hence it is difficult to learn anything from our supposed former lives.

     This problem is met by yet another New Age concept. It is believed that some people are able to act as "channels" to receive messages from spirit sources which can tell us about our past lives and thus help us understand what we need to learn in this life. The spirit source is often identified as someone who lived and died some years ago. I have done some study of this phenomenon of "channeling" and I believe that it is spiritually very dangerous. Scripture specifically warns against it. God said, through Moses, that anyone "who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead" is "detestable to the Lord" (Deuteronomy 18:11). God said, through Isaiah, "When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists... should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isaiah 8:19). John says, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). (All Scriptures are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.)

     I believe that some people do get messages from spirits. The question is, what spirits? There are many evil spirits out there. Unless something is clearly from the Holy Spirit of God I will have nothing to do with it. None of the channeled messages that I have seen impress me as being from the Holy Spirit.

     In my paper on "The Authority of Scripture" I have discussed my reasons for believing that the Bible is true and trustworthy, and is our touchstone for determining the truth of everything else. In a world of quicksand and confusion, I find the Bible is the solid rock on which we can stand with assurance. I have also given some guidelines that I find useful in interpreting scripture, which I shall apply in this paper. My purpose in this paper is to show that the idea of reincarnation is totally inconsistent with the Bible. I shall not discuss the supposed "evidences" for reincarnation except to say that I have looked at them and find them quite flimsy. My purpose in this paper is simply to say that I believe reincarnation and Scripture cannot stand together.

     There are some who say that the Bible is silent on the subject of reincarnation, and so we are free to believe in it or not as we choose. Even if it were true that the Bible is silent on the subject, that would not warrant us in adding it to Scripture. In my paper on "The Authority of Scripture" I discuss the point that we should stay with the words of Scripture and not add to them. "Do not go beyond what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6). "Do not add to his [God's] words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar" (Proverbs 30:6). But the the Bible is not silent on the issue. There are (1) several passages in Scripture that expressly and unequivocally reject the idea of reincarnation, and (2) many teachings in Scripture which are totally inconsistent with reincarnation.

     To most Christians my conclusion may be so obvious as to need no demonstration. I have written this paper for the benefit of those who may be in doubt about the subject, or who may find it helpful to have the arguments spelled out in readily available form.



Scriptures That Expressly Reject Reincarnation

     A key verse is Hebrews 9:27, quoted at the head of this paper. On its face it seems perfectly clear. "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" We live one life, die one death and then we face judgment. There is no second, third, fourth, tenth or hundredth reincarnation and return to life on earth. We live one life on earth and we die once.

     The context makes this even more clear. In Hebrews chapters 6-10 the author is comparing the "new covenant" of Jesus Christ with the old covenant established by Moses. This is one of the main purposes of his letter. Chapters 9-10 compare the blood sacrifices of the old covenant, which were made each year by the High Priest, with the blood sacrifice of the new covenant, which was made "once for all" (Hebrews 9:12) by Jesus Christ with his own blood. The text continues,

"Nor did he [Jesus Christ] enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people..." (Hebrews 9:25-28)

     Chapter 10 emphasizes again the "once for all" nature of Jesus' sacrifice. "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (10:10). "This priest [Jesus Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins" (10:12) "By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (10:13). The author is comparing a repeated event - the yearly sacrifice made by the High Priest - with a one-time, "once for all" event - the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. To emphasize his point he compares it with another one-time event - man lives one life and dies once.

     The Greek word translated "once", hapax, normally means "once for all", "once" (in the sense of "only once"). The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Colin Brown, ed.) says it means "once in contrast to twice, thrice, etc... .and once in the sense of an event that cannot be repeated" (Vol 2, p. 717). That is the sense in which it is consistently used in Hebrews chapters 9 and 10. Hapax is used twice in Hebrews 9:27: man dies once (hapax) and Christ was sacrificed once (hapax). The rest of the passage makes it clear that Christ sacrificed himself once for all time, once and only once. Hence verse 27 is saying that men die once and only once. "Once" must have the same meaning in both parts of the verse. Any other meaning would wholly defeat the comparison which the writer of Hebrews is making.

     It is hard to imagine how any Scriptural text could be clearer or more explicit.

     Those who say the Bible is silent on this subject need also to deal with two Old Testament texts. Ecclesiastes says of the dead, "Never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:6).) This seems to me to say clearly that once we die we will never again see life on this earth. (The New Testament does say that in the end times some will come back to earth to reign with Jesus, but that has nothing to do with reincarnation.)

     Job asks, "If a man die, will he live again?" (Job 14:14). The answer to this rhetorical question is obviously "No"; in verse 12 he says "So man lies down and does not rise, till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep." Again, this seems to me an explicit denial of reincarnation.

     The Bible is not silent on this issue. It explicitly denies reincarnation, In addition, as I shall show in a moment, it teaches a number of things that are totally inconsistent with the idea of reincarnation. First I want to deal with two other matters.

Was Jesus Reincarnated?

     The Edgar Cayce readings say that Jesus was reincarnated, that he was a man who went through the cycle of earthly lives to attain perfection. He is said to have been incarnated as Adam, Enoch, Joshua, Melchizedek, Joseph, Asaph (author of several of the Psalms), and a scribe in the time of Ezra, and to have had other incarnations in Egypt, Persia and Atlantis. Other reincarnationists speak of Jesus as one of many "ascended Masters", human beings who, through repeated incarnations, raised themselves up to an unusually high level of spiritual attainment and authority. All this obviously conflicts with Scripture. I mention it because it shows how far from Scriptural truth much reincarnationist thinking is.

     (1) Scripture says that Jesus is and always has been God. "In the beginning" (before the creation of the physical universe) "the Word" (Jesus Christ) "was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1-2). Jesus, "being in very nature God ", "made himself nothing" and took on "human likeness" (Philippians 2:6-7). When Thomas called him "My Lord and my God!" Jesus commended him (John 20:28-29). Jesus told the religious leaders of his time, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23).

     (2) Scripture says that Jesus took part in the creation, and that he sustains all things by his powerful word. "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:3). "By him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:16-17). God "made the universe" through Jesus, and Jesus sustains "all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:2-3).

     (3) Scripture makes it clear that no man can perfect himself. It is only because God's Son came to earth and sacrificed himself on the cross that men can be brought into right relationship with God (see Romans 8:3). Our human actions, our human learning experiences, can never save us. We can be saved, brought into right relationship with God, only because "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). It is through Jesus, and only through Jesus, that God reconciled all things to himself (Colossians 1:20). I discuss this whole issue more fully later in this paper.

     (4) Jesus is not one of many "ascended Masters". He has "supremacy" in "everything" (Colossians 1:18). He is "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (Ephesians 1:20). At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

     If Jesus is God, who created everything from the beginning, how can it be said that he came to earth repeatedly in purely human form, as Adam, Joshua, etc.? Did he form himself "from the dust of the ground" and breathe life into himself? (see Genesis 2:7) How could the Creator also be a created thing? How can it be said that Jesus, God, was the one who by his disobedience to God brought sin and death into the world and allowed satan to become "the prince of this world" (John 12:31, 14:30; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4).

     (5) Men can never become God. We are created; he is the Creator (see Romans 9:20-21). Satan's sin was that he tried to make himself like God, and for this he was cast out of heaven (see Isaiah 14:12-15; Luke 10:18).

     The Cayce readings try to address these issues by saying that Jesus was a man who, at some unidentified point, became the Christ. They would say, as I understand it, that Jesus, the man, went through all these reincarnations, while "the Christ", as a separate being, took part in the creation, etc. and then at some point the two became one. There is nothing in Scripture that supports this idea. And it fails to explain how any man, by his own efforts and learning experiences, could become God. Scripture says that God became man by the miracle of the Incarnation, when Mary became impregnated by the Holy Spirit. It rejects the idea that a man could become God.

     The whole idea that Jesus went through a series of reincarnations is totally contrary to Scripture. If reincarnation teaching is so clearly contrary to Scripture in this particular area, does not that cast a great deal of doubt on the whole concept?

Was Elijah Reincarnated?

     Reincarnationists argue that Scripture says that Elijah was reincarnated and that that establishes that all men are reincarnated. The argument has no validity. Because it is so often heavily emphasized I shall deal with it in some detail.

     Malachi 4:5 says "I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children..." In Matthew 17:10-13 (and the parallel passage in Mark 9:12-13) the disciples asked Jesus about this prophecy and Jesus replied "I tell you, Elijah has already come." Matthew adds that they "understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist." Reincarnationists argue that Jesus was saying that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah, and that this establishes that Jesus recognized and believed in reincarnation.

     There are a number of flaws in this argument.

     (1) Elijah never died; he was taken up bodily to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-18). How could someone who never died be reincarnated? Whatever may have happened with Elijah tells us nothing about what happens to those who die.

     (2) When John the Baptist was asked "Are you Elijah?" he replied "I am not" (John 1:21).
How do we reconcile this apparent inconsistency? Was John the Baptist wrong? I suggest that John was speaking literally and Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Literally John was not Elijah, returned in the flesh. Metaphorically John was performing the function of Elijah - to call Israel to turn around and repent (see 1 Kings 18:37) - and in that sense he satisfied the prophecy of Malachi. This is confirmed by the fact that, before John was born, an angel of the Lord applied to him the prophecy of Malachi, saying, "He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children..." (Luke 1:17).

     (3) We should not go beyond what the words of Scripture say. What Jesus said to his disciple was that the prophecy of Malachi had been fulfilled. That was the question they had asked him. When he said "Elijah is come" that is all we can be sure he meant. It is possible that he might have meant that Elijah had come in the flesh, in the form of John the Baptist. Or he may have meant only that John had come "in the spirit and power of Elijah" as the angel said. All we can be sure of is that he said that Malachi's prophecy had been fulfilled.

     (4) Even if Jesus meant that Elijah had returned in the flesh that would not mean he was reincarnated. How could he have been, since he never died?

     (5) Apparently there was a view current that some of the prophets might come back. Assuming that they could come back - and we have no evidence of this except for this passage about Elijah - this would tell us nothing about what happens with most people.

     (6) Wherever possible, we should interpret Scripture so as not to conflict with other passages in Scripture. The more reasonable interpretation of this passage is that Jesus was not talking about reincarnation. We should not press an unlikely interpretation on it which would create a conflict with Hebrews 9:27 and with much else in Scripture..

     There are other passages sometimes cited by reincarnationists as supporting their position. I deal with some of them in the appropriate context in the following discussion. None of them gives the slightest support for reincarnation.

     The case for the position that the Bible supports reincarnation rests on this one text about Elijah, which nowhere says that Elijah came back in the flesh, much less that he was reincarnated, and which says nothing about what happens to other people. By any known principles of Scriptural interpretation this is a remarkably flimsy foundation on which to erect a major doctrine!

     Let's look at what else Scripture says that may be relevant to the issue of reincarnation. When we do, I believe it will become clear beyond any doubt that reincarnation and Scripture are totally incompatible.




     "And after that to face judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Scripture makes it absolutely clear that a time will come when we all have to face judgment. "We will all stand before God's judgment seat" (Romans 14:10; see also 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 12:23; 1 Peter 4:5). Many of the texts talk about a judgment at the end times, but for the moment I want to concentrate simply on the fact that, whenever it occurs, there will be a judgment. The result of that judgment is very clear. Some will go to eternal life with God in a state of blessedness. Others will go to eternal punishment.

     In reincarnation thinking there is no such judgment. If we have done badly in one lifetime, there is always another, and another, and another chance. We grow, by a series of "learning" experiences in successive reincarnations, into a state where we can be united with whatever god or universal force the reincarnationist conceives of. There is no eternal punishment. There is no Hell. And this state of union with universal force is pretty vague and indefinite. There is no real Heaven.

     Most reincarnationists recognize this. Indeed one of the arguments they make for reincarnation is that it avoids the whole idea of judgment and Hell. (See, for example, Geddes MacGregor, "Reincarnation in Christianity, a New Vision of the Role of Rebirth in Christian Thought", Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Il, 1978, pp 2, 20, 114). This is why we were attracted to reincarnation in the first place, and why many are attracted to it.

     No one likes to think about judgment or punishment. But God is a just God and a holy God. He cannot tolerate evil. If we persist in holding on to evil he cannot allow us in his presence and remain holy. He wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), and he has set it up so that salvation is available to everyone (John 3:16), but we have to come to him on his terms. If he has found it necessary to set up a system that involves judgment and eternal punishment, who are we to say that he is wrong? His ways and his thoughts are far higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We should not try to make him conform to our human standards. "Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" (Romans 9:20). If we profess to believe in Scripture we must accept all of Scripture according to its own terms. I submit that it is not possible to accept what Scripture says about judgment and eternal punishment, and to believe in reincarnation. They cannot stand together. One or the other has to go.

     The Scriptural texts on this are numerous, explicit and inescapable.

     (1) Jesus spoke of a time when he will return in glory, surrounded by his angels, and will sit in judgment of all men (Matthew 25:31-46). One group will go to "eternal life"; the other to "eternal punishment", "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (verses 46, 41).

     (This passage says he will judge the "nations" and some see it as referring to a judgment nation by nation rather than a judgment of individuals. I believe ethnos here simply means he will judge all mankind, Gentile as well as Jew. When you look at the criteria for judgment - did they feed the hungry, give the thirsty to drink, clothe people, look after the sick, visit prisoners - it would seem that Jesus is judging individual by individual. The point is not important in view of the many other passages which clearly deal with judgment of individuals.)

     (2) Matthew chapter 13 gives two parables about judgment which Jesus explains. In one he speaks of wheat and weeds. In his explanation he says that "at the end of the age" his angels will "weed out of the kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (verses 41-43). In the other he speaks of a fisherman who catches good and bad fish in the same net. He explains that "at the end of the age" "the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (verses 49-50). There is a judgment, a Heaven and a Hell.

     (3) Jesus told us to get rid of everything that causes sin. He said, in vivid language, that it is better to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye, than to "go into hell, where the fire never goes out" (Mark 9:44).

     (4) Jesus said "A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his [Jesus'] voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (John 5:28-29).

     (5) Paul wrote of a time "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

     (6) Jesus told a story about a rich man and a beggar, named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Both died. The angels carried Lazarus to Abraham's side, evidently a place of blessing. The rich man was "in hell, where he was in torment". There is an impassible gulf between the two. (I shall discuss this account more fully later in this paper.)

     (7) Jesus told us, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14; see also Matthew 7:24-27). This doesn't say that we get repeated chances to get this right in successive lifetimes. He is talking about entering the gate once, and traveling along the road once.

     (8) There are other Scriptures that refer to people being "condemned to hell" (Matthew 23:34), to the fires of Hell (Matthew 5:22; see also Matthew 10:28), and to being "cast "outside into the darkness" (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). There are Scriptures that say that those who do certain kinds of acts will receive the wrath of God and will not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Ephesians 5:5-6; see also Galatians 5:16; Colossians 3:6).

     (9) In John's vision in Revelation he saw the New Jerusalem, where there will be "no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:4). Some will "inherit all this" while those who engage in certain kinds of acts will be excluded and "their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur" (Revelation 21:7,8 ; see also Revelation 20:11-15; 22:15).

     Note that none of these passages contain any suggestion that those who are condemned or excluded can get another chance, can come back for some more reincarnations and learn to remedy whatever was lacking or wrong, and then be accepted. According to Scripture, when the time comes there is one judgment and that is it. Your place is fixed for all eternity and cannot be changed. No one who believed in reincarnation could have spoken or written any of what is recorded in these passages.

     There are many other passages in the Old and New Testaments which refer to God as judge. See, for example, Psalms 7:8,11; 9:8; 50:4, 6; 75:2; 76:8-9; 82:8; 94:2; 96:10; 98:9; 110:6; Isaiah 3:13; 33:22; Jeremiah 11:20; Ezekiel 7:3, 27; Daniel 12:3; Joel 3:12; Malachi 4:1-2; Romans 2:16, 3:6; Hebrews 10:30. Reincarnationists essentially deny that there is any judgment. This simply flies in the face of Scripture.

     The Edgar Cayce readings say that Heaven and Hell are merely "states of mind." Other reincarnationists have made similar statements, or else deny that either Heaven or Hell exist at all. I believe the Scriptures I have referred to in this section show that both Heaven and Hell do exist and they are very real. When Jesus spoke of being "thrown into a fiery furnace", or going into "eternal fire", he was not just talking about a state of mind. When he said it is better to lose a hand or a foot or an eye than to "go into hell where the fire never goes out," he was not just talking about a state of mind. When he described the rich man burning in hell and begging for a drop of water he was not just talking about a state of mind. When Revelation speaks of being thrown into a "fiery lake of burning sulfur" it is not just talking about a state of mind. Heaven and Hell are very real physical places.

     I believe we have very little idea how terrible Hell really is. There have been accounts of people who say they were in Hell for a short time and then were resuscitated (restored to life in the same body and personality). They say that the pain was far worse than anything they had ever experienced on earth, and one such man had been badly burned in a fire while on earth. Whether or not you believe such accounts, I think that a mere reading of the Scriptural passages does not begin to convey how awful the reality will be.

     Scripture conveys a little of how wonderful Heaven is. It says that we have been given "a new birth into a living hope" (1 Peter 1:3), and that just in contemplating it we are "filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Peter 1:8). After listing many deep troubles that he was experiencing, Paul said "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:17). There are marvelous descriptions of what heaven, and the New Jerusalem, will be like (Revelation chapters 4, 5, 20, 21). But then Paul says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conveyed what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). The reality will be far more wonderful than anything we could ever conceive by reading what Scripture says about it.

     Reincarnation offers neither the horror of Hell nor the glory of Heaven.

The True Rebirth

     Scripture talks about two, and only two, kinds of "rebirth", if I may use the term. One is a spiritual rebirth which can happen during a single lifetime to those who accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The other is physical resurrection which happens only once in the end times; the resurrection body which people then receive never dies. Neither has anything to do with reincarnation.

     The fact that Scripture does talk about rebirth, but in terms which clearly exclude reincarnation, is, to me, persuasive evidence that there is no place in Scripture for reincarnation.

"Born Again"

     Jesus said "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). He was not talking about a physical rebirth, but a spiritual one. (Indeed, the Greek anothen is sometimes translated born "from above".) He said, "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (John 3:5-6). He was talking about a spiritual change within the same physical body during one lifetime. The passage has nothing to do with reincarnation.

     Other Scriptures refer to this spiritual change. Paul said "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). The word translated "transformed" is metamorphoo; it refers to a change as drastic as that by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. He said "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). He spoke of putting off the "old self" and putting on the "new self" (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10).

     Paul talks about dying and being buried with Christ in order that "we may live a new life." "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:4, 11). He said "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

     John says that there are two kinds of people, "children of God" and "children of the devil" (1 John 3:10). When we accept Jesus we change from one to the other. We become adopted sons of God (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 2:16). God "has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Colossians 1:13).

     This is the true new birth. It is marvelous and life-changing. It is something that occurs, through God's power, during a single earthly lifetime. It is totally opposed to the new birth that reincarnationists speak of.


     Scripture also talks about another kind of new birth.

     The New Testament makes it clear that after death the physical body remains in the grave (the Scriptures call it "sleeping") until it is changed in the last days to a totally new type of body (a resurrection body) which no longer dies. Paul says, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). He emphasizes that the resurrection body is a different type of body. "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16 suggests that those who are still alive at Christ's Second Coming, and who are taken up into the sky to meet him, will also receive resurrection bodies.

     Paul seems to be talking about the resurrection of those who have been saved. Jesus makes it clear that the unsaved also are resurrected. "A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (John 5:28-29).

     The imperishable resurrection body which men receive once and only once at the "last trumpet" is totally different from, and has nothing to do with, the reincarnation bodies which men supposedly receive over and over and which are mortal and perishable. The resurrection body is the only new physical body that Scripture speaks of a person receiving after his or her death.

     The fact of resurrection does present an intriguing question for reincarnationists. Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, speaks of the resurrection body as being related to the previous natural body. He compares it to a plant that grows from a seed that was sown (verses 35-38, 42-44). In other words, it arises out of the former natural body. Note that Jesus' resurrection body apparently resembled his former natural body, so that the disciples recognized him, once they had overcome their initial shock at seeing him resurrected. His resurrection body even bore the nail holes inflicted on the Cross (John 20:20, 27). The question then arises, if a person has had tens or even hundreds of reincarnations, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a woman, which of these many natural bodies will be the seed, the source, for his or her resurrection body? If reincarnation were true, Paul's linking of the resurrection body to the previous natural body in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 would make little sense.

     An incident reported in Luke 20:29-39 (and also in Matthew and Mark) is revealing. Some Sadducees, seeking to deny resurrection, asked Jesus a trick question. They supposed the case of a woman who married one man and had no children. He died and she married his brother according to the Levirate law to get children by him. He in turn died childless, and so it went until she had married each of seven brothers. They asked "At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?" The situation was a wonderful opportunity for him to talk about reincarnation if, indeed, reincarnation were true, for in reincarnation you are free to marry whomever you choose. Jesus did not do so. He said that those who are resurrected "will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels" (verses 35-36). When Jesus was specifically asked about physical life after death he spoke only of resurrection. The fact of Jesus' silence on reincarnation is not conclusive proof, but it certainly indicates that he had no thought that reincarnation was true. One who believed in reincarnation would not have spoken as Jesus did.

Other Passages Dealing With
Life After Death

     Scripture does not tell us a great deal about what happens to a person's soul and spirit immediately after his physical death. I believe, however, that it indicates fairly clearly that the soul and spirit go immediately to Heaven or to Hell.

     Paul wrote the Philippians from a Roman jail, that he was torn between the desire to live and to die. "To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body" (Philippians 1:21, 23). Paul is saying that if he dies he will immediately "be with Christ". He is talking about the spirit. He has said in the passages just quoted that the physical body remains in the grave until the resurrection which comes at the "last trumpet"; he says, later in his letter, that he has not yet obtained the resurrection (Philippians 3:12). But the spirit, which has left the body, can go immediately to be with Christ. When we are saved, the Holy Spirit enters into our spirit (John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19; 2 Corinthians 1:22). When we die, and our spirit leaves our physical body, our spirit and the Holy Spirit within it are free to be with Christ in heaven.

     I also believe that the spirits of the unsaved go, immediately after death of the physical body, to a place of torment, which we call Hell. When Jesus said it is better to be crippled or maimed than "to go into hell where the fire never goes out" (Mark 9:44-48), there is a sense of immediacy. He does not seem to be talking about awaiting a final judgment, but rather about going into hell right away. In John 3:18 he says that the one who does not believe in Jesus Christ "stands condemned already."

     A good deal of light is shed on this issue by the account Jesus gave of a rich man, and a beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). (It is not clear whether this is an account of events that actually happened or a parable. If it is a parable, it is the only one in which Jesus gave a name to one of the characters.) Both men died. The angels carried Lazarus to Abraham's side, evidently a place of blessing. Jesus elsewhere speaks of Abraham as being in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11) and I think we can take this place to be Heaven. The rich man, "in hell, where he was in torment" sees Lazarus and Abraham, and asks Abraham to "send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire." Abraham replies, "Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." Then the rich man asks him to send Lazarus to warn the rich man's brothers, who were still alive. "Abraham replies, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 'No, Father Abraham', he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

     There are a number of things to note about this remarkable account. (1) It sounds as if it is happening right after the two men died. It must be happening fairly soon after the rich man's death, for his brothers are still alive. Jesus is not talking about something that happens only in the end times. (2) After death people go either to a place of blessing, presumably Heaven, or a place of torment, identified as Hell. It is impossible to cross from one place to the other. I believe this is a picture of our spirits after death. (3) It appears that they will stay in one or the other place indefinitely, I think we can say for eternity. Certainly nothing is said about any possibility that the rich man could get out of where he is. (4). The question is presented whether someone can rise from the dead and bring a message to the living. The account does not say that this is ever possible; clearly it would be very unusual. It merely says that "even if" such a thing could happen it would be of no use. I find this a pretty strong indication that those who once die do not return to the physical world (except at the end times when Jesus brings us with him to rule over it).

     No one who believed in reincarnation could possibly say what Jesus did in Luke 16:19-31. It flies in the face of reincarnationist thinking at so many points

The Problem of Pain and Suffering

     Reincarnationists attribute most pain and suffering to bad "karma." They say, "You are going through this because of mistakes you made, things you did or failed to do, in one or more past lives."

     Some reincarnationists say that only through the principles of reincarnation and "karma" can we understand the problem of suffering. I totally disagree. I find the reincarnationist explanations quite inadequate and unsatisfactory (even apart from the fact that they rest on an untenable premise). And I find that Scripture gives many good explanations for, and practical ways of dealing with, the problem of suffering.

     Scripture has a lot to say about pain and suffering. Sometimes it tells us why it has occurred, but it is much more concerned with telling us how to deal with it and overcome it. It never - repeat, never - speaks of a "past life" experience as the cause of or explanation for pain and suffering. The reincarnationist explanation - "karma" from "past lives" - is totally foreign to Scripture. To adopt such an explanation is to add something to Scripture that is not there, and to distort our understanding of what is there.

     Basically Scripture says that pain and suffering are a consequence of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis itself tells us that because of that disobedience God imposed "pains in childbearing" on Eve and "painful toil" on Adam (Genesis 3:16, 17). The ground would produce "thorns and thistles" (verse 18). And death came into the world (verse 22). Paul tells us that "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12; see also 1 Corinthians 15:21). Through Adam's sin, Satan became "the prince of this world"(John 12:31, 14:30), the "god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4) and Satan is the cause of much pain and suffering.

     To the question, "how can a God who is both all-powerful and good allow so much pain and suffering?" the Scriptural answer is that mankind brought this on itself by disobedience in the Garden of Eden. God did not want it this way, but he gave man freedom of choice and man exercised his choice wrongly.

     Scripture gives a second answer. There is a law of sowing and reaping. "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7). We are responsible for the choices we make, and those choices have consequences. If we sow anger, hatred, hostility, bitterness, unforgiveness, ingratitude, and the like, we shall receive the same from others. Scripture tells us, "See to it... that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Hebrews 12:15). If we choose to cause harm to others, we can expect to receive harm. By the same principle, if we are giving, loving, considerate, thoughtful, unselfish to others, we will receive many blessings. "Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). This occurs in one lifetime; it does not need a succession of lifetimes. I have seen this principle in operation many times in my own life and in that of others around me. Because others perceive my wife and myself as people who give of ourselves to others, we have received much love from many and have been richly blessed.

     Scripture gives yet another answer. Sometimes God brings, or allows, painful and difficult things in order to cause us to grow and develop. The early Christians had a very difficult time of it. They faced much persecution; many of them were martyrs. They said some amazing things about difficult and painful experiences. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:3-5). "Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined in the fire - may be proved genuine" (1 Peter 1:6-7).

     Finally, I ask, what makes us think we are entitled to be free from pain and difficulty? It's part of life. We can't avoid it; the question is how we will deal with it. Peter (who went through quite a bit of suffering in his life) writes, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Peter 5:12). Jesus told his disciples, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). As I understand this he is saying, "You can expect to have troubles and difficulties. They are part of life. But I will help you overcome them." Psalm 46:1 says that God is "an ever-present help in trouble." Trouble will come. When it does, God will help us in it. When Paul says that "we are more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37) he is saying that we will have things to conquer.

     None of this is saying that suffering is good or desirable. It is saying that we can use suffering, when it comes, as an experience by which we learn and grow. Thus it illustrates the basic principle that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes" (Romans 8:28).

     Let us look at some examples of how Scripture deals with the issue of pain and suffering.

     Job is the classic case of suffering in Scripture. To attribute his suffering to "karma" from a "past life" would miss the whole point of the account. Scripture tells us why he suffered. God allowed Satan to test him (Job 1:12, 2:6). And through his suffering he came to a new humility and a new and deeper understanding of God (Job 42:2-6).

     Joseph suffered for 13 years. He was sold into slavery, and unjustly thrown into prison for several years. There is no suggestion that this suffering had anything to do with "karma" from "past lives." Joseph's understanding of it was that this was part of God's plan to put him in a position from which he could preserve his brothers, who were God's choice to found the nation of Israel (Genesis 45:5, 7, 9). He told his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20).

     Paul suffered greatly. He was flogged five times with 39 lashes, beaten with rods three times, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked and spent a day and night in the open sea, in constant danger, hungry, thirsty, cold and naked (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). (What all this did to his body we are not told; he quite possibly lived in pain much of the time.) Paul never asked "Why me?" He never looked for a "karmic" explanation for his suffering. He accepted it as a fact of life, overcame it, and learned from it. He commented, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). He "learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11). He used his sufferings to learn perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-5). He taught, and I am sure practiced, "Be joyful always... give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5: 16, 18). Writing from a Roman jail, facing trial for his life, he wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). He wrote, "We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). He overcame pain and suffering and he learned from them.

     Let us look at two passages that are sometimes put forward by reincarnationists as involving the application of "karma". In fact they involve no such thing. Scripture explains each in terms which clearly reject the application of "karma". I believe they afford strong evidence that "karmic" considerations are not considered relevant in Scripture.

     John 9:1-7 tells how Jesus healed a man who was born blind. "His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'" If reincarnation were true, this question would have given Jesus a wonderful opportunity to talk about it. A reincarnationist would probably say, "Since he was born blind he could not have sinned in this life, therefore he must have done something in a past life that brought this on him." That was not Jesus' answer. Jesus replied, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned... but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (verses 2-3). Jesus rejected the whole idea that the man's blindness must have been caused by sin or fault of any kind; he is teaching his disciples that not all illness is caused by sin or fault. If you want to bring "karma" into the picture you would have to say that Jesus' answer means that it wasn't caused by "karma" either. The reincarnationist explanation is just as far off the mark as is the disciples' attempt to find an explanation based on sin in this life. Rather, Jesus is saying, "This condition happened; it doesn't matter why. Things like this do happen and don't try to make glib explanations for why they do. The important thing is that it creates an opportunity for God to do something wonderful."

     Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. God chose the younger, Jacob, to be the founder of the nation of Israel. In Malachi 1:2-3 God declared, "I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated" (A better translation might be "loved less".) Reincarnationists suggest that the reason God chose Jacob over Esau for the founder of the nation of Israel must rest in their "karma." Paul's discussion of this matter in Romans 9:10-24 makes it perfectly clear that any supposed "karma" had nothing to do with it. Paul said, "before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad - in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls - she [Jacob's mother] was told, "The older will serve the younger" (verses 11-12). The key is, "God's purpose in election". God is sovereign and can choose whomever he wishes to carry out his purpose. What Paul says totally rejects "karma" as a consideration.


     The strongest reason for rejecting reincarnation, I believe, is that it offers an alternative, unscriptural, plan of salvation as a substitute for the Scriptural plan of salvation. This opens up a big subject. I shall try to be very brief. I assume the subject is well enough understood so that I do not need to give Scripture references for everything I say about it.

     Modern reincarnationist thinking does not usually use the term "salvation". But it does have a substitute for it. It says, in general, that we go through the "learning" experience of successive reincarnations until we finally reach the point at which we can be united with whatever god or universal force the reincarnationist believes in. We reach this state of union by our own efforts and our own learning experience.

     The Christian doctrine of salvation is that man is in need of salvation because, since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin has separated us from God. To reconcile us to God, God sent his only Son to die for us on the cross. By this act he paid the price for our sin. He made it possible for God to look at us and see, not our sin, but Jesus' righteousness, and he empowered us to live righteous lives. We come into right relationship with God by one thing and one thing only - belief in Jesus Christ and acceptance of him as our Lord and Savior. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ has eternal life; whoever does not believe in him is "condemned already" (John 3:16, 18). "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 3:8-9). Our works - what we do and don't do - are important as evidence of our faith. Faith which does not reflect itself in action is not real. But works cannot save us.

     Salvation is available to all (John 3:16). But it is available only on the terms in which Jesus offered it. In essence we must repent of our wrongdoing and omissions, we must change, we must believe in Jesus Christ, we must accept him as our Lord and Savior, and we must surrender our lives to him. It is not difficult to do if we are willing to do it

     Scripture makes it clear that this is the only way we can be reconciled to God and have a right relationship with him. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). He called us his sheep and said that he is the gate to the sheepfold, and that anyone who gets in by some other way "is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). Peter, speaking of Jesus, said "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Paul wrote, "Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned" (Galatians 1:8).

     The question has very practical implications. If we understand that we will be judged on the basis of this life only, then there is an urgency about getting right with God in this life, and doing the things in this life that are necessary to salvation. Since we can never know when death will come, there is an urgency about resolving any questions we may have about what is needed. If, on the other hand, we have lots of other chances in lots of other lives, then it's easy to say, "I don't need to do anything about this now."

     Reincarnation offers a supposed way to salvation, to unity with the universal forces, that does not involve Jesus. It is based on a learning process. We achieve it by our own actions, our own "works". Under reincarnation Jesus' sacrifice on the cross becomes unnecessary.

     Let me summarize the differences between the two plans of salvation:

     (1) Christian salvation reconciles us to "the only true God" (John 17:3), the one who said, "I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God" (Isaiah 45:5). Reincarnation seeks some kind of union with a universal force, or whatever else the reincarnationist believes in.

     (2) Christian salvation depends on faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Whoever does not believe in Jesus is "condemned" (John 3:18). Belief in Jesus Christ has nothing to do with the reincarnationist union with a universal force.

     (3) Christian salvation was made possible by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. In reincarnation the Cross becomes irrelevant and meaningless.

     (4) In Christian salvation man cannot save himself by what he does, his "works". Reincarnationist union is based wholly on works.

     (5) The Christian plan of salvation includes judgment, with some going to eternal joy in Heaven and some to eternal punishment in Hell. Reincarnationism has no judgment, no Hell, and no real Heaven.

     (6) Under the Christian plan of salvation, only some are saved. Under reincarnation essentially everybody attains the state of union; it merely takes longer for some than for others.

     These two plans of salvation cannot coexist. To try to fit them together is like trying to graft a rhinoceros' leg onto an eagle.



     The final recourse of reincarnationists is to argue that the text of the Bible is unreliable. The argument takes two forms.

     Some have suggested that Jesus believed in reincarnation, but his disciples did not, and that what the disciples wrote does not reflect what Jesus really said or believed. The suggestion is pure speculation. I am not aware of any credible evidence to support it. Its proponents simply say, "This could have happened." That is not enough to discredit the text of Scripture. Moreover, it is not just a case of the gospel writers leaving out some things. The Bible records Jesus as saying many things that are quite inconsistent with reincarnation. The proponents of this theory are necessarily saying that the gospel writers made these statements up out of whole cloth, and attributed to Jesus many things that he did not say. In my paper on "The Authority of Scripture" I point out that the gospel writers had every incentive to report accurately and truthfully. After all, the Jesus for whom they were willing to die had told them that the devil was the father of lies.

     Others argue that at the church Council of Constantinople, in 553 A.D., a decision was made to deliberately remove reincarnation from the Bible. There is no credible evidence of this, so far as I am aware. The council did reject and forbid certain teachings. Reincarnation was not one of these. But the council was dealing with conflicting interpretations of Scripture. There is no evidence of an intent to tamper with the text of Scripture.

     There is an even more insuperable objection. By the time of this council there were many manuscripts of the Bible, or portions of it. We now have several complete or almost complete texts of the New Testament dating in the fourth century AD(two dating about 350 AD), and portions of the New Testament dating to the third and second centuries AD In 553 AD there were probably many more manuscripts in existence than we have now. These manuscripts were written in ink on papyrus or leather, and sometimes bound together. It would have been physically impossible to collect all these manuscripts, delete portions of them, change portions of them, and add a significant body of material which contradicts reincarnation, and to do all this in such a way that it could not be detected. Where are the early manuscripts that reflect this supposed earlier version of the Bible which is said to support reincarnation? There are none. We do have one statement by Origen (about 185-254 AD) that "the dogma of transmigration" (that is, reincarnation) is not "anywhere set forth in the scriptures" (quoted in Gudel, Bowman and Schlesinger, "Reincarnation - Did the Church Suppress It?", Christian Research Journal, Summer, 1987, at p. 10).

     The text of the Bible as we have it has been examined by hundreds of scholars and has been shown to be accurate. I think we should stay with it. And I believe that it leaves no room for reincarnation.



     In his great prophecy about the end times Jesus warns, "Watch out that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:4). Paul has a similar warning, "The spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Timothy 4:1). He warns, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy" (Colossians 2:8).

     Reincarnation is an old belief, but it has become much more popular in the West in recent decades. As we approach the Scriptural end times, I believe it is part of the deception against which Jesus warned.

     We need to be careful about what we believe. Scripture teaches that we are saved by faith; and so we need to be sure that we put our faith in the truth of God, and not in something that is false and will not support us.

     These days it is popular to deny that there is such a thing as truth. The Bible tells us clearly that there is objective truth and that it matters a great deal whether what we believe is true. Jesus told his disciples that he is the truth (John 14:6). He said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). He said that God's word is truth (John 17:17). Paul said that God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). We are saved "Through belief in the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:14). We purify ourselves "by obeying the truth" (1 Peter 1:22).

     I believe that the Bible is true, that it is a rock on which to stand when everything else is shifting and unsure, and that it is the touchstone by which we test every other teaching. When I test reincarnation by that touchstone I find that it does not match up with Biblical truth. Not only are there specific texts that clearly contradict it, but it simply does not fit into much of the basic teaching of Scripture. I believe it to be a false and deceptive doctrine. It is dangerous because it leads men to believe what is false, and distracts attention from the truth.


Copyrightę 2002 by James L. Morrisson