Reincarnation and the Bible
The American Heritage Dictionary states that reincarnation is the “rebirth of the soul in another body.” For many years, the belief in reincarnation was generally associated with eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. However, it is becoming increasingly popular to proclaim a belief in the Bible as the inspired Word of God, yet still maintain a belief in reincarnation. The obvious question arises from such a situation, “What does the Bible say about reincarnation?”
One straightforward statement that speaks directly to the idea of reincarnation is found in Hebrews 9:27-28: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” Without any vague terms, the writer of Hebrews explains that the general course of man’s existence is to taste death only once, and then be judged based on the actions that were accomplished in that one life. In order to underscore the number of times a person dies, the inspired writer declared that men die the same number of times that Christ was offered on the cross—only once. Such a statement goes a long way to prove that the Bible does not teach for reincarnation. (This verse deals with the generality of man’s existence, and excludes miraculous situations, where Christ, an apostle, or a prophet raised someone from the dead.)
Another biblical passage that militates against the idea of reincarnation is found in Luke 16:19-31. In this passage, Jesus told a story in which a poor man named Lazarus, and a rich man, both died. The Bible explains that Lazarus died and “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (16:22), but the rich went to “torments in Hades” (16:23). The text further states that the rich man “lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom” (16:23). Here we have three men who once lived upon the Earth but have died, yet we do not see their souls or spirits reinhabiting some earthly body. Instead, we see the three men—Lazarus, Abraham, and the rich man—in a fully cognizant state in the realm of the dead, separate and apart from any earthly ties. In fact, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to Earth to warn his brothers, but Abraham refuses. Therefore, if Lazarus had died, and his soul no longer was on Earth, then he could not have been reincarnated to another earthly body or person. Furthermore, Abraham’s presence in this “realm of the dead” shows that Abraham had not been reincarnated either.
Again, in Luke 23:43, Jesus told the penitent thief who was crucified next to Him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” One must ask, if the body of the thief was going to remain on the Earth, and the soul of the thief was going to be with Jesus in Paradise, then what part of that man would be left to reincarnate into another earthly body?
Matthew 17:1-13 poses yet another situation that speaks against the idea that reincarnation occurs. In this passage, Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus to a high mountain where Jesus was “transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him” (17:2-3). The presence of Moses and Elijah in this instance raises a very important question: If men are reincarnated, what were Moses and Elijah doing talking with Jesus? We know that the physical bodies of Moses and Elijah were not present (see Jude 9). Therefore, their spirits were present, which means that those spirits were not inhabiting some other earthly bodies. It is interesting to note that those who believe that the Bible allows for reincarnation sometimes use Matthew 11:8-14 to claim that John the baptizer was Elijah reincarnate, yet Matthew 17:3 proves that Elijah’s spirit was not in the body of John the baptizer. On the contrary, when Jesus mentioned that John had come in “the spirit of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), He simply meant that John had similar attributes to Elijah.
In looking at the Bible, one gets the clear picture that humans die only once, and that their disembodied spirits go to a “realm of the dead” to wait for the final judgment. The idea of reincarnation does not derive from nor can it be sustained by, the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible implicitly denies even the possibility of reincarnation. Because it is “appointed for men to die once,” we should be that much more diligent to make sure that the one life we live on this Earth accords with the will of the Divine Parent of the human race (Acts 17:29).
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.