Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Does The Bible Give Examples of Reincarnation?

Recently, Tim (Oregon) asked a question in the "On the Box" chat room.

"As I did one-to-ones, I met a few people that said they believed in Reincarnation, and that they got their ideas out of the Bible! Have you ever run into that kind of response? I just cut to the Good Person Test, which went great, and we had really good conversations as I shared the Gospel with them. What have you done with this kind of response? Is reincarnation in the Bible?"

Tim: the short answer to your question is, no, the Bible does not give examples of reincarnation, nor are there any passages that teach reincarnation. What you likely ran into were people who either read something on the Internet (sites abound claiming that reincarnation is supported in the Bible), or maybe they have a semester of Comparative Religion under their belt, at the local college, and their professor gave them the idea that reincarnation is in the Bible. Then again, maybe they are simply followers of Oprah and got their notions of reincarnation from her, and then they imposed those ideas upon the Bible. At any rate, the Bible does not support or teach the idea of reincarnation.

In order to understand why some people think there are incidents of reincarnation in the Bible it will be helpful to define a few terms--one, of course, is reincarnation. The other two are resuscitation and resurrection.


Let's start with the term reincarnation.

Reincarnation -- To cause to be reborn in another body, which could take the form of any living creature, human or otherwise. The English word "reincarnation" is derived from a compound Latin word ("re" = to repeat again; and "carnis" = flesh), which literally means "entering the flesh again."

Later in this article, we will look at some of the most common passages of Scripture upon which reincarnationists force errant interpretations to support their point of view.


The next term is resuscitation.

Resuscitation -- To raise someone from the dead in their original body, in which they died.

Here are several accounts in the Bible of people who died and were resuscitated.

The Widow's Son (1 Kings 17:17-24)

The Shunammite's Son (2 Kings 4:32-37)

The Man Who Touched Elisha's Bones (2 Kings 13:20-21)

Widow of Nain's Son (Luke 7:11-17)

Jairus' Daughter (Luke 8:49-56)

Lazarus (John 11:38-45)

Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42)

Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12)

Why are these accounts, by definition, resuscitations and not reincarnations? The people who died returned to life in their original bodies. Had these individuals been reincarnated they would have returned in either a different human body or in the form of some other living creature.


The last key term is resurrection.

Resurrection -- To raise someone someone from the dead, giving the person a new, glorified body.

While the Bible speaks prophetically about the resurrection of both the living and the dead, the saved and the unsaved (Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Revelation 20:11-15), there is only one actual account of a resurrection in the Bible--the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-13; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-29; John 21:1-14; Acts 1:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

Jesus Christ, the God-Man, God in the Flesh, died a literal, physical death. Three days later, He rose from the grave, forever defeating sin and death. And He ascended to Heaven where He now sits at the right hand of power . God the Father has glorified God the Son (Matthew 25:31; Mark 14:62; John 17:1-5)!

Alleged Bible Proof-Texts for Reincarnation

Let's now take a look at some of the most often sited passages of Scripture that are misinterpreted by those who believe in reincarnation.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. ~ Matthew 17:1-6
This is not an example of reincarnation. In order for this incident to be classified as a reincarnation, Moses and Elijah would have had to reappear as someone else, not as themselves.

John the Baptist and Elijah
And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" He answered, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. ~ Matthew 17:10-16
At first glance, this may appear to some as an example of reincarnation. After all, didn't Elijah return in the body of John the Baptist? Isn't that what the text is saying? No.

The disciples ask Jesus the question, "Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" The scribes would have been referring to Malachi 4:5-6. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction."

The birth and ministry of John the Baptist is a fulfillment of this prophesy. Yet when asked directly if he was Elijah, he emphatically answered, "no."
He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then?) Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. ~ John 1:20-28
So, if John the Baptist was not the reincarnation of Elijah, who was he?

John the Baptist did not come as the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah. He came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). As the prophet Elijah was sent to Israel by God to call the people to repent of their sin and to return to God, so to John the Baptist was sent to the people of Israel with the same prophetic call--two different prophets called by God to herald the same message to God's people.

And here's one more piece of evidence that destroys the notion that John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnate. Elijah never died a physical death.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you." And Elisha said, "Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me." And he said, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so." And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, "My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more. ~ 2 Kings 2:9-12
In order for John the Baptist to be Elijah reincarnate, Elijah would first have to die a physical death and then return as another person.

The Blind Beggar

Another proof text for reincarnationists is John 9:1:3.
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?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Again, at first glance, it may appear that the disciples are suggesting that the blind beggar sinned in a previous life and that is why he was born blind in his present life. But this is not the case.

At the time of Jesus' earthly ministry, there were those among the Jewish people who believed that a child was capable of sinning within their mother's womb. They believed this way in an attempt to rationalize in their minds the reality that children were born with various birth defects and maladies. Many Jews at the time believed that all disease was a consequence, a punishment, for sinful behavior. They also believed that childhood death and illness could be the result of the sins of the child's parents (see 2 Samuel 12:13-23).

Had it been the case that the man's life-long blindness was possibly the result of sin in a previous life, or as a result of some sin on the part of the man's parents, Jesus would have said so. Instead, Jesus makes it clear that the man's blindness was not the result of the man's sin (in the womb or in a previous life), or any sin committed on the part of the parents. God, in His sovereignty, allowed the man to be born blind so that at that precise moment in history the man's blindness would be the catalyst of yet another miracle performed by God the Son; so that God the Father would be glorified through the Son and through the man's physical healing.

There are other passages from which reincarnationists try to draw support for their beliefs; but their arguments are even weaker than in the passages we have considered, here.

The Bible gives several amazing accounts of people being resuscitated after they died. The Bible also gives details accounts of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as prophetic announcements of the future resurrection of both the living and the dead--to glory and to judgment. But there are no biblical examples or teachings to support the belief in reincarnation.