Christian Reincarnation-The Controversy
- Hebrews 9:27 Does Not Disprove Reincarnation
- Christian Reincarnation-The Controversy
- The Doctrine Itself
- Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
- More Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
- The Book of Revelation Teaches Reincarnation Part I
- The Book of Revelation Teaches Reincarnation Part II
- The Mystery of God in Humanity
- The Council of Nicea
- The Fifth General Council
Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
Scriptural Support for Reincarnation
There are many Bible verses which are suggestive of reincarnation. One episode in particular from the healing miracles of Christ seems to point to reincarnation:
“And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus answered, ‘Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'” (John 9:1)
The disciples ask the Lord if the man himself could have committed the sin that led to his blindness. Given the fact that the man has been blind from birth, we are confronted with a provocative question. When could he have made such transgressions as to make him blind at birth? The only conceivable answer is in some prenatal state. The question as posed by the disciples explicitly presupposes prenatal existence. It will also be noted that Christ says nothing to dispel or correct the presupposition. Here is incontrovertible support for a doctrine of human preexistence.
Also very suggestive of reincarnation is the episode where Jesus identifies John the Baptist as Elijah.
“For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14)
“And the disciples asked him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ But he answered them and said, ‘Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.’ Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:10-13)
Here again is a clear statement of preexistence. Despite the edict of the Emperor Justinian and the counter reaction to Origen, there is firm and explicit testimony for preexistence in both the Old and the New Testament. Indeed, the ban against Origen notwithstanding, contemporary Christian scholarship acknowledges preexistence as one of the elements of Judeo-Christian theology.
As for the John the Baptist-Elijah episode, there can be little question as to its purpose. By identifying the Baptist as Elijah, Jesus is identifying himself as the Messiah. Throughout the gospel narrative there are explicit references to the signs that will precede the Messiah.
“Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5)
This is one of the many messianic promises of the Old Testament. One of the signs that the true Messiah has come, according to this passage from Malachi, is that he be preceded by a forerunner, by Elijah.
Although the Bible also contains other reincarnational passages, these Elijah-John passages constitute clear proof of reincarnation:
1. The Old Testament prophesied that Elijah himself (not someone “like” him or someone “similar” to him, but Elijah himself) would return before the advent of the Messiah.
2. Jesus declared that John the Baptist was Elijah who had returned, stating bluntly “Elijah has come”.
Now, based on these passages alone, either (A) or (B) must be true:
(A) John the Baptist was Elijah himself, meaning that Elijah had reincarnated. If this is true, then reincarnation must belong in Christian theology, and the West’s entire doctrinal interpretation of “Life After Death” in general, and the “Last Day Resurrection” in particular, must be radically revised, or…
(B) John the Baptist was not Elijah himself, meaning that Elijah himself had not returned. If this is so, then either:
(1) The Old Testament prophecy about Elijah returning before the Messiah failed to come to pass (meaning that Biblical prophecy is fallible), OR
(2) Jesus was not the Messiah.
Basically, it comes down to this simple question: What do you want to believe? One of the following A, B, or C, must logically be true:
A. Reincarnation is true, or
B. Jesus was not the Messiah, or
C. The prophecies of the Bible are unreliable.
As surely as two and two make four, one of the above must be true. At any rate, the passage in which Jesus says in no uncertain terms that John was Elijah is “overt” and direct:
“But I tell you, Elijah has come.” (Mark 9:13)
The following verse is used to refute the John the Baptist/Elijah reincarnation connection. The Bible tells us that John the Baptist possessed,
“… the spirit and power of Elijah.” (Luke 1:17)
Those who refute this reincarnation connection say that John the Baptist merely came in the spirit and power of Elijah. However, this is a perfect description of reincarnation: the spirit and power. This is reincarnation – the reincarnation of the spirit. The Bible itself states that John the Baptist possessed the spirit that had previously lived in, and as, the man Elijah – not his physical being and memory, but his spirit.
John carried Elijah’s living spirit, but not his physical memory. And since John did not possess Elijah’s physical memory, he did not possess the memories of being the man Elijah. Thus, John the Baptist denied being Elijah when asked:
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:21-27)
But Jesus knew better, and said so in the plainest words possible:
“This is the one … there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:11-15).
It comes down to this: Jesus said John was Elijah, and John said he wasn’t. Which of the two is to be believed – Jesus or John?
There is a prophecy in the Book of Revelation concerning the days before the second coming of Christ. Two prophets are predicted to appear at this time working the same miracles and performing the same ministries as those of Elijah and Moses.
“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lamp-stands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” (Revelation 11:3-6)
While the verses in Revelation do not specifically identify the two prophets to come as Elijah and Moses, it strongly suggests that it is them. If Elijah and Moses are to “rise” again before the second coming of Christ, then it is clear they only possible way for them to do so is through reincarnation. After the death of John the Baptist, whom Jesus identified as Elijah, Elijah appears again along with Moses at the Mount of Transfiguration:
“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters– one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face-down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:1-13)
The scriptures strongly suggest a connection between Elijah and Moses with the ministries of Jesus. Since Jesus already identified Elijah as appearing during his first ministry, it is not hard to conclude that Elijah will appear again at Jesus’ second coming. Even the Old Testament suggests this will be the case:
“Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5)
This is one of the many messianic promises of the Old Testament. It was fulfilled during Jesus’ first coming and there is reason to believe it will happen again during Jesus’ second coming.
Due to the condemnation of reincarnation by church authorities some 500 years after Jesus left the scene, this doctrine has become an alien, even enemy concept to the Judeo-Christian West. However, it is reasonably certain that reincarnation was not an alien concept to the people Jesus preached to, nor, to Jesus himself. As a natural geographic crossroads, the land of Israel enjoyed a strong and steady flow of both foreign travelers and foreign ideas; the doctrine of rebirth is not only likely to have been a familiar concept in 1st century Israel, but actually seems to have been widely considered a distinct possibility. Even though the idea later became a heresy to the people of the Christian Empire, during the life of Jesus, at least, reincarnation was an open question in the minds of many.
From time to time in Jewish history, there had been an insistent belief that their prophets were reborn. The Samaritans believed that Adam had reincarnated as Seth, then Noah, Abraham, and even Moses. Christ’s countrymen seem to have thought of the doctrine of reincarnation as an intriguing, if unproven theory; the Israelites were aware, of course, that their sacred scriptures didn’t specifically endorse this theory, but, since they didn’t condemn it either, the general population apparently felt it best to keep an open mind about the whole idea. To the chagrin of traditional Christian doctrine, it was apparently actually rather common for Christ’s contemporaries to innocently wonder aloud if Jesus himself was the reincarnation of some earlier prophet:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:14)
His disciples replied:
“Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Considering such widespread conjecture about the doctrine of reincarnation in 1st century Israel, the people of his own time undoubtedly assumed Jesus had been openly promoting this doctrine when he claimed that the man now known as John the Baptist was the same man who centuries earlier had been the famous prophet Elijah.
Confronted by these rumors that His countrymen believed in reincarnation, did Jesus take this opportunity to deny and refute this doctrine? No. Instead, He made statements that seem to support reincarnation.
Jesus was sometimes taken to be a reincarnation of one of the prophets. An example of this is when Jesus asked:
“Whom do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27)
The consensus of opinion seems to have been that He was a reincarnation of either John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets. It is hard to see how Jesus could have been a reincarnation of the prophet by whom He was baptized, but that has not deterred these believers in reincarnation around Jesus.
Another Bible verse has Paul discussing the process of “resurrection” (i.e. reincarnation):
“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
Another verse suggestive of reincarnation can be found when Jesus declares the following to the believers in the Church of Philadelphia:
“Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.” (Revelation 3:12)
Jesus is stating that people were once inhabitants of the temple of God. This is strongly suggestive of preexistence and reincarnation. As soon as the person overcomes (the world) the person becomes a permanent inhabitant of this temple and never again has to leave it. The flip-side to this is that those who do not overcome must leave this temple of God only to return when they overcome the world.
Another verse in the Book of Revelation suggests reincarnation:
“She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” (Revelation 12:5)
This verse describes the birth of a child who is taken to heaven after birth. The interesting aspect is that this child is to rule all the nations with an iron scepter. Because the child was taken to heaven after birth, reincarnation is the only way the child can return to the world in order to grow up and “rule all nations”. Although Revelations is mostly symbolic and is often quite abstract, this verse implies the ability to incarnate more than once.
There is another reference to reincarnation in the gospels; an indirect reference, yet an unmistakable one. In all three of the synoptic gospels, Jesus promised that anyone leaving their homes, wives, mothers, fathers, children, or farms to follow him would personally receive hundreds more such homes, families, and so on in the future. Jesus said:
“No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or wife or children or land for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields … and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
Outside of the doctrine of reincarnation it’s difficult to imagine how such a promise could be fulfilled. In one lifetime, one can only have a single set of real parents, and no one seriously proposes that each of the 70 original disciples, who actually did leave their homes and families, ever received as compensation a hundred wives, a hundred fields, and so on. Either this statement of Jesus’ occurred when he was waxing so poetic as to allow a falsehood to pass his lips, or he was making a promise that only many reincarnations could fulfill.
The following passage in the Book of Hebrews, especially the italisized sentence, is a clear statement of the concept of reincarnation.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country– a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Indeed the reincarnationist can even find scriptural support for personal disincarnate preexistence. Origen took the following Bible verse as proof of preexistence:
“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight and love.” (Ephesians 1:4)
Jerome, who is just as uncomfortable as Justinian about preexistence, interprets the passage to mean that we preexisted, not in distinct disincarnate form, but simply in the mind of God (Against Rufinus 1.22), and from this throng of thoughts God chose the elect before the creation of the world. The distinction is indeed a fine one, for Jerome is asking us to distinguish between that which exists as a soul and that which exists as a thought. What is illuminating for the reincarnationist is that this passage from Ephesians offers very explicit scriptural testimony for individual preexistence.
Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:11-13 both state that God loved Jacob, but hate Esau even before they were born. These verses are highly suggestive of the pre-existence of Esau, a necessary tenet associated with reincarnation.
The same concept of pre-existence can also be found in the following Bible verse:
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)
Other words uttered by Christ are suggestive of reincarnation. In the gospels, Jesus reveals information about His return and who will witness it. Several times, He has mentioned that some people alive during His day will be around when He returns. One example is when Jesus gave His Olivet Discourse about His second coming. His disciples ask about His return and inquire as to the signs that would proceed His return. After Jesus reveals the signs of His coming, He states,
“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24:34).
It can be argued that Jesus is pointing to a time in the future when those around Him inquiring about this will reincarnate and experience His second coming. Another example is when Jesus states,
“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28).
The question now is this: what is it to “taste death until He comes”? The concept of a person having to “taste death until the Lord comes” is a good description of reincarnation and of what the Bible refers to as the “First Death”. The First Death is spiritual death, separation from God. When we are born, we are born into spiritual death and it requires some action on our part to break out of it and enter into spiritual life. These verses all are suggestive of reincarnation.
It can be deduced from the scriptures the fact that Christ Himself had many incarnations in the flesh. It is well known that the apostle Paul wrote of Adam as:
“… a pattern of the one who was to come (i.e. Jesus)” (Romans 5:14)
Paul drew between Adam and Christ a parallel that was also a contrast:
“The first Adam became a living being; the last Adam (i.e. Jesus) became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Christ is thus seen as the last Adam, the “one man” who by his obedience undoes the results of the disobedience of the first (Romans 5:12-21). Jesus Christ recapitulated the stages of Adam’s fall, but in reverse order and quality.
The belief in many incarnation of Jesus is not a new belief. The early Judeo-Christian group known as the Ebionites taught that the Spirit had come as Adam and later reincarnated as Jesus. Other Jewish Christian groups such as the Elkasaites and Nazarites also believed this. The Clementine Homilies, an early Christian document, also taught many incarnations of Jesus.
Another possible incarnation of Christ is the Old Testament figure known as Melchizedek, the High Priest and King of Salem, who:
“…without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3).
It is clear from the scripture that Melchizedek was no ordinary man, assuming He even was a man – for what kind of man has no father or mother, is without genealogy, and without beginning of days or end of life? Whoever this Melchizedek was, the scriptures declare Jesus to be a:
“.. priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:17).
It may be argued that Melchizedek was one of the incarnations of Jesus. Certainly it has to be acknowledged that Melchizedek was no ordinary man.
There are Bible verses that are highly suggestive of the “mechanics” of reincarnation. Before His arrest, Jesus stated:
“All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
Common sense tells us that not all people who live “by the sword” will die by the sword. This statement can only be true if meant in the context of a future life. If in this life you “live by the sword”, you will most certainly die, if not in the same life but a future life, “by the sword”. In fact, this concept is the ancient doctrine of “karma” as it is known in the East where reincarnation is the foundation of reality. Here are some other Biblical references to this concept:
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
“Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:24-25)
“In anger his master turned him over to the jailers until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18: 34-35)
“If any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.” (Revelation 13:10)
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26)
The above passages can be seen to at least be suggestive of reincarnation.
In James 3:6, some translations (such as the American Standard Version) mention “the wheel of nature” which seems to resemble the cycle of endless reincarnation stated by the Eastern religions. However, in this context the reference is made to the control of speech in order not to sin. The ASV translation states:
“And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)
The tongue out of control is compared with a fire that affects all aspects of existence, thought and deed, in a vicious cycle. This means that sinful speech is at the origin of many other sins, which are consequently generated, and conduct man to hell.
Nowhere in the Old Testament is reincarnation denied. Job asks:
“If a person dies will he live again?” (Job 14:14)
But he receives no answer.
Another Old Testament verse states:
“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again…What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4-9)
The Hebrew kabbalists interpreted this quote to mean that a generation dies and subsequently returns by the process of reincarnation.
In the New Testament, one verse in particular is often used to refute reincarnation. It is Hebrews 9:27.
“… man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment….” (Hebrews 9:27)
This is often assumed, reasonably enough, to declare that each human being lives once as a mortal on earth, dies once, and then faces judgment. But this verse, on it’s surface, not only applies to reincarnation, but to the modern concept of resurrection. In fact, if anything, this verse can be most applied to refuting modern Christianity’s definition of resurrection. Reincarnation states that the spirit leaves the body at death, faces judgment, then can enter a new and different body at a later time. In this way, Hebrews 9:27 does not refute reincarnation because it is not the same body that dies again. It implies one man/one death, which agrees with reincarnation, but totally disagrees with modern Christianity’s definition of resurrection which holds that after a body dies and faces judgment, his physical body will rise from the grave at a later day to face possible death again and judgment. So Hebrews 9:27 does not refute reincarnation after all, but does refute resurrection as modern Christianity defines it.
From all that has been said here, one can safely draw the conclusion that reincarnation was not only known by those in Christ’s day, by that Christ Himself and the Bible teaches it and reincarnation should be a doctrine acceptable by every follower of Christ.