I first started believing in reincarnation when reading a book. But you may be surprised to know that it was a secular book, Twenty Cases of Reincarnation by Ian Stevenson, a professor and psychiatrist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine (d. 2007).
Dr. Stevenson stumbled on this accidentally when taking a patient back to birth and the patient “remembered” a life before birth. Dr. Stevenson became interested and started investigating as well as taking other patients “back” to a time previous to this life.
I also read about Vedanta, the non-dual branch of Hinduism (non-dual means monism, that there are no distinctions in reality; not all Hinduism is non-dual). This book and Stevenson’s book convinced me that reincarnation made sense. When I got deeper into Eastern and esoteric New Age spirituality, I came across more ideas on reincarnation, and I had spontaneous “flashbacks” to past lives. I also took Past Life Regression workshops during which I would have “memories” of previous lives. These experiences were very convincing.
Reincarnation is the philosophical or religious concept that an aspect of a living being starts a new life in a different physical body or form after each biological death. It is also called rebirth or transmigration, and is a part of the Samsara doctrine of cyclic existence. From Wikipedia
Does the Bible Support Reincarnation?
The verses below are often used by those who believe in reincarnation to claim that the Bible teaches it. I heard many of these in the New Age, but there are Christians who wonder about how to respond to these verses:
* Matthew 11:14 and 17:12-13, concerning the identity of John the Baptist as Elijah
* John 9:2, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
* John 3:3, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”
* Galatians 6:7, “A man reaps what he sows”
* Matthew 26:52, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword”
Matthew 11, John the Baptist and Elijah
No belief in reincarnation existed among the Hebrews or in biblical Judaism. Jesus, as a Jew, was not endorsing reincarnation here. To say that John the Baptist was Elijah was a reference to the prophecy in Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”
Hebrews were familiar with types, that is, someone who was a type of another. John the Baptist preached as Elijah did, in the wilderness and with a similar message of repentance. This was foretold in Luke 1:17 concerning the birth of John the Baptist:
“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous- to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Going “in the spirit and power of Elijah” is to say that John the Baptist would be preaching as Elijah did, and with the power of God, to people who were turning away from God.
Moreover, the idea of Elijah coming back was not based on belief in reincarnation but the fact that Elijah did not have a natural death. He was taken by God up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Therefore, some may have wondered if Elijah would really come back since he did not have the normal death. In fact, some priests and Levites asked John the Baptist in John 1:21 if he was Elijah. John answered simply and plainly, “I am not.”
John 9:2, Issue of Blind Man
When the Jews asked Jesus if the blind man in John 9 was blind due to his sin or his parents’ sin, they were not referring to reincarnation. It was believed by many Jews that someone could sin in the womb, so the Jews thought this man had maybe done that. As for the parents’ sins, that was from the Old Testament that children could suffer the consequences of their parents’ sins (see Exodus 20:5), though this specified parents who had turned away from God.
Again, no belief in reincarnation is ever referred to by Jesus and such belief did not exist among the Jews.
John 3:3, Being Born Again
Jesus, in speaking with Nicodemus clarified what being “born again” means when he said one must be born “of water and the Spirit” (verse 5). Jesus expressed surprise that Nicodemus, being a Jew, would not know this. Why? Because Jesus was likely referring not to water baptism but to Ezekiel 36:25-27 which says in part,
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.”
What is this clean water? This is a reference to the spiritual cleansing by God of sinners through their faith in the one true God in the Old Testament. In fact, water is one of the prevailing themes in the Gospel of John so this passage is quite appropriate.
This could also be a reference to being born of the Holy Spirit (“born again” is translated also “born from above”). Here is more information:
Excerpt from seminary paper by Marcia Montenegro: “Since Jesus has just told Nicodemus that one must be “born from above” (or “born again” in some translations) in verse 3 and repeats it in verse 7, this statement about being born of water and the Spirit can be seen as a parallel, equating being born from above with being born “of water and the Spirit.” Does this mean literal water, as in water baptism?
One commentary on this statement offers the view that just as Jesus goes on to equate the Spirit with wind (v. 8), so water and wind can both be seen as metaphors for the Holy Spirit, based on Isaiah 44:3-5 and Ezekiel 37:9-10. The Ezekiel passage is on breath and winds. (This is from The NET Bible [Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., www.bible.org, 2005], study note, 2028.)
Isaiah 44.3 declares, “For I will pour water on the parched ground and cause streams to flow on the dry land. I will pour my spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your children.” There is a parallel between pouring water and pouring the spirit.
The commentary states that since the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages are about the restoration of Israel before the messianic kingdom is established, then using water and Spirit together for entrance into the kingdom makes sense.” Fom seminary paper by Marcia Montenegro in personal files
Looking in the context of John’s Gospel on the incarnation of the Son of God, it states: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12, 13). So here is another reference to a spiritual birth in the same Gospel.
Yet another view holds that the “water” is a reference to the washing of God’s word.
The context of both Old and New Testament clearly demonstrate that Jesus is not speaking of reincarnation or anything like it. Jesus consistently referred to and reinforced spiritual truths of the Hebrew scriptures.
Galatians 6:7, Reaping What One Sows
What is the meaning and point of the Galatians verses about reaping what one sows?
The Expositor’s Greek New Testament comments on verse 8:
Every action produces an effect on the character of the actor corresponding as exactly to its motive as the fruit to the seed. If it springs from selfish desire, it stimulates the growth of evil lusts, and issues in a harvest of inward corruption. If, on the contrary, it be done in obedience to the spirit, it quickens spiritual growth, and issues eventually in a harvest of eternal life. The heart of man resembles a field in which he sows, by the mere exercise of his will, a future harvest of good or evil. See this and other commentaries on Bible Hub
This passage in Galatians is written to Christians and is part of an exhortation as we see in the next 2 verses:
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. Verses 9 and 10
This has nothing to do with the popular notion of “what goes around comes around,” but rather that our deeds are either undertaken to gratify the flesh, that is, the fallen nature, and will end destructively, or they are done according to the power of the Holy Spirit and for God’s glory, leading to results that have eternal value in accordance with eternal life.
From the Pulpit commentary on this passage:
That is, he that expends thought, time, effort, money, upon the furthering, in himself and in others, of the fruits of the Spirit, shall receive, from that Holy Spirit to whose guidance dwelling within him he resigns himself, that quickening of his whole being, body, soul, and spirit, for an everlasting existence in glory, which it is the proper work of that Divine Agent to effect. From Bible Hub commentaries
The contrast is between sowing to the flesh (fallen nature) and sowing to the Spirit, the flesh vs. the Holy Spirit being a common theme in Paul’s letters. “Flesh” here does not mean the body, as though the body is bad, nor is it about one’s spirit being good, since it’s about the Holy Spirit. Nor is it denouncing pleasure. Rather, this is about living by/pleasing the fallen nature, i.e., the sinful nature, vs. living by the Holy Spirit. The results will be different depending on which way one chooses. (See CANA article on Karma)
Matthew 26:52, Dying by the Sword
It is always good to look at the context of any passage being quoted.
Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matthew 26:51-54
The passage above follows the betrayal by Judas. Jesus is about to be seized by the Roman soldiers, so one of his disciples cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant (we find out in John 18:10 that this is Peter who cuts the ear off). Jesus reprimands the disciples, telling them to not use swords because they will “perish” — that is, they will be killed by the Romans for trying to protect Jesus. Jesus also points out that what is happening must happen to fulfill the prophecies of Scripture that Jesus would be beaten and killed at the hands of men. He had told this to his disciples several times though they did not grasp it until later.
Clearly, Jesus was not making a universal statement or law that all who use the sword will die by the sword. These words were restricted to the specific situation of Jesus’ arrest. It is common for people to take one sentence or phrase from the Bible and repeat it as though it applies to everything. The way to cure this problem is to look at the context.
See article from Bible Study Tools on Scripture that shows reincarnation cannot be true.
The Appeal of Reincarnation
Reincarnation is alluring in the West because it focuses on self, and many people enjoy the idea of past lives. It is a staple of New Age thinking. In India, however, reincarnation is seen as a prison that one needs to escape through various trials, teachings, and practices.
But if we closely examine the consequences of belief in reincarnation, we find that it has a hidden cruelty. Reincarnation teaches that what happens to someone is what they deserve from a past life (karma), so everything is their fault. Think about what this means for victims of rape, child abuse, or murder. Those who believe in reincarnation often will immediately wonder, “What did that person do (in a previous life) to have that happen now?” The belief in reincarnation also leads people in some cultures to ignore the suffering of others, because they are suffering the consequences of past lives.
Belief in reincarnation is a spiritual deception, not an intellectual one. So please do not think that people who believe this are “flaky” or are naive. Millions of people believe in it, but of course, that does not make it true. I am no genius, but I graduated with High Honors from college and could get by in 4 foreign languages to varying degrees when I believed in reincarnation.
In Contrast to Reincarnation
The biggest challenge to the unsubstantiated claims of reincarnation is the truth of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God sent Jesus who willingly lay down His life on the cross to take the penalty for sins so that all who believe in Him have eternal life. Jesus died “once for all.” It was an act with finality that brings eternal results.
Even if one were to hypothetically have thousands of reincarnated lives to live, he or she could never be good enough or do enough good things to earn forgiveness and have eternal life. It must be only by faith in the true Jesus, the Son of God.
For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. Hebrews 7:26-28
Christian site, Karma2Grace Articles: There is no article on reincarnation but several on aspects of Hindu belief in light of Christiianity