IS REINCARNATION A CHRISTIAN CONCEPT?
In the growing vogue of spiritualism, clairvoyance, ESP, and other forms of psychic behavior, the world is being bombarded with repeated claims that reincarnation is both a reality and a concept sanctioned by the Bible. Let us have a look at what reincarnation purports to be and what the Bible has to say about it.
WHAT REINCARNATION MEANS
Reincarnation or metempsychosis is a belief in the transmigration of souls both in life and after the death of the body. This doctrine is closely associated with the ancient Egyptians, Hindus and Buddhists, and with many primitive religious sects. History reveals that the idea was never accepted among ancient Jews. It is repudiated by orthodox Christian theologians and was only embraced by certain isolated Gnostic sects in the first centuries and by the Manichaeans during the 4th and 5th centuries.
Basically, the idea is that the soul is separable from the body, and not only that, but during sleep it may roam about and take on some different embodiment such as a weasel, a mouse, or in India, an insect. Furthermore, at death the soul may pass into an insect (the Chang Nagas in India say singers become cicadas and other dung beetles); into a bearcat (so in Borneo); into a tree, a flower, or even dew (so in Burma); and, of course, into another body. In some groups it is believed that the soul becomes dew and thus enters the human body. In other schools the soul becomes rain which waters the earth, is absorbed by vegetables, is in turn consumed by man, and finally passes to the womb of a woman where it is reborn.
Interestingly, the early Hindus believed in the Christian concept of a fixed heaven and hell for the souls of the dead. The idea of reincarnation did not appear in Hindu thought until about 600 B.C. Presently, it is mixed with the concept of karma (or deeds), whereby the condition of a soul at rebirth is thought to be fixed by the deeds of its former life-the wicked return as insects, the good return as people.
Basically, for them life is like the Buddhist concept of a great wheel, an endless cycle of repeated appearances and sufferings. The cycle can only be escaped by such a complete denial of all fleshly desires and cravings that the karma, which is thought to be fastened to the soul, ceases to be generated at all. Only then can nirvana, or eternal bliss, be guaranteed.
Two of the corollaries of reincarnation must be a fixed number of souls in the universe and the creation of all of them before the appearance of the first human being.
REINCARNATION AND CHRISTIANITY
From the foregoing discussion of reincarnation, any student of the Bible would immediately perceive that the doctrine of reincarnation is at odds with the following biblical principles:
- The unique nature and worth of each individual human being.
- The concept of the image of God in man.
- The concept of the creation of man.
- The concept of individual salvation through Jesus Christ and the idea of a spiritual new birth.
- The concept of a general and special resurrection for each individual who has lived.
- The concept of judgment, rewards, and punishments for each individual living and dead.
- The concept of the responsibility of man before God on the one hand, and the concept of the daily interaction of God with His people on the other hand. In short, the idea of reincarnation does away with the entire framework of biblical Christianity.
Following, arranged according to topic, are some Scriptures that support the above points (there are literally thousands available.):
The Unique Nature and Worth of Man in God's Image
- God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27).
- Man was not an animal, and could not become one, but was given dominion over all the animals (Genesis 1:28).
- Jesus said, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?'' (Mark 8:36,37)
- The Psalmist asks, "What is man...Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty'' (Psalm 8:4,5).
The Concept of the Creation of Man
- We are told that at creation God took the dust of the ground, breathed on it, and man became a living "nephesh'' or soul. The first man's soul or being was a special creation by God in His image. The second human, Eve, also was specially created from the substance of the man (Genesis 1 & 2). There is no reference here to a soul entering the bodies from a preexistent pool of souls.
- The first birth was the result of the free choice of Adam and Eve to have a child. "Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. . . .'' (Genesis 4:1). God had given man the ability to reproduce offspring in God's image. Each conception thereafter was the origin of a unique soul. Biblically, there is no existence of an individual prior to conception.
- In Hebrews we do not find the concept of reincarnation, but of special conception, when the writer speaks of Levi still being in the loins of Abraham, his ancestor, when Melchizedek met him (Hebrews 7:10).
- It might be said that every listing of specific genealogy in the Bible negates reincarnation. Paul says, "For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin'' (Romans 11:1). Jesus' genealogy extends in unbroken succession for at least 4,000 years back to Adam. Each person mentioned is a unique individual (Matthew 1 and Luke 3). How absurd to conclude that each of these people is not who the Bible says he is, but only a body housing some other "soul.''
The Concept of Salvation
Probably the greatest verse in the Bible is John 3:16. The whole concept of Christianity indicates that Jesus died in order that each individual person might have eternal life.
The 2nd chapter of Hebrews presents a masterful treatment of the entire plan of salvation. God intends to bring men into His glory as individual sons through the suffering of Jesus who, through death, destroyed the power of death. He thereby freed those who, through fear of death, were subject to lifelong bondage. What a far cry this is from the "wheel of fate,'' the cessation of all desire, and the other trappings of non-Christian religion.
The Concept of Last Things
1. A most emphatic statement of the biblical basis of the finality of death is found in Hebrews 9:27: "It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.'' Absolutely no ground is left for any belief in a second physical birth, a series of lives, or any similar concept. Life on earth is a unique experience and is terminated by death. After physical death there is a continuation of life in either a place of reward or a place of punishment.
Jesus made this clear in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man found in Luke 16:19-31. In this account Lazarus died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, was buried, and regained consciousness in hell. In torment, he lifted up his eyes, and recognizing Abraham and Lazarus in another realm, he cried out to them to help him. However, no help could be given him because, as Abraham said, "Between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.''
Note in this account the following elements:
a) The separate states of life, death, and life after death.
b) The continuing identity of individuals in these three states.
c) The consciousness among the dead of their own identity and of their relation to people in the afterlife and to people on earth.
d) The absolute finality of the after-death condition of punishment and reward, with no chance to go from hell to heaven or from hell back to earth.
These same principles were apparent in the words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians when he boldly asserted, ``For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake'' (Philippians 1:21,23,24). To restate it, the Apostle Paul considered only two alternatives. One was a life of service on earth for Jesus Christ. The second was a life after death in the immediate presence of Christ. To him there simply was no other alternative. It should, of course, be pointed out that there have been two Old Testament exceptions and one New Testament exception to the rule of Hebrews 10:27. Enoch and Elijah did not die but were physically translated. However, although the mode of getting there was slightly different, their destination was still the habitation of the righteous dead. The New Testament exception, of course, takes place at the second coming of Christ when the living church is instantly raptured and the body of each of the members is changed into a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:51,52).
2. Of course, all the biblical accounts of the resurrection of the body of both Jesus Christ and of other people, both good and bad, are directly contrary to the teachings of reincarnation. Jesus died, but after three days was raised from the dead. He had, after his resurrection, a new body. Although this body could do unusual things such as traverse solid walls, it was recognizable to those who knew Jesus. In fact, the resurrection body of Jesus retained certain of the wounds of His former body.
Note here again that after death Jesus was conscious of His continuous identity. So were those disciples who were privileged to see Him. At each subsequent appearance, it was clear that Jesus of Nazareth was still alive. Never is there a suggestion that His identity was destroyed by death or changed into some other form of life.
In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes this statement about the Christian concept of a resurrection for all human beings. Indeed, from the beginning of this discussion, it has been made clear that, as Paul says, "if there is no resurrection of the dead then there is no Christian faith and we as Christians are the most miserable of men.'' Therefore, according to Paul, a doctrine like reincarnation, if true, would destroy the entire framework of revealed and inspired Christianity. To put it plainly, belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central fact of the Christian faith. A person who believes in the doctrine of reincarnation cannot simultaneously have the necessary faith to be a Christian.
Scripture references are taken form the New American Standard translation of the bible.
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