What Is the Bible’s View?
Have You Ever Lived Before?
DID you ever meet someone for the first time, only to feel that he was an old acquaintance? Or, have you traveled to a new location and yet apparently recalled it very well? English novelist Charles Dickens said this about such an experience: “If I had been murdered there in some former life I could not have seemed to remember the place more thoroughly or with more emphatic chilling of the blood.”—Pictures from Italy.
Experiences like these have caused some people to think that they have had previous lives. While their viewpoints vary somewhat, basically such individuals believe in reincarnation. They think that human creatures have souls that pass into other bodies after death occurs.
Reincarnation was taught in ancient Egypt, and a significant teaching of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras was transmigration of the soul. Today Buddhists and many Hindus believe in reincarnation, and it is gaining increased acceptance in the West. Some believe that the Bible supports this concept. For that matter, Cyril Richardson, professor of church history at New York city’s Union Theological Seminary, commented: “I would say that reincarnation is compatible with Christianity.”
So, you may wonder: Does strange familiarity with entirely new acquaintances and places prove reincarnation to be a fact? Do the Scriptures support this belief?
First, please consider the feeling that you may have had, that you already knew a person with whom you were newly becoming acquainted. Does this indicate that you knew that person in a former life? Well, have you ever mistaken one man or woman for another who is now living? Many individuals have had that experience because some contemporaries have similar mannerisms or even look almost identical. So, seeming familiarity with a new acquaintance is not proof of reincarnation.
Then, what about a new but apparently familiar place, perhaps a particular house? Does seeming familiarity with it mean that you lived there during a former life? No, the house may not even be old enough for that to be so. Moreover, many houses look very much alike. And, is it not true that scenery in some widely separated places looks very similar? Obviously, then, such similarities do not prove reincarnation to be a fact.
But we are not dependent upon mere deduction. When consulting the Bible, one nowhere finds the expressions “reincarnation” and “transmigration of the soul.” As it is, if reincarnation did take place, the human soul would have to be immortal. Is it? Not according to the Scriptures, which say: “Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7) As you can see, it is not said that God put an immortal soul in man. Neither here nor elsewhere in Scripture is anything said about an immortal soul as being separate and distinct from the human body.
The Bible does not say that the soul lives on when death occurs. Rather, it speaks of the deceased person as a “dead soul.” (Num. 6:6) More pointedly, the Scriptures say: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezek. 18:4, 20) That includes all imperfect humans who have died, for “who can say: ‘I have cleansed my heart; I have become pure from my sin’?” (Prov. 20:9) Hence, the Bible shows that when a human dies, the soul dies.
What, then, is the condition of the dead? When man dies, “he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” (Ps. 146:4) The dead “are conscious of nothing at all,” and there is neither work, nor devising, nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the common grave of mankind. (Eccl. 9:5, 10) Moreover, it cannot properly be said that animal souls transmigrate into humans. Why not? Because God’s Word states: “There is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies.” (Eccl. 3:19) Yes, the dead, whether man or beast, really are dead.
Nevertheless, some people believe that Jesus Christ made statements supporting reincarnation. For instance, with reference to John the Baptist, Jesus once said: “Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him but did with him the things they wanted.” (Matt. 17:12, 13) Did this mean that Christ was identifying John as the reincarnated Elijah? Certainly John himself knew he was not that Hebrew prophet, for when asked, “Are you Elijah?” he said, “I am not.” (John 1:21) But, as foretold, John prepared the way before Jehovah’s Messiah. “With Elijah’s spirit and power,” John urged the Jews to repent of their sins against God. (Luke 1:16, 17; Mal. 4:5, 6) So, when Jesus said “Elijah has already come,” he was showing that John the Baptist fulfilled prophecy by doing a work like that of Elijah.
On another occasion, concerning a blind man, some disciples asked Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?” (John 9:1, 2) Says the book Reincarnation, An East-West Anthology: “The disciples must have had the idea of reincarnation in mind, for obviously if the man had been born blind, his sin could not have been committed in this life.”
Even if these particular disciples had not followed Jesus very long, were they thinking about transmigration of souls? Or, were they influenced by the Jewish Pharisees, who said that “the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies”? (Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chap. VIII, ¶14) It is more likely that the disciples believed the Scriptures and knew that the soul is not immortal. Yet, since even a baby developing in the womb has life and was conceived in sin, they may have wondered whether such an unborn child could have sinned.—Ex. 21:22-25; Ps. 51:5.
In either event, Jesus’ reply did not uphold reincarnation or any suggestion that the developing child sinned before birth. He knew that not all calamities befall persons because of sins they have committed, but that there is also an inheritance of human defects and imperfections from the sinful first man, Adam. (Job 14:4; Luke 13:1-5) So, before taking steps to effect a cure, Jesus said: “Neither this man sinned nor his parents.” (John 9:3-7) Christ’s answer did not support reincarnation, but harmonized with the Scriptural truth that the human soul is mortal.
It is evident, then, that you have never lived before. But Jesus did declare: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [my] voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) Not through reincarnation, but by restoration to life in the resurrection will dead ones live again. Why not ask Jehovah’s witnesses for Biblical details about this marvelous provision of the Life-Giver, Jehovah God?