Does God’s Word Teach Reincarnation?
ANYONE examining the Bible in hopes of finding support for the doctrine of reincarnation is bound to be disappointed. Nowhere will you find that humans have lived former lives. Furthermore, you will not find such expressions as “reincarnation” or “transmigration of the soul” or “immortal soul” in the Bible.
However, some who believe in reincarnation try to explain this lack of Biblical support by saying that the idea of reincarnation was so common in ancient times that any explanation would have been superfluous. True, the doctrine of reincarnation is very old, but regardless of how old it is or how common it was or was not, the question still remains, Does the Bible teach it?
At 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, the apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” Yes, the Bible is God’s inspired Word, his communication to the human family. And as Paul wrote, it enables the honest inquirer to be “fully competent, completely equipped” to answer all the important questions about life, including questions about the past, present, and future.
Paul also stated: “When you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) Since the Bible contains God’s thoughts, not those of imperfect man, it should not surprise us to find that the Bible frequently differs from man’s thoughts even if these have been popular throughout the years. But you may say, ‘Does not the Bible, in certain places, at least suggest reincarnation?’
Texts Wrongly Understood
Those who believe in reincarnation say that the Bible touches on the subject at Matthew 17:11-13, where Jesus connects John the Baptizer with the ancient prophet Elijah. This text reads: “‘Elijah, indeed, is coming and will restore all things. However, I say to you that Elijah has already come . . .’ Then the disciples perceived that he spoke to them about John the Baptist.”
In saying this, did Jesus mean that John the Baptizer was a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah? John himself knew that he was not. On one occasion when he was asked, “Are you Elijah?” John clearly answered: “I am not.” (John 1:21) It had, however, been foretold that John would precede the Messiah “with Elijah’s spirit and power.” (Luke 1:17; Malachi 4:5, 6) In other words, John the Baptizer was “Elijah” in the sense that he carried out a work comparable to that of Elijah.
At John 9:1, 2, we read: “Now as he [Jesus] was passing along he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him: ‛Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?’” Some who believe in reincarnation suggest that since this man was born blind, his sin must have occurred in a former life.
But whatever it was that gave rise to the disciples’ question, the answer Jesus gave must be the deciding factor. He declared: “Neither this man sinned nor his parents.” (John 9:3) This contradicts reincarnation, which implies that disabilities depend on sins from a former life. The point that nobody can sin before being born was also made by Paul when he wrote about Esau and Jacob that “they had not yet been born nor had practiced anything good or vile.”—Romans 9:11.
Resurrection, Not Reincarnation
Although the Bible does not support the reincarnation doctrine, nobody needs to feel disappointed. The Bible’s message offers something far more comforting than the idea of being reborn in a world filled with sickness, sorrow, pain, and death. And not only is what the Bible offers comforting but it is the truth, God’s own Word.
Paul expressed the encouraging doctrine in this way: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” The word “resurrection,” or some form of it, occurs over 50 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and Paul speaks of it as a primary doctrine of the Christian faith.—Acts 24:15; Hebrews 6:1, 2.
Resurrection from the dead means, obviously, that death exists. Nowhere in the Bible will you find any hint that man has an immortal soul. If man had an immortal soul that separated from the body at death and went to an everlasting destiny in heaven or in hell or was reincarnated, then there would be no need for a resurrection. On the other hand, some one hundred Bible texts show that the human soul is, not immortal, but mortal and destructible. The Bible consistently speaks of death as being the opposite of life, that is, nonexistence as contrasted with existence.
Death, or nonexistence, was the punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin against God. It was a punishment, not an entryway to an immortal life somewhere else. God clearly declared that they would go back to where they came from—the dust of the ground: “Out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) They had no immortal soul before they were created by God and put on earth, in the garden of Eden, and they had none after they died.
Resurrection from death is likened to awakening from sleep, or rest. For example, Jesus said of Lazarus whom he was going to resurrect: “Lazarus . . . has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” (John 11:11) Concerning the prophet Daniel, we read: “You will rest, but you will stand up for your lot at the end of the days.”—Daniel 12:13.
Eternal Life on Earth
What will be the lot of those who are resurrected from death? The Bible speaks of two kinds of resurrections—a heavenly one and an earthly one. The earthly resurrection is going to be the lot of the vast majority of those who have ever lived and died. Very few have a heavenly resurrection, to reign with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom of God. (Revelation 14:1-3; 20:4) When will the earthly resurrection begin? It will begin after this present wicked system is destroyed by God and “a new earth,” a righteous new human society, has become a reality.—2 Peter 3:13; Proverbs 2:21, 22; Daniel 2:44.
In the “new earth,” there will be no more sickness or suffering. Even death will no longer exist but will be replaced by the prospect of eternal life. “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Also, the psalmist foretold: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” (Psalm 37:29) Similarly, Jesus stated: “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth.”—Matthew 5:5.
Compare those grand promises of God with the doctrine of reincarnation. According to that idea, it is assumed that you return time after time to live in this same corrupt old system of things. That would mean you would continue to be surrounded by wickedness, suffering, sickness, and dying in an almost endless cycle. What a hopeless outlook that is!
Thus, the Bible answers the questions, Have you lived before? and, Will you live again? in this way: No, you have not lived any life other than the present one. But it is possible for you to make your life a lasting one, indeed, an eternal one. Today, in these “last days” of this present system, you can have the hope of surviving this world’s end and gaining entry into God’s new world without dying. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Revelation 7:9-15) Or if you die before God’s new world arrives, you can have the hope of being resurrected to eternal life on a paradise earth.—Luke 23:43.
If you exercise faith in Jesus, no matter what may happen, Jesus’ words to Martha when her brother Lazarus died apply also to you: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all.”—John 11:25, 26.
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Adam did not have an immortal soul but returned to the dust when he died
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God’s Word teaches resurrection, not reincarnation