What does the Bible Say about Reincarnation?


What Does the Bible Say About Reincarnation?

Eastern religions and a growing number of people in Western culture accept the belief that people are reincarnated after death. What does the Bible say about reincarnation?

First, a key verse in this discussion can be found in Hebrews 9:27: “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Scripture is clear we only live one time, not many.

Second, our decisions in this life determine our status in the next life. The Gospel of John emphasizes the eternal nature of the afterlife by mentioning “eternal life” 17 times. This includes the well-known verse in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Third, believers will also experience the potential for eternal rewards. For example, Jesus noted persecuted believers should, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).

Fourth, those who do not believe will experience eternal punishment and separation from God. Matthew 25:46 notes this contrast between unbelievers and believers in Christ: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Jude 1:7 adds those at Sodom and Gomorrah “serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

Fifth, if reincarnation was true, salvation through Jesus Christ would be unnecessary. Why? Reincarnation believes a person’s actions in this life (and past lives), referred to as karma, impacts future lives. In contrast, Jesus offers salvation as a gift based on His grace through faith alone: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Wrap Up on What does the Bible Say about Reincarnation

Consider the consequences of those who believe in reincarnation. Since there is no future judgment after this life, there is no need to be saved. If there is no need to be saved, there is no need to believe in Jesus as Lord (though this is essential according to Scripture in John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10). If there is no need to be saved, then there is no ultimate reason to live according to God’s teachings found in the Bible. People may then choose right and wrong according to the ethic of their choosing, leading to various forms of morality and immorality.

In contrast, Scripture reveals we live one life on this earth followed by eternity in the afterlife. To be with God for eternity in the afterlife, we require salvation through Jesus Christ to be made right with God (John 14:6). As followers of Jesus Christ, we then seek to know His teachings found in the Bible and live according to His ways. This includes a life known for loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:34-40) and focused on making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

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  1. Nancy beale on February 15, 2023 at 7:11 pm

    I have read several articles that talk about higher reincarnation..one article says that biblical passages related to John the Baptist only favour the concept of reincarnation if it is designated as a higher reincarnation or controlled reincarnation. And higher reincarnation is meant to assist the human search for God. Is this stuff about higher reincarnation in the Bible? I had never heard of it before. Please explain.. thanks

    • John Ankerberg Show Staff on February 23, 2023 at 1:18 pm

      Hi, Nancy! That’s a great question. Thanks for posting it. The Bible’s teaching on death and the afterlife denies all forms of reincarnation, including higher reincarnation (e.g., John the Baptist being a special reincarnation of Elijah from the Old Testament). In other words, the worldview consistently presented in Scripture (which involves bodily resurrection) excludes reincarnation in all its forms. Here are three of the main ways we see this.

      1) The Bible states that “People are destined to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). It is hard to put it more clearly than that.

      2) After death, the Bible says that one’s soul either goes to be with the Lord or “sleeps” in Sheol, a disembodied waiting place for the dead, until they “awake” for final judgment: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2); “the dust [i.e., one’s body] returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7); “Jesus answered him [the thief dying next to Him on the cross], ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise'” (Luke 23:43); Paul also uses language like “those who sleep in death” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). This analogy of sleep implies a level of dormancy that is incongruent with reincarnation. Furthermore, the Bible is clear that a person’s soul goes to one of these two locations immediately after death and stays there until the final judgment – the time when they “awake.”

      3) Scripture teaches that our perishable “bodies” (not just our souls) will be “resurrected” and “changed.” They are not discarded altogether and replaced by something entirely new. One of the places we see this is in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul likens the burying of our perishable bodies to the planting of a seed for it to one day be raised as a plant. While a major transformation certainly occurs, an element of congruency remains. Paul writes, “The body that is sown is perishable, it [referring to the body that is sown] is raised imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42). How God will do this is a mystery – much like the way God turns a seed into a plant. The point is that our bodies will be “raised” in a transformed state rather than “replaced” altogether. The Bible’s emphasis on bodily resurrection presents a framework that is incongruent with all forms of reincarnation. The Bible speaks of one’s body being changed, not the changing of bodies.

      Although some try to impose a reincarnational reading onto the text by exploiting analogical language (such as with John the Baptist and Elijah), Scripture as a whole consistently presents a worldview that is innately opposed to it. The three points above offer a snapshot of that.

      It is also worth noting that John the Baptist explicitly states that he is not Elijah: “They asked him [John the Baptist], ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not'” (John 1:21). Furthermore, John, who often adds parenthetical clarifications throughout his Gospel, makes no point of doing so here. He did not think this statement needed to be corrected or nuanced.

      The linking of John the Baptist to the pattern established by Elijah is done to explain John the Baptist’s role and theological significance. This linking of figural patterns is a very common practice in Scripture. When Jesus is the one who fulfills these patterns, as He often does, we call it “typology.” In short, a higher reincarnational interpretation of figures like John the Baptist ignore the frameworks native to the text and instead seek to impose frameworks that are innately opposed to the consistent teaching of Scripture.

      I hope this help as you process this topic.

      The John Ankerberg Show

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