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Christianity and Reincarnation: Irreconcilable?

Where can one begin in considering how Christianity might be reconciled with a belief in reincarnation? Perhaps a starting point for moving in this direction would be an acceptance that the human spirit is eternal. That the spirit of the human being does not come into existence only at the start of life but that it exists firstly in the world of spirit and from there enters the earthly world.

The human spirit is eternal: “Into whatever human sheath I have been born, my real being is both unborn and deathless”. The Christmas Festival in the Changing Course of Time, Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, December 22, 1910.

With this understanding we see the human soul as crossing the threshold from the spirit world into the physical world at birth and again crossing this threshold at the moment of death as it returns to the world of spirit.

Many Christians believe in miracles like those where bodily afflictions are healed, where people are brought back to life, where the five thousand are fed from five loaves and two fishes and where Jesus walks on water. They are also likely to believe in Angelic beings and that a God entered into a physical body and went through death and resurrection. They can believe in God as a being who is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, and yet, for many, it is not possible to extend their beliefs to include the possibility that God might send our human souls back into another human body for another life on earth.

The idea of re-incarnation disturbs, or even appalls many believing Christians, who have no difficulties in accepting the other manifestations of the working of the Godhead. Is it because the Bible is not explicit in its teachings on the reality of reincarnation? Is it because it is easier to accept the culturally, historical teachings given to our forebears, who were presented with naive, childlike pictures of heaven and earth, good and evil and life or death.

Some argue that the Bible does, in fact, make references that suggest a belief and acceptance of reincarnation. There are many possible examples pointing to this in both the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps one of the best examples is found in a passage connected to the Transfiguration.

“The disciples asked him, ‘Why, then, do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” Matthew 17:10-13 New International Version

There is an earlier reference in Matthew’s gospel where Christ reveals that John the Baptist is the reappearance of Elijah.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” Matthew 11:13-14 NIV

These references to Elijah form a link to the last book of the Old Testament. In the book of Malachi we read:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” Malachi 4:5 NIV

Some Jewish traditions and the history of early Christianity, indicate an acceptance of reincarnation among some of the Jewish people and also early Christians. Origen (185-254 AD), an early church leader, clearly held and communicated a belief in reincarnation. The early church accepted his teaching  which also reflected the position of many Jewish beliefs, particularly those of the Pharisees.

The acceptance of Origen’s teachings on re-incarnation continued until 553 AD, when the Roman Emperor Justinian called the 5th Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. It is then that the teachings of Origin were overturned, and it became a heresy to believe in reincarnation, punishable by excommunication.

“If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it, let him be anathema [excommunicated].” http://www.near-death.com/quotes.html

Is part of the reluctance to even contemplate reincarnation tied to a desire to distinguish Christianity from other religions or ancient pagan beliefs? One of the reasons for dispensing with reincarnation could have come out of a concern that such a belief would let people off the hook, so to speak, for their behaviors. Having more lives to get it right would allow people to postpone making the right and difficult choices, choosing instead to leave the hard stuff for another lifetime; thus, enabling people to avoid taking responsibility for what they did in their current lives.

A discussion of reincarnation makes more sense if it is extended to include the law of karma. Karma is the law that holds us personally accountable for our deeds in the world and responsible for balancing them out and, thus, also responsible for our own redemption.

The idea of “confession” being sufficient to remove our sins may be a comfort to some, but while being sorry may be a good thing, it would seem to overlook the consequences of the act. It does not right the wrong. It would seem far more beneficial for our human development if we were to not simply voice genuine remorse but rather performed an actual deed of making amends. The opportunity to right a wrong may not always present itself in a person’s lifetime, which is where having multiple human lives can provide the necessary future possibilities to do so. Further incarnations would give human beings the opportunity to work on themselves, balance the harms they have perpetrated, and to gradually evolve into increasing perfection to their ultimate goal of becoming beings created in the image of God – becoming more and more Christ-like.

How many of us can become saints in one life-time? Clearly such an elevated level of development is pretty hard to achieve for the majority of humanity in one lifetime, but if more lives were part of God’s plan, then this possibility grows for everyone. We can continue to develop and become more evolved human beings and also progress towards a relationship with Christ more in keeping with a mature responsible adult, as opposed to that of a child who is satisfied with merely the forgiveness of sins. An expanded vision of our journey as going beyond one lifetime can be supported by our trust in the enduring love of Christ; knowing we can get it wrong, ask for forgiveness, make amends and try again. Our comfort is not based on forgiveness of our sins but from knowing we have the time and opportunity to grow beyond sinning – to work out our own salvation, our own resurrection.

It is clearly not essential to hold a belief in reincarnation to be a Christian, but perhaps such a belief is not only compatible with being a Christian but one that can lead and support us in a deeper understanding of our evolutionary task to become ever more Christ like.

16 replies
  1. Eva Knausenberger
    Eva Knausenberger says:

    Ias far as I can observe providing proof or considerations about reincarnation won’t change anyone’s mind. It provides counter-arguments and/or more denials. What we need more of is forsightfulness and insight now, so that we can learn to consider the results -meaningful or destructive- of our thoughts and deeds in light of their future impact on one another and the world overall. Nature doesn’t reinvent itself every year either, but last year’s seeds bring this year’s fruitfulness. Even reincarnation is just a matter of observation.

    Reply
  2. Greg
    Greg says:

    Excellent post. I’ve read a lot of books on Christianity by the more conservative orthodox Christians, such as CS Lewis and by the more liberal orthodox Christians, such as Rob Bell. They and their interpretation of Christianity all pale in comparison to a solid teaching of reincarnation in Christianity. The most profound book on Christianity I have ever read was written by Dr. Herbert Puryear: “Why Jesus Taught Reincarnation”. Dr. Puryear uses the Bible itself to make the case that reincarnation is what Jesus taught. He is extremely thorough, logical and as I said he relentlessly shows you in the Bible. The book is not well known but is available on Amazon. Christianity will absolutely transform before your eyes. It will become alive and tangible. You will really see the light with the eyes God gave you to see with. God Bless!

    Reply
  3. Greg
    Greg says:

    I would be remiss if I didn’t state in my comment above that many of those orthodox authors I mentioned are great Christians and authors. It is my humble observance, however, that they’ve missed a very important aspect of Christianity, one that makes it far richer, more loving and Biblical and illustrates that Jesus is even far greater than we think.

    Again, God Bless!

    Reply
  4. g. jones
    g. jones says:

    I’ve been holding on to my firm belief in reincarnation all my life without any argument to present to my family and friends… thank you for these comments

    Reply
  5. theresa
    theresa says:

    In Genesis we see that the stars are for seasons etc ,and Psalm 19 “the heavens declare the glory of God “. Yes everything living has a cycle .Some are short and some are eternal . Jesus came in the last AGE of the cycle of the earth against the zodiac signs .This age is ending soon which means no more reincarnation , so it does not go on indefinitely ,but the Church leaders who were often not spiritual ,but carnal types denied anything which was beyond them .
    There are 12 ages working back : Pisces ,Aries ,Taurus ,Gemini,…… We can see these ages in historiclcal evidence ,as each age brought a new kind of experience of living which corresponds to the sign .
    Jesus ,pisces ,Greek wars, aries , taurus ,the bull and it’ worship and so on ..

    I will write more if there is a reply God bless

    Reply
  6. patricia psooy
    patricia psooy says:

    I believe that the spirit of Elijah was on John the Baptist, but not that he was John reincarnated. Just as his spirit rested on Elisha when he went to heaven 2 Kings 2:15.

    When Jesus was transfigured Luke 9:28-31 Elijah and Moses were present, indicating that his spirit hadn’t left him for another body.

    We find this written in Hebrews 9:27 K.J.V:

    “…as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” This tells me that we only die once.

    The reasoning that God allows us to come back many times to get it right, totally contradicts salvation by grace, and places it back on works and the law. An ongoing problem in the early church and the primary focus of epistles such as Romans, Galatians and Hebrews.

    As to our returning in new bodies, we will all be “resurrected” to life with Christ or eternal damnation, but that is different than “reincarnation” and we will each only have one body at that time.

    Reply
    • Danielle
      Danielle says:

      I don’t think God has us come back again and again to get it right. We can’t save ourselves, only Jesus can save us, so I reject the idea of Karma but I feel that there is still an argument to be made for Reincarnation. Maybe we come back until we truly hear the Gospel and accept Jesus. Maybe the concept of purgatory is reincarnation. God said our bodies are dust and to dust they will return, and sin corrupted our bodies giving rise to the need for new resurrected bodies at the judgement. Our bodies are made of atoms and molecules that get consumed by many creatures when we die, human beings eat those creatures and those atoms and molecules can become part of many different people. We are still us without our physical earthly bodies, we don’t die. Our new resurrected bodies Will be us. We are a trinity made in the image of God. Body, soul, and spirit. At the fall, we instantly died spiritually, and our body was corrupted and will die. Our soul remains alive, its the part that is who we are but we needed a new spirit in order to be connected with God and our body can’t live forever until we have freedom from sin. Jesus came and gave us that freedom from sin and gave all who believe and are baptized a new spirit, The Holy Spirit. And at resurrection we will receive our new bodies, who knows what they will look like. Maybe they will look more like who our soul is than what the carbon based genetic material (dust) had us look like in any given life. I think ressurection and reincarnation can be reconciled however its definitely not necessary for us to know about it in order to receive salvation and may even hurt our progress in a life to know about it.

      Reply
  7. B.A.
    B.A. says:

    Christianity – personal reliance on Christ as Father, God, Savior, Creator, King, Lord – is a relationship. Because of His mercy and love, He reunites us through faith in His sacrifice of Himself in our stead with Himself, our Friend and our God. He redeems us from death. These bodies die but our soul lives on in Him, because of Him, and for Him; He is the Purpose of it all. There are certainly passages in the Word – He is also the Word – where our worldly minds see reincarnation as a sanctioned fact, such as was mentioned about Elija and John the Baptist. So obviously it has happened. Does it happen always, to all of us? Who knows? He knows. There is no other purpose to this universe but Christ’s triumph over sin and death, and taking back His people. All these things will melt away, but Love Himself, and we in Him remain. I do not need to return again to once again crucify my Lord for my sins, I am already an eternal being by my faith – that, too, is crystal clear in scripture.

    Reply
  8. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    The major religions that hold a belief in reincarnation are Asian religions, especially Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, all of which arose in India. As Christians, we always believe in life after life.

    Reply
  9. gold
    gold says:

    I am open to the idea of christian reincarnation through scripture and reason. However, I don’t assume it would be for our purpose or getting things right the next time around. I would expect it would be for God’s purpose. Perhaps so that Matthew 24:34 would make more sense in that “generation” was a generation of people that continue to exist through reincarnation and not as a race of people as some take that word to mean.

    Reply
  10. Marisa
    Marisa says:

    I have always hated the idea of reincarnation going forward. That is, instead of getting to go to heaven and seeing Jesus and God, I have to come back to Earth and do it all over again. And possibly again. That is absolutely horrifying to me.
    On the other hand, I have always been troubled by the unfairness of life. Why do I have so many blessings in my life as compared to the horror other people must endure? I believe God is just but I simply cannot explain the unfairness of it all. The explanation I often get-that no one can know the will of God-simply doesn’t cut it. If I end up in heaven along side the poor soul born into horrifying bondage and torture that we see in other parts of the world, why did I have it so easy here on earth and they did not?
    To me, the only rational and just explanation, as much as I don’t like it, is reincarnation. Perhaps I too once lived in bondage and torture. Perhaps I too was once sickly or physically deformed. Perhaps I too was once poor and homeless. And with each life I grew spiritually, became kinder and more loving, etc. and my current life with its many blessings, is the result.
    It also does not seem right to me that I should be able to see the face of God after one short life full of my share of sinfulness. Some type of “burnishing”, or purifying, process just makes sense to me and it satisfies my need for fairness. As the gospels say, God is just.

    Reply
  11. john edward allison
    john edward allison says:

    I think the great step forward in spiritual knowledge has been taken by Dr Rudolf Steiner who through reading the imperishable Akashic Record was able to follow souls from one life to another. Read his work with an open mind.It is not a question of belief anymore it is scientific facts in this case spiritually discovered and connected to the physical world of time and space.

    Reply

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