by George Sidney Hurd
Having considered the moral and logical problems presented by the belief in reincarnation, we can now consider some of the passages of Scripture presented in support of this theory.
Some claim that most references to reincarnation were removed from the New Testament by the Roman Church in the fifth and sixth century but without any substantial supporting evidence. In fact, manuscript evidence predating the fifth century would contradict that theory.
Additionally, we also see the hope of the resurrection in the Old Testament Scriptures. In Genesis 3:19 God said to Adam, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” However, from the earliest recorded times we see the hope of the resurrection. The book of Job is believed to be the first book of the Bible to have been written. Job clearly expresses an expectation of the resurrection in the final day. He said:
“Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, that You would conceal me until Your wrath is past, that You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes.” (Job 14:13-14)
Job, in his extreme suffering, wished to die and remain hidden in hades until God’s set time came to resurrect him. Some proponents of reincarnation would argue that “till my change comes” refers to reincarnation and not resurrection. I will consider the meaning of the Greek words pálin gínomai used here in the LXX, which literally mean “to become again,” later. For the moment I would just like to emphasize that there is no record of any belief in reincarnation prior to 1100 B.C. and Job predates that by at least five hundred years. Furthermore, in continuation it becomes even more evident that Job’s expectation was to be resurrected on the final day when he would be raised into God’s presence. He said:
“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. 26 And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God. 27 Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another: this my hope is laid up in my bosom.” (Job 19:25-27 DRB)
Clearly, Job was longing for a bodily resurrection in the final day rather than anticipating a reincarnation. His hope was to see God in a resurrected body of flesh. When we get to the book of Daniel the resurrection is clearly presented as occurring after the Great Tribulation:
“And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” (Dan 12:1-3)
Here we see the resurrection taking place at the end of the Great Tribulation, which would be at Christ’s Second Coming, just as Jesus Himself explains (Matt 24:29-31). Those who would claim that the Roman Church filtered out references to reincarnation have the problem of explaining why the Jewish Old Testament also contains references to resurrection rather than reincarnation. These references cannot be misconstrued as reincarnations since it is a collective resurrection rather than individual. Isaiah also speaks of this joint resurrection:
“Your dead shall live; TOGETHER with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Isa 26:19)
These Old Testament references all speak of a collective bodily resurrection unto physical immortality, just as we see set forth in the New Testament. Paul says, “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" (1Cor 15:35). He goes on to explain that it is a spiritual incorruptible body, not of the dust of the ground like our present body, but a real body nonetheless (1Cor 15:44-45,48).
Some, not understanding that our glorified body is a spiritual body, think that God needs our original body’s dust in order to raise us. For this reason, the Roman Church would at times burn the bodies of “heretics” (often the true saints) and cast their ashes into the river, thinking that would prevent God from resurrecting them. Likewise, some atheists have their ashes cast into the sea for good measure just in case. But our new body will not be of dust.
Paul said that it would be a body just like the glorified body of Christ which could materialize or dematerialize, and yet Jesus said His body wasn’t a ghost but had flesh and bones (1Cor 15:48-49; 1Jn 3:2; Luke 24:36-43). Jesus said that we will be like the angels who are spirits, yet they can appear in tangible flesh-and-bone bodies (Matt 22:30; Heb 13:2; Gen 18:2 cf. 19:1; Judg 13:15).
While, as we shall see, the New Testament implies that some erroneously believed in reincarnation during the time of Christ’s ministry, the overall teaching of both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach only one resurrection followed by judgment. Jesus said:
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28-29)
In Jesus’ teaching, the resurrection is frequently mentioned, but not once does He even allude to the possibility of multiple reincarnations (Matt 12:25-26; 22:30; 24:29; Luke 20:37; Jn 11:24-25). In New Testament times there were only two major sects of the Jews – the Pharisees who believed in a bodily resurrection at the end of the age and the Sadducees who denied the resurrection.
While there were a few Jewish mystics at that time who believed in reincarnation through the combined influence of Plato and Eastern mysticism, the esoteric teaching concerning reincarnation of the Kabbalistic Jews of our day didn’t arise until the 13th century.
While the belief in reincarnation is indirectly referred to in the New Testament, it nevertheless uniformly teaches resurrection and not reincarnation. Paul, in his defense before the council, said that he was being tried for “the hope and resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6-8). Reincarnation would have been vehemently rejected in that Jewish council. When Paul spoke before the men of Athens concerning the resurrection of the dead they mocked him (Acts 17:32). The Platonic belief in reincarnation was respected in Athens at that time so they wouldn’t have been mocking him for teaching concerning reincarnation.
One passage which I briefly mentioned in the previous blog particularly and specifically excludes any concept of reincarnation:
“And as it is appointed for men to die ONCE (hapax “once numerically or conclusively, once and for all”), but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered ONCE (hapax “once and for all”) to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Heb 9:27-28)
The Scriptures uniformly present physical death as a one-time event. Even as man dies once and then must face judgment, so Christ died once in our place, bearing in Himself the just judgment or condemnation due to us. As Peter says: “Christ also suffered once (hapax “once numerically or conclusively, once and for all.”) for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” (1Peter 3:18). He suffered and died for our sins once and for all. Therefore, those who are united with Christ through faith in this life will not face a condemnatory judgment when they die (Jn 5:24; 5:29; Rom 8:1).
The rest will be judged according to their works and will receive their part in the purifying Lake of Fire which is the second death (Rev 20:13-15; 21:8; 2:11). I examine what is meant by the Lake of Fire in my blog, “Sulfur, Salt and the Refiner’s Fire.” Those who do not die to the flesh and the independent self-life in this life will be purified in the fire of affliction called the Lake of Fire rather than by ages of repeated reincarnations.
Terms mistaken for Reincarnation
1) Regeneration (poliggenesía)
“So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration (poliggenesia), when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matt 19:28-30)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration (poliggenesía) and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)
“If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. (LXX pálin gínomai “to become again”). (Job 14:14)
The word poliggenesía is made up of the word pálin meaning “again” and génesis which means “origin or birth.” It only appears twice in the Bible and both instances are in the New Testament. In the LXX Greek translation of the Old Testament it only appears once and as two separate words in Job 14:14. Some argue that poliggenesía means reincarnation. However, in secular literature during biblical times it carried two different meanings, depending on the context in which it appeared, but neither usage implied reincarnation. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittel) says the following concerning its meaning:
“The word first seems to have acquired significance in Stoicism and its doctrine of the renewal of the world following the ekpúrosis (purification by fire)… In a fragment of Terentius Varro (in Aug. Civ. D., 22, 28) poliggenesía is used for the new birth of individuals in a new period of the world, and this is accepted as the general Gk. usage. Thus the word has an individual as well as the original cosmic sense… It should be noted in this connection that in both Stoicism and Judaism poliggenesía lies in the future. In the former it follows the future ekpúrosis; in the latter it belongs to the future judgment.” (emphasis mine) 
So, we see that in the extrabiblical literature of that time the word could refer to the future restoration of the world, or the future resurrection or the rebirth of individuals. In Matthew 19:28 Jesus is clearly using the word in its Stoic sense referring to the renewal of the earth.  In Titus 3:5 it refers to our spiritual regeneration. In neither instance is it referring to a physical reincarnation as some have argued.
2) Born again (genáo ánothen, anagenáo)
“Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again (genáo ánothen), he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again (genáo ánothen). 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:3-8)
Some have interpreted Jesus’s words, “you must be born again” as meaning that we must reincarnate. However, there are at least two reasons why Jesus could not have been referring to reincarnation. In the first place, ánothen is from ano which primarily means “up.” It is not simply another birth but a birth from above. For this reason, several translations either render it as “born from above” or else include that alternate reading in the footnote.
Secondly, the new birth is not a physical birth as was our first birth. Nicodemus was confused concerning this in a manner similar to that of the reincarnationists. He asked Jesus: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” The idea of reincarnation didn’t even enter into Nicodemus’ mind. But similar to the reincarnationists, he was confused, thinking that Jesus was speaking of a physical birth. If reincarnation was even a consideration for Nicodemus, he wouldn’t have responded in such a confused manner, asking how he could possibly enter again into his own mother’s womb.
Jesus answered saying that it is not the body which must be reborn, but rather the spirit of man. He said: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” When we were born the first time it was by the seed of man or of the flesh, but when we are born again it is our spirit which is born by the seed of God who is Spirit. As Peter says:
“having been born again (anagenáo), not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1Peter 1:23)
When we were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins, God made us alive (Eph 2:1,5). This is referring to spiritual birth, not physical. Our spirits became alive with the eternal life of Christ who is now our life and we are therefore one spirit with Him (1Cor 6:17). This is something way more glorious than reincarnating or even reaching the state of Brahman where one is said to lose their personal identity becoming one with the impersonal cosmic consciousness!
Did Jesus teach Reincarnation?
Some have supposed that Jesus taught reincarnation on a couple of occasions. We will briefly consider these passages.
The Man Born Blind
“Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’” (Jn 9:1-3)
The question asked by the disciples of Jesus imply that they believed in reincarnation. The only way a man could be born blind because of his own sin is to have lived prior to his birth. However, rather than going into a whole discourse in order to dispel their erroneous belief in reincarnation, He simply corrected them saying: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”
There was much folklore and superstition among the uneducated classes like the disciples, just as there is in some regions today. As we have already seen, Jesus taught concerning resurrection – not reincarnation. The fact that He didn’t intervene, giving them a discourse concerning the resurrection at that moment shouldn’t be taken as proof that He believed in reincarnation. When they saw Jesus walking on the water and the disciples cried out saying that He was a ghost and Jesus simply said, “Don’t be afraid, it is I,” by saying that, we shouldn’t assume that Jesus therefore believed in ghosts and apparitions in the same manner as the disciples (Matt 14:26-27). Much of Scripture should be understood as descriptive rather than prescriptive. The actual teachings of Jesus rule out reincarnation rather than affirming it.
Elijah and John the Baptist
Contrary to what many who seek to find reincarnation in the Bible affirm, John the Baptist is nowhere said to be the reincarnation of Elijah. The children of Israel were anticipating the coming of Elijah because it was prophesied in Malachi 4:5 that he would come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
Elijah is a unique case since, due to the fall, it is appointed unto man to die, yet he was taken into heaven without seeing death (Heb 9:27; 2Kings 2:11). This may be one of the reasons why he will be sent in the last days to prepare the way for the coming of Christ which will initiate the day of the Lord. In all probability he will be one of the two witnesses during the Great Tribulation who will be martyred but will be resurrected after three days and caught up into heaven (Rev 11:3-12).
Some have concluded that John the Baptist was Elijah because the angel who announced his birth to his father said that he would go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” However, seeing these words in their context it becomes clear that it was referring to the anointing that would be upon him and the ministry he would fulfill, rather than being an actual reincarnation of Elijah’s spirit. The angel said:
“He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him IN THE SPIRIT AND POWER OF Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15-17)
God anointed Elijah with power and authority in order to turn the hearts of the Israelites away from their idolatries back to Himself. In the same manner, John the Baptist was anointed with the spirit and power which rested upon Elijah. It is the same spirit that Elisha ask to receive just before Elijah was taken up:
“And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?’ Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’” (2 Kings 2:9)
Here we see Elisha asking Elijah that a double portion of his spirit be upon him when Elijah was taken into heaven. On this occasion it is very clear that the spirit of Elijah being upon Elisha didn’t refer to a reincarnation since they were both living at the time and the spirit of Elijah was something which came upon Elisha the very moment that Elijah was taken up into heaven.
That the “spirit and power of Elijah” is not to be understood as Elijah himself reincarnated is made even clearer when the Jews asked John whether or not he was Elijah and he responded, “I am not” (Jn 1:21). When they kept insisting that he tell them who he was he simply said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23 cf. Luke 7:27). So, rather than the spirit and power of Elijah having reference to reincarnation, it spoke of a particular anointing for a ministry similar to that of Elijah.
What confuses some is the statement of Jesus concerning John the Baptist when He said: “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt 11:14-15). Here we see Jesus saying that if Israel had been willing to receive it, John would have been Elijah who was to come to prepare the way for their Messiah/King. However, within a few days Herod their king beheaded him and when Christ formally presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah/King they rejected His offer and the kingdom was then taken from them and given to the Gentiles (Luke 19:37-44).
The reason Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let Him hear” in reference to John being Elijah is because Jesus knew all along that Israel was not going to receive John’s message and that they were going to reject Him and crucify their King and Messiah. His first coming was as their Savior – His Second Coming will be to reign over them as their King of kings when they finally welcome Him saying: “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 23:39). Because they did not receive Him, John was not Elijah – Elijah is yet to come, just as Jesus later explained to Peter, James and John as they descended from the mount of transfiguration where Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah:
“And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ 11 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah IS COMING first and will restore all things. 12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.” (Matt 17:10-13)
When they saw Elijah talking with Jesus, they realized that Elijah wasn’t the John the Baptist they had known. Believing that Elijah had to come before the Christ, they asked the question, “why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” It wasn’t until Jesus explained to them that John the Baptist would have fulfilled the role of Elijah if they had received his message that they understood that Elijah was yet to come.
Admittedly, this can seem rather confusing. That is why Jesus said they would have to be attentive in order to understand (Matt 11:15). John the Baptist came in “the spirit and power of Elijah” and yet John himself said that he wasn’t Elijah. Jesus told the Jews that John was Elijah “if they would receive it” but they didn’t and so the kingdom was taken from them and given to another until such a time as they would receive Him (Matt 23:39; Rom 11:25-26).
Therefore, while some may attempt to read reincarnation into the Scriptures, upon closer examination it becomes evident that, although some mystic Jews may have believed in it, the Scriptures clearly teach that one lives and dies only once and awaits a future resurrection unto judgment.
Often the reason that people want to find reincarnation in the Scriptures rather than accepting the doctrine of the resurrection is that they do not want to have to face judgment before God after death. However, the solution is not to deny the resurrection but to receive Christ as one’s Savior and Lord since He was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised because of our justification (Rom 4:25). For that reason, we may have confidence in the day of judgment since there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).
Two Opposite Ways of Salvation
By far the most critical error of reincarnationism is that it presents a way of salvation apart from Jesus Christ our Savior. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Romans 3:20 says, “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Paul says that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) In contrast, the law of karma is self-salvation – it is salvation by works on steroids – the total opposite to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Scriptures salvation is a gift to be received – not an unattainable goal to be achieved. I wouldn’t change the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ for a million lifetimes!
While preparing for this blog I came across a testimony of a former spiritual teacher who taught reincarnation but later became convinced that he was in error. Some may find it helpful. It is:
Why I quit believing in Reincarnation - Mike Shreve https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syLNTQzvCwc&t=9s
 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Copyright © 1972-1989 By Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 The Jewish historian Josephus employs it of the renewal of the land of Israel after a period of hardship, while the Jewish philosopher Philo uses it to describe the renewal of the earth following the flood.