Monday, September 22, 2014

Reincarnation and the Bible

My Response to a Jewish young man inquiring about Reincarnation in the Bible:

Indeed, the evidence for reincarnation is highly obscure. Take the Job 1:21 verse you had offered as evidence for reincarnation:

  • “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The Lord gave [life] and the Lord has taken away [life].”
I am quoting from the ESV, which seems to be the superior translation from the standpoint of the context and the Hebrew parallelism. Notice how the second phrase parallels the first in its meaning, as it should. Naked [without anything] Job came into the world and naked [without anything] he will depart is paralleled with the Lord giving life and taking away life. No suggestion of reincarnation here!

For Job to have been referring to reincarnation is to minimize his great losses – the very thing that Job was not doing here or in the rest of the book! In light of this, it does not seem that there is any evidence here for reincarnation.

You also offered Hebrews 7:10 as evidence:

  • Levi was still in the body of his ancestor [Abraham]. 
The fact that “Levi was still in the body of his ancestor” was the same as saying that he was a descendant of Abraham, according to Hebraic thought. This says nothing about reincarnation.

Instead, I think that the best support for reincarnation in the Bible comes from the verses regarding Elijah’s seemingly physical return:

  • “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Jesus even told his disciples that this prophecy had been fulfilled through the ministry of John the Baptist:

  • And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?  But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:11-13)

However, an angel of the Lord informed John’s father Zacharias:

  • And he [John] will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) 
Here, the angel provided a more figurative interpretation of the Malachi prophecy. Zacharias’ son would not literally be Elijah but would reflect him. John also acknowledged that he was not a return of the literal Elijah (John 1:21-27).

Despite this, even if you insist on taking Jesus literally, that John was literally Elijah, this still wouldn’t constitute evidence of reincarnation. Remember, Elijah had never died (2 Kings 2:11).

Against the insistence that the Bible teaches reincarnation, a mountain of evidence can be assembled. The Bible’s teachings on the final judgment are all based on the assumption that we cannot be cavalier about this life, assuming that we will get many other chances and lives. Instead, judgment will come suddenly, and we have to be prepared. For example, the parables of Jesus are replete with such warnings. In one parable, in the absence of his Master, a foreman beats the servants. However:

  • The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:50-51)

The master will not reincarnate that wicked servant. Instead, He will condemn him!

Jesus then uses the example of servants entrusted by their Master with investment money. However, upon His return, the Master found that one servant did not invest the money. He therefore judged:

  • “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat. 25:30)

Jesus never gives any indication that the second or third chance of reincarnation will be an option. In fact, He seems to indicate that no other chance will be given. In the next parable, He uses the example of servants who failed to serve Him:

  • “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Mat. 25:41, 46)
In fact all of the many judgment verses seem to preclude a second chance provided by reincarnation. For example, Paul taught that those who had been persecuting the church:

  • Will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thess. 1:9) 
He didn’t suggest that this will only happen to the persecutors if they failed to repent in their next 90 lives! The Book of Hebrews says it more explicitly:

  • Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Heb. 9:27) 
This coincides with the logic of Scripture. One life is enough to determine whether the sinner will cry out to Christ for His mercy and repent of his sins to receive salvation. Multiple lives will not provide a necessary second chance but rather will reconfirm the judgment of God:

  • As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips.” (Romans 3:10-13)

While reincarnation claims that we have not received an adequate chance in our one life, Scripture warns us that the verdict is already in, and our only hope is in the mercy of the Messiah.

Reincarnation gives the appearance of graciousness – a willingness to be patient. Instead, it encourages complacency and dulls us to the impending consequences of our rebellion.

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