The ability of human beings to misunderstand simple concepts is amazing. In recent months we have seen a number of articles and have had some letters demonstrating some massive misunderstandings of the difference between reincarnation and resurrection. The view that Enoch and Elijah were reincarnated (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5; Matthew 17:12) is an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Webster defines reincarnation as “A fresh embodiment, a rebirth in bodies or form of life, rebirth of a soul in a new body.”

We should first point out that reincarnation is a basic belief of a number of world religions, and it is for many an attractive doctrine. Hinduism, for example, has a variety of reincarnation teachings fitted into a caste system in which humans exist in either a priestly caste, a warrior caste, a merchant caste, or an untouchable caste. An untouchable has the hope of returning in a better caste in some belief systems. Animals also get involved in the reincarnation process in some Hindu beliefs. Buddhism and animism also have reincarnation concepts in many of their beliefs. Certainly the growing pluralism in our culture has caused some of these ideas to enter people’s thinking. Experiences with déjà vu and repressed memory may also have had a part in people trying to integrate reincarnation into the Christian system.

Belief in reincarnation is not a new thing. In Jesus’ day belief in reincarnation seems to have been very common. In Matthew 16:13 Jesus asks His disciples “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Their response is “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Enoch is often held up as one who was reincarnated. In Genesis 5:24 we are told “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” In Hebrews 11:5 we are told that “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death.” Notice that there is no mention of a new body or that Enoch lived again.

Elisha and Elijah
      with chariotElijah is more frequently presented as a biblical character who was reincarnated. Second Kings 2:11–13 tells us that Elijah did not die but was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire. In Malachi 4:5 Israel is told, “I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day.” When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured and speaking with Moses and Elijah, they were reminded of that prophecy. When Jesus is asked about this He says, “Elijah has already come” (Matthew 17:12). The next verse tells us that the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist. That means the Elijah of the transfiguration and of this verse are not the same. The transfiguration was not a physical body that continued to live upon the earth, and John the Baptist was a man blessed by God, but he was still John — not Elijah.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not reincarnation, it was resurrection. To be resurrected means that the person comes to exist in a new body, not the one that we have on the earth. First Corinthians 15:44 tells us that we will be “sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” After His resurrection Jesus was able to walk through walls (John 20:26), miraculously appear to people on the highway and then miraculously disappear (Luke 24:15, 31). Second Corinthians 5:10 tells us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Hebrews 9:27 tells us, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” there is no mention of the old body being recirculated, nor is there any mention of having another physical body.

In addition to the fact that there is no biblical support for reincarnation, there are other problems of a logical and scientific standpoint involved. In most reincarnation systems, time is cyclic. The notion is that time repeats so that the person lives again in the same Karma as he did before, but with a new opportunity to live more successfully. If time does not repeat, then the Karma changes. Every student of physics knows that time is not cyclic in the physical world. The very nature of the universe supports linear time and the equations we use to describe the cosmos are all linear in nature.

Those reincarnation systems that have all people returning to earth in another body in cyclic time also have a space problem for all of the forms that are present. Not only is there not enough room for everything, but there is a problem with the aesthetics of the teaching. If every person comes back as an animal, then whatever one does to an animal he is in essence doing to a person. This is the basis of protecting monkeys and cows in some cultures.

Reincarnation does not happen. We need to make this life and body count, because we will not have another physical body or another opportunity. We will be resurrected, but thankfully the pain and problems that we have with our physical bodies in this life will never happen again.
--John N. Clayton
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