My primary impetus in doing this page was from a conversation I had with my Orthodox Jewish supervisor. We have had many discussions about theology and other subjects that are "taboo" in the workplace. In these discussions, I have found that Christianity and Orthodox Judaism teach similar concepts regarding morality and even theology (with obvious differences about who the Messiah is). In one conversation, I was very surprised to learn that reincarnation is a doctrine accepted by Orthodox Jews. In fact, a statement by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the largest ultra-Orthodox Israeli political party, recently caused considerable stir throughout the world. According to the Rabbi, all of the six million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust were sinners who were reincarnated, at least in part, to atone for their sins from a past life.1
In trying to defend the Christian doctrine opposing reincarnation, I found that I was unable to think of even one Old Testament verse that disputed reincarnation. However, I assumed that some verses must exist, since I have found that virtually all Christian doctrines can be found in the Old Testament.
A scientific rebuttal to reincarnation
The concept of reincarnation is widely accepted among non-Christians, probably because it appeals to many who would like to believe that they would be given a second chance in case they failed to make the grade in this life. Christianity disputes reincarnation because it is unnecessary, since anybody can "make the grade" simply through an act of their own will through faith in Jesus Christ. The scientific rebuttal to reincarnation is quite simple. Because of the population explosion, more people are currently living on the earth than have ever lived on the earth for the entire history of humankind. In other words, over half of the people who have ever lived on earth have never died even once! There simply are not enough dead souls to go around for a second time. This does not absolutely eliminate reincarnation, but it does severely restrict its extent, especially for those who have claimed to have lived several times before. However, some people believe that souls can be reincarnated into or from animals. In that case, it is possible that many people have been frogs before they became princes.
What the New Testament says
Let's look at what the New Testament says first. The most quoted verse disputing reincarnation is from the book of Hebrews:
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9:27)
Obviously, if a person dies only once, then he can't be reincarnated. Other refutations of reincarnation came from Jesus. In His description of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man, Jesus indicated that the rich man was unable to do anything about his fate (eternal torment in Hell).2 Reincarnation is supposed to allow a person a second chance at heaven or nirvana. Jesus, in His teachings, indicated that people would have only one chance to obtain eternal life, otherwise suffer eternal punishment:
If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. (Matthew 18:8)
"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. (Matthew 25:41)
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:46)
"Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation." (Matthew 12:45)
" Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." (Luke 11:26)
The New Testament letters also indicate that unrepentant people would suffer a final, unpleasant fate.3 Therefore, it is widely accepted by Christians that the New Testament declares reincarnation to be false.
What the Old Testament says
Is the Old Testament really so unclear about the fate of the dead that reincarnation is a possibility? Contrary to what I had originally thought, the Old Testament is not silent on the issue, but provides a clear stance on the subject. Many Old Testament verses affirm that the dead do not return to the land of the living.4 The Old Testament also affirms that people will enter into an eternal destiny after death.5
The strongest argument against reincarnation comes from the book of Job, which declares several times that the dead do not return to the land of the living:
"When a cloud vanishes, it is gone, So he who goes down to Sheol does not come up. "He will not return again to his house, Nor will his place know him anymore. (Job 7:9-10)
While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass. Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. (Job 8:12-13)
Before I go-- and I shall not return-- To the land of darkness and deep shadow; (Job 10:21)
But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep. (Job 14:10-12)
"For when a few years are past, I shall go the way of no return. (Job 16:22)
I have heard that certain rabbis interpret the verses from Job as denying resurrection rather than reincarnation. However, Job could not be referring to resurrection, since he specifically refers to returning to his house or his place. In addition, at one point, Job affirms resurrection, since his skin will be destroyed yet he will see God in his flesh.
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; (Job 19:26)
The book of Job also contains the main argument used as evidence supporting reincarnation:
'He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit, And my life shall see the light.' Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, To bring back his soul from the pit, That he may be enlightened with the light of life. (Job 33:28-30)
This chapter does seem to support reincarnation. However, the opinion is that of Elihu, whose speech is not necessarily accurate. For example, Elihu says in chapter 36 that God is judging Job because of unrighteousness.6 We know this is wrong, because it was Satan who caused all the adversity to happen to Job.7 In chapter 1, God said of Job, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil."8 In addition, at the end of Elihu's speech, in Chapter 38, God says that Job's friends "counsel by words without knowledge."9 Given God's response, I'm not sure we are to accept everything Elihu says as being true.
Reincarnation is a popular belief among many "spiritual" people, and is commonly held in most major religions. It has such popularity because people would like to believe that they will be given a second chance if they "blow it" in their first life. In Judaism, where salvation is based upon "being good," one could be condemned quite easily by making some major mistakes in his life. The "hope" of reincarnation provides an escape from a God who demands righteousness. However, both the Old and New Testaments do not leave reincarnation as an option that God chose to use. Why would God not allow a second chance for those who made mistakes on their first attempt? The answer is quite simple. Salvation is a free gift for all who want it. It requires only repentance from your former life (admitting you were wrong and wish to change) and belief in the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross to atone for your sins. Anyone can be saved through the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. Don't expect a second chance to go to heaven. Today is the day of salvation!
- Israeli rabbi stirs uproar by saying Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners (AP, August 6, 2000).
- Luke 16:19-31. 'And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' (Luke 16:26)
- And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the
presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2)
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. (Jude 1:6)
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7)
- "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I
shall go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Samuel 12:23)
Thus He remembered that they were but flesh, A wind that passes and does not return. (Psalm 78:39)
This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead. For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate, and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:3-6)
This is what the LORD says-- he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick. (Isaiah 43:16-17)
For thus says the LORD in regard to Shallum the son of Josiah, king of Judah, who became king in the place of Josiah his father, who went forth from this place, "He will never return there; but in the place where they led him captive, there he will die and not see this land again. (Jeremiah 22:11-12)
then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living. (Ezekiel 26:20)
- When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I
entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final
destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down
to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets. (Ecclesiastes 12:5)
- "But you were full of judgment on the wicked; Judgment and justice take hold of you. "Beware that wrath does not entice you to scoffing; And do not let the greatness of the ransom turn you aside. "Will your riches keep you from distress, Or all the forces of your strength? "Do not long for the night, When people vanish in their place. "Be careful, do not turn to evil, For you have preferred this to affliction. (Job 36:17-21)
- The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My
servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and
upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." Then Satan
answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nothing? "Have You not
made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You
have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in
the land. "But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he
will surely curse You to Your face." Then the LORD said to Satan,
"Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your
hand on him." So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD. (Job
So the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. (Job 2:6-7)
- The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." (Job 1:8)
- Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, "Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? (Job 38:1-2)
Last Modified June 9, 2006