Reincarnation in Christianity
In biblical times, belief in reincarnation was so widespread, and was much a part of the culture, that it was taken for granted. Even Jesus was claimed to have confirmed it Matthew 11:13-14 where he stated that John the Baptist was Elijah whom the Bible prophesied would come before the Messiah. Aside biblical accounts, some cultures, even in the present day, favour the concept as they claim some dead relations who lived and died in the past, come back at a later time to be born in same family or place they had lived in the past. ODINAKA URUAKPA speaks to clerics to get their thoughts on the issue.
For thousands of years, it has been commonly believed that when a person dies, such a person can return to the Earth after a period of time, as they (dead) are birthed by either their descendants or other persons in the community they had lived in earlier.
This concept referred to as reincarnation has to do with a cycle of birth and death, and it is defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as the belief that after somebody’s death, his or her soul has the ability to live again in a new body.
According to American writer, Kevin William, people spend an eternity of eternities in afterlife realms before reincarnating to Earth again because time, as known on Earth, does not exist in the afterlife realms as it does here (Earth).
William claimed that the ultimate purpose for reincarnation is for people to learn enough lessons and gain enough experience from Earth, as he compares it to a graduation. He further claimed that reincarnation is the method and means to attain the goal of living an eternal life.
The first century Jewish historian, lavius Josephus wrote about the Pharisees being believers in reincarnation. He noted that the Pharisees were the Jewish sect which Paul belonged to before his near death experience (NDE) and conversion to Christianity. Josephus also wrote about the Pharisees’ belief where the souls of evil men are punished after death while the souls of good men are removed into other bodies, so that they will have power to revive and live again.
From time to time, throughout Jewish history, there was a persistent belief about dead prophets returning to life through reincarnation. The Sadducees, a purist sect of Judaism, rejected the Persian concepts of resurrection and all Hellenistic influences involving reincarnation that happened in Jesus’ time. The Sadducees accepted only the orthodox Hebrew belief in Sheol. So there were a variety of influences going on in Jerusalem at the time when Jesus lived on Earth.
When Jesus began his ministry, many people allegedly wondered if He was the reincarnation of one of the prophets of God. People also wondered the same thing concerning John the Baptist whom they claimed was Elijah. According to some schools of thought, basing their argument on Bible accounts, Jesus even affirmed to His disciples that John the Baptist was indeed the reincarnation of the Prophet Elijah.
The first great father of the early Orthodox Church, Origen who lived from 185 to 254 AD was an ardent defender of pre-existence and reincarnation. Origen, a disciple of Clement of Alexandria who was a disciple of the Apostle Peter wrote about receiving secret teachings of Jesus handed down from the apostles.
One of these secret teachings was the concept of physical and spiritual rebirth. He also spoke of preexistence which is the religious concept of the soul as not being created at birth; rather the soul existed before birth in heaven or in a past life on Earth. Till date, reincarnation continues to be a favoured subject in many cultures, especially in parts of Africa where children are given names denoting that they are some persons who had come back to a particularly family after leaving the Earth some years or entities ago.
Among these reincarnation stories are also those of babies who are said to come through a particular person and are wont to dying and coming back, carrying marks or incisions that were put on them because of their repeated birth and death in the family they have chosen to be born into.
Yet, there are also stories of people who had one body part or the other maimed before their demise coming back again to their supposed lineage, and claims of the child who returned as that individual having the particular maimed body part missing at birth. According to Professor Kunle Macaulay, Director of Studies, United Bible University, Ojodu, Ogun State, Christianity is a faith which has its own beliefs and practices which Christians should stick to, as he claimed that these beliefs and practices do not include reincarnation. “Christianity is a faith which has its own beliefs and practices and when you have these, you stick to them strictly.
We should not allow any other religion or belief to interfere with your own faith. The problem we are having now with Christianity in Nigeria is that many people who are called Christian leaders allow other beliefs or practices to come into Christianity, therefore, confusing Christianity.
When you see Christians practice Christianity, you will know that they are practicing what the Bible instructs. There is nothing like reincarnation; the Bible states that it is appointed for a man to die only once, not twice, and then judgment. It is clear that when a man dies, he sleeps in the Lord until the day of resurrection. The Bible tells us in the Book of Thessalonians, that the dead will resurrect, first when Jesus Christ comes, then those who are alive will all go to meet the Lord in the sky.
I think this is what Christians should believe, and not reincarnation; claiming that somebody who died and can come back and so on is the teaching of another religion”, he explained. On claims that Jesus and John the Baptist were prophets of God who came back to Earth after existing and dying in a time past, Macaulay said: “People keep getting things mixed up. The Old Testament talks about the belief of the Jews; now the religion of the Jews is Judaism, and the practice in Judaism has nothing to do with Christianity.
When Christianity started, Paul said that this (Christianity) is a new religion and it is meant for the Jews and Pagans; for men and women, for the slaves and masters; it is a universal religion. I get worried when people go to Old Testament; they want us to practice certain things and cultures they believe would benefit them.
We must adhere strictly to what the Bible states; Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua were in the Old Testament; God had a way of dealing with them. Christianity began with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.” On people being born with marks or missing body part allegedly cut from a past relation’s body showing that it is that person that came back to Earth, Macaulay said: “Satan is powerful. Satan can create and recreate; that is why we have fake money.
Satan was in Heaven, he knew everything about God and Heaven; so, he can create the fake side of a religion; Satan can do anything. I don’t believe that this is the work of God i.e. bringing somebody back. God cannot contradict Himself; He would die only once and not triple or four times. People dying and coming back at a later time is not biblical. This is why we study Apologetics in Theology which has to do with defending our faith and whatever is not in the Bible.”
In his contribution, Pastor Peter Francis, senior pastor with God of Israel Mission, Lagos claimed that since reincarnation was not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, Christians have no business believing that people who died at one point on earth, could still come back to live at a later time on same earth. “The whole thrust of the Bible opposes reincarnation. Man is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit.
He is presented as distinct and unique from all other creatures; angels and the animal kingdom alike. The Bible teaches that at death, while man’s body is mortal, decays and returns to dust, his soul and spirit continue, either in a place of torments (hell) for those who rejected Christ or in paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who trusted in the Saviour. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body as revealed in John 5:25-29.
The Bible emphatically states in Hebrew 9:27 that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that judgment. This statement and the concept that mankind’s creation in God’s image is unique from the animals and even angels, stand totally opposed to the idea of reincarnation i.e. dying and coming back as another person in future.
The claim of some that they have information of past history is nothing more than some kind of encounter with demonic powers who have been present throughout history”, he claimed. Francis further claimed that the first, most glaring dissimilarity between reincarnation and Biblical doctrine occurs in the idea of a recurring cycle of existence. “If each person lives many times in the same or different form, it would contrast with the Bible because the Scripture pictures death as a separation of the soul from the world, Christ Himself described death as God requiring man’s soul in Luke 12:20. When a saint of God dies, rather than merely being promoted to a higher status for another lifetime, he enters his eternal estate, secured for him by God’s grace.
The divinely inspired Apostle Paul exclaimed in 2 Corinthians 5:8, ‘we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Christ’s record of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 shows that both the saved and the unsaved enter their respective rewards following death and cancels the notion of the dead coming back to Earth. For Pastor Folarin Adebola, General Overseer, it is wrong to assume that all truths are to be found in the Scriptures, as he added that (Jesus Christ) spoke only of those things that people of His time needed to know to enable them to make spiritual progress. In the mission of Christ, He (Jesus Christ) spoke only of those things that people of His time needed to know to enable them to make spiritual progress. He did not teach all there was to know. This Paul explained in I Corinthians 13: 9 – 12.
The fact that an idea is not in the Bible, does not mean that the idea is false. Some truths are not recorded in the Scriptures. Therefore, we are not at all justified to think that all important spiritual concepts such as reincarnation must be found in the Bible. In narrating his call to prophethood, Jeremiah stated Jeremiah 1:45 ‘Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; and before you were born I consecrated you, and I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
’ This passage clearly suggests that Jeremiah existed in a non-earthly part of creation before he was conceived. This is to say that pre-existence is acknowledged by the Scriptures and that human beings do not come into existence only at birth. In the account of the healing of the man who was blind from birth, in John Chapter 9, the disciples asked Jesus, Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? The question indicates that the disciples believed, or knew, that it was possible for a baby to be born blind as a result of the baby’s sin.
The disciples were, of course, intelligent and wise enough to know that any punishment of being born blind could only have been due to a sin committed before birth. In other words, the disciples would not have asked the question if they did not consider it possible for a person to commit a sin before birth”, he claimed. Adebola further claimed that if a person must be made to suffer on earth for a wrong done before birth, such wrong could only have been done on earth in a previous earth-life. He added that the question the disciples asked Jesus Christ implied that they believed in reincarnation. “It is important for us to note that the answer Jesus gave does not in any way contradict a belief in reincarnation. Jesus in John 9:3 answered that it was not that the man sinned, or his parents, but that the work of God might be made manifest in him. What this means is that in this particular case, the cause of blindness was not due to the sin, neither of the man nor of his parents.
Let us further note that if the disciples were wrong in believing that one could be born blind because of one’s sin, Jesus would have told them so. He was ever so ready to teach them and to help them do away with wrong concepts. The two possible causes suggested by the disciples for the man’s blindness were wrong in this particular case. But this fact does not mean that, in other cases, these two possibilities might not be valid. Therefore, they were not wrong in their basic reasoning since Jesus did not rebuke them for having notions of reincarnation.
Also confirming reincarnation is the episode where Jesus identifies John the Baptist as Elijah in Matthew 11:13-14 which states ‘For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come. So if Jesus Himself confirms reincarnation, it means that a person can live on earth, die and still come back to earth and live in a later life”, he reiterated.