May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation?

Jesus and ReincarnationNo serious Christian wishes to be “carried about with divers and strange doctrines,”1 but rather to be established in “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”2 Therefore our purpose in this brief study will be to determine if, in good conscience, a Christian may believe in reincarnation.

Reincarnation-also known as the transmigration of souls-is not some exotic idea of non-Christian mysticism. In ancient orthodox Jewish and Christian writings, as well as the Holy Scriptures, we can find reincarnation as a fully developed belief, although today it is commonly ignored.

A Catholic Cardinal Speaks

Just what do we mean by reincarnation? Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926) of the Roman Catholic Church, an eminent scholar and theologian of the conservative Christian Tradition, in his book Psychologie gives this definition of three views of reincarnation: “Under the term Wiedermenschwerdung, metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, a great variety of ideas may be understood: either a series of repetitions of existence under the twofold condition that the soul maintains consciousness of its personality and that there is a final unit in the series of transmigrations; or a series of repetitions of existence without any final unit, and yet with the presupposition that the soul maintains consciousness of its personality; or, finally, an endless series of repetitions of existence with the loss of consciousness of personal identity….So far as concerns the first assumption, we do not see that reason, if left to itself, would declare this to be impossible or certainly false.”

Three Views Of Reincarnation

Perhaps that heavy nineteenth century prose should be restated, though I did want to give you the Cardinal’s exact words so you would know I was not putting a forced interpretation on them. What the Cardinal indicates is this: there are three possible beliefs about reincarnation: (1) that there is an immortal soul which goes from birth to birth until it attains salvation, which ends the rebirth process, (2) that the immortal soul is reborn eternally with no ending of rebirth, and (3) that there is no immortal soul, but only a kind of force or energy which keeps creating a chain of rebirths. In A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, Cardinal Mercier again enumerates the three views on reincarnation and this time states that the first view “cannot be shown either to be impossible or even to be false” (I, 326).

A Public Teaching?

But what about reincarnation as a public teaching? Being a persecuted religion for three centuries, the Church barely salvaged the Holy Scriptures from the ravages of her persecutors. Many books referred to by early writers as being widely used by the Church have vanished. Even the book of Enoch, quoted by Saint Jude in his epistle (v. 14), is no more; nor is the book of Jasher, mentioned in Joshua (10:13) and Second Samuel (1:18).

A Jewish Belief

Reincarnation is commonly represented in the West as being an exclusively Hindu or Buddhist belief, but it is not. Reincarnation is a tenet of orthodox Judaism, wherein it is called gilgul or ha’atakah, and was so at the time of Christ, and automatically passed over into Christian theology.

Philo Judaeus

The Jewish philosopher, Philo Judaeus, whose lifespan included that of Christ, wrote in detail about reincarnation as a normal belief, but a brief quote should suffice: “The air is full of souls; those who are nearest to earth descending to be tied to mortal bodies …

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May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation? cover

1) Hebrews 13:9 [Go back]

2) Jude 3 [Go back]

3) De Somniis I:22 [Go back]

4) Proverbs 8:22,23,30,31 [Go back]

5) Jewish War, Book 3, chapter 8, no. 5 [Go back]

6) Wisdom 8:19,20 [Go back]

7) Job 1:21 [Go back]

8) Job 19:25-27 [Go back]

9) Revelation 3:12 [Go back]

10) Zohar, vol. II, fol. 99, et seq. [Go back]

11) Job 33:29,30 [Go back]

12) Numbers 14:18 [Go back]

13) Ezekiel 18:2 [Go back]

14) Siddur Tikun Meir, Hebrew Publishing Company, 1935 [Go back]

15) Malachi 4:5 [Go back]

16) Matthew 17:10,12,13 [Go back]

17) Matthew 11:10,14 [Go back]

18) Matthew 16:13,14 [Go back]

19) Matthew 5:17 [Go back]

20) John 9:1-3 [Go back]

21) John 3:4,10,12 [Go back]

22) Job 1:21 [Go back]

23) Psalm 90:2,3,5,6 [Go back]

24) Tobit 13:1,2 [Go back]

25) Ecclesiasticus 41:9,10 [Go back]

26) Galatians 6:7 [Go back]

27) Genesis 9:5,6 [Go back]

28) See Acts 22:3; and 26:4,5 [Go back]

29) Kitzur Sh’lu, p. 6, col. I and II [Go back]

30) Nishmath Chaim, fol. 152, col. 2 [Go back]

31) Ezekiel 34:23,24 [Go back]

32) Yalkut Reubeni, Nos. 9:24 [Go back]

33) Yalkut Chadash, fol. 127, col. 3 [Go back]

34) II Kings 4:8 [Go back]

35) I Samuel 1:15 [Go back]

36) Yalkut Reubeni, Nos. 1,8,61,63 [Go back]

37) I Samuel 2:6 [Go back]

38) Matthew 26:51,52 [Go back]

39) John 6:30-32 [Go back]

40) Deuteronomy 18:15 [Go back]

41) Matthew 7:12 [Go back]

42) Ecclesiastes 1:9,10 [Go back]

43) Hebrew Publishing Company, New York [Go back]

44) Galatians 6:8 [Go back]

45) Luke 16:9 [Go back]

46) John 14:2,3 [Go back]

47) Revelation 3:12 [Go back]

48) Luke 20:36 [Go back]

49) I Corinthians 15:26 [Go back]

50) I Corinthians 15:53-55 [Go back]

51) Revelation 2:7 [Go back]

52) Stromata, vol. 3, p. 433 [Go back]

53) Romans 9:14 [Go back]

54) De Principiis, II,9,7 [Go back]

55) De Principiis, book 4, chapter 3 [Go back]

56) Luke 20:36; Rom. 8:14 [Go back]

57) Luke 16:8 [Go back]

58) Matthew 5:9; Luke 10:6 [Go back]

59) John 1:12 [Go back]

60) Colossians 3:5 [Go back]

61) II Corinthians 6:17 [Go back]

62) II Corinthians 11:15. De Principiis, I,8,4 [Go back]

63) Saint Sulpitius Severus was the chief disciple of Saint Martin of Tours, the first person to be canonized that was not a martyr. [Go back]

64) Sacred History, Chapter 28 [Go back]

65) Sacred History, Chapter 29 [Go back]

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