Reincarnation and the Bible

Long ago we reviewed L. David Moore's The Christian Conspiracy and noted its claim that the Bible and early church taught reincarnation. On the latter we recommend Glenn Miller's item Did the early church believe in reincarnation?, and we now move to address the former.

These are summary arguments offered by Moore, which he says are developed in more detail in another book; but we have obtained it (Christianity and the New Age Religion and it actually contains less than Christian Conspiracy.

Moore offers five conclusions suggesting that reincarnation was an early Christian belief [183-4]:

Both the Pharisees and the Essenes at the time of Jesus believed in reincarnation as documented by Josephus.

This is patently false and relies upon an insufficiently nuanced reading of Josephus, who reports Jewish beliefs in Greek terms for the benefit of his Gentile readers. Josephus says that the Pharisees believe that "the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment." (War 2.164) Not only is this contrary to reincarnation principles (as it undermines the idea of karma: bad men do not get another body of a lower form), it misunderstands "other bodies" -- which is a reference to the resurrection body.

As for the Essenes, Josephus records that they believe in the ascent of the good soul to heaven and the descent of the bad soul to punishment and says nothing about new bodies. (In Antiquities 18.14, Josephus expresses Pharasaic belief in more Jewish terms, saying that the good souls with "have the power to revive and live again.")

Five major pieces of Scripture are difficult to interpret in any way other than that there is a belief in reincarnation.

Moore does no more exegesis in either book than what follows: author who has a Doctor of Divinity degree from an accredited theological seminary has proposed that there are over 200 verses of Scripture which indicate a belief in reincarnation

Moore refers here to McDermitt's Reincarnation: A Biblical Doctrine, which actually does not offer anything near 200 verses which "indicate" a belief, but may quote about 200 verses which it then explains in reincarnational terms. It adds no supportive passages, other than that Matthew 5:48, the command to be perfect, would be best fulfilled over multiple lifetimes.

As for a degree, McDermitt's is from the "International Bible Institute and Seminary" -- an operation that happens to be not far from me. It's not exactly a mail-order degree institution, but it isn't exactly Dallas Theological Seminary either.

The Bible teaches pre-existence.

In addition to John 1:6, Moore uses John 9:2 and Romans 9:10-13, verses also used by the Mormons. See Chapter 3 of The Mormon Defenders for a response.

The Bible teaches karma: "You will reap what you sow."

Then does our justice system operate on karma when it says that "the punishment will fit the crime"? All the essential elements of karma which make it distinctive are distinctly missing from the Bible, notably the idea that the reaping is administrated by some cosmic wheel of justice; the key verse, Gal. 6:7, identifies the personal Jewish God as the agent of retribution.

In conclusion: One can only read reincarnation into the Bible by mangling it out of its social context.