Was Reincarnation Originally in the Bible?

During college I took an Intercultural Communication course. The class was fairly unremarkable, but the text book gave no shortage of interesting material. One chapter in particular, written by one Professor Mary Fong, comparing Taoism and Christianity, taught me to be very careful how much stock to put in my text books when it comes to religious issues. On the topic of reincarnation, they began to make some dramatic statements such as, “Historically, reincarnation was written about in the New Testament until the time of Constantine, when the Romans censored it.”

The Challenge: Reincarnation was in the Bible before it was removed by the Romans.

The chapter had my attention. In more detail, it says, “Although contemporary Christian churches teach the fundamental belief that adherents live one earthly life and will die and continue to live in eternity in heaven, researchers argue that there is evidence that Jesus Christ indirectly spoke of the existence of reincarnation in the Bible. Reincarnation refers to the rebirth of the soul and living many lives. The researchers explain that Christ has taught many things to his disciples that he did not teach to the multitudes. The original records of Jesus teachings have gone through many interpretations of what was said and translations into other languages through the centuries.”

If this sounds off to you, it should. Frankly it should have seemed off to Professor Fong when writing this, or to the people responsible for editing, fact checking, and publishing a text book which thousands of students will pay for and study. But where exactly did she go wrong? We’ll cover three primary errors made in this assertion.

The Response

1. Don’t Believe Everything You Read

This was one of the rare occasions where I went to the back of the book to check the citations. Sure enough, there was a source for these statements. The research primarily came from the writings of Dr. Brian L. Weiss, a psychiatrist and expert on reincarnation and hypnotherapy. So their first mistake was going to a hypnotherapist as their primary source for both theology and history. Just because someone has letters before their name does not mean they are a trusted expert in all fields of research. Even experts need to check their sources and mage good arguments.

2. There Were No Secret Teachings of Jesus

The claim that there used to be these other ideas and doctrines in the Bible, before the Romans removed them, is factually untrue. This was perhaps the biggest disappointment for me in reading the chapter. I can understand no fully grasping the Christian worldview and mixing up theology. Unfortunately, this author did not do her due homework, and presented lies as fact.

If the Romans censored the Bible to take out reincarnation, they did an impossibly good job of it. We have no real documentation of these supposed teachings. More importantly, we have literally thousands of texts without these teachings. Are we to believe that every one of those documents was doctored? If it was originally such a big deal, we would have evidence of it. Simply put, the claim is historically absurd. To see more on this particular issue, see my article addressing that exact question.

3. It Doesn’t Fit With the Christian Picture

Some have likened a worldview to a puzzle. You take all the individual pieces that answer different questions about the world, and together it makes a clear picture of the worldview. Reincarnation is an idea that simply doesn’t fit with the other pieces of the Christian picture. Professor Fong even recognized that issue, but she mistakenly believed that the idea of one death and an eternal afterlife was a recent addition.

If reincarnation is real, Christianity is incoherent. If our souls are reborn when we die and placed into new bodies for us to get another shot in this world, why did Jesus die? The whole concept of salvation is that humans are broken and need someone to save them from judgment. If everyone continues on with this cycle of reincarnation, what is there to be saved from? Greg Koukl writes on this in his book The Story of Reality, saying, “Pieces from one puzzle usually cannot be mixed with pieces of another because they are made for different pictures…In the same way, reincarnation makes sense in Hinduism but not in Christianity. Again, there is no place in the biblical view for that puzzle piece to fit. It’s like trying to put a carburetor on a computer.”

We know reincarnation was not originally in the Bible from both historical evidence and proper understanding of Christianity. Don’t be misled, and don’t let demonstrably false statements get passed around as historical fact.

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