Old question in a New Age: What does the Bible say about reincarnation?

MARK’S QUESTION:

What does the Bible say bout reincarnation? Was it an esoteric teaching of Jesus that was censored by church councils in the 4th and 5th Centuries?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

According to historians, nothing and no.

Forget pop novels, conspiracy theories about church censorship, or supposed secret knowledge from Jesus. The academic experts say the Bible, and thus Christianity, never taught reincarnation. That’s not to say individual Christians haven’t pondered the idea along with some mystics in Sufi Islam and Judaism’s medieval kabbalah movement.

Some basics on what’s also called transmigration of souls, metempsychosis, or samsara (Sanskrit for “running together”). With certain differences the belief is central for Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism (a synthesis of Hindu elements with Islam’s worship of the one God).

The late Professor J. Bruce Long said the soul’s succession through a series of human or animal lives was often taught by early preliterate cultures, then by certain Egyptian and Greek thinkers, and reached elaborate form in ancient India.

In this developed system “the circumstances of any given lifetime are automatically determined by the net results of good and evil actions in previous existences” through the Law of Karma (meaning “action”). Assessment of each soul’s moral performance is a “universal law of nature that works according to its own inherent necessity,” not judgment by a God or gods. Jainism, uniquely, views karma as a material substance attached to the migrating soul.

Each soul’s deeds determine the varying status in future lives, whether within humanity or animal species. The ultimate goal is spiritual purification to gain release from the inconceivably long series of rebirths. Karma and reincarnation “have done more to shape the whole of Asian thought than any other concept,” Long wrote.

Bible proponents, however, often say that belief produces psychological and spiritual harm. The Bible’s contrasting belief was affirmed  in a 1998 joint declaration by the Catholic Church and world Lutherans (worth noting upon this year’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation): “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of ny merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

True, “New Age” believers, including some who identify as Christian, embrace Eastern religions and seek hints of reincarnation in the New Testament (less so the Old Testament) but Christianity rejects such interpretations. A sampling:

 

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