Does the concept of reincarnation contradict Christ's teachings, or have Christians overlooked or mis-interpreted certain references found throughout the Bible?
Simply stated, the process of reincarnation involves a divine aspect - the soul - which works gradually through its many personalities, lifetime after lifetime, until finally a relative perfection has been attained and the soul achieves at-one-ment with its Divine Source, or God.
Jesus referred to this universal path of spiritual evolution when he said, "The works that I do shall ye do also; and greater works than these shall ye do; because I go unto my Father."
Up until the 6th century AD it is thought that many early Christian figures, such as Origen, laid a heavy emphasis on this basic law of life. This might have been due to the fact that it was simply taken for granted by the general public back then. The Emperor Justinian, however, forced the Church Fathers to expunge such teachings after the 5th Ecumenical Council in 553 AD.
In an effort to relate reincarnation to Christian teachings, the books in the New Testament are probably a good place to start.
In Matthew 16, we see Jesus ask his disciples a simple question, yet he receives what might appear to be strange answers.
[16: 13 - 14] When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
Why would they assume Jesus could possibly be any of the prophets from the past, such as Jeremias or Elias? In the case of John the Baptist, it's possible they meant his spirit could be carried on within Jesus. All these answers suggest people at the time had a general knowledge of the continuity of life in successive forms. Otherwise, they would not consider Jesus to have been another personality in a previous life.
In Chapter 11 of Matthew, we see Jesus reveal to his disciples the identity of John the Baptist in a previous life.
[11: 13 - 14] For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
Clearly, Jesus meant what he said, as he repeats this fact in Chapter 17 of Matthew.
[17: 12 - 13] But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Chapter 9 of John presents a scene where the disciples display curiosity over why a particular man had been born blind.
[9: 2 - 3] And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Not only did the disciples see a past life's worth of actions as a valid explanation for the man's current life-long challenge, but even Jesus himself does not ridicule such guesses. It's important to note that they are not focusing on what type of sin, but rather exactly who had sinned - the parent or the child. The soul eventually must deal with the mistakes (or sins) of previous lives, and therefore the sins of the parents could be taken up by either their children or the parents themselves.
Below are a few more allusions to the great Law of Rebirth governing all life on planet Earth, which works in conjunction with the process of karma, or the Law of Cause and Effect.
[Job 4: 8] Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.
[2 Cor 9: 6] But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
[Lev 24: 19] And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
[Luke 6: 37] Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven
The King James Version of the Bible
(Recommended background article: "Demystifying reincarnation for the Western skeptic")
Illustration by Andy Morgan