“The return to life is an actual fact, and it is a fact that the living are generated from the dead and that the souls of the dead exist.”—PLATO, GREEK PHILOSOPHER, 5TH CENTURY B.C.E., QUOTING “SOCRATES.”
“Since the soul is not found without body and yet is not body, it may be in one body or in another, and pass from body to body.”—GIORDANO BRUNO, ITALIAN PHILOSOPHER, 16TH CENTURY C.E.
“Nothing is dead: men feign themselves dead . . . and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new and strange disguise.”—RALPH WALDO EMERSON, AMERICAN ESSAYIST AND POET, 19TH CENTURY C.E.
HAVE you ever wondered who you really are? Have you ever imagined that you have lived before? If so, you are not alone. Since early times, people from both Eastern and Western cultures have pondered such questions. In their search for answers, some have turned to a belief called reincarnation. This is the idea that when a person dies, an intangible “soul” leaves the body and is reborn in another body—human, animal, or even plant—in one or more successive existences.
While such a belief may satisfy some people, how can we be sure whether it is true? What does God’s Word, the Bible, have to say about it? First, though, we must ask, Where did the idea come from?
Where Did Reincarnation Originate?
According to historians and scholars, the inhabitants of ancient Babylon, a city founded in the latter part of the third millennium B.C.E., toyed with the idea of the immortality of the human soul. The problem of immortality “engaged the serious attention of the Babylonian theologians,” said Morris Jastrow, Jr., in his book The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria. To the Babylonians, “death was a passage to another kind of life,” he explained. “No doubt, the impossibility for the individual to conceive of himself as forever deprived of consciousness, was at the bottom of the primitive theory of the perpetuity of existence in some form.”
From that beginning in Babylon, teachings on the transmigration and rebirth of the soul also began to develop in other parts of the ancient world. Indian philosophers formulated an elaborate belief system around a cycle of rebirths based on the law of cause and effect, or Karma. Influential Greek philosophers also adopted the idea of reincarnation, giving it wide appeal.
Coming to our time, there has been a surge of interest in reincarnation in Western countries. Celebrities and the younger generation have become fascinated with Eastern religious ideas and practices. Today, there is a profusion of books and Internet sites that discuss the significance of supposed past-life experiences. Fast becoming popular in many countries is what has been called past-life therapy. It promotes the use of hypnosis to explore people’s presumed previous lives in an effort to understand their present health and behavior patterns.
Is Reincarnation True?
Even though belief in reincarnation has ancient roots, surely an answer is needed to the foremost question—Is it true? And Christians would want to know if that belief is consistent with Bible-based Christian faith. (John 17:17) Since our Creator, Jehovah God, is the Source of life and “a Revealer of secrets,” he discloses things about life and death otherwise unknown to humans. We can confidently look to his Word, the Bible, for answers on the subject.—Daniel 2:28; Acts 17:28.
God’s answers can be easily identified when we allow the Bible to interpret itself. For example, at Genesis 3:19, we find God’s words to Adam after Adam and Eve disobeyed him. God said: “In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” Adam was created from the dust. At death, he returned to the dust. That was God’s clear statement on the matter. So at death a person is not reborn as someone else but ceases to exist. * Just as heat and cold, dry and wet, light and dark are opposites, death is the opposite of life. The dead are really dead! Isn’t that simple and logical?
Recollections of past lives must therefore have other explanations. The workings of the human mind, including the subconscious, and the effects of medication or traumatic experiences are still not fully understood. Dreams and imagined events based on the colossal amount of information stored in the memory bank of the brain can be so vivid that they appear to be real. In some cases, wicked spirit forces create uncanny experiences that can make the unreal appear real.—1 Samuel 28:7-19.
It is a natural human desire to want to live and to know about the future. But where did that desire come from? Interestingly, the Bible says regarding the Creator: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, New International Version) Hence, humans have a heartfelt desire to live indefinitely.
If our Creator, Jehovah God, has put the desire to live forever in the hearts of men, it is only logical that he would also explain how that desire can be satisfied. The Bible reveals the Creator’s lofty purpose to bless obedient humans with everlasting life on a paradise earth. “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it,” said the inspired psalmist, King David. (Psalm 37:29) A primary Bible doctrine inseparably linked with God’s eternal purpose is the resurrection of the dead.—Acts 24:15; 1 Corinthians 15:16-19.
Resurrection—The Proven Hope for the Dead
The Bible contains eight eyewitness accounts of people being raised from the dead back to life on earth. * These were cases of resurrection, not reincarnation. The ones brought back from the dead were immediately recognized by family and friends. In no case did the relatives need to search among newborns near and far to try and ascertain if one of the infants was the reincarnated soul of their dead loved one.—John 11:43-45.
Reassuringly, God’s Word indicates that the vast majority of those who have died will come back in the resurrection of the dead in God’s new world, which will soon replace this wicked world here on earth. (2 Peter 3:13, 14) Right now, the life patterns of billions of individuals are preserved in the limitless, perfect memory of Jehovah, the God who even remembers the names of all the stars! (Psalm 147:4; Revelation 20:13) When he restores successive generations of people to life in his new world, they will be able to trace their family tree and personally get to know their ancestors. What a fascinating, thrilling prospect!
^ par. 18 The eight recorded instances are found at 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 13:20, 21; Luke 7:11-17; 8:40-56; John 11:38-44; Acts 9:36-42; 20:7-12. As you read the accounts, note how these resurrections took place in front of many eyewitnesses. A ninth account describes the resurrection of Jesus Christ.—John 20:1-18.