Reincarnation in the Bible: Fact or Fiction?

Titlepic: Reincarnation in the Bible: Fact or Fiction?

Some claim that the idea of reincarnation is found in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. Is that true? If so, what is the textual evidence for that?

KEYWORDS: karma, metempsychosis, philosophy of religion, reincarnation, samsara, The Bible, The New Testament, The Old Testament, transmigration.



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I have previously written articles that touch upon the subject of reincarnation, for example in my post on the idea of bad karma from previous lives.

Today, however, the topic is the controversial idea of whether or not the concept of reincarnation is seen in the Bible (i.e. in the Old Testament and/or in the New Testament).

According to the authoritative non-physical sources of the Law of Attraction, reincarnation (or transmigration, or metempsychosis) is a reality. There is no doubt about it.

Now, for individuals with a belief in Indian and Hindu philosophy and religion, the concept of reincarnation is not a new one. So when such persons are interested in the Law of Attraction, they easily can accept that transmigration (samsara) is real.

However, for Christians who are interested in the Law of Attraction, it is not equally easy. For the typical Christian teachings (as delivered in the modern churches and congregations) do not include this concept.

This means that a Christian (whether Protestant, Catholic, etc.) who is interested in the Law of Attraction here is presented with a big obstacle — an obstacle that makes it harder to accept the worldview of Law of Attraction, and, ultimately, makes it more difficult to really master the Law of Attraction.

Of course, there are also other obstacles for Christians who are interested in the Law of Attraction. One such example is the idea that one should “surrender to God” and not to one’s personal desires. Another example is the idea that we human beings are all “sinners”. And a third example is that some persons are destined to “everlasting damnation in hell”. Such ideas are similarly blocks in the way of getting Law of Attraction to work better. I will discuss these ideas elsewhere.

This article, then, is meant as a motivation and inspiration for Christians who (gradually) may want to transition to a full Law of Attraction mindset.

So the question for this article is this: Can we find any evidence in the Old Testament or New Testament that may be interpreted as reincarnation?


So what can we say about the concept of reincarnation, in terms of the Bible? Is it mentioned, or not?

Well, what I can see, the concept of reincarnation is not explicitly stated in any of the main English translations of the Old Testament and New Testament.

But that doesn’t mean that the original manuscripts (in Hebrew and Greek, respectively) may have mentioned reincarnation, either explicitly or indirectly.

And after inspecting the text in the original manuscripts, some scholars indeed think that certain passages may suggest that reincarnation was part of the teachings.

Infographic: Two opinions on reincarnation in the Bible, from the viewpoint of Church representatives and some scholars.


Although there certainly have been various flavors of reincarnation in different schools of thought throughout the ages, the general concept of reincarnation has been around for thousands of years, especially in the Eastern traditions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc.). But it is also found in tribal-type or non-literate societies across the globe, especially in the native cultures found in central Australia and West Africa (Long 1986, p. 7676b).

Reincarnation in Europe

Belief in reincarnation was also prevalent in Europe and the Middle East long before the arrival of Jesus. Pythagoras (c. 570-495 BC) and the Pythagoreans taught a doctrine of a reincarnating immortal soul (metempsychosis). The concept of reincarnation was also found in the so-called Orphic poems, which were circulating in Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BC (Huffman 2018; Morrison 2006, p. 42a).

Although Plato (c. 428-348 BC) certainly discussed the idea of reincarnation, it seems that he did not (explicitly) describe Pythagoras’s version of it. For Pythagoras is mentioned by name only once in all of Plato’s writings (in Republic 600a-b); and in that passage Plato only shortly touches on the idea of Pythagoras as the founder of a certain style of life, and does not bring up the doctrine of transmigration (Huffman 2018; Shorey 1946, pp. 436-439).

The main source of inspiration for the metempsychosis concepts that Plato is discussing here and there in his works seems instead to be the Orphic writings. This is seen for example in the Cratylus, where Plato explicitly speaks of the theory that “the body is the tomb of the soul” as coming from the Orphic poets (Morrison 2006, p. 43a).

Also later, in the new millenium, the diverse teachings of Gnosticism were infused with the idea of transmigration; and such theories were used in certain Christian and Jewish groups.

What is important to bring home is the point of diversity in beliefs, even among Christians, in the new millennium, both when Jesus was active and also after his departure. Professor Bart D. Ehrman describes the variety of beliefs in the middle of the second century as follows (Ehrman 2004, p. 1):

“Christians who believe that there are 2 different gods, or 30, or 365, Christians who claim that the Old Testament is an evil book inspired by an evil deity, Christians who say that God did not create the world and has never had any involvement with it, Christians who maintain that Jesus did not have a human body, or that he did not have a human soul, or that he was never born, or that he never died.”

In other words, today’s standardized, homogeneous version of Christianity is a far cry from what the beliefs were back then. So it would not be strange if one were to discover that reincarnation actually was a part of the original teachings of Jesus, although the texts (in translation), as they appear today, mostly do not support it.

The Rejection of Reincarnation

The concept of reincarnation has not generally been accepted by “official” or “organized” Christianity since the Middle Ages (476-1400 A.D.) and onward. Reincarnation may have been accepted prior to that (in a non-official way, by Christians who also were adopting some form of Gnosticism, and others), even when Jesus was alive and shortly thereafter. But as time passed, the belief in transmigration among mainstream Christians more or less disappeared.

Some scholars think that the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) was the time and place for a major revision of Christian doctrine, in which the reincarnation theme was explicitly rejected and edited away. This (alleged) editing of the Bible thus removed some of its books and teachings, in order to harmonize the philosophy and to minimize various objections against the teachings.

Another reason could be a motivational one: for if all humans already were guaranteed reincarnation and eternal life, why would anyone need “salvation”? Who would need Jesus as a ‘savior‘?

The Modern Version of Christianity

For modern mainstream Christians there is no scenario of multiple lifetimes, where a person who has died comes back to Earth, again and again. Rather, it is believed that there is just one “final” destination: either heaven, or hell. So the idea is then that one goes to either of those places, and then stays there, eternally.


Here in Part 3 I am presenting two topics for discussion. The first one is about passages that contain a “as you sow, you shall reap” philosophy, reminiscent of concepts in Indian philosophy and religion. And the second topic is about the Hebrew word “sheol” that might be relevant in terms of reincarnation.

As You Sow, So Shall You Reap

There are at least three references in the Old Testament to some form of “as you sow, so shall you reap” philosophy, reminiscent of the Eastern idea of (good and bad) karma and karmic reactions. [note 1]

One such example is in Proverbs (“The Book of Proverbs”). Proverbs 11:18 says (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 815 OT):

“The wicked earn no real gain, but those who sow righteousness get a true reward.”

Other similar examples are found in Ps. 62:12 and Job 4:8.

But although all these passages clearly are reminiscent of a karmic way of seeing things, there is no explicit talk of coming back to the Earthly world multiple times. Nevertheless, one cannot fully rule out the possibility that the original texts may have been written with a rebirth scenario in mind.

The Hebrew Word “Sheol”

In the Old Testament (which is originally written in Hebrew), the Hebrew word “sheol” (“deep down”; “a mighty pit”; Pearson 1938) is mentioned dozens of times. But this word, according to several scholars, does not have just one possible meaning; it has several. So there is a theory that “sheol” could indicate a destination where some sort of punishment is executed, after which a new reincarnation might ensue.

It seems clear that “sheol” was not always pointing to just the physical grave or tomb. For the ancient Hebrews thought that the body in the grave was one thing, and the spirit soul another. So after the body was buried, the spirit would move on to another place, a nether region, which was thought to be located much further down (presumably hundreds or thousands of meters down) within the earth, as described in Ps. 63:9 (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 725 OT):

“But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;”

The interesting thing, though, is that the “sheol”, or the spirit’s affiliation with it, seemingly was not perceived to be permanent, or eternal. For in Ps. 86:13 we encounter the idea that one need not necessarily stay there (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 749 OT):

“For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”

The objection to my interpretation is, of course, that the talk of “delivered my soul” is just a metaphorical one; so the idea expressed in this verse is just that one has prevented ending up in the “sheol” by worshiping God (instead of not having worshiped God).

But there is more to the story. For in Mad it seems as if God, for some reason, is involved in redeeming the same soul multiple times (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 662 OT):

“God indeed does all these things, twice, three times, with mortals, to bring back their souls from the Pit, so that they may see the light of life.”

So there is at least some room for an interpretation that reincarnation might have been alluded to here.

In any case, what is clear is that the Jewish conception of heaven and life after death was gradually changed after the Babylonian conquest and exile (597 BC). [note 2]

One theory that emerged was the idea of a temporary place of punishment called Gehenna. This then automatically invites the idea of a possible reincarnation back into the Earthly plane (cf. Tober and Lusby 1986, p. 238a).


In Part 4 there are two topics that might have to do with transmigration or metempsychosis: the idea that Elijah has already come and the story about the blind man.

Elijah Has Already Come

There are two places in Matthew where the idea of “Elijah has already come” is discussed. The first one is in Matthew 17:12 (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 26 N):

“. . . but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased.”

The second one is in Matthew 11:14, where Jesus says (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 16 NT; my square brackets):

“…and if you are willing to accept it, he [John the Baptist] is Elijah who is to come.”

As the second passage reads, one might then assume that John the Baptist, a contemporary of Jesus, is to appear in the future as Elijah, since Jesus says “Elijah who is to come”. However, according to many Christians, the Elijah that is spoken of here refers to “Elijah the Tishbite”, a person who lived long before the time of Jesus and John the Baptist (see the story in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 1:2-2:23).

Another thing to observe is that there was a prophecy that spoke of Elijah to return later, when “the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5-6). And the description of Elijah in that passage is very close to the description of John the Baptist, as seen in Luke 1.17 (Metzger and Murphy 1994, note 5; p. 1237 OT).

Thus, the phrase “is Elijah who is to come” may here be read as “is that Elijah [the Tishbite] who once was prophesied to come”, in order for us to make sense of both passages.

So it is therefore a possibility that Jesus here is saying that John the Baptist is a reincarnation of Elijah (the Tishbite).

Such a conclusion is, of course, troubling for many Christians. So they may object and claim that Jesus was not talking about Elijah and John the Baptist in any reincarnation scenario. Rather, they may claim, the idea was simply that John the Baptist was a successor of Elijah, in terms of his capability to convert souls to God, or something along those lines.

Nevertheless, such an objection is not totally watertight. So it’s still a possibility that Jesus talked about reincarnation or transmigration here.

The Story of the Blind Man

In John 9:1-3 there is the story of a man who had been blind since birth. Jesus’s disciples saw that man and they asked Jesus about the reason for that man’s innate blindness: Was it because that man himself had sinned (in a past life)? Or was it because his parents had sinned (in a past life)? And Jesus said, in John 9:3 (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 140 NT):

“Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’”

Here Jesus talks about both the man and his parents in past tense, and confirms that neither of them (as persons, living a life on Earth) had sinned in a past life. So it then seems quite straightforward to think that Jesus here is talking about reincarnation.

This, of course, is not an interpretation that suits Christian representatives and their purposes. But such an interpretation is still technically possible, at least when using the Oxford translation that I have quoted above.


Why Search for Reincarnation in the Bible?

One reason for a Christian to search for reincarnation in the Bible is because one intuitively feels that reincarnation is correct. Therefore, since one already knows, by one’s internal feeling, that reincarnation is true, one must find reincarnation also in the Bible. And if one cannot find it in the Bible, one may have to abandon the Bible (and mainstream Christian teachings) as a credible source of information.

Another reason to search for reincarnation in the Bible is because its philosophy does not make sense. Gianluca Di Muzio makes the interesting argument that there seems to be a major disproportion between the finite amount of human sin that can be done in one lifetime versus the idea of infinite punishment in Hell for all eternity. Therefore, he argues, Christians should add the theory of reincarnation into their belief system (Di Muzio 2013).

A third reason to try to find transmigration in the Bible is this. It can serve as inspiration for those who are on the path of the Law of Attraction. For if it is possible that the Bible once mentioned reincarnation (in its original languages, Hebrew and Greek), then the transition to the Law of Attraction material may go easier and quicker.

Naturally, the possibility of reincarnation may also serve as additional psychological comfort for those who have experienced loss or are struggling with questions about their own, or other’s, mortality.

Is Reincarnation Really in the Bible?

There may be support for the thesis that there are isolated passages in the Old Testament and New Testament that may be interpreted as reincarnation (as shown above).

This, however, is not to say that there is any broad support of reincarnation in the modern English version of the Bible. It is very clear that the official Christian stance is that reincarnation is not in the Bible.

Is Reincarnation Compatible with Standard Christian Beliefs?

Reincarnation is not compatible with the mainstream version of Christian teachings. For if reincarnation were true, then we would just return back to earth, over and over again. Thus, the Christian idea of an eternal hell could not also be true, at the same time.

Consequently, reincarnation cannot be allowed by the modern Christian church.


Infographic: Possibilities for seeing the concept of reincarnation in some of the texts of the Bible.


There are a few places in the Old Testament and New Testament that possibly may be interpreted as evidence for reincarnation. However, there is no broad support for transmigration in either the Old Testament or the New Testament, at least not in the standard English translations.

My own belief is that the idea of reincarnation has been edited away in the early Christian era, as to motivate the public to adopt its teachings. For if there is no reincarnation, then one must go and search for “salvation” (by Jesus, or by God, or both) in order to be eligible for eternal life.

But regardless of what the teachings of the modern Bible say, the authoritative sources of the Law of Attraction strongly, clearly, and unambiguously state that reincarnation and eternal life is offered for everyone, and that no particular “salvation” or “savior” is needed in order to return back home to heaven, where we all originally came from.

According to these authentic sources, we all go back to heaven at the time of death, for there simply is no hell and no eternal punishments. And there, in heaven, we decide ourselves, by our free will, whether we want to reincarnate back on Earth once again, for another round of exploring new desires and new preferences.

Chris Bocay


  1. In addition to the three references to “as you sow, so shall you reap” passages in the Old Testament that I have mentioned here, there are also places in the New Testament that talk about similar things. One such place is Galatians 6:7 (Metzger and Murphy 1994, p. 270 NT).
  2. The date of the Babylonian exile is given as “586 BCE” by James L. Kugel (1997, p. 2), but as “597 BCE” by Tober and Lusby (1986, p. 238a). The date of the destruction of the Temple is given as “586 BC” by Theodore H. Robinson (1979, p. 14).


Photo collage of my personal copies of the references used for the article 'Reincarnation in the Bible: Fact or Fiction?'.

  • Di Muzio, Gianluca (2013), “Reincarnation and Infinite Punishment in Hell” in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. Vol. 74, 167-180. Springer. [Link to article]
  • Ehrman, Bart D. (2004), The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. New York and London: Oxford University Press. [Link to book]
  • Huffman, Carl (2018), “Pythagoras” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Metaphysics Research Lab, Department of Philosophy, Stanford University. [Link to article]
  • Kugel, James L. (1997), The Bible As It Was. Cambridge, MA and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. [Link to book]
  • Long, J. Bruce (1986), “Reincarnation” in Mircea Eliade, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion. 16 volumes. Volume 12: Procession — Saicho. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company; and London: Collier Macmillan Publishers. [Link to book]
  • Metzger, Bruce M. and Roland E. Murphy, eds. (1991), The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical Books. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. [Link to book]
  • Morrison, John (2006), “Orphism” in Donald M. Borchert, ed., Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Volume 7: Oakeshott–Presupposition. Second edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale (Macmillan Reference USA). [Link to book]
  • Pearson, Fred B. (1938), “Sheol and Hades in Old and New Testament” in The Review & Expositor. Vol. 35, Issue 3. Sage Journals. [Link to article]
  • Plato (1946), The Republic. With an English Translation by Paul Shorey. In Two Volumes. Volume 2. Books VI–X. Series: Loeb Classical Library. London: William Heinemann Ltd; and Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. [Link to book]
  • Robinson, Theodore H. (1979), Prophecy and the Prophets in Ancient Israel. Third Edition. With a New Bibliography by G. W. Anderson, F.B.A. First edition. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co, Ltd. [Link to book (other ed.)]
  • Tober, Linda M., and F. Stanley Lusby (1986), “Heaven and Hell” in Mircea Eliade, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion. 16 volumes. Volume 6: God — I-Ching. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company; and London: Collier Macmillan Publishers. [Link to book]

Copyright © 2023 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

First published: Sun 11 Jun 2023
Last revised: Sun 10 Sep 2023

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