By James M. Rochford

According to a recent 2009 Pew Forum, roughly one quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation comes from the Latin roots:

Re meaning “again.”

In meaning “inside.”

Carne meaning “meat” or “flesh.” This root word is used of carnivores (or meat-eaters).

Thus reincarnation literally means to “enter the flesh again.” Christians often refer to Jesus’ incarnation, where he took on human flesh. Reincarnation means to take on flesh repeatedly. Hindu thinking states that the soul is eternal, until it becomes part and parcel with Braham—the pantheistic deity. The soul can travel (or transmigrate) from insects, to animals, to humans. New Age thinking believes that the soul only transmigrates from human to human.

Biblical critique of reincarnation

The Bible does not teach the concept of reincarnation. In fact, it repeatedly teaches against this perspective:

First, the Bible teaches that we only live once. The author of Hebrews writes, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There is not an endless cycle of reincarnations; we have one chance to live life and “after this comes judgment.” According to Scripture, humans do not have eternal souls; we were created (Gen. 1:27; Ps. 139:13-16) and will die (Job 1:21).

Second, the Bible teaches that believers go directly into the presence of God at death. Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:21-23). Elsewhere, he writes, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Likewise, Jesus told that the thief on the Cross that he would go directly into God’s presence in “paradise”—not into another reincarnation (Lk. 23:43).

Third, Jesus rejected the notion of pre-natal sins. The concept of reincarnation (combined with karmic law) teaches that infants are born with defects and deformities because of their sin in a previous life. When the disciples came across a man born blind (Jn. 9:1), they asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (Jn. 9:2). If Jesus believed in reincarnation, he would have blamed this congenital defect on the man’s own sin—albeit in a previous life. However, Jesus denied this, when he said, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents” (Jn. 9:3). In Luke 13, Jesus denied that misfortune was the result of a person’s individual sins (Lk. 13:1-5).

Fourth, the Bible teaches that humans can be forgiven. Karmic law doles out judgment in a cold and impersonal way. However, the Bible teaches that humans can have forgiveness for their sins—not judgment. Jesus didn’t call down judgment and retribution on his enemies (as karmic law would dictate)—but forgiveness (Lk. 24:34; Jn. 3:17-18).

Fifth, while New Age authors usually appeal to Scripture to support reincarnation, these passages are found wanting. Consider our look at each of these below:

(Mt. 11:14) Did Jesus believe in reincarnation?

(Gal. 6:7) Does this passage teach karmic law?

Philosophical critique of reincarnation

In addition to a biblical critique of reincarnation, we have several philosophical objections:

First, an impersonal Being cannot give out moral laws, let alone judgments. If karmic law is truly the law of an impersonal Being, then how can it give out personal judgment? In order to have a moral law, we need a moral lawgiver. It makes no sense to say that we can have moral prescriptions without a moral Prescriber. However, New Age and Hindu pantheism doesn’t posit a personal God, but an impersonal one.

Second, karmic law and reincarnation hasn’t improved the world. Human history is not getting better, but worse. Thus, in what sense has karmic law been purifying the world, as is so often claimed?

Third, karmic law and reincarnation doesn’t fit with population growth. When reincarnation was first espoused by ancient Hindu and Greek philosophers, it appeared that population growth was in a static state, because there was no way to measure this at the time. Today, however, we know that humanity’s population has grown at exponential rates:


Population growth renders a problem for the reincarnationist: If souls are eternal and no new souls are being created, then where are these extra souls coming from? Remember, some souls at least are being absorbed into Brahman. Therefore, the human population should be decreasing not increasing.[1]

Fourth, karmic law and reincarnation are ultimately selfish—not centered on others but on ourselves. While Christians love others because God has loved us first (1 Jn. 4:19), the reincarnationist loves others so that they will be ultimately rewarded in return. Under this view, we really shouldn’t love others for their own sake, but for our own sake—being rewarded through karmic law. By contrast, the Christian believer loves others because they have already been loved.

Fifth, karmic law and reincarnation result in blaming the victim. If karmic law and reincarnation are both true, then the poor person is poor because of their own sin. Morey writes, “It produces pride among the rich and healthy, and shame within the poor and sick.”[2]

Sixth, karmic law and reincarnation punish individuals without them knowing why they are being punished. While some Hindu children claim to have a knowledge of a previous life (see our assessment below), our past lives are almost universally unknown to us. How then is it considered just for us to be punished for actions for which we have no memory? What is going to stop us from making the same errors all over again? Morey writes, “If I sin as an adult in this life, how is it just to punish me as an infant in a future life?”[3] How can karma be a good system, if the person doesn’t even know why they are being punished?

Seventh, karmic law and reincarnation have led to treating insects as more valuable than humans in many cases. Morey writes, “Because insects and animals may be Karmic rebirths of human souls, no attempt is made to destroy insects and rodents which eat food supplies. Thus, by allowing these marauders to eat tons of food, people are forced to die of starvation! Also, nothing is done to stop the spread of disease by insect infestation. Is it any wonder that disease as well as famine is a common experience in cultures where the theory of transmigration is accepted? It leads to human misery on a massive scale.”[4]

Arguments for Reincarnation

Both New Age and Hindu reincarnationists offer various arguments for their perspective. Consider a couple of these below:

ARGUMENT #1: Reincarnation answers the problem of evil

Reincarnationists often claim that reincarnation gives a cogent explanation for why people suffer in this life. Babies are born with defects, low I.Q.’s, or into poverty because of their own moral failings in a previous life. Thus, evil and suffering are not random or senseless, but rather, they are retributive to the individual. However, a number of observations can be made in regard to this argument:

First, while reincarnationists formerly believed that birth defects were the result of karmic law, modern Hindus in India have begun to deeply question this. Morey writes, “Recent studies show that the study of genetics in India is gradually undermining the Karmic explanation of birth defects. As mothers learn the importance of prenatal care, the number of birth defects is decreasing. Yet, prenatal care which prevents birth defects also puts Karmic reincarnationists into a dilemma. To admit that modern medicine can remove Karma or nullify its effects would deny that Karma is a ‘law.’”[5]

Second, Christians have done more for the poor and marginalized in India than any other group. Thus Christianity has a better practical answer to the problem of human evil and suffering. Secular authors Carmody and Carmody observe,

Christians opened hundreds of charitable institutions, especially schools, and were responsible for the first leprosaria. They also promoted hospital care for the tuberculosis and the insane. In fact, Christianity’s greatest impact was probably the rousing of the Hindu social conscience. The tradition of dharma as social responsibility had not resulted in the establishment of institutions for the poor and sickly. While Western culture opened India to modern science, technology, and democratic political theory, Western religion drove home the ideal of social concern.[6]

Likewise, secular author Lewis Hopfe writes,

Like many other missionaries of the nineteenth century [William] Carey was concerned not only with preaching the gospel of his faith but also with raising the living and educational standard of the people he ministered to. He was the first to begin modern printing in India, and he also initiated many new educational programs for the Indian people. Carey, along with other missionaries, was alarmed at several practices—which he felt were inhuman and harmful—within Indian social life. One of these was the suttee, in which an Indian widow was expected to throw herself upon the funeral pyre or into the grave of her dead husband and be destroyed with him. Another practice that was abhorrent to the European missionary was that of child marriages… This meant the betrothal of very young children, and the marriage of nine and ten-year-olds. This was particularly harsh in the case of girls who might have been promised by their parents to men twenty or thirty years their senior… The missionaries put pressure upon the British rulers, and eventually both the practices of child marriages and the suttee were officially outlawed in India.[7]

Thus when it comes to alleviating suffering in the world, Christianity has offered better practical help. When you’re hurting, you not only want answers; you want to feel better. Christianity has done more for Hindus in India, than Hinduism has. As Christian apologists have long observed, Hinduism didn’t bring us Mother Theresa into Calcutta, India: Jesus Christ did.

Third, the Christian answer to the problem of evil is superior. While we do not have the space or inclination to detail a Christian response to the problem of evil, see our earlier article “The Problem of Evil” which does so.

ARGUMENT #2: We can often remember past lives

New Age teachers often support the doctrine of reincarnation through three means: (1) a sense of déjà vu, (2) children who have recalled past lives, and (3) patients recalling past lives under hypnosis. However, we have reason to doubt all three lines of evidence.

1. Déjà vu

Often, people observe déjà vu; that is, a sense that they have “been here before.” However, cases of déjà vu have been regularly explained by similar situations and pictures of places. For instance, a man having déjà vu of visiting the French Louvre will come to find a picture of the Louvre in house, which triggers the feeling.

Additionally, people often observe a sensation of déjà vu in places that are younger than the individual. Morey writes, “This feeling often occurs when seeing people or buildings which are younger than the viewer. Since his present life extends well before these things, it is obvious that he could not have met them or been there in a past life because these things did not yet exist.”[8] Therefore, it is our sense of déjà vu that could be in error.

2. Children recalling past lives

Psychologist Ian Stevenson M.D. spent 40 years documenting the evidence for reincarnation among children in Sri Lanka, documenting 14 specific cases in his book Children Who Remember Previous Lives.[9] In total, Stevenson collected 3,000 cases of children,[10] but his 1987 book reports on 14 of these. Reincarnationists have touted Stevenson’s work as strong medical evidence of reincarnation. But in contrast to this, there are a number of problems with Stevenson’s work:

First, Stevenson’s cases were dated. Skeptic Richard Rockley notes, “All the ‘past life behavior’ had been witnessed before the author met any of the players and so the veracity of the stories is hard to determine.”[11]

Second, Stevenson’s cases consisted in close proximity to the child. In 9 out of the 14 cases, the “the prior life person had (or could have had), some contact with the family of the child.”[12] The rest of the cases were unsolved or not able to be verified.

Third, Stevenson gives no cases of people from other countries. Most of his cases are from India. Rockley writes, “In 13 of the 14 cases the previous lives were in the same community as the current one.”[13] Morey writes, “Nearly all of these cases take place in Hindu cultures. This casts suspicion on their credibility, for why should only Hindu children recall their past lives? Is it possible that young minds trained to believe that they have lived before are encouraged to draw upon the richness of children’s imaginations to fabricate such lives? Do not children all around the world pretend to be other people? When a reincarnationist’s child pretends to be someone else, is he not encouraged to believe that he really was someone else in a past life? Such arguments for the validity of reincarnation are highly suspect.”[14]

Fourth, Stevenson didn’t speak the native languages, so he needed to rely on translators. This would only increase the likelihood that an adult translator could alter details from the testimony of the children—especially in a culture where children have a high incentive to be religious celebrities or to desire to belong to a different caste. Therefore, for these reasons, we do not believe that these cases are trustworthy evidence of reincarnation.

3. Hypnosis

Hypnosis cases have been suggested as a means of accessing previous lives. In the 1956 book The Search for Bridey Murphy,[15] we see an example of a young woman who could speak Gaelic and talk about old Irish history. However, she couldn’t do this while awake. Reincarnationists pointed to this as evidence of past lives.

However, this work underwent intense scrutiny when it was discovered that “the woman learned these things from her grandmother, not during a past life.”[16] The human mind records everything, but hypnosis may bring out memories of the subconscious, which are not concrete in any other state.

Additionally, we contend that even if supernatural knowledge was gained through hypnotic practices, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is coming from God. Since Satan has existed for millennia, he would be able to impart supernatural knowledge of past events. Therefore, occult practices could theoretically yield supernatural knowledge. In fact, the Bible even allows for this possibility (Deut. 13:1-3), because Satan is in control of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19). However, just because these practices are real, we reject that they are good.


We believe that stories of reincarnation are suspicious. Why is it that everyone usually believes that they were someone important in a previous life (e.g. King Arthur, Jesus Christ, Alexander the Great)? Why is it that no one believes that they were a ditch digger or a latrine cleaner? Moreover, if hundreds of people all believed that they were Alexander the Great for example, this means (as a statement of logic) that either all of them are wrong, or only one of them is telling the truth. Thus we should conclude that most (if not all of these reports) are false.

Further Reading

Edwards, Paul. Reincarnation: A Critical Examination. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1996.

This is a critique of reincarnation from a skeptical, atheistic perspective.

Geisler, Norman L., and J. Yutaka. Amano. The Reincarnation Sensation. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1986.

Martin, Walter. The Riddle of Reincarnation. Santa Ana, CA: Vision House, 1977.

Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980.

Morey’s short book (60 pages) is an excellent treatment on the subject of reincarnation. He gets straight to the point, interacting with arguments for and against reincarnation. We highly endorse this book and consulted it closely while writing this article.


[1] Hindu reincarnationists claim that some souls have transmigrated from insects and animals, thus giving us more human souls. However, New Age reincarnationists do not believe in the transmigration of the soul from insect to human—only human to human. So, this isn’t a solution for them.

[2] Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980. 42.

[3] Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980. 42.

[4] Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980. 43.

[5] Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980. 18.

[6] Carmody, Denise Lardner, and John Carmody. Ways to the Center: An Introduction to World Religions. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1984. 77.

[7] Hopfe, Lewis M. Religions of the World. Fourth ed. London: MacMillan, 1987. 114-115.

[8] Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980. 22.

[9] Stevenson, Ian. Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1987. In addition to this book, Stevenson’s later work Reincarnation and Biology (1997) was a 2,268 page tome that contained 225 case reports.

[11] Rockley, Richard. “Book Review: Children who remember previous lives, A question of reincarnation, Ian Stevenson.” The Skeptic Report. November 1, 2002.

[12] Rockley, Richard. “Book Review: Children who remember previous lives, A question of reincarnation, Ian Stevenson.” The Skeptic Report. November 1, 2002.

[13] Rockley, Richard. “Book Review: Children who remember previous lives, A question of reincarnation, Ian Stevenson.” The Skeptic Report. November 1, 2002.

[14] Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980. 22.

[15] Bernstein, Morris. The Search for Bridey Murphy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956.

[16] Morey, Robert A. Reincarnation and Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1980. 23.