To reincarnate is, literally, to “incarnate again”; that is, reincarnation is a “rebirth” into a new body of flesh and blood. In most contexts, reincarnation refers to the process, after death, of a soul returning in a new body. Claims of remembering a “past life” imply reincarnation.
According to some religious and philosophical systems, reincarnation involves more than human souls and bodies: a dog’s spirit can reincarnate as another dog, for example, or a human soul can reincarnate as a cow. Reincarnation, also referred to as the transmigration of the soul, rests on concepts such as the eternal, uncreated nature of the soul and the need for the soul to “mature,” grow, transform, and evolve.
Of course, there is no “proof” for reincarnation. Any evidence put forward is entirely subjective: feelings of déjà vu, recurring dreams, feeling one has an “old soul,” irrational phobias, and an affinity for other cultures and eras are all interpreted, by some, as confirmation that they are living another life in a different body.
The concept of reincarnation, in any of its forms, is completely without foundation in the Bible. The truth is that we die once and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The Bible never even remotely suggests that people have a second chance at life or that they can come back as different people or animals. Reincarnation has been a popular belief for thousands of years, but it has never been accepted by Christians or followers of Judaism because it is contradictory to Scripture.
Several passages in Scripture refute the idea of reincarnation. Jesus told the criminal on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43)—not “You will have another chance to live a life on earth.” Matthew 25:46 tells us that, upon death, believers go on to eternal life while unbelievers go on to eternal punishment. We are created as individuals, and our identity does not change after death (see Luke 9:30).
Some who believe in reincarnation point to Matthew 17:10–12 as biblical support for reincarnation. The disciples ask Jesus about the commonly taught prophecy that Elijah must come before the Messiah (verse 10; cf. Malachi 4:5), and Jesus responds by identifying the “Elijah” of the prophecy as John the Baptist (Matthew 17:11–13). However, Jesus was not teaching that John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnated. For one thing, Elijah did not die; he was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11), so the literal “coming” of Elijah would have been a descent from heaven, not a reincarnation. Jesus calls John the Baptist “Elijah” because he came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), not because he was Elijah in a literal sense. Also, Elijah himself had just appeared, talking with Jesus (Matthew 17:3), which shows that Elijah had not changed his identity—he had not become John. Finally, the people had earlier asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah, and he said, “No, I am not” (John 1:21).
Belief in reincarnation is a central tenet in the majority of Indian religious traditions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Many modern pagans also believe in reincarnation, as do some New Age movements, along with followers of Spiritism. For the Christian, however, there can be no doubt: reincarnation is unbiblical and must be rejected as false.