Christians and Reincarnation
Could Christian theology adapt to the increasingly common belief in reincarnation? Absolutely, says author Christopher Bache.
BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen
When I wroteLifecycles
, I included a chapter on the compatibility of Christianity and reincarnation. I first thought Christians would have to change a lot of their theology to incorporate reincarnation. But I gradually realized there is actually very little a Christian has to change. I defined a minimum option and a maximum option. At a minimum, all you have to change is the definition of the soul that says the soul only lives one time. You can keep a very conservative understanding of Christ and Christology, of ecclesiology, even of revelation, especially since the New Testament never rebukes reincarnation.
What about the verse from Hebrews that's often quoted when discussing reincarnation: "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment"?
You have to place that verse in its context. The author of Hebrews is not addressing the question of reincarnation. He's addressing the relationship between the individual and the temple's priestly cult.
There are passages in the Bible which suggest Jesus may have believed in reincarnation.
Like Jesus' words in Matthew 11:14? Some say it means that John the Baptist could have been a reincarnation of Elijah.
That's one. Or when he's about to heal a man who's been blind from birth. Jesus says, "Whose sin is this, the man's or his parents'?" How can it be the man's sin if he was blind from birth? Personally, however, I think the evidence has not been established that Jesus taught reincarnation. There have been arguments that it was edited out of the texts by the early church fathers, and that may be, but we don't have compelling historical evidence for that.
We do have provocative evidence for the existence of the belief reincarnation in a number of early Christian communities dating back as far as the 2nd century, and in a number of various gospels that did not make it into the canon. Many Christians found the belief in reincarnation compatible with the teachings of Jesus.
Many Christians say Jesus saves your soul and you go to heaven. What's Jesus' role if it doesn't work like that?
You can still attribute to Jesus a significant role in the history of the salvation of the human race, but that history is an evolutionary spiritual process.
I think there is an invitation in reincarnation to a deeper enrichment of Christianity. The minimum option is to keep everything the same but see the salvation process enacting itself over multiple lives instead of one.
The richer, "maximum" option is to broaden the categories and see Jesus as a prototype rather than a singular creation. Instead of seeing his divine Sonship as unique in human history, never to be repeated either before or since, we would see him as a prototype, someone who had brought his own divinity into manifest awareness ahead of his time, sooner than anyone else. Therefore the difference between Christ and us is one of degree, not a difference in kind.
Why do some people resist the idea of reincarnation? Is it just what they've been taught?
In great part, yes. But there are other reasons why people get hung up on reincarnation. People are afraid reincarnation will deny them the opportunity to be reunited with their loved ones. They're afraid that if reincarnation is true, they won't get to meet their long-lost child who died when he was really young, or their husband who died before them.