Having shown the belief in reincarnation in several New Testament passages, I’ll now show 2 or 3 passages in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha (which the Roman Catholic Church accepts as canonical, but the Protestant Churches don’t) which show the presence of this teaching.
The first passage, and the one which most explicitly states a reincarnationist viewpoint, is from the Apocrypha. Even if it is not considered ‘canonical’, it definitely shows the acceptance of reincarnation among Jews of the ‘post-exilic’ period. From the Wisdom of Solomon 8:19, 20: “As a child I was by nature well endowed, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body”. Plainly the author was saying that because he was good before he was born into that particular lifetime, he was granted an “undefiled body” to inhabit. The implication, of course, would be that those who inhabit “defiled bodies” had not been ‘good’ prior to birth in that lifetime. That is pure, unequivocal ‘reincarnation’ teaching. It was pointed out in the previous article, of course, that Jesus taught his disciples in John 9 that having a ‘defiled body’ was not necessarily a result of ‘sin’ (or not being good) in a previous lifetime. The ‘soul’ may have taken a ‘defiled’ body for other reasons, such as giving an occasion for the manifestation of God’s wonderful works.
In Ecclesiastes, also thought to be authored by Solomon, the author takes a rather pessimistic view of the subject, but he apparently believed in it. Eccl. 1:9-11: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already, in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen among those who come after.” What could more plainly be called a ‘new thing’ than a newborn infant? Surely we have a brand new life here! Yet ‘Solomon’ here says “it has been already, in the ages [lifetimes] before us”. But anti-reincarnationists object that we don’t remember former lifetimes; therefore they must not exist. Solomon acknowledges “there is no remembrance of former things” yet it does not dissuade him from belief in the ‘former things’. He is not very happy with this state of things; he considers it ‘vanity’ or ‘emptiness’; but there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s the way things are. This forgetfulness of former lifetimes is in fact not considered an embarrassment by those who believe in reincarnation, but is accepted as a necessary part of the idea (even if they, like Solomon, wish it were otherwise).
The next example I’m giving of reincarnation in the Old Testament is not quite so plain; yet I offer reincarnation as an explanation that makes sense of the passage, and does away with a contradiction in the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In the ‘Ten Commandments” as given in Exodus 20, as part of the second commandment it is stated in verse 5: “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me”. In its normal and literal reading, this is an extremely unjust idea, totally unworthy of God. If God actually punished children for their parents’ sins, He would be more worthy of being called ‘the Devil’ than ‘God’! The Jews in the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, taking it in this literal sense, complained about it; and the prophets denied that such injustice was part of God’s ways. Jer. 31:29, 30: “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’. But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” Ezekiel takes up the 32 verses of chapter 18 to voice the same denial of the idea that children would be punished for the fathers’ sins. Consider verses 1-4: “The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins shall die.” Here is what would appear to be a plain contradiction between Moses and the prophets. Now, as I’m sure you’re aware from my previous articles, I have no hesitation in admitting the presence of serious errors and contradictions in the Bible, so I would not consider it surprising or improbable that such is the case here. Yet suppose that the ‘children’ in their ‘generations’ in Exodus 20 were not the literal descendants of the ‘fathers’, but the future ‘incarnations’ of the souls of the fathers. Then the warning of ‘the Lord’ would be perfectly reasonable and understandable, and completely in keeping with the ‘karma’ involved in reincarnation. Our actions in one lifetime may well carry consequences into 3 or 4 future lifetimes. But it is always the ‘soul’ that sinned that bears the consequences (“dies”). There would be no contradiction between Moses and the prophets. The prophets would be repudiating the misunderstanding the Jews had due to a literal interpretation of Moses. As Paul said: “the letter kills; it is the spirit that makes alive” (2 Cor. 3:6); and Jesus said in John 6:63 – “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”. This was said after the misunderstanding of his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, when the Jews imagined he was teaching cannibalism! Now maybe the interpretation of Exodus 20 which I have presented is not in fact the true meaning of the text. If the literal meaning is correct, then it is indeed a horrible teaching, worthy of being called a ‘doctrine of demons’ rather than ‘the Word of God’. But the teaching of reincarnation provides a reasonable and just explanation of the seeming injustices of life; the ‘apparent’ punishment of children for the parents’ sins.
This brings up another point. The Bible is not a historically accurate book, as I have shown in preceding articles on contradictions and errors in the Bible. Sometimes these contradictions can be so blatant as to make one think the authors deliberately wrote them into the stories so as to force us to realize they weren’t relating history. They were writing symbolical and allegorical stories, akin to ‘myth’, in order to relate a ‘truth’ in a colorful and interesting manner. Lack of archeological evidence supporting the accounts of Israel’s sojourn in, and exodus from, Egypt make it questionable that those events, including the giving of the law at Sinai, ever actually took place (see this article). We should seek to look beyond the ‘letter’ in order to try to discern the ‘moral’ of the story (or the ‘spirit’ of the story). Sometimes reincarnation, and its related idea of ‘karmic’ consequences, can be the best explanation for a passage, or Biblical story, even when it does not seem to be present in the ‘natural’ or literal meaning. In this light, I hope to put together an article on reincarnation and the Biblical doctrine of predestination. Of course, the conflict between ‘free will’ and ‘predestination’ is not confined to Christianity and Judaism; but I hope to show that the ‘journey of life’ which involves reincarnation resolves those conflicts, if we’re willing to embrace it.