|BORN AGAIN ? [Reincarnation in the Bible]
by Keith Denerley
It was with interest that I came across the suggestion in an earlier copy of the CP, that this phrase in John 3 might be interpreted in terms of reincarnation – a thought that would be even more plausible in view of the alternative translation of ανωθεν (“again”) as “from above”. An overview of the Fourth Gospel, however, indicates otherwise. The believer is to be born again “of water and of spirit”, and if these themes are followed through we find “the water of life” in chapter 8.37 (Jesus is preaching at the feast of Tabernacles, in which it was traditional to pray for rain) leading to the Spirit which is to be “poured out” as in chapter 20.22. Note that Spirit = wind in many classical languages; and compare “being born of God” in the first chapter of John, v.13.
The second text often adduced as indicating reincarnation is Jesus’ comment on the expectation that Elijah will come again before the Great Judgment (indeed, to this day at a Jewish Passover celebration, a child is sent to look out of the door, to see if Elijah is on his way to occupy the empty chair, and drink of the cup set out for him), Mark 9.13 & Matthew 17.12. Well, perhaps; but it is much more likely a parallel to the Celtic expectation that before the End the great Merlin will appear to usher in the New Age.
Of course there is a lively belief in the afterlife in the New Testament – remember how Moses and Elijah appear at the Transfiguration, and how 1 Peter believes that when Jesus “descended into Hades” he preached to the souls trapped in prison since the days of Noah’s Flood – the Harrowing of Hell in many an Orthodox icon. From the Old Testament, to the many references to a heaven for the just such as Isaiah 26.19 and Daniel 12.2, add the famous text in Jeremiah 1.4 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”, that seems to suggest pre-existence as well as post. Compare if you will the apocryphal text in the Wisdom of Solomon 8.20 “I had received a good soul as my lot, or rather, being good, I had entered an undefiled body.”
This is not to say that the New Testament has not heard of reincarnation, for the disciples ask of the man born blind in John 9.1 “Whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own, or his parents’ sin?” Jesus, characteristically practical, replies “Neither, but that God’s power might be seen” – and proceeds to heal the man. Which, in one sense, is all we need to know – ‘Don’t stand philosophising – do something!’
With which caveat, but remembering the Fellowship’s motto from 2 Peter, “To Faith Add Knowledge”, I may be permitted some speculation. The subject won’t go away – get any group of sensitives together, and before long one will say ‘Do you know, I think I’ve been here before.’
So I would argue with the late Bishop Montefiore, that reincarnation, whilst not a Scriptural doctrine, is not incompatible with that Scripture that promises that “The Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth” (John 16.13). We have come a long way from the New Testament world view: we no longer, for instance, believe that the world was created in seven 24-hour days, or that suffering and disease are directly attributable to my own sin; and we rejoice with the Psalmist at the awesomeness of creation. In the words of Einstein, “A scientist who cannot be filled with wonder at the stars, is no true scientist”. (Or at penicillin for that matter, or electricity.)
It helps, I believe, to start not with experiences such as that of Martin Israel when he had the vision of a sort of small Indian temple “which contained the record of all his lives”, but rather with speculation as to exactly what is meant by being “in Christ”. In the ideal state of Heaven we are all ‘members of one another’ - I shall be able to ‘pick up’ your thoughts and memories, and you mine: a mystery in which I am both myself more fully, and everyone else’s. Will I also be able to place myself ‘inside’ any soul from the past? (What fun! I’ve a long list of questions to ask!) If in such a fluid state there turn out to be groups of souls, like the segments of an orange, who take it in turn to incarnate, then it becomes easier to conceptualize what may be going on. See, if you like, the picture of a group soul purporting to be from Martin himself in A Journey into Light by Marie-Elizabeth Taylor (available to download from Amazon).
Of course there are other explanations – there always are. Years ago a Fellowship member told me of a lady who had been ‘regressed’, i.e. taken under hypnosis back to a memory of having been a Jewess in one of the York mediaeval pogroms. She had a vivid picture of cowering in a cellar, and hearing the steps of the militia tramping down the steps. Years later she was again ‘regressed’, and a memory came up of having read a book about the pogroms of York, in which the heroine heard the steps of the militia … I hope incidentally that the hypnotist knew how to hold the memory in the love and light of Christ, for healing; for whether historically true or false, there was hurt in the lady’s subconscious that needed bringing to the healing light. Don’t speculate – do something!
“Love God, love neighbour, love self” is the great Commandment, which is also an invitation. In a sense, that’s all we need to know – just get on with it. Ideas of reincarnation are interesting, but we need to remember that some things are not worth arguing about “with those who have not seen the sun at midnight.” Dorothy Kerin, the sensitive who had a famous near-death experience back in 1912, never talked about reincarnation with her friend Maria Chavchevadze, sensing that Maria was violently opposed to the idea. To Ruth Farr however, another friend who challenged her direct about the belief, she simply replied, “Well Ruth, it would explain a lot!”