Is Christian theology or Abrahamic theology for that matter compatible with reincarnation? What is reincarnation, is it the same as a resurrection? In a resurrection, a person returns to the earth from the dead in a regenerated version of their original body. Reincarnation involves a return to the land of the living but in a different body with a different identity entirely.
Reincarnation itself is a bit hard to define as a concept since there are different understandings of it that conflict with one another. This is distinct from the resurrection taught in Abraham’s religions. Reincarnation and transmigration are primarily found in the Vedic/Dharmic religions. Hindus believe in souls that are connected to the Brahman. Buddhists and Jainists don’t believe in a God or Brahman. Jainist believe in souls like Hindus, but Buddhists do not believe in souls. Yet, all three believe in reincarnation. Buddhism is a bit confusing since I wonder how can there be reincarnation without a soul.
Reincarnation as a mechanism eliminates the need for a god, as it is taught as a simple metaphysical principle in Buddhism and Jainism. This is why in Dharmic religions gods are actually optional. In fact, Jainists are spiritual atheists while Buddhism is kind of agnostic, and different Buddhist may adopt native gods from their ancestral traditions as a part of their personal process of generating good karma. There is even an atheist sect of Hindus. The goal is to generate good karma, by the following dharma, so that one can escape samsara (the cycle of reincarnation). Escaping samsara is the final goal and is referred to as Moksha (or Nirvana in Buddhism) which is enlightenment. So it conflicts with Abraham’s religions in that way, since Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in an afterlife that leads to resurrection on Judgment day. All three teach that everyone awaits Judgement or the Account in the afterlife and will be resurrected for judgment, and a person’s life decisions determine what happens afterward. On judgment day, people are divided into two camps where a person will either enter the Kingdom of God with eternal life or Hell/Lake of Fire (or simply stay dead for some Abrahamic believers). According to the Bible, those that are counted as righteous will be resurrected with new bodies that last for eternity and will live in God’s Kingdom. The Bible and Quran have similar eschatological views agreeing that there will be an eventual end of this earth along with sin and death. Whereas reincarnation is a continuous cycle that lasts infinitely and the natural world itself is a part of an infinite loop. Hebrews 9:27, says (NLT) “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”, this means that we live, then we die once, then the resurrection and judgment, then the righteous stay alive while the unrighteous experience the second death” in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:4-6).
The creation story in the Bible and Quran refers to a perfect world that fell when man sinned against God. In the eschatological teachings of the Abrahamic faiths, everything will return to paradise where there is no death or sin anymore. Reincarnation has everything staying as it is continuously going through death and life forever, meanwhile, those who achieve enlightenment will escape this infinite death/life cycle. So the two contradict each other. Therefore there is no room for reincarnation in Christianity or any Abrahamic theology if being consistent with the source text.
Lastly, karma determines the circumstances of one’s life based on the past life’s actions. If someone has bad karma in a past life they cannot overwrite the consequences of it in their current life. So if you were born with a genetic illness it is karmic justice and no one can heal you because the universe is punishing you. You must generate good karma in this life and wait to die and hope it was enough for a better next life. The Bible shows Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons (Matthew 4:24). In Dharmic theology this would be a violation of karmic justice. In essence, Jesus is anti-karma and he would be a heretic in dharmic religions for undoing the “universe’s will”. The Bible does teach the principles of sowing and reaping (Gal 6:7-8), but since we only have one life, a person can repent for sinful actions and turn to righteousness and experience the blessing (Ez 18:23-24, 2 Chronicles 7:14).
Gal 6:7 (NLT) 7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.
Ex 18:23 “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. 24 However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins.
2 Chronicles 7:14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.
A final note from scripture on the subject:
Hebrews 9:26 If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. 27 And just as each person is destined to die ONCE and after that comes judgment, 28 so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.
Some say that John the Baptist was reincarnated based on what Jesus says in Matt 11:13-15 and Matt 17:10-13. I have an answer to that here.