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Malachi 4:5:

I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will come before the day of the Lord arrives. It will be a great and terrifying day

Jesus says in Matthew 11:14

"and if you are willing to believe their message, John is Elijah, whose coming was predicted"

It's pretty clear from the above verse that John was Elijah reincarnated.

Wouldn't the above verses imply that reincarnation is true?

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For a comprehensive treatment of the topic, see The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright. –  Jon Ericson Nov 22 '12 at 17:19
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It is definitely not pretty clear. This is really an attempt to read into Scripture. If it really were pretty clear, then it would be affirmed elsewhere even more clearly and the church would accept that doctrine. –  Narnian Nov 27 '12 at 13:47

5 Answers 5

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Faulty Premise #1: John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah

When Jesus asked Peter who people said he was, he answered that some people thought that Jesus was Elijah come back. Peter knew better and said Jesus was the Christ. In any event, John the Baptist himself directly denied the claim (see John 1:19-21).

What Jesus more likely was saying in Matthew 11 is that John the Baptist was a prophet in the tradition of Elijah. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets (even if his disciple Elisha inherited a double portion of his spirit). All of the prophets that followed came in the name and spirit of Elijah, in the same way that some of Paul's letters apparently were created after his death. They were in the spirit and tradition even if not the actual man.

Note also Elijah never died - he was taken up into heaven, and people thought he would return. As such, no Elijah was not being thought to have reincarnated- only returned. Elijah's return was long a part of Jewish custom. Even today, during a Passover sedar, a chair is left empty for Elijah. But again, since he did not die, Jews look for his return, not his reincarnation.

Faulty Premise #2: The Jewish world view has any concept of reincarnation at all

The most basic rule of hermeneutics suggests that a text cannot mean what it could not mean to the original audience. If the Jews had no concept of reincarnation, then any interpretation that says it does has a very, very high bar to clear.

In his book The Gift of the Jews, Thomas Cahill advances the thesis that the primary distinctive philosophy of the Jews was precisely that history was not circular. Their linear idea of a human life was a departure from others and was an explicit rejection of reincarnation. As such, a text would need to be exceedingly explicit to a culture that rejected circular life patterns, and the obscure interpretation above (especially in light of the more obvious intepretation) simply doesn't hold water.

Furthermore, the book of Hebrews - written to the people into which both Jesus and John the Baptist were born - explicitly reject reincarnation. As the writer points out in 9:27,

It is appointed unto a man once to die and then the judgement.

Here we do have an explicit rejection of reincarnation by the followers of Jesus. There is one death. There is one judgement. Hence, in any Christian worldview, you don't come back.

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Elijah was taken up with his mortal body but John the baptist was born to Zachariah & Elizabeth. So how could he be Elijah returned? –  Martin.kv Nov 22 '12 at 12:56
    
Remarks revised and extended. –  Affable Geek Nov 22 '12 at 13:04
    
It might also be useful to incorporate Mark 12:26-27, which seems to suggest that "the dead" are not as "dead" as we presume. They're still alive in God. And the living requiring no sort of reincarnation to "return" and do their work! –  svidgen Nov 27 '12 at 21:00

In addition to Affable Geek's answer, I would like to add this verse clearly showing that reincarnation is incompatible with Christianity, Hebrews 9:27:

... man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment...

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will you be offended if I incorporate your answer into mine? You are right to point this out- I was so fixated on what I viewed as a faulty premise that I neglected to give the theology. –  Affable Geek Nov 23 '12 at 15:43
    
@AffableGeek: no problem, thx for asking. –  Wikis Nov 23 '12 at 18:30

Jesus is called "Israel" (Isa. 49:3) and "David" (Ezek.37:24), both notable patriarchs. Would you also think that Jesus is a reincarnation of both Israel and David?

John was prophetically referred to as "Elijah." It has nothing to do with reincarnation.

John 1:21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith , I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered , No.

In John 1:21, John the Baptist responds "no" because the Pharisees wanted to know if he was actually Elijah who had returned. This is because the predominate belief in Judaism was that Elijah himself would return from heaven in order to announce the Messianic advent.

Matthew 11:14 And if ye will receive [it], this is Elias, which was for to come.

On the other hand, in Matthew 11:14 (and the other synoptics), it is said that John was indeed Elijah. The answer to this is that John was not Elijah himself, but the prophetic fulfillment of Elijah, like Jesus to David and Israel. As Luke says, John the Baptist came in the "power and spirit of Elijah" (Luke 1:17).

The Jews often called others by the name of "Elijah":

Compare Targum Jonathan, Exo. 6:18:

He lived to see Phinehas, who is Elijah, the Great Priest, who is to be sent to the captivity of Israel at the end of the days.

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No, I think that It would instead means that It would be at the affected time a prophet like Elijah, not that Elijah himself will born again and walk on earth another time.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! While I agree with your opinion, you may want to check out the faq to see what makes a good supported answer. (hint:back up your claims.) That said, I'm glad to see answers from Africa! –  Affable Geek Nov 25 '12 at 13:50

I suppose if you read those couple of verses in isolation, you could interpret it as reincarnation.

But we must ask, In what sense would Elijah return? As Elijah never died but was taken up bodily into Heaven, he could return by coming back from Heaven. Presumably he could be reincarnated, as you mention. Or this might be meant in a non-literal sense, that someone would come along who would be like Elijah.

Like, during the last election I heard some Republican say, "We need another Ronald Reagan." Did he mean that the country or his party needs a clone of Ronald Reagan, or some other form of exact duplicate? Surely not. He simply meant that we need another person who is like Mr Reagan in such-and-such ways.

Based on Bible verses like the one quoted by Wikis above, the Bible clearly teaches that there is no reincarnation, that we each live and die once. So Jesus could not have meant that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah. As John was born in the normal way, he apparently did not mean that Elijah had returned from Heaven, either. Thus, he may have simply meant that John was like Elijah in some ways, e.g. in being a great prophet. Or he may have meant something more specific than this, that there was some spiritual or supernatural phenomenon going on here. We can speculate about that, but I don't know of any scriptural basis to go beyond this.

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