"Can I be a Christian and still believe in reincarnation?" a woman once asked me. I explained to the woman that up until the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 533, reincarnation was accepted in Christian thought. But the Synod of Constantinople condemned the teaching of reincarnation, and there are some biblical scholars that believe most references to it were then expunged from the Bible.
Even after the official church rejection of reincarnation, the concept was still accepted by such well-known figures as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Augustine.
St. Augustine, accepted by many scholars as being the most important figure in the ancient Western church, wrote in his "Confessions": "Did I not live in another body, or somewhere else, before entering my mother's womb?"
Origen, one of the most learned of the Christian fathers, declared, "Every soul comes into this world strengthened by the victories or awakened by the defeats of its previous lives."
Jesus Christ did not deal directly with reincarnation, but he did refer to it. It was part of the teachings of the Essenes, a prominent Jewish sect of his day. There are some who believe that Jesus was an Essene in his thought, if not in fact.
There are some interesting observations recorded in the New Testament books of Matthew and Mark. In Matthew 11:14-15, Jesus refers to John the Baptist, saying, "And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"
In Mark 9:11-13 we read: "And they asked him, 'Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?' And he said to them, 'Elijah does come first to restore all things....I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.'" It is generally accepted that Jesus was declaring that John the Baptist was one and the same as--or the reincarnation of--Elijah.
In Matthew 16:13-14 we read that Jesus asked his disciples: "'Who do men say that the Son of man is?' And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'" From this statement alone, we can conclude that reincarnation was a common idea.
Reincarnation is an ancient teaching that has been around far longer than Christianity. It was accepted by the ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece and China and is still a prominent teaching in Hinduism and Buddhism.
If you believe in reincarnation, you are in good company. Here are some of the other well-known believers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Huxley, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Percy Shelley, John Greenleaf Whittier, Walt Whitman, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and General George Patton. These are just a few of the more notable ones.