Apologetics

The Hell of Reincarnation in Hinduism and the Hope of Resurrection in Christ

I was at the oncologist’s office. This was a specialist who specializes in the particular disease I have, mantle cell lymphoma. While I was in the office, a pharmacist came in, and I thought, he is going to be short; he’s going to tell me what my prescriptions are. It will be over and done. Instead, a half-hour later, I was saying, “Please, please, I don’t want to know anymore.” In other words, he was giving me all the information of what I would go thorough in the next six to eight months, and some of it posed for me a very tall mountain to climb. Anyway, this guy now is my pharmacist. I never thought I would have to say, “I had a pharmacist,” but this guy is my pharmacist, and he happens to be a Hindu. So, I want to say just a little something about Hinduism.

Hinduism is interesting in that it is multifaceted. Hinduism is not monolithic; it is multifaceted. So, I’m going to make some general statements about Hinduism to inform you, if you do not already know.

In Hinduism, all of reality is believed to be a simplified whole. In other words, in Hinduism, you cannot make a distinction between, let’s say, morals and mice, something that is metaphysical and something that is physical. Everything is a simplified whole. All of what is, is believed in Hinduism to be a continuous extension of Brahman, which is believed to be the impersonal — note that word impersonal — the impersonal cosmic consciousness of the universe. Atman, they say, is Brahman, and Brahman is Atman.

The Hindu scriptures, the Vedas and the Upanishads, they hold the goal of humanity. If you read them in short, in sum, you will get the idea that liberation is the goal of humanity. What are you being liberated from? An endless cycle of death and reincarnation. Until then, the law of karma will dictate that our deeds in previous lives will determine what we do in the next incarnation. Karma is a big part of Hinduism.

The Hindu idea I often call the hell of reincarnation. The Christian idea is the hope of resurrection. On the one hand, you have the hell of reincarnation; you go around and around and around until finally you become one with Nirvana or one with the universe. On the other hand, in resurrection, this body will be resurrected.

As I sat in the office today, I could not help but wonder how I would feel if my hope was reincarnation as opposed to my hope being resurrection, and then recognizing that my hope is not a blind hope, a desperation hope, a fantasy, a panacea that I am painting with unreal colors. No! What I’m actually placing my hope in is something that can absolutely be substantiated. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and because He rose, we too: you, me, and everyone that faces his or her own mortality. You too, Christian, will rise immortal, imperishable, incorruptible.

To find out more about Hinduism, please check out the following:

What do Hindus believe? (Hank Hanegraaff)

What is yoga? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Does the Bible REALLY teach reincarnation? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Can reincarnation and resurrection be reconciled? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Witnessing to Hindus (Part One: Background) (Dean C. Halverson and Natun Bhattacharya)

Witnessing to Hindus (Part Two: Specific Suggestions) (Dean C. Halverson and Natun Bhattacharya)

Worse than a “Vale of Tears”: Karma in the Shadow of the Cross (C. Wayne Mayhall)

Reincarnation: Lifetimes for Enlightenment? (Robert Velarde)

The Yoga Boom: A Call for Christian Discernment (Part One: Yoga in Its Original Eastern Context) (Elliot Miller)

The Yoga Boom: A Call for Christian Discernment (Part Two: Yoga in Its Contemporary Western Context) (Elliot Miller)

The Yoga Boom: A Call for Christian Discernment (Part Three: Toward a Comprehensive Christian Response) (Elliot Miller)

This blog is adapted from the May 19, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Does John 3:3 Support Reincarnation?

Rogers, Gregory-Reincartionist Eisegesis

Article: JAR133 | By Gregory Rogers

This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 4 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

New Agers and proponents of Eastern mystical thought frequently cite John 3:3 to prove that the Bible teaches reincarnation. Here Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”1

According to premiere cults authority Walter Martin, New Agers interpret this verse to mean that “Jesus was referring to cyclic rebirth when He said that one must be born again.”2 “Born again,” then, is said to refer to the soul’s reincarnation in other bodies in order ultimately to reach nirvana. One may raise the question, however, as to whether such New Age interpretations do full justice to the cultural and theological context of this passage.

Rebirth and the Rabbis. First, there is the matter of the Jewish context of that time. Scholars long have noted parallels between New Testament teaching on “new birth” and rabbinic proverbs of the day; for example, Jews often said, “The proselyte” or Gentile who wished to convert to Jewish faith “is like a new‐ born child.”3

William Barclay describes the transformation of one who experiences this “rebirth” as follows: “So radical was the change that the sins he had committed before his reception were all done away with, for now he was a different person. It was even theoretically argued that such a man could marry his own mother or his own sister, because he was a completely new man, and all the old connections were broken and destroyed. The Jew knew the idea of rebirth.”4

In this instance the said new birth had nothing to do with reincarnation, but with conversion to a belief system, namely the conversion of the Gentile proselyte to Jewish faith. This would imply that Jesus’ “new birth” ought rather to be interpreted to mean entry into Jesus’ new covenant of grace and appropriation of its necessary benefits.

“Rebirth” in Jesus’ economy extended beyond the mere affirmation and acceptance that the rabbis preached, of course, and included a tangible transformation from within through the agency of the Holy Spirit. This will be demonstrated in greater detail below.

Rebirth in John. Any interpretation worthy of academic respect must take note not only of the author’s cultural context, but of his theological context and intentions. An honest application of the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture reveals that for John “new birth” has nothing to do with reincarnation, but rather refers to vital, immediate transformation from within at a crucial point of choice in this life.

A worthy interpretation must note further that John makes a clear distinction between two classes of people: those who have and those who have not experienced this “new birth,” where the former are commended and the latter are condemned. John does this in parallel passages such as John 1:11–13: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (emphasis added). The “new birth” is experienced by those who choose to receive Jesus as Lord in this life, and such born‐again believers are sharply contrasted with those who reject Him. Note also that John contrasts, rather than equates, this “new birth” with physical birth.

This distinction is again found in the immediate context of the John 3:3 passage, where Jesus emphasizes the difference between these two births in that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (v. 6). Once again John contrasts the “new birth” with physical birth, and views it as a spiritual phenomenon wrought by the Holy Spirit.

Notably too, Nicodemus (like many New Age apologists) appears to be under the impression that “born again” refers to physical birth, remarking, “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (v. 4). Interestingly, Jesus rebukes him for this assumption, pointing out instead that being “born again” refers to spiritual transformation (v. 5).

John makes the element of choice between life and death, salvation and judgment, clear in the remainder of the section (John 3:14–21, 36). He refers to the famous incident of Numbers 21:1–9, where God instructs rebellious Israelites who are bitten by poisonous snakes to look upon a bronze image of a serpent on a pole in order to be healed, and makes the following comparison: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).

By implication, being “born again” (vv. 3 and 7) refers to one’s transformation in this life as a result of choosing Christ’s work of redemption, rather than to one’s transmigration after death as a result of choosing one’s own works in reincarnation. The choice regarding salvation is clear; thus the immediacy of Jesus’ challenge to Nicodemus.

The distinction between the “two births” is also apparent in John 20:22. Here, following His resurrection, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Commentator Raymond Brown points out that the language of John 20:22 “echoes” and forms a deliberate parallel with that of the Septuagint5 in Genesis 2:7, “the creation scene.”6 In Genesis 2:7, God breathes the breath of life into the first man, Adam, and he lives, as God’s creation. In John 20:22, by comparison, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples as a symbol of “new birth,” and they live anew, as God’s new creation. The first birth is physical; the second birth is spiritual, and transformative from within.

The gospel of John thus ends as it starts, by making a distinction between believers who have received Christ and the Holy Spirit and have experienced the new birth, and unbelievers who have not (cf. John 1:12–13). This granting of the Holy Spirit as the means of salvation and transformation is an ongoing theme in the gospel of John (see John 1:33; 3:34; 7:39; 14:26; 15:26).

Cementing this theological paradigm is the fact that Scripture often depicts the coming of the Spirit as an act of creation, whether of nature (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30); of the humanity of the Messiah (Luke 1:35); or, in fulfillment of John 3:3, of the Church and its members (Acts 2:2–4).

John follows similar reasoning in his first epistle, where to be “born of God” likewise means to undergo inner transformation in this life. In 1 John 5:4, “Everyone born of God overcomes the world,” and in 1 John 4:7, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (emphasis added). Most notable is 1 John 3:9, where “no one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him” (emphasis added; see also 2:29; 5:1, 18). Here, “seed” underscores this notion of spiritual birth.

Rebirth as a Biblical Principle. This reading of “new birth” is uniform for the rest of the New Testament. According to Titus 3:5, for example, “he saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” “Rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” here strongly resembles the language of John.

According to Peter, God has “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Like John, moreover, Peter tells Christians that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable” (1 Pet. 1:23, emphasis added; see also James 1:18).

Elsewhere, believers are compared to children (Matt. 18:11), who are either given “milk” or “solid food” (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14); and who have become a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). As many authorities point out, the roots of New Testament teaching on regeneration lie in passages such as Ezekiel 36:26–27, which speaks of transformation associated with reception of the Spirit.7

Religious Intolerance? It is clear from the natural flow of the biblical context that the Eastern doctrine of reincarnation or the transmigration of souls has no place at all in the broad gamut of Christian theology, yet many followers of Eastern religions try to force it on to the Bible despite the context. By contrast, if Christians were to attempt to explain away the relevant Hindu texts pertinent to reincarnation by divorcing them from their contexts, there would be no small outcry. It is an act of gross intolerance to make a religion say what it does not in its own context say simply to make it conform, ironically, to current pluralistic political trends.

It is clear that the Bible was written largely by Hebrews and reflects a thoroughgoing Hebrew mindset; furthermore, much of the time it was written by conservative Hebrews to counter aberrant doctrine or heresy. Many times those Hebrews were martyred for the conservative statements they were trying to make.

It is apparent that “rebirth” had similar connotations even in pagan Greco‐Roman culture. According to William Barclay, a new convert to the ancient Greek mystery religions was often referred to as “twice‐ born,” and “in the Phrygian [mystery cult] the initiate, after his initiation, was fed with milk as if he was a new‐born babe.”8 Barclay concludes that “the ancient world knew all about rebirth and regeneration. It longed for it and searched for it everywhere.”9

Walter Martin succinctly distinguished between the Eastern and Judeo‐Christian traditions in his interpretation of this passage. As he concluded, “The context of John 3:1–12 is clearly referring to spiritual rebirth, not physical rebirth10 (emphasis added).

Reincarnationist interpretations of biblical “rebirth” are clearly guilty of eisegesis, of reading Eastern religious sensitivities into a profoundly Judeo‐Christian religious expression. As this article has demonstrated, a scholarly approach to understanding context is imperative in this matter.

Gregory Rogers is an internationally published writer in theology. He is currently enrolled at the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) on the honors level.

NOTES

  1. All Bible quotations are from the New International Version.
  2. Walter Martin, The New Age Cult (Cape Town: Struik Christian Books, 1990), 93. See also Swami Nirmalananda Giri, “May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation?”Atma Jyoti, http://www.atmajyoti.org/sw_xtian_believe_reinc.asp.
  3. William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume I (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Saint Andrew Press, 1965), 115. See also A. Ringwald, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. I, ed. Colin Brown (Exeter, England: Paternoster Press, 1975), s.v. “gennaw.”
  4. Barclay, 115.
  5. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament; often abbreviated LXX.
  6. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to St. John XIII‐XXI (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 1037.
  7. L. Kynes, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scott McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), s.v. “New Birth.”
  8. Barclay, 116.
  9. Martin, 93.
Apologetics

Father Themi’s Damascus Road Experience: From Neo-Marxism to Hinduism to Christ

Father Themi-I Needed The Metaphysical

Father Themistoclese Athony Adamopoulo, “Father Themi,” is a Greek Orthodox priest. He was born in Egypt, grew up in Australia, but was looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places. At one point he was a neo-Marxist, at another stage a rock star, (founding member of the 1960s Australian rock-n-roll band The Flies), on another level an academic with a PhD from Brown University and a Master of Theology from Princeton Divinity School, but then he had a radical encounter with God. He had a Damascus road experience, and as a result of that he has given up everything to serve the poor.

Hank Hanegraaff invited Father Themi to be a guest on the March 14, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast. The following are some highlights of their conversation.

Hank Hanegraaff: Today over twenty thousand people die of hunger each and every day. Half the world’s population lives on under $2 a day. This is an issue that we need to be conversant with because we are called to give the cup of cold water, the piece of bread, in the name of Jesus Christ so that we can bring the life of Jesus Christ to the poor and the downtrodden. Father Themi has moved to Sierra Leone, one of the poorest places on earth and there he is making a difference for time and for eternity. I am delighted Father Themi to have you on the broadcast today.

Father Themi Adamopulo: Hello, I’m absolutely honored to be here and to be with you. I heard so much about you. It’s an absolute honor to be with you. Thank you for your very kind invitation.

Hank: Again, delighted to have you on the broadcast. Talk a little bit about your background. You were born in Northern Africa, in Egypt, and born into a Greek Orthodox family?

Father Themi: Well, nominally, I was Orthodox Christian, baptized in Alexandria, which is one of the historical—those who know in church history will understand what I mean when I say that it is one of the great early Christian centers. But it meant nothing to me. I was not a believer. Most of my infancy and early childhood and moving onto my teenage years, having moved over to Australia, a secular society, I had no faith at all. I did not believe in God. In fact, during my university days, I was a convinced neo-Marxist, as opposed to classical Marxism, and Neo-Marxism being the assimilation and the fusion between classical Marxism, Freudianism, Marcusenism, and all kinds of isms to make classical Marxism more applicable to today’s historical events, such as the Chinese Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and so forth. So, I believed in that in my university student days. We looked upon Marxism as the solution to the great injustices that were going on at the time—the issue of poverty, the issue of get now more, the issue of women’s rights, even the environment—all these issues were there, and it seemed to me that Marxism had the answer.

God for a Marxist is the antithesis of progress. The whole concept of a supernatural world, the whole concept of a metaphysical world, is very much opposed to the strict letter of law of Marxism. It is the opiate of the people. Christianity according to Marx is the means by which the capitalist class will as it were employ to subdue the working class and to let them believe in some mythical concept that after death they will achieve eternal life. That, therefore, becomes the tool of the capitalist to oppress the worker with the consolation that “Well you are going to the afterlife world, I will not, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy this all here, and you will have to suffer.” So that’s basically in a nutshell Marxism.

So, we were all quite happy until something happened. What happened was that we were following our gurus of the period. The avatars were the Beatles—particularly John Lennon, who we saw as being the intellectual Beatle, George Harrison the spiritual Beatle—Bob Dylan, of course, and some of the other spokesmen of the period. They were the acceptable voice of the youth of the 60s and 70s—the early 70s. One day the Beatles said that were going to India to seek metaphysical enlightenment, and we all thought wait a minute, they’re betraying the revolution. They’re going counter to everything that dialectical materialism—the idea that the revolution will only occur through the struggle of the proletariat, the working class, against the bourgeois, the capitalist class. What’s this about going to India to seek enlightenment? We don’t understand that? I mean that was just, as you Americans would say, “left field,” is that? It was absolutely “left field.” We were amazed because it was John Lennon who said it, and because it was George Harrison who said it, well maybe we need to look into this, right? So begins a kind of a revision of Marxism among the student population now, and a possibility, a very important possibility, that maybe the answer is not just dialectical materialism, historical materialism, but it could be that there is something supernatural going on. Now that was an amazing admission to make because we were very logical, very empirical, very rational, we were the product of five hundred years of the age of reason, the age of enlightenment, we thought we have gone beyond the age of God, we had gone way past Christianity, at which we saw according to Nietzsche, I’m sure you read him, the uberman [Übermensch], the superman, the self-fulfilled man does not rely on any other external being but relies on himself and his own will to achieve that which is his to achieve, we believed all that. We read all that.

Now we’re told by Mr. Lennon and Mr. Harrison that perhaps we should seek beyond metarealism into the world of the metaphysical. My goodness that contradicted Bertrand Russell that was an extraordinary contradiction, but it was John Lennon, and so we needed to investigate further. So that’s what I did. I went into ashrams, I went into Hare Krishna temples, I went into guru led classes, we even had American Richard Alpert come from the United States, called himself Dam Rass [Ram Dass], or something like that, a great man, a great man. We listened to all this and we came to the conclusion, some of us, that Marxism wasn’t enough that there was something beyond the material, and there was something transcendent from pure material history, the economic factor of history, which is pure Marxism.

To make a long story short, once I went to one of the ashrams, this is in Australia, and the guru who claimed to represent no less than a fourteen year old child who is god, that fourteen year old Indian child, young man, was claimed to be god. We were curious to find out more about him so I went in there and the guru comes around and taps us on the forehead—receiving knowledge, receive knowledge, receive wisdom, receive. He came to me, at the time, we were all squatting in the traditional lotus position, etc. and I think I was wearing my Che Guevara hat and my Led Zeppelin cross something, and he asked me—oh Black Sabbath, sorry they used to wear crosses, so I wore a cross, Black Sabbath wore a cross—so he asked me to remove the cross, and I thought “What?” He said, “You have to remove the cross.” I said to myself I was not a Christian right, and I thought “How curious that this wise man, how curious that this devote of the avatar would be confounded by a fashion statement?” That’s all it was for me., just a fashion statement, you know. And he said, “Well, you must remove it.” I said, “You know what, I’m not going to remove it.” I actually contradicted and stood up and said, “I’m not going to remove it,” not because of anything of a faith which I did not have, but it was something inside of me telling me this cross is disturbing him. This cross has something that is to be investigated. So I left. I did not go on with the meditation and the road to wisdom according to their principles, you see. Having left I began to ponder on this issue of Christianity.

I think God was gracious enough to—what I am about to tell you now may sound strange and inconceivable, and illogical, which it is, in many ways. It is that. I needed that. I needed the illogicability of the metaphysical. I needed the inconceivable of the metaphysical. I needed that contradiction of the material life of the material reality for me to be able to release myself and to be able to accept the existence of God—so the Lord was merciful to me, and He gave me what can be described at least from my tradition, the Orthodox Church tradition and the monastic tradition, as a mystical experience.

Now I’m the last man in the world that should be getting mystical experiences, you know, trained in universities steeped in the empirical world, steep in the world of reason, steep in Greek philosophy, Aristotle, steep in everything that contradicts the metaphysical from childhood, and yet there it was. It was inexplicable, it was confrontational, it was radical, it was compelling, it was nonnegotiable, and I accepted it as my Damascus road experience. That was it, I accepted Christ. Nobody led me to Christ. There was no evangelical preacher who came to me. There was no priest who came to me. There was nobody who came to me with the Bible and said, “You must accept Jesus,” this came on its own without my wanting it to occur and it happened. From that, and there was a series of mystical experiences, I believed in Jesus. I believed in the existence of God. There was no doubting it anymore. I saw it. I saw it.

Unfortunately, in my case, it is because of my lack of faith that it had to happen that way. It doesn’t have to happen that way. It can happen in many ways, you know, but because of my being immersed in the world of reason, the world of logic, the world of rationality, there was no other way to jolt me out. God knows. God knows. That was the only way that I would have walked into the life of Christ. There was no other way. In His wisdom, that’s how He chose to bring me. That’s it, I never looked back ever since. That happened when I was twenty-two-twenty-three, and it saved me from so much blindness, walking in the wrong way, sin, and temptation, you name it.

Journal Topics

What is yoga?

Since Swami Vivekananda first introduced yoga to the West more than a hundred years ago, yoga has become as American as apple pie. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Everybody loves yoga; sixteen and a half million Americans practice it regularly, and twenty-five million more say they will try it this year. If you’ve been awake and breathing air in the twenty-first century, you already know that this Hindu practice of health and spirituality has long ago moved on from the toe-ring set. Yoga is American; it has graced the cover of Time twice, acquired the approval of A-list celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Jennifer Aniston, and is still the go-to trend story for editors and reporters, who produce an average of eight yoga stories a day in the English-speaking world. Consumers drop $3 billion every year on yoga classes, books, videos, CDs, DVDs, mats, clothing, and other necessities.

As noted by New Age expert Elliot Miller, “Yoga is rapidly becoming integrated into such traditionally secular institutions as public education, health care, and the workplace. It has been widely embraced by Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, and over the past several years a Christian yoga movement has been thriving among evangelicals.”

-excerpted from Hank Hanegraaff’s Complete Bible Answer Book

While yoga has become increasingly popular even in the church, can it truly be compatible with Christianity? Rajiv Malhotra, the founder of the Infinity Foundation, says NO.