According to a 2009 study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 1/4 of Americans believe in reincarnation, and 24 percent of Americans who identify as Christians believe in reincarnation to varying degrees. This denotes a significant deviation from the traditional Christian teachings that you either go to heaven or hell for all eternity depending on whether you've been good or bad.
Eternal Damnation vs. Karma
In contrast as well as stunning similarity, Eastern religions preach that the individuals fate in the hereafter is dictated by the consequences of good or bad actions in the present life. This is known as karma, which we all know can be a bitch. Eastern religion does not assign the soul to hell or heaven, just a new life weighed down or lifted up by actions in the previous / current one.
While the naive and childlike concepts of Heaven and Hell is instilled in Judeo-Christian lore, it is not really embedded in its scriptures, but simply implied and open to wide interpretations. In the Hebrew writings Hell is known as 'Sheol' in greek new testament it is known as hades, and both are translated as hell in modern versions. However, it is the scholarly consensus that both sheol and hades do not typically refer to the place of eternal punishment, but to the grave, as the temporary abode of the dead.
Reincarnation and Prexistence in Scripture
Elijah is sometimes used to rationalize reincarnation using the Bible. Theologians who try to reconcile reincarnation to Christianity claim the verses that refer to Elijah in the New Testament point to a belief in reincarnation. Jesus frequently referred to Elijah as coming before him, and there were those who thought that John the Baptist was Elijah, or the reincarnation thereof..
Reincarnation is as common in ancient Judeo Christian writings as it is uncommon in modern ones. Western Religions commonly represent reincarnation as an Eastern concept, buddhist and hindu, it is not. At the time of Christ reincarnation was a basic tenet of orthodox Judaism. It was referred to as gilgul or ha’atakah. These doctrines were adopted in early Christian theology, allthough later largely abandoned.
Even though there are Biblical references to human beings preexisting as souls before the world began and having previous lifetimes. The theory of Reincarnation was edited out of the Bible by Romans.
examples: "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." (Ephesians 1:4)
"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)
Early Christian theologian and philosopher Origen of Alexandria, considered by scholars to be one of the most important theologians of all time, a founding father of Christianity believed in reincarnation. As noted in the records of the Second Council of Constantinople A.D. 553, because of his belief in reincarnation he was denounced by the church as a heretic.
Elsewhere amongst Christian scholars, his myriad of treatises are frequently cited by both his contemporary and later Christian theologians.
Much of what Origen said in favor of reincarnation is uncertain, as like so many early Religous writings they were considered heretical and destroyed by Roman Censors. Origen lived till his golden years and was eventually tortured which lead to his death in 254 CE. One of his surviving works which alludes to the doctrine of Reincarnation is Origen, de Principiis or in English 'First Principles' in which he writes :
'The soul has neither beginning nor end [They] come into this world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defeats of their previous lives'
The bishops feared the knowledge of reincarnation which insinuated that the institution of the Church wasn't the only option to bring eternal life. In fact it stated that life was eternal with or without the Church.
While Christian traditionalists believe that reincarnation and Christianity are ireconciable there are some Modern Christians that have come to accept reincarnation as a valid possibility. Both individuals and groups.
There is a reference in the book of Matthew's where Jesus reveals that John the Baptist is the reappearance or reincarnation of Elijah.
'For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.' Matthew 11:13-14 NIV
These references to Elijah correspond with the Old Testament book of Malachi
'See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.' Malachi 4:5 NIV Reincarnation advocates interpret John the Baptist as the reincarnation of the Old Testament Elijah.
The Elijah passages are most certainly not a smoking gun and are open to wide interpretation as either side will bend their meanings to support their argument. However the passage in the Book of John is not as easily explained away.
"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'" (John 9:1-3)
Without preexistence and reincarnation this passage can not be rationally explained.