Mormonism and Reincarnation

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In layman’s terminology, reincarnation can be defined as “the rebirth or the transmigration of the soul in a new body.” According to, it is “the belief that the soul, upon death of the body, comes back to earth in another body or form.” Several religions in Asia, such as Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains, share a common belief in reincarnation. However, the theory of reincarnation is rejected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon” Church by the media and others).

Mormon doctrine pre-mortal life

Spencer J. Palmer, who in 1989 was the president of the Seoul Korea Temple and professor of comparative world religions at Brigham Young University (BYU) has stated concerning reincarnation:

Advocates of reincarnation believe that this life is only one of many we have lived in the past or will live in the future. They also believe that reincarnation is the process by which life (or a soul) migrates from one material body to another through repeated births and deaths—not only of human spirits, but also of spirits within animals and sometimes plants. [1]

The “Law of Karma”

The belief in reincarnation hinges on “the law of karma.” In Hinduism and Buddhism, “karma” is defined as “the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.” For example, if a person does something good, then something good will happen to him, and vice versa. In other words, Hinduism and Buddhism teach that a person’s actions bring upon himself inescapable results, whether those results are good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation. Hence, karma can be viewed as a cosmic law of injustice, as according to this law, “all inequalities of birth, society, race, and economic being are products of one's individual karma created by an accumulation of previous behavior.” [2]

The “Law of Karma” can then be compared to the belief of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ known as the “Law of the Harvest.” In the New Testament, in Galatians 6:7-9 are recorded these words of admonition:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Palmer further stated,

Those who believe in reincarnation maintain that all inequalities of birth (divine or human, rich or poor, healthy or handicapped) are determined by one’s performance in past lives and that one’s cycle of “rebirths” is based on his or her accumulated karma over aeons of time. What one does in one particular “life,” or incarnation, however, cannot by itself determine one’s eternal status. In fact, one’s being “reborn” (presumably because he or she did not qualify to gain release from the round of rebirths in his or her last life) is not a good sign.
There is so much that is unknown about our pre-mortal existence, birth, mortality, death, and life after death and its possibilities — particularly as they relate to communication between the living and the dead—that it should not surprise Latter-day Saints to learn that people everywhere are intrigued with the possibilities suggested by reincarnation. [3]

Commonalities between Reincarnation and Mormon Doctrine

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ believe that life did not begin with our mortal birth, but rather we are spirit sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father and we lived in a premortal “first estate” in His presence. When we were born into mortality, we each received a physical body. Latter-day Saints also do not believe that this mortal life ends at death, nor is one “life-time” sufficient to attain perfection. Modern day scripture as recorded in Abraham 3: 22-26 reveals:

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

Latter-day Saints further believe that all things, including animals and plants, were created in the spiritual realm before they came to exist in the natural realm. Again, modern day scripture reveals this invaluable truth. In the Pearl of Great Price, in Moses 3:5-7, are recorded these words:

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air;
But I, the Lord God, spake, and there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word.

Likewise, the scriptures, as well as the teachings of latter-day prophets, further attest to the fact that righteous living in mortality is an important factor in determining our eternal happiness in the life to come.

Differences between Reincarnation and Mormon Doctrine

Despite that there are some seemingly similarities between reincarnation and Mormon doctrine, there are also vast differences. Mormon doctrine teaches that mankind is on the road that leads from mortality to immortality and eternal life. As mankind progresses along this road, he moves from one type of existence to another. This doctrinal teaching, however, is distinguished from that of reincarnation in several ways.

First, Latter-day Saints believe as the Apostle Paul taught, that there is only one physical death for each individual. Paul taught in Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Amulek, in the Book of Mormon (a comparable volume of scripture to the Holy Bible and thus Another Testament of Jesus Christ), also taught,

Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first (physical)death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption (Alma 11:45).

Reincarnation purports many deaths, but Latter-day Saint theology teaches that resurrection (incarnation) follows death (See Doctrine and Covenants 29:24-25).

Second, in reincarnation the physical body is of little or no consequence. In Latter-day Saint theology, the body is prerequisite to becoming like God. In the resurrection, spirits inhabit the bodies that they had in mortality – bodies created in the image of God, not other bodily forms such as that of other people, plants, or animals. Physical death separates the body from the spirit, but the resurrection reunites the same spirit, with the same body from whence it came, for eternity. Thus, “the spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul” (Doctrine and Covenants 88: 15-16).

Third, Latter-day Saint theology teaches that this life is a test. “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25). Reincarnation, on the other hand, teaches that there are many future lives, and so there is no immediate need for repentance. Amulek, in the Book of Mormon, taught that today is the day of salvation, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32).

Fourth, reincarnation emphatically denies Christ’s mission and the purpose and meaning of His infinite atonement, therefore it must be deemed a fallacious theory. Concerning this, Palmer commented,

For a person who believes in reincarnation, Christ would be but one manifestation of a temporarily embodied savior—one of many possible incarnations.

To accept this premise would be to repudiate the most fundamental teaching of the gospel—that there was a single, unique act of redemption made by the Lord Jesus Christ. By denying the ultimate importance of the Atonement and of Christ’s mercy and love, those who believe in reincarnation fail to see the Savior in his rightful position as King of Kings and Lord of Lords—the only name given whereby we can be saved. (See D&C 18:23.) [4]