James 3:6—Does the “course of nature” refer to reincarnation?

Problem: James makes reference to the “course of nature,” which has been translated “wheel of beginning.” Some take this to be a reference to reincarnation, since they believe life goes around in cycles of birth, death, and rebirth (into another body). Is this a correct interpretation of the passage?

Solution: James is not writing about reincarnation. This is evident for several reasons. First, the context is speaking about the power and persuasiveness of the human “tongue,” with its far reaching effects. Second, the “course of nature” refers to the ongoing of life in general, not the recycling of individual souls. Third, James affirmed forgiveness of sins (cf. 5:20) and petitionary prayer (5:15–17), both of which are contrary to the doctrine of Karma behind reincarnation, which affirms that whatever is sown in this life, must be reaped in the next life (no exceptions). Finally, even if there were some question as to how this verse should be interpreted, an unclear passage should always be understood in the light of a clear one. And the Bible clearly opposes reincarnation (see Heb. 9:27; John 9:2).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.