Matthew 11:14—Didn’t Jesus say John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnated?
Problem: Jesus refers here to John the Baptist as “Elijah who is to come” (cf. Matt. 17:12; Mark 9:11–13). But, since Elijah had died many centuries before, John must have been a reincarnation of Elijah.
Solution: There are many reasons why this verse does not teach reincarnation. First, John and Elijah did not have the same being—they had the same function. Jesus was not teaching that John the Baptist was literally Elijah, but simply that he came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), namely, to continue his prophetic ministry.
Second, Jesus’ disciples understood that He was speaking about John the Baptist, since Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:10–13). Since John had already lived and died by then, and since Elijah still had the same name and self-consciousness, Elijah had obviously not been reincarnated as John the Baptist.
Third, Elijah does not fit the reincarnation model for another reason—he did not die. He was taken to heaven like Enoch, who did not “see death” (2 Kings 2:11; cf. Heb. 11:5). According to traditional reincarnation, one must first die before he can be reincarnated into another body.
Fourth, if there is any doubt about this passage, it should be understood in the light of the clear teaching of Scripture opposing reincarnation. Hebrews, for example declares, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27; cf. 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.