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by Spencer J. Palmer

Reincarnation refers to a theory that one spirit (life or soul) passes from one material body to another through repeated births and deaths, usually of the same species, often with ethical implications; thus the present life is viewed as only one of many. This theory is rejected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The idea of repeated return or of a continuing, exacting wheel of rebirth is based on the Eastern doctrine of karma. Karma literally means "deeds" or "actions" and, in a limited sense, may refer to a system of cause and effect. According to this belief, all inequalities of birth, society, race, and economic being are products of one's individual karma created by an accumulation of previous behavior. Karma is also seen as a cosmic law of justice. It is an eternally moving wheel of rebirth. Experience is repeatable. An individual spirit can live again and again in a wide variety of guises and forms in the mortal estate.

In Latter-day Saint doctrine, mankind is on the road to immortality and eternal life. One moves from one type of existence to another along the way. But this teaching is distinguishable from reincarnation on several counts:

1. In Latter-day Saint belief, there is only one physical death for any one person (Heb. 9:27). Amulek, in the Book of Mormon, taught that man can die only once (Alma 11:45). Reincarnation posits many deaths, but in Latter-day Saint thought, the resurrection (incarnation) follows death (cf. D&C 29:24-25).

2. In LDS theology, the physical body is sacred, and its elements are imperishable. The body is prerequisite to becoming like God. In reincarnation, the present physical body is of little or no consequence.

3. In LDS theology, mortality is a time to be tested and proved "to see if [people] will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abr. 3:25). In reincarnation, there are many future lives, so there is no urgent need to repent now. Reincarnation contradicts Amulek's admonition that "this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God" (Alma 34:32). The Prophet Joseph Smith said that transmigration of souls (spirits) was not a correct principle (TPJS, pp. 104-105).

4. In LDS theology, there is one single, unique historical act of redemption made by Jesus Christ. Through it, Christ becomes the only name under heaven "whereby man can be saved" (D&C 18:23). Reincarnation denies the absolute centrality of Christ's Atonement by affirming the theoretical existence of an abundance of equally miraculous deities, who appear in a variety of forms, born again and again.

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Afterlife home page; Teachings About Premortal Existence home page)


Palmer, Spencer J., and Roger R. Keller. Religions of the World: A Latter-day Saint View. Provo, Utah, 1990.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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