Metempsychosis – What is it?
Metempsychosis is a concept from Greek philosophy which is similar to reincarnation. Metempsychosis is also called "transmigration of souls" and describes the process of a soul being transferred to another body after death. This transfer can happen between any human and / or animal body. For example, a human can come back as another human, or as a bird or animal or reptile of some kind. Likewise, animal souls can come back as human. Metempsychosis is different from reincarnation because the soul is not going "up" or "down" the ladder as a result of good or bad actions in life. Instead, the soul chooses a new body as a way of gaining diverse experiences.
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Pythagoras was the first to theorize metempsychosis as a potential life after death experience, and then Plato expounded on the theory in his Republic. While it is unclear whether Plato actually believed in metempsychosis, he was responsible for its popularization. In Plato's story, a warrior called Er travels to another, immortal realm, and then brings back knowledge to the mortal realm. While he is there, he sees metempsyschosis happening. The souls of the dead are congregated, choosing new bodies to inhabit—animals choosing to become different animals, men choosing to become other men, birds choosing to become men, and even gods choosing to become athletic heroes. When the soul had decided on its new home, it was told to drink from the River Lethe, and then sent down to earth to be born. There are some instances in the Bible of fallen angels taking on human or animal form (Genesis 3:1–7; 6:1–4) and of holy angels appearing as men (Mark 16:5) but this is not considered metempsychosis because the spirit is only inhabiting a body for a short period of time, not taking ownership of it until death.
While metempsychosis is a rather poetic idea, it is not a biblical one. Metempsychosis, reincarnation, and all other iterations of this myth are refuted by the Scriptures, which say that man has only one chance to live and only one time to die, after which he must face the judgment of a holy God (Hebrews 9:27). The reincarnation concept takes the pressure off of men by delaying, or even entirely eliminating the judgment of God. But it is very clear that God will judge each man according to the things he has done while in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10).
This should be sobering, and even frightening, when we think of the things we have done throughout our lives and the fact that God is completely holy and just, and cannot tolerate anything less than perfection to enter His presence. But God's character is also merciful and He is "a shield for all those who take refuge in him" (2 Samuel 22:31). This was proven by the life of Jesus, who came to live a perfect life and then die as a perfect sacrifice which (by its perfection and its eternal nature) could satisfy the justice of God on our behalf. Every man and woman must stand before God. Those who trust in their own good works to save them will fall short (Romans 3:20). But all who trust in Christ's righteousness rather than their own will be saved (John 3:16–18; Romans 5:1–2; 1 John 2:2).
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