Do ghosts exist, and if so, what does the Bible say about them?
Fascination with Ghosts
For as long as I can remember, people have had a fascination with ghosts. Sometimes children believe there are ghosts under the bed or in the closet. Halloween brings out dozens of ghostly figures, and not just with children either because the adults get swept up into it too. There have been hundreds of books written about ghosts, and dozens of movies made, as well as cartoons, video games, and even modern day ghost chasers who use sophisticated equipment to seeking out the spirits. Why? Because we love the spiritual side of things and we seek to know the unknown. We are like the proverbial cat whose curiosity can get them into a lot of trouble, but are there risks in making contact with a ghost or spirit? If so, what are they? Is it wise to seek these out through things like séances? Is there more to ghosts than we realize? Are they actual beings, but not human beings, or are they former human beings?
The Spirit World
The Bible indicates that there are spiritual forces out in the world which are, in reality, fallen angels or demons. These are the very ones that Jude writes are the “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6). The fate of these fallen angels is sure as the God’s Word, as the Apostle John wrote; “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). That is a one way trip to the abyss, but until that time, the Apostle Paul reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12), which is why Christ followers are admonished to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph 6:13).
What are these ghosts or spirits that people report seeing, some even in their own bedrooms? For one thing, any ghosts or spirits that people encounter are not the Casper-type of friendly ghost, because their intentions are not friendly at all. They are deceiving spirits who might even appear as an angel of light (2nd Cor 11:14). Jesus had great experience with the spirit world. On one occasion, “they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick” (Matt 8:16). Later, “he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matt 10:1), so they too could cast our demons or wicked spirts, but were these demons ghosts in the way that we understand ghosts today? Strictly speaking, no, but sometimes these demons cannot only possess an unsaved person, they can mimic those who have died. Perhaps it was a demon who knew this person almost as well as the person knew themselves, and so these demons, who have “the cosmic powers over this present darkness,” imitate a lost loved one, and may even appear to be the same person who is deceased, having known their dress, nature, and even their voice.
Communicating with the Dead
The Bible obviously states that trying to communicate with the dead is an abomination to Him. Leviticus 19:31 says, “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” (NASB), and for all “sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8). The word for “sorcery” has more to do with the Greek word (“pharmakos”) that pertains to magical arts, and that can include drug use, which is often a channel for the spirits, so it’s much more than just being a sorcerer that’s involved. The false prophets in Jeremiah’s day told the Jews what they wanted to hear and that was the King of Babylon wasn’t going to invade them (which they did), and they were safe, but Jeremiah told them the truth and said, “do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers or your sorcerers who speak to you, saying, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon’” (Jer 27:9). Know this; their time is coming, as God promises, “I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:5).
The only time that anyone in the Bible ever successfully communicated with the dead was when King Saul, facing certain disaster, was desperate enough to seek a medium and find out from Samuel what he should do. What Samuel told him, if indeed it was Samuel at all, was that Saul’s fate was sealed, and there was nothing he could do about it (1st Sam 28), however this was clearly a descriptive event, and not prescriptive for us today. The Bible says that Saul often had an evil spirit so perhaps this spirit imitated Samuel after he had died, but if you think it’s okay to consult mediums, spiritualists, seers, or someone who tries to summon up the dead, God says to you; “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev 20:6). If you see a ghost and you are not a Christian, run! Don’t play around. If you are a child of God, they have nothing on you, and nothing can separate you from the love of God, and nothing, means nothing (Rom 8:31-39), however God sets His “face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev 20:6b) if they participate in these evil practices, so “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you” (Deut 18:10-12).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.