Do you believe in ghosts? According to the Huffington Post, nearly half of Americans do. A HuffPost poll “shows that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, or that the spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations.”1 In the U.K., 52 percent of respondents indicated that they believed in ghosts, and that belief is even more widespread in much of Asia.2
Even among Christians in the United States, the numbers are high, too. “More than one in three feel they’ve been in contact with the dead, whether that’s through a ghost, a psychic or other means. Among white evangelical Christians, that number is at 20 percent; it’s higher still among white mainline Protestants (29 percent), black Protestants (37) and white Catholics (35)” according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.3 So what is going on? Are ghosts real? And what, exactly, are ghosts anyway?
“Ghost” is an old Saxon word meaning soul or spirit and is a translation of the Hebrew nephesh and the Greek pneuma. Both mean breath, life, spirit, etc. and the expression “to give up the ghost” means to die.4 For a lot of people, the only knowledge they have about ghosts and spirits are what they have read in novels or seen in movies and on television, but there is much concerning this topic mentioned in the Bible, too, as we will see.
What does the Bible say about contacting spirits?
To most people, ghosts and spirits are terms that are used interchangeably and refer to the soul or spirit of a deceased person that has not, as yet, crossed over to their final destination — heaven or hell. But to most knowledgeable Christians, a spirit or ghost “is not a dead human, but rather a demonic spirit intent on deceiving living humans.” All protestant denominations basically agree that any spirit not of God should not be entertained and that demonic spirits can and will pretend to be friendly, helpful, and righteous benefactors.5 The Bible actually warns us of this by stating, “. . . Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14–15, NIV).
It should be noted that nowhere in the Bible is it implied that physical death is a transition from a material existence to the spiritual plane,6 so speaking to deceased spirits or ghosts is not possible. The only thing that is certain is that everyone dies in the end. Everyone shares the same fate; the dead have nothing—no passion and no power.7 Ecclesiastes states, “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).8
There is no detailed description of an immediate afterlife in the Old Testament, so evidence of life after death is open to interpretation. But what is often implied in the Bible is the comparison of death to sleeping — and there is also reference to a hope in a resurrection from this sleep of death. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever . . . But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days” (Daniel 12:22-3, 13). And in the New Testament, even Jesus referred to his dead friend Lazarus as sleeping when he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him” (John 11:11).
Like the resurrection of Lazarus (and later that of Jesus, himself), Christians can believe that the bodies buried in graves will one day be raised to life. This is a promised hope as Jesus said, “Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28–29).
So, who are the demonic spirits that people contact?
Angels are creatures created by God, just as are humans, but long, long ago many angels decided to rebel against the Almighty’s sovereignty and were expelled from heaven. Although the term “fallen angels” does not appear in the Bible, it is used as a description for those rebellious creatures led by Satan. He and his associates are trying to usurp God’s rule so they do their best to turn human’s alliance away from God and toward Satan. It is known that they will use deceptions, tricks, and lies to accomplish their goals.
It was not long after the creation of the first human couple that Satan deceived Eve to go against God’s one simple law. That is why Satan the devil was called the “father of lies” by Jesus when he was speaking to the Jewish leaders who were trying to convict him. “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
The event in the Garden of Eden started a war between good and evil among humans — between God’s way and Satan’s way — and, although it will end in the not too distant future,9 this struggle is still going on today. So, Satan and his fallen angels still exist and live in another dimension (or realm) which is invisible to us, but they have the ability to manifest a visible presence when it is to their advantage. They can also speak to you, or speak through you, if you grant them that opportunity. They can entice you, delude you, influence you, and control you if you allow them.
If you see or hear a spirit or ghost, what you experience may be real, “but they are not angels from God or our dead loved ones. They are fallen angels trying to deceive us.” God does have angels to guide and protect us, but they don’t hurt us, trick us, or lie to us.10 If you live by God’s rules, there is biblical assurance of God’s protection by angels as the following verse pledges.
Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:8)
Throughout history, people have not listened to God’s warnings.
In Genesis chapter 15, God makes a promise to Abraham to give all his descendants the “Land of Milk and Honey.” This “Promised Land” was territory extending from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates river.11 Just before Moses’ death and the Israelites were to enter the Promised Land, Moses gave a sermon including God’s laws by which they must live when entering the land of their inheritance. The Israelites always had a hard time obeying God’s laws, so Moses knew that the Canaanite pagan magic and other occult practices in the new land would prove tempting.12
Basically, Moses indicates that God would now reveal himself through a prophet, instead of directly, so he would raise up a prophet like Moses and the prophet would have divine authority. The purpose of this new communicative arrangement is to guard Israel from the detestable religious practices of her neighboring pagan people. By way of this new system, their future would be guided by God, through a prophet. God’s people are to have patience and wait upon God’s initiative of revelation through a prophet, not through other non-Godly pagan sources.13 The following is part of his preaching.
No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God. Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the LORD your God does not permit you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18:10-14)
All these pagan practices are still found in our modern world, either as listed above or by some other New Age names; they have never disappeared. Understand that God is not saying these practices do not produce results, only that they are forbidden for his chosen people, because the spirits contacted, the answers they present, the decisions they make, the guidance or predictions they announce are not from God. All these detestable methods to seek guidance are Satan’s tools for the destruction of the human society. Although there are nine pagan occult practices listed in the scripture above, our study will continue to focus only upon those that seek to communicate with ghosts, spirits, or souls of the dead.
How do channelers, mediums, and spiritists contact ghosts?
One of the New Age terms is “channeling” which describes a method which has existed since antiquity and throughout the ages was called many things, including mediumship and spiritism. Although many people, through ignorance, claim the ability to channel, the real art is through practice of Eastern meditation. “This mildly altered state of consciousness enables the channeler to psychically perceive spirit messages . . . Experienced mediums can enter into a trance state whereby the spirit entity takes direct control over the medium’s voice, speaking through it in an accent quite distinct from the medium’s normal mode of speech.” The medium or channeler or spiritist may have a vision and see the spirit in a visible form.14 Sometimes devices are incorporated, like a Ouija board or some modern electronic component. The purpose is to mediate communication between spirits of the dead and living human beings. The Bible gives specific instructions concerning channeling, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them” (Leviticus 19:31, NIV).
What can we do to protect ourselves from Satan’s influence?
You do not have to be frightened of Satan and his imitations of the dead. For your own safety, stay away from all satanic activities such as séances, Ouija boards, and other activities of spiritism. Satan cannot read our minds, but he is very good at reading our body language, studying our traits, and is expert at influencing what we think. These are methods in his spiritual war chest that he uses to lead us to evil.
Theologian Andrew Knowles wrote that the Apostle Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians explaining about this spiritual war being waged. “This war is being fought between God and Satan in every part of the cosmos, in heaven and on earth. Jesus wrestled with the devil when he was tempted to doubt his identity and misuse his power. He waged war against the devil when he cast out evil spirits. He told power-hungry and hypocritical religious leaders that they were the devil’s children. Paul also sees the forces of darkness at work in the world. He detects Satan’s influence where human rulers are cruel tyrants and human institutions are corrupt and self-serving.”15 Paul wrote the following so we can resist Satan’s methods.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For 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. (Ephesians 6:11–12, ESV)
In the First Letter of Peter to various churches, he advises, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Or, as The Message Bible version puts it, “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.”16 This is good advice.
Copyright © 2019 Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- Speigel, Lee. “Spooky Number of Americans Believe in Ghosts,” (HuffPost Weird News, 6 December 2017 [updated]), https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/02/real-ghosts-americans-poll_n_2049485.html
- Wen, Tiffanie, “Why Do People Believe in Ghosts?” (The Atlantic, 2 September 2014), https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/why-do-people-believe-in-ghosts/379072/
- Miller, Emily McFarlan, “What Does the Bible Say About Ghosts?” (Relevant Magazine, 31 October 2018), https://relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/what-does-bible-say-about-ghosts2
- Easton, M. G., Easton’s Bible Dictionary, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893).
- See #3 above, “What does the Bible Say About Ghosts?”
- Moore, Russell D., “Death,” Chad Brand, et al. (eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).
- Knowles, Andrew, (ed.), The Bible Guide, [1st Augsburg Books edition], (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), p. 266.
- Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Hermann, Ray, “What do you mean, Christ died for our sins?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 31 December 2017), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-do-you-mean-christ-died-for-our-sins/
- “Ghosts: are they real?” (Bible Info, retrieved 5 January 2019), https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/ghosts
- Note: the exact boundaries of the “Promised Land” are given in the Bible book of Numbers, chapter 34.
- Gilchrist, Paul R., “Deuteronomy,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, [Baker Reference Library], (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), v. 3, p. 122.
- “What does God say about channeling and mediums?” (Bible Info, retrieved 5 January 2019), https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/what-does-god-say-about-channeling-and-mediums
- Knowles, Andrew, (ed.), The Bible Guide, [1st Augsburg Books], (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), p. 622.
- Peterson, Eugene H., The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2002).