Ask Pastor Matt: “What Does the Bible Have to Say About Ghosts?”

Every week I receive a number of questions from my blog’s readers and I try to answer as many as I can.  Last week I received two questions along this line, “What does the Bible say about ghosts?” One young woman believes her apartment may be haunted. Believe it or not, this is one of the most frequent questions I have received over the last 16 years in ministry and I have addressed it several times, which is evidence that it is a pressing issue. In fact, as I was putting together this post, I had a friend in New York ask me about paranormal activity in her old apartment.  Here is how I responded to this question  a few years ago:

If you watch Ghost Hunters then you know that most “hauntings” are natural phenomenon that can be easily explained.   Other “happenings” like the infamous flying hanger incident on Ghost Hunters, looks like a production assistant is having some fun (honestly, what ghost throws a flippin’ hanger?!?!)

But, the Bible certainly teaches that there are disembodied beings but do they “haunt” areas outside of heaven or hell? There are a few references to ghosts in the Bible. For example, let’s look at 1 Sam. 28:7-19:

7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”

Note that Saul can recognize Samuel by his face and dress, which parallels many ghost sightings. The same goes for Luke 9:29-33. The disciples recognize Moses and Elijah by their appearance even though they have been dead for centuries. Also look at Matthew 14:26 and Luke 16:31, where the rich man in the parable seems to believe it is possible to send someone from the realm of the dead to the realm of the living. Now, one has to be careful not to take parables too literally but it’s still interesting.

BUT what about 2 Corinthians 5:8, that seems to imply that once believers leave their body they immediately enter the presence of the Lord? I suppose one may object that the verse does not preclude heaven sending the disembodied believer back but for what purpose? Seems unlikely. Moreover, such a move by the dead to the living is different from the living contacting the dead. If it were permissible to contact the dead then it is odd that God would explicitly forbid it for so many centuries (See Lev. 19:31; 20:6; 1 Samuel 28:8-9; Isaiah 8:19; 19:3 and 29:4).

And here is the crux of the matter; the Bible may not be clear as to whether there are ghosts but it is clear that we should be wary of seeking out any type of paranormal activity for 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 teaches that demons often masquerade as “angels of light.” Thus, there is no way to know if the cause of paranormal activity is a ghost or demon.

I have read articles, including one by a theologian, which argue that it is unlikely that all “hauntings” are caused by demons because they appear to be harmless (i.e., the supposed spirit of a child, etc.) But I think he misses the point. A demon masquerading as a ghost would not go all Poltergeist on someone’s hiney because that would probably send the people right to a priest or a pastor. What good would that do from a demon’s point-of-view? BUT if a demon acted like an innocent child then it might lead a person to contact a medium or engage in a séance, which is what the demon would truly want for reasons we will discuss later when I address what the Bible has to say about witchcraft. It is important to temember that demons only seek to “kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10)”

That may frighten you but those of us who follow Christ don’t have to worry about demons “killing, stealing or destroying” for Jesus died in our place, was temporarily robbed of his crown for us and allowed his body to be crushed as he took the punishment for our sins in order to redeem us from the darkness. Our Lord’s death and resurrection actually conquered the darkness so that we need not worry about it. All we need to do is faithfully follow our King–His light will pierce and ultimately banish the darkness from his creation.”

For more on why Samuel was “resting” when he was “summoned” see here.

Grace and peace to you all.