What Does the Bible Say About Ghosts?

What Does the Bible Say About Ghosts?

Curiosity for the paranormal is a bit of a cultural phenomenon. A poll taken by Ipsos in 2019 revealed 49% of Americans believe in ghosts. 

Based on this data, it’s no surprise that movies like The Conjuring, Beetlejuice, Casper, and Ghostbusters have become staples of popular culture. In the ’90s, there were even television shows on Nickelodeon like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which made stories of ghosts more entertaining and palatable for kids.

None of this is new. The entertainment industry has been capitalizing on the American obsession with spiritualism even as far back as the 19th century. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the Ouija board began as a way to make money from growing interest in the supernatural. Since that time, the Ouija board has either been known as a tool of the devil or an innocent family fun game. Either way, a market for these types of paranormal-themed products continues to exist. 

Whether the supernatural is viewed as purely entertainment or as something far greater, people have questions and stories about the subject. Another recent poll conducted by Gallup revealed that less than 50% of Americans belong to a religious congregation, yet 74% believe in the supernatural. In our current culture, religion isn’t playing a heavy role on the interest or belief in the supernatural.

Unfortunately, people aren’t going to the Church to answer their questions. Further, depending on the denomination, it also isn’t very likely that churches are preaching on the subject either. It’s really unfortunate that the organization who should be leading the way or providing answers to people’s questions about the supernatural is actually shying away and avoiding the topic altogether.

This forces people to seek answers to their questions elsewhere. 

I’ve been surprised by the number of Christians whose views on the supernatural run parallel with cultural misconceptions and counter to Scripture. But it makes complete sense when we consider that church pastors and leaders don’t talk about a popular interest in the culture.

The supernatural is widely understood as events or abilities that can’t be understood with science and operate outside of the boundaries of the known laws of physics. For some, BigFoot, ghosts, demons, aliens, or even zombies fall into the category of the supernatural. For the sake of this article, I will only explore the biblical view of ghosts.

The most common American theory of ghosts is that they are the spirits of humans who have died. Many believe they have not crossed over to heaven or hell yet. Rather, they are caught in the in between and are therefore lingering on the earth. 

For example, some may tell stories about the owner of a home passing away and then subsequently haunting a home.

A ghost may also be a loved one who passed away and communicates through a psychic to bring words of comfort. To many, ghosts aren’t always scary or haunting. Some are believed to be a way of reconnecting with a loved one. 

Does the Bible Say Anything About Ghosts?

To deny any kind of a spiritual world that exists apart from what we can see is to deny the clear reading of Scripture. There are plenty of passages where angels appear, demons are driven out, and angels even fight on behalf of God’s people.

A biblical understanding of the supernatural is that there is a spiritual realm made of angels and demons. Though we don’t have much further information apart from the existence of angels and demons, Scripture is clear that they are not reincarnated humans or a spiritualized version of the dead.

Yes, Christians should believe in the supernatural with regard to angels and demons, but what about ghosts? Can the living come into contact with the dead?

The bible never portrays a lingering state after death, which is what ghosts or spirits of the dead are believed to be. When a person dies, their disembodied spirit does not wander the earth. Though the body of a person remains, their spirit is immediately in heaven or hell (2 Corinthians 5:8; Luke 23:43; Luke 16:22-23). 

Until the second coming of Christ, the spirit and bodies of the dead are separated. The human spirit is in heaven or hell, while the physical body remains on earth. Once Christ returns, the spirit and body will be united (Philippians 3:20-21; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5). This reuniting of the physical and spiritual is actually described as receiving a new body. 

As to what exactly that new body is going to look like or be like, we don’t know much. We can gain some understanding from the resurrected body of Jesus, which we read about in the gospel accounts. Our resurrected bodies will be like Jesus’—made of flesh and bone.

Based on the authority of Scripture, there is little evidence to support the idea that the spirits of the dead can wander the earth or interact with the living. However, there is one biblical passage, 1 Samuel 28:7-20, in which Saul communicates with the dead spirit of the prophet Samuel. Scholars are divided as to whether this was truly the spirit of Samuel or a demon portraying Samuel. 

Nevertheless, most scholars are in agreement that this story was not written to give us further information on ghosts. Rather, the story depicts an element of Saul’s unraveling. God forbids his people from seeking spirits of the dead.

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Should We Seek Spirits of the Dead?

Throughout Scripture, it is clear that the people of God should not seek out the spirits of the dead. The Old Testament speaks against consulting with mediums and psychics (Leviticus 19:3). The New Testament commands something similar (Acts 19:17-19). 

The only spirit we should be seeking is the Holy Spirit. He is sufficient for all of our needs and has been given to us as a helper in this world. The Holy Spirit is the one who should be guiding us in our lives. 

We are actually called to commune with the Holy Spirit and to seek him. We don’t need hope and encouragement from the spirits of our loved ones. When Jesus left his disciples, he told them that he would be sending a helper—one who would guide, encourage, and comfort them. 

The innate desire we have to seek help and guidance outside of ourselves, outside of this world, should be pointed towards the Holy Spirit.

The Supernatural Shouldn’t Lead Us to Fear.

The depiction of the supernatural through culture, media, and entertainment leads many people to fear. Stories of spirits haunting and attacking can really undo a person. But believers have nothing to fear when it comes to unseen spirits. Our security is steadfast in our Savior. There is no greater spirit or power than Jesus. 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

Questions about the spiritual world should not cause us to fear or bring about judgment upon others. We can find security in the fact that there is no power great enough to take us from Jesus. The battle is already won. 

This security should lead us to a sense of confidence and a willingness to engage with those who are searching for answers in the spiritual world.

Christians should not take lightly what Scripture says about the spiritual world. Engaging with psychics, sorcery, black magic, or anything of the like has no place in our lives. Whether we think it’s harmless or not, it’s best to not engage in any way. 

As our culture wrestles with the spiritual world, may we lead them to truth and point them to the Holy Spirit.

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