EDITORS NOTE: In light of the upcoming COUNTDOWN VIRTUAL CONFERENCE (October 15 featuring Dr. Thomas Horn, L.A. Marzulli, Gary Bates, David Heavener, Dr. Judd Burton, Derek Gilbert and many, many more academics and theologians covering fascinating subject matter like the truth behind ghosts, UFOS, aliens, and the return of the NEPHILIM), we decided to excerpt the following Chapter 9: Mediums, Ghosts, Familiar Spirits, and the Supernatural Worldview from the late Cris Putnam’s little known groundbreaking work of the same name—The Supernatural Worldview:
Some can be sent to the living from the dead, just as in the opposite direction divine Scripture testifies that Paul was snatched from the living into paradise. Samuel the prophet, although dead, predicted future events to King Saul, who was alive…—Augustine [i]
Scripture presents at least one human ghost in absolutely objective terms: the apparition of Samuel that appeared to King Saul. The book of 1 Samuel is set in Israel during the transition from the formative period of the judges to the renowned Davidic monarchy. Beginning with Samuel’s birth, the book describes his role as a judge and prophet over Israel. Although it may not be obvious from some passages, God did not prefer Israel to have a human king. In Deuteronomy 33:5, the Lord had become Israel’s king. He preferred that the nation remain a theocracy, but due to disobedience, it wasn’t practical. God’s desire seems clear when He lamented to Samuel, “For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7b). Israel’s desire for a human king was a rejection of God.
When the people pleaded for a king, the Lord instructed Samuel to anoint Saul as Israel’s first king. Unfortunately, human sin has a way of making something that seems good an obstacle to God’s best. So it is not too surprising that while King Saul started well, he ended poorly. By the time we reach chapter 28’s famous account of the medium at Endor, Saul had been rejected by God, having painted himself into a corner with his jealousy of David, whom God had chosen as Saul’s replacement. If that wasn’t enough, the Philistine armies were circling like vultures.
Out of God’s favor and facing overwhelming odds from the approaching Philistine invasion, Saul decided that the only one who could guide him was the prophet who had originally crowned him king: Samuel. However, Saul had a small problem in that Samuel was deceased (1 Samuel 28:3). Contacting the dead was forbidden by God, and Saul himself had purged the mediums and necromancers from the land. Desperate, Saul utilized the underground market for the black arts: “So Saul said to his servants, ‘Search for me a woman who is a medium so that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ His servants said to him, ‘Look there is a woman who is a medium in Endor’” (1 Samuel 28:7, LEB).
A strictly literal rendering of the Hebrew text is much more informative than “woman who is a medium.” The term “medium” in English likely brings to mind for most readers a swindling gypsy preying on the bereaved, or perhaps the Long Island Medium or John Edward of recent television fame for other readers. However, this three-thousand-year-old narrative traverses a vast historical, cultural, and linguistic chasm between the reader’s context and the author’s. The ancient Israelites had a deeply Supernatural Worldview. They didn’t doubt that real mediums could contact the spirit realm.
Mediums in the Old Testament
Saul had purged all the mediums from the land because the Mosaic Law ascribed the death penalty to mediums and necromancers. Interestingly, the Hebrew text preserves a distinction lost in most English translations. The English Standard Version gives the impression that the text is exclusively addressing human beings who engage in these forbidden activities: “A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:27).
However, in the original language, the terms “medium” and “necromancer” don’t refer only to humans, but also to humans associated with spirits. The more accurate rendering of the Hebrew found in Lexham English Bible is helpful: “And a man or a woman, if a spirit of the dead [ob] or a spirit of divination [yiddeoni] is in them, they shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones—their blood is on them” (Leviticus 20:27, LEB).
This translation is a huge improvement toward understanding what being a medium in the Old Testament entailed. Where most English Bibles read “who is a medium,” the Hebrew transliterated “ki yiyeh b a-hem ’ob” literally means, “if is in them a spirit of the dead.” The far-reaching implications will be explored below. Paramount, the text disallows an easy escape. Bible believers cannot remain consistent while relegating mediums and spirits to the domain of superstitious nonsense. God is delivering His law—the covenant stipulations for Israel—for a practice carrying the death penalty. This is very serious business.
God would not institute law for offenses that could not be committed. Why would He prescribe such a harsh punishment for the impossible? If one takes God seriously, then familiar spirits are real and communicating with the dead is possible. The ill-advised alternative is that God trades in absurdity. Unfortunately, well-meaning translators have insulated English Bible readers from the reality of God’s Word. To further illustrate this point, examine a passage from 2 Kings concerning King Manasseh, who was infamous for his deep entanglement in black magic, in two modern translations, the English Standard Version and Today’s New International Version:
“And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums [ob] and with necromancers [yiddeoni]. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger” (2 Kings 21:6, ESV).
“He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums [’ob] and spiritists [yiddeoni]. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger” (2 Kings 21:6, TNIV).
These translations are somewhat sanitized because it is far more likely that original author meant for the reader to understand that he “dealt with ghosts and familiar spirits,” not merely human mediums and human necromancers/spiritists. A medium is “someone with a spirit of the dead,” but this 2 Kings passage only uses the term ’ob. It implies that Manasseh interacted with actual spirits for divination. Flavius Josephus explained the Jewish belief that, “For this sort of necromantic women that bring up the souls of the dead, do by them foretell future events to such as desire them.”[ii] Later, the King James translators rendered it “dealt with familiar spirits and wizards,” reflecting a more Supernatural Worldview than some modern versions.
Are the ’Ob Human Ghosts?
Interestingly, higher-critical biblical scholars writing for the Anchor Yale Biblical Commentary series, Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, readily acknowledge that the term medium means “one who has a spirit”:
The terms “ghosts” (’ôb) and “spirits” (yiddĕ ōnî) refer to the practice of necromancy, and from Leviticus 20:27, it is clear that they are distinct from the mediums who conjure them. It has been shown by Hoffner that ’ôb is an ancient term, attested in most Near Eastern languages, for a “ritual pit” through which mortals communicated with the chthonic deities of the underworld. [iii]
The idea of the ritual pit in which ghosts and underworld spirits could be contacted is seen in Isaiah’s prophecy of a coming siege on Jerusalem. The city is personified by the name Ariel and addressed personally in the oracle: “Then you shall be low; you shall speak from the earth, and your words will be low, from dust. And your voice will be from the earth, like a ghost, and your word will whisper from the dust” (Isaiah 29:4, LEB).
It preserves a reference to the ghosts whispering from the earth and reflects the writer’s knowledge of the practice used by the medium of Endor when she summoned Samuel from a ritual pit in the ground.
Rephaim as Human Ghosts
The term “rephaim” is often misunderstood. Some are confused because the Pentateuch mentions a clan of giants known as “Rephaim” and miss the correct meaning of the prophets. Scholars agree the term has two uses: It denoted deceased humans in the poetic oracles and giants in the historical texts. According to Willem VanGemeren, “Interestingly, all these examples occur in poetic contexts, while references to the ethnic Rephaim are found exclusively in historical narrative passages.”[iv] For example, Isaiah 14:9–10 describes disembodied souls as “rephaim” or “shades” meaning “ghosts of the dead” or “the dead inhabitants of the netherworld” called sheol. [v] Isaiah wrote, “Sheol below is getting excited over you, to meet you when you come; it arouses the dead spirits for you, all of the leaders of the earth. It raises all of the kings of the nations from their thrones” (Isaiah 14:9, LEB, underline added). It is used in this way three times in Isaiah (14:9, 26:14, 26:19) and three times in Proverbs (2:18, 9:18, 21:16), as well as in Psalm 88:10 and Job 26:5. According to Wheaton College Hebrew professor, John Walton:
The dead were not viewed as completely separated from the living. Their spirit could be summoned back (e.g., 1 Sam. 29:11–20). The emphasis here is the powerlessness of the shades on the living, in contrast to the royal power they used to wield. “Spirits” or “shades” are the same as the Ugaritic rapium, who represent the departed Canaanite ancestors. They parallel “the dead” (Isa. 26:14) and are at times beneficent spirits, like Samuel, invoked to visit and aid.[vi]
The context clearly implies them to be deceased human beings, as the rephaim are associated with Sheol and the Hebrew term for “death.”
Interestingly, the rabbinic commentator Malbim or Rabbi Meir Leib ben Yehiel Michal (1808–1879) explained that one could only contact the dead by means of an ’ob for one year after death. This idea derived from the belief that the soul consists of two components: one tied to the physical body and the other not. He wrote:
For the soul delegated from above departs immediately as death takes place, returning to the God who gave it. The primitive soul, however, that is connected to the body, does not depart prior to the bodies decomposition in the grave. As long as the body is not decomposed, the ’ob has the power to rule over the primitive soul and to divine the future by consulting it with the aid of sorcery.[vii]
The primitive soul distinction could be equivalent to the idea of a separate soul and spirit, hinted at in the New Testament as explained in chapter 3 on Watchman Nee’s tripartism.
The Ghost of Samuel
In 1 Samuel 28, the Hebrew translated “medium” uses two words, balat ’ob. It strictly renders “owner of a spirit of the dead.” The issue explored above was, “What exactly is an ’ob?” Is it a nonhuman spirit associated with the realm of the dead, or is it the spirit of a dead human? Scholars are divided, but the latter is favored. It seems to serve a dual purpose for underworld spirits as well as for deceased humans. Jewish scholar Jacob Bazak’s survey of the rabbinic and talmudic literature supports translating it as “ghost.”[viii] If the consensus understanding of ’ob, “spirit of the dead” is correct, then the Hebrew text implies that humans can have a spirit of the dead associated with them. I realize that, for many Christians, this is controversial, but the original language text strongly implies it. It also implies that a great deal of evangelical writings about the afterlife and demonology are drastically oversimplified, if not wholly incorrect.
Because translators have shielded English Bible students from the meaning of the text for so long, these ideas seem novel, but they are indeed much closer to the ancient inspired author’s intended meaning. For its superior accuracy in rendering the Hebrew text, the Lexham English Bible is employed for the narrative of Samuel’s ghost. Let’s turn now to the account:
So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went with two of his men. And they came to the woman by night and he said, “Please consult a spirit for me through the ritual pit, and bring up for me the one whom I tell you.” But the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul did, how he exterminated the mediums and the soothsayers from the land! Why are you setting a trap for my life to kill me?” Then Saul swore to her by Yahweh, “As Yahweh lives, you will not be punished for this thing.” So the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice, and the woman said to Saul, “Why did you deceive me? You are Saul!” 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 from the ground!” Then he said to her, “What is his appearance?” She said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” Then Saul realized that it was Samuel, and he knelt with his face to the ground and bowed down.
Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul said, “I am in distress! For the Philistines are about to make war against me, but God has turned away from me, and he does not answer me any more, not by the prophets or by the dreams. So I called to you to let me know what I should do.” Then Samuel said, “Why do you ask me, since Yahweh has turned away from you and has become your enemy? Yahweh has done to you just as he spoke by my hand! Yahweh has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor, to David. Because you did not obey Yahweh and did not carry out the fierce anger of his wrath against Amalek, therefore Yahweh has done this thing to you today. And Yahweh will also give Israel with you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and Yahweh will also give the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.” Then Saul immediately fell prostrate to the ground, and he was very afraid because of the words of Samuel; there was no more strength in him, for he had not eaten food all day and all night. (1 Samuel 28:8–20)
For most evangelicals, this story is uncomfortable. But we shouldn’t be afraid of what the Bible really contains. We can draw seven controversial conclusions from this narrative.
First, Scripture presents this as real history and relates Samuel’s ghost in objective terms. The appearance of Samuel in his disembodied state gives biblical support to the fact that disembodied spirits—even of believers—can appear to believers. Accordingly, a consistent biblical worldview must have room to accommodate the possibility of human apparitions, even though they are uncommon and counterfeit prone.
Second, ghosts retain the physical characteristics and clothing they are associated with. Samuel was recognized by his characteristic robe (1 Samuel 28:14).
Third, Samuel lived in the underworld of the dead, but he knew what was happening on earth among the living. When Saul stated his reason for summoning the prophet, Samuel’s reply revealed a thorough grasp of the situation. We must allow that the dead have knowledge of the living. The book of Hebrews implies this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Theologian Wayne Grudem explains that “the fact that the author encourages us to run the race of life with perseverance because we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses…suggests that those who have died and gone before have some awareness of what is going on in the earth.”[ix]
Fourth, Samuel knew Saul was facing a Philistine invasion and stated that Saul and his sons would die the next day in battle. This prophecy came to pass. While this may have been revealed by God, it is also possible that the afterlife is atemporal; spirits may have some access to the past, present, and future.
Fifth, the account takes mediums seriously, as if there really are spirits being contacted, but against the law of God. Mediums are “possessors of a spirit of the dead.” To reiterate the discussion above concerning the law: God does not trade in absurdities. While the Old Testament laws were for the ancient Israelites, God’s character does not change. Contacting the dead was seen by God as religious unfaithfulness and forbidden in the strongest terms (cf. Deuteronomy 18). Even though the field today is demonstrably replete with con artists, we should not be quick to dismiss everything as fakery. The Supernatural Worldview must allow for the possibility that some mediums really do contact the dead and that the dead can communicate to the living.
Sixth, the medium described Samuel’s apparition as a “god.” This reflects the Lexham’s commitment to literal translation. Samuel’s ghost is called an “elohim”—the very same term used of Yahweh throughout the Old Testament. How can a human ghost be an elohim? Although one will not likely learn about it in Sunday school, the Hebrew Bible sustains that there are many elohim, good and evil, in addition to Yahweh. In a groundbreaking paper presented to the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Michael Heiser argued, “The deceased Samuel who appears to Saul is an elohim. While this might seem strange to us, the notion that the departed dead were ‘gods’ is quite in concert with ancient Canaanite thinking.”[x] While the Canaanites were Israel’s enemies, they were also their neighbors and they shared common vocabulary. Accordingly, studies of Ugaritic literature have garnered many new insights into the Hebrew Bible and ancient worldview. It seems scholars have too narrowly defined the term.
A biblical word study reveals that “elohim” is used of Yahweh (more than two thousand times), gods of the divine council (Psalm 82, 89, 58:11; Deuteronomy 32:8–9, 43), demons (Deuteronomy 32:17), human ghosts (1 Samuel 28:13), and angels (Genesis 35:7). This scope demands a reconsideration of the typical rendering as “God” or “gods.” Heiser argues the thing these entities all have in common is that “they all inhabit the non-human realm. That is, they are by nature not part of the world of humankind, a world of embodiment by nature.”[xi] In other words, “elohim” is not so much an ontological classification as a metaphysical one. Heiser calls it a “place of residence” term. Samuel’s ghost was an elohim because he came from the spirit realm. This makes good sense.
Seventh, the demonic imposter hypothesis is revealed to be eisegesis (imposing one’s presuppositions on the text) of the worst sort. When interpreting Scripture, one should first seek the original author’s intention for his original readers. Samuel is portrayed in the text as a real human spirit. He is even upset that he has been brought up. There is not a hint that he is an imposter. His communication is consistent with God’s pronouncements against Saul, and the prophecy concerning his imminent demise comes to pass. Better yet, ancient Jewish literature reveals how the Hebrew readers interpreted it.
The ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint preserves the Jews’ understanding that it was the real Samuel: “Saul died due to his evil acts, in which he had acted wickedly against God, against the word of the Lord, since he had not kept it; for Saul had inquired by the one who speaks from the belly to seek advice, and Samuel the prophet had answered him” (1 Chronicles 10:13, LES).[xii] Furthermore, the apocryphal book of Sirach, written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 BC, speaks of Samuel as rising from the grave: “Even when he lay buried, his guidance was sought; he made known to the king his fate, And from the grave he raised his voice as a prophet, to put an end to wickedness” (Sirach 46:20, NAB). Josephus understood it literally too, writing, “To this his sad end did Saul come, according to the prophecy of Samuel.”[xiii] These sources preserve the Israelite understanding that it was actually Samuel. This was unanimously held until the second century AD.
Incredulous Christians have long postulated a demon impersonating Samuel. An early example, Tertullian, was driven by his need to refute the Simonian cult that was practicing necromancy:
At this very time, even, the heretical dupes of this same Simon (Magus) are so much elated by the extravagant pretensions of their art, that they undertake to bring up from Hades the souls of the prophets themselves. And I suppose that they can do so under cover of a lying wonder. For, indeed, it was no less than this that was anciently permitted to the Pythonic (or ventriloquistic) spirit—even to represent the soul of Samuel, when Saul consulted the dead, after (losing the living) God. God forbid, however, that we should suppose that the soul of any saint, much less of a prophet, can be dragged out of (its resting-place in Hades) by a demon.[xiv]
Although a Python spirit (discussed in chapter 6) was a creative supernatural alternative, Tertullian’s interpretation seems rather obviously imposed onto the text by a contemporary issue. His view did not come by seeking the original inspired author’s intention. In biblical studies, this is known as eisegesis or imposing a personal bias. Because Christians find it uncomfortable, this text inspires eisegesis like few others. Other famous examples include Martin Luther, who proffered “the devil’s ghost,” and John Calvin, who said that “it was not the real Samuel, but a spectre.”[xv] Calvin meant an evil spirit or demon.
What about the fact that Samuel came up from the ground?
Sheol the Abode of the Dead
Modern Christians are often confused by the Old Testament afterlife paradigm. They think Samuel should have been in heaven, not coming up out of a pit.[xvi] Actually, the idea of the dead going to heaven is not taught in the Old Testament. The ancient Hebrews believed that the deceased, good and bad, went to the underworld called “sheol.” Upon death, they descended to “the pit” (Isaiah 14:15), the place of the spirits of the dead. Job described God’s mastery of the extreme ends of creation in these terms: “The spirits of the dead tremble below the waters and their inhabitants. Sheol is naked before him, and there is no covering for Abaddon” (Job 26:5–6, LEB).
Scholars derive that sheol was divided into two sections, one known as Abraham’s Bosom and the other Abaddon, the realm of the damned, separated by a great chasm. Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the rich man seems to reflect this ancient underworld geography. Jesus indicated that the rich man being punished in Hades could still see Lazarus and Abraham: “And in Hades he lifted up his eyes as he was in torment and saw Abraham from a distance, and Lazarus at his side” (Luke 16:23). For this to be possible, Abraham must be in Hades too but in a cooler climate. However, the paradigm changes after the Gospels conclude. It was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross that made it possible for sinful humans to enter God’s presence.
His death, burial, and resurrection marked the afterlife turning point. Peter wrote that Jesus, after dying on the cross, went down and preached in Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4), the deepest part of Hades, to the angels who sinned during the days of Noah:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, in order that he could bring you to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, who were formerly disobedient, when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, while an ark was being constructed, in which a few—that is, eight souls—were rescued through water. (1 Peter 3:18–20)
After this, Christ ascended, leading the believers to heaven. A cryptic reference by Paul in Ephesians 4:8–9 (citing Psalm 68:18) could speak to their release from the underworld: “Therefore it says, ‘Ascending on high he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men.’ Now ‘he ascended,’ what is it, except that he also descended to the lower regions of the earth?” (Ephesians 4:8–9, LEB).
It seems that today, the realm of the wicked dead is the same as in the Old Testament sheol, but the cross changed everything—allowing believers to enter God’s presence—if they put their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 10:9). Let’s now turn to the New Testament.
The New Testament affirms the worldview of the Old and carries it forward a few steps. Belief in human apparitions was a part of Jesus’ disciples’ worldview. In the account of Jesus walking on water after the feeding of the five thousand, Mark (6:45–51) and Matthew (14:22–33) both record that Jesus was mistaken for a ghost. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water of Galilee at night, they cried, “It’s a ghost!” Naturally, Jesus calmly answered, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matthew14:27). Interestingly, this would have been an opportune time to disabuse His superstitious disciples of their ghost belief, but He didn’t bother. If it was an important truth, then why not? Jesus’ silence doesn’t necessarily mean that ghosts are human spirits, but it does lean that way.
The term employed for “ghost” in Matthew 14, “phantasm,” is unique to this account. The verb phantazo, meaning “to bring to manifestation,” is often used in the sense “to appear” for supernatural phenomena; used as a noun, it literally means “apparition” or “ghost.” We can look to Greek literature from around the time of the Gospels to see how Mark and Matthew were using it. Lucian of Samosata (120–AD 200) was the author of more than eighty known manuscripts and is considered the supreme Ancient Greek satirist. His Philopseudes (“Lover of Lies”) is a story within a story, which includes the original version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice adapted into a poem by Goethe in 1797 and later Disney’s Fantasia (1940).
Written shortly after the New Testament, around AD 150, Tychiades as the narrator is visiting the house of a sick and elderly friend, Eucrates, where he has an argument about the reality of the supernatural. Several internal narrators then tell Tychiades various tales intended to convince him that supernatural phenomena are real. In this exchange, we see the term in question used in the same way as in the Gospels:
Eucrates pointed to me. “We were only trying,” he said, “to convince this man of adamant that there are such things as supernatural beings and ghosts, and that the spirits of the dead walk the earth and manifest themselves to whomsoever they will.” Moved by the august presence of Arignotus, I blushed, and hung my head. “Ah, but, Eucrates,” said he, “perhaps all that Tychiades means is, that a spirit only walks if its owner met with a violent end, if he was strangled, for instance, or beheaded or crucified, and not if he died a natural death. If that is what he means, there is great justice in his contention.” “No, no,” says Dinomachus, “he maintains that there is absolutely no such thing as an apparition.” “What is this I hear?” asked Arignotus, scowling upon me; “you deny the existence of the supernatural, when there is scarcely a man who has not seen some evidence of it?”[xvii]
This passage is valuable for two reasons. First, this ancient story demonstrates that the debate between the naturalist and the supernaturalist is not a product of modernity. Second, the Greek term phantasma used by the Gospel authors is also used here for the spirits of the dead, establishing the way the term was widely understood by readers of that time.
Jesus Believed in Ghosts
Jesus had another opportunity to correct the disciples’ belief in ghosts that is even more telling. After He was crucified, the last thing the disciples were expecting was to see Him. However, Luke records that He appeared unexpectedly in their midst:
And while they were saying these things, he himself stood there among them. But they were startled and became terrified, and thought they had seen a ghost. And he said to them, “Why are you frightened? And for what reason do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that I am I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. (Luke 24:36–40, LEB, underline added)
The passage is compelling, both because it is the second time the disciples made this mistake and also for what Jesus did say rather than what He did not say. Eric James observed, “Had Jesus rebuked or corrected them the first time, off the record, then surely the second time around He would have even more harshly, or made it excruciatingly clear that ghosts aren’t real.” [xviii] Not only did Jesus not correct their belief in ghosts, He made a point of distinguishing Himself from a ghost based on its attributes: “a ghost does not have flesh and bones.” He implies that ghosts exist, but that He is not one because He has flesh and bones. This wouldn’t make sense if ghosts do not exist. Jesus strongly implies that ghosts are real entities.
When Jesus died on the cross, some dead folks actually rose from their graves and walked around Jerusalem: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27:52–53).This event doesn’t fit tidily into our theological boxes either. Although some have cited it as a ghost story, they are in error. This passage describes physical bodily resurrection rather than apparitions. Even so, it seriously challenges the Western worldview and has become a stumbling block for otherwise believing scholars.[xix]
The Transfiguration a Gateway between Realms?
Jesus knew that He came to earth to die for the sins of men. When He tried discussing His impending death with Peter, James, and John, they gave Him no support. Peter urged Him not to go through with it, angering Jesus with his words (Matthew 16:21–23). Shortly after that, in an amazing supernatural event known as the Transfiguration—a link between worlds—allowed Moses and Elijah to come and speak with Him about His impending death:
As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:29–31)
While this reveals that Jesus was God incarnate in all His glory, it includes two apparitions of biblical prophets. It also shows that it is possible for them to return to the land of living if God allows.
Are the Dead Watching?
Interestingly, both Moses and Elijah knew what was happening on earth even though they had been deceased for centuries. They each knew that Jesus was about to bring the era of the law and prophets to fulfillment in Jerusalem. Under the Old Testament paradigm, they lived in Paradise with all the other righteous dead. Yet they knew what was happening on earth. This implies that they were able to observe the events on earth. Can they see earth, or is the information broadcast in heaven? I don’t know. But many Christians believe that Hebrews 12:1 teaches that the righteous dead have observational access to what occurs here. The verse implies that we should behave because we are under observation: “Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, putting aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, let us run with patient endurance the race that has been set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Another example comes from heaven itself. It doesn’t give the story of a righteous dead person returning to earth. Instead, it tells of the righteous dead praying in heaven. John saw them there:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice: “How long, holy and true Lord, will you not judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9–11, LEB)
Somehow, the martyrs knew they had not been avenged on earth. They lived in the presence of God, but knew what was happening on earth. Their blood had not been avenged, and they prayed for God to avenge it. This implies that they were not only observing, but were growing weary of waiting. Nevertheless, they were told to wait until the right time and that justice would come in God’s timing. These examples should be enough to conclude the righteous dead have knowledge of the happenings on earth. What we do not know much about is the state of the damned. Demons and the damned are the subject of the next chapter.
This chapter examined the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 28 amongst others dealing with mediums and spirits and demonstrated that English translations mask the deeper implications of inspired Word. It was argued that human ghosts are presented as real entities and that God’s laws against mediums and necromancy only make sense in light of these being real possibilities. God would not bother to institute such serious penalties for impossible acts. Furthermore, the Gospels reveal that the disciples certainly believed in ghosts and strongly imply that Jesus did, too. It seems that expediency and tradition have a tendency to demythologize the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.
GHOSTS? DEMONS? ALIENS? WHAT WILL BE PRESENTED AT THE “COUNTDOWN” VIRTUAL CONFERENCE!?
[i] Augustine, “The Care to Be Taken for the Dead,” 15.18, in John R. Franke, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT 4 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005) 323.
[ii]Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987), Ant. 6.330.
[iii]Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, II Kings: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, includes index (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008) 267.
[iv]Willem VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) 3:1176.
[v] William White, “2198 רָפָה” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1999) 858.
[vi]John H Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) vol. 4: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009) 72.
[vii] Malbim “on 1 Samuel 28:13” cited in Jacob Bazak, Judaism and Psychical Phenomena: A Study of Extrasensory Perception in Biblical, Talmudic, and Rabbinical Literature in the Light of Contemporary Parapsychological Research (New York: Garrett, 1971) 84–85.
[viii] Ibid., 83.
[ix]Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press; Zondervan, 1994) 820.
[x] Michael Heiser, “What Is an Elohim?” Paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society Meeting, 2010, www.thedivinecouncil.com/WhatisareanelohimETS2010.pdf (accessed 10/12/13) 8.
[xi] Ibid., 11.
[xii] Rick Brannan, Ken M. Penner, Israel Loken, Michael Aubrey, and Isaiah Hoogendyk, eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).
[xiii]Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996) Ant 6.378.
[xiv] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 57:335–337, http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-22.htm#P3065_1109150.
[xv]John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, David Erdmann, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 & 2 Samuel (Bellingham, WA: Logos, 2008) 335.
[xvi] Jack Zavada, “What Does the Bible Say About Ghosts?” About.com Christianity, http://christianity.about.com/od/whatdoesthebiblesay/a/Ghosts-In-The-Bible.htm (accessed 10/16/13).
[xvii] Samosata Lucian, “Philopseudes” in Works of Lucian of Samosata, vol. 3., translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler. Available Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6829.
[xviii] Eric James, Are Ghosts Biblical? (Mustang, OK: Tate, 2013) Kindle edition, 30.
[xix] In his scholarly apologetic, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Michael Licona PhD suggested that this might be apocalyptic symbolism resulting in a firestorm of controversy that led to his dismissal from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.