Skip to main content

Are there really Ghosts?

Do Ghosts Exist?
Q – Do Ghosts Exist?

Answer – NO…and maybe!

It all depends on what the questioner means by asking if “ghosts” exist.

If you are asking about ghosts and define them as being the spirits of people who have died and are now either wandering about the earth or “haunting” a specific location, then the answer is no. There is no biblical evidence (or valid scientific evidence) that the spirits of people who have died can or will remain in the realm of the living.

The fables or superstitions concerning the “spirits” of the dead (one Greek word for spirit actually being the same word we use for ghost) who either are lost in between the physical and spiritual world, or out of regret, love, anger, or a desire for vengeance remain in the realm of the “living” are as old as mankind. I believe that many of these fables or superstitions arose because of our inability to cope with death, and as a way to either comfort (“don’t worry, your loved one is still here with you”) or control by fear (“if you do that, you will be cursed, and I will haunt you”) people as they tried to understand the ultimate question: What happens to us when we die?

Even the Jews had superstitions about the spirits of dead people and what happened to them. One popular superstition in Jesus’ time was that the spirit (Hebrew: ruach adam) of a person who had been murdered or killed would appear to their closest loved one(s) to let them know they were dead before passing on into Sheol (the place of the dead or the grave).

We even read about even the Disciples being “afraid of ghosts.” Not the ghosts of people but evil
spirits or “phantasma.”

Both Matthew (14:22-36) and Mark (6:45-52) record the miracle of Jesus walking on the water.
Matthew says that when Jesus came to them walking on the sea, and the disciples saw Him, that they were terrified. Not just frightened or fascinated by the fact that a man was walking on water, but terrified because they believed they were seeing a “ghost”!

The word that is translated here as “ghost” is phantasma in the Greek. It means the
apparition or appearance of a malevolent spirit. This is the same word that is sometimes translated as spirit.

Research
Research into the usage of this word actually leads us to the conclusion that even when the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, they believed it to be an evil “spirit” or “genie” rather than the spirit of a dead person. In Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage he suggests that they may have even believed it to be the “evil spirit” who had caused the storm they were in. Henry writes “We often perplex and frighten ourselves with phantasms (ghosts and spirits), the creatures of our own fancy and imagination.” In other words, they are “creatures” because we “create” them in our own minds. Jesus knows the terror the disciples are experiencing, so He immediately speaks to them. He tells them to “man-up”; or, “take courage” (quit being afraid of something that is not real!). He points out that it is Him, in the flesh…so stop scaring yourselves!

Mark tells this slightly differently. Mark records that when they saw what they believed to be a ghost coming to get them, that they actually “cried out” (in fear). How often have you cried out in fear when surprised or shocked? But, once you figure out there is no real danger, you calm down and maybe even feel a little foolish for your reaction to what “surprised” you.

In both of these accounts, the disciples saw something they didn’t understand. They immediately attributed it to a superstition. They believed that “evil spirits” or ghosts were going to get them. They didn’t think it was a “pneuma” (or spirit of a person) but rather a phantasma or malevolent spirit. In both cases, it was actually a living person (Jesus) and not a ghost.

Apparently, even the disciples didn’t learn all that quickly because we read once again in Luke 24:36-42, about Jesus’ resurrected appearance to the disciples who were hiding in a room in Jerusalem, believing He was dead. Upon His appearance, Luke records that their first thought was that He was a spirit or “pneuma” of a person who had died that was appearing to them. This is a very different word and thought from a ghost. In this case also, Jesus shows them that He is in fact a physical person. He points out that “pneuma” do not have flesh and bones as He allows them to touch Him. Jesus even eats food with them, which a spirit cannot do.

So, as much as it will disappoint those who love to watch the many “Ghost Hunter” shows on TV, or who like the Ghost Buster movies, or the Casper cartoon… ghosts or spirits of people who have died, just do not stay or dwell amongst the living. That is fantasy and superstition.

In an upcoming question that asks if we (the living) can speak with the dead, I will give a more detailed explanation of why there is a separation between the living and the spirits of the dead. But for now read:

· Luke 16:19-31 (specifically verse 26)
· Hebrews 9:27
· 2 Corinthians 5:1-6

Scripture tells us that God is spirit (Pneuma) and we must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Throughout the Bible there is a person who is part of the complete triune God who is Spirit. The Holy Spirit or “Hagios pneuma” in the Greek and “Qadosh Ruach” in the Hebrew …or, the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit isn't a Ghost
When people speak of the Holy Ghost, they are not speaking of a haunting spirit (phantasma), but the Spirit of the Living God who breathes life into us and makes our own spirits (pneuma or ruach adam) come alive.

This is a far cry from what is translated in scripture as ghost. That word “phantasma” in the Greek and “ra ruach” in the Hebrew (ra meaning bad, wicked, troubled, etc.) always points to a demonic or malevolent spirit. When the people in Jesus’ time thought they saw a ghost, they most often didn’t think it was a dead persons spirit rather they believed it was a demonic spirit come to cause them harm.

I believe that everything in our day that is attributed to ghosts, hauntings, possessions, frights, and bumps in the night can be put into one of two categories:

It’s either all in our heads, psychological fantasy, or superstition (which can seem very real) in which we try to explain away our fears or things that we do not understand. Contributed to by our fascination with scary movies (which in case you didn’t know, aren’t real) where we actually pay money to be scared.

Or

They are very real acts of evil spirits, demonic phantasma whose only goal is to get our minds off of the truth of God and cause us to fear or doubt Him. God commands us to “not fear” over 350 times in His word. So these evil spirits try to cause us to live in fear, doubt, or distrust of God.

Bottom line: There are “ghosts” but they are not the spirits of dead people. They are “phantasma” or evil, malevolent, and demonic in purpose and nature. So test the spirits next time you hear that bump in the night. It may be spiritual attack. Or more likely just your overworked imagination. But it is not your great grandma coming to tuck you in!

Sleep tight, P. Scott

Comments

Anonymous said…
Great through explanation! I love understanding even more about something I thought I had completely known. Cant wait to read the next one!
Rita t

Popular Posts

Smoking Hookah

Q: This week a young Christian talked with me about the practice of smoking Hookah. They attend a church [which] is reaching out to the many Indian and Muslims in the surrounding areas. Their church also have several ministries that support missions in India and Arab countries. As they spoke with me they said that many of their Christian friends are smoking the Hookah. They said that they have been told that certain types of Hookah smoking involve no tobacco but are simply flavored water, other types of Hookah smoking do include tobacco but in a ‘more pure’ form than that of cigarettes that have additives. The Christians that they know of who partake in smoking Hookah do not feel that there is anything sinful in this practice and believe that it is just a part of certain cultures as a way to relax and socialize. Apparently during certain celebrations some of these culture groups get together as a family and include smoking the Hookah together as part of the festivities. These Chris

Christ Died For Our Sins

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3) The truth of the gospel includes this important phrase: Christ died for our sins . You've probably heard it before. Many times. Sometimes familiarity leads to a diminished sense of importance. The more you hear about something the more ordinary it may seem. Common. Ho-hum. Boring. But this truth is anything but common. Another difficulty arises with this truth. Beyond being common. It may happen in your ears without you even realizing it. When the truth is declared that Christ died for our sins, you may think you hear the truth. But what you really hear is a diminished version. A partial truth. Instead of hearing that Christ died for our sins you may hear a slightly different version of this truth. You might hear this: Jesus died for your sins. Do you see the difference? You should. These statements are similar. Both m

Prayer vs. Petition

Q: What's the difference between prayer and petition? Phil 4:6 for example. A: An excellent word study question! When attempting to study words from the text it is necessary to analyze the word being studied in the original language (in this case Greek) as attempting to look up the words in English will often produce erroneous results. For example, in English the word petition has within its range of meanings things that are certainly not within the scope of meanings for the Greek word (i.e. “a sheet that is signed to demonstrate agreement with some principle or desire for some social action to be taken” is part of the range of “petition” but not of the Greek deesis from which “petition” is translated). The word most commonly translated as “prayer” in our English Bibles is proseuche , which appears 36 times in the New Testament (NT) in one form or another (for the purposes of this study, we are only examining the usage of these words as nouns – the verbal forms will not be

The "Jesus Loves You" Problem

Q: I've encountered a lot of teaching and Christians who believe that saying, "Jesus loves you!" is a valid form of evangelism. Do you disagree with this? If so, why? It seems like a loving way to reach out and to encourage those who are not believers. A: What a great question! There are certainly a lot of materials and teachings that encourage Christians to use the phrase, "Jesus loves you" as an outreach and evangelistic tool. Much of this teaching that I've encountered emphasizes following the lead of the Holy Spirit. It claims that the Holy Spirit will often lead Christians to say this to non-believers to encourage them and try and lead them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Fourth Year Ministries does not teach or endorse this as a valid evangelism strategy. That's not because we don't want it to be valid! Truth be told, we would love for this to be a good practice for Christians. It would certainly open some more doors for us. I

10 Things An Evangelist Is Not

You've probably heard the term Evangelist before. Most people have. The term most likely brings something to mind. Sometimes positive. Often negative. Does your idea match what other people think of when they hear the term evangelist? More importantly, do any of these ideas match what the Bible tells us an evangelist is ? The truth is that most of the popular ideas about what an evangelist is and does are based on the culture, not the Bible. This is a problem. The cultural idea of an evangelist is so popular that it is beginning to be used by companies. If you go to popular job sites and put the term evangelist into the search bar you will find many non-church jobs looking for evangelists. Many of these positions include the duties of spreading knowledge about a particular company, product, service, or idea. The Bible tells us that Jesus gave some Evangelists for His church. And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as