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.
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
· 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.
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.
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