What does the Bible say about ghosts / hauntings?

Question: "What does the Bible say about ghosts / hauntings?"

Here are some Bible truths that relate to hauntings and visits by the spirits of dead people. There are only a few incidents that deal with the living having contact with a "dead" person.

a) In 1 Samuel 28:7-19, King Saul seeks a woman with a familiar spirit (demon) to inquire of Samuel about what to do. That she actually manages to communicate with the dead shocks her (v. 12) indicating to me that it did not previously happen.

b) In Matthew 17:1-8, Peter, James and John see Moses and Elijah with Jesus for a brief period of time.

c) In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In this story we learn of there being two compartments for the dead until the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11f.). Also in the story the rich man asks for Lazarus to be sent back to warn the living. Abraham says it would do not good because if they will not believe God's written word, they will not believe though one should rise from the dead.

From the above three passages of Scripture, I would conclude that there are compartments in which the spirits of the dead dwell for now and that while there are a few instances in which God allowed interaction between the living and the dead, those situations were very rare and not nearly as common as contact between people and angelic beings. Also Luke 16:27-31 would indicate that no human spirits are allowed to return to visit the living without permission, and if permission is not granted for the purpose of warning people to flee from the wrath to come, it would not be given for trifling reasons.

Unlike the two instances dealing with actual contact or communication with dead people, there are numerous instances involving contact with angelic beings, both good angels and evil angels (demons). Many of the instances involving a good angel refer to "the angel of the LORD," usually referring to the appearance of the pre-incarnate Son of God. But many others refer to other good angels that God uses to minister on our behalf (Hebrews 1:14). To minister on our behalf, sometimes they manipulate the physical environment (1 Kings 19:5-7 (the angel touches Elijah and provides food and drink for him); 2 Kings 19:35 (the angel strikes 185,000 Assyrians dead); Daniel 6:22 (the angel closes the mouths of the lions); Acts 12:23 (the angel strikes Herod for accepting worship as though he were a God); etc.)

In like fashion, there are numerous instances in which evil angels (demons) are recorded as interacting with people. And again, they are able to manipulate physical things as well. In Job 1:12-19, they manipulate people to do evil; they cause fire from the sky to consume herds of sheep; they cause a wind to blow down the house in which Job's children were staying. In the gospels a number of instances are recorded of demons possessing people (Matthew 8:16,28f.; 9:32-33; 12:24; 15:22; 17:18; etc.) In these incidents, and several others, the manifestation of the demon possession involved some physical ailment (muteness, epilepsy, blindness, but sometimes supernatural strength). They also possessed the pigs before they ran into the waters and drown in Mt. 8:28f.

I would like to note three things about demons: (1) The demons have no power over anyone but what God allows, that is, Satan (and his host of evil angels) are like wild dogs on leashes and it is God who holds their leashes. They can do only what He allows (Job 1:12; Job 2:6; Matthew 8:31-32). (2) The instances of demonic involvement recorded in Scripture far outnumber the few extreme instances of interaction with dead people. (3) Christ has given His disciples authority over demons (Mark 16:17; Luke 9:1; 10:9).

You might ask why God even allows demons to mess with us. If they are on His leashes, why doesn't He hold them back from any interaction with humans? In the unfathomable wisdom of God, He is able to use their evil desires and intent upon our lives and bring good out of them for Christians (In Mark 1:13 God uses Satan's temptations to prove Jesus' sinlessness; in the Book of Job, God uses Satan to show the integrity of Job's character and then later rewards Job doubly for all he went through; in 2 Corinthians 12:7, God uses Satan's affliction upon Paul to keep Paul from becoming proud). In the case of unbelievers, Satan and the evil angels serve as a type of catalyst working along with the unredeemed world's influence and the cravings of the sinful nature to bring out of unbelievers' hearts the evil that already dwells within, thus revealing to them and others what their true nature (fallen nature) is like (Matthew 15:18-19; Ephesians 2:1-3; Revelation 20:7-9).

Now, as you examine Scripture, particularly the epistles which focus upon our life in the "church age," you find very little dealing with how we are to interact with the demons other than not to presume to address them in our own ability and strength (Jude 1:9). Nor are we told to dwell upon and continually wonder if there are demons working around us even now. (The answer is yes...and sometimes they manifest themselves!) But whether they do or not, they are not to be our focus. Why not? Because once again, they have no authority but what God gives them. Who and what then should be our focus? Our focus needs to be upon God and the clear commands that He gave us in Scripture; if He is our focus, we need fear nothing else (Psalm 27:1).

We are not to become fascinated with the spirit world but to be fascinated by God and His awesome character and attributes (Psalm 27:4; Psalm 73:25). And if, in the course of serving Christ and relying upon Him, we should encounter manifestations of demon possession or demonic activity, we need only turn to Him in simple, believing prayer; relying upon His Word and His Holy Spirit to work as He chooses (even as we should be facing life when there are NO evident manifestations of demonic involvement, for Satan often does his most frequent and effective work behind smoke screens and never makes his presence or that of his demons evident (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

If demons should happen to be manifesting their presence somewhere, I would ask myself why. Is there a heathen idol, a fetish used in heathen worship, etc. (Deuteronomy 32:16-17; Psalm 106:37-38; 1 Corinthians 10:19-21)? Or, perhaps there is someone who has allowed themselves to become possessed by a demon or has allowed demonic involvement in their life by some repeated, serious sin (Ephesians 4:27). Any occult items in one’s possession should be burned as Paul and the other Christians treated the books that were burned in Acts 19:18 and any known sins should be confessed to God (1 John 1:9).

Again, I believe it is biblical to believe in demons and that what people believe to be hauntings are either the mere illusions of charlatans or involve actual demonic activity, the visiting by human spirits. I also believe that the use of channeling and seeking the guide of “spirit guides” or “spirit helpers” or to play with Ouija boards, tarot cards, seances, or to listen to Satanic heavy rock music, etc. is to actually invite the involvement of demons in one’s life. I also believe it is biblical to not become obsessed with them and with the spirit world. Nowhere in Scripture can you find any precedence for doing so. Rather we are to be consumed the word of God (Psalm 119), with knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8-10), serving Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2), and seeking to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20, etc.). The only freedom that the lost can have from sin and the devil is through that found in Christ alone (John 8:32-36; Romans 6:16-23; Ephesians 2:1-10). It is His gospel that we need to concentrate on sharing with others. That gospel is the power of God for deliverance from sin and Satan (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

Recommended Resource: The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums, and Psychic Phenomena by Ron Rhodes.

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What does the Bible say about ghosts / hauntings?