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Are All Ghosts “Demons”?

I received another nice review of Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre, only this reader also challenged the conclusions I made in the Appendix On Ghosts. And as an “ex-medium,” I think she has good cause to. She wrote:

My only issue with Christian Horror (as Mike predicted “will trouble some readers”) is the appendix on “Ghosts”. As an ex-medium who practiced spiritism for the first half of my life Christian-Horror-Cover-3before my conversion to Christianity, I understand through firsthand experience that ghosts or spirits of the dead do not walk among us. I agree with Mike’s comment that we do live in a supernatural world. But my biblical worldview is that the supernatural beings that interact with humans here on earth are either angels or demons: Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Nevertheless, Christian Horror by Mike Duran makes a very important case for the Christian publishing market and writers to stop sugar-coating the biblical horror genre and to reclaim it for what it is.

I totally appreciate this reviewer’s caution and, in fact, think it’s wise. As she noted, I anticipated that some readers, especially evangelicals, could take issue with my conclusion. What was that conclusion? For the record, I remain agnostic on the nature of ghost. What gets me into trouble is that I don’t believe the evangelical position — that ghosts are demons — has strong Scriptural support.

What often concerns me (especially as an evangelical myself!) is that some will interpret this position as an endorsement of the occult, or a license to tinker around with paranormal phenomenon. Which is why I ended that Appendix with these words of caution:

While the Bible is not definitive as to the nature of ghosts, nor how the dead interact, if at all, with our world, Scripture is clear in its denunciation of necromancy, sorcery, and witchcraft (Deut. 18:9-12). We are forbidden, in explicit terms, from summoning, consulting, or communicating with the dead. So whatever conclusion a believer reaches about ghosts, inviting them, consulting them, or letting them hang around is the wrong thing to do. Seeing our world as a supernatural place is one thing; validating every supernatural phenomenon is another. In this, we do well to exercise great caution. (p. 105 paperback edition)

This is why I respect the reviewer’s caution. When it comes to the supernatural, it is far wiser to be skeptical and discerning than it is to rush willy-nilly into something potentially devilish. However, this need for discernment is precisely why we can’t automatically consign ghosts to the category of demons. As I wrote,

It is simply too easy to resign all paranormal phenomenon into the category of the demonic. Besides, we have no need to “test the spirits and see whether they are from God” (I Jn. 4:1) if all spirits (or spiritual phenomenon) are categorically evil. So while the Bible cautions us about deceiving spirits, it does not go so far as to say that all “encounters” are necessarily of the “deceptive” order. (p. 105 paperback edition; bold mine)

The need for spiritual discernment regarding “spirits” is evidence that there may be some wiggle room as to their nature. If all ghosts are demons, we don’t need discernment. But if, as I believe, there’s a broader range of spiritual possibilities, remaining skeptically agnostic may be a virtue.

Furthermore, some biblical texts appear to challenge the “ghosts are demons” narrative. Here’s what I consider the three most important.

  • Saul and the Witch of Endor (I Sam. 28) — The “ghost” of Samuel is summoned by a witch and witnessed as “a spirit coming up out of the ground” (vs. 13). The spirit is recognized as the dead prophet who validates himself by prophesying against Saul (vss. 16-19). So what was Samuel? A ghost or a demon?
  • The Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) — Two dead prophets—Moses and Elijah—appear alongside Jesus in a glorified state. Had they been resurrected? Where did their bodies/souls  previously exist? Where did they return to? Compounding matters is that the prophets “were talking with Jesus” (vs. 4).
  • Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to the disciples in which they mistake Him for “a ghost” (Luke 24:36-39) — It suggests that ghosts were an admissible category within their culture. Jesus does not rebuke them for this belief. In fact, He seems to substantiate it—“a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (vs. 39). This implies that ghosts ARE something and not another. (Note, this isn’t the first time the disciples thought Jesus to be a ghost — Matt. 14:22-33.)

Notice: These instances DO NOT validate the existence of ghosts. They aren’t proof tests. They simply broaden the potential category.

I realize this position will both encourage and trouble some. Which is fine by me. I think the Bible frames a world of supernatural phenomenon that is far bigger and more mysterious than any of us could wrap into a tight, understandable theological package. There are, and will be, things beyond our explaining. Furthermore, I believe that we evangelicals are often guilty of forcing our beliefs into a black-and-white paradigm. Thus, something is either true or false, “Christian” or “unChristian,” “angel or ghost.” I’m just not convinced that we can approach all spiritual and/or paranormal phenomenon in this fashion.

There is no single verse or text that categorically portrays all ghosts as demons.

To be clear, I absolutely respect this reviewer’s caution. In fact, when approaching the supernatural, it is far better to be discerning and skeptical than it is to be reckless and naive. My agnosticism regarding the nature of ghosts stems from the simple fact that there’s enough clear biblical evidence to confidently say that ghosts are demons. Again, could they be demons? Absolutely! Should we mess with them, or even attempt to contact them? Absolutely not! I’m just of the opinion that we need a little less dogmatism and a little more wonder.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Heather Day Gilbert October 30, 2015, 5:52 AM

    Mike, sorry, but I’m inclined to agree with this ex-spiritist (who has probably had more experience with ghosts than we have). Honestly, the bottom line is that ghosts generally always cause a fear response.

    And in the case of the witch of En Dor, if you read that carefully, you see she’s totally SHOCKED when Samuel (the REAL Samuel) comes up. Which tells me she’s been communicating with something else (probably not so nice).

    I’ll just say this–I know people who have spent their whole lives ghost-hunting, waiting for a supernatural experience while denying the existence of God. I am pretty sure Satan enjoys this hunt and gives them little encouragements along the way, that this is “real.”

    I’m the first to admit ghosts are out there. Probably aliens and plenty of other inexplicable stuff (like Mothman). But I do believe these are demonic appearances designed to distract and engender fear. Even though biblically we see angels also producing a fear response, it’s always followed up with an explanation/revelation of who they are. I don’t think demons work the same way. They just enjoy the fear, IMO.

    Just my thoughts, but it’s not baseless. I know I’ve mentioned before, but the house I’m living in now was “haunted” before my grandma moved in and basically prayed the ghosts out. I still pray over it all the time because this is God’s house and no one else’s.

  • Kessie October 30, 2015, 5:55 AM

    I’ve read so many weird ghost stories, I’m agnostic about them, too. A gal who runs a farming blog back east somewhere has a haunted barn. The barn is over 200 years old, and every so often, something goes through, unlocks all the doors and let’s all the animals loose. They’re not afraid of it–it’s just an annoyance. These things stop if you demolish the building. An author I follow on Twitter told a story of living in an old, old house as a kid, and some nights they could feel a presence in the house. They’d knock on the door to the attic, and something would knock back. There was nothing ever in the attic, either. As a kid, she thought it was great fun.

  • Jay October 30, 2015, 7:53 AM

    This is assuming the ghosts are really “ghosts” by definition: something metaphysical that is manifesting physically. It could be something that’s perceived as a ghost but could have material explanations (multiversal or transdimensional beings). This is talking non-Biblical accounts, however.

    • Ivani Greppi October 30, 2015, 8:59 AM

      Mike, it was a privilege to review Christian Horror.

      Thank you for posting my comments regarding your “Appendix on Ghosts” here on your blog and to Facebook. So, I am grateful for this opportunity to open up a conversation that is ignored or shunned by many Christians. Also, I appreciate your gracious response to my position on this matter.

      For years, I was ashamed and afraid that my past identity as a Spiritist would cause people to judge me as mentally unstable, superstitious, uneducated. However, the more I see Christians taking the occult so lightly, and worse yet, as entertainment, I feel the need to openly share my testimony.

      What I think is the most important take-away from all this, is that you emphasized the fact that that we must exercise spiritual discernment.Especially important, is that you warn your readers not to “mess with them (ghosts), or even attempt to contact them”, and this is the key to this discussion.

      Whether a Christian believes in ghosts or not, attempting to contact ghosts/spirits through mediums, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, or any occult practice (even just “for fun”) will open doors to demonic attacks. And this is a fact that we both agree on.

      My alarm with all this is how rampant Spiritism, demonology, ghost hunting, hauntings, etc. is now in the mainstream media here in the U.S. This is influencing non-discerning people (especially the younger generation) to mess with very dangerous practices that can cause spiritual harm, not to mention physical, emotional and psychological damage as well.

      Because of my constant research on this matter, I’ve connected with Mark Hunnemman. He wrote an excellent book called Seeing Ghosts Trough God’s Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. I recommend Mark Hunnemman’s in depth research that encompasses the “comprehensive and compelling new paranormal and scientific evidence that answers beyond a reasonable doubt the question of whether ghosts exist”. It discusses and clarifies the scriptures you quoted as possibly evidence for ghosts: 1 Samuel 28, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 24:36-39.

      Thank you Mike for your openness in bringing to light this very relevant topic in our culture today. We need it.

      • Heather Day Gilbert October 30, 2015, 10:00 AM

        Thanks for your perspective and I’ve been saying for years that we need more Christian-worldview books that take up this topic that is taken so lightly in the media today. It’s not innocent child’s play, dabbling with these things.

  • JaredMithrandir November 18, 2015, 8:24 PM

    The Bible refer to Familair Spirits. Those are Ghosts.

    What happened with Smauel and the Witch of Endor is defined as an exception, she didn’t get the spirit she was expecting.

    I haven’t made up my mind on the exact state of the currently dead, but I’ve started to lean towards that Souls sleep till the Resurrection. If not the Saved are in God’s Throne Room.

    The only Biblical position is that Ghosts are Demons.

  • JaredMithrandir November 18, 2015, 8:26 PM

    The “wiggle room” is there because Spirits include Angels in the context. The only good Spirits you could encounter are Angels.

  • Michael Dahl November 30, 2015, 4:02 PM

    I always find these conversations interesting. The general biblical view, in my view at least, everything Jesus did is a miracle. Everything else that happens is very scary suspicious to downright evil.

    We generally are quick to decide everything we have not experienced before must be evil. Really? If I were a demon would I spend my energies, knocking on a wall or making sounds? This is quite childish to me, yet this is often the scale we use to determine good from evil.

    When it comes to ghosts or the dead, what I think are ghosts feels foreign, like rubbing sandpaper on a cotton towel. Other experiences run the gamut from feeling like an old friend has appeared at the door to feeling like I am less than nothing.

    Now, it all could be in my head, an unidentified entity who plays many parts, to a misunderstood (on my part) Angel sent to me for a specific purpose(s).

    On a practical side, I am glad I read your post, as the book sounds interesting. Thank you.

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