Are ghosts real? My sister says she is a Christian and says she and her two grand-daughters have seen “ghosts” in her apartment. Is this possible?
Are ghosts real? While it is true the term “ghosts” is mentioned in the KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, NLT, LEB, NET and NIV Bible versions, the answer to our question depends upon one’s definition of a ghost. Some have defined ghost as a spirit or an evil spirit. Others believe that a ghost is the spirit of a person who has died and then returns to haunt. This article will reveal that ghosts are real, if the definition of a ghost is a “spirit” being which is either good or evil. What follows provides a biblical definition of ghost in different Bible versions with multiple examples.
Definition of Ghost In the Bible
Different Hebrew and Greek words are translated as “ghost” by different Bible versions. The definitions of “ghost” range from “divine being,” “spirit,” “disembodied dead person,” to “an apparition.” The King James Bible uses the word “ghost” the most of all modern Bibles – 109 times. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) uses “ghost” the fewest number of times – once.
Ghost In the King James Bible
The primary reason the King James Bible uses “ghost” 109 times is that the meaning of the word “ghost” in 1611 was “spirit.” Consequently, Holy Spirit is translated as “Holy Ghost” ninety times in the King James Bible. Nineteen times the King James Bible uses “ghost” in other ways.
The KJV also uses “ghost” to communicate that someone breathed their last breath at the moment of death. This occurs eleven times in the Old Testament. Eight times in the New Testament, “ghost” was used in the phrase “gave up the ghost” or in a similar statement (Genesis 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:33; Job 3:11; 10:18; 11:20; 13:19; 14:10; Jeremiah 15:9; Lamentations 1:19; Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37, 39; Luke 23:46; John 19:30; Acts 5:5, 10; 12:23). That is, the KJV Bible never uses the term “ghost” in connection with a spirit or the spirit of a man.
Ghost In Other Bible Versions
A total of five Hebrew words and Greek words are translated as “ghost.” The three Hebrew words are elohim, itti and ob.” The two Greek words are phantasma and pneuma. Explanations of these verses will occur below. In summary, if we ignore the KJV, the most common biblical definition of ghost is equivalent to “spirit” or” “apparition.”
Ghosts In the Old Testament
In the Old Testament there are three passages in which three words are used for “ghost,” “ghostly” and “ghostlike.” But none of the passages prove that ghosts exist, Each passage refers to ghosts or ghost like behavior in order to communicate to the people to which the messages are written.
Saul and the Medium of Endor — 1 Samuel 28:13
The first example of the word “ghost” appearing in the Old Testament is found in 1 Samuel 28:13 in the NIV. It is about a seance which is attended by King Saul and the medium or the witch of Endor. The ghostly figure is Samuel. Here is 1 Samuel 28:11-15.
Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” . . . 1 Samuel 28:11-15 (NIV)
In this example the prophet Samuel has died and King Saul wants to speak to him. As a result, Saul visited a medium in an attempt to speak with Samuel. However, the medium was surprised when Samuel actually came up out of the ground. The spirit of Samuel is described as a “divine being coming up out of the earth.” The Hebrew word for “ghostly” in the NIV is elohim. The NASB translates the word as “divine being.” In summary, the witch of Endor was surprised that this occurred. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the Bible endorses and teaches that seances are real and result in ghostly appearances of dead people. It appears that she did not expect this to occur.
Egyptians Will Consult Ghosts of the Dead — Isaiah 19:3
A second example of the word “ghost” in the Old Testament is in Isaiah 19:3 in the NASB. Here is Isaiah 19:1-4,
The oracle concerning Egypt.
Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt;
The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence,
And the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
So I will incite Egyptians against Egyptians;
And they will each fight against his brother and each against his neighbor,
City against city and kingdom against kingdom.
Then the spirit of the Egyptians will be demoralized within them;
And I will confound their strategy,
So that they will resort to idols and ghosts of the dead
And to mediums and spiritists.
Moreover, I will deliver the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel master,
And a mighty king will rule over them,” declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
Isaiah 19:1-4 (NASB)
The passage is an announcement of judgment upon the Egyptians. In verse 3 God announces that as a result of His punishment, the spirit of the Egyptians will be demoralized and confused. Therefore, they will consult their idols, ghosts from the dead, mediums and spirits. The Hebrew word for “ghosts” is itti, which means “disembodied dead persons consulted by the occult.” This implies that “ghosts” are demonic and of the occult. This is an important passage since it reveals the Egyptians believed in ghosts or spirits of the dead coming up from the ground. We cannot use this passage to establish a doctrine about ghosts or the dead arising from the ground.
Jerusalem’s Voice Will Be Ghostlike — Isaiah 29:4
A rare passage that alludes to the reality of ghosts occurs in Isaiah 29:4 in the NIV. The verse describes what God will do to Jerusalem.
Brought low, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth; out of the dust your speech will whisper. Isaiah 29:4 (NIV)
The Hebrew word that is translated as “ghostlike” in this verse is ob. It can mean “medium, ghost, spirit, spirit of the dead . . .” The voice of Jerusalem will be like a ghost out of the ground . . . a whisper! This is also implied in Isaiah 8:19.
And when they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? Isaiah 8:19 (NASB)
This is an allusion to the possible existence of ghosts or spirits.
Ghosts In the New Testament
The word “ghosts” occurs two times in the New Testament. Both times the word is used in reference to Jesus. Both times the disciples think they are seeing a ghost. In the second passage Jesus confirms the existence of ghosts which should be more properly called spirits.
Jesus Walks on Water — Matthew 14:26; Mark 6:49
The first time “ghost” appears is in Matthew 14:26 in the NASB.
When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. Matthew 14:26 (NASB)
The disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee at night and Jesus is walking on the water. The disciples think they are seeing a ghost. The Greek word that the NASB translates as “ghost” is phantasma. It has the meaning of “an apparition, ghost, an appearance.” Now this does not prove that ghosts are real. But does prove the disciples believed in ghosts or spirits.
Jesus Appears To Disciples After His Resurrection — Luke 24:37, 39
The second time “ghosts” appears is in Luke 24:37, 39 in the HCSB.
But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Why are you troubled?” He asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” Luke 24:37-39 (HCSB)
This describes Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples. At first, they think He is a ghost. Jesus tells them that a ghost does not have flesh and bones. The Greek word that HCSB translates as “ghost” is pneuma, which means “spirit.” In the ESV, NASB, and NKJV the Greek word pneuma, is translated as “spirit,” but not ghost. This reveals that the translators of the HCSB decided to change the meaning to agree with current thinking. Unfortunately, the HCSB has mistranslated pneuma. Since “spirit” is a better translation, this means that Jesus explained that “spirits” do not have flesh and bones. This is an excellent example of the interchangeability of “ghost” and “spirit.” That is, ghosts as actually spirits.
Are Ghosts Real?
Ghosts are actually spirits. Technically speaking, holy angels and evil angels are spirits since Hebrews 1:13-14 refers to angels as spirits. Sometimes they appear as people and it is possible for Christians to entertain them unknowingly (Hebrews 13:2). But usually Scripture refers to spirits as evil spirits or demons. Since Jesus states that spirits exist in Luke 24:37-39 and added, “spirits do not have flesh and bones” in the NASB we understand why the HCBS translated pneuma as “ghosts.” In conclusion, “ghosts” or “spirits” do exist. They are either holy or evil (fallen) angelic beings. Sometimes they appear as people and sometimes they can appear ghostlike.
Christians Must Avoid Evil Spirits
Christians need to avoid so called “divine or spirit-guides.” God has given us His Word to guide us and not personal divine messengers. Demons masquerade as angels of light.
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:14 (NASB)
This means that evil spirits can appear as “good” and pretend to be divine. Therefore, any activity associated with spirits must be avoided since involvement with the occult is strictly prohibited by God including communing with the dead. Here are a few references.
Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:31 (NASB)
As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists . . . I will also set My face against that person . . . Leviticus 20:6 (NASB)
Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine. Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones . . . Leviticus 20:26-27 (NASB)
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD . . . Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (NASB)
Ghosts are actually spirits. Holy angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:13-14). Demons or evil angels are usually simply called “spirits” or “evil spirits.” Christians need to resist evil ghosts and evil spirits, but we are not to be afraid of them (James 4:7) and we should not have anything to do with them.
1. The Hebrew word elohim has been translated in a number of ways: “rulers, judges, might one, ghost, and god.
2. Robert Alden, “אוב,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 16.