Do ghosts exist? Didn’t the witch at Endor call up the ghost of Samuel (1 Sam 28:11–15), and didn’t the Lord say, “a ghost does not have flesh and bones” [Lk 24:39, NIV]? A Christian woman I respected once told me that she saw a ghost behind a banana tree when she was young. Also, every year when the Chinese seventh-month hungry ghost festival comes round, I would experience some inexplicable uneasiness and fear. Could this be what Eliphaz experienced in Job 4:15?

I must begin by assuring you that there are no ghosts,—as in disembodied earth-bound souls of departed persons,—in this world. The reason is very simple: the Bible teaches us that the spirit of man returns to the Creator immediately at the point of death (Ecc 12:7) and immediately faces a preliminary private judgement to determine his final destiny: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27; cf. 12:23). Immediately following this private session, those who die in Christ are confirmed in righteousness and received into highest heaven (see Lk 23:43; 2 Cor 5:1, 6, 8; see also Phil 1:23). The souls of the wicked, i.e., those who die in unbelief, on the other hand, are confirmed in unrighteousness and cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Thus, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man, being an unbeliever, was incarcerated in hell, where we are told he suffers the torment of the flame (Lk 16:23–24). In Jude 7, we are told that the wicked men of Sodom and Gomorrha are “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” And the Apostle Peter calls those who died in the great flood of Noah’s time, the “spirits in prison” (1 Pet 3:19). Apart from heaven and hell, the Scripture does not acknowledge the existence of any other place where disembodied souls go.

What about the biblical passages you mentioned? Firstly, in the case of Samuel, commentators have suggested several different interpretations of the ‘apparition,’ ranging from God allowing Samuel to return, to Satanic delusion, to an illusory trick by the witch. After weighing all the evidences, I personally believe that Samuel did not actually return to speak to Saul. I agree with Matthew Poole’s argument:

That it was not Samuel, but the devil representing Samuel, is sufficiently evident. For, first it is most incredible that God, who had just now refused to answer Saul by the means which himself appointed and used in that case, would answer him, or suffer Samuel to answer him, in that way, and upon the use of those means which God detested and contemned; which would have given great countenance and encouragement to Saul and the witch, and all professors and consulters of those devilish arts. Secondly, That amongst his other sins for which he [i.e., the ‘apparition’] condemneth him, he omitteth this of asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; for which transgression, with others, he is expressly said to have died (1 Chr 10:13), which the true Samuel, who was zealous for God’s honour, and so faithful a reprover, would never have neglected, especially now, when he takes Saul in the very fact. Thirdly, That he pretends himself to be disquieted and brought up (v. 15), by Saul’s instigation, and the witch’s art; which is most false, and impious, and absurd to imagine, concerning those blessed souls who are returned to their God (Ecc 12:7), and entered into peace and rest (Isa 57:2), and lodged in Abraham’s bosom (Lk 16:22), and rest from their labours (Rev 14:13).

Secondly, Eliphaz said: “Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up” (Job 4:15), but there is nothing to suggest that it was a ghost. In fact, as the spirit spoke to him in beautiful poetry, saying: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?” (Job 4:17), etc.; this suggests to us that it was an angel sent with a special revelation. Today, God no longer speaks to us through angels (Heb 1:1–2).

Thirdly, when the Lord said, “a spirit [NIV: ‘ghost’] does not have flesh and bones,” He was simply allaying the fear of His disciples. And we must note that the impression, that the Lord gives credence to the existence of ghost in the sense that we understand it, is really due to a mistranslation in the NIV. The word translated ‘ghost’ in Luke 24:37–39 is the [Greek] word pneuma, which is more properly translated ‘spirit.’ It is true that on another occasion, the disciples thought that they saw a ghost or phantom (Mt 14:26; Mk 6:49). There, the word is phantasma, which may be translated ‘apparition’ or even ‘ghost’ because it carries a connotation of being visible. But then, we do not have the Lord saying, “a phantasma does not have flesh and bones.” If He had said that, it might suggest that He believed in the existence of ghosts or some visible apparitions. Instead He said: “a pneuma does not have flesh and bones,” by which he is stating a fact that a spirit is immaterial.

Now, all these are not to deny the existence of demons. Demons are real spirit beings. But they are not the souls of departed persons. Also, it is very doubtful if demons do appear in apparitions. Moreover, we can be quite sure that demons cannot harm believers because “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).

I do not personally believe that there is any special demonic activity during the Lunar 7th month; though I have no doubt that Satan and his demonic cohorts would ‘rejoice’ that millions of deluded people are captivated by fear, to worship ghosts instead of the living and true God.

May I suggest, dear friend, that the next time you feel any inexplicable fear because you feel that a ghost may be watching you, remember that there is no such thing as ghost, and remember that demons cannot harm you. At the same time, pray and think about Christ and His love, for “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). I would urge you, moreover, to refrain from reading any book or watching any TV programme that promotes the supernatural, witchcraft, or ghosts. Remember that these things are not harmless, and will fill your mind with fearful thoughts that are unhealthy and dishonouring to God. Let not Satan take a foothold in your thoughts by indulging in all these. Rather, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).