Ghosts and other Occultic Phenomenon:

A Biblical Perspective

Dr. Ron Woodworth

Introduction

On a popular news show the other night the entire program was dedicated to interviewing a psychic who is best known for communicating with the dead relatives of his audience members. The commentator showed unusual intrigue as he consulted with the psychic about certain of his own paranormal sensations—all the while belittling the warnings of concerned television viewers (by way of email) against such occultic preoccupations. During the course of the interview, the psychic informed the commentator that there was no such thing as the devil and furthermore, that psychic knowledge was unfortunately labeled occultic (literally hidden, secret, clandestine) by those just didn’t understand how helpful it really can be. He even admitted sitting for hours at the library researching occultic literature, which later became the foundation of his knowledge and practice as a professional psychic-medium.

The Scriptural Prohibition against Occult Practices

When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives, you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or 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. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you.” (Deuteronomy 18:9-12, NASB)

Interpretation:

* Anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire–human sacrifice to the Ammonite god, Molech. See also Lev. 18:21

* Divination–seeking to foretell the future by omens, oracles, or supernatural powers

* Witchcraft–the use of magical powers or seductive charm

* Omens–interpreting of certain signs (flight of birds, black cats, astrological signs) with reference to future events

* Sorcerer–a man skilled in the power of magic and the manipulation of evil spirits

* Casts a spell–words or chants to control others

* Medium, spiritist, or one who calls up the dead—those who pose as an intermediaries between the living and the dead.

Note: Both mediums and psychics claim to have extra-sensory perception. The difference is that mediums claim that their perception is aided by information provided by spirits in general or of the dead in particular—whereas psychicsclaim their abilities are intrinsic such as clairvoyance, psychometry, precognition, or psychokinesis. It is also helpful to know that the study of such paranormal abilities is called parapsychology2.

I share this as the context for a discussion about ghosts because a ghost is adisembodied spirit (evil or otherwise) or presumably a disembodied personality of a dead person.3  The question that most often arises when dealing with the issues of ghosts is whether or not the spirits (or souls) or dead people are really walking around on the earth seeking revenge or otherwise completing some unfinished task prior to their release from the earthly realm. Furthermore, is it really possible for a medium or spiritist to conjure up the dead or is this simply some kind of parlor trick of would-be psychic entertainers? Or could this necromantic activity actually be a demon that is impersonating a deceased person and lying to both the psychic and those who consult their trade?

What is interesting is that a synonym (though not necessarily an equivalent) for the word ghost is demon, which is also a disembodied evil spirit. This is why many biblical commentators have linked the psychic activity of communicating with the dead to that of conversing with demons whose main task is deceiving humanity.

“…in the last days some will abandon their faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” (1 Tim. 4:1)

As a result, it is definitely feasible that demons are indeed impersonating the dead with an intent to deceive humanity from believing the biblical teaching of the separation between the righteous and unrighteous at death and beyond at the final judgment. After all, if there is no separation at death (with everyone still floating around) then perhaps there’s no eternal separation either. Hence, there is no need to believe in heaven or hell because the dead are all going to a “place of light” because that’s what communication with the dead has revealed to us.

The Witch of Endor

Before I share some conclusions, there is a chapter in the Old Testament that deserves some attention in this regard. In 1 Samuel 28 King Saul consults with a medium-witch at Endor in order to bring up from the dead his mentor, the prophet Samuel. Without theological comment, the text states, that the woman did indeed conjure up Samuel who was quite perturbed at being “brought up” from the ground, which would be a reference for the place of departed spirits (Sheol in Hebrews andHades in Greek). Saul then entreats Samuel for his prophetic direction since the Lord was not communicating with Saul through the normal ways, specifically, dreams, Urim (a priestly lot cast for divine direction), or prophets. Samuel denounces Saul’s efforts as misguided and predicts his impending death the next day—which actually happened (1 Sam. 31:6).

This text is admittedly hard to interpret and should therefore not be made central in the development of doctrine. A careful student of Scripture can only conjecture (not conclude) that, on the basis of this chapter, and though condemned by God, communicating with the dead may be possible. Hence, the adamant denial of psychic phenomenon (particularly necromancy or conversing with the dead) must at least be moderated to make room for what the Bible mysteriously alludes to itself. Again, this is not to ever give endorsement for what the Bible clearly condemns, but it does allow the thoughtful Christian to reinterpret people’s fascination with the subject. After all, there could be some basis in fact for occult practices, but the practices themselves are nevertheless strongly condemned for God’s people—who are enjoined to communicate directly with the Lord rather than indirectly through demons and/or the dead—the distinguishing of which is never certain.

Bottom line: Occult practices, though containing some basis in fact, are meant (by the “the devil…the father of lies,” John 8:44) to replace people’s worshipful devotion to God by suggesting that there is “reliable knowledge” of the spiritual realm through some other source than that of Scripture, the resident Holy Spirit, the community of believers, ordained ministers, and authentic spiritual gifts.

A Global Fascination with the Supernatural

There is no doubt that people are intrigued by the supernatural and/or paranormal. After all, part of the fascination that people had with Jesus was his ability to do miracles and bring healing to suffering of all kinds—not to mention the incredible claim of his resurrection from the dead!

It seems to me that one of the main reasons the church at large (especially in its historic denominational expressions) has lost it’s appeal is because of its absence and/or wholesale denial of the supernatural power of God—leaving little other than superstitious tales of the saints of old, or the theology of cessation (the doctrine that since we now have the Bible–we no longer need the supernatural power gifts and ministries) of the Holy Spirit. To these the admonition of Scripture itself would appear appropriate:

But mark this: In the last days difficult times will come. People will be lovers of themselves…money…[and] of pleasure rather than lovers of God—holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5 NIV & NASB).

In my mind, this vacuum of the supernatural is and will continue to be filled in ever increasing intensity and paranormal manifestation by the occult—against which God has always had a superior Spirit which he promises to give to all believers (Luke 11:13; Mark 16:17-18), especially as the last days approach.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams…I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below…The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:17-21) Notice that God’s intension in all of these supernatural manifestations is that men might be saved—what a great and compassionate God we serve!

Ecstasy: Drug or Endowment

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:1-4)

While studying this text one day I noticed an amazing corollary between the drugecstasy and the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues” as mentioned above. The connection was that nearly all of my biblical references defined the supernatural gift of tongues in terms of an ecstatic utterance of some sort.4  I found myself wondering if the drug ecstasy was in fact a kind of demonic counterfeit for the authentic power of God (represented by the phenomenon of speaking in tongues) which many Christians had written off years ago as an emotional excess of Pentecostal “holy rollers”. However one feels about Pentecostalism one thing is certain: The youth of today are under an unprecedented onslaught of demonic activity and manifestations that can only be countered with a personal experience of the authentic power of God. We must not deny a generation any and every tool necessary to combat the forces of darkness at the end of the age.

Lord Jesus,

Raise up a mighty army from among our youth who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to take the Gospel of the Kingdom (Christ’s dominion) into all the earth and hasten the day of your return. Even so, Come Lord Jesus.

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion [the royal center of the Messiah’s universal rule]; you will rule in the midst of your enemies [through your assembled army]. Your troops will be willing on your day of battle [to stand with you regardless of the cost]. Arrayed in holy majesty, [with a heart of worship] from the womb of the dawn you will receive the youth like the dew [they will be too numerous to count].” (Psalm 110:2-3)

Finally, here are two verses that both humble and motivate me to keep the supernatural dimension of the ministry central (regardless of my shortcomings) to the proclamation of God’s Word.

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words [alone] but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor. 2:4)

And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?’” (Matthew 13:54, NASB)


[1] The term “psychic” is also featured in many variations of Gnosticism. See my article on “The Da Vinci Code”.

[2] Article on “Psychics” from Wikipedia @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychic

[3] The Revell Bible Dictionary article on “ghost” p. 439

[4] The Revell Bible Dictionary, p. 984; Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 599, et al