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Ghosts, experience, and the Bible

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Lee P. from the United States writes in response to Are ghosts real? Lita Sanders’s responses are interspersed throughout.

I have some problems with the article, ‘Are ghosts real?’ For the most part I am probably wrong or confused,

Your ability to even admit the possibility is refreshing and more than we usually come across. The humility is refreshing as many are so caught up in their own assumptions they don’t even consider there might be another perspective that makes more sense biblically.

but you (and others) mentioned fallen angels and their power to roam the earth or manifest themselves in many different ways. This seems to completely contradict the passage, Jude 1:6 (maybe it is just the sixth verse of Jude as there is only one chapter). It says that the fallen angels … are in everlasting chains reserved for the judgement day. So how can they be currently in chains, but roam and manifest themselves on earth?

I would argue that to interpret the verse correctly, we need to look at the whole context. See verses 6–7:

6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

Verse 6 is talking about a specific class or group of angels, who left their proper dwelling—this could refer to all angels that followed after Satan, but I think the next verse helps us to define that specific class of angels who are in eternal chains. The great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was sexual immorality. If the two parallel each other, as I think is likely, then verse 6 is talking about angels who committed sexual sin. The only case of this recorded in the Bible is the ‘sons of God’ taking human women as their wives and fathering the Nephilim. 2 Peter 2 also parallels sinning angels in the time of the global Flood with Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin and destruction, giving weight to this argument. See our article Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6?

So a likely interpretation in my opinion is that the angels who fathered the Nephilim are in chains, so they can’t repeat their sin.

I agree that demons and followers of Satan are out there, I just disagree that fallen angels are.

Secondly, while I agree that the overwhelmingly vast majority is/are evil spirits or demons (definitely something deceitful), there are some stories that at least seem to be somewhat Christian in nature.

Satan and his fallen angels aren’t above (mis)using Scripture or biblical ideas to suit their means if that would be a convenient way to deceive them. The Bible tells us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, for example. (2 Corinthians 11:14). For instance, to use a hypothetical example, let’s say a Christian man gets a ‘visit’ from his recently deceased uncle, who tells him he’s in Heaven, he’s happy, and to trust Jesus, etc. There’s nothing unbiblical per se about what the ‘uncle’ told him, but if the man believes the experience, he is open to further deception. He might just seek further encounters, or engage in other forms of spiritism, if he accepts that this one case was from God. I’m aware that this is a ‘slippery slope’ argument, but I just wanted to illustrate how fallen angels might use even a ‘biblical’ message to deceive, if the real goal is to get people to trust the medium of the message. See Christians shaped by experiences rather than the ‘Bible first’ approach. After all, the Bible warns us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

Near death experiences where they see their ‘dead’ relatives and become Christians or become better Christians. There are some examples of non-near-death experiences that certainly seemed to bring people closer to God. My memory is poor, but wasn’t there a Roman general (Constantine) or leader that saw a spirit, he won the battle and then convert all of Rome to Christianity.

Constantine saw a vision of a chi-rho (an early Christian symbol made up of the first two Greek letters of the word Christos) and heard the words “In this sign, conquer.” He had it emblazoned on all the shields of his army and won the battle.

I certainly understand that the LORD does not want us to do this because we will be deceived, stray from the path, etc. He wants us to call to him for guidance and not someone / something else.

Precisely. I don’t need messages from my dead loved ones about what the afterlife is like, or anything else, because God has given us everything we need in His Word. When we open up the possibility of encounters like this, we’re sort of saying that God’s revelation isn’t good enough for us; we need to hear more from ‘Auntie Rose’, or whoever.

The LORD always seems very precise in his ‘words’ and it just seems weird that he forbade talking with the dead; instead of just saying that you do not do this because they are demons out to deceive you.

God doesn’t give us full explanations about things—in fact, we’re told very little about demons and fallen angels in Scripture. But what we do know is more than sufficient. Satan is a liar and the father of lies, he and the fallen angels who follow him are entirely deceptive and can’t be trusted. They can appear in all manner of disguises, so we don’t always know when they’re trying to deceive us. They hate humans, especially those who belong to Jesus. They can’t be saved (and wouldn’t want to be even if it were possible), and they don’t want humans to be saved either. They know that they await eternal judgment, so they want to drag as many humans with them as possible.

All this means that any argument from experience is suspect if Scripture doesn’t back it up. Scripture has to be our measure for truth, even against experience. If an experience contradicts Scripture, then the experience is deceptive. And we simply open ourselves up for deception to whatever degree we deviate from that standard. This is difficult for most as experiences involve emotions which are the most powerful agents that work on our mind and bodies. The Scriptures are quite clear that we should be careful of the ‘flesh’ and ensure that we use our minds to discern things, especially experiences.

The LORD is very straight-forward in his words, and it just seems that your dogmatic interpretation seems a little convoluted. Much like the theistic evolutionists that say Genesis uses day to mean long ages. One argument against theistic evolution is that the LORD could have easily said long ages or a really long time, etc. If what you are saying is absolutely true, then it certainly seems that He could have said that very easily.

Actually, I think our reasoning is actually very ‘non-convoluted’. The Bible is silent when it comes to saying that we should trust visits from deceased ‘Auntie Edna’, but as Gary’s article pointed out, it is very strong on having nothing to do with such experiences whether they appear good or bad. Your view is really ‘adding’ experience to Scripture and using that as a guide to possibly interpret Scripture.

Our reasoning is very different from that of the theistic evolutionists. The theistic evolutionists start outside of Scripture with the consensus of the majority of scientists that say the earth is billions of years old and that life evolved. Then they try to cram that into Scripture somehow. (Kind of what you are actually doing). In contrast, we start from Scripture and ask what the Bible says, and then we try to extrapolate that into relevant situations that aren’t directly taught. Gary’s article actually used a Scripture first approach and his correct hermeneutical method was to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

The same reasoning applies for Luke 24:39, why would Jesus say “ … for a spirit does not have flesh and bones … ” He must be talking about something because he could easily have said something different and be just as true / effective. Jesus is referring to something truthful in that statement. If not it seems very misleading and not straight-forward. I guess I need other examples of this type of reasoning from scripture to see it your way; otherwise, I just don’t think it is absolutely correct.

This was covered in the article:

“Notice that Jesus did not affirm that ghosts were real (in the sense of being the spirits of departed people—as opposed to spiritual or angelic/demonic beings). He asked them to touch Him to prove the point that His body was a physical one. However, He did not chide the disciples for believing in the popular idea of ghosts. That may not have been the issue. He was definitely affirming that he was not a spiritual being, ghost, apparition, spirit or whatever, but that He had been bodily resurrected. If they did think He was an apparition, then they simply underestimated who He was and His power and they resorted to cultural beliefs, because of the astonishment of what was going on. For example, I wonder what ideas we would come up with if we saw a ‘man’ (because at this stage they did not recognize Jesus as God) walking on water or suddenly appearing in a locked room.”

About telling the future, chapter 13 of Deuteronomy talks about this a little. It seems to indicate that evil people are allowed by God to predict the future (and do so precisely) because God is testing us. It seems from your article that evil people can only predict the future by scatter-gun affect or by manipulating events to conform to their prediction. I think another way is that they did truly predict the future and not use the scatter-gun or manipulation-of-events to do it.

No one who predicts future events with spiritism or other occult means has a 100% accuracy record, which is what God says is the test of a true prophet. People can make remarkable predictions that happen by coincidence, I’ve seen cases of even very unlikely predictions that have come true independent of the predictor’s ability to cause it to happen. But if they ever make a prediction that doesn’t happen, that means they’re not a prophet.

But see in this passage that the other test of a true prophet is loyalty to the one true God, the only one who can give us infallible insight into future events. Spirits may have ways of manipulating events—for instance, saying, “This will happen at this time” and then when the time comes, the spirits work to try to make it happen as they made the person predict. Even human beings or cult leaders have similarly made self-fulfilling prophecy predications—actually orchestrating events or performing actions that they know will result in another action, thus making themselves look like prophets.

Simply accepting the possibility that a genuine communication with spirits is possible leaves the door open for deception. We’ve seen many times where someone has an experience, and that experience overrides everything else, including the biblical teaching.

I hope these few thoughts are helpful. I also recommend Gary Bates’ book Alien Intrusion, which might be helpful as far as understanding the deceptive nature of even some very convincing experiences.


Lita Sanders

Published: 18 March 2012