Click here to view CMI's position on climate change.

Feedback archiveFeedback 2012

Did the witch of Endor call up a ghost?

Published: 7 April 2012 (GMT+10)

Gary Bates’ article Are ghosts real? has received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. Much of the feedback that disagrees with the idea that ghosts are not really the disembodied spirits of the dead, comes because many feel they have seen such apparitions. Using experience to interpret Scripture is something that Gary and CMI have warned about previously because our senses can be deceived (See Christians shaped by experiences rather than the Bible first approach).

Gustave Doré

In the section about the Witch of Endor that we dealt with, Alex L. wrote in concerned that by saying God allowed Samuel’s spirit to deliver a message of judgment to Saul, it is actually making God complicit in witchcraft. Gary Bates and Lita Cosner respond.

The heading “Did the Witch of Endor call up a Ghost?” appeared in an article by Gary Bates entitled “Are Ghosts Real” in the Creation magazine Volume: 34 2012.

The answer to the question is no! The witch did not summon up a ghost, and the Bible does not say that Samuel’s spirit actually appeared.

In the last paragraph Gary said “On this one occasion, God himself made it possible for a departed person’s spirit to speak in today’s world”.

Contrary to what Gary said there are no exceptions; if God would not speak to Saul through legal means he certainly would not speak to him through illegal ones, because God is not the God of confusion.

The ramifications of attributing this séance to God in any way shape or form opens a door of abuse for those involved in spiritism, and is could turn feeble minded Christians out of the way.

1 Samuel 28:6 And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.

And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel. And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent. And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.

This prophecy by Samuel was not said in a corner, and by the end of the day the whole camp of Israel would have known about it, and within a few days the whole country including the witch at Endor would have known of it. My point is this, Saul was not told anything by the witch which he did not already know. The Spirit of God had departed from him and knew in his heart that his days were numbered.

The fact that he consulted a witch at all shows us something of Saul’s desperate state of mind

Saul saw nothing at this séance with the witch, listen to what these verses actually say.

11 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. 12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. 13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. 14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. (emphasis added)

D. Martynov

In verse 11 the witch asks Saul who shall I bring up for you? He said Samuel. But the witch had no power to call up Samuel or any dead person, only God has this power.

In verse 12 we only have her word that she saw Samuel.

In verse 13 it is evident that the King saw nothing and has to ask, ‘what sawest thou?’

in verse 14 the King asks the witch, what form is he of?

And she gives him a description of Samuel, no doubt she had seen Samuel many times before in his life time, therefore it would be no big deal for the witch to give an accurate description of Samuel to King Saul.

Them we are told that the king PERCEIVED that it was Samuel. In other words, Saul saw with his minds eye, and not the physical eye.

It is inconceivable that a thrice holy God would be a partaker in witchcraft; it is inconceivable that he would speak to Saul by illegal means, whilst refusing to speak to him by legal ones, and it would be inconceivable for God to allow Saul to die for consulting a witch if he himself had a hand in this séance.

1 Chronicles 10:13 … Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;

Saul transgressed the word of the Lord, his last act of defiance was to consult one that had a familiar spirit in direct opposition to God holy word … and so he died.

The only Ghost that we see in this scripture, we see with the mind and not the eye

Saul saw nothing, because there was nothing for him to see. Perhaps the witch can be best described as a demonic con artist.

Alex L.

Dear Mr L.,

Thanks for your ongoing support of CMI and your comments about the article “Are Ghosts Real” in the latest issue of Creation magazine. But we think that your argument rests on an understandable but faulty assumption.

Some things that God forbids are because they contradict His very nature—such as murder, lying, etc. These things are objectively wrong, and would be as wrong for God to do as it is for humans. But God forbids some things for humans that aren’t wrong for Him. For example, is it wrong for him to call up a spirit from Sheol where He has the ultimate control anyway? I.e. what is lawful for God might be considered unlawful for man. For example, it is wrong for a man to kill another unless mandated by God. Yet God instituted a death penalty for man due to sin. God has the ability and the right to do this because He is the Creator. Similarly, consider that it’s wrong for humans to accept worship, but it is proper for God to accept worship because He is God and He is the rightful object of worship.

Humans are forbidden to participate in the occult arts because humans can be deceived by them—we could be fooled into thinking that a fallen angel is a departed relative’s spirit, for instance. God has told us what we need to know about the spiritual realm in Scripture—so we should not seek other sources of information which we know are not trustworthy. But God created the spiritual realm and all the spirits that dwell there, and He rules them and cannot be deceived—He’s in control. So He can command the spirits to do whatever He wants.

While God never condones sinful or evil actions, He can and has used the sinful and evil actions of others (including satan) to bring about His will and purposes. The greatest example would be the horrific sin of killing the Son of God, which God used to bring about salvation for all who believe in Jesus. In the case of Saul, it was an obvious sin and a sign of continuing rebellion for him to seek out a spiritist. But God decided to use Saul’s sin, and sent Samuel. The passage mentioned that Saul basically got what he was asking for and unfortunately suffered judgment as a result. Saul thought if he could just speak with Samuel, he could figure out how to get back in God’s favor. But the exact opposite was the case—Samuel gave a detailed prophecy of the death of Saul and his sons. However, the plainest understanding that this was indeed Samuel’s spirit comes from the text itself. On four occasions in this passage it is confirmed: 1 Samuel 28:12: “…When the woman saw Samuel…”, verse 15: “…Samuel said to Saul…”, verse 16: “…Samuel said…”, verse 20: “…filled with fear because of Samuel’s words…

And also the aforementioned prophecy is one important sign that authenticates it as genuinely Samuel’s spirit, and it being a sign from God. We know that only God can inspire true prophecy—by coincidence a false prophet might get an occasional prediction right, or make pronouncements that are vague enough to fit a multitude of scenarios, but only God, who is outside of time, can give accurate statements about what will happen. If the witch of Endor saw a demon disguised as Samuel, that would mean the demon had detailed access to future events, which is very theologically problematic. Moreover the prediction was about what was to happen in a battle. It would be a bit of a lottery to presume that the demon could pick the result of that one. It is a significant fact that the witch was surprised, why would that be if it was simply a run of the mill soothsaying performance as she had probably done a hundred times.

So does this make God a ‘partaker in witchcraft’? Absolutely not! For one, by definition God cannot partake in witchcraft, because the powers that people illicitly try to gain by witchcraft are nothing compared to the power God has. And witchcraft has to do with demonic powers, while God’s power is much greater and opposed to that. Please also consider that God did not use the witch in the sense that He needed her to raise Samuel’s spirit. Once departed from the body only God has control over our spirit.

To give another example, what makes miracles different from witchcraft? For example, when Elisha made an axehead float, it was a miracle that made it into Scripture. But if someone went out, threw a stick on a lake and said an incantation to try to make an axehead float today, we would call that sinful witchcraft. The point we are trying to make is that if God is the source then it is permissible. It would not be permissible for humans to do such a thing.

A second seemingly unrelated example (but we promise this will come together!). Jesus commanded his disciples to cast out demons in his name, and this is something that Christians have access to even today. But in Acts 19, the sons of Sceva tried casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and not only did they have no power over the demons, but they got beaten up to show that they had no power over them. What was different?

We would suggest in both cases, it’s a matter of going through the proper channels. God’s power enabled Elisha to perform the miracle—witchcraft uses demonic powers, so it’s an illicit way to try to gain power without relying on God. And the sons of Sceva were trying to use the name of Jesus like a magical incantation, without trusting in Him.

We’ve often found that when it comes to often unsettled problematic passages like this one, sometimes we can have it settled in our minds for many years, so when one hears another reason it can be a little unsettling. So we hope you will consider our reasoning and also find it helpful.


Lita Cosner and Gary Bates

Helpful Resources

Alien Intrusion
by Gary Bates
US $16.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Steve M.
You portray the summoning of the spirit of Samuel as a special one-off to make a special and rather deadly point. I have just today raised this question about ghosts on a discussion group. I think your answer is the right one.

This whole episode, which appears to contradict (but does not) the rest of Scripture shows that the Bible is not a "Compendium for the Gratification of our Gratuitous Curiosity".
Blair W.
Gary and Lita,
I was just reading your responses to readers on this article, Did the witch of Endor call up a Ghost? The Lord has truly blessed you both with amazing patience. I love the way your answers are all Scripturally backed and sound, as well as giving with boldness while aslo sensitive as to correct without offence. Great job. May you be in His service for many years to come. God Bless.
Vernon V.
You say, "God is not the God of confusion".

The Bible says:
'Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth ... Gen 11:7-9

They say they believe in the words of the Bible. But they obviously do not.
Gary Bates
Hi Vernon,
I am not sure if you are attributing this comment to us, but just to be clear for those reading, we did not say "God is not the God of confusion". That comment was made by the writer of the letter we were responding too. However, I actually understand that point he was trying to make (alhtough I disagree with it). Because he believes that it is impossible for God to partake in witchcraft then it is not possible for God to have risen Samuel (a point we disagreed with in the article). Ergo, God would not confuse us (the reader) by acting contrary when it comes to His Word. When God caused confusion at Babel we are told that is what He did and it was recorded for us in His Word. In the case of the Endor event the Scripture does not indicate God is causing confusion for Saul or the witch. A plain reading indicates if was Samuel's spirit. There is no confusion at all. And also, we argued in the article that it was possible and permissable for God to do this and that it was not withcraft. It was that latter presupposition that causes a faulty interpretation of events by the writer in our opinion. I hope these further thoughts are helpful.
Dave C.
Acts 19 gives a somewhat humorous mental picture of what occurs when you use Jesus name without having surrendered totally to Him and His authority. Having ones tail whipped along with six others and by a single man is enough to get the point across for good
Jared N.
This is certainly an interesting passage with many differing views. I can see the validity of both views expressed here. Although as a whole, I would have to agree with Lita and Gary on this one. I believe this to be true for 2 reasons:

1) The prophecy - As already mentioned in the original article, the prophetic word was accurate so it would be plausible to accept that God was behind it. This isn't to say that demons don't prophecy; they do. It's just different to Godly prophecy. Demons merely reveal what they are about to do, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

2) No denial - another reason why this experience could be accepted as a real one is because there is no implicit and direct mention of deception or falsehood. With this type of story in Scripture, if it were false, one would expect stronger language denouncing the event and implicit declarations of deception but none of that is mentioned.

Some final thoughts: Could it be that Samuel himself didn't actually appear, but rather the Spirit of God, showed up or manifested AS or representing Samuel? I suggest this because of the story that comes to mind about the prophet Elisha, Elisha was dead and buried, and the Scripture says that a dead man was thrown into Elisha's grave. And when the dead man touched Elisha's bones the dead man came back to life. Obviously that resurrection was not due to demonic power or deception. And Elisha was dead and gone so it couldn't have been him. So obviously, for whatever reason, God chose to honor Elisha's legacy by raising the dead man to life. This is an odd story but shows Gods quirky sovereignty. So perhaps it was God himself that showed up representing Samuel. Perhaps Samuel wasn't actually around, just like Elisha wasn't actually around, but God did it by His power to honor the prophets legacy. Just a thought! :)
Gary Bates
Jared, you makes some interesting points. However, there is one aspect we'd like to comment on and that was your idea that it was the Spirit of God that appeared as Samuel. I think this falls into the kind of 'God could've, would've, should’ve' category. This is something we hear often and we similarly often point out that it's not about what God could have done etc., but what He said He did. I.e. a plain reading of His Word indicates there is no mention of it being God 'in disguise'. Also, first, if God appeared pretending to be Samuel, it would make God a deceiver, because it would be misleading the reader, and second, as we wrote in the article, the text clearly says it actually was Samuel and confirmed it in 3 different way. First, the witch identified him as Samuel, then Saul 'spoke' to Samuel, then Samuel 'said' or spoke.

We tend to come up with all sorts of other elaborate ideas because we tend to project our own views on Scripture, rather than just reading and accepting what the actual words say. In many ways I think an almost 'simplistic' view of taking Scripture at its Word works best. That's certainly what I/we've done with the book of Genesis, for example. I hope these thoughts help you consider it some more.
Au contraire, the witch of Endor, being under the power of one (Satan)who had the keys of Hell and of death at that time, called up Samuel who was wearing a prophetic mantle. Saul did not see him, but looking closely at the scriptures, you’ll see that thereafter during this discourse, Saul is referred to as “King,” because Samuel made obeisance to him. That’s why the witch screamed. When she saw Samuel’s gesture, she thought the King had deceived her so he could have her killed.
Gary Bates
Dear Sir,
there are several problems with the idea you canvass. Firstly, nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that Satan has the keys of death and hell (Hades). The only mention in Scripture is that such authority was given to the Apostle Peter by the One who had the ultimate authority, that is, Jesus Christ. God is the only One who has control of the spirit after it leaves our body. If Satan had such power then all the entities that masquerade as ghosts must be really disembodied spirits of deceased people. If you read the first link provided in this article (Are Ghosts Real?), you will see that such an idea has serious implications for the Gospel as it would attribute Satan with some power of our spirits when we die. Then the clear teachings of Scripture on such matters become rather muddied.
Jon S.
To add to your argument, if this was witchcraft then when Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration then that would have be witchcraft too.
Alex F.
What about the place where Samuel says "and tomorrow, you and your sons will be with me."
Does this show it was not actually Samuel speaking? Samuel and Saul would not have gone to the same place after death.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.