Can spirits manifest physically?

Published: 24 April 2018 (GMT+10)

After attending a screening of our movie Alien Intrusion: Unmasking a Deception, David H. wrote in with the following question.

Just a question: I saw your movie tonight, and was interested by its explanation for many alien/UFO phenomena as being spirit-based. But I don't understand how UFOs: (1.) can be tracked on radar and (2.) similarly recorded on film and in photographs while still being spirit-based? And some of them are recorded as performing very complex high-speed maneuvers. How can this be possible for spirit-based entities?
An animation from CMI’s movie Alien Intrusion: Unmasking a Deception.

, CMI-US CEO and writer/producer of Alien Intrusion, responds:

Hi David,

Thanks for the opportunity to address this. Yes, this is a nagging subject for many when trying to wrap their minds around this phenomenon. However, I've learned over the years that our perceptions of what we term spiritual are somewhat driven by cultural views rather than biblical ones. In the movie we quoted respected UFO researcher John Keel, who wrote:

“The devil and his demons can, according to the literature, manifest themselves in almost any form and can physically imitate anything from angels to horrifying monsters with glowing eyes. Strange objects and entities materialize and dematerialize in these stories, just as the UFOs and their splendid occupants appear and disappear, walk through walls, and perform other supernatural feats.”1

As the movie showed, overwhelmingly even the most serious secular researcher agrees about the ‘spiritual’ nature of the UFO phenomenon. But what is a spiritual being?

In my article Are ghosts real? (which I think you should read in conjunction with what follows), I wrote:

It is in the New Testament where we find the words ghosts and spirits being used more often, interchangeably between translations. There are two Greek words that are used. The first is φάντασμα (phantasma), which literally means ‘apparition’ like the commonly understood word ‘ghost’. The word πνεῦμα (pneuma) means spirit, air, or breath. This can refer to what I described before as the essence of a being. It can also mean ‘demons’ when paired with the word ἀκάθαρτον (akatharton).

The most remembered New Testament passage regarding ghosts is Matthew 14:26. Whereas the KJV says: “And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit [phantasma]; and they cried out for fear,” the ESV says, “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear.”

And Mark 6:49: “But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit [phantasma], and cried out” (KJV). “But when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out” (ESV).

On another occasion when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room with the disciples, they said: “But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit [Greek pneuma]” (Luke 24:37, KJV). The ESV says, “But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.”

Notice in these examples how in its translations the ESV distinguishes between the two Greek words, whereas the KJV translates both the Greek pneuma and phantasma as “spirit”.

These first passages are referring to the occasion when Jesus was seen walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, and the Luke account is when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples in the room. Obviously, the disciples had never seen a man do anything like either of these events before, so their first thought was to invoke the supernatural, resorting to ideas from their culture to explain it. In the Luke account, they had seen Jesus die on the cross not too long before, so they thought they were seeing His spirit (a somewhat understandable reaction since He suddenly appeared in a locked room).

And Jesus reinforces this in Luke 24:39 after his resurrection when He says:

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Spirit’ is a multi-use term

So here Jesus is saying that it is not just His spirit that appeared but that He had been bodily resurrected. It can be confusing because there are many definitions of the word spirit in the Bible and earlier we even saw the disciples chastised for believing in cultural interpretations of their experience with our supernatural Creator. People seeing strange things in the sky with no biblical basis or filter often interpret these as alien spacecraft or in the case of alleged abductions, real physical aliens. The Bible clearly records that spirits, as in angels, can appear physically, can interact physically with people and can affect our environment just as phenomena in the UFO realm. Some differing scriptural examples follow:

  • In Exodus 12:21–30 God sends His destroying angel or angel of death to kill all the first born in Egypt (except for those who followed His ‘immunity’ instructions). In 2 Kings 19:35 perhaps this same angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.
  • In Genesis 18 Abraham sits down and prepares a meal for three visitors. They ate food so presumably they had stomach organs and digestive tracts, for example. What about the clothes they were wearing? Where did the materials come from?
  • In Genesis 19:11 we see two angels appearing physically as men in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the angels has the power to strike men with blindness. And in Genesis 19:13 they state that they (the angels) are about to destroy the towns (obviously at God’s behest).
  • In Exodus 7:9 Pharaoh challenges Moses and Aaron to produce a miracle. Moses is commanded by God to instruct Aaron to throw down his staff so that God would turn it into a serpent (presumably a snake). Then in Exodus7:11–12 we read, “Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.” Many think that Pharaoh’s sorcerers conjured up an illusion but this cannot be so, because Aaron’s serpent swallowed the sorcerer’s serpent (note it says the sorcerers “did the same … and they became serpents”. Now, while Satan does not have the power of ex nihilo creation, I believe this is an example of where he and his minions possibly manifested as something distinctly different, yet physical, or somehow he has manipulated matter to appear as something different. This is speculation, of course, but all we can glean is that Aaron’s snake certainly did not swallow an illusion.

The cultural interpretation of ‘spirit’

Our views of angels as just spiritual beings—that is, somehow just ethereal, ghostly or vaporous is culturally driven by images of beings with fairy wings, for example. Pastor Johnny Hunt (former President of the Southern Baptist Convention) addressed this misconception in the movie. It is clear that they are intelligent, thinking beings, and can appear physically in a variety of forms in our realm. We saw earlier how biblically the word spirit can mean different things depending upon the context. A word search will reveal a multitude of applications. For example, angels are called “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14). One can have a “spirit of jealousy” (Numbers 5:30). Or that “the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah” (Judges 11:29). “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). “But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32:8). And in 1 Corinthians 15:45:

“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

But both Adam and Jesus were/are physical beings. And whenever we see the term applied to people, and even Jesus, it is clear that ‘the spirit’ is not the sum of who we are, but part of who we are. All humans are physical, but we also have an eternal spiritual component. So, is it possible that it is similar with angels? I do not know what their ‘spiritual’ realm is like or how they exist there (if at all in some physical sense), but the Bible is clear that they are powerful, can take on many guises, and can appear physically in our realm. For example, Gabriel appearing before Daniel in Daniel 10:10–20 and explaining fighting other fallen angels. Or Luke 1:26–56 where Gabriel appears to Mary.

All of this is very challenging to our preconceived perceptions of the spiritual realm. At the end of the day, these are just insights that we can draw from Scripture, and I have to admit that we do see through a glass rather darkly in this regard, simply because we are limited by our own spacetime dimensions in which we live. In short, we can't go there, but they can come and go here, so we have a very limited perspective. I’ve heard all sorts of grandiose ideas over years, but such speculation is not recommended. If we are limited in what we can test, then we need to limit our speculation, or rather what we can know, to what Scripture tells us about such things. There are literally dozens more examples I could refer to (see box below) but I hope this relatively brief explanation helps give some insight.

The nature of angels or those ‘ministering spirits’

The Bible records about angels that:

  • They are spirits (Hebrews 1:14), yet they always appeared to humans as physical men/males when doing God’s bidding (Gen. 19:1; Luke 24:4).
  • They number in the hundreds of millions or perhaps more (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 5:11).
  • They were given names such as Gabriel, Michael, and even Lucifer (Luke 1:19; Jude 9; Isaiah 14:12).
  • There are various types and categories of angels mentioned, e.g., cherubim (Genesis 3:24; Ezekiel 10:1–20), seraphim (Isaiah 6:2, 6) and watchers (Daniel 4:17, KJV). They also appear to differ in rank and dignity, some being described as archangels, princes, or rulers (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 1; Daniel 10:20–21, 12:1; Ephesians 6:12).
  • They are/were called holy and elect (Luke 9:26; 1 Timothy 5:21).
  • They are more powerful than mankind (2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Peter 2:11).
  • They can appear among, and interact with, humans, even killing them on occasion (Genesis 16:9, 19:15; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Psalms 78:49; John 20:12). In Exodus 12:23 God’s destroying angel killed all the firstborn in Egypt (except for those of the Hebrew families who followed God’s instructions for protection), and in 2 Kings 19:35, an angel sent by God killed one hundred eighty-five thousand soldiers in one evening.
  • They can appear physically, and so real to humans that we do not recognize them as angels (Genesis 18:1–16; Hebrews 13:2).
  • They are not to be worshiped (Romans 1:25, NKJV; Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10).

References and notes

  1. John Keel, Operation Trojan Horse, p. 192, Illuminet Press, Lilburn, GA, 1996.Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

James P.
By "inconclusive" I only meant to refer to what you say about "seeing through a glass darkly", not as a criticism. On some matters of theology it is perfectly appropriate to say that we have not been taught enough in Scripture to speak with certainty on the subject. We can assemble what Scripture says about it, but even then there are areas of our understanding that remain mysterious, and await proper understanding when we "see Him face to face". Until then, we can content ourselves with being inconclusive, accepting that there are further questions we cannot answer. What we do know is that Jesus' spiritual resurrection body is truly physical also, and we can therefore be confident that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we will see Him as He is (1John 3:2).
Kenneth E.
I am so glad that I have seen this article ,it answers all the questions that were in my mind about Flying saucers and other related sightings etc,in the last couple of years i have found that the Atoms that everything is made from, are not made of physical substance! They have a nucleus and the electrons that revolve at light speed around it and gives it a solid appearance,and the space inside is enormous. So i have often wondered as God is a spiritual Being and as he has created everything we or rather the parts also of atoms are made in this way ! I can see it all fits together and He holds all things together .
Frank M.
It is word context that determines meaning, discussing the “fluidity” of a word does not mean much. This article fails to show that the Bible teaches that non-human entities have flesh and blood, and in Luke 24:39 Jesus was claiming that only humans have flesh and blood. Nowhere in the Bible are spirits/angels depicted as having body cells, body tissue, organs or body systems such as humans have. Because of this, it is irrational to claim that the angels in Genesis 18 had "stomach organs and digestive tracts". Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The reason that the resurrected Jesus ate fish in the presence of the disciples (Luke 24:42-43) was to show that He had a physical, resurrected body, because only a human has a physical body and can consume food. If spirits/angels could consume food like Jesus did as recorded in Luke 24:42-43, then what was the point of Jesus doing this?
Gary Bates
Respectfully, you are making assumptions from silence in the same way you accuse me of. The Bible is absolutely clear that angels appeared physically, but no where did I say that they had bodies the same as us. Please read the article carefully, I was actually asking the question given that it seems they partook of a meal. And certainly the angels at Sodom appeared physically also. I completely agree that Jesus had a physical resurrected body which may have been a unique circumstance. The article clearly showed that the word spirit has different meanings depending upon the context despite your protestations about the word 'fluidity' which was just a term to describe the changing context of the word angel. In addition, the article was not trying to be dogmatic either, the last paragraph admitted that we see through a glass darkly on this. But appear physically they did, which challenges the typical cultural, and incorrect view about the way angels can appear in our realm.
James P.
Thank you for an interesting though inconclusive article. One passage that might be helpful for you is Psalm 91:11-12, quoted by Satan to Jesus in Matthew 4:6 and Luke 4:10-11. In these verses, it seems clear that angels are able to interact with physical objects including human bodies, making them stop travelling in certain directions. If they can manipulate physical objects, it would not be difficult for them to interfere with radar signals. As for appearing in visual recordings, if Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), or if an authentic angel can cause a light to shine in a dark prison cell and hit Peter on the side to wake him up (Acts 12:7), then it would not be a suprise that on occasion there might be true or false angels who transmit or reflect light able to be captured on camera. When people see angels in the Bible, it clearly says that they are actually seeing something real. Scripture would not support the idea that this sort of 'seeing' is purely spiritual rather than with the natural eye.
Gary Bates
I'm not sure why you think it is inconclusive except that you perhaps misread or misunderstood it. You seem to be actually saying the same thing as the article points out which is that they can appear physically. Perhaps you might do well to read the 420 page book Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the evolution connection which I think you'll find is very comprehensive.
Robert K.
I agree with much of what you wrote, and there is more not discussed, about Angels or Spirits. My comment just touches on the concept of the dead rising up into the sky, and changing from Mortal to another form... and that is to do with the need to travel vast space distances that men can never achieve, to get to the "Eye of Orion" whence Jesus and His angels started out from at the 2nd. Coming. Basically dead people being resurrected would mean a change to the Spirit form so as to be able to travel through space without being killed by lack of air and speeds at which they must travel to get through such distances (apart from hitting the odd space "junk" microscopic or macroscopic particles on the way). The living ones chosen to go to Heaven, also are changed "in the twinkling of an eye" as they are rising, from "corruptible to incorruptible" or flesh to spirit... again for that incredible speed needed to travel through space, and to not rely on breathing air.... also for the possibility/probability of hitting space junk, which a human body cannot survive even in a "suit". Entering Heaven, some of those people are to become part of the Heavenly Choir, singing day and night... which a human could never do for long at all; 144000 "choir boys". so all these people change to spirits for all eternity or until YHWH decides otherwise. Enter the problem of "outside" cult's ideas that murderers could enter Heaven and enjoy 72 Virgins (as my brother told me as a Muslim)... I said that since all are changed from Mortal to Spirit form, and have to travel through space, so all mortals, men and women who are acceptable to go to Heaven will have no orifices or genitalia so really cannot "enjoy" copulation, ditto for women. That idea is void, but fits prophecy and descriptions.
Gary Bates
Hi Robert, I think you've extrapolated a whole bunch of ideas here that are not supported by Scripture like Jesus travelling from the eye of Orion etc. and or resurrected souls having to travel through physical space. Clearly the article, based upon what we can glean from Scripture, and the basis of the research into the UFO phenomenon shows that the entities that live in the spiritual realm are interdimensional. The article stated that they can obviously manifest in our realm and come here but we cannot do the same. As such, even in our resurrected form why would we need to travel through space-time to get to heaven for example? IF you are interested in these concepts may I recommend our article The New Earth? I would just caution going beyond Scripture when trying to understand things beyond our dimensions, otherwise we can be open to all sorts of exotic ideas. All the best.
Frank M.
The claim in this article that the three visitors mentioned in Genesis 18 presumably "had stomach organs and digestive tracts" is not feasible in light of what Jesus said: "...for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." (Luke 24:39). Spirits certainly can have physical manifestations at times, but it is not correct to claim this resembles human anatomy which comprises body cells, body organs and body systems.
Gary Bates
Hi Frank. I was a little confused by your comment as it is appears you perhaps did not read the article fully. This is because you used the word 'spirit' to argue for the non-humanlike appearance of angels, when the whole article was demonstrating the fluidity of the word spirit throughout Scripture. And the passage you cited using Jesus' Words was his response to the disciples when they had resorted to fanciful ideas such as ghosts, that is, the conception of a person's departed spirit which is not tenable, and Jesus was correcting them about that. They were most certainly not suggesting an angelic form of any kind so it is not correct to use that passage to defend the form of the three visitors in Genesis. At the end of the day, as the article noted, we see through a glass somewhat darkly in this regard, but at least we were trying to dispel the notion of angels being beings with fairy wings as depicted in most children's stories, for example. Thanks and I hope this helps.
Dale S.
Well written and documented article. Thanks
Gian Carlo B.
Ken Ammi shares a similar view, namely, angels are as physical as us, but have a glorified body like what Jesus has post-Crucifixion, and that they are interdimensional and can manipulate which dimension to express in our realm. This is consistent given the Genesis 6 affair. However, I think angels is a different ‘species’ altogether from cherubim and seraphim. Angels are more closer to appearance and corporeal similitude to mankind than a cherub or even an ophanim. These beings have a different physical description from angels so they are different heavenly beings, but are still physical as they are describe as possessing things like fire appearnce (like a seraph). Lucifer (or now Satan) is not a fallen angel then, but a fallen cherub as he was a military chief before his downfall. I think this explains how Satan never took an opportunity to mingle with human women in the Genesis 6 account. Maybe his corporeal make up was not made so as to fulfill such feats. So he gave other of his guys to “try out human women and see what happens.” Or perhaps he did but given Satan is an a(bleep) he wouldn’t mind sacrificing some of his minions to the abyss. But however you take angelic, cherubic or seraphic ontological analysis, we can agree the idea of them being ethereal/ghostly/vaporous is wrong, misconceived, malinterpreted and just what Ken Ammi termed “common knowledge”. Knowledge people know but no one knows how they got to know it but takes for granted wither way because of some extraniblical cultural [mis]conception.

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