Theresa’s grandmother was dead after a prolonged and difficult illness. Yet while it grieved her deeply to see her grandma suffer and die, she believes she’s been visiting her, especially when she’s feeling stressed out. Every once in a while she can smell the perfume she’d always wear and she sometimes feels as if someone is sitting on the edge of her bed. She believes it’s grandma trying to reconnect.
Jeff’s grandmother died in a sudden and frightening accident. At the request of his family, he scattered her ashes in a special location near their home. Not long after, he had a vivid dream of grandma standing before him and reaching out to embrace him. Yet Jeff believes strongly it was more than just a dream.
Many people like Theresa and Jeff claim to have received spirits of relatives and friends who have died. They are often genuine and absolutely certain in their beliefs. But can the spirits of our dead loved ones actually come back to visit us—whether in a ghostly form or in a dream? Isn’t it true that when someone dies, a part of them goes on living? And how can we know whether these experiences are genuine, a trick, or just our imaginations?
In such matters, the Bible encourages people to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), and it directly addresses the topic of communicating with the dead.
The Ghost of a Prophet?
King Saul, the proud ruler of Israel, was in dire straits. The imposing Philistine army had gathered to attack his nation, and his smaller and weaker troops were simply no match for it. In desperate need of counsel, Saul sought to contact a beloved prophet—Samuel—who had died.
The king disguised himself and visited a medium in a nearby town. He begged the witch, “Bring up Samuel for me” (1 Samuel 28:11). After the medium uttered her enchantments, an apparition claiming to be Samuel appeared. The ghost gave the king a devastating message, and the next day his three sons were killed in battle. Discouraged and heartbroken, Saul fell on his own sword and died.
Who really spoke to Saul through the medium? Was it truly a ghostly form of the prophet of God—or something else altogether? Before answering that question, let’s consider first what the Bible says about what happens to people when they die.
The Living and the Dead
When God created human beings in the beginning, two things came together to make a living person. “The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). When the breath of God came into the first person, he was given life and became a living being—a living soul.
What takes place at death is the opposite of what happened at Creation. “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
But, some people ask, Isn’t it true that the soul is immortal and only the body dies? The Bible says, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). The apostle Paul wrote that only God naturally possesses immortality (1 Timothy 6:15, 16) and explained that only at the resurrection at the end of the world will the righteous receive immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51–53).
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, proclaimed, “The living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6). He added that “there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (verse 10).
What It All Means
If the dead perish and are in their graves and do not know anything, then who are wizards, witches, and psychics contacting? Who are these apparitions? The Bible says they are “the spirits of devils, working miracles” (Revelation 16:14 KJV). Why do they work these miracles? Their purpose is to mislead, just as Satan tricked Eve and told her, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). The devil’s purpose is to deceive “the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
Furthermore, the Bible directly forbids people from attempting to contact the dead. “When they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19). God described a person who tries to call upon the dead as an “abomination” (Deuteronomy 18:10–12).
So, what did King Saul see when he went to the medium? The Bible says this woman told Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth” (1 Samuel 28:13).
He then asked her, “What is his form?” meaning that Saul didn’t see the apparition himself.
The medium replied, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle” (verse 14). Then the Scriptures say that Saul “perceived” that it was Samuel. The truth is that he never saw Samuel or the apparition during the encounter. Instead, he was deceived by an evil spirit, only hearing the voice of the spirit.
Likewise, it’s not possible for us to know whether Theresa or Jeff were simply seeing things—perhaps their grief or overactive imaginations led them to believe something was there that actually wasn’t—or whether they truly interacted with ethereal beings. But we can know with absolute certainty that they were not visited by the ghostly spirits of their grandmothers.
Since the Bible clearly says that the dead know nothing, then we may know that the ghosts or apparitions that people claim to see are not really the spirits of deceased people. And at the very worst, they could be demons in disguise setting up people for massive delusion.