Summary: Dead Christians came out of the graves when Jesus rose from the dead, and this leads to many questions about the ghosts of the godly.
History is full of the weird and mysterious in relation to the dead.
In Barbados, in the West Indies, in 1812, a vault was opened and
three coffins were in a confused state. In 1815 and 1819 it was
opened, and again, each time the coffins were in disarray. The
Governor, Lord Cambermere had the vault carefully checked and
cemented up and sealed. Nine months later it was opened in his
presence with thousands of spectators. To everyone's amazement the
coffins were scattered about, one was on end, and some on top of
others. No one could explain it, and so it entered the books as
another ghost story, along with hundreds of other unexplained
Christianity has always been involved in the history of the
unexplained, because it too deals with the supernatural. Many of the
haunted houses of history have been parsonages, and you wouldn't
believe all the weird goings on that preachers have experienced.
Much of the history of ghost haunting and hunting has been written
by Christian men. For example, Sabine Baring Gould, author of
Onward Christian Soldiers, who died in 1924 at the age of 90, wrote
much about ghosts, and his own brother was seen by his mother after
Ludwig Levater, a Protestant Calvinist minister in Switzerland
wrote a book in 1572 with the title, Of Ghosts and Spirits Walking By
Night. He believed that the dead could appear, but felt most ghosts
were due to hallucination and pranks. He told of how merry young
men would throw sheets over themselves and scare the wits out of
travelers at Inns. Sometimes they even went so far as to hide under
the bed. Ghosts are still a part of most Halloween parties today, but
they are so tame that seldom will a ghost ever win a prize.
There was a young man of Bengal,
Who went to a Halloween ball.
He thought he would risk it,
And go as a biscuit,
But a dog ate him up in the hall.
He would have been better off as a ghost. This type of humor was
not appreciated by the Catholic Church. They officially believed in
ghosts, and took the matter quite seriously. In 1509 when four monks
came to John Jetzer at night with sheets over them to give him some
theological answers from the other world, they were caught, and
made to give up the ghost in more ways than one, for they were
condemned to die at the stake. Some people just can't take a joke.
That phrase, giving up the ghost, is used 5 times in the King James
Version to refer to the death of Jesus on the cross, and it is used also
to describe the dying of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The ghost, of course, refers to the spirit of man. Only once did we
find a reference to a ghost in its eerie supernatural sense in the New
Testament. When Jesus came walking for the disciples on the sea, in
the night, we read in Matt. 14:26, "But when the disciples saw Him
walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" and
they cried out for fear." Any of us seeing a white figure moving
across the water in the night would jump to that same conclusion that
it must be a ghost. Mark tells us the same thing, and both use the
word phantasma. This is the only place where the word is used in
Scripture. It does reveal that the disciples believed in the possibly of
ghosts. This is not surprising, for most everybody did in their day.
The issue of the reality of ghosts revolves around the question of
whether or not the dead can ever return and appear unto men. The
Catholic Church has concluded that the dead in heaven or hell can
never return, but the dead in purgatory might, if God permitted.
Protestants concluded that all the visions and contact with the dead
are simply demons impersonating the dead. That is, they do not deny
the evidence of the supernatural appearances, but they feel it is
demonic deception rather than the return of the actual dead. The
Catholic Church tended to support the stories of good ghosts who
would return to make up for their sins. They would haunt a
murderer until he confessed, or help solve some injustice and
encourage the faithful. The Puritans so objected to this that they
went to the other extreme, and wanted nothing to do with the dead,
and so they ceased even to have funeral sermons.
The point of this introduction is to show that there has been a
history of Christian debate over ghosts. The debate goes on yet
today, and there is a great interest in the subject. Dorthy