I like asking interesting questions about the Bible, and I like trying to answer them using scripture. The problem with this is what if I’m wrong? What if I convince myself that I’m right? What if I put all the right scripture together to back up my answers, but completely miss the point? This happened while I was preparing my next blog topic, and the living word of God showed me that I needed to take a step back before making a mistake.
The topic I was researching was any examples in scripture where spirits are raised up from the dead and communicated with. This stems from an interest in how the Bible tackles the occult, and how God uses spiritual communication in a righteous way. My reaction to the passages I found made me devise a hypothesis: it’s not possible to communicate with the spirit of any unsaved person who died. Consider some choice examples that back up this claim:
The woman asked, “Who is it that I should bring up for you?” Saul said, “Bring up for me Samuel.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out loudly. – 1 Samuel 28:11-12
Here, Saul has a medium conjure up the spirit of Samuel, a prophet. Samuel was dead, and through witchcraft spoke directly to Saul. Why did the witch cry out? Was it because her communication with spirits never really worked before, until now?
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. – Matthew 17:1-3
On the mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear to everyone and speak with Jesus. Now, it’s worth noting that Elijah never died to begin with:
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. – 2 Kings 2:11
The point is that Moses’ spirit is seen long after his death, and he communicates with Jesus. And furthermore, Moses was saved, like Samuel.
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.
The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. – Matthew 27:50-53
After Jesus’ death, a very peculiar thing happens. Now, this post isn’t about the deeper meaning behind this passage in particular. But it’s worth noting that this is ambiguous as to the real nature of what happened. Were their actual, physical bodies raised from the dead until their later death, as with Lazarus? Or was this a more spiritual event, emphasizing their appearance to many, but not all people? Either way, the event lends credence towards my original hypothesis because Matthew says that they were holy people. No one in this event was unsaved.
If you take these passages and attempt to create some doctrine around them, you may come to a similar type of conclusion that I originally made. My hypothesis was that the only way for a spirit to be communicated with after death, was if they already had salvation. And this makes sense for the most part, because of what Jesus says here:
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you,
‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” – Matthew 22:29-32
Jesus speaks as though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive. He does not say that he was the God of Abraham, but that he is. And indeed, they are alive in Christ and have eternal life through salvation. So it makes perfect sense that Jesus is able to see and talk to Moses, and that Saul is able to communicate with Samuel. If their spirits are living even now, why shouldn’t it be possible? But if you’re unsaved and die, how could you communicate with anyone?
For 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.
– Ecclesiastes 9:5
So, even though there’s a lot of scripture backing up this pattern of communication with spirits, where’s the part I talked about at the beginning of this post? Where’s the big picture that I might have missed?
The issue lies in the warning Jesus gave us earlier when he says that he is the God of the living. Look again at the beginning of his statement:
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29
This should make anyone researching the mechanics of communicating with dead spirits shudder. The Sadducees were testing Jesus and asking him about how marriage to multiple people is affected in the afterlife. This seemingly fair and simple question revealed a vast ignorance that Jesus points out. And I didn’t want to fall prey to the same problem. I want to know the scriptures and the power of God! So, what if my question isn’t even deserving of an answer, because the whole premise is just wrong? What if my understanding of dead spirits is completely lacking? After contemplating this, I wanted to look at resurrection instead of spiritual communication, because that’s what Jesus wanted to talk about.
Let’s apply my original hypothesis to the raising of the dead. Can the unsaved be resurrected? This question is answered quite plainly:
There shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. – Acts 24:15
And what about resurrection today, and not just isolated to the end-times?
Elisha died and was buried.
Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. – 2 Kings 13:20-21
And there’s nothing else to this story. That’s it! It never says if this man was saved or not, and we’ll never know the answer. Why is it there? Today, I believe it’s there for me. I believe this happened so that I would slow down and not look for a hidden message that just isn’t there. The targeted ambiguity of the Bible should not be taken lightly, and when details are removed, it means the details don’t matter. We’ll never know if he was a righteous man, because there’s no secret doctrine developing here.
Does this mean that unsaved spirits can be conjured up and communicated with? To get to the point, it’s important to note that the communication with spirits through witchcraft is done by the unsaved. So we know that it is not impossible for Satanic powers to accomplish this. Likewise, Satan is able to perform perverted resurrections, among other miracles:
One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. – Revelation 13:3
In light of this, and Jesus’ condemnation of ignorance surrounding this ambiguous, often occult related activity, I have a conclusion and a final answer to my original hypothesis.
Can the spirits of the unsaved be communicated with after death? When we face a question like this, which has seemingly no clear answer in the Bible, let us answer it as Jesus did:
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29
How can we better know the scriptures?
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, or he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. – Proverbs 2:1-11
What is right and just and fair, concerning the communication with spirits?
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.
For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. – Deuteronomy 13:1-3
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. – Revelation 21:8
So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. – 1 Chronicles 10:13
The only times in the Bible that the communication with dead spirits was a righteous and positive event, was directly related to Jesus’ nature as the Son of God. This being his transfiguration, and the power of his death. These are things that we cannot do.
To conclude this topic, it’s still okay to ask questions like this. But be prepared to be wrong about your assumptions, and be prepared to accept ambiguity. The truth is, scripture makes it clear what is right and wrong. And when it starts to take away details, we need to slow down and inquire of God. After all of this, I believe that any strange things are possible with witchcraft, which can emulate amazing miracles and confuse us if we aren’t vigilant. Be prepared for Satan to try to fill the gaps in the ambiguity of scripture. Instead, seek out God’s guidance.
Can the unsaved be communicated with after death? Maybe we’ll never know, and that’s ok. Maybe you know of a passage that debunks my original claims! But, whether or not my hypothesis is true, we do know for certain what is right concerning the communication with spirits:
“When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?
Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.
Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” – Isaiah 8:19-22