God’s Word for You
Acts 12:13-15 Are there ghosts?
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 30, 2020
13 While Peter knocked at the outer gate, a servant girl came to answer the door. Her name was Rhoda. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that she did not open the gate, but instead ran back and announced, “Peter is at the door!” 15 “You’re crazy,” they said to her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It is his angel.”
The scene is almost comical. Arriving at the house of his friend Mary, Peter knocks at the outer gate. A servant girl answers, recognizes him, and runs away, leaving him standing there in the dark before a locked door. A few years before, two other servant girls almost got him arrested because they recognized him as a follower of Jesus (his accent gave him away, Matthew 26:69, 71-73). Now this servant girl might get him arrested for the same reason—because she recognized his voice. The difference was that the previous girls were suspicious of him, but Rhoda (her name means “rose”) believed it was him, and she was overjoyed.
More proof that the church was constantly praying for Peter is in the neat detail that while the guards at the prison were sleeping, the Christians at Mary’s house were awake. They thought that what the girl saw might be Peter’s “angel.”
We don’t know what they meant by “angel.” Clearly there is some misunderstanding or some superstition carrying over in the word since human beings do not become angels at death. We are separated body from soul; we do not slough off the body forever. Alcuin of York said, “Remember to care more for the soul than for the body, since the former remains but the latter perishes,” but we will regain our bodies in the resurrection. Did they think that Peter’s ‘guardian’ angel had come to announce his death at the hands of Herod? Did they think that Peter’s ghost had come? We can’t be certain what they thought, but it is certain that since they were mistaken, this passage absolutely cannot be used as a proof text for any doctrine that touches on angels, demons, spirits, or ghosts.
Are there ghosts? No. There are demons, but not ghosts, if by ‘ghost’ we mean the spirit of a dead human being. To say that ghosts walk the earth is to contradict the Bible’s clear statements about what happens to the spirits of those who are dead. “The spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). In the Gospel of Luke, the rich man’s spirit went immediately to hell when he died (Luke 16:22-23), and the soul of Lazarus went immediately to heaven, carried there by angels (Luke 16:22).
Anything humans experience on earth that seems to be an apparition is therefore a demon attempting to frighten or to destroy faith. The spirit that tormented Job’s friend Eliphaz questioned his personal righteousness and drove him away from trusting in Christ (Job 4:15-17). Once a boy who claimed he was tormented and threatened by a ghost was brought to Martin Luther. This is Luther’s account, dated January 10, 1538:
“A certain youth, [apprenticed to] a blacksmith, had
been deceived and frightened by nocturnal apparitions
and had been led about all the streets from six o’clock
to eight o’clock in the evening. Then he was interrogated
by the specter as to whether he knew the catechism and
was told that he had recently acted in an impious way,
that he had received the sacrament in both kinds. Finally
he was told, ‘If you go back to your master’s house I’ll
break your neck.’ Accordingly he did not enter that
house for several days.
“We took the youth to Doctor [Luther] and gave him
an account of the case. Luther then said that one should
not be too quick to believe any and everybody, for many
fabricate such things; even if he saw a ghost he should
not leave his calling. Thereupon Luther questioned the
youth about his conversation with Satan and said to
him, ‘See to it that you don’t lie. Fear God, hear God’s
Word, return to your master’s house, and do the work
of your calling. If Satan comes back, say to him, ‘I won’t
obey you. I’ll obey God, who has called me to this work.
Even if an angel should come from heaven [and tell me
otherwise], I’ll remain in my calling.’”
(Luther’s Works, Vol. 54 p. 258).
Do not worry about ghosts but be concerned about the condition of your own soul. Put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins. Keep yourself constantly in his word. Give him your devotion and praise. Strive to keep the commandments and confess your sins when you fail. Remember your baptism, come to the Lord’s Supper, confess the Creed and say the Lord’s Prayer every day. Remember and treasure your Savior the way you remember and treasure your wedding vow. Through Jesus you have everlasting life, and no ghostly demon can take that from you while you put your trust in Jesus and only in Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith