This might seem like a weird way to kick off the Naked Bible blog, but it’s actually a good subject for illustrating what will make this blog different than any other Bible study blog on the web. How? Just stay with me through the series.
Christians typically assume (and I hope you’ve heard the old bromide about what happens when we assume things) that ghosts are demons. This is simply not true, and it is demonstrably untrue with respect to the biblical text (both testaments).
If you don’t believe that, here’s a quick proof before we actually get into the topic. In Matt. 14:26 the disciples react in fear when they see Jesus walking on the water. They scream out, “It’s a ghost!” The Greek word for “ghost” here is phantasma. Any Greek-English dictionary (lexicon) or Strong’s number search will reveal to you that this isn’t the Greek word for “demon” in the New Testament. The disciples had a category for “disembodied spirit of a dead person” (a ghost). They didn’t just think in demonic terms.
We’re going to start with the Old Testament, though-that three-quarters of the Bible that so often gets deliberately ignored (hey, I’m an OT scholar, so it’s personal) or is just too “weird” to try and understand. There are actually a number of terms in the Hebrew OT for “inhabitants of the spiritual realm / the place where you go when you die.” They include:1
ob – a spirit that could be contacted by a medium, or a possessed medium.
yiddeoni – a spirit that has knowledge humans do not.
metim – spirit of the dead
ittim – ghosts
elohim – gods (bet this one surprised you)
rephaim – spirit of a dead giant-warrior or “gibbor”(another surprise I’ll bet)
I’m actually working on an article for a scholarly journal related to some of these terms, so that’s another reason for this topic. A lot of the scholarly literature suggests that a clear distinction can’t be made between obot (plural of ob) and metim. I think that the former refers to non-human spirits (essentially demons, and so the word is a synonym of shedim) and the latter are the disembodied spirits of human dead (i.e., ghosts). If this distinction can be clearly made-that there are non-human spirits and ghosts, and those are separate categories-we’ll have a good bit of data to begin thinking about a biblical view of ghosts. Anyway, you’ll get to see my theory live or die here, up close and personal.
We’re going to begin our study by locating every place in the OT where metim occurs (or the singular form, met). To do this I’ve searched for the Hebrew term in my Libronix software (Logos Bible software) and, through the magic of the ESV reverse interlinear, the results are displayed in English. You can download a PDF of the results here (I chose to align the hits for you, so that’s the reason for the column-like display). In my next post, we’ll start digging in-but go ahead and take a peek for yourself.
- I’m not aiming for completely correct transliteration here, for those who care, due to the font issues. ↩