Matthew 14:26 English Standard Version

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.

a ghost!”
Φάντασμά (Phantasma)
Noun - Nominative Neuter Singular
Strong's Greek 5326: An apparition, ghost, spirit, phantom. From phantazo; a show, i.e. Spectre.

Luke 24:39

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

a spirit
πνεῦμα (pneuma)
Noun - Nominative Neuter Singular
Strong's Greek 4151: Wind, breath, spirit.

What is the difference between Φάντασμά and πνεῦμα? Can a Φάντασμά possess a person and make them do things?

  • Somewhat related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/56441/…
    – user38524
    Mar 10, 2021 at 14:16
  • 1
    In fact, that inspired my question here :)
    – user35953
    Mar 10, 2021 at 14:20
  • In the KJV 'Ghost' is only ever used to translate pneuma when hagios is attached to it. Thus 'Holy Ghost'. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 11, 2021 at 7:31

2 Answers 2


What's the difference between a ghost and a spirit?

A ghost, or apparition, can be thought of as in our modern age like a hologram or even a mirage. These are immaterial and have no substance but are illusionary.

The article "Apparition" in the Insight on the Scriptures gives a definition:

An apparition is an illusion; something actually not present but temporarily believed in because of excited imagination or other cause. Assuring the disciples that such was not the case and that he was real, Jesus said: “It is I; have no fear.”​—Mt 14:27; Mr 6:50.

'Spirit', in Greek, has different meanings. The 'spirit' that Jesus is talking about, is more in line with the idea of heavenly creatures. The same pneuma is used to describe God himself:

God is invisible to human eyes (Ex 33:20; Joh 1:18; 1Ti 1:17), and he is alive and exercises unsurpassed force throughout the universe. (2Co 3:3; Isa 40:25-31) Christ Jesus states: “God is a Spirit [Pneuʹma].” The apostle writes: “Now Jehovah is the Spirit.” (Joh 4:24; 2Co 3:17, 18) The temple built on Christ as foundation cornerstone is “a place for God to inhabit by spirit.”​—Eph 2:22. ("Spirit" in Insight on the Scriptures) [bold mine]

  • 1
    The KJV translators chose to use the word 'Ghost' (meaning God, the Spirit) wherever the words pneuma and hagios occurred together. It may well be that they, in doing so, affected the development of the English language (as in other ways, also). Personally, I think you are correct. English needs a word to represent a false apparition. English also needs a word to represent a genuine spirit. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 11, 2021 at 7:32

In modern English, the words "spirit" & "ghost" are often used interchangeably. In ancient Greek, πνεῦμα & Φάντασμά are sometimes used interchangeably as well (see here).

The word Φάντασμά occurs only twice in the New Testament (Matthew 14:26 & the parallel account in Mark 6:49; related words are found elsewhere though); the context of the story suggests that the meaning they have in mind here is an "apparition" (specifically an unpleasant one), which is different from the common NT usage of πνεῦμα - the entity supplied by God that gives life.

The word πνεῦμα has a greater breadth (okay so I intended that homophone pun there) of meaning in the New Testament than what is implied in Matthew's usage of Φάντασμά. While the words overlap in meaning, in the two passages in the OP they are distinct.

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