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Luke 24:36-39 (NASB):

36 Now while they were telling these things, Jesus Himself suddenly stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened, and thought that they were looking at a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why are doubts arising in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you plainly see that I have.”

Matthew 14:26-27 (NASB):

26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Why did Jesus' disciples believe in the existence of ghosts / disembodied spirits? What is the origin of their belief? Can their belief be traced back to some ultimate source?


Related questions:

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  • I think tracing a myth is like asking about the origin of any other myth - it just grows up. Some of these ideas had been absorbed from the surrounding Graeco-Roman culture who believed lots of strange things.
    – Dottard
    Jan 16 at 21:51
  • This question isn't actually about those verses. It's not an exegesis question.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 16 at 23:08
  • @curiousdannii - should I move this question to SE-Christianity? Jan 16 at 23:09

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In the Luke account it wasn a ‘spirit’ they saw. Jesus gave a very important commentary on His resurrected body. It was a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44), but it was not just spirit. This was not an apparition; Jesus had flesh and bones. The issue here was belief.

But the Matthew ‘walking on the water’ account this opens up a ‘glimpse’ into something crucial - “they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost”. The word ‘ghost’ comes from the Greek phantasma - and is only used twice. That is, this is unique.

This question actually ‘touches’ an area all believers need to consider - but many are shielded from it via traditional interpretation. The ‘second temple world view’, that is what (all) those living at this time generally believed, is crucial, but arguably not well presented in the gospels. Theologians have tended to ‘interpret’ the supernatural aspects of the gospels via a hellenised viewpoint.

Where as the second temple worldview fully accommodated a spiritual realm - one that was just as ‘real’ as the physical realm. They did not view this ‘realm’ via the philosophical ‘view’ of the Greeks.

We know this from Flavius Josephus and other literature of the times, example Enoch 1. Angels in early biblical times were ‘everyday normalcy’. Just read the accounts relating to Sodom and Abraham. Angels were seen by many, not just ‘believers’ (e.g. the shepherds).

So as to your Q “Why did Jesus' disciples believe in the existence of ghosts” - the answer is because ‘everybody’ did. They just ‘did’. They were a ‘normal’ part of ‘life’. And, no ‘big deal’. It’s only the westernised worldview that has issues with the supernatural realm. Just mention ‘Nephilim’ and watch the debate! Where as in the the period of the second temple, nobody would have battered a eyelid - they just accepted this (Genesis 6) incident - as all the literature of the time, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, reflected.

Everybody believed in ‘ghosts’.

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The NT is a number of instances that reflected some of the surrounding mythic culture. Here are a few examples:

  • The myth of Hades (Luke 16)
  • The Chimera (compare Rev 13)
  • Hecete (similar to the description in Rev 1:12-16)
  • Fire-breathing dragons (Rev 12)
  • Muti-headed beasts (compare the Hydra), Rev 12, 13
  • Hermes and Zeus, Acts 14:8-13
  • Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:23-34)
  • In John 4 Jesus tells the woman at the well, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." This is indirect allusion to the god Mithras (Jesus was effectively preaching against this god)
  • In John 15:1-15 we have Jesus as the true vine, a direct attack against Dionysos the god of wine, grapes and vines
  • In Rev 2 where "Satan's throne" is mentioned in Pergamom, may have been an attack against the temple of Zeus and the 12 Olympians

This is far from an exhaustive list. The Gaeco-Roman world was very "religious" and very superstitious. This included spirits and ghosts, etc.

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