In an age where people claim to be more in touch with the spirit world, many people believe we can communicate with the dead and the dead can communicate with us. This belief has resulted in a flood of books, shows, and spiritual advisors who draw people in by claiming they can communicate with their dead loved ones. Their demonstrations are often impressive, but it is important to know if they are real. To know for sure we should find out what does the Bible say about communicating with the dead.
What is death?
Medically there are two major types of death. The first is clinical death, which occurs the moment the heart stops or is no longer able to circulate the blood. This causes the body to undergo changes that leads to the second type of death, biological death.
Biological death is the point when the brain can no longer function. This is usually about 4-6 minutes after clinical death. However, sometimes it is longer periods of time like when drowning in cold water, which slows down the metabolism and enables the body to survive longer.
If a person is past the point of recovery from physical death, there is no way to communicate with them physically. They do not know anything, cannot move, and have no memories. They do not experience the trials and emotions of living in the world (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; Romans 6:6; Romans 8:10).
Other than these two, there is a third type of death known as spiritual death. Spiritual death  is unrelated to medical death. The body is alive, but the Holy Spirit (God) does not live in them. Without the life sustaining power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:56; James 1:15), we do not have eternal life (John 3:16, 36; 1 John 5:12). We receive the Holy Spirit who gives us everlasting life when we trust Christ as our Savior (Ephesians 1:9-17; 2 Corinthians 2:21-22).
In the Old Testament we are warned about those who practice dark arts as follows:
When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do. (Deuteronomy 18:9-14) (See also Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, 2 Kings 21:6, and Isaiah 8:19)
Consulting with familiar Spirits and necromancers
Deuteronomy 18:11 mentions those who consult with familiar spirits and necromancers. Familiar spirits are trusted spirits that are thought to be friendly or familiar. However, they are not people, but demons (Leviticus 20:1-6, 27; Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 19:3; Isiah 29:4). Likewise, necromancers, often called mediums, are those who try to communicate with the dead. Neither are not part of God’s family and they not His children by faith in Christ (Galatians 3:26). Instead they are part of Satan’s family, which includes those who deny Christ (John 8:34-44; Acts 3:6-10; 1 John 3:8-10).
Saul’s attempt to speak to Samuel who was dead
An example of someone who tried to speak to the dead is found in 1 Samuel 28. The prophet Samuel had died and King Saul learned that the Philistines were gathered together to go to war against Israel. Saul feared greatly when he saw their army, so he prayed to God for advice, but God did not answer.
Saul became desperate and told his servants to find a woman with a familiar spirit. Once a woman was found, Saul disguised himself and went to her at night. He asked her to call upon the spirit to bring up someone. She refused out of fear of what would happen to her if she did it, but Saul swore upon the Lord’s name she would not be harmed.
The woman asked who he wanted her to call up and Saul told her Samuel. Immediately she had a terrifying vision. Saul asked her what she had seen and she said she had seen “gods coming out of the earth” and an old man covered with a head covering. Saul “perceived” it was Samuel and he bowed down to the ground. Then the old man, whom Saul could not see, chastised him for disturbing him. Despite this, Saul asked him what to do about the Philistines.
The old man said that God departed from Saul and was His enemy because he had not obeyed the Lord. He added that Saul and his sons, would be captured by the Philistines. When Saul heard this, he was consumed by fear and fainted. Later we learn that Saul was captured and he and his sons were killed.
The problems with Saul’s alleged conversation with Samuel
There are numerous things to consider about this account. First, is that the vision was only visible to a woman with demons (1 Samuel 28:13). The “gods” that she saw were not of God, they were of Satan. We know this because there is only one true God and no others (Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 45:5-6). Also, worship of any other god is worshiping of devils (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).
Second, the voice that Saul heard was a delusion. We see in Isaiah 66:4 that God can send people a delusion if they disobey and do evil before Him. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, we find that God will send strong delusion to those who reject salvation through Christ so they will believe the Wicked One (anti-Christ) and be damned. Likewise, Saul had prior demonic encounters so he was susceptible to being demonically influenced (1 Samuel 16:14-23; 1 Samuel 16:23; 1 Samuel 18:10).
Satan has the power to create miracles (2 Corinthians 2:13-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:11-14). Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 7:23-23 when He said that people will come to Him claiming they prophesied, cast out devils, and did wonderful works (miracles) in His name, but He would tell them He never knew them; these people are deluded.
Third, Saul used God’s name to assure the woman that she would not be harmed (1 Samuel 28:10), which was a lie. God had stopped speaking to Saul through dreams, by Urim (Exodus 28:30), and by prophets so using a necromancer to get advice from Samuel the prophet was not of God. We are told in John 8:44 that there is no truth in the devil because he is a liar and the father of lies so God would not use a demon to raise up Samuel to give Godly advice.
Fourth, demons know Jesus and what their future holds. In Matthew 8:28-33, Jesus met two men who were possessed by devils (demons). The devils called Jesus by name and asked if He was there to torment them before the time. They were referring to a future event when they would be tossed into the Lake of Fire to be tormented forever (Revelation 20:7-10). Therefore, it is not unlikely that a demon knew what Saul had done and that he would die along with his sons.
Lazarus and the rich man
We can learn from the true story of Lazarus and the rich man (parables do not use formal names) in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus, a beggar, died and was in paradise with Abraham. The rich man died, but was in torment in Hell . The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to bring him water as he was tormented in the flames. Abraham told him that there is a great gulf (abyss), which separated them, that could not be crossed.
The rich man asked him if Lazarus could go warn his family about the torment of Hell. Abraham told Lazarus they had Moses and the prophets (God’s Word) to tell them. He added that if they would not hear Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rose from the dead and told them.
We learn from this account four things:
- The dead are in a place that is isolated
- The Word of God contains all that we need to know pertaining to life and eternity
- The dead cannot communicate with the living
- If someone rose from the dead, some would still not believe what is said
What does the Bible say about communicating with the dead? First, we should not attempt to do it. Second, when someone claims to speak with the dead, they are perpetuating a lie or a false miracle . Finally, the dead are in one of two places: believers are absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) and non-believers are in torment, bound in the darkness of Hell (2 Peter 2:4) waiting for their final judgment (Revelation 20:12-15). Either way we cannot communicate with the dead.
Related reading: Can People Communicate with the Dead? 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version