3 views of 1 Samuel 28:8-14
1. A devil or demon impersonated Samuel.
2. The medium created an illusion of Samuel's appearance to deceive Saul.
3. The deceased Samuel actually appeared by the omnipotence and at the prerogative of God.
The above, I believe fairly categorizes the 3 main views of whether or not Samuel should be understood as coming back from the dead in 1 Samuel 28:8-14. There are quite a few variations within these views, and some views tend blur the lines. On Wednesday, I posted about Ghost, Demon, or Hallucination: Did Samuel Return from the Dead, by J. Carl Laney. With him, I agree that this really was Samuel. This was a strange and exceptional appearance of Samuel, but real and genuine nonetheless. It is supported (1) by the reaction of the woman with the familiar spirit/medium, (2) by Samuel speaking to Saul rather than the medium, (3) by the truth of what Samuel said, and (4) by the fact that the text says that Samuel said it. (I guess this is basically a restatement of what Laney said in my own way.) The author says that it is Samuel and never implies that it is some thing or some one that only appears to be Samuel.
v. 12 "when the woman saw Samuel"
v. 14 "Saul perceived that it was Samuel"
v. 15 "Samuel said to Saul"
v. 16 "Then said Samuel"
v. 20 "because of the words of Samuel"
Nevertheless, a good number of godly persons (and probably some not so godly) do not accept the idea that this really was Samuel.
Some arguments against the appearance being Samuel
1. A dead person goes to heaven or to hell. The Bible teaches that the dead cannot return to the living (2 Samuel 12:23). I would agree that this is generally true. We have no expectation of the dead returning to the living, either physically or spiritually. It is further against the command of God to try to converse with or conjure up the dead (cf., e.g., Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Nevertheless, God has the power over death and can give life to the dead. Men long dead appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9). Though they specifically conversed with Jesus rather than Peter, James and John, these three were aware of the men, the conversation and the topic.
2. Related to the first argument, some people call attention to facts of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) as prohibitive of Samuel's appearance. First, the great gulf fixed is specifically related to passage between hell and Abraham's bosom (v. 26). Second, Abraham does not say that Lazarus was not able go back to the rich man's brothers, but that he would not be allowed to. They had sufficient witness and it was not necessary.
3. A medium or fortune teller does not have the power and authority to raise the dead (i.e. call them back from the dead). I agree, and do not believe this is what happened in 1 Samuel 28.
4. Angels can take the forms of humans. The Bible says “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Yes, but the Bible in 1 Samuel 28 doesn't say this was an angel, but rather Samuel.
5. It seems to contradict the way God works in the rest of Scripture as well as give credence to spiritism. It may seem to contradict the way God works in the rest of Scripture, but the fact is that God often works in surprising, unexpected and unusual ways. God's ways are not our ways, and we often fall short of applying all of Scripture in trying to understand God's ways. The Lord disapproved of Saul's visit to this woman. In case someone should understand God countenancing spiritism, He makes it clear in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 that this is not the case -- and with direct reference to the visit of Saul to the medium.
6. The text says Samuel was brought up, but we would expect Samuel to come down from heaven. If the souls of the dead were already in heaven, it might seem to be strange language, though not impossible to overcome. Further, many conservative Bible scholars think that before Christ's resurrection that believers were in Abraham's bosom in the heart of the earth -- until Jesus led captivity captive. This is a big discussion for some other time.
7. The text says that God would not answer Saul by dreams, by Urim, or by the prophets -- so why would He bring back a prophet from the dead to answer him? I think if we are careful we will see that God did not "answer" him by Samuel, but rather rebuked and warned him. The question of Saul was what to do in the face of the large army of Philistines. The message of Samuel ignored that altogether.
There are also some quibbles about Samuel's prophecy not being accurate. For examples, that Saul killed himself and not the Philistines, and that all the sons of Saul did not die. But these quibbles actually put words in Samuel's mouth that are not in his message. In addition to this, those who advocate "soul-sleeping" reject this possibility as inconsistent with their a priori belief.
The problems of trying to "improve" the plain meaning of the text are greater than the problems of accepting it.