With the revival of neopaganism and the magic arts, the relentless pursuit of the paranormal by parapsychologists, and the denial by scientists of any evidence for the supernatural, it’s important that we understand what the Bible says about magic.
INTERSECTING WORLDS MAKE MAGIC POSSIBLE
At first glance, one would assume the Bible talks only about God, angels, and human beings. But both the Old and New Testaments also talk about a world of the supernatural where good and evil spirits carry on spiritual warfare. In fact, the Bible teaches that this struggle is as real as our own visible world. The apostle Paul wrote:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
Paul’s statement expresses the biblical worldview—that the enemies of God are not limited to human beings (flesh and blood). The broader picture includes a vast host of evil spirit beings who are aligned in a hierarchy under the control of Satan. They rule over our visible world under a veil of darkness. These spirit beings, who were once angels, chose to rebel against God and align themselves with the evil one, becoming demons or “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible depicts a worldview with spiritual dimensions that interact with our observable world of space and time. There are good angels who do God’s bidding and demons who follow direction from the devil.
If there are a host of spiritual beings interacting with our world, why don’t we see them? The answer is that God has graciously veiled their activity from our view. The God of the Bible asks us to live within the physical boundaries He has set for us while trusting Him to oversee everything in the visible and invisible worlds. This curtain prevents us from being disoriented by the spiritual activity in this parallel world.
Yet there are times in biblical history when the veil is lifted. One example of this is when Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the fearsome Syrian army. Any hope of escape seemed impossible. What could two men do against all those chariots, spears, and armor?
When the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Ki. 6:15-17).
God pulled back the curtain to reveal to Elisha and his servant the angelic army that was poised and ready to do battle with the Syrians.
OCCULT ACTIVITIES CAN ACCESS THE SPIRIT WORLD
According to the Bible, there is a real danger in occult experimentation. While God has set up a protective shield to discourage direct contact with demons in the spirit world, occult practices attempt to penetrate that shield and open a door to interact with spirit beings. Let’s see how this works.
Magic Accesses The Spirit World Through Spells. Magic uses charms and spells that are believed to have supernatural power over natural forces. But according to the Bible, the power isn’t in the saying of certain words or following prescribed rituals. The power comes from demons who, when invited, can provide supernatural assistance (1 Sam. 28:5-20; 2 Ki. 23:24).
A few years ago I met an undergraduate student who was involved in the occult before he put his faith in Christ. He told me that he once experimented with magic spells by putting a curse on someone he hated. He was shocked when his enemy had a horribly maiming accident. The timing was such that he believed something terribly sinister had operated through his “experiment.” Later, he claimed to have been harassed by a spirit entity. This incident turned him away from occult practices to Christ.
Can a magical curse really cause harm? Coincidence? You won’t convince this student that his experiment with magic was accidental.
From early times, magic has encompassed a blend of trickery and the demonic. When Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and demanded that he let their people go, their request resulted in a supernatural competition.
As evidence that they were speaking on behalf of the one true God, Aaron cast down his walking stick before Pharaoh and the rod turned into a serpent. What happened next gives us a window into the ancient use of magic. According to Moses:
Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. So the Lord said to Moses: “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go” (Ex. 7:11-14).
This text makes it clear that the Egyptian magicians had access to the supernatural. But their power was not from God (Ex. 7:22; 8:7,18-19; 9:11).
The magicians of Pharaoh’s court used an ancient art. Charms and spells are a religion of antiquity. They have been used from prehistoric times and even now are used in our present age. For the most part, such magical claims probably reflect superstition— beliefs and practices from ignorance or fear of the unknown. But in other cases, as the biblical record shows, they can achieve interaction between our world and the spirit world.
Because such magic is used as a substitute for belief in the one true God, the Bible condemns such activities. According to Moses:
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord (Dt. 18:10-12).
Sorcery Accesses The Spirit World Through Drugs. Magic is not the only term used in the Bible to refer to the occult arts. Sorcery is a word that carries its own connotation. The New Testament Greek word that is translated “sorcery” is the word pharmakeia, from which we get the word pharmacy.
Sorcery’s connection with drug usage is obvious. In the ancient world, mystery religions were sometimes accompanied by the use of certain drugs to create an altered state of mind, which resulted in ecstatic religious experiences.
There is a parallel between sorcery and the experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs in the 1960s that gave rise to the widespread interest in Eastern religions and the occult. A scientist doing research at Stanford University during that time tells how he participated in a scientific experiment with LSD. Before long he was hearing voices that told him to look at the sun directly during midday, damaging his eyes. Later he came to the conviction that drugs had been the gateway to the demonic world. He never participated in this kind of “scientific” experimentation again.
The Bible portrays God as the embodiment of truth who desires all human beings to seek and find Him. So it’s not surprising that both the Old and New Testaments condemn the use of drugs to open the door to an alternative spirituality (Dt. 18:10-14; Acts 17:27; 19:19; Gal. 5:19-20).
In the first century, there were those who made their living as professional sorcerers. One such person was Simon the Sorcerer.
There was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great (Acts 8:9).
Simon the Sorcerer apparently used sleight of hand and perhaps certain potions that were able to alter perceptions and draw people to him. His goal would have been to gain followers by fooling and possibly drugging those who came to him for spiritual help and power.
The day came, however, when Simon the Sorcerer met Simon the Fisherman, whom Jesus had renamed Peter. When the sorcerer learned that Peter was in touch with the power of the Spirit of Christ, he was intrigued. According to the New Testament record:
When Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:18-22).
The apostle Peter saw that Simon the Sorcerer did not want to yield his heart to Christ to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Simon viewed the Holy Spirit as a kind of magical power that he wanted for his personal use. Here is the distinction between Christian spirituality and that of the occult. The former yields to God to do His bidding; the latter seeks power to control others. Peter’s condemnation is a warning to all who would confuse occult power with the power of God.
The apostle Paul condemned sorcery in a list of the works of our sinful human nature:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies (Gal. 5:19-20).
Our sinful nature is drawn to the fallen spirit world and therefore must be renounced.
Mediumship Accesses The Spirit World Through Familiar Spirits. Charms and spells and drugs are not the only way occultists seek to penetrate the wall that separates us from the spirit world. Mediumship is an ancient technique for communicating with spirits. Often a special relationship is established between the medium and a “familiar spirit” that has worked with him or her in the past.
The Wise Remove Mediumship. The history of ancient Israel is a cycle of revival, apostasy, and judgment, followed by revival. Although national leaders often contributed to the spiritual decline of Israel, there were exceptions. Josiah is one of those wonderful examples of a monarch who, when he was exposed to the Word of God, took decisive action to comply with it. Having read the Word to his people, Josiah set out to implement important reforms. One such campaign was the removal of the spiritistic activity of mediums.
Moreover Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord (2 Ki. 23:24).
It has been wisely said that “when the only virtue held by society is tolerance, then all the other virtues have to go.” That is why the Bible is not tolerant of occult practices in the lives of those who claim to be people of the one true God. In ancient Israel, the removal of occult influence was as essential to the health of the nation as the removal of a cancerous growth is to the health of the human body.
The Unwise Seek Out Mediumship. Unfortunately, not all kings in the history of Israel were as discerning as Josiah. A case in point is Saul, the first man anointed King of Israel. Saul tended to follow and rationalize his own desires— even when they conflicted with the principles of God (1 Sam. 15:20-22). As a result, the Lord of Israel removed Saul from the throne.
Once Saul was no longer being given divine guidance through God’s prophet, he looked for alternative spiritual insight from a medium known as the Witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:5-20).
During this session, the unexpected happened. The medium seemed to call back from the dead the recently deceased prophet Samuel. Occultists sometimes point to this biblical event as evidence that mediums can actually contact the dead. Yet all was not as it appeared, even for the Witch of Endor. The medium expressed alarm at the sight of Samuel and indicated that the “séance” was not going according to plan. It’s likely that God allowed either a simulation or actual appearance of Samuel as another warning of judgment on an impetuous and wayward king.
Once again, the biblical record describes a physical world of space and time intersecting with a real spirit world. God has wisely placed a protective shield over our eyes so we cannot see it. But the spirit world can occasionally be penetrated through spells, drug use, or seeking out a medium. The motivation for doing so is to acquire secret knowledge and power over our circumstances. Since the source behind these activities is demonic, the result can be an enslavement to spiritual darkness and alienation from the one true God.