The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures

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    The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures

    Roy B. Zuck

    [Roy B. Zuck, Executive Vice President, Scripture Press Foundation, Wheaton,

    Witchcraft Today

    In recent years, witchcraft—the alleged power to cast spells of influence on
    people or events—has become almost commonplace in America. The publishing of
    books on how to practice witchcraft 1 ; the offering of courses on
    witchcraft at the University of Alabama, New York University, and other
    schools; the scheduling of radio and television interviews with self-claimed
    witches; the publishing of articles in large circulation daily
    newspapers-all these offer tips on how to cast curses or spells.

    Involvement in witchcraft used to be limited to the eccentric few, but is
    now the experience of many. For example, an article in The Wall Street
    Journal 2 describes a thirty-four-year-old woman who cast a love spell on a
    friend she just started dating. In her New York apartment she drew around
    her a “magic circle” on a sheet on the floor with a stick of charcoal. Then
    as incense swirled around her and as candles flickered, she chanted, “By all
    the names of princes and by the ineffable name on which all things are
    created, I conjure you…” Louise Huebner, the so-called official witch of Los
    Angeles, explains in her book Power through Witchcraft 3 how to cast spells
    of love to lure a person with whom one is having

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    romantic problems, spells of emotional bondage, money spells, and so forth.

    Some present-day witches meet monthly in covens, usually when the moon is
    full. A coven consists of six males called warlocks, six females, and a high
    priest or priestess. They also hold eight festivals a year, with the most
    significant one being on Halloween. In these meetings spells of influence
    are conjured either for the benefit of others (to heal physically or to help
    in numerous other ways), or for the harm (physical or otherwise) of others.
    The former is commonly known as white magic and the latter as black magic.

    Dr. Kurt Koch, noted German theologian and pastor, has counseled thousands
    of persons entangled in various forms of occultism. He reports that through
    black magical powers, witches are able to bring upon others oppression,
    disease, harassment, and even death. Through white magic, persons have been
    healed, crops have improved, protection from harm has been maintained, and
    so forth. 5 Many missionaries report having witnessed evidences of the
    supranatural power of witchcraft in foreign lands. But the American public
    at large has only recently been confronted directly with the open display of
    these powers on a wide scale.

    What does the Bible say about witchcraft? Are instances of magic charming
    with incantations recorded in the Scriptures? How does God view this
    practice? Is it a harmless pastime or a dangerous engagement with demonic
    forces? An understanding of what the Bible teaches on this subject will
    better enable one to analyze and counteract the present-day growth of

    Witchcraft in the Old Testament

    Supranatural powers possessed by the “magicians” of Egypt and of Babylon
    were not unlike the powers and the chantings of some witches today.

    BSac 128:512 (Oct 71) p. 354

    The morning after the Pharaoh (of Joseph’s day) dreamed about seven fat cows
    devoured by seven thin ones and seven full ears of corn consumed by seven
    thin ones, he called in his magicians to interpret the dream ( Gen 41:1–8 ).
    The word translated “magicians” in the Authorized Version occurs twice in
    this chapter ( 41:8 , 24 ). It is the wordu, חרטמים , which comes from חרט
    “stylus” and literally means “scribes” or “engravers.” They were “men of the
    priestly caste, who occupied themselves with the sacred arts and sciences of
    the Egyptians, the hieroglyphic writings, astrology, the interpretation of
    dreams, the foretelling of events, magic, and conjuring, and who were
    regarded as the possessors of secret arts…” 6 Kidner suggests these
    magicians were “expert in handling the ritual books of priesthood and
    magic.” 7

    In Moses’ and Aaron’s contest with Pharaoh the Egyptian magicians duplicated
    three of the miracles: rods were turned to snakes ( Exod 7:11 ), water was
    turned to blood ( 7:22 ), and frogs appeared ( 8:7 ). However, the magicians
    could not produce lice, as Aaron did ( 8:18 ). The three demonstrations of
    their magical powers were accompanied by “enchantments” or “incantations,” a
    word from the verb לוט meaning “to wrap tightly or to envelop” and thus
    suggesting secret, mysterious ways. Jehovah’s supremacy over these magicians
    is demonstrated in a threefold way: (1) their snakes were devoured by Aaron’
    s ( 7:12 ), (2) Aaron’s miracles did not require incantations, and (3) they
    were unable to duplicate the plague of lice.

    The same word for “magicians” is listed along with names for other
    occultists in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar called in magicians,
    sorcerers, Chaldeans ( 2:2 ) and wise men ( 2:27 ) to interpret his image
    dream, but they were unable to do so. Also these occultists were unable to
    interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large tree ( 4:7 ). 8

    The word “witch” occurs twice in the Authorized Version—in Exodus 22:18 and
    Deuteronomy 18:10 . In both occurrences the Hebrew word is a piel participle
    from כשׁף , “to practice sorcery,” and could be translated “sorcerer” or
    “sorceress.” Unger explains that this Hebrew word denotes “one who practices
    magic by using

    BSac 128:512 (Oct 71) p. 355

    occult formulas, incantations, and mystic mutterings.” 9 J. S. Wright points
    out that this root verb “probably means ‘to cut,’ and could refer to herbs
    cut for charms and spells.” 10

    God’s attitude toward witchcraft is bluntly stated in Exodus 22:18 , “Thou
    shalt not suffer a witch ( מכשׁפה ) to live.” “There must not be found among
    you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, anyone
    practicing divination or soothsaying, observing omens, applying sorcery (
    מכשׁף ), a charmer, a medium, a wizard, or a necromancer. For all who do
    these things are offensive to the Lord” ( Deut 18:10–12 , Berkeley). God
    gave these stringent orders in order to preserve the Israelites from
    spiritual contamination with the degraded occultic practice of Canaan. 11

    The profession of the sorcerers in both Egypt and Babylon along with the
    magicians and the enchanters in Babylon “is condemned through the O.T. as
    representing black magic.” 12

    Jezebel, the wicked queen of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was deeply
    involved in witchcraft (“her sorceries were many,” 2 Kings 9:22 ). Therefore
    Joram asked how there could be any peace in Israel so long as Jezebel’s
    magical practices prevailed. This “cursed woman” ( 9:34 ) died a violent
    death ( 9:33–35 ), which is typical of the fate of so many who are involved
    in this kind of evil practice.

    King Manasseh of Judah practiced numerous kinds of occultism, including
    spiritism and magical sorcery ( 2 Chron 33:6 ). God called these deeds
    “abominations” and stated that Manasseh had “done wickedly” ( 2 Kings
    21:11 ). Therefore Manasseh and his kingdom suffered greatly ( 21:10–16 ).
    “The term ‘abomination’ has the clear connotation of outrageously affronting
    God by contaminating His holy worship with the adoration of finite,
    polluted, false deities.” 13 It is certainly shameful that the chief monarch
    of God’s people fell to such low depths of sin.

    In Jehoiakim’s reign, just before the Babylonian Captivity of Judah,
    Jeremiah warned Judah that her occultic leaders were false in predicting
    that she would not become subservient to Babylon

    BSac 128:512 (Oct 71) p. 356

    ( Jer 27:9–10 ). This points up two things: (1) an entire nation can become
    susceptible to the influences of occultists, and (2) many of the seers’ and
    sorcerers’ predictions are not reliable.

    God does not let sorcery go unpunished. Through Isaiah He informed Babylon
    that within one day she would lose her children and her husband, meaning
    that her people would be taken captive and her king killed ( Isa 47:9 ).
    This was fulfilled by the attack of Cyrus—in spite of her sorceries and
    incantations ( 47:9 ). “Babylon was famed for expiations or sacrifices, and
    other incantations, whereby they tried to avert evil and obtain good.” 14 In
    fact, “Babylonia was the birthplace of astrology from which sprung the
    twelvefold division of the day, the horoscope and sun-dial (Herod. ii. 109);
    but it was also the home of magic, which pretended to bind the course of
    events,…” 15

    The word “incantation” in Isaiah 47:9 , 12 is חבר , which could be rendered
    “spell” or “charm.” It comes from the root which means “to uniteor bind.”

    Isaiah sarcastically challenged Babylon to continue on in her incantations
    and magical practices, in her effort to avert the invasions of the Medes and
    Persians ( 47:12–13 ). But the efforts of Babylon’s magicians and
    astrologers to save their nation were doomed to failure ( 47:14–15 ). This
    poignantly illustrates that sorcery is incapable of exercising power over
    God’s plans.

    The ancient world was deeply entrenched in occultism. Not only were the
    nations Canaan, Israel, Judah, and Babylon engaged in witchcraft; Assyria
    too was an active participant in the black arts. 16 The city of Ninevah,
    known for its bloody atrocities and torturous inhumane treatment of its
    prisoners, is called “the mistress of sorceries ( כשׁפים )” ( Nah 3:4 ).
    Entire nations (“families”) were subjugated by her witchcraft.

    Witchcraft will not continue indefinitely. When the Messiah, Israel’s Prince
    of Peace, returns ( Mic 5:2–5 ), He will deprive Israel of any possible
    reliance on material strength ( 5:10 , 11 ). In addition, “all man-made
    religions—with their sorceries, diviners, idols,

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    shrines, and cities devoted to idolatry—by which Israel has been led astray,
    Jehovah will pluck up” 17 ( 5:12–14 ).

    Malachi also refers to the removal of witchcraft as part of the future
    judgment on the nation Israel at the Lord’s return. The Lord will be “a
    swift witness against the sorcerers” ( Mal 3:5 ). This judgmental attitude
    of the Lord toward sorcery and its practitioners indicates that witchcraft
    has a defiling effect on Israel. Complete removal of every trace of this sin
    is necessary to prepare Israel for the millennium.

    Witchcraft in the New Testament

    In the New Testament there are several striking examples of the clash of
    Christianity with demonic magic.

    Simon, of Samaria, had gained a great following through his practicing of
    witchcraft ( μαγεύων , participle). People on all levels of society (“from
    the least to the greatest”) followed him for some time ( Acts 8:10 , 12 ).
    They were amazed 18 because of his magical arts ( μαγείαις , 8:12 ) and his
    claim that he was “some great one” ( 8:9 ). So overwhelmed and deceived were
    they by his power that they claimed, “This man is the great power of God”
    ( 8:10 ). However, on hearing the Gospel from Philip, Simon believed and was
    baptized. Interestingly, Simon himself was amazed as he saw that the
    miracles Philip performed were far greater than his own ( 8:13 ). This
    points to the superiority of God’s power over that of sorcery.

    The noun μάγοι , translated “wise men” in Matthew 2:1 , 16 , is related to
    the verb μἁγεύω . However, men from the East (Persia or Arabia) were not
    sorcerers like Simon. They were experts in philosophy, religion, astronomy,
    and medicine. Barnes suggests that μάγοι “came afterwards to signify those
    who made use of the knowledge of those arts for the purpose of imposing on
    mankind—astrologers, soothsayers, necromancers, fortunetellers, etc. Such
    persons pretended to predict future events by the positions of the stars,
    and to cure diseases by incantations, etc.” 19 Delling states that the
    specific meaning of μάγος was “a member of the Persian priestly caste” and
    then came to mean more generally a possessor of

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    supernatural knowledge and ability, or one who practices magical arts, or
    figuratively, a deceiver. 20

    It is noteworthy that on each of Paul’s missionary journeys he confronted
    some form of satanic occultic powers. On Paul’s first journey, Bar-Jesus, a
    Jewish sorcerer ( μάγος ) who was also called Elymas, opposed Barnabas and
    Saul on the island of Cyprus. Bar-Jesus tried to prevent Sergius Paulus the
    governor from turning to the Lord ( Acts 13:6–8 ). Perhaps Bar-Jesus sensed
    that if the govemor accepted Christ, Bar-Jesus would be ousted as the
    governor’s sorcerer. Saul denounced Bar-Jesus with strong words: “O full of
    all deceit and all mischief, 21 thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all
    righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?”
    ( 13:10 ) In this denunciation Paul indicates that witchcraft is deceiving,
    satanic, the opposite of righteousness, and a spiritual perversion.

    At Ephesus many of the Christian converts confessed to having engaged in
    magical practices. Many of those burned their books (apparently volumes with
    instructions on the performance of magical arts). The words “magical arts”
    in the New Scofield Reference Bible are the translation of περιέργα , a word
    meaning irrelevant, trifling, or curious ( 19:19 ).

    In Galatians 5:20 witchcraft is listed among the “works of the flesh.” The
    word for witchcraft here is φαρμακεία (from which comes our word “pharmacy”
    from φάρμακον , a medicine, poison, magic potion, or drug), which is the
    preparing and giving of medicine. From the primary notion of administering
    medicines and drugs, the word came to mean preparing and giving magical
    potions possibly with incantations. 22

    The practice of witchcraft will continue in the tribulation period. As
    Revelation 9:21 makes clear, the people not killed by God’s trumpet
    judgments will not repent of their murders, sorceries ( φαρμακειω̂ν ),
    fornication, nor thievery. The gross sins listed along with φαρμακεία in
    Galatians 5:19–21 and Revelation 9:21 are clear

    BSac 128:512 (Oct 71) p. 359

    evidence that God considers this practice a serious judgment-deserving

    In the latter half of the tribulation, one reason ecclesiastical Babylon
    will be destroyed is that she will have deceived many nations by her
    practices in witchcraft ( φαρμακεία , Rev 18:23 ).

    Sorcerers ( φαρμακοίς 23 ) will have no part in the New Jerusalem ( Rev
    22:15 ) for they will be cast into the lake of fire ( 21:8 ).


    Several things become evident from this study of the practice of witchcraft
    as recorded in the Old and New Testaments.

    First, witchcraft is demonic , opposing all that is godly. Egyptian and
    Babylonian magicians were in direct opposition to Jehovah and His followers;
    Manasseh’s witchcraft was wicked and an abomination to the Lord; witchcraft
    will be cleansed from Israel before the millennium; Bar-Jesus, who withstood
    the ministry of Paul, was an enemy of righteousness; witchcraft is one of
    the works of the flesh; and sorcerers will be cast into the lake of fire.

    Second, witchcraft is deceitful . At first glance the performances of the
    Egyptian magicians appeared identical with those of Aaron, but in actuality
    were less powerful. Simon, the Samaritan sorcerer, deceived many for a long
    time by means of his magical powers. Bar-Jesus was “full of all deceit.” And
    ecclesiastical Babylon will deceive many nations. Obviously, then, satanic
    powers are noted for their blinding deception. 24 Because Satan performs
    miracles “with limitless deceit” ( 2 Thess 2:9–10 , Berkley), masquerading
    as an angel of light ( 2 Cor 11:14 ), many “yield to deluding spirits” ( 1
    Tim 4:1 , Berkeley).

    Third, witchcraft is deteriorating and destructive . God ordered the
    Israelites to put witches (sorcerers) to death lest His people become
    contaminated spiritually. Jezebel’s involvement in this sin resulted in her
    own violent death, and Judah suffered greatly because of Manasseh’s
    witchcraft. Koch cites numerous modern-day examples of persons who have
    suffered physical harm, mental depression, emotional upheaval, and spiritual
    defeat as a result of dabbling in black or white magic. 25 Experimentation
    with any form of witchcraft is highly dangerous. Those who participate in

    BSac 128:512 (Oct 71) p. 360

    do so to the serious detriment and endangerment of their own souls.

    Fourth, witchcraft is doomed . Though sorcerers may have tremendous
    supranatural powers because of their subjugation to and alignment with
    demonic forces, God’s power is superior. A person trapped by magical
    practices can experience deliverance from that bondage through faith in
    Christ ( Heb 2:14 ; Col 1:13 ; 1 John 4:4 ). The wise believer refuses to
    toy with any form of sorcery or witchcraft. Instead he continually
    appropriates the whole armor of God, he claims the protective power of the
    blood of Jesus Christ, and steadfastly resists the devil. 26 Only in this
    way can the power of witchcraft be broken and its growth be counteracted.

    BSac 128:512 (Oct 71) p. 361

    Periodical Reviews

    1 1. Books in Print 1970 (New York, 1970) II, 1757. Almost 100 titles of
    books on witchcraft are listed.
    2 2. October 23, 1967.
    3 3. Louise Huebner, Power through Witchcraft (Los Angeles, 1969).
    4 4. In addition to this spell-casting power, there are at least three other
    kinds of occultic powers: (1) power to foretell the future, (2) power to
    communicate with the dead (spiritism) or with the living (telepathy) without
    the use of the physical senses, and (3) power to locate hidden objects or to
    cause objects to appear, move, or disappear without the physical senses.
    Persons possessing one of these kinds of ability may also have one or more
    of the others.
    5 5. Kurt E. Koch, Between Christ and Satan (Grand Rapids, 1961), pp. 65-89;
    Occult Bondage and Deliverance (Grand Rapids, 1970), pp. 20-22; The Devils
    Alphabet (Grand Rapids, n.d.), pp. 20-25, 28–31, 37, 75, 76, 122, 123.
    6 6. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old . Testament
    , The Pentateuch , trans. by James Martin (Edinburgh, 1866), I, 349.
    7 7. Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago, 1967), p. 195.
    8 8. The “astrologers” in Daniel may better be translated “chanters” (
    אשׁפים ), that is, persons with magical ability through incantations.
    9 9. Merrill F. Unger, Biblical Demonology (Wheaton, IL, 1952), p. 153.
    10 10. J. S. Wright and Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Magic and Sorcery,” The New
    Bible Dictionary (1962), p. 766.
    11 11. The Ras Shamra tablets indicate that the Canaanites practiced many
    magical arts. See Cyrus A. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature (Rome, 1949), p. 94.
    12 12. James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book
    of Daniel (Edinburgh, 1927), p. 143.
    13 13. Merrill F. Unger, The Haunting of Bishop Pike (Wheaton, IL, 1971), p.
    14 14. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Faussett, and David Brown, A Commentary,
    Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments (London
    and Glasgow [1866]), III, 712.
    15 15. Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah ,
    trans. by James Martin (Edinburgh, 1877), II, 242.
    16 16. For details on Assyro-Babylonian magic, see Wright and Kitchen, The
    New Bible Dictionary , pp. 770, 771, where numerous firsthand sources are
    17 17. E. Leslie Carlson, “Micah,” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago,
    1962), p. 858.
    18 18. The Authorized Version has “bewitched” but the word is ἐξίστημι .
    19 19. Albert Barnes, Barnes ’ Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids;
    reprint, 1962), p. 430.
    20 20. G. Delling, “ μάγος “ Theological Dictionary of the New Testament ,
    ed. by Gerhard Kittel and trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids,
    1967), IV, 356–57.
    21 21. The word rendered “mischief” ( ῥαδιουργία ) “denotes properly
    facility of acting , and then sleight of hand ; sly, cunning arts, by which
    one imposes on another, and deceives him with a fraudulent intention”
    (Barnes, p. 457).
    22 22. Unger, Biblical Demonology , p. 154.
    23 23. The word is used by the Septuagint several times to translate מכשׁפים
    24 24. See Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance , pp. 20-22.
    25 25. See books cited in footnote 5.
    26 26. For more on how to obtain deliverance from witchcraft, see Roy B.
    Zuck, “The Occult Craze,” Moody Monthly , April, 1971, pp. 28-29, 49–50;
    Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance , pp. 85-128.
    Dallas Theological Seminary. (1971;2002). Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 128 (Vol.
    128, Page 352). Dallas Theological Seminary.

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