BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 128 (1971): 352-60
Copyright © 1971 by
The Practice of Witchcraft
in the Scriptures
Roy B. Zuck
In recent years, witchcraft--the alleged power to cast spells
of influence on people or events--has become almost commonplace
the offering of courses on witchcraft at the
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 Journal2 describes a thirty-four-year-old woman
who cast a love spell on a friend she just started dating. In her New
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
to cast spells of love to lure a person with whom one is having
1 Books in Print 1970 (New York, 1970) II, 1757. Almost 100 titles of
books on witchcraft are listed.
2 October 23, 1967.
3 Louise Huebner, Power through Witchcraft (Los Angeles, 1969).
The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures / 353
romantic problems, spells of emotional bondage, money spells, and
Some present-day witches meet monthly in covens, usually
when the moon is full. A coven consists of six males called war-
locks, six females, and a high priest or priestess. They also hold
eight festivals a year, with the most significant one being on Hallo-
ween. 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
Dr. Kurt Koch, noted German theologian and pastor, has
counseled thousands of persons entangled in various forms of oc-
cultism. 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.
WITCHCRAFT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Supranatural powers possessed by the
some witches today.
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 communi-
cate 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
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 (
354 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October-December 1971
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 "magi-
cians" in the Authorized Version occurs twice in this chapter (41:8,
24). It is the word MymFrH, which comes from FrH "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 Fvl 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 (Dan. 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 Jwk, "to practice sorcery,"
and could be translated "sorcerer" or "sorceress." Unger explains
that this Hebrew word denotes "one who practices magic by using
6 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament,
The Pentateuch, trans. by James Martin
7 Derek Kidner,
8 The "astrologers" in Daniel may better be translated "chanters"
that is, persons with magical ability through incantations.
The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures / 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 (hpwkm) 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 (Jwkm), a charmer, a medium,
a wizard, or a necromancer. For all who do these things are offensive
to the Lord" (Deut. 18:10-12,
orders in order to preserve the Israelites from spiritual contamina-
tion with the degraded occultic practice of Canaan.11
The profession of the sorcerers in both
with the magicians and the enchanters in
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
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
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
in predicting that she would not become
9 Merrill F. Unger, Biblical Demonology (Wheaton, II, 1952), p. 153.
10 J. S. Wright and Kenneth A. Kitchen, "Magic and Sorcery," The New
Bible Dictionary (1962), p. 766.
11 The Ras Shamra tablets indicate that the Canaanites practiced many
magical arts. See Cyrus A. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature (
12 James A.
Book o f Daniel (
13 Merrill F. Unger, The Haunting of Bishop Pike (Wheaton, II, 1971),
356 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October-December 1971
(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
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). "Baby-
lon was famed for expiations or sacrifices, and other incantations,
whereby they tried to avert evil and obtain good."14 In fact, "Baby-
lonia was the birthplace of astrology from which sprung the twelve-
fold 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 rbH, which
could be rendered "spell" or "charm." It comes from the root which
means "to unite or bind."
Isaiah sarcastically challenged
incantations and magical practices, in her effort to avert the in-
vasions of the Medes and Persians (47:12-13). But the efforts of
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
arts.16 The city of
torturous inhumane treatment of its prisoners, is called "the mis-
tress of sorceries ( Mypwk )" (Nah. 3:4). Entire nations ("fami-
lies") were subjugated by her witchcraft.
Witchcraft will not continue indefinitely. When the Messiah,
of any possible reliance on material strength (5:10, 11). In addi-
tion, "all man-made religions--with their sorceries, diviners, idols,
14 Robert Jamieson, A. R. Faussett, and David Brown, A Commentary,
and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments (
15 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, trans.
by James Martin (
16 For details on Assyro-Babylonian magic, see Wright and Kitchen, The
New Bible Dictionary, pp. 770, 771, where numerous firsthand sources are
The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures / 357
shrines, and cities devoted to idolatry-by which
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
will be "a swift witness against the sorcerers" (Mal. 3:5). This judg-
mental attitude of the Lord toward sorcery and its practitioners
indicates that witchcraft has a defiling effect on
removal of every trace of this sin is necessary
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.
practicing of witchcraft (mageu<wn, participle). People on all levels
of society ("from the least to the greatest") followed him for some
time (Acts 8:10, 12). They were amazed18 because of his magical
arts (magei<aij, 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) . How-
ever, 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 ma<goi, translated "wise men" in Matthew 2:1, 16,
is related to the verb ma[geu<w. However, men from the East (
philosophy, religion, astronomy, and medicine. Barnes suggests that
ma<goi "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 per-
sons 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 ma<goj was "a member of the Persian priestly
caste" and then came to mean more generally a possessor of super-
17 E. Leslie Carlson,
"Micah," The Wycliffe Bible
1962), p. 858.
18 The Authorized Version has "bewitched" but the word is e]ci<sthmi.
19 Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes on the New Testament (
reprint, 1962), p. 430.
358 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October-December 1971
natural 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 (ma<goj) who was also called
Elymas, opposed Barnabas and
Saul on the
Jesus tried to prevent Sergius Paulus the governor from turning to
the Lord (Acts 13:6-8). Perhaps Bar-Jesus sensed that if the gov-
ernor accepted Christ, Bar-Jesus would be ousted as the governor's
sorcerer. Saul denounced Bar-Jesus with strong words: "0 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 witch-
craft is deceiving, satanic, the opposite of righteousness, and a
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 perie<rga, a word meaning irrelevant,
trifling, or curious (Acts 19:19).
In Galatians 5:20 witchcraft is listed among the "works of
the flesh." The word for witchcraft here is farmakei<a (from which
comes our word "pharmacy" from fa<rmakon, a medicine, poison,
magic potion, or drug), which is the preparing and giving of medi-
cine. From the primary notion of administering medicines and drugs,
the word came to mean preparing and giving magical potions pos-
sibly 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
(farmakeiw?n), fornication, nor thievery. The gross sins listed along
with farmakei<a in Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 9:21 are clear
20 G. Delling, "ma<goj," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,
ed. by Gerhard Kittel
and trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (
1967), IV, 356-57.
21 The word rendered "mischief" (r[abiourgi<a) "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,
22 Unger, Biblical Demonology, p. 154.
The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures / 359
evidence that God considers this practice a serious judgment-
In the latter half of the tribulation, one reason ecclesiastical
tions by her practices in witchcraft (farmakei<a, Rev. 18:23).
Sorcerers (farmakoi<j23) 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 abomi-
nation to the Lord; witchcraft will be cleansed from
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-
was "full of all deceit." And ecclesiastical
many nations. Obviously, then, satanic powers are noted for their
blinding deception.24 Because Satan performs miracles "with limit-
less deceit" (2 Thess.
of light (2 Cor. 11:14), many "yield to deluding spirits" (1 Tim.
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
cause of Manasseh's witchcraft. Koch cites numerous modern-day
examples of persons who have suffered physical harm, mental de-
pression, 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 witchcraft
23 The word is used by the Septuagint several times to translate Mypwkm.
24 See Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, pp. 20-22.
25 See books cited in footnote 5.
360 / Bibliotheca Sacra - October-December 1971
do so to the serious detriment and endangerment of their own
Fourth, witchcraft is doomed. Though sorcerers may have tre-
mendous 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 witch-
craft. Instead he continually appropriates the whole armor of God,
he claims the protective power of the blood of Jesus Christ, and
steadfastly resists the devi1.26 Only in this way can the power of
witchcraft be broken and its growth be counteracted.
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.
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