BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 128 (1971): 352-60

   Copyright © 1971 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




                  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

in America. The publishing of books on how to practice witchcraft1;

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 Journal2 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 Witchcraft3 how

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

so forth.4

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.




Supranatural powers possessed by the "magicians" of Egypt

and of Babylon were not unlike the powers and the chantings of

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 (Grand Rapids, n.d.), pp. 20-25, 28-31, 37, 75, 76, 122, 123.

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 (Edinburgh, 1866), 1, 349.

   7 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago, 1967), p. 195.

   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, Berkeley). God gave these stringent

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 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


   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 (Rome, 1949), p. 94.

   12 James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the

Book o f Daniel (Edinburgh, 1927), p. 143.

   13 Merrill F. Unger, The Haunting of Bishop Pike (Wheaton, II, 1971),

p. 92.

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

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). "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 Babylon to continue on in her

incantations and magical practices, in her effort to avert the in-

vasions 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 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,

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 addi-

tion, "all man-made religions--with their sorceries, diviners, idols,


    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 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, trans.

by James Martin (Edinburgh, 1877), 11, 242.

    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 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 judg-

mental 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.




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 (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 (Persia

or Arabia) were not sorcerers like Simon. They were experts in

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 Commentary (Chicago,

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 (Grand Rapids;

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 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 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

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 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 (Grand Rapids,

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,

p. 457).

   22 Unger, Biblical Demonology, p. 154.

The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures / 359


evidence that God considers this practice a serious judgment-

deserving transgression.

In the latter half of the tribulation, one reason ecclesiastical

Babylon will be destroyed is that she will have deceived many na-

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 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 limit-

less 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 be-

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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            Dallas, TX   75204


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