Scripture roundly condemns witchcraft and related practices:
A recent headline caught my attention: “Scotland may pardon thousands of ‘witches’ it executed hundreds of years ago.” The article went on to say this: “Attorney Claire Mitchell leads activist group Witches of Scotland, which wants to have the names of the convicted legally cleared, a written apology letter from the government and a monument established in their memory.” nypost.com/2022/01/07/scotland-may-pardon-thousands-of-witches-it-executed-hundreds-of-years-ago/
This made me think of the famous line by C. S. Lewis in his preface to The Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
If in times past some folks were overly concerned by such things, today most folks are too little concerned – or worse yet, they actually celebrate and promote such things. The Scottish situation (which the church is expected to go along with) is a case in point.
As to the issue of witchcraft trials (both in Europe and America), I have already penned a piece trying to provide some context and background to the situation. You can find that article here: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/19/on-the-witchcraft-trials/
Today witchcraft, wicca, the occult, spiritism, neopaganism, and various New Age beliefs and practices seem to be everywhere. While Christianity is in decline in the West, these other counterfeit spiritualities are on the increase. What should Christians make of all this? Here I will offer what Scripture says, and in future articles I will further explore this in various ways.
The Bible of course clearly condemns all of these activities, be it witchcraft, divination, necromancy, astrology, fortune-telling, spiritism, communicating with the dead, and so on. Here are just some of the passages that can be appealed to:
Exodus 22:18 You shall not permit a sorceress to live.
Leviticus 19:26, 31 You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying…. Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 20:6, 27 And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people…. A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them.
Deuteronomy 18:9-12 When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. 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, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.
1 Samuel 15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. NKJV
2 Kings 21:5-7 And he [Manasseh] built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. He even set a carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of which the Lord had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever.”
Some might say that it cannot be all that bad, since even King Saul consulted the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). But description does not always mean prescription. Indeed, Saul is condemned by God for this, and it leads to his eventual downfall.
He dies just a few chapters later (1 Samuel 31), and we are informed precisely why in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14: “So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord and did not obey the Lord’s instructions; he even tried to conjure up underworld spirits. He did not seek the Lord’s guidance, so the Lord killed him and transferred the kingdom to David son of Jesse.”
The early church often found itself up against such occultic practices as well on various occasions. Recall the episodes of how the disciples came up against Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25); of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:6-12); of the girl possessed with a spirit of divination at Philippi (Acts 16:16-19); and of those who practiced magic at Ephesus (Acts 19:11-41).
And the New Testament equally condemns these things. Galatians 5:19-20 says this: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery…” The word ‘witchcraft’ is used in some versions instead of ‘sorcery.’
In Revelation we find four more such passages:
9:21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
18:23 and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
22:15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
Of interest is the Greek term used in these five passages. Either pharmakeia or pharmakos is used. Just as it sounds, the modern English word ‘pharmacy’ is derived from these nouns. However, some Christians have claimed therefore that things like Big Pharma and modern vaccines are in view with the biblical authors.
There are a few problems with this position however. First, we have the dangers of etymology (understanding where a word came from). We can be in danger of anachronism, in reading modern meanings back into older words. A classic example of this is the modern word ‘dynamite’. It is based on the old Greek word for power: dunamis. But when New Testament writers used that word, they did not have in mind a stick of TNT.
It is the same here. Yes, contemporary pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies can trace back where these words first came from, but it is unwise to read back into those ancient terms modern meanings. Paul and John did not have in mind modern vaccines and drug companies when they spoke about these things.
As mentioned, the terms are often translated as ‘sorceries’ or ‘witchcraft’. And yes, the terms do relate to potions and poisons and magic spells and the like. So we might make a loose connection here with modern drug manufacturers, but that is about as far as we can go with this.
American Hebrew scholar and messianic Jew Michael Brown recently penned a piece on this for those who want to explore this matter further. Just one quote from it:
When the Septuagint used the word pharmakeia (the Septuagint is the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek two-three centuries before the time of Jesus), it regularly translated Hebrew words for sorcery. So, for example, in Isaiah 47:9 and 12, when the prophet speaks of the downfall of ancient Babylon, the Septuagint translates the Hebrew word for “sorcery” with the Greek word pharmakia.
Similarly, in Exodus 7:11, the Septuagint translates “sorcerers” in Hebrew with pharamakous (obviously, this is closely related to pharmakia), while translating “secret arts” at the end of the verse with pharmakia. This is highly significant, since Greek-speaking Christians used the Septuagint when reading what we refer to today as the Old Testament, and Septuagint Greek did influence New Testament usage.
Not only so, but the major Greek dictionaries devoted to the New Testament, works of great scholarship, translate pharmakia with “sorcery, magic” as well. It is true that ancient Greek also recognized a meaning for pharmakeia meaning “use of drugs,” and it is possible that this tied in with using drugs to cast spells, which then relates to “sorcery” and “magic.” But it is the latter meaning which is found in the New Testament, including Galatians 5:20. opentheword.org/2021/12/16/is-it-true-that-the-book-of-revelation-indicts-big-pharma/
Mind you, as should be clear from my other writings, I am certainly not a fan of Big Pharma. And there are plenty of very legitimate questions that we must ask about the new, rushed Rona vaxxes and the like. But care must be taken when we appeal to Scripture in this regard.
All up, the Bible roundly condemns witchcraft and related practices and beliefs. As mentioned, more needs to be said on this. So in this informal mini-series on witchcraft, I will next offer articles looking at the modern scene, and I will also feature a very powerful testimony of one Christian who was once heavily involved in witchcraft. So stay tuned.