As an illusionist, I will occasionally have someone ask me (very sincerely), “Isn’t magic evil?” or “Isn’t what you’re doing forbidden in Scripture?” I lovingly explain the truth. However, due to time constraints, I normally cannot go into great detail about what the Bible says about “magic.”
In order to provide a resource to spread the truth of what the Bible really says about this subject, I have provided the biblical definitions to the words in Scripture commonly thought to be related to magic or magicians and given their references in Strong’s Concordance for you to look up if you wish. This article is long because I have tried to be as thorough as I can possibly be. I have divided the segments into Old and New Testament, but you can clearly see the harmony of the inerrant, infallible Word of God in all these definitions.
BIBLICAL DEFINITIONS: OLD TESTAMENT
CHARMER: Hebrew word: “Lahas” (Strong’s # 4318) To mutter incantations, to mumble a spell. This person could supposedly whisper and mumble spells to charm snakes and people. This word was also used in Isaiah 3:20 to describe a “charm” (like a gem or a stone) that was inscribed with a formula and worn around the neck or in the ear and was believed to have magical powers. It is also another name for “Enchanter” which is defined below.
CONSULTER OF FAMILIAR SPIRITS/MEDIUM: Hebrew word: “Ob” (Strong’s # 200) A sorcerer who consults spirits to divine the future. This is closely related to “necromancer.” The most prominent biblical example of this is the Witch/Medium of Endor in I Samuel 28:7 to whom Saul went to and consulted after he was rejected as king of Israel.
DIVINATION: (Leviticus 19:26; Ezekiel 13:6-7; Ezekiel 21:21-22;) Hebrew word: “Qesem” (Strong’s # 7877) which literally means “to divine false visions or delusions.” The idea was one who said and spoke as though they had heard from God when they really had not. Whether this information was made up off the top of their head or given to them through demonic influence, the point is, they were falsely trying to make people believe they had a true vision of the future. This word is derived from the Hebrew word “Qasam” which is “Soothsayer.” See the New Testament definition of “Divination” for an even clearer picture of the biblical definition of this word.
ENCHANTER: Hebrew word: “Kassap” (Strong’s # 4177) An enchanter. The biblical example of this is found only once in Jeremiah 27:9 in a list of people who attempt to cast spells on people to control circumstances. The verb form of “Enchanter” is the Hebrew word “Heber” (Strong’s # 2490) meaning to cast a charm or a spell on someone. The literal meaning is “to attach something to someone.”
NECROMANCER: (Daniel 1:20; 2:2) Hebrew word “Assap” (Strong’s # 879) Used to describe one who attempts to contact the dead (specifically) in order to glean insight for the present and future. This practice is expressly forbidden throughout Scripture. This word is closely related to a “Medium” listed above.
MAGICIAN: (Exodus 7:11; Daniel 1:20, 2:2) Hebrew word: “Hartom” (Strong’s # 3033) This always occurs in a plural form and denotes one who practices sorcery (which is defined below). In Exodus 7, Pharaoh’s court magicians used their “secret arts” (Hebrew word: “lhatiym” Strong’s # 4268) meaning sorceries. In this connotation, it is clear they were using natural means to achieve a supernatural appearance in order to exercise control and influence over people.
SOOTHSAYER/OBSERVER OF TIMES: (Numbers 22-24; Joshua 13:22) Hebrew word: “Qasam.” (Strong’s # 7876) This word was always used to describe false prophets and is extremely close in definition and pronunciation to the Hebrew word for “divination.” This was the counterfeit version of true prophecy. The idea was a basic pagan attempt to learn the will of the gods in order to manipulate circumstances. The strongest biblical example of “Soothsayer” is Balaam in Numbers 22-24.
WITCH/SORCERER: (Exodus 7:11; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Chronicles 33:6) Hebrew word: “Kasap” (Strong’s # 4175) Means “to engage in witchcraft.” This is always used in connection with the worship of idols and is meant to pull people away from worshiping the One True God. Another word for sorcery is the Hebrew word “Anan” (Strong’s # 6726) which is simply one who practices “sorcery.” These people used entirely natural means to promote the belief that they had supernatural powers. This is evident in Pharoah’s court sorcerers who used sleight of hand effects to convince people they had true powers. These were people who attempted to exercise control over other individuals through fear and intimidation, making them believe they had powers they did not have. An expanded meaning of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” can be seen in the New Testament definition listed later on in this article.
WIZARD: Hebrew word “Yidd oniy” from the Hebrew word “yada” meaning “To know.” This is the masculine form of “Ob” (Medium) and refers to a “spiritist” or “wizard” who supposedly knows the future by consulting spirits or the dead. It was forbidden by God to consult these men.
BIBLICAL DEFINITIONS: NEW TESTAMENT
DIVINATION: Greek word: “Pythios” (Strong’s # 4780) This New Testament example of this word is found in Acts 16:16 in reference to a woman who had a “Spirit of Divination.” This was a woman who was controlled by a demon who “told the future.” Some very cruel men were using her to make money from her “fortune telling.” This “spirit” had the appearance of right and followed Paul and Silas saying, “These men will tell you the way to be saved!” (Acts 16:17) The spirit was still demonic and was cast out by Paul in verse 18. The idea of this word becomes even clearer in the New Testament example. Here is a person who had given themselves over to a demon to control them and supposedly predict future events. This is obviously a violation of Scripture and a dangerous position to put oneself in.
MAGICIAN: Greek word: “pharmakos” (Strong’s # 5761) One who practices magical arts. This word (like sorcerer) can refer to one who used drugs to cast spells and give the appearance that they had magical powers. Whether they used drugs or not, they were attempting to achieve a supernatural appearance they did not have. The biblical example of this would be the condemning reference in Revelation 21:8. This instance in Revelation is the verb form of “pharmakon” (Strong’s # 5760), which is a noun that means “magical potion, charm, or magical art.” The Greek word for “magic” is a derivative of these words: “pharmakeia” (Strong’s # 5758) which means “witchcraft or magic.” The reference to drugs in these words is obvious. You can clearly see the Greek root to our English word for our modern day drug stores: “Pharmacy.”
SEDUCERS/IMPOSTERS: The biblical example of this is in II Timothy 3:1-13. Jannes and Jambres (The magicians in Pharoah’s court who opposed God’s truth being revealed through Moses) are referred to here as Old Testament examples of this New Testament incident. It is saying these people will appear to be godly, but will be using people to gain their own means. The basic idea (again) is that these people deceive others in order to control them.
SORCERER: Greek word: “pharmakeus” (Strong’s # 5759) A derivative of the words for magician that refers specifically to a sorcerer or a witch. The clearest biblical example of this is Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. Simon is a prime example of one who claimed to have supernatural power, but truly did not. When he saw the authentic power of God he tried to purchase it. Simon was cursed by Peter for attempting to do this and prayed for repentance (Acts 8:24). It is clear from Scripture that Simon was only interested in having an appearance of power in order to control other people and make them think he was someone great (Acts 8:9-10) with extraordinary supernatural powers. This practice is expressly forbidden in Scripture.
SOME INSIGHTS …
First of all, the word “Magician” does not always carry a negative connotation in Scripture. In the Old Testament in Daniel 5:11, Daniel was called the “Chief of the Magicians” (Hebrew: “Hartom“- Strong’s # 3033) because God enabled Daniel to correctly interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. In the New Testament in Matthew 2:1, the Wise Men are referred to as “Magi” (Greek: “Magos” Strong’s # 3407), which refers to a magician. It was these wise men that observed the star in the sky and made the journey to visit the Child Jesus and worship Him.
The negativity associated with “magician” did not come in the word itself. The negativity is always associated with the claiming of the power. All the ones listed above were people who claimed to have supernatural power. In truth, I believe the majority of the ones listed used secretive natural means to achieve a supernatural appearance and claim supernatural powers that they did not truly have. This is the basis of their sin. All the practices listed above are expressly forbidden by Scripture and considered evil. These biblical examples parallel their modern day counterparts: Psychics, Wiccans, Mediums, and Spiritualists. I believe those who practice these things are what the Bible is condemning.
In order to clearly understand the difference between what Scripture forbids and what illusionists do, we have to give some definitions:
“Magic” is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as the “The use of charms, spells, etc. in seeking or pretending to control events; sorcery; witchcraft.” Whether pretended or actual, these practices are clearly condemned by God in the Bible. Even if one claims to be using these practices for good, they are an abomination to God.
The second definition for “magic” in Webster’s Dictionary concerns modern day theatrical magic “The art of producing illusions by sleight of hand” Consider also Webster’s definition of “illusion” when thinking about the modern day application: “An unreal or misleading appearance or image.” “Illusionist” is defined as “A sleight of hand performer.”
When you look at modern day “illusionists” in this light it is clear from Scripture and that they are not at all doing what the Bible forbids. I do not, nor would I ever, claim to have any supernatural power other than Christ in me, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) I do not attempt to control people or events with magic. I do not attempt to communicate with the dead. I do not use drugs. I do not attempt to cast spells on people. I readily admit to every audience I entertain that everything I do as an illusionist on stage is accomplished entirely through natural means and has a simple explanation (which, by the way, I won’t tell you). As my good friend Andre Kole, illusionist for Campus Crusade International and collaborator with David Copperfield on some of his most famous illusions, says: “Any eight year old child can do the illusions I’m doing here tonight… with twenty years of practice!”
So, you may ask, aren’t you still deceiving people? I am upfront and honest about my intentions. When two opposing football teams meet on the field they are using secretive means to fool the other side and win a game. I am using secretive theatrical illusions, sleight of hand, and concealed apparatus in order to entertain and instruct. 20th Century philosopher Elbert Hubbard said, “I love magicians because they are honest men. They tell you they are going to fool you and then they proceed to do it. But no matter what happens at the show, when you get home you will still have your watch, your pocketbook, and your appendix. And that is more than I can say for some of my non-magician acquaintances.”
Still someone else may ask, “If you’re being so honest, why not just tell us how everything is done?” To divulge the secrets of the illusion not only ruins the entertainment value and jeopardizes the income of other full-time illusionists, it also is a serious breach of integrity. The fact that I do not reveal the secrets in no way equals evil deception. As Christian illusionist Toby Travis said, “Secrecy is an integral part of my work just as a certain secret recipe is for Kentucky Fried Chicken! Secrecy is simply a matter of good business.”
So after saying all of this, do I believe there is such a thing as real magic? Absolutely! Real magic is taking water and turning it into wine. Real magic is taking five loaves of bread and two fish and feeding five thousand people. Real magic is causing someone who is blind to see again. Real magic is raising someone from the dead. I do believe in real magic. They’re called “miracles!” I simply believe that God is the only One who is capable of doing them. Do I believe miracles still occur today? Absolutely! I have to believe in miracles because I am a walking, talking miracle of God’s grace, love, healing, and mercy.
Finally, some people say illusions should be avoided in order to “avoid all appearances of evil.” My full time calling and job is leading people in worship in the local church. Music, drama, and dance have all been perverted by Satan and are associated with evil in many modern day applications. Yet, who among us would want to eliminate music and drama from worship services? Where would our worship services be without music? Satan always counterfeits God’s authentic. Does the fact that Satan perverts it negate its legitimate use in ministry? Obviously the answer is a resounding “no.” Three verses are extremely applicable in this situation: We are told in I Corinthians 9:22, “I become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” Philippians 1:18 tells us to be sure “In every way, whether in pretense or truth, Christ is preached.” And in I Corinthians 10:31 we are told, “Whatever we do, do all to the glory of God.” It is our responsibility as Christians to use all means within our reach to touch people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I hope this clears up any misconceptions concerning what the Bible condemns and what modern day illusionists do. Let’s all work together as Christians, using every creative resource we have, to bring glory to God and spread the Gospel to every person until everyone knows that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Special thanks goes to Toby Travis for his permission to use his quote and to Andre Kole for his inspiration and invaluable input in completing this article.