Doesn't the Bible forbid magic, fortune-telling and
ventriloquism? Is it right for a Christian to be involved in sleight of
hand and illusion--aren't these instruments dishonest and deceptive?
A Problem of
First, let's get our terms defined. When the Bible (especially
certain translations) uses the term "magic" (e.g. Exodus 22:14) or
"sorcery" (Deuteronomy 18:11 et al.) or "ventriloquism" (e.g. Isaiah
8:19), it is clearly dealing with man's involvement in the supernatural,
often with the collaboration of evil spirits. The context of the Bible
prohibitions make it clear that God does not want man to dabble in games
with the devil. Today's manifestations of these forbidden activities are
such things as ouija boards, tarot cards, the occult and horoscopes. The
Christian has no business playing with these, since they open the door
to demonic influence.
Let it be emphasized that no true Christian magician
or ventriloquist is in any way involved in the use of supernatural
A problem rises from the fact that certain words
have two meanings. "Magic" has the meaning of witchcraft or sorcery, but
the word also means sleight of hand and illusion, the surprising and
fascinating modern entertainment medium. Obviously the Bible is talking
about the first of these meanings and not the second.
Etymologically, the word "ventriloquism" means
"belly-talking." As used in the Old Testament, the word refers to
fortune telling by means of reading the entrails of slain animals, or
demon possession, wherein an evil spirit spoke through a human
mouthpiece. Modern ventriloquists create the illusion that their voices
come from another source, using this to entertain. Spectators unable to
explain this skill misnamed the illusion "belly talking." Again, the
Biblical prohibition has reference to one meaning of this word, but not
the animation of puppets as is done in the modern entertainment medium.
The first thing we must be sure of when dealing with Biblical
prohibitions is that we understand what the Bible is in fact saying, so
that we do not misapply the truth because of a confusion in vocabulary.
One could raise the objection that it is wrong for the Christian to do
any performance that could so easily be misinterpreted as sinful by
someone who doesn't know. Doesn't the Bible warn us to "avoid all
appearance of evil"? (I Thessalonians 5:22) Couldn't innocent parlor
magic or ventriloquism be easily confused with forbidden activity?
In fact, a better translation of I Thessalonians
5:22 is "avoid every form of evil" or "avoid every kind of evil." In
dealing with right and wrong, one must always be careful of appearances,
but it is not the appearance that makes something right or wrong. The
emphasis on appearance is the essence of hypocrisy. If the issue were
that Christians are to refrain from doing anything that looks like sin
or could be misinterpreted by someone who does not know, then we would
never be able to do anything with confidence. According to this
thinking, Jesus was correctly rebuked for eating with publicans, for
forgiving prostitutes and for touching lepers. Certainly these actions
confused many people, but the Son of God knew His mission and performed
His ministry in spite of possible objections.
The Gospel magician could easily be confused with
the secular entertainer, or worse, with the occultist, just as the
Christian singer could be identified with the acid-dropping Satanist, or
the preacher could be linked with the immoral talk-show host. Or we
could insist that it is wrong for the Christian to read any magazine or
paperback book, because immoral people publish sinful books and
magazines. Do we believe that because of the sin of some broadcasters,
there is no value in the ministry of broadcasting? Part of the issue is
whether a godly performer should stop ministry he knows to be right,
just because someone else might misjudge his motives or his methods.
Some Christians are very superstitious and assume
that anything they cannot themselves understand and explain must be
supernatural. Hence they see negative effects as being produced by
demons, and every positive event must be a miracle of God. There is,
however, great room for neutral events which can be used either for good
or for evil.
means of "Deception"?
Another objection is that it is not right for the Christian to use
trickery in presenting the truth. No matter how you slice it, magic
involves deceit (illusion). Of course some "Gospel magicians" try to get
around this objection by never actually saying their hand is empty when
it isn't, but they say, "my hand looks empty." This skirts the issue,
since the intent is for the audience to believe that the hand was empty
(or that the bunny materialized from thin air, or that the red scarf
actually turned white, etc.) The deceit was there, regardless of whether
the performer told a lie with his words or with his actions.
Here we must deal with the nature of truth. At any
given time, a presentation of truth only represents a portion of
reality. I carry a photograph of my wife that everyone claims is a very
candid likeness, yet it deceives in certain ways. For one thing, my wife
is not black and white and gray; for another, she is more than two
inches tall and is not flat. But the image abstracted by this photograph
captures her expression and personality very honestly. It is an
honest--though partial--representation of the truth. The issue is
whether the Gospel magician conveys the impression that he is doing
supernatural things, or whether he honestly acknowledges its trickery.
After all is said and done, most people acknowledge
that magical entertainers do not actually have supernatural powers. If
the total presentation is an accurate representation of Biblical truth,
the audience will be impressed with the message, and not dazzled by the
possibility of humans doing superhuman feats.
Basis for Gospel Magic
It is fine to say that doing Gospel magic is not wrong, but is it right?
Is there a Biblical justification for using magic to present Scriptural
or spiritual truths?
The first part of the argument comes from Jesus' own
use of parables--visual aids. Matthew 13:34 indicates that in Jesus'
teaching, He always used object lessons. Sleight of hand and illusion
provide a way of presenting some very powerful spiritual messages in a
visual way. When a dirty handkerchief--representing sin--is transformed
into an egg, it makes a very striking illustration of the change God
makes in a person's life when he trusts Christ. Magic tricks have power
to gain and maintain attention.
The second part of a Biblical basis for Gospel magic
is God's own use of the spectacular as an attention-getting device. He
could have dealt with people without using the miraculous, but with
Moses He chose to use a bush that burned without being consumed, with
Balaam He used a talking donkey; with Joshua He used a destructive
trumpet blast to bring down the walls of Jericho, and with Belshazzar He
wrote on the wall with a giant hand. Many of the prophets used
spectacular attention-getting devices, such as shaving their head,
wearing a rotten garment, making a model of Jerusalem. And what a sight
Jonah must have been, bleached from the digestive juices of the great
sea monster, as he paraded through Nineveh proclaiming the judgment of
But perhaps most spectacular of all are the
descriptions of the events surrounding the death and resurrection of
Jesus. It could have happened without a lot of fanfare, but Christs
death was accompanied by darkness and earthquake. The resurrection was
accompanied by a blast of light that left the guards stunned and dazed.
I have seen some very impressive and effective use
of "magic" to illustrate principles from the Scripture. When sleight of
hand and illusion are harnessed for the purpose of explaining Gospel
principles, it can be very powerful from a psychological point of view.
Leads to Pride
A serious objection is that when people are amazed and admire the
performer, this leads to pride on his part. This is certainly a
possibility, and the Christian performer (no matter what art form) must
guard against pride. This is true of the Christian singer, actor,
magician, ventriloquist--and even preacher! Let us condemn pride in any
form and in every presentation, but the possibility of pride should not
deter from the exercise of a skill that can point people to God's truth
and lead them to Christ.
To wind up this brief treatment, let me make several practical
suggestions about your own attitude towards "Gospel magic;"