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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Accusations Against Jesus Answered

Don Stewart :: Was Jesus a Magician, or Sorcerer, Involved in the Occult?

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Was Jesus a Magician, or Sorcerer, Involved in the Occult?

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Question 10

Accusations have been made that the miracles of Jesus were due to His involvement in black magic or the occult. Supposedly, His miracles were the result of the magical “black arts.” Instead of the power of God, it was actually something occultic, or demonic, which gave Him the ability to perform miracles. Is there any evidence that Jesus was some type of sorcerer?

The New Testament Records the Accusation That Jesus Was a Sorcerer

This type of argument is nothing new. It is actually found in the New Testament. Matthew records the response of the religious leaders after Jesus healed a man who was mute, deaf, and blind. We read the following:

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” (Matthew 12:24 NRSV)

Realizing Jesus worked something miraculous the religious leaders had to attribute His power to something and somewhere. They chose to accuse Jesus of being demonically controlled by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.

Jesus, on the other hand, claimed His power was from the God of Scripture. The fact that these men accused Jesus of performing miracles by demonic power caused Jesus to warn them about committing the unpardonable sin.

The Lord thus responded to their accusations as follows:

“But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. Let me illustrate this. You can’t enter a strong man’s house and rob him without first tying him up. Only then can his house be robbed! Anyone who isn’t helping me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. Every sin or blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which can never be forgiven. Anyone who blasphemes against me, the Son of Man, can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.” (Matthew 12:28-32 NLT)

In the strongest of terms, Jesus denied that His miracles were connected in any way with the occult. His ability to cast out demons, as well as perform miracles of healing, was from the living God.

A number of observations should be made about the healings of Jesus and those involved in the occult.

1. Things in Common between Jesus and Other Exorcists and Magicians

There are some things that Jesus seemingly had in common with previous people who practiced exorcism. They include the following.

Trying To Discover The Name Of The Demon

Attempt is made to discover the name of the demon to gain authority over it. We find Jesus also doing this:

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (Mark 5:9 NET)

Jesus, it is argued, used a familiar formula to exorcise demons.

Touching People When Performing Mighty Deeds

Touching the demon-possessed person was also something other exorcists practiced. We are told that, at times, Jesus touched people when He healed them. Matthew records the following event:

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, shouting, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he went into the house, the blind men came to him. Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes saying, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” And their eyes were opened. But Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about this.” (Matthew 9:27-30 NET)

Like the magicians, Jesus touched those whom He performed His supernatural power upon.

Applying Spit to the Person

The application of spit was also known to occur among magicians. On two occasions, Jesus applied spit, or saliva, to heal a person. We read in Mark,

They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking, and they asked him to place his hands on him. After Jesus took him aside privately, away from the crowd, he put his fingers in the man’s ears, and after spitting, he touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven and said with a sigh, “Ephphatha” (that is, “Be opened”). And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he spoke plainly. (Mark 7:32-35 NET)

Here Jesus applied spit in performing His healing.

We find something similar occurring in another incident. John writes,

Having said this, he spat on the ground and made some mud with the saliva. He smeared the mud on the blind man’s eyes and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “sent”). So the blind man went away and washed, and came back seeing. (John 9:6, 7 NET)

Because these three things were practiced by exorcists and magicians who lived previously to Jesus, it has been alleged that He merely mimicked them in His practice. Therefore, we find nothing unique about Him or His practice. How do we respond to this?

2. There Are No Real Parallels between Jesus and Other Exorcists and Magicians

The evidence is that Jesus Christ had nothing whatsoever in common with ancient magicians who practiced exorcism. In fact, a close examination of the four gospels will show just the opposite. The following observations are necessary to make.

Only Once Did He Ask the Demons’ Name

In the various accounts recorded in the four gospels of Jesus exorcising demons, there is only one instance where He asked the name of the demon. In all of the other instances there is nothing whatsoever said of this practice. Indeed, Jesus did not speak to the demon; He commanded that that demon come out and it came out. Therefore, we cannot conclude that it was His common practice to discover the demon’s name before exorcising it.

This is in contrast to other exorcists who would always want to know the name of the demon. They did this so that they could have some type of authority over them. However, Jesus did not need to know the name of the demons to have authority over these spirits.

Jesus Never Touched the Demon-Possessed or Used Spit in Exorcisms

The other two examples that were practiced by magicians, touching and using spit, never occur when Jesus is casting out demons. They only occurred on certain occasions when He healed the sick.

The application of spit by Jesus was not for the purpose of exorcising demons but rather in the healing process. Again, Jesus never used spit to get rid of demons as did certain exorcists who lived at His time in history.

Furthermore, there is no indication that Jesus ever touched a demon-possessed person when He exorcised the demon. Thus, there is parallel whatever from earlier exorcists or magicians.

3. The Differences between Jesus and Magicians Are Greater than Any Similarity

It is more important to observe the differences between Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms with those who practiced these things in His day. Indeed, the differences are far greater than any superficial similarities.
Jesus’ Miracles Were to Draw Attention to God the Father Not Himself

Jesus’ miracles were intended to be demonstrations of the power of the God. Indeed, the purpose of His signs and wonders was for the people to place their faith in God the Father.

In contrast to Jesus, the magicians intended to attract attention to themselves and to demonstrate their power over forces both natural and divine.

Jesus Did Not Use Any of the Devices That Magicians Employed

What we do find are the great differences between Jesus and other exorcists or ancient magicians. In fact, there were certain practices common to these magicians which Jesus never used. Jesus never used any magical objects for His healings or exorcisms.

Jesus’ Clothing Had No Magic Power

Jesus’ clothing had no magic power. When people touched His clothing and were healed it was because of their faith in Him. It was not because His clothing has some power residing in it. We read about an account where a woman touched Jesus’ clothes and was healed:

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” His disciples said to him, “All this crowd is pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and told him what she had done. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. You have been healed.” (Mark 5:30-34 NLT)

It was the faith of the people in Jesus that healed them, not His magic clothing.

Jesus Did Not Use Elaborate Spells or Incantations

Never do we find Jesus using some elaborate spell to cast out a demon or to heal. He merely commanded and the demon was gone, the Lord simply spoke and the people were healed. We have no indication that Jesus raised His voice to cast out the demon.

This is in contrast to the frenzy that other so-called exorcists would work themselves into.

In addition, there is never the practice of repeating nonsense syllables as is found in other exorcists. The contrasts between the Lord and these exorcists could not be greater.

Jesus Did Not Appeal to Any outside Authority

The main difference between Jesus and other ancient exorcists was that Jesus did not appeal to any authority that was outside of Himself. He never asked God to do it for Him. He is the One who healed and cast out demons on His authority. Luke records Him saying the following:

“If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20 HCSB)

The facts tell us that Jesus did indeed exorcise demons and miraculously heal people, but He was not a magician. His powers were not from the world of magic or the occult.

Jesus’ Disciples Did Not Regard Him as a Magician

There is no evidence that Jesus regarded Himself as a magician. Neither is their evidence that Jesus’ disciples saw Him as a magician. While His opponents regarded Him as a magician or sorcerer, His disciples never looked at Him in this manner. This is an important distinction. Those who were constantly with Him, and were taught by Him, did not consider Him to be a magician or sorcerer.

The Old Testament Condemned Such Sorcery

Jesus adhered to the teachings that God had revealed in the Old Testament. The practice of magic or sorcery was strongly condemned by the Old Testament. Scripture says,

“You must not allow a sorceress to live.” (Exodus 22:18 NET)

The death penalty was given for those which practiced sorcery.

Later, we read further condemnations of these sorts of practices in the Book of Deuteronomy. It says,

There must never be found among you anyone who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, anyone who practices divination, a soothsayer, an augurer, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, one who consults a ghost, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer. Whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord and because of these things the Lord your God will expel them before you. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)

Clearly the God of Scripture detested such works of darkness.

In the Book of Isaiah, it also has some strong things to say against such practices. We read the following words:

Well, those two things will come upon you in a moment: widowhood and the loss of your children. Yes, these calamities will come upon you, despite all your witchcraft and magic...“Call out the demon hordes you have worshiped all these years. Ask them to help you strike terror into the hearts of people once again.” (Isaiah 47:9, 12 NLT)

Those who practice these things have no real power. They cannot help a person in time of need.

Jeremiah the prophet encouraged the people not to listen to those who attempted to use occultic means to determine the future.

“But as for you, do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers who say to you: Don’t serve the king of Babylon!” (Jeremiah 27:9 HCSB)

The people were sternly warned not to listen to these false prophets no matter what sort of signs they showed them.

The prophet Malachi records the Lord warning of judgment for those who practiced any type of occultic practices. He said,

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:5 NIV)

With all these things said against those who practiced the black arts, we would not expect to find Jesus involved in any such practice and certainly we do not find Him doing this.

The New Testament Condemned Sorcery

In the Book of Acts, as the church spread the message of Jesus to the world, we find that magicians were regarded in negative light by believers. For example, Simon the Sorcerer was not admired for his alleged powers. We read,

Now in that city was a man named Simon, who had been practicing magic and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. All the people, from the least to the greatest, paid close attention to him, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called ‘Great.’” And they paid close attention to him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. (Acts 8:9-11 NET)

Whatever ability Simon may, or may not, have had, he certainly wasn’t seen in a positive light by those who believed in Jesus.

There is the example of another sorcerer, named Elymas. He too was considered to be a false prophet. We read,

When they had crossed over the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. The proconsul summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. But the magician Elymas (for that is the way his name is translated) opposed them, trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith. (Acts 13:6-8 NET)

Therefore, Jesus would not have attracted a significant following among the Jews had He presented himself as a magician.

The Occult Has No Such Power as Jesus Exercised

The Bible teaches that occultic power is limited. There are certain restrictions imposed by God on those who apply the black arts. The Bible gives the following examples.

Pharaoh’s Magicians Were Limited in What They Could Do

In the Book of Exodus, we are told that the magicians of Pharaoh could not duplicate the miracles of Moses. When the Nile River was turned into blood, the magicians were able to duplicate this. We read,

When the fish that were in the Nile died, the Nile began to stink, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood everywhere in the land of Egypt! But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts, and so Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and refused to listen to Moses and Aaron—just as the Lord had predicted. (Exodus 7:21-22 NET)

They had the ability to duplicate these signs.

However, there was a time when they could not duplicate the works of Moses and Aaron. We read the following:

When the magicians attempted to bring forth gnats by their secret arts, they could not. So there were gnats on people and on animals. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “It is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had predicted. (Exodus 8:18-19 NET)

Their occultic power, whatever it may have consisted of, was limited. Indeed, God and God alone has the power to heal the sick and raise the dead.

Satan Had to Request to Tempt Job

In another example, we find that the Old Testament tells us that the devil had to ask God’s permission to inflict pain on Job. The Bible explains it in this manner:

So the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land. But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will indeed curse you to your face!” So the Lord said to Satan, “All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:8-12 NET)

This demonstrates that occultic power does not go completely unchecked. There are limits to what it can do. However, there are no limits to the power of the Lord. Indeed, He Himself testified to this power:

“‘Look now; I myself am he! There is no god other than me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one delivers from my power!’” (Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT)

The power of evil is limited. Therefore, the God of the Bible would not allow Jesus to perform so many different miracles to fool the people. Jesus was not a magician or a sorcerer.

Summary – Question 10
Was Jesus a Magician, or Sorcerer, Involved in the Occult?

The idea that Jesus performed miracles is something that even the first unbelievers acknowledged. They never attempted to deny Jesus’ miracles or explain them by natural sources.

This has caused some people to attribute Jesus exorcisms and healings to the world of the occult.

The term magician is inappropriate in describing Jesus. Too many of the things that go along with of magicians and magic are missing in Jesus’ ministry.

In addition, the idea of the divine man not clearly defined in the ancient sources.

The best parallels, which scholars have claimed show Jesus was involved magic or the occult, are not relevant.

In fact, Jesus does not fit the model of “ancient occult practitioners.” Instead the evidence is clear that He was a genuine miracle-worker. His power came from the living and true God.

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