Is it Scriptural for  a Christian to practice magic tricks?

Last Update: December 2007

Note: for some other views on the subject, see the following.

Fellowship of Christian Magicians website:

I have been an amateur magician for some years, and have been a Christian since 1990. I have enjoyed close up magic and mystifying friends and family with various tricks like sponge balls,  chop cups and so forth.

As I studied the Scriptures, I began to wonder whether a Christian should even be associated with magic tricks, as innocent as they may seem.

This Bible study will look into this matter. I started the study by looking up the word "magic" and related words in the Scriptures to see what the Bible has to say about the subject in general.

Part 1: Magic in the Old Testament:

The first use in the book of Genesis is in relation to the magician's of Pharaoh. He used magicians to help him foretell his future, interpret his dreams, and so forth. For example:

Gen 41:8  And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians 2748 of Egypt, and all the wise men 2450 thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.

The word "magicians" here is Strong's number H2748 , the Hebrew chart ò om. Strong's dictionary provides the following definition: "From the same as H2747; a horoscopist (as drawing magical lines or circles): - magician." It brings to my mind visions of astrologers drawing charts and figures to divine the future.

Note that the definition of wise men ( Strong's H2450 ) as used here is simply that of "intelligent" men.

In Exodus, we come to the time when Moses presented himself before Pharaoh:

Exo 7:11  Then Pharaoh also called the wise men 2450 and the sorcerers: 3784 now the magicians 2748 of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. 3858

This verse introduces us to the following new words (in addition to H2748):

Strong's H3784: kashaph: A primitive root; properly to whisper a spell, that is, to inchant or practise magic: - sorcerer, (use) witch (-craft). This word is closely related to H3785 kesheph: From H3784; magic: - sorcery, witchcraft; and H3786 kashshaph: From H3784; a magician: - sorcerer.

Strong's H3858: lahat ò : From H3857; a blaze ; also (from the idea of enwrapping ) magic (as covert ): - flaming, enchantment.

The use of magicians is certainly not brought in a good light in the above passages. Men not after God's heart used these magicians and they were found to be useless compared to the men of God.

Exodus gives us a clear condemnation:

Exo 22:18  Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. 2421, 3784

Note that the word for "witch" here is the same as that translated as sorcerers in Exodus 7:11.

Leviticus provides another condemnation:

Lev 19:26  Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, 5172 nor observe times. 6049

The definitions for "enchantment" and "observe times" are provided by Strong as:

Strong's H5172 nachash: A primitive root; properly to hiss , that is, whisper a (magic) spell; generally to prognosticate: - X certainly, divine, enchanter, (use) X enchantment, learn by experience, X indeed, diligently observe.

Strong's H6049 anan: A primitive root; to cover ; used only as denominative from H6051, to cloud over; figuratively to act covertly , that is, practise magic: -  X bring, enchanter, Meonemin, observe (-r of) times, soothsayer, sorcerer.

I found the definition for H6049 interesting, especially as possibly applied to magic tricks today, that is, "to cloud over", or "act covertly".
More condemnation is found in  Deuteronomy chapter 18:

Deu 18:10  There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, 7081 or an observer of times, or an enchanter, 5172 or a witch, 3784

A few new words are found here:

Strong's H7080 qasam: A primitive root; properly to distribute , that is, determine by lot or magical scroll; by implication to divine: - divine (-r, -ation), prudent, soothsayer, use [divination].

Strong's H7081 qesem: From H7080; a lot ; also divination (including its fee ), oracle: - (reward of) divination, divine sentence, witchcraft.

There are many other examples of the negative use of witchcraft, magic, and so forth:

1Sa 15:23  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, 7081 and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

This one I found interesting as well, relating rebellion to the sin of witchcraft.

2Ki 17:17  And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination 7081 and enchantments, 5172 and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

2Ki 21:6  And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, 5172 and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: 3049 he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

Here's a new word, "wizards":

Strong's H3049 yidd eon ý y: From H3045; properly a knowing one; specifically a conjurer ; (by implication) a ghost: - wizard.

2Ch 33:6  And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, 6049 and used enchantments, 5172 and used witchcraft, 3784 and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: 3049 he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

Mic 5:12  And I will cut off witchcrafts 3785 out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers: 6049

Nah 3:4  Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, 3785 that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts. 3785 5  Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will show the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame.

Isa 47:9  But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, 3785 and for the great abundance of thine enchantments. 2267

The definition for enchantments is provided as:

Strong's H2267 cheber: From H2266; a society ; also a spell: - + charmer (-ing), c ompany, enchantment, X wide.

Isa 57:3  But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, 6049 the seed of the adulterer and the whore.

Jer 27:9  Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners 7080 , nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, 6049 nor to your sorcerers, 3786 which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon:

Mal 3:5  And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, 3784 and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right , and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts. 6635

I n Malachi, sorcerers are put in the same category as adulterers, false swearers, and oppressors.

Time after time in the Old Testament, sorcery is condemned and placed in the same company as rebellion, stuborness, adultery and so forth.
The sense that I get when reading all these passages is that the practice of witchcraft and similar arts is a rebellion against God. Rather than trusting in His Word and guidance, we are moved to trust in man, either ourselves or others upon who we impart wisdom apart from that coming from the Lord.

Part 2 Magic in the New Testament:

Let's turn to the New Testament to see what is said there:

The Wise Men that came to see Jesus at his birth are referred to as magicians:

Mat 2:1  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men 3097 from the east to Jerusalem,

(See Also Mat 2:7; 2:16)

Wise men are defined in Strong's as:

Strong's G3097 magos: Of foreign origin [H7248]; a Magian , that is, Oriental scientist ; by implication a magician: - sorcerer, wise man.
Going by this definition alone, it is not clear if the men were simply scientists of the day, or if they practiced sorcery as referenced in the Old Testament.

Acts provides us a use of the term sorcery more clearly in its Old Testament context::

Acts 8:9  But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, 3096 and bewitched 1839 the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:   10  To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. 11  And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched 1839 them with sorceries. 3095

The terms here for sorcery and sorceries are defined in Strong's simply as:

G3095 mageia From G3096; “magic”: - sorcery.
G3096 mageuo From G3097; to practice magic: - use sorcery.

Bewitched is defined as:

G1839 existemi From G1537 and G2476; to put ( stand ) out of wits, that is, astound , or (reflexively) become astounded , insane: - amaze, be (make) astonished, be beside self (selves), bewitch, wonder.

Note use of the term "bewitched" is also the same sense provided in the people when they witnessed Jesus heal a deaf and blind person as recorded in Matthew:

Mat 12:22  Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, 1139 blind, and dumb: 2974 and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 23  And all the people were amazed, 1839 and said, Is not this the son of David?

Thus, Simon was performing "amazing" acts with the intent to make himself a "great one", and the people attributed to him the power of God.

In another account in Acts, we find a sorcerer who wanted to turn someone away from the Word:

Acts 13:6  And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, 3097 a false prophet, 5578 a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: 7  Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. 8  But Elymas the sorcerer 3097 (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.

The word for false prophet is defined as:

G5578 pseudoprophetes From G5571 and G4396; a spurious prophet , that is, pretended foreteller or religious impostor: - false prophet.

Galatians provides witchcraft in a long list of sins:

Gal 5:19  Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these ; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20  Idolatry, witchcraft, 5331 hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21  Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

It is this seriousness, along with the many other condemnations of sorcery and witchcraft in the Bible that made me want to seriously consider the practice of magic illusion as a Christian.

Finally, Revelations provides a few more uses of the term sorceries, all which also happen to be negative:

Rev 9:21  Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, 5331 nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

Rev 18:23  And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries 5331 were all nations deceived.

Rev 21:8  But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, 5332 and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Rev 22:15  For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, 5333 and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

These last uses of the term sorcery are especially intesting, although less attached to this specific study.   They are defined as:

G5331 pharmakeia From G5332; medication (“pharmacy”), that is, (by extension) magic (literal or figurative): - sorcery, witchcraft.

G5332 pharmakeus From pharmakon (a drug , that is, spell giving potion ); a druggist (“pharmacist”) or poisoner , that is, (by extension) a magician: - sorcerer.

G5333 pharmakos The same as G5332: - sorcerer.

Note here how all uses of the term also refer to a form of "pharmakeia", or pharmacy, or use of drugs.

Part 3: So how does all this relate to the practice of magic illusion?

Gal 5:19 “…they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is a serious matter, so I do not want to take it lightly or simply approve or condemn the practice with a wave of the hand. I want to prayerfully come before the Lord with the knowledge of the Word given above to understand if the practice of magic illusion is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord or not.

I think we certainly can draw some clear conclusions given the information above, and there are some areas that will likely be left up to the individual conscience to decide.

1. Fortune Tellers:

I must start out by stating that there are lots of types of "magic" performed today. As you drive down too many highways in America, you will find places for Astrology, Fortune Telling, and Divination. These types of magic practice link directly to those condemned in both Testaments of the Bible.

2. Healers:

There are many who practice divine healing, often under the name of Christianity, but who are closer to the acts of Simon in Acts chapter 8. They perform "healings" and "miracles", in the name of the Almighty, but in reality to pass themselves off as mini-gods to amass their fortunes either in dollars or in some cases simply for the fame or personal power.

3. Magic Illusionists

Most magicians do not claim to practice "real" magic, and many would even deny that “ real" magic even exists. They practice magic to entertain. There is an understanding that the audience knows the tricks are illusion, and the core of the deception is in simply "keeping them guessing" as to how the trick could be done.

But does that mean that all magic illusion is okay, even for the Christian?

a. Deception

First, what is magic illusion other than pure deception? The magician may say, " The hat is empty", all the while there is a compartment in the hat already containing the rabbit. Thus, the magician "lies" and uses optical illusion to purposely deceive the audience.

I am reminded of the definition shown in Part 1 for "observe times" in Leviticus 19:26, which is to "act covertly" , for all our illusion presentation is "acting covertly" . However, I would have to admit that the use of magic illusion is more likely related to that of a parable or story. When we tell a story, or put on a play, the actor pretends to be someone he is not. Although this is "deception", everyone watching the play understands and accepts this deception.

Even the presentation of a movie is actually a bit of deception. While our eyes see a continuous flowing of motion, the movie is actually made up of a series of still shots run past the projector in rapid sequence. Our senses are not rapid enough to determine this, and the movie looks just like it would if the action were happening in real life.

A magic demonstration may be used to teach scientific principles. First, the illusion is performed to gain the interest of the viewer, then the science behind the illusion is revealed. Magic is used to gain the interest of the student.

From the Christian perspective, magic illusion should be used in the same manner. The illusions are performed to gain the interest of the viewer. The purpose may be not to explain anything, but simply to entertain. In these cases, the performance either leaves the audience wondering how the illusions worked, or sometimes simply admiring the skill of the performer. Sometimes, magic illusion may be used to gain interest in a point or moral principle to be taught. While the solution to the illusion will not be explained, the illusion points a story or principle that the illusionist wants to teach.

b. Appearance of Evil

Another principle of note is found in Thesselonians:

  1Th 5:21  Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22  Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Many magicians put on the appearance of evil as their whole persona. Their act is designed after making them appear as a sorcerer or witch. Bazaar magic entertains with the use of apparent mutilations, blood flow, and so forth to disgust and shock the audience.

Also, most stage illusionists utilize women wearing little clothing, enticing men into lust and feeding the eyes, another form of evil according to Scripture. (Mat 5:28:  "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.")

Any Christian use of magic & illusion must take these into account.

c. Leading Others Astray

Christ states in Mark 9:42, "And whosoever shall offend one of [these] that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."

We must not forget that the Bible indicates that there are forms of real magic. Much of the magic literature and effects, especially when combined with popular culture such as Harry Potter and so forth, may lead some into an interest in the practice of "magick", as contrasted to mere magic illusion.

I would not want to be guilty of leading someone into the practice of sorcery!

d. Redeeming the Time

  Eph 5:15  See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

There is only so much time in our days. Are we filling them with practicing magic, learning new tricks, and performing to the neglect of learning Scriptures? Are we spending all our money on new effects and books to the neglect of the Church or our own families?

Sometimes our hobbies, while not evil in themselves, can become idols in our lives as we devote more and more time and resources that should be better spent for Christ.

Part 4: Conclusion & Guidelines

I think then, that as a Christian who likes to watch magic, or who wants to practice magic illusion, we can put together a set of rules that will comply with Biblical principles.

1. Any magic that is intended to remove reliance on God and place dependence on man is prohibited. Thus, passing yourself off as a fortune teller is wrong. This is why I am not comfortable with pure "mentalist acts". Even though many mentalists pass themselves off as pure entertainers, I think it is more difficult to separate the illusion from the appearance of real magic.

2. Any magic that is designed to make the practitioner appear as a "god" or to lead someone away from the Scriptures is prohibited.

3. The Christian magician should avoid the use of scantily clad assistants, either male or female, that may lead others into sin.

4 . Some have argued, in a pure illusion show, about the need to clearly state that what the audience is about to see is simply illusion. This helps to ensure that no-one is deceived into thinking the magic is real. Others argue about the need for the audience to "suspend disbelief" for the duration of the show in order to be better entertained, and that such an announcement would deaden the performance. Personally I would lean toward the former, but I realize in many settings there is normally no illusion (if you'll pardon the pun) that the magic performed is all "tricks", so I wouldn't feel that such a disclaimer is needed all the time.

5 . In order to avoid the appearance of evil, it is my opinion that no references to real magic, or popular cultural magick such as Harry Potter should be made. Many effects are designed to make the spectators think that they have special powers. Some tricks refer to ancient spirits or other powers as the source of the magic. Such references, in my opinion, should not be used.

6 . In light of the above, I think that we also need to consider how our magic is presented. Are we blatantly lying to people? We can say “the box is empty”, or we can simply show the empty-looking box. Sometimes our magic is better served by not stating the obvious anyway. When someone asks how it was done, do we say, "it's magic", or rather something like, "very well, thank you”?

7. Limit our time with magic, making sure it has not become an idol and that we are spending appropriate time with our families, the Church, and in Bible study and prayer.

If there are considerations against magic that I may have missed, or principles of application I have left out, please e-mail Doug A.