SHOULD A CHRISTIAN DO MAGIC OR
by Robert H.
(NOTE From Mike: I think most
of this article is very good...I have some issues with the section titled, "A Biblical basis for gospel magic"
in that I in no way want to even hint that the miracles Jesus performed where anything like
While I believe that was not the intention of Mr. Hill
either, I just want to be absolutely clear on this point. Jesus IS the son of God and the miracles he
performed were proof of that and served to magnify his glory!)
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
A PROBLEM OF VOCABULARY
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
Let it be emphasized that no true Christian magician or ventriloquist is in any way involved in the use of
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.
CONFUSION WITH THE SUPERNATURAL
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
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
MINISTRY BY 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.
A BIBLICAL 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
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 God.
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.
PERFORMANCE 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
Enjoy "magic" presentations. Don't worry about being fooled. You don't need to understand how every trick is
done in order for it to be all right.
Pray for the Christian magician. He wants to present Gospel truths in an effective way, without violating what
is proper. It is easy to give in to the sins of pride and presumption. He needs your understanding and support.
Praise God that He has given this performer opportunities to present a message at places where a preacher would
never be able to speak.
Seek God's mind. Be sympathetic and ask God to help you understand what attitude is right to have towards forms
of ministry that you do not wholeheartedly understand or endorse. Realize that the same skill may not be best
for everyone, but God can bless it and use it for His glory.
If you continue to have reservations, work them out. Talk to your local Christian magician. He will be happy to
discuss them with you!
Thanks for being open to consider some new ideas. I hope they have helped you to gain a
new perspective. Read Acts 10:9-20 and rejoice that God opens the hearts and minds of His children who are
ready to receive His messages.
"Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks [and honor and glory]
through Him to God the Father." Colossians 3:17
© 1988 by Robert H. Hill