It has sometimes been argued that Christians should not condemn the practice of occultism because the Bible promotes it. This brief article will therefore examine some popular passages which proponents of the occult sometimes turn to for support.
As a kind of foreword it has to be kept in mind that when one finds instances of something which some may interpret as 'occultic' in the Bible, the following things must be kept in mind: Many of the references which proponents of 'occultism in the Bible' are from the Old Testament. The Old Testament saints did many things which were not God's perfect will before Christ came and revealed a more perfect way by close relationship with Him. Furthermore, some of the practices in the Old Testament were unique to that particular era. God dealt with His people, the Israelites in a particular way. Many of the places where one can interpret some practice as occultic was mostly an isolated instance engaged in by the individual, which also tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
The following list consists of biblical passages which some seek to interpret as being "occultic":
So who says that this should be classed as 'occultic'? The point of what was happening here is simply that God's power was being displayed over and against the magicians and sorcerers of Pharaoh. God was basically saying to the Devil: "Hey you, what you can do, I can do better!
Concerning this passage, the well respected Bible commentator , Adam Clarke, feels that this incident with Jacob and the rods need not even be classed as a miracle (let alone something 'occultic'), but rather something which occurs in nature, although not understood rationally: "It is not necessary to look for a miracle here; for though the fact has not been accounted for, it is nevertheless sufficiently plain that the effect does not exceed the powers of nature; and I have no doubt that the same modes of trial used by Jacob would produce the same results in similar cases. The finger of God works in nature myriad's of ways unknown to us; we see effects without end, of which no rational cause can be assigned; it has pleased God to work thus and thus, and this is all that we know; and God mercifully hides the operations of his power from man in a variety of eases, that he may hide pride from him. Even with the little we know, how apt are we to be puffed up! We must adore God in a reverential silence on such subjects as these, confess our ignorance, and acknowledge that nature is the instrument by which he chooses to work, and that he performs all things according to the counsel of his own will, which is always infinitely wise and infinitely good." (Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, The Old Testament Vol. 1, Genesis through Deuteronomy, p. 343.).
In response to the charge of 'magic' being in view in this story I will offer the comments of J.A. Thomson, who notes that this practice differed notably in that of Israelite practice and that of the pagan world in leniency towards the accused woman: "Such trials by ordeal were common in the ancient world in cases of infidelity. The ceremony recorded here is notable for its leniency in comparison with the fierce ordeals prescribed in pagan circles, and also for the fact that it was more likely to result in a verdict of innocence whereas the others were certainly weighed in the direction of guilt. Strange as the whole circumstance and ritual may seem to us, it compares so favourably with non-Israelite practice that it may be taken as evidence of that generally considerate attitude of the law of Moses towards women." (J.A. Thomson, New Bible Commentary, p. 176).
Those wanting to find occultism in the Bible are quick to point to Joseph of Egypt's 'divining cup'. However, nothing in the story of Joseph and the cup indicates that divination has any approval from God. It appears that the cup was used by Joseph, who was claiming powers of divination, for the primary purpose of playing on the fears of his brothers. This can clearly be seen when one examines the context of Genesis 44:1 through to 45:28. It seems clear that Joseph staged the whole scenario himself (and his servant) to see into the hearts of his brothers. The cup itself had nothing to do with this. This is seen in verse 2 where Joseph commands his servant to put the cup into the youngest brother's sack. In verses 11-12, after stopping the brothers and examining their sacks, the cup is of course found. Verse 15 is the crucial verse here: "And Joseph said to them, "What is this deed that you have done" Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?" But we know that from verse 2 that Joseph, with the aid of his servant, set his brothers up. Joseph already knew that his brothers had the cup, not through divination, but because his servant put it there at his command.
Now that the Old Testament citations have been commented upon, another word about the Old Testament in general is in order. Clearly, divination was not in harmony with God's will. For example Leviticus 19:26 records some of the many laws given to God' people when they were under Moses: "You shall not eat anything with the blood, 'nor practice divination' or soothsaying." Isaiah 2:6 speaks of how wide spread the practice was amongst the Hebrew people in Isaiah's day. Isaiah recognizes God's judgement upon His people for their association with the occult: "For thou hast abandoned thy people, the house of Jacob, Because they are filled with influences from the east, And they are soothsayers like the Philistines." Likewise, Deutoronomy 18:9-14 says: "When thou art come into the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, one that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah: and because these abominations Jehovah thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with Jehovah thy God. For these nations, that thou shalt dispossess, hearken unto them that practise augury, and unto diviners; but as for thee, Jehovah thy God hath not suffered thee so to do". We will now turn our attention to the New Testament where advocates of occultism in the Bible also attempt to find various passages where they claim that occultism is in view.
It is true that pagan healers, as well as the contemporary medical practitioners of Jesus' day, used spittle in an attempt to heal the sick. However, the accounts of Jesus' use of spittle differs considerably in that He is not recorded as reciting any 'magical spells', something that C.K. Barret has noted usually accompanied such a practice in the pagan world, and among 'some' Jewish Rabbis ( C.K. Barret, The Gospel According to St John, p. 296 ). There are other differences too. The magical use of spittle not only incorporated magical incantations but also used other substances too. In his commentary on John, C.K. Barret records a pagan inscription where a blind soldier is told to "take the blood of a white cock, together with honey, and rub them into an eyesalve and anoint his eyes three days." (p. 293)
Some scholars have felt that the reason Jesus used spittle in some healings was simply to aid the faith of the one receiving the healing as the recipients would not be unfamiliar with healing being connected with spittle (See: New Bible Dictionary, p. 463).
The specific use of spittle in the account in John has been viewed by some scholars as more than just a mere healing. Some have even argued that a creative act occurred, as was involved in Genesis 2:7 (G.R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 151). This would fit well with John's presentation of Jesus as the Creator (John 1:3).
Although it is true that the practice of casting lots was a prevalent practice in the ancient pagan world, one has to ask: "does this make it specifically occultic?" If this was an occultic practice one would surely find it being condemned amongst the list of prohibitions in Deuteronomy 18:9-14. However, it is not condemned whereas 'divination' is 'specifically' condemned. The practice seemed to be largely an Old Testament one and was carried over into the early Church for a short time. It should be noted that the practice of lot casting in Acts 1:26 is actually the very last time it is ever mentioned. This last recorded occurrence of the practice was just prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in the believers. It would therefore appear to be primarily an Old Testament practice which served some purpose until the day of Pentecost.
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