Should a Christian Do
Magic or Conjuring?
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 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 demonic influence.
Let it be emphasized that no true Christian magician or ventriloquist is
in any way involved in the use of supernatural powers.
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 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.
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
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 "Gospel magic;"
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
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
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
"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
This article may be freely copied and distributed provided that it is
done so in its entirety and without charge. You can correspond with the
author, Robert Hill, at 100551.3573@Compuserve.com.
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