Question: “Is witchcraft real? And do witches really have power?” B.H. in Charlottesville, VA.
Answer: The Bible is very clear about the actual existence of witches, sorcerers and those who practical the magical arts. Although witchcraft is considered something mythical, even silly, in modern society, from a biblical perspective this is a serious issue. The Scriptures admit the existence of witches, magicians, sorcerers, mediums, etc. in Deuteronomy 18:9-14. And there is no indication here that these individuals do not exhibit genuine powers and supernatural ability. Indeed, in ancient times the presence of such individuals in Israelite society was considered dangerous enough that God mandated the death penalty for anyone practicing witchcraft, sorcery or divination (see Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20: 6 & 27, cf. Deut. 19:9-11 and Micah 5:12).
Modern day witches, such as Wiccans and neo-pagans, claim that they can perform magic through powers that are either inherited from their ancestors or are derived from forces intrinsic in nature. Thus, they believe they are plugging into natural forces that are available to anyone. They also assert that these powers are in no way satanic. Indeed, most Wiccans do not believe in the Devil. However, their belief system is completely contradicted by the Scriptures. The genuine powers manifested by practitioners of the occult only have one source: the Kingdom of Darkness, and the ruler of this kingdom—the Devil himself.
Thus, we understand that occult powers actually come from Satan and his demons. So we must ask: Does the Devil have power? Certainly. He is NOT omnipotent. Only God is all-powerful. But Satan does have power. Consider a few biblical examples of this.
Of course the most common examples of Satan’s power is found in his influence on moral behavior—how he tempts, seduces and entraps men and women. He has been doing this from the beginning, cf. the Garden of Eden. But his power is not limited to the moral sphere only. He is called the “prince of the power of the air” in Eph. 2:2. It is said he has the power of death (Heb. 2:14), but thankfully he has been defeated by the work of Christ. Acts 26:18 speaks of people being delivered from the “power of Satan.” So evidently he does have power. And he can use this power to work in the natural world.
Note what the Devil did to Job. In the first few chapters of this book we see human and natural forces being manipulated by Satan to bring affliction to Job. The events described here appeared to be simply natural occurrences, but they were actually physical things being employed by Satan. Yet note that he was limited in what he could do to Job. God had to lift his hand from Job in order for Satan to be able work in his life. What happened to Job reminds us of an incident in the life of Christ, where he healed a woman who had been afflicted for many years. The Lord Himself declared that this woman had been bound by the Devil (see Luke 13:11, 16).
Not only does Satan have power, but those angelic beings who followed him in rebellion also are powerful creatures. These demonic hosts are described as powerful beings exerting mighty force (Ephesians 6:12). They can manipulate physical reality, even as Satan can. For example, there are numerous examples in the Gospels of people who were possessed or afflicted by demons in such as a way that they were physically affected, such as those who were deaf, mute, or blind (Mark 9:25, Matthew 9:32-33, Matthew 12:22). Sometimes these demonic spirits would throw a person down in an attempt to harm them (Mark 9:17-22). In Acts 19:13-16 we even see a demon using a man to attack people physically.
Before I go further there is just one thing I must say. Yes, Satan and his demons do have power. But we must remember that their power is limited; that Christ has already conquered them; and that the power that is within us is greater than any of their power (1 John 4:4).
So we see that the Devil and his demons can manifest their power through human agency. Admittedly, witches, Satanists, mediums, channelers and the like mainly operate through deception and trickery. Which is completely consistent since Satan is the great deceiver and the father of deception (see John 8:44, Ephesians 6:11, Revelation 12:9, 2 Corinthians 2:11). However, there are real supernatural forces that demons exhibit through witchcraft and magic. Let’s consider some biblical illustrations of this.
We see this in the account of the magicians of Egypt confronting Moses. The first few miracles that Moses demonstrated were copied by these magicians (see Exodus 7:10-12, 7:22, 8:5-6). But their power could only go so far. When they tried to imitate the third plague, they could not. Their “wonder-working” was limited. It is interesting, and ironic, to note that the last time these magicians are mentioned in the Exodus account we see them especially singled out as being plagued by the boils God sent to Egypt (Exodus 9:10-11).
There is strong prohibition against witchcraft and magic in the Bible, as we have already seen. It is significant that in these commands prohibiting occult practices, there is no indication that these activities are not real. For example, in Leviticus 19:26 and 31 the command is to not engage in these practices, implying they are genuine things, albeit evil and ungodly.
In Acts 19:19 we see those who “practiced magical arts” being converted to Christ, and burning their magical books as a result. The word “practiced” here is very interesting in the original. It means “to practice, to execute, to accomplish.” The idea is that they actually did magic. They were genuine sorcerers, not just con artists. Their magic was real, but not as powerful as the life-changing the power of the Gospel.
The question of the genuineness of the witchcraft and sorcery is an important one. There are many indicators that we are living in the End Times that Jesus and the Apostles spoke of. One of the signs of the end is found in the words of Jesus, where He said that in the last days there would come false Christs and false prophets. He went on to say that these deceivers would be able to perform supernatural wonders in order to deceive people (see Mark 13:21-23). This ability to perform deceptive miracles and exhibit occult power is one of the characteristics that will especially distinguish the Antichrist when he comes (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). Based on these scripture passages, it should come as no surprise that we seeing an increased interest in the occult, and that magic and sorcery are becoming more and more prevalent in our culture.
One final thought about the genuineness of supernatural powers. Working as I do for Advancing Native Missions, I often hear stories from around the world. Many times I have heard visiting native missionaries talk about the demonic powers they have witnessed working through pagan priests, magicians and “witch doctors.” For example, I remember interviewing a pastor from northern India who testified that he saw a young Buddhist boy levitate around a room, put his hands in a blazing fire, and then pull out burning coals and eat them. (It is interesting that he went on to say that when he walked in the room, the boy immediately fell to the ground and could manifest no further supernatural powers!). I also recall a missionary leader from Southeast Asia tell how when he has visited unbelievers in their homes he has watched as objects in the room would begin to float off shelves and move around the house. I have also heard missionaries relate how effective magic spells can be on unbelievers, causing them to become sick or even die. These few stories illustrate a reality that many Christians around the world know to be true. However, we do not often see such overt paranormal phenomena here in the U.S. Perhaps the reason is to be found in the observation of one indigenous missionary from Africa. As he expressed it, “Here in the America, the Devil walks around clothed. In our world, he walks around naked.”