Was it necromancy when Moses and Eliljah appeared to Jesus in the Transfiguration?

Q. How would you respond to a non-Christian who says that when Moses and Elijah came and spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, this incident would fall under necromancy, which is forbidden in Deuteronomy? I know that interpretation is wrong and that the Transfiguration was not necromancy, but I wasn’t sure how to explain this.

It is true that the Law of Moses says in Deuteronomy, “Let no one be found among you … who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” But we need to understand what is being prohibited, and why.

This particular prohibition comes within a cluster of similar ones that forbid various kinds of practices by which people seek to call upon ghosts or evil spirits or other occult powers. The principle behind all these laws is that human beings need to respect their own finiteness and not try to draw upon other powers to get what they want. They need to respect the boundaries between life and death, good and evil, and humanity and the spirit world. Rather than seeking to get whatever information or results they want by calling on other powers, they need to live in fellowship with God and dependence on God, accepting that what God has for them is the best and that it is all they need.

But God is the Lord of life and death. The Transfiguration episode, in which Jesus is revealed in his heavenly glory on top of a mountain and Moses and Elijah come to speak to him, shows that when it suits God’s purposes, and when it is the best thing for humanity, God has the power and the right to send people who have already gone to live in his presence back to earth to fulfill a particular mission. (We don’t know how or in exactly what manner these two returned to earth; the Bible does not explain that.)

Luke says specifically that when Moses and Elijah appeared, they spoke with Jesus “about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” This means that they came to speak with him about how he would soon die as the Savior of the world. This was so important that God wanted to make sure that Jesus was prepared and informed beforehand, so God sent these two trusted servants of his to speak with Jesus about it.

That, by itself, is enough to show that this was not a violation of the command not to consult the dead, as people would do if they were trying to take matters into their own hands. Rather, God himself, the Lord of life and death, who gave that command to keep people in their proper sphere, exercised the authority of his own sphere and sent servants from the heavenly part of his realm to support and encourage a very special Servant who was then living in the earthly part of his realm.

But there is more. When Luke says “departure,” he uses the Greek term exodus. This is a hint that the appearance of Moses and Elijah also has symbolic significance. Moses, who let the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus, also wrote the first part of the Old Testament. Elijah represents the prophets, who composed or collected the next major part of the Old Testament. Later in the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable in which Abraham tells someone who is concerned about his family members, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” He doesn’t mean listen to them literally; he means to read their writings in the Scriptures. (By “Moses and the Prophets,” he means all the Scriptures that had been written by that time.)

And significantly, in the Transfiguration episode, God says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” So it seems that by sending Moses and Elijah, God was also signaling that Jesus would be the fulfillment of the Scriptures, certainly in his sacrificial death for the world, but also in his life and teaching. (People are to “listen to him” as they would “listen to” Moses and the Prophets, that is, the Scriptures.)

So there was both a practical reason and a symbolic significance for the special mission that God sent Moses and Elijah to accomplish. The fact that they did this by traveling temporarily from one part of God’s realm to another, on God’s instructions, does not mean that they violated God’s command for human beings to remain within their own realm and not try to call on other powers to get what they want. I hope this helps answer your question.

Should I worry about buying video equipment called Blackmagic Design?

Q.  I’m getting back into cinematography and for my new company I’m looking at some video equipment from a company called Blackmagic Design. Nothing about the company indicates that they are occult based, but the name is an odd one.  This seems to be really good equipment at affordable prices. Should I worry about the name?

Blackmagic Design logo, courtesy Wikipedia

No, I don’t think you need to worry about the name.

For one thing, as you suspect, this company has no involvement with the occult.  Blackmagic Design is the name that founder Grant Petty chose apparently to echo of the name of his former company, Digital Voodoo, after (in his own words) he “lost management control of the company and resigned.”  And no occult connections seem to have been intended for that earlier name, either.  Rather, the Internet was being described in its earlier days as “a kind of digital voodoo, a blur between technology and magic” (as this website for a different company of the same name explains), and the expression came to be used for any other advanced digital technology.  In other words, the references to “magic” and “voodoo” are simply metaphors, and such they are harmless, as I explain in my post entitled “Should Christians read books and watch movies that have magic in them?

Secondly, and more importantly, even if Blackmagic Design did have some occult connection–even if the founders, say, had sold their souls to the devil in order to become successful, or even if they put curses on every product on its way out the door–buying the equipment still couldn’t hurt you.  An analogous case in the Bible is the Corinthians’ question to Paul about food offered to idols that was then sold in the marketplace.  Citing the Scriptural principle that “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” Paul advises, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience.” 

In other words, even though the meat had been offered to idols, it didn’t carry any spiritual power or effects with it.  An innocent purchaser would be unharmed by any of its previous associations.  In the same way, digital equipment, whatever its source, is simply a product of creation and culture by the time it comes into the hands of the end user, and it can be freely used by those who love and serve “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

The one qualification, again on biblical grounds, would be not to use the equipment if this caused anyone to stumble.  A new follower of Jesus, for example, might trying to break free from past occult involvement, and using equipment with the name Blackmagic might cause them to violate their conscience by doing something they felt was wrong. Even though this would not be absolutely wrong, they shouldn’t violate their conscience, and no one else should encourage them to do this.

But that is only an unlikely hypothetical situation.  I think the only real concerns anyone should have when considering such equipment are quality and price.  I do not have the expertise to advise you on those issues.  But do I hope I’ve helped reassure you about the name.


Can Christians do “magic tricks” with cards?

Q. Do you think it is acceptable to do card tricks if this doesn’t involve calling on spirits, foretelling the future, etc.? I have studied it for a few months and hope it may further my personal development. However, there are several things that make me uncertain whether it’s ok to practice anymore now, as I have to do the following two things in order to succeed in card tricks:
1) Telling lies to misdirect spectators
2) Keeping card trick secrets.

Actually, I think you can definitely keep doing card tricks, even as a follower of Jesus, if you just give a disclaimer before you perform them.  You can say something like, “What you are about to see is an illusion intended for your entertainment.  There’s no magic and nothing occult involved.  What I say during the performance is designed to support the illusion and it may not all be true.” That way everyone has fair warning and the right expectations.

In fact, if this would be appropriate for your audience (for example, in a church setting), you can even say, “As a follower of Jesus, I’m careful to follow the Bible’s teaching not to be involved in magic or the occult.  What you are about to see is an illusion . . . ,” etc.

I agree that practicing and performing card tricks could be good for your personal development.  It will help with things like hand-eye coordination, concentration, memory, logic, and public speaking.

There’s no necessary connection between doing illusions or slight-of-hand tricks and the occult.  See this recent article about how a group of Christian magicians has defended itself as not being involved in the occult.  You may want to see whether you can get involved in a similar group where you live, such as the Fellowship of Christian Magicians or ChristianMagicians.org.  (I am not familiar with either of these groups first-hand and so I cannot give them an informed endorsement, but I mention them as examples of how magicians in many places are using their art to share the gospel in memorable and appealing ways.)

You may wish to read my post on the topic, “Should Christians read books and watch movies that have magic in them?”  It explains how even Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have legitimately used magic as a literary device in their writings, but it also explains the possible risks and dangers of suggestions of magic.

Best wishes as you continue to develop your craft and use it in positive ways!

Card tricks can be used in positive ways: Here a man does a trick to propose marriage to his girlfriend! (Click on picture for link to video.)

Was the medium at Endor really able to bring up Samuel?

Q. How could the sorceress of Endor summon the spirit of Samuel from the dead? Was it really Samuel? How should we interpret
this episode in the Bible? Thanks.

Washington Allston, “Saul and the Witch of Endor”

For many episodes in the Old Testament such as this one, it’s truly a case of “you can’t get there from here.”  The story of Samuel and the medium who lived in Endor is related within the world view of an ancient culture in which it was believed that people who died became “shades” who rested in Sheol and who might be “disturbed” and brought up to earth for a time.  We today find it hard to understand how this could happen, particularly in light of the teaching of the New Testament that death is final so far as our earthly lives are concerned, so that the spirits of the dead cannot return to earth.

But this only illustrates how the Bible actually speaks from within a variety of cultural settings.  God “speaks our language” in the Scriptures to that extent.  I personally don’t believe that it’s possible to harmonize all of the different world views that we find represented in the Bible.  But I don’t think we need to try to do that, either.  We just need to recognize what the Bible really is and accept it as such:  a sprawling compendium of accounts from many different settings in human history that together tell the story of God’s dealings with humanity over the course of that history.

When we accept that the Bible speaks from a variety of cultural perspectives, then the message of this story about Saul and the medium becomes clear, and the account is no longer confusing or perplexing.  If we “suspend disbelief” and work with the story, allowing that the medium could bring Samuel up after his death to speak with Saul, then we realize that this episode, one of the last in Saul’s life, is filling out the portrait of his character that has been sketched all along.

In an earlier post I’ve addressed the question of why Saul was rejected as king for what seem like minor infractions, while David was called a “man after God’s own heart” even though he made major mistakes and committed serious sins.  The essential difference between these men is that David never turned away from the LORD to other gods, and as king he never usurped divine prerogatives.  Saul, on the other hand, never really accepted these limitations, and now we see him actually turning to occult powers—”mediums and spiritists”— even though he has previously expelled them from the land in obedience to the law of Moses.

Right to the end, Saul was a man who didn’t hesitate to take matters into his own hands, no matter what compromises this involved with God’s expressed wishes and intentions.  This last episode just before Saul’s untimely death validates God’s judgment against him as a king who wouldn’t respect the limitations on his power and actions necessary for him to be God’s agent ruling the people of Israel.

In other words, this account completes the biblical portrait of Saul as a truly tragic figure.  It does so within a world view we can’t quite embrace today.  But we shouldn’t let that stand in the way of our hearing its crucial message:  we can’t take it upon ourselves to decide which of God’s constraints on our lives we will honor.  We need to honor them all.

Should Christians read books and watch movies that have magic in them?

Q. Is it all right for Christians to read books and watch movies that have magic in them?

There are certainly many warnings against magical practices in the Bible.  One of the strongest is in Deuteronomy, which forbids any use of divination, sorcery, spells, etc. (This is discussed in Session 8 of the Deuteronomy-Hebrews study guide.)

But I’d say the answer to your question actually depends on how the concept of magic is being used in a book or film.  If it’s essentially a literary device, as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and readers aren’t encouraged to think that they should practice magic for their own personal power and wealth, then it can be understood as a legitimate element of literature or film or drama.

Even if magic is presented as something real, but its connection with the devil and the occult is explained, and people are warned away from it, then that’s a good and helpful message for people to get.  It would be like in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, when Banquo warns Macbeth, “The instruments of darkness tell us truths to win us to our harm.”

But if a book or film or play suggests that there’s a difference between “black magic” (bad) and “white magic” (good), even though both rely on spells and charms but not God, then that’s very dangerous.  This encourages people to get into magic and the occult and not look to God for protection and provision.  And if a book or film or play encourages people to use magic for their own power and wealth, to take revenge against people they’re holding a grudge against, etc., then that’s even more dangerous.

So in your own reading and viewing, if you know that a book or a film is going to send a dangerous message like this, you should probably stay away from it.  But if you don’t know, and you watch it or read it innocently, then you need to be discerning about the message.  Talk to yourself and with others about it.  Recognize how it differs from biblical teaching.  Talk back to it.  Actively engage your culture, but from an informed biblical perspective.