Witchcraft And The Old Testament -- By: Charges Edward Smith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 059:233 (Jan 1902)
Article: Witchcraft And The Old Testament
Author: Charges Edward Smith


Witchcraft And The Old Testament

Rev. Charges Edward Smith

The responsibility of the Old Testament for the frightful crimes which have been perpetrated under the stimulus of the witchcraft delusion is a subject of grave interest to every serious mind. Every one who believes either that the Bible is the Word of God, or that the Bible contains that Word, must consider and decide this question, that he may keep his Bible, or at any rate find it.

There is no doubt about the fact, that those who have been under this delusion have appealed to the Old Testament in support of their ideas. In the famous trial of the Suffolk witches, in England, in 1665, when Sir Matthew Hale was the judge, and Sir Thomas Browne was the medical expert witness, the Chief Baron said that there were such creatures as witches, for the Scriptures affirmed it. He had reference, of course, to the command in Ex. 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” or he might have had in mind the account of the woman whom we call the “Witch of Endor” in 1 Sam. 28. No doubt such passages were commonly considered in past centuries to teach the reality and criminality of a diabolic art known by various names, as sorcery, magic, necromancy, or witchcraft.

But the question arises, Was this a correct interpretation of the class of passages referred to, or a mistaken interpretation, made possible, or rather necessitated, by ignorance and superstition? It is but a little while since the Old Testament was confidently quoted as justifying slavery,

but it is to be hoped that no fair mind now fails to perceive the impropriety of such quotations. The Mosaic legislation was an adjustment to the imperfect and sinful character of Hebrew civilization, as our Lord intimated when he told the Jews that the Mosaic permission of divorce had been granted them on account of the hardness of their hearts. The general spirit of the laws of Moses was in favor of freedom and against slavery, restraining and modifying its evils, and putting an end to it whenever practicable. It may be said that Moses was thousands of years in advance of the rest of the world in regard to antislavery, and to quote him as proslavery is as flagrant an instance of misinterpretation as can possibly be made. Such a mistake in the correct apprehension of the teaching of the Old Testament on that subject may well render us suspicious that an equally great mistake is likely to have been made as to the real position of the Old Testament on the subject of witchcraft.

It may be said, first of all, that nothing ought to be made of the mere fact, that the Bible contain...

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