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Discovery Magazine 2/1/2000

Miracles—or Magic?

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Who doesn’t like magic? Whether it’s watching a famous magician like David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty "disappear" on television, or seeing an amateur pull a rabbit out of a hat at a birthday party, magic is fun. And, believe it or not, it’s quite old. When Moses and Aaron told Egypt’s pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery, as a sign that they were speaking for God Aaron threw his shepherd’s staff on the ground and it turned into a serpent. Exodus 7:11-12, however, explains that pharaoh’s sorcerers used magic to make their staffs turn into serpents as well. [But God caused Aaron’s rod to swallow the magicians’ trick rods to prove that He was more powerful than any sorcerers!]

The New Testament also speaks of magic and sorcery. Two of Christ’s disciples, Barnabas and Paul, encountered Elymas, a sorcerer who was turning people away from faith in Christ. While he could do magic tricks, he could not perform real miracles. Paul used a miracle to cause Elymas to go blind for a short while to teach him a lesson (read Acts 13:4-12).

What is the difference, then, between miracles and magic? First, magic can be used just for fun. Miracles never were just "for fun." They were visible signs that a person was acting or speaking on God’s behalf (read Exodus 3:12-4:14). Second, magic can be used to deceive. Miracles, on the other hand, never were used for deception. Rather, they were used to teach important spiritual lessons (like when Elijah asked God to perform a miracle on Mount Carmel to show that Baal was a false god; 1 Kings 18:20-40). Miracles also were used to help people (like when Jesus healed a blind man; John 9:1-41). Third, magic isn’t "real." When a magician makes a woman "disappear," she doesn’t really disappear into thin air. But miracles were real—very real! When Moses stretched his rod across the Red Sea and caused the waters to part so the Israelites could walk across on dry land, it was no trick. Moses (through God’s power) reallydid what the Bible says he did (read Exodus 13:14-22). When Pharaoh’s army followed the Israelites and Moses caused the waters to come back together to destroy the Egyptians, the soldiers and horses really died (read Exodus 13:26-28). Fourth, magic is intended to entertain us and show us the magician’s talent. That is not true of miracles. Their purpose never was to entertain an audience or to demonstrate how talented a person was. On one occasion, the Bible says that Jesus refused to do many miracles because He knew that even a miracle would not cause people to believe (read Mark 6:1-6). Jesus wasn’t interested in entertaining them, or in showing them how "talented" He was. Instead, He wanted to show them the way to heaven.

Bible miracles were not "magic." Their purpose was to demonstrate God’s awesome power and to impress upon people the importance of obeying Him. Today, as we read God’s Word, we need to remember each of those lessons so that we don’t end up like some of the people of Jesus’ day who refused to believe in and obey God and His Son.



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