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I. The Errant Teaching of Various Popular Christian Authors
A. Some Christian authors wrongly assume that the Bible teaches the reality of psychic power.
1. Dave Hunt: "Satan seeks to initiate humans into the force religion and to channel psychic power through them, persuading them that it is actually some power from within their own minds."
2. Gary North: "The testimony of the Bible is that occult phenomena are real."
3. Neil T. Anderson: "I have no question that it works [New Age and occult practices].... Spiritual phenomena and occultic practices are as old as biblical history."
4. Merrill F. Unger: "Though Scripture condemns magic, it clearly recognizes the reality of its power."
5. C. Fred Dickason: "Occult magic includes demonic forces that actually produce detectable phenomena."
B. Some Christian authors propose that Satan can work miracles.
1. Gordon H. Clark: "Satan, and not only God, works miracles."
2. Edward N. Gross: "The Bible and experience confirm that Satan works miracles."
II. The Biblical Teaching in Regard to Psychic Power
A. Biblical Teaching on the Power of Satan and Demons and Miracles
1. Scriptural Limitations on the Power of Satan and Demons We propose that the belief that Satan can perform miracles is incorrect and that the attempt to define the words that are used in Scripture to describe God's work and Satan's work under the one word miracle is the source of this confusion. We, therefore, maintain that the Scriptures themselves place limitations on the power of Satan and demons.
2. Biblical Definition of a Miracle
a. "Scripture does not really speak of miracles at all; that is to say, the Hebrew and Greek words do not carry the precise connotations of the modern English word."
b. Agreement as to the correct definition of the word miracle has been a problem throughout the centuries. "Theists have defined miracles in a weak or strong sense. Following Augustine, some use a weak sense, defining a miracle as 'a portent [that] is not contrary to nature, but contrary to our knowledge of nature.' Others, following Aquinas, define a miracle in the strong sense of an event that is beyond nature's power to produce, that only a supernatural power (God) can do."
c. Following Aquinas and contemporary apologist Norman Geisler, we believe that a miracle is "a special act of God in the world, a supernatural interference into nature, a special divine intervention."
3. The Purposes of Miracles
a. Miracles confirm God's message (1 Kings 18:39-40; Acts 5:12-14).
b. Miracles accredit God's messenger (Ex. 4:1-5; John 14:11; Heb. 2:3-4).
4. Satan and Demons Unable to Perform Miracles or Energize Anyone to Perform a Miracle
[Note: This is not to deny that Satan and demons possess a limited power. Scripture plainly teaches that among other things, Satan promotes division (Eph. 4:26-27), tempts to sin (1 Thess. 3:5), and incites opposition (1 Thess. 2:18). The Gospels teach that demon possession resulted in physical maladies such as dumbness, blindness, and convulsions (Matt. 9:32; 12:22; Luke 9:39), as well as apparent mental disorder and supernormal (not supernatural) strength (Mark 5:1-20).]
a. Psalm 136:3-4-"Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever. To him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever" (see also Ex. 15:11; Ps. 72:18; 77:13-14; John 3:2). The Hebrew word translated "alone" (bad) "is used of the Lord's incomparability and uniqueness in his exclusive claim to deity as seen in his extraordinary works (Deut. 4:35; 32:12; Job 9:8; Isa. 44:24; Neh. 9:6), or in his splendid exaltation (Ps. 72:18; 148:13; Isa. 2:11, 17)."
b. If we agree that the definition of "miracle" is "an act of God," then by definition only God can perform miracles on his own or through his emissaries.
(1) Although the same words are used throughout the Scripture to describe the "miracles" of God and the works of other entities, it is the source of the power that decides whether or not the work is a true miracle, a true supernatural interference into nature.
(2) Peter's sermon at Pentecost pointed this out when he spoke of "Jesus ... a man accredited by God to you by miracles [dunameisin], wonders [terasin] and signs [semeiois], which God did among you through him" (Acts 2:22, italics added; see also Luke 5:17; John 10:32; Acts 19:11; Heb. 2:4).
(3) The works (power) of other entities may point beyond themselves (signs) and may astound the onlookers (wonders) but this by no means places it on the level of the supernatural work of God.
c. If Satan and demons can perform miracles, the argument of miracles as an apologetic for the deity of Christ must be considered worthless.
(1) When the Jews attempted to kill Jesus because he made himself equal with God (John 5: 18), Jesus responded that "the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me" (John 5:36; see also 10:25, 37-38).
(2) Jesus himself stated, "If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father" (John 15:24, italics added; see also Matt. 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25; John 3:2).
d. If someone or something other than God or those energized by God can perform miracles, the apologetic value of miracles for the truth of the gospel message is negated. Hebrews 2:3-4 indicates that the message of those that heard Christ (the apostles) was authenticated by signs, wonders, and various miracles.
5. Supposed and Real Satanic/Demonic Workings Described as "False" and "Counterfeit"
a. Pertinent passages to consider
(1) Matthew 24:24-"For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-if that were possible." The use of "miracle" in the NIV is, in our opinion, an unfortunate translation of the word teras ("wonders"), and an example of our concern.
(2) 2 Thessalonians 2:9-"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders."
b. The proper understanding of the expression "counterfeit" miracles
(1) The famous commentator R. C. H. Lenski provides a lucid explanation of this expression. Based on his understanding of the grammatical construction of the verse, Lenski writes "Paul means: 'lie-signs and lie-wonders....' It does not denote source: 'derived from what is lie'; nor effect: 'producing what is lie'; or a combination of the two ideas. These signs and wonders are themselves, in their own quality, 'lie....' We may translate: 'pseudo-signs and pseudo-wonders.' All the destructive power of Satan and of his agents lies in this 'lie,' a pretense of reality, a sham of truth and genuineness. Note that 'all deceit of unrighteousness' follows. This explains Matt. 24:24: 'pseudo-Christs and pseudo-prophets (none of them real) and they shall give great signs and wonders so as to deceive,' etc.; none of these great signs and wonders are real, all of them are deception only, or, as Paul qualifies: 'lie-signs and wonders.' This is the extent of Satan's power."
(2) Thus, Paul is in no way stating that the works of the "lawless one" are supernatural. They are simply works which are signs that cause wonder on the part of the beholder.
B. Specific Biblical Passages Regarding Satan and His Power
1. Genesis 3
a. Argument: The speaking by the serpent to Eve constitutes what Franz Delitzsch termed a "demoniacal miracle," Satan using a literal serpent as an instrument in which to speak through. This account is likened to the speaking of Balaam's ass, the difference in that case being the causality of God.
b. Refutation: There are at least two other possible literal interpretations of this account that do not claim a demoniacal miracle:
(1) The view proposed by John Calvin is that the serpent's speaking was a work of God.
(2) Henry Morris, Director of the Institute for Creation Research, poses the possibility that the serpent, as well as some other animals, may have had the God-given ability to converse with humans in some way prior to the fall.
2. Job 1-2
a. Argument: Just as Satan utilized supernatural control according to the permission of God over the elements, entities, and the body of Job in order to test him, so too Satan has this ability today to manifest his power on his own and through his emissaries.
(1) Satan did not ask for permission to use his so-called power, but rather told God to stretch out his hand (both in Job 1:11 and again in 2:4), a note that points to the fact that Satan did not have the ability to do so on his own. Also, God stated that Satan incited him against Job to ruin Job without reason (2:3).
(2) The belief that Satan was given the power by God to afflict Job on these specific occasions and that he does not naturally (or supernaturally) possess it is echoed by various commentators. Robert A. Watson states that Satan acknowledges "that the Divine power, and not his, must bring into Job's life those losses and troubles that are to test his faith." H. H. Rowley writes that "men and nature are alike moved by Satan, to whom power to carry through the test must be assumed to have been given in the permission to make the test."
(3) Whoever or whatever one decides the source behind Job's calamities was, we believe that it is unwise to take a specific case such as this and attempt to make a general conclusion regarding satanic power. The fact remains that the testings of Job were appointed by God with a specific purpose in mind and there was no human "psychic" agent involved.
3. Revelation 13:13-15; 16:14; 19:20, etc.
a. Argument: The above passages show that Satan and demons "can work miracles."
(1) Because of the nature of the book of Revelation with its symbolism and imagery and the various schools of interpretation that have arisen, we would caution the reader not to be too dogmatic in an attempt to press an interpretation such as one that sees the ire from the mouths of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:5) as literal fire, or on the other hand, the locusts (9:3) as Cobra helicopters.
(2) The word semeia (13:13-14; 19:20), translated here as "miraculous signs," simply means "signs." It does not necessarily mean "miracle," as it is used to describe the kiss of Judas (Matt. 26:48), circumcision (Rom. 4:11), and Paul's handwriting (2 Thess. 3:17).
(3) The ability of the earth beast (false prophet) to cause "fire to come down from heaven to earth" (13:13) has been interpreted as a miracle in the form of literal fire from the sky, a fraudulent display possibly resulting from some kind of pyrotechnics, pseudocharismatic gifts, and various other ideas.
(4) The idea of giving "breath [pneuma] to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak" (13:15) is different from giving "life" (zoe). Walvoord is correct when he observes that the ability to give life "is a prerogative of God alone." He concludes, "The intent of the passage seems to be that the image has the appearance of life manifested in breathing, but actually it may be no more than a robot."
(5) Another view regarding the image's breath is that John is simply implying "the activity of the false prophets in reviving idolatrous worship, giving it the appearance of vitality, reality, and power."
III. Biblical Passages Commonly Misused to Prove Psychic Power in the Bible
A. Deuteronomy 18:10-11, 14-Occult Prohibitions
1. Examples of Authors Who Argue for Psychic Power
a. Johanna Michaelsen: "The condemnation was not issued against mere 'frauds and windbags,' incidentally. The Bible has always recognized the reality of phenomena produced by occultism."
b. Neil T. Anderson: "The mediums and spiritists that God warned against in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were not con artists, but people who possessed and passed on knowledge which didn't come through natural channels of perception. These people have opened themselves up to the spirit world and become channels of knowledge from Satan."
2. Basis for Argument
a. Throughout the entire Scripture various passages speak of the occult practitioners and the occult practices.
b. God would not have condemned these practices if they were not a reality and if there were not some individuals who could perform these supernatural feats.
3. Refutation of Argument
a. Claims and prohibitions do not constitute reality of powers
(1) "In the first place it must be observed that the existence of a sorcerer is one thing, and the reality of his powers is quite another....
Excerpted from Astrology and Psychic Phenomena by Andre Kole Terry Holley Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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