Gnostic Doctrine

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Gnostics and Magic On the Origin of the World The Nag Hammadi Library

Gnostics and Magic On the Origin of the World

an opening from the lyrics of john Lennon song God:  

I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-Ching
I don't believe in tarot
I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in yoga 

Let us return to the aforementioned rulers, so that we may offer some explanation of them. Now, when the seven rulers were cast down from their heavens onto the earth, they made for themselves angels, numerous, demonic, to serve them. And the latter instructed mankind in many kinds of error and magic and potions and worship of idols and spilling of blood and altars and temples and sacrifices and libations to all the spirits of the earth, having their coworker fate, who came into existence by the concord between the gods of injustice and justice. (On the Origin of the World)

Let us return to the aforementioned rulers, so that we may offer some explanation of them. Now, when the seven rulers (bishops) were cast down from their heavens onto the earth (the fall of Jerusalem 70C.E.), they made for themselves angels (other churches which had gone astray), numerous, demonic (see James 3:15 rotherhams bible) , to serve them. And the latter instructed mankind in many kinds of error and magic (witchcraft) and potions (sorcery) and worship of idols (false gods) and spilling of blood and altars and temples and sacrifices and libations to all the spirits of the earth, having their coworker fate, who came into existence by the concord between the gods of injustice and justice. (On the Origin of the World)

, the "rulers" in the text of On the Origin of the World is understood to refer to the bishops or other church leaders who were in power during the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The text suggests that these rulers were cast down from their position of authority and influence and became corrupted, leading them to turn away from God and lead their followers astray.

The angels made by these rulers are interpreted as other churches or religious groups that also went astray and followed their false teachings. The various kinds of error, magic, and worship of false gods mentioned in the text are seen as the sins and false teachings of these corrupt church leaders and their followers.

The coworker fate mentioned in the text is understood to be the result of the injustice and corruption of these rulers and their followers. The concord between the gods of injustice and justice implies that there is a balance between good and evil in the world, and that this balance is affected by the actions of individuals and groups, such as the corrupt rulers and their followers. In the text, the rulers (interpreted as bishops or church leaders) instructed mankind in many kinds of error, magic, and potions. This could be interpreted as the corrupt religious leaders promoting false teachings and practices, such as magic and potions, which were seen as forms of witchcraft and sorcery. This would have been viewed as particularly dangerous and misleading to the early Christian community, as they believed in a strict adherence to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The reference to magic and potions could also be a metaphor for the use of deceitful tactics and manipulation by the corrupt leaders in order to maintain their power and influence over the people.

Witchcraft was direct opposition to God.

Secret arts and uncanny powers presumably used to accomplish things beyond what is natural—associated with spiritistic, occult powers.
All such notions naturally gave rise to a crafty class of magic-practicing priests, who exercised great power over the lives of the people, extorting large payments from those under their influence on the pretense of possessing supernatural powers over and beyond those of the demons. The people believed that these professional sorcerers could invoke the demons to obey but that the demons had no power over the sorcerers.
These spiritistic practices, so-called sciences, were developed and used by the ancient Chaldeans of Babylonia. Isaiah, in the eighth century B.C.E., tells us that Babylon of his day was rife with sorceries of all sorts. (Isa 47:12-15) More than a century later, in the days of Daniel, the magic-practicing priests were still a part of the Babylonian court. (Da 1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7; 5:11) This expression “magic-practicing priests” is a literal and explicit translation of the Hebrew.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew language describes witches as practitioners of magic and jugglers who pretend through skill in occult science to reveal the future and manipulate life events. God condemns Manasseh, the eldest son of King Hezekiah, for promoting and participating in a variety of related practices, such as observing times, using enchantments and witchcraft, dealing with familiar spirits and wizards, and worshiping the power of images and idols (2 Chr 33:6-7). God abhorred these “abominations of the heathen” (v2) and repeatedly declares their power to be nothing.

In the New Testament Paul identifies several “works of the flesh” including “idolatry and witchcraft.” (Gal 5:19). The Greek word for witchcraft is pharmakeia, Strong’s 5331, which is the origin of the English word for pharmacist. In other words, witchcraft was akin to someone who provided first-century drugs, spells or potions and attributed unexplained happenings to something other than God. Metaphorically, it refers to the deception and seduction of idolatry and witchcraft. Paul even equates this practice with other obvious immoral behavior and reveals that “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21 NIV).

In the Revelation, this same Greek word is used to describe the practices of heathen systems that God will destroy in preparation for his Kingdom on earth (Rev 9:21; 18:23; 21:8). Instead of wasting time and money on practices to objects that have no power and are godless, He wants us to follow Him so that He can say, “I will be his God.” (Rev 21:7).

The Law and Witchcraft

God provides several commands about witchcraft shortly after Israel left Egypt. Egypt had been a nation steeped in a culture of mysticism. Moses and Aaron had personally confronted Pharoah’s magicians to contrast their powerlessness with the majesty of God during a protracted appeal to “Let my people go.” (Exod 5:1-3). Through these demonstrations, both Israel and Egypt were to recognize that only God was all-powerful. They could trust in Him to take care of them, control weather and events, and did not need to fear other supposed powers.

Furthermore, the Canaanites were also steeped in the worship of pagan gods and behavior associated with witchcraft. As they prepared to enter and cleanse this land, God issues explicit instructions: “Thou shall not suffer [permit] a witch to live.” (Exod 22:18). This is a strong expression which God repeats in Lev 20:27 and is used to prevent any false sympathy or misplaced tenderness towards a person of such character.

Instead, these individuals were to be rooted out from among the Israelites because witchcraft was considered a capital offence, and an act of rebellion against God and His authority. It was direct opposition to God. Any form of witchcraft practice was strongly opposed in Israel because it implied a use of the supernatural outside of, and hostile to, the power of God.

Shortly after, God reiterates the same explicit instruction: “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them.” (Lev 19:31 ESV). And later, He commands “Let no one be found among you… who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (Deut 18:10-11 NIV). These practices and people were “detestable to the LORD.” (v. 12). Instead, He emphasizes in the context of both verses that He wanted Israel (and us) to appreciate His sovereignty and unrivalled powers: “I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:31; 20:24).

What are the principles we can take from the Law of Moses regarding witchcraft? There are four. 

  • The LORD demands absolute loyalty and does not tolerate any involvement with other gods or spirits.
  • Israel’s God was the only all-powerful God.
  • Those who use witchcraft, sorcery, familiar spirits, or associated practices are opposing God.
  • Practitioners of witchcraft were to be exterminated.

Saul and Jacob–Tempted by Witchcraft

God also demonstrates His abhorrence for witchcraft in the life of King Saul. In 1 Samuel 28, the Philistine army confronts Saul, and his heart is filled with fear. Israel was in grave danger and Saul was in desperate need of military advice. He turns first to the LORD, however, because of his earlier disobedience to God, he did not receive an answer (v. 6).

Desperate for direction, Saul then turns to witchcraft: “Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her.” (v. 7). Saul’s actions cannot be condoned, and they demonstrate how desperation and impatience can lead to similar sins in our own lives. Earlier, Saul had “put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land” (v. 3), upholding God’s laws that stringently opposed their existence. Ironically, he now returns to these very practices, though Samuel had warned Saul that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” (1 Sam 15:23). By disobeying God, and consulting a witch, Saul had now sinned in both arenas. Chronicles confirms that he died on both accounts (1 Chr 10:13). If we disobey God and uphold powers other than God’s, we will also distance ourselves from the all-powerful God of this world.

Jacob is another example of someone tempted with the option of witchcraft. But he responded differently than Saul. Genesis suggests that Laban and his daughters were influenced by magic and divination. Leah, his mother, and Rachel both believed that the mandrake plant held special powers of fertility (vv. 14-15), and Leah even imagines they will help her bear children to Jacob (v. 16). Later, Laban confesses his belief in witchcraft when he says, “I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you [Jacob].” (v. 27 ESV). Finally, as Jacob prepares to leave Laban for Canaan, Rachel steals the household idols of her father, which were believed to hold special powers, and presumably would benefit their travels (Gen 31:19 ESV).

However, in stark contrast, Jacob instead attributes the powers working in his life to be from God. He states, “The God of my father has been with me” (v. 5), “God has not allowed him [Laban] to harm me” (v. 7), “God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me” (v. 9), “God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands.” (v42). Jacob never attributes any of his children, prosperity, or difficulties to the powers of divination, images, witches, or mysticism which influenced Laban and his daughters. He always attributes them to the true God of Israel, as it should also be with us as fellow believers.


If we really believe the records of Israel, Saul, Jacob, and Paul mentioned above, then we will not be able to accept that witches or witchcraft will have any effect upon us or others. Like Jacob, we must have faith that God is with us and will help us with our lives in good times and bad. The examples considered show that witches do not have power over God’s people–which we know we are, by reason of our calling and baptism.

In summary God’s Word teaches us that:

  • God’s people must seek counsel from God through prayers and believing.
  • Believers need to retain their faith in God, even in the most adverse of circumstances and not only despise witchcraft, but also root it out.
  • God deems witchcraft as a human fabrication, employed to cheat others. Witchcraft is powerless.
  • Those who believe or practice witchcraft must be rebuked through God’s word, so that they may have hope of the coming Kingdom of God.
  • Brethren should not associate themselves with witchcraft of believe in other supernatural powers. 

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