This essay is part two of a two-part series responding to a meme. The meme in question suggests that since supernatural and ritualistic elements are in the bible, magic and witchcraft can’t be sinful and that the bible is contradictory. <– Part 1
The “altar” in a church building is not really an altar, it’s a pulpit for speaking, Christians don’t need to burn sacrifices. Besides just because altars are in the bible doesn’t mean it condones building random altars to worship anything or anyone. Every altar that men of God like Noah (Gen 8:20), Abraham (Gen 12:7-8), Jacob (Gen 35:1-3), Moses (Ex 17:15), and Joshua (Josh 8:30) were built for sacrifices to YHWH God or as memorials for something YHWH did. None of the altars God condoned were built to worship any other gods or spirits. God gave them explicit instructions on building natural altars in Ex 20:22-26 and Deut 27:5-6. Later, the Israelites built a bronze altar for sacrifices and a golden altar for incense for Tabernacle/Temple (Ex 27:1-8, 1 Kings 6-8). God said to only use the new altars while in the land and avoid worshiping God like the Canaanites worshipped their gods (Deut ch. 12).
God ultimately exiled the Israelites because they defiled his altar and Temple with idolatry. You can read the specifics of what they were doing in Ezekiel ch. 8. They were exiled and punished for worshipping idols and even sacrificing their children to Molech (Lev 18:21 and 20:2-5, Jer 32:35). Furthermore, the Israelites were told to destroy the altars of the Canaanites when they entered the land, in order to prevent them from copying the customs of the Canaanites and committing idolatry and child sacrifice. We can see God telling them to destroy Asherah poles and pagan altars in Ex 34:13, Deut 7:5, and Deut 12:3. God scolds them for not doing this in Judges 2:2, and various kings starting with Solomon sinned against God by allowing pagan altars and shrines in the land and this is what led to their downfall and exile (1 Kings 11:1-6).
The sacrifices of animals were a temporary measure done to cover human sins and it was a part of a necessary process to keep the Israelites pure enough to be in God’s presence. This is because the cost of sin is death (Rom 6:23). The Israelites had to sacrifice over and over because animals can’t fully atone for humans because humans are made in God’s image. However, human sacrifices wouldn’t have worked since no human was sinless. Animals are not what God wanted because he already owned all animals (Ps 50:14-15), and the sacrifice of animals wasn’t transforming the hearts of men, and cleansing them of sin. The sacrifice of the Messiah (Jesus), was a sacrifice of Emmanuel (God with us) himself. Being a sinless human, qualified him to die for our sins and allow us to get the holy spirit. Learn more about these things by reading Isa 53:4-11, Matt 8:17, Rom 5:12-17, Heb 10:1-18. The Altar in heaven is where Jesus took his blood to the holiest place in heaven which fulfills the need for sacrifice. As stated before the altar, Tabernacle, and Temples the Israelites made were replicas of the true temple in heaven (Heb 9:23-26). Altars are not evil or anti-biblical but there is a distinction between altars for God and altars for idols.
Smudging and Exorcism:
Exorcism in the new testament is by the power of the holy spirit. Old testament exorcism didn’t involve the holy spirit. Take a look at Matt 12:22-30. Here, Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin council for casting out a demon, and claiming that he was doing it with the power of Beelzebub (a reference to Satan). Jesus responds, in Matt 12:27 saying, “And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. 28 But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. 29 For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house. 30 ‘Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.'”
In Matt 12:27-30 Jesus only cast out demons with the authority of God the Father by the power of the holy spirit, because this power is stronger than the demons. YHWH (God) is above all other spirit beings. So Jesus did not use the power of any different spirit, also he said anyone who is not for him (other gods & spirits) are against him (v30). The “house” he is referring to in verse 29, is a person’s body and it is demons that enter human bodies and wreak havoc in this context. The only one that can remove a demon is the “stronger man” aka the Holy Spirit. Then he talks about what happens after an exorcism that doesn’t involve the holy spirit in verses 43-45 of the same chapter. He says, “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”
We all need the “stronger man” to come in, kick unclean spirits out and stay there so that they can never come back. Believers have the holy spirit and once a person gets saved they cannot be possessed by demons afterward. Believers have God’s spirit inside of them because they were made pure by the sacrifice of Jesus. They don’t need to be in a ritually clean state to enter God’s presence in a building in Israel anymore, because we are the building (temple). Paul says our bodies are the new temple in 1 Cor 3:16-17, 1 Cor 6:19-20, & 2 Cor 6:15-18. And the Holy Spirit is only available to those who received Jesus as Lord (John 14:15-17, Rom 8:5-11). So how can an unclean spirit ever enter this “new temple” which is the body of a believer? Demonic oppression (attack) is different from possession (control), believers can be attacked but not controlled.
Furthermore, there were some Jewish exorcists who were the seven sons of Sceva (Sceva was the high priest at the time), who tried to cast out a demon in Acts 19:13-20. They were old covenant Jews, not messianic (Jesus) Jews, so they were without the power of the holy spirit and were defeated by the demon-possessed man and beaten up. The Old Testament methods of exorcising demons are not explained precisely in the Torah, but the use of incense implies that smudging could have been one of the methods. Another possible method used was music, like when David played the harp to alleviate King Saul’s torment by a demon (1 Samuel 16:14-23, 18:10-11, and 19:9-10). It worked temporarily but the demon always came back and Saul tried to kill David with a spear multiple times in those moments. Notice that the spirit kept coming back? This is what Jesus was talking about in Matt 22:43-45, demons will keep coming back without the holy spirit, which is only available to believers in Jesus who are signed up in the new covenant. The sons of Sceva even tried saying “come out in the name of Jesus in whom Paul preaches” (this infers they were using the name of Jesus because Paul did it, but didn’t believe in Jesus as the messiah themselves), however, they failed because they weren’t apart of the new covenant and therefore didn’t have the holy spirit. After that incident, Acts 19:17 says “The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was 50,000 pieces of silver. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.”
This shows that spell books, and occult practices are powerless on demons compared to the holy spirit’s power because the holy spirit is the presence of God inhabiting his people. Since demons are partners of those who are in the occult, Satan won’t actually fight against his own house (Matthew 12:26), though he may occasionally give the illusion of doing so, by pretending other methods are working. In contrast, Paul is shown casting out demons with no problem in Acts 19:12. Paul says In Acts 14:11-18, and Acts 17:22-33, that Gentiles (non-Jews), previously were in an age of ignorance where God would allow them to worship idols and false gods without direct repercussions. This is summed up in Acts 17:30 when Paul says, “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him”. He says the age of ignorance is over because the messiah has come and the gospel is being spread. This is why the people in Acts 19:17-18 were shocked that old testament and Gentile exorcism methods failed.
Those old testament methods previously worked before Jesus came because men didn’t have God’s spirit in them and even Jesus himself acknowledged old covenant exorcism in Matt 12:27-30. However, he doesn’t use those methods because the holy spirit given to new covenant believers (followers of Jesus) is superior, since they prevent demons from coming back. Smudging is at best useless if done secularly, and sinful if done in the name of false gods. Burning plants in general for the smell or something isn’t an issue since it doesn’t have anything to do with practicing false religion.
Supernatural Props and Gifts:
The gifts of the holy spirit are very specific and they don’t involve crystals, divination, astrology, or anything like that. Most of the things referenced are either gentile practices that Israel adopted which were sinful (Lev 18:1-4), or things that were done in the old testament once but taken out of a specific context and were ritualized by the Israelites which was also sinned.
The “crystals” are probably a reference to the chest piece the priest wore from Exodus 28. The 12 gemstones in the chest piece represented the 12 tribes of Israel, and it was worn by the priest as a reminder of why they are serving (Ex 28:29). This is the same reason the names of the 12 tribes of Israel were placed on the two onyx shoulder pieces, with six names each (Ex 28:6-14).
God was completely against people using precocious stones as charms because it was deceptive. He says so in Ezekiel 13:18 -21, “18This is what the Sovereign Lord says: What sorrow awaits you women who are ensnaring the souls of my people, young and old alike. You tie magic charms on their wrists and furnish them with magic veils. Do you think you can trap others without bringing destruction to yourselves? 19 You bring shame on me among my people for a few handfuls of barley or a piece of bread. By lying to my people who love to listen to lies, you kill those who should not die, and you promise life to those who should not live. 20 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against all your magic charms, which you use to ensnare my people like birds. I will tear them from your arms, setting my people free like birds set free from a cage. 21 I will tear off the magic veils and save my people from your grasp. They will no longer be your victims. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 22 You have discouraged the righteous with your lies, but I didn’t want them to be sad. And you have encouraged the wicked by promising them life, even though they continue in their sins.”
As for “astrology”, I am assuming they are referring to Joseph’s dreams in Gen 37:1-11. Or maybe they are making out-of-context references to the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20, Rev 6:12) which mentions “signs in sun, moon, and stars” and “blood moons” since Jesus refers to these as signs of the end of days (Luke 21:25). In Gen 37:1-11, Joseph had two dreams, one about his brother’s 11 bundles of grain bowing down to his bundle, and the other was about the sun, moon, & 11 constellations of stars bowing to him. The sun and moon are his parents and the 11-star constellations, as well as the 11-grain bundles, are his 11 brothers. Both dreams are about how Joseph’s brothers will end up serving him in the future. This happens in Genesis ch. 42 when he was promoted from slave to vizier in Egypt, his brothers came to get grain during the famine. This was never to be defined as astrology. There were other dreams like the pharaoh’s dream about 7 years of prosperity and famine each. These dreams involved cows eating each other and plants destroying each other, so the constellation dream was its unique own thing. The signs of the sun, moon, and stars that Jesus, John (Revelation), and prophets like Joel are referring to are simply just unique signs that warn us of the coming day of Judgement. This is not related to using zodiac astrology and birthdays to determine an individual’s personality, romance matches, and fortunes.
In the ancient world, many cultures worshipped the stars and planets as gods. From the Bible’s perspective, the heavenly bodies (stars, sun, and moon) represented the host of heaven which was God’s heavenly staff team, (angels, cherubim, seraphim, sons of God, etc). These “elohim” (gods) to the Gentiles defined deities as simply any spirit being they deemed worthy of worship, but the bible defines God as the maker of all things and says that only YHWH is God. The hosts of heaven weren’t defined as actual gods by God himself because he is the only one that made them. To humans, all spiritual beings are so majestic one may be tempted to worship them, even though they are just creations like everything else. Paul says gentiles were allowed to worship false gods in the age of ignorance before Jesus (Acts 14:11-18, Acts 17:22-33, Rom 1:18-23), but now people must be delivered from seducing spirits, and pagan philosophies (Col 2:8), as well as angel worship (Col 2:18). The apostle John twice mistakenly worships an angel in the book of Revelation and is scolded both times. The Angel says “don’t worship me I am just a servant like you” (Rev 19:10, & Rev 22:9). The hosts of heaven are not to be worshiped, that is idolatry.
Misusing God’s Miracles:
A couple of examples of the Israelites taking things God used out of context to make man-made traditions.
1) God used Gideon to defeat the Midianites but then he sinned by creating an idol, using an ephod (Judges 8:22-27). This ultimately led to idolatry and a lot of bloodshed between his children after he died. The same pattern of being used by God to save the Israelites and then being wreckless or sinful later is repeated by Jephthah and Samson afterward.
2) The bronze serpent that God told Moses to make and hold up to heal the Israelites from viper bites in Numbers 21:4-9 was later worshipped by the Israelites, but king Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4). God only did this once and it was a symbol foreshadowing faith in Christ (John 3:14). The serpent represents sin because it was the Israelite’s sin that caused vipers to attack, and it was put on a tree (staff) just like Christ was put on the tree (cross). Death on a tree was a symbol of a curse (Deut 21:22-23). In Gal 3:13 Paul references Deut 21:22-23 and reminds the Galatians that Jesus became a curse for us, and was lifted up on the cross for our salvation. We are to look up to him, just like the Israelites had to look to the upraised bronze serpent staff for healing in the wilderness in Numbers 21.
3) In Joshua 6, God told the Israelites to march around Jericho for 7 days with the Ark of the covenant and then shout on the 7th day, then the walls came down. The Israelites thought they could do this at anything time they wanted even when God didn’t explicitly tell them to. So later in 1 Samuel 4 they brought the Ark out to help them fight the Philistines but the Philistines won and took the Ark as a trophy. The Israelites sinned because they ritualized the Ark as a magic weapon, rather than asking God for instructions, this is why they lost. However, a plague hit the Philistines, and when the Ark was placed next to a statue of their god Dagon, Dagon fell over and broke. So the Philistines were defeated by God himself and they gave the Ark back.
It is sin to ritualize specific events in the bible. We aren’t supposed to rely on spirits other than God, or our own understanding and man-made rituals, but rather we must trust God himself.
In Mark 7:6-8 Jesus replied to the Sanhedrin council, that they were hypocrites, after criticizing his disciples for not doing ritual hand washing (Netilat Yadayim) before eating. He says, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”[Isa 29:13] In verse 8 he says they ignored God’s law and substituted it with their own tradition. The Netilat Yadayim or ritual hand washing has nothing to do with hygiene, it is a custom that comes from the oral tradition of the Pharisees and is only written as a command in the Talmud, NOT in the bible. This is why Jesus doesn’t observe it, because it never came from God in the first place.
Gifts of the Spirit:
The gifts of the spirit that come with the holy spirit are not superpowers that are invoked on purpose by a human for profit, but rather invoked by God at specific times for a specific reason, in a covenant person through the Holy Spirit. This person has to have developed a habit of hearing from God and following God’s instructions, to be used this way. The spiritual gifts in the new covenant are explained by Paul in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. There are 9 gifts of the spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, the ability to judge between spirits and speak in different languages (tongues), and the ability to interpret tongues. Verse 11 says, “One and the same Spirit is at work in all these things, distributing to each person as he chooses.” We know Jesus operated in at least 7 out of the 9 since there is no record of him speaking in diverse tongues or interpreting tongues so no confirmation he did those in the gospels. Hebrews 6:1-2 explains laying on hands is just as important as the doctrines of baptisms, repentance, Faith in God, the coming resurrect, and eternal judgment for Christians. That means all of these are a necessary part of the Christian faith.
These gifts of the spirit are from God through the holy spirit, only available to his people who have received Jesus (John 14:15-17, Rom 8:5-11), and they are always aligned with God’s will and scripture. If a person tries to forcefully or deceptively use these gifts outside of God’s instruction it would be a sin, and any spiritual power not from the holy spirit is from an unclean spirit or demon. Examples: Phillip vs Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25), Paul vs Bar-Jesus the Sorcerer (Acts 13:4-12), and Paul vs the Medium slave woman (Acts 16:16-24). Simon the Sorcerer from Acts 8, actually tried to buy the holy spirit’s power but Peter shut him down and threatened him with a curse if he continues to think of God’s free gift of salvation as a tool for profit, and Simon begged for mercy. Sometimes people take what scripture says about the gifts of the spirit, and make up new traditions based on out-of-context verses. Again Jesus spoke against that in Mark 7:6-8. A proper explanation of the gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians ch. 12-14.
Everything must be read in the full context of each biblical author and taken with the scope of the entire bible in mind. Many of the things in that image are based on context misusages of scriptures or are pagan practices that were sinful for God’s people.