Sorcery and Fortune Telling

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune- telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. —Acts 16:16-18 ESV

In a space of just two verses, the Bible gives us a glimpse into the nature and activity of evil spirits and how they could do something as mind-boggling as fortune telling. In the original Greek, the text says that the slave girl was possessed by the python spirit. The Macedonians believed that this serpent was the guard of the oracle of Apollo and it gives the power for second sight and ventriloquism to anyone it possesses, something eerily similar to Voldemort’s parseltongue in the Harry Potter novels. The fact that this slave girl had been widely recognized for her craft in Macedonia meant that the city was under the grip of her spiritual influence. This begs the question: How do we think Biblically about sorcery?

Sorcery is Satan’s way of counterfeiting God’s activities in the world. Counterfeits exist because an original exists, the same way that the Egyptian magicians imitated Aarons’ rod that Moses turned to snake in Exodus 7:8-13. Black magic is the devil’s imitation of the gifts of the Spirit. Fortune telling is a counterfeit of the gift of prophecy. The slave girl in Acts 16 was using her “gifts” of fortune telling for financial gain. This stood in stark contast to the gifts of the Spirit that are to be used for the building up of believers (1 Corinthians 12-14).

The point of this story is the superiority of the name of Jesus over the local deities. The Macedonians worshiped Apollo and the snake that guarded his temple. The city was enslaved by the spirit of the python for too long. When Paul and his companions preached Christ, they broke the stranglehold of the python spirit in Macedonia and freed the slave girl of the demon that had been controlling her so she could not do her witchcraft again. This story shows a head-on collision between the false gods of the Greeks and the true God of the Christians.

The Bible does not deny the existence and potency of black magic and sorcery but it shows us the superiority of the power of Christ. The sorcerers in the courts of Pharaoh and Nabuchadnezzar knew their dark arts very well but they had to bow to the superior power of Israel’s God. When Joseph and Daniel interpreted the dreams of the kings they served, the Bible was showing us that the wisdom and power that came from above is greater than the wisdom and power of both Egypt and Babylon combined.

Perhaps one of the most graphic gestures of the superiority of Christ happened after his birth. Jesus was barely few months old at that time when wise men from the East traveled the desert lands to come and pay tribute to him. Some Bible scholars believe that these wise men were the best in sorcery and divination of their time, sort of equivalent to Gandalf and Dumbledore in modern literature. There, in the humble manger in a lonely town of Bethlehem, the brightest wizards and sorcerers worshiped Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world. They bowed their knees in humble recognition that compared to their arts, Jesus is superior.