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What the Bible says about Wicca and Witchcraft

Interpretation of Galatians 5:19-20

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Galatians 5:19-20 in 22 English translations of the Bible:

Various translations of the Christian Scriptures render this verse as a list of "acts of the sinful nature", or "works of the flesh" and specify the following practices. We have indicated in bold those terms related to this essay:

  1. American Standard Version: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery..."
  2. The Answer: "being sexually unfaithful, not being pure, taking part in sexual sins, worshipping gods, doing witchcraft...."
  3. Amplified Bible: "immorality, impurity, indecency, idolatry, sorcery..."
  4. Authentic New Testament: "adultery, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery..."
  5. Good News Version: "immoral, filthy and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft..."
  6. James Moffatt Translation: "sexual vice, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, magic..."
  7. Jerusalem Bible: "fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery..."
  8. King James Version: "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft..."
  9. Living Bible: "impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, spiritism (that is, encouraging the activity of demons),..."
  10. Modern Language Bible: "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, magic arts...".
  11. New American Bible: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery..."
  12. New American Standard Bible: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery..."
  13. New Century Version: "being sexually unfaithful, not being pure, taking part in sexual sins, worshipping false gods, doing witchcraft..."
  14. New International Version: "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft..."
  15. New Living Translation: "sexual immorality, impure thoughts. eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities...."
  16. New Revised Standard Version: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery..."
  17. New Testament & Psalms: An Inclusive Version: "fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery..."
  18. New World Translation: "fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism..."
  19. The Promise: Contemporary English Version: "immoral ways, impure thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft..."
  20. Rheims New Testament: "fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts..."
  21. Revised Standard Version: "fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery..."
  22. Revised English Bible: "fonication, indecency, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery..."

The reference to adultery was not present in the earliest manuscripts. It appears to have been added later by an anonymous Christian copyist for unknown reasons.

The key word of interest here is the Greek word "pharmakia" from which the English words "pharmacy" "pharmaceuticals," and "pharmacology" are derived. Interpreted literally, it refers to the practice of preparing poisonous potions to harm or kill others. In the above English translations it has been called:

bullet sorcery: 10 times;
bullet witchcraft: 7 times;
bullet magic, magical arts: twice;
bullet spiritism: twice;
bullet participate in demonic activities: once.

The most likely meanings do not appear in any of the Bible translations that we have checked:

bullet A poisoner: a murderer who uses toxic potions to kill humans by stealth.
bullet A person who goes around spreading dissention - poisoning people's minds.

Of the terms that are actually used in English translations:

bullet Sorcery is inexact because current usage sometimes refers to white magic, for healing purposes, as well as black (injurious) magic.

bullet The use of witchcraft is particularly unfortunate. The word is hopelessly vague. It has at least 18 different meanings -- some quite contradictory. The largest group whose members describe themselves as Witches are Wiccans and other Neopagans. They are prohibited from dominating, manipulating, controlling or harming others by their Wiccan Rede. Thus, they do not engage in any form of black magic. They are restricted to what the public refers to as "white magic;" they use spells to promote healing and positive outcomes.

bullet The use of the word spiritism is similarly unfortunate, because the Greek word does not seem to have any connection with the practice of contacting spirits. This term is used by Spiritists who form the Universal Church of the Master. (Spiritists are called Spiritualists in the UK). They use mediums to try to contact the spirits of the deceased, in order to grow spiritually and intellectually. They currently have about 10,000 members in the US. The New Age practice of channeling is very similar to Spiritism.

We would recommend that readers of the Bible cross out the words "witchcraft," "spiritism," etc. and substitute "poisoning", because Galatians 5:19-20 has no connection with any of the words, even though they appear in popular translations of the Christian Scriptures.

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References Used

  1. Alexi Kondratiev "Suffer a Witch to Live", Enchanté, the Journal for the Urbane Pagan, Mabon & Vinalia (1994), P. 11-15
  2. Paul Hume, "Thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live," at: http://www.witchvox.com/words/words_1999/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-MAR-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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