The Terrible Christian Legacy of the Witch Hunts.

I've already spoken about the Christian legacy regarding slavery and the Inquisition. Now I turn to the witch hunts. The Biblical basis for them can be found here: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22:18) And, "A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones." (Leviticus 20:27).

A very interesting and well written account of the stages of a witch trial can be found here.

I've repeatedly asked that if such barbaric acts like the witch hunts are something God is not to be partially blamed for, then why didn't he condemn them by saying, "Thou shalt not torture, imprison, banish or kill suspected witches or wizards," and say it as often as he needed to so that later professing Christians would not cause so much needless pain and misery? Why didn't God do this if he knew professing Christians would be so evil as to do these great harms unless he condemned them? Why did he not forbid such a practice knowing full well that I would malign him in this Blog entry for not doing what any decent divine person should've done if he wanted his name to be honored among men, instead of reviled? He was supposedly clear about not murdering or raping innocent people. Why not do the same for accused witches and heretics of the Inquisition, as well as slaves in the American South?

I can see no possible justification for God's utter failure to effectively communicate what should be obvious to democratically minded civilized people, that this is barbaric behavior. None. None at all. Nor can I see any justification for it in the same era in which he supposedly commanded it. People have sincere differences of opinion on so many issues, from the important to the unimportant, that it utterly amazes me God should ever command killing witches in the first place. Nor do I see why it's important that God wants us to acknowledge him if he exists, especially when he gives us so many reasons to disbelieve in the Bible and his goodness. A God like that has a lot to answer for. He's a demon in disguise...or he just doesn't exist.


Anonymous said...

In case someone points out I chose the phrase "professing Christians" rather than the word "Christians" to describe the Church during those days, let me state clearly that all we ever see are "professing Christians." That's the only kind of Christians we ever see, those who profess Christ, and these people during those days did. Even if they weren't "true Christians," God could still have alleviated a great deal of suffering by condemning such barbaric acts among those who professed Christ.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at Romans 12.

Anonymous said...

Ah, so God reads all the blogs. In fact He read them long before the concept of a blog ever existed!

And He (not Al Gore?) invented the Internet!

Yayess! Praize da Lawd!

Rich said...

I do have to wonder, John, what makes you think that condemning anything would make any difference to those who carry out these acts? It seems to be pretty clear that murder, lying, stealing, for example are wrong, yet people don't listen and still commit these acts. This is something that is not only clear in the bible, but also outside the bible, yet they are done to someone on a daily basis. So why, other then for the sole purpose of you not having this to add to your blog, would having condemned such an act made any difference?

Anonymous said...

Yes rich, people have done wrong even though the Bible says to do otherwise. But I know of no act (or series of acts) that was sanctioned by the whole Church where she knowingly did wrong. Take the child molesting done by Catholic priests. The priests know it's wrong even if they do it. But think what would be done if the Bible did not condemn such a practice. That's my point. Because at that point there would be systematic and widespread child abuse sanctioned by the Church.

Rich said...

Yes I often wonder what would be sanctioned by a church. I know of no acts either. But I also don't think that God should have to condemn every act. While it would make things easier, we should be smart enough to realize when things are just wrong. I also don't buy that the bible, as we have it, is the only written account of God dealing with humans.
I know you got my point and I understand what your saying, but just to reiterate, I don't see how God condemning an act would stop it from happening. People do awful things, with or without a higher authority condemning it.

Hinch said...

I agree, John, that it is difficult to understand how God could have sanctioned, if not explicitly instigated, many of the great atrocities of the Old Testament. This behavior seems completely at odds with the compassionate and forgiving God expressed through Christ in the New Testament. However, with that said, i think it is clear that through Christ, God has set the record straight; he has shown us in rather simple terms how he would have us live. The decision of an individual, or indeed the entire church, to act otherwise, says more about our selective reading, and the apparent disconnect between the God of the Old and New Testaments, than it does about the clarity of right and wrong expressed in the bible. We will always find ways to justify our abhorrent behavior, no matter how explicit the advice to do otherwise, but i do agree, the brutality of the God of the Old Testament makes the justification all that much easier.

Anonymous said...

Rich said...I also don't think that God should have to condemn every act.

Not every act, just the ones that cause the most suffering to people. Think of the terror the Church had on people during those times! No one would want to hold to a different religious perspective.

While it would make things easier, we should be smart enough to realize when things are just wrong.

And God should be smart enough to know professing Christians wouldn't be smart enough not to burn witches.

The fact is, God said witches should be killed. So when Christianity reigned as a political force they inacted many of the laws of the OT, since those laws were to guide a nation, and Jesus never meant to undermine the Law of the OT.

Rich said...

The passage you refer to in Exodus, I wonder if it has been correctly translated. I understand that in ancient Hebrew there is no word for witch. That being true, how can this be a command of the Hebrew God? In the time period we call the dark ages, there are many who believe the the bible was changed and rewritten. This could easily have been the case here, considering there isn't apparently a word for witch in ancient Hebrew dialects. If this is true , then what was originally in that text? And if God then didn't command witches to be killed, that changes things a bit.

Anonymous said...

From the Harper's Bible Dictionary:

A witch is a specialist in the manipulation of intangible powers of evil against people. She is a worker of magic, and magic was condemned in the Bible (see below). Witches were commonly held to have existed in the ancient Near East and were doubtless known to the ancient Israelites. The OT contains lists of offenders of various kinds no longer precisely definable, but which probably included witches. The longest such list is found in Deut. 18:10-11, where the practitioners of various acts forbidden to the readers are said to flourish in the nations Israel is dispossessing. A slightly shorter list attributes such offenses to Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chron. 33:6), and several of the same terms are combined with the prophets and dreamers to whom Jeremiah tells the Judeans not to listen (Jer. 27:9). Pairs of such terms are found in Lev. 19:26; Isa. 47:9, 12 (of Babylon); and Mic. 5:11. A woman who practices one of these activities and who may be a witch is proscribed in Exod. 22:18, and Nah. 3:4 designates Nineveh such a woman. The so-called witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28) is a necromancer or medium.

Magic and divination are the means by which humans (via witches magicians and/or wizards) attempt to secure for themselves some action or information from superhuman powers. Magic is an attempt by human beings to compel a divinity, by the use of physical means, to do what they wish that divinity to do. Divination is an attempt to secure information, also by the use of physical means, about matters and events that are currently hidden or that lie in the future.

A host of intermediary beings called demons exist between gods and humans. Depending on their proximity to the gods, demons possess divine power in diminishing measures. Those closest to the gods have bodies of air; those closest to humans, bodies of steam or water. Because of this descending order, the unity of the cosmos can be preserved. Otherwise, human and divine would be irreparably separated and no communication between the two would be possible. Everything is connected through the demons who mediate between the divine and the material. Magic rests upon the belief that by getting hold of demons in physical objects, the divinity can be influenced. The magician’s art is to find out which material (metal, herb, animal, etc.) contains which divinity and to what degree. By using the element or combinations of elements containing a particular divinity in its purest form, a sympathetic relationship with the divinity will be established. If, however, elements offensive to a divinity are used, the result will be antipathetic. The magician knows the secret and knows how to use it in the correct way with the best results.

Anonymous said...

Rich, as you can see, a witch is a worker of magic. Such a person was to be killed. Besides, even if God didn't say witches should be killed, surely he should've had the foresight to know he should condemn the killing of witches.

Rich said...

Another part of my point was to say that I believe many things were removed or changed in the bible. What if God did condemn the killing of witches but it was removed or altered to justify the witch hunts you are talking about? Because witch wasn't a word known in that time, it does leave the suspicion that this is a possibility. But regardless you are right to say that things should be condemned. But the lack of such, at least to me, doesn't suggest that God didn't effectively communicate his will, but more likely, someone didn't like what they read so they changed it to fit what they believe. This still happens.

Anonymous said...

rich, well then, here we have an additional problem for God. He cannot guarantee that what he said was effectively transcribed in the Bible.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I'd add that maybe an even more serious problem is the tacit assumption in the Bible that 'witches' and 'magic' and 'soothsaying' and 'astrology' and other similar things are both 'evil' and 'real.' (The Bible and Christian thinkers do not condemn such people as fraudulent, but as 'getting their powers from the devil,' -- or, for the Old Testament -- not so monotheistic as is frequently portrayed -- from 'false gods.'

If the OT God had simply said that there was 'no such thing as magic,' not only would many lives have been saved, but, perhaps, many years of wandering down false paths would have been eliminated.

Why should an all-knowing God -- and a God who is the Creator of the Ultimate Moral Standard and the 'epitome of truth' -- not condemn superstition as false rather than as evil? (He could, still, leave an exception for his own supposedly miraculous acts.)

Anonymous said...


When you have a wart on your toe, do not saw your own leg off to 'fix' the problem.

In the same way, you must read the scriptures carefully and seek to understand them when there is a difficulty, not challenge their authenticity. There is a rich manuscript tradition from where we can test today's translations. This work has been mostly done and we can be highly confident that what we have is an accurate representation of the innerant autographs.

About magic: I do not think that such magic as you read about in sword and sorcery books is real. However, as a Christian that accepts a supernatural world that can influence ours, I believe it is quite possible for some 'magic' to exist. Demons are at war with God and they use deception to ensnare humans. Someone could pray for a sign that False God X is god, and they get a glowing light in the sky. In reality, I think it is in their mind, not tangible. Demons can influence the thoughts of people, and in the extreme, they can inhabit and substantially control their behavior (possession). I have read accounts of Occult practices where people really believe magic occurred. I do not know the extent of what demons can do, but they can at least create images and impressions in peoples' minds. For the record, I don't think they can manifest themselves in physical form.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Prup. But as you can tell from Kyle, Christians who believe the Bible also believe there are demons. Therefore according to them there truly are witches who work real magic. What should be done with them, granting everything else the Bible says, if they truly exist? That's my question. Why wasn't God clear on this? That's my question.

If however, God wants witches to be killed, then why isn't the church obeying God?

Anonymous said...

So then, a magician (soothsayer, psychic, wizard, witch, etc) is someone under the influence of demon activity (or a fraud). They could cast spells such as curses on someone, and the demons could use their powers to make the Magician 'think' they cast magic, by harrassing the intended victim, for example. This would have the effect of ensnaring the Magician in the ideology that led him to think that his magic is real.

A person like this is under a strong delusion and can lead others to destruction by teaching others to practice magic. God considered this a capital offense for people living in Israel, the chosen land. The state of Israel was to be pure, and anyone living there who committed magic was to be put to death to purge the nation of evil practices. The purpose of the law was not to be barbaric to magic users, but to deter its practice. If they never come out of the delusion then when they die, they go to Hell. I argue that it would be unloving for God NOT to set the standard so high against magic use. Modern people should read and fear getting involved with occult practices because God lovingly warned them of the dire eternal consequences.

So now that I laid out the background info I would like to address the subject of witch trials. In the nation of Israel, God was King (theocracy) so religious crimes were under the governmental jurisdiction. It was God's prerogative to punish magic users with death. Modern governments are not direct theocracies and hence have different degrees of authority. A government has the right to bear the sword (Rom. 13) against capital crimes. Religious crimes are not under government authority so heresy should not be punished by goverment. Hurtful religious practices (like blowing up buildings) should be punished but not holding and teaching wrong beliefs.

So, in summary, societies where witch hunts take place are misguided and working under an assumed jurisdiction which they do not possess. They were dead wrong to kill witches.

John charges God with an 'utter failure to effectively communicate' about not killing witches. God commands that people read all his words and love the truth. When they do this then they discover that Israel was a special situation where God was in charge and so not all laws transfer to other governmental structures. If people do not love the truth and don't do the most clear things (carefully read God's word), then God is not to be blamed for their sinful deeds.

Anonymous said...

Kyle, The church is not under the Mosaic covenant, but it is a theocracy in the same sense as was the case in the Old Testament. Contrary to some pietistic views of Jesus, his was a political movement. (more on this at a later date).

Besides, Jesus did not come to overturn the OT Law. He said so. The difference was that the early Christian movement had no political power. So when the church gained political power they turned to the Law of Moses to see how to run a country. It was the natural thing to do.

You're interpreting the Bible through the lenses of democracy (which is a recent development in history), and hence you have a false understanding of these things.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

No, demons -- those visitors who drifted into Christianity from Zoroastrianism -- do NOT exist. They were explanations created to explain barious physical and mental diseases, as well as being the Zoroastrians explanation for the 'problem of evil' -- one which makes a bit more sense than the Biblical ones. They have become yet another 'answer for which there is no question.'

As for biblical inerrancy, I wish you'd do a bit more research. Your assumption that we have "an accurate representation of the innerant autographs" is simply not true. (For example, the 'story of the woman taken in adultery' and the 'Great Commission' at the end of Matthew are both now known to be later additions, totally lacking in the earliest sources.)

Don't take my word for it. I would suggest you check out two blogs, both by believers and theologians. The first is FAITH AND THEOLOGY
which recently ran a poll -- admittedly a humorous one -- on the 'worst theological invention,' in which 'Biblical inerrancy' came in tied for first.
(If you are wondering, the blogger, Ben Myers, has a PhD in seventeenth-century theology and is doing postdoctoral research presently -- as well as being a believer.) The post is at May 4th, but you might also read his comments on 'Three things I believe: three things I do not believe" at May 7th.

The second is CHRISENDOM,
run by Chris Tilling, an evangelical Christian currently studying for his doctorate under Max Turner at the University of Tubingen. In his post of May 1st he links to the FAITH AND THEOLOGY poll -- before the winners were announced -- and to his own series on inerrancy. I believe you might find his writing and research of interest.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John, you and Kyle are posting as fast as I am, so I'll just leave my comments up and step back.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Oops, can't quite shut up. Kyle, modern people should avoid getting involved with occult practices because they are fradulent. They don't exist. They don't happen. People are not fooled by demons into believing in them, they are fooled by clever tricksters, and by their own ignorance of certain basic principles of magic -- the stage kind -- and of critical thinking.

snakey said...

The thing that has been left out in this discussion is that the 'witch hunts' are a genocide of women by the patriarchal church & society. Its male domination.

I believe the last 'witch' was burned only a few decades ago in a remote part of Europe. The idea that women's power, which was the knowledge of healing & child bearing was too dangerous & required subjegating. I believe the medical profession (men) also gained a great deal from 'demonising' women & their knowledge of sexual reproduction & healing.

Also...I'm aware that some xians still view using 'herbs' such as cannabis as 'witchcraft'.


Rich said...

Thanks for the tip Kyle, but I do read carefully and seek to understand them. Just because someone doesn't see things the way you do doesn't mean they don't seek for understanding. When John posted this and I read it, it made me think and wonder. Upon investigation I discover that the word witch may have not been in the ancient Hebrew language, something scholars seem to agree on. So I then wonder what that verse must have really said. Everyone has ideas, no one is sure. Regardless of that little question, witch hunts were not right.
Oh, and between me and you, if this bible is, as you say an accurate representation of the inerrant autographs, we're in trouble.

Anonymous said...

The bible is perfect and without error. If there is any error, word play, then that is through translation. There is NO other document in HISTORY that comes even close to it.

By the way, one of the minor translations errors is in the NIV. There is no Acts 8:37.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Your statement "The bible is perfect and without error....There is NO other document in HISTORY that comes even close to it." is, simply, a lie. Not one you are telling us, one you were told and are repeating.
Rather than being a parrot, will you please explain the specific points about the 'story of the woman taken in adultery' and the 'Great commission' at the end of Matthew. These do not appear in the earliest manuscripts we have -- we don't have the 'original autographs' and are not discussed by the earliest commentators. Either they are later additions, or they were omitted in the early manuscripts -- if so, why? Do you have an explanation?

Then deal with the 'march of the dead' in Matthew, and the 'Slaughter of the Innocents' by Herod, both of which are not only not mentioned by any non-Biblical source, when they are both stories that would have been told repeatedly, but also are not mentioned by any other Gospel -- in most cases not even by those Gospels that 'didn't make the cut.'

Maybe you can explain these problems, but covering your eyes and repeating 'the Bible is perfect' doesn't do it. Again, check out the references to blogs by believers such as Chris Tilling and Ben Weber and see what they -- and their believing readers -- think of the idea of 'biblical inerrancy.' (And neither of them are 'liberal Christians.' Chris is an evangelical, his teacher is Max Turner, and Richard Bauckham (sp?) is a regular contributor.) Do you really think whatever pastor you are quoting can match them in knowledge, when they have spent years in believing studies of the Bible?

Anonymous said...

I believe I am the one with the eyes open, and you are the one with your mind set on trying to find any little error possible in the bible. What you come up with are pretty lame reasons to disprove the bible.

You must realize Christianity is unlike any other religion in the world. Because my parents are christians doesn't mean I'm a christian. It's personal faith.

Hmmm.... how many written sources are there from the time of Jesus besides the bible or anything else involving Jesus? Why has this document stood the test of time? I guess since you are of little faith you would expect the documents written 2000 years ago to be perfectly intact and easy to read.

Apparently you like to avoid all the correctly predicted prophecies. Huh? Please answer me, and don't skip around. How many other propheciss in human history have come true, if any? You must be really set against christianity and the bible to ignore those, but no, I forgot, you are the open-minded one.

Anonymous said...

hi l-n-g,
Apparently you like to avoid all the correctly predicted prophecies.

Matthew 16:28 doesn't seem to have happened, or do I have a misconception?
That's a pretty big one I think.

"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here
who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in
His kingdom.” (NASB) Matt. 16:28

Anonymous said...

For Matt. 16:28 there are two possible answers.

To me the most likely answer is the transfiguration. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus as he will look when he comes again. This second coming is also referred to as "the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

The second possibility is that John himself saw Jesus coming in his kingdom when he was given revelation. That is possible, but I would say no to that idea because Jesus infered SOME will see, and that usually means more than one.

Also a 1/3 of the bible is prophecy. (I've heard different percentages but I think this one is pretty close). Consider that much of the bible, from God, dedicatied to letting people know what's going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Farrel Till responds to Hugh Ross's claims of fulfilled biblical prophecies (l-n-g's link):'s page of rebuttals and refutations of Hugh Ross arguments:

The New Covenant said...

Devotional Verse of the Day

"Blessed be God, which hath nor turned away my prayer."
--Psalm 66:20

In looking back upon the character of our prayers, if we do it honestly, we shall be filled with wonder that God has ever answered them. There may be some who think their I prayers worthy of acceptance--as the Pharisee did; but the true Christian, in a more enlightened retrospect, weeps over his prayers, and if he could retrace his steps he would desire to pray more earnestly.

Remember, Christian, how cold thy prayers have been. When in thy closet thou shouldst have wrestled as Jacob did; but instead thereof, thy petitions have been faint and few--far removed from that humble, believing, persevering faith, which cries, "I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me." Yet, wonderful to say, God has heard these cold prayers of thine, and not only heard, but answered them.

Reflect also, how infrequent have been thy prayers, unless thou hast been in trouble, and then thou hast gone often to the mercy-seat: but when deliverance has come, where has been thy constant supplication? Yet, notwithstanding thou hast ceased to pray as once thou didst, God has not ceased to bless.

When thou hast neglected the mercy-seat, God has not deserted it, but the bright light of the Shekinah has always been visible between the wings of the cherubim.

Oh! it is marvellous that the Lord should regard those intermittent spasms of importunity which come and go with our necessities.

What a God is He thus to hear the prayers of those who come to Him when they have pressing wants, but neglect Him when they have received a mercy; who approach Him when they are forced to come, but who almost forget to address Him when mercies are plentiful and sorrows are few. Let His gracious kindness in hearing such prayers touch our hearts, so that we may henceforth be found "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit."

Yours for Him

Anonymous said...

Hi L-n-g,
I would call the transfiguration solution a 'bait-and-switch'. This creates a dilemma because it means that Jesus/God cheated on his promise or he was wrong.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, that was one poor attempt to dissuade Micah 5:2

But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:2, NKJV).

Note "whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting." That would be Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was one poor attempt to counter Till's argument. Simply asserting that Micah 5:2 is talking about Jesus doesn't make it so. That's right, l-n-g, simply asserting something doesn't make it true.

Why don't you try actually addressing Till's arguments? What about his refutation of Ross's other 12 claims? Here are the links again, in case you misplaced them:

Anonymous said...

Hi l-n-g,
by the question marks I guess you are saying that I didn't make myself clear.

for the moment, stipulating that the bible is historical.....

I think if the transfiguration is what Jesus meant, then it was a very ambiguous and potentially misleading thing to say. I expect that while the disciples where in awe of the transfiguration, I don't think they equated that with what jesus said and if they did, then I am sure they were disappointed as I am. As a Christian I would have prefered it to be shown to be a redaction, proven to be a later addition to the text. As it stands, he gave the impression of one thing, and did another. This is called a 'bait-and-switch'. It is more of that fraud stuff I was talking about.

And you really should respond to Benny.

Heres a prediction, you are going to see a white animal tomorrow and it will be sign that you will not have to come to a complete stop at an intersection.

Please let me know if it comes true. I trust, since you are a christian you will be honest.

Michael said...

When it comes to prophesies, I think that people are, as my songwriting teacher used to say, wishing meaning into words.

The fact is that there are so many ways to interpret or misinterpret the Bible is a big head scratcher to me. Why would someone, God included, put so much at stake for another person and not give them UNMISTAKABLE words to go by. Just the fact that we are having this discussion is very telling indeed.

Now I am not talking about belief here, so this is not a matter of having faith.

Anonymous said...

I tried Christianity, more times than I care to remember, when I was young. It's preachers just kept calling me a "cursed" liar, and attacking me for what sins they imagined I was committing. They refused to ever listen, or open their eyes to what was being done to me(perhaps they were child molesters, themselves, like the ones that routinely hunt "women's children", like me).

They would always get around to attacking my mother eventually, because my father had abandoned us, and she was just not willing to pick up some other male on the rebound(women left in poverty with children attract mostly pedophyles, as a rule). Instead of looking the other way, as she was told to do like a good little sheep, she chose to made her own way in the world, work by day, college by night. In their eyes, she was apparently to blame for the fact that the man who had deceived her was a lying, womanizing, deceitful, thieving, brutal, alcoholic.

Getting back to the topic, the reason "God" did not command His children(men) to NOT kill witches, is that "God" wants witches to be killed. (a witch was defined as any woman with the power of independents; i.e. knowledge, intuition ... ) This is to allow men to go on abusing women, and "women's children".

That is what "God" is really all about. This concept of "God" comes down from the "cavemen". "God" was invented by a group of alpha males, who enjoyed doing what ever they pleased to anyone who was powerless to escape them; especially "women's children" - but not "men's children", that would be disruptive to "His children"(men). And "God" wanted them to do what ever they pleased to any woman that was either unwilling (but not to one claimed by one of them, that could disrupt male unity), or not sexually attractive enough for them to want to mate with(elderly/not fertile - when most women that have remained independent reach the zenith of their knowledge, or intuition).

Basically, "God" was invented so that men could "get their rocks off" as often as possible, without annoying other men. Witches, women that achieved independence, were a threat to this.