You may never have considered the differences between miracles, magic, and illusions—and why would you? It’s not like this is an everyday conversation that normal twenty-first century people have, right? Yet the largest cultural phenomenon of the last decade and a half talks about all three. Still we are just as muddy as ever on dividing these three. If Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel crew can’t make up their minds, do we have a chance? I think we do. Let’s dive into it.
Miracles are extraordinary or unnatural events where God purposefully intervenes in human history. They always originate from him. Sure, God uses others to perform them, but they are always through Him and have a specific purpose in His plan—they are “signs.” That’s the difference between miracles, magic, and illusions: the source and the purpose.
If you’ve ever been to a magic show, watched someone do magic tricks, or even tried some sleight-of-hand tricks yourself, these are illusions. Sure, we call them “magic,” but everyone know it’s not real magic—we are simply being tricked or deceived in some way for entertainment purposes. We know it’s fake even if we don’t know how they did it. I’m trying to learn the card trick from both Ant Man and Wanda Vision, but I can’t get it right. The purpose is usually to entertain—whether it’s your fun uncle or a professional entertainer in Vegas, the source is human craftiness. That’s illusion.
However, illlusion is fake and based on deception using mirrors, wires, trap doors, etc. True magic is real. Paganism, witchcraft, and worshiping the occult have existed throughout history. Wicca (pagan witchcraft) has almost one million adherents worldwide. And there are at least that many in developing nations practicing local and ancient forms of it. While I was in West Africa, I saw witch doctors performing rituals against us as we presented the gospel in villages that openly worshipped statues. But it’s not just there—it’s here! Every Tuesday when I head to a particular coffee shop for staff meeting, a witch serves me coffee. True story—she’s not shy about it.
This type of magic is pagan, witchcraft, and occult. Magic is supernatural. That’s what separates it from illusions. How are miracles and magic different if they’re both supernatural? Well, they are different in source and purpose. Miracles come from God, but occult practices like witchcraft use demonic power to make unnatural things happen. Magic starts with the person doing the incantation reaching out to the spiritual world to manipulate the physical, natural world.
In short, the source of miracles is God. The source of magic is anything but God.
If miracles are signs that point to the truth of God, magic does the opposite by either working for the personal gain of the magician, seeking “truth” outside of God, or outright opposing God and His work.
Miracles point to God. Magic obscures God.
Miracles are God showing His control over nature. Magic is man studying a craft to manipulate nature.
Miracles confirm God and His Word. Magic is an effort to gain knowledge outside the boundaries of God and His Word.
Now that we understand differences between miracles, magic, and illusions, what does the Bible say?
The first mention of magic is in Genesis 1 when Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt, is disturbed by dreams, so he asked all the magicians and wise men of Egypt to interpret them, to no avail.
The next time it’s mentioned is in Exodus 7 when Moses and Aaron go to Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery and God told them Pharaoh would demand a miracle. So God showed them how make a staff become a venomous snake. When Aaron threw down the staff, it became a serpent. But Pharaoh one-upped them and told his own “wise men and sorcerers” to do the same. Then wow! Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.
What was God doing? He was showing them a sign that God’s miracles are superior to their magic. Scripture is clear that Pharoah’s “wise men and sorcerers” could have been an illusion—fake magic. Snake charming is still practiced today, but Scripture says “magic.” These Egyptian sorcerers actually mimicked a few miracles: They also turned water into blood and produced frogs. They couldn’t mimic any miracles after these, though.
But references to magic don’t end after this:
In Moses’ Law we see many commands against magic in the nation of Israel (Exodus 22:18).
Leviticus19:26 and 31 warn against practicing fortune-telling or witchcraft.
Deuteronomy 18:10-11 commands the Israelites not to use sorcery, interpret omens, engage in witchcraft, cast spells, function as mediums or psychics, or call up spirits of the dead.
Deuteronomy 20:6 says, “I will also turn against those who commit spiritual prostitution by putting their trust in mediums or in those who consult the spirits of the dead.”
Did Israel obey God’s commands here? No.
King Saul consulted a medium in 1 Samuel 28 and lost his kingdom (1 Chronicles 10:13-14).
King Manasseh sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics.
In the New Testament, magic, witchcraft, and sorcery is called a sin in Galatians 5:20, Revelation 9:21, Revelation 21:8, and Revelation 22:15.
Throughout the Book of Acts, magicians and sorcerers come to Christ and repent of their evil.
Acts 19 says God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. People were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.
Who was the source? God. What was the purpose? To show people that Paul had creditability and the message of Jesus was true. Some magicians wanted to get in on the miracle game so they tried magic in Ephesus, which is where Acts 19 is set. They are insulted to the highest degree then beaten by a man with an evil spirit. What happens because of the triumph of the miracles God worked through Paul and the failure of the magicians to do the same?
Acts 19 says a solemn fear descended on the city and Jesus was greatly honored, then many became believers, confessed their sinful practices and burned their incantation books. A riot breaks out in the city of Ephesus because of the mass burning. Craftsmen who made items for casting spells and other magic-related business people got together—the witchcraft industrial complex, if you will—and tried to silence them.
From Genesis to Revelation and many places in between, Scripture says magic and the occult is a real thing, but it is not something to mess with. Magic and all forms of occult practices are demonic and never appropriate for Christians. It is a human attempt to circumvent God, manipulate the world, and find spiritual truth outside the revelation of Scripture.
Before we go, a word about Lifeword. This amazing organization has been spreading the good news of Jesus since 1965. Lifeword’s most recent project is building the Lifeword Cloud, enabling the more than five decades of gospel programming to be accessed through the Internet. The ultimate goal is that 200 world languages would be represented on the Lifeword Cloud and that speakers of those languages would hear the greatest story ever told in their heart language. So go and check them out at Lifeword.org.