The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy

In this series, we have discussed ways the Bible is commonly misused by those who think it has functions it does not. One thing they have in common is the assumption that the Bible is a consistent, uniform document directed by God that provides us with rules, promises, or specific answers to our life questions.

Less common, but not rare, is the idea that the Bible has power within itself—that a Bible is not simply a book but an active force. Besides being a collection of texts we can read, the Bible is thought to have supernatural properties.

When I was young, we attributed great honor to Bibles (as long as they were King James). Nothing was ever placed on top of a Bible—after all, it was a HOLY Bible. When I carried my Bible to school everyday, it was of necessity on the top of my stack of books.

We were in awe of ‘God’s word’ in physical form. This, combined with our belief that the Bible was inerrant throughout, probably qualified us for the charge of bibliolatry—or worshiping the Bible. I’m afraid there are still many bibliolators today.

From this view of the Bible come some peculiar ideas and practices.

The Innate Power of the Bible

Many years ago a popular story circulated among believers about a soldier who was under fire. When the battle was over he took his Bible from his shirt pocket and it had a bullet in it; the Bible had miraculously stopped a bullet that undoubtedly would have killed him.

Whether this story ever really happened I never knew, but it was widely shared by believers and in Christian literature as true. The moral was that the Bible is powerful and miraculous. Years later I heard a similar story about a deck of cards that stopped a bullet. That story would not have created the same excitement among believers.

This essentially presents the Bible as a magic talisman of protection. But the Bible is also used as a force in another way. In college, I learned to hold my leather Bible high when preaching to add authority to what I was saying. While praying for people, some preachers touch the person with a Bible anticipating that its power will flow to them for some desired result.

So, beyond the value of its content, the Bible is thought to have power within itself.

Bible Incantations

As a child, I witnessed an even stranger example of the power of the Bible. I was talking to a neighbor on her front porch while watching her clean her fan. Suddenly, the wind caught the blades, whirled them around, and cut her hand quite severely between her thumb and forefinger. Blood was everywhere.

She asked me to run into her house for her Bible. When I returned, she read aloud the passage that stops blood (I think it was in the Psalms) while she held her wound together to heal it. It was a magical reading; an incantation. I don’t remember much more, but she later said the bleeding stopped, her wound healed, and there wasn’t even a scar.

Without more information, I don’t know what to make of the magic ‘blood’ passage in the Bible. It might have had some psychological effect on her, but I don’t think it was a power innate to the Bible.

That is the only time I ever encountered that incantation, but I have seen other incantations used a lot. The phrases ‘In the name of Jesus’ or ‘By the blood of Jesus’ are often used  in prayer as power commands from the Bible, usually regarding illness or demons. These phrases are thought to have power in themselves.

The Practice of Bibliomancy

You may have heard of necromancy—the attempt to gain information by contacting the dead. ‘Necro’ has to do with death, and ‘mancy’ is divination. This is a widespread practice today, as can be attested by the popularity of seances. And you may recall the well-known example from 1 Samuel 28 where King Saul asked a medium to contact the dead prophet Samuel for him.

There are many practices of divination, such as osteomancy (divination using bones), aruspicina (divination by analysing entrails), and selenomancy (divination using the moon). But the one that concerns us today is bibliomancy—divination using the Bible.

Bibliomancy works this way: A person has a question—perhaps in regard to a serious life decision. They open the Bible at random expecting the first passage they find (sometimes by blindly placing their finger on the page) to be the authoritative answer to their question.

Of course, this is simple superstition and can lead to very poor decisions, but I have heard of many who participate in this misguided use of the Bible based on the idea that it is a magical book.

The Bible is Not a Magical Book

The Bible is very important to us who are believers. But attributing supernatural powers to the Bible is superstition based on unreasonable expectations. The power of the Bible is in the life and teaching of Jesus–and this power is real. Superstitious uses of the Bible emphasize the book over its message.

Other articles in this series: What the Bible is Not
What the Bible Is–And Is Not
The Bible is not Magically Inerrant: Exposing Inerrancy Proof-Texts
The Bible is not a Rule Book: Overcoming Legalism
The Bible is not a Promise Book: Exploring a Misguided Approach to the Bible
The Bible is not an Encyclopedia of Life: Demise of a Bible Answer Man
The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy
The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You

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38 Responses to The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy

  1. sheila0405 says:

    One of my sisters uses the phrase “by the power of the blood of Jesus” when she “claims” a situation will resolve in her favor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cmgatlin53 says:

    I’m not sure this sort of oracle can be completely dismissed as mere superstition. The typical situation seems to be a person unable to decide between too many alternatives, and the clearing out of the arguments for the alternatives and substituting a random operation (as a coin toss or a Bible passage) is only superstition if you invest the oracular object with some inherent power of its own. As a device to clear the mind –resetting one’s clogged decision making apparatus– Bibliomancy is as good as a deck of cards, or a set of dice, or Sortes vergilianae.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chuck, you said: “[It] is only superstition if you invest the oracular object with some inherent power of its own. As a device to clear the mind –resetting one’s clogged decision making apparatus.” Thanks for sharing that clarification.

      I agree. I think such devices can be useful during the thinking and decision process. The problem is, of course, that many believers DO invest the Bible with inherent, oracular, power of its own and use bibliomancy INSTEAD of thinking the matter through and making a decision.

      Also, I think use of such oracles might have a psychological effect, but I don’t think it is due to any actual power of the object.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      emg, a better way than resorting to chance to clear ones mind is to describe the decision that you need to make to someone else, or to ask questions until the decision essentially makes itself. This latter is a very powerful method for someone in a managerial position.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. fiddlrts says:

    There is one well documented case of a document saving a life by stopping a bullet – it happened to Theodore Roosevelt. The document was his 90 minute speech. I wouldn’t imagine, however, that too many consider political speeches to contain some sort of magical power. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mark says:

    Back in the “Day” many believed,..still do for some, that the KJV was the only REAL WOG and all others were just sinful blasphemous copies that would lead a person to damnation.

    I believe that CHRIST was the WORD..made flesh…not printed pages in some dusty book.

    But anyway..many times I witnessed believers and clergy try to use the Bible as a miracle cure for someone sick or afflicted . Elders (deacons) were gathered and they prayed for the “afflicted” person ..assured GOD would heal them because the BIBLE had said so. Like you said…a magic book, Name it then claim it” on faith that GOD must honor HIS WORD.

    When the person was not healed those spiritual leaders would claim it was GODs choice to heal or not heal… OK, then if it is HIS decision and HIS alone why go thru the theatrics? It”s also been said the persons faith wasn’t strong enough..really? What kind of all-powerful Deity would require my faith for HIM to be able to work? Who’s faith was required for HIM to create..creation..the universe.?

    This is just one of the many things that allowed me to see the church and modern Christianity for the fraud it truly is…ever watched a traveling circus..err I mean a FAITH HEALING ministry….does Benny Hinn come to mind? Wow millions of people eat that crap up.

    The Bible is medicine for the soul. And it works if properly applied…to the INSIDE…..the heart. But it will never work if you carry it around like a bottle of cough syrup waving it all about claiming it’s miraculous properties …yet never actually drinking it in..

    To claim what Jesus did for me does, not “Heal” my soul. But doing what HE said will…that is the medicine!

    Good topic TIM

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “The Bible is medicine for the soul. And it works if properly applied…to the INSIDE…..the heart. But it will never work if you carry it around like a bottle of cough syrup waving it all about claiming it’s miraculous properties …yet never actually drinking it in.”

      “Doing what HE said will…that is the medicine!”

      Exactly, Mark! The power of the Bible is in the message–particularly the message of Jesus–not as a book with magical powers. Not as a miracle cure. By the way, I am no fan of ‘name it and claim it’; I have seen people ruined by this harmful belief.

      We were definitely KJV only people. On a couple occasions we happened to find ourselves in possession of other translations–we burned them. Yep, we were book burners, and what we burned were Bibles.

      Like

    • Chas says:

      Mark, unfortunately you are right about Hinn and his frauds. He is coming to peddle this in Manchester UK during September. However, God has not, so far, prevented him from doing it, so some reduction of suffering must be coming out of it, even though I can’t see where.

      Like

  5. S.Weaver says:

    The physical Bible, the church building, the altar, many material things receive more respect and attention than the two commandments Jesus gave us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Weaver, I think you are right on target!

      Like

    • mark says:

      yes the icons and artifacts seem to be more important than the message…good luck charms is what they are…..

      BTW! I have some old bones of one of the Saints that i’m going to sell on evil-bay…..errr…maybe they are just left over chicken bones…but anyway the cheese sandwich with a picture of jesus is real..that is the mentality of the majority of the church it seems. The rains and flood will come…we need to construct our own ark and not just wave about a picture of such…… 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Alan C says:

    The notion of the Bible as a magical talisman makes me think of the practice of swearing oaths with one hand on the Bible. I’ve testified in local and federal courts as an expert witness, and around here we do not use a Bible. I’ve never felt that my testimony is any less reliable because I didn’t put my hand on a Bible, or that anyone else’s is more reliable because they did.

    Of course there’s also a long tradition of Presidents being sworn in on the Bible. This has not always been the practice, but can you imagine the reaction from the religious right if our next President didn’t use a Bible in her swearing-in? Of course the Constitution doesn’t require it and doesn’t even include the phrase “So help me God” in the oath of office. But many people I’m sure would see the President as illegitimate if this phrase and the use of the Bible were skipped.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good point, Alan; I wish I had thought of it when writing the article. I don’t swear oaths at all–Bible or no Bible. Instead, I affirm that I will tell the truth. This is because, like you said, if my word is not trustworthy then swearing on a Bible is not going to make any difference at all.

      Thanks for bring this up! It fits right in with the idea that the Bible has special innate power in itself.

      Like

    • mark says:

      The way I understand an Oath is that if you take or declare it then you place yourself under their Law…The words of Their Law dos not necessarily have the same meaning we think they do or how we use them. Thus we are destroyed or Trapped by Lack of Knowledge in regards to word meanings. Legal Speak.

      If we take to be true the words supposedly spoken by Jesus… then He said to let your yes be Yes and your No be No. Anymore than that was dangerous so to speak.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. michaeleeast says:

    I must confess I am guilty of a kind of Bibliomancy.
    I do not ask it questions but sometimes i will just open the Bible and read what takes my attention. I have found this helpful on some occasions. But this is not ascribing magical powers to the Bible.
    It is not exactly divination either. Sometimes it is helpful, sometimes it is not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I don’t think the practice you describe is really bibliomancy at all; I see nothing wrong or superstitious about this. Besides, I have known you quite awhile and you are a thinker. I don’t believe you would make decisions based on bibliomancy.

      Like

    • Alan C says:

      I’ve certainly had experiences when what I happen to read in Scripture on a given day hits me between the eyes like a 2×4, when it seems to be speaking directly to me. I think of the verse that says the word of God is like a two-edged sword. Of course we can’t expect those experiences to happen all the time, but it seems to happen more often the more we internalize the overall story and message.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You | Jesus Without Baggage

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