Does the Bible Prohibit Hypnosis?
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2012|
|In addition to concern over its occult potential, we believe that consideration should be given to whether or not hypnosis fits within the biblical prohibition against charming or enchanting.|
Does the Bible Prohibit Hypnosis?
The various hypnotic methods may lie within the biblically prohibited practices of “charming,” “enchanting,” and general magic, in the sense of the exercise of hidden, or occult, power over another person. In fact, the magician in ancient times (an occultist, not a performer) is described as “one who tries by certain prescribed words and actions to influence people and events, bringing about results beyond man’s own power to effect.”
In addition to concern over its occult potential, we believe that consideration should be given to whether or not hypnosis fits within the biblical prohibition against charming or enchanting. Concerning the prohibitions in Leviticus 19:26, 31 and Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Martin and Deidre Bobgan state:
The words from the Old Testament which are translated charmers and enchanters seem to indicate the same kinds of persons whom we now call hypnotherapists. Dave Hunt, author of The Cult Explosion and researcher in the area of the occult as well as the cults, says:
“From the Biblical standpoint, I believe that in such places as Deuteronomy 18, when it speaks of ‘charmers’ and ‘enchanters,’ the practice involved anciently was exactly what has recently become acceptable in medicine and psychiatry as hypnosis. I believe this both from the ancient usage of this word and from occult traditions” [letter to Walter Martin, January 13, 1982, p. 5].
Just because hypnosis has surfaced in medicine does not mean that it is different from the ancient practices of charmers and enchanters or from those which have been used more recently by witchdoctors and occult hypnotists.
The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible refers to an enchanter as “a person who influences people or things through charms, enchantments and spells…. Although practice of the art was forbidden to the Hebrews (Deut. 18:10-11), the Old Testament shows acquaintance with several kinds of ‘charming’.” In Deuteronomy 18:11 the condemnatory reference is to a person who “casts spells”; in Isaiah 19:3 the root word for “charmer” is sometimes translated as a “spiritist” or “sorcerer.” In Daniel 1:20 the word “enchanter” refers to the occult practitioners of Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies defines the various Hebrew words for “charmer” as, in part, referring to one who speaks in a soft, gentle manner or who uses soft, silent motions (much like the hypnotist); also, as “to join together, to bind, to fascinate.” Some have translated the “interpreters of omens” or “observer” as relating to a whispering magician or as one “who fascinates through an evil eye.” The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible defines “enchanter” (nachash) in part as “to hiss, to whisper (a magical spell), to practice sorcery or enchantment….” A “charmer” (cheber) is defined, in part, as “a spell, a charm, an enchantment,” and it has the added connotation of “to unite” or “to tie a magic knot.”
Exactly what these ancient words and practices involved is sometimes debated, and some argue whether their direct application to hypnosis is established. However, there are certainly important similarities, and if it can be established that such words encompass the practice of hypnosis, then hypnosis would be biblically forbidden, and for Christians, at least, the issue would be settled.
We asked Tim Rake, assistant editor of The Complete Word Study Old Testament (AMG Publishers) to research the Hebrew words having possible relevance to the practice of hypnosis. Here are his findings:
Of the several Hebrew words used in the Old Testament in connection with divination, none directly or explicitly refer to Mesmerism or hypnosis. The more general terms, ‘ōb qāsam nāhash, and kāshaph, are too broad for making a specific reference to hypnotism.
However, words with a more narrow connotation—lākash (to charm, enchant), nākash (to whisper sorceries, to take auguries), and hābar (to charm), (Deut. 18:11)—may very well involve activity which was designed by its esoteric and secretive nature to induce various states of mind by the power of suggestion, i.e., hypnosis. In such cases, the audience becomes captivated and influenced by the very spell itself.
In fact, commentator R. E. Clements noted that the term “expert enchanter” in Isaiah 3:3 (NJKV) “was a person skilled in incantations, and who was believed thereby to be able to cast spells on people and so undermined their strengths and rational faculties” (R. E. Clements, The New Century Bible Commentary, Isaiah 1-39 (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1980), p. 48).
Of interest also is the fact that in 2 Kings 21:6 and 23:24, the LXX [Septuagint] uses thelētēs for the Hebrew ‘ōb. One older authority observed that thelētēs “meant perhaps a person with a strong will who could act upon the feelings of others” (Robert Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1951), p. 299).
In conclusion, hypnosis is a questionable method at best. We do not think the practice ultimately serves the best interest of Christians or non-Christians who are seeking physical or emotional healing. We do not think it should be used or taught in public school curricula. And a number of important, unanswered questions remain concerning its occult potential, whether in secular Christian psychotherapy.
What should a person who has been hypnotized do? If no adverse reactions were encountered, he or she should let the matter rest and not be concerned. But if one is still in hypnotherapy, it should not be assumed that the practice is safe. If adverse circumstances are encountered or problems continue, the practice should be immediately stopped and professional help should be sought. If the problems are spiritual in nature and occult phenomena were encountered, the person should renounce the practice and seek professional Christian spiritual guidance.
- J. L. Kelson, “Magician,” in Merrill C. Tenney, gen. ed., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), Vol. IV, p. 37.
- Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Hypnosis and the Christian (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1984), p. 50.
- Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, Vol. II, p. 304.
- William Wilson, Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing, n.d.), p. 74.
- John Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Vol. 2 on Deut. 18:22 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), p. 148.
- Spiros Zodhiates, Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1994), p. 1613.
- Ibid., p. 1590.