ESV Bible no longer says wizards must die!

Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fans can breathe more easily! The Bible no longer says that Harry and Gandalf must be stoned to death. As Rick Mansfield has noted, the 2007 revision of the English Standard Version (ESV) has reprieved wizards, shifting the death penalty to necromancers.

At least since the time of King James the Old Testament has condemned wizards, most harshly in Leviticus 20:27 (emphasis added in all these quotations):

A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them.

The same punishment was decreed for wizards in the Revised Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version (but not the New International Version or Today’s New International Version which use “spiritist”), and most recently the 2001 edition of the ESV, in which this verse reads:

A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.

But there has recently been released a slightly revised version of ESV. Most of the changes are trivial, but the word “wizard” has been dropped completely, and this verse has been changed to read:

A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.

Presumably the translators realised that what God wanted to condemn was not the kindly wonder-workers like Gandalf or Dumbledore, but those, whether wizards like Voldemort and Saruman or ordinary “muggles”, who turn to the forces of darkness to gain power for themselves. As “wizard” no longer has the right meaning, the translators made the wise decision to substitute another much darker term.

0 thoughts on “ESV Bible no longer says wizards must die!

  1. Wizard, Necromancer, Witch, the name matters not in the end. Anyone attempting to practice ‘magic’ (and no I do not mean sleight of hand) is a practitioner of something intrinsically evil.
    There is no such thing as ‘white’ magic.

  2. Glenn, for once I agree with you. Good wizards are fictional, they don’t exist in the real world. And God doesn’t give powers of this kind to anyone – beyond the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Bible rightly condemns those who seek such powers because they inevitably seek them from the powers of darkness.

    Tim, yes, you are right, Gandalf calls Sauron the Necromancer at the Council of Elrond. Did you remember this? I found it in the index to Lord of the Rings. But in fact Sauron is an evil power, not an ordinary being turned to evil.

  3. Presumably the translators realised that what God wanted to condemn was…those…who turn to the forces of darkness to gain power for themselves.

    Now all we need is an expanded moral understanding – a la Walter Wink – about what ‘turning to the forces of darkness to gain power for oneself’ means.

    Because that is not just about ‘saying incantations’ either!

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  5. Now all we need is an expanded moral understanding – a la Walter Wink – about what ‘turning to the forces of darkness to gain power for oneself’ means.

    Turn to the Sith you must and understand you will.

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  7. Indeed, Pam. I deliberately left this very general. But I don’t think we can take the Leviticus passage as direct condemnation of wrong political alliances, which might be Wink’s idea about such things.

  8. Interesting, Peter. I would suggest it commemorates the final book of the Harry Potter series out next month, but if I do they’ll probably change it back!
    I’ve actually blogged on perhaps the only other non-trivial change that Rick has listed so far

  9. Indeed, Pam. I deliberately left this very general. But I don’t think we can take the Leviticus passage as direct condemnation of wrong political alliances, which might be Wink’s idea about such things.

    Um, OK. I don’t want to derail this thread, but I don’t think that Walter Wink’s ideas are solely about political power.

    I was actually thinking about all the many and varied ways that people use to gain power over others.

    Think about living in a close-knit community where people believe in the power of witchcraft (by the way, my Italian grandmother grew up in such an environment!) and then think about the devastation that can happen simply if someone believes that A put a curse on B and his family. Not only to B but to the community.

    We don’t think like that in industrial Britain or the industrial US. But we have a lot more subtle ways of taking advantages for ourselves to the detriment of our neighbours.

  10. The fact that there is no white magic is a merely contingent state of affairs. It didn’t have to be this way. God could have created people with the abilities the wizards in Harry Potter have, and then they would be merely using the gifts God gave them. What’s wrong with the kinds of things condemned in the Bible as occult is that people are seeking power in ways God has not given to us, and the only place left to receive it would be from demons. But the fictional worlds of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and so on have different circumstances, and thus our moral evaluation of those characters’ use of their natural abilities should not be negative merely because they have and use those abilities. It should be based on what they do with them and whether they seek abilities beyond their nature (as Voldemort, Saruman, and Sauron all do).

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  12. Wouldn’t Daniel have been considered a Magician to the Babylonians even though he readily admitted that he didn’t know anything and attributed all to God?

    Gandalf, I think, would probably say something along the same lines since Tolkien mythology illustrates Gandalf as being sent by the higher power to serve (making him more a Maiar than human but that’s an aside), most likely Iluvatar as a primary or Manwe of the Valar as the effective sender.

    Wow, I’m a geek.

  13. after reading this post i now have my doubts about the ESV. You see, a necromancer by definition is not the same thing as a wizard.

    a necromancer is someone who communicates or summons the dead (Like the witch of Endor).

    on the other hand a wizard is anyone one who practices “magic”

    so you see the two are totally different.

  14. What this demonstrates, among other things, is how nebulous Biblical translation can be. The word we that was first written as “wizard” and that has now been changed to “necromancer” held different meanings than the one we’ve given it.

  15. J. R. R. Tolkien’s works are wholly unrelated to an unlike J. K. Rawlings’ silly books. Rawlings “wizards” are all invented to match what the Bible denounces, in ignorance of what the word “wizard” means, and why it was chosen in the first use of it in translation of the verse against sorcerors.

    Tolkien, on the other hand, was the very philologist who did the whole w volume of the Oxford English Dictionary in which are the words “Welsh”, “witch”, and “wizard”. He wasn’t being ignorant when he made a careful distinction between a Wizard and a witch, between a Wizard and a necromancer, and between a Wizard and a sorceror.

    Literally, the word “wizard” has no sorcerous connotation, nor is it a negative thing. It means one who is wise! If wizards are evil, then wisdom is too, by its cognate relation to the term. Daniel would be considered a Wizard in the truest sense, as having True godly Wisdom. Those he showed up in his dependance upon GOD were thought of as the king’s wise men, but proved to be wizard in name only, since it is always the case that the heathen version of anything at all has deficiencies that equal godlessness.

    In Old English thought, heathen kings regarded their heathen counsellors as wizards, not because they were heathen, but because they knew no one better to fill the role of a reliable wise man.

    As for magic, Gandalf didn’t practice it, but the Elves commented that Hobbits and Men sometimes called their technological skills by this curious word.

    Gandalf is more Angel than man, yet practices restraint over the power he has, as Angels really do. GOD does and has given some Miraculous Powers, whether in feats of strength, calling fire down from Heaven, and so on, at HIS own discretion, and the Apostles were called sorcerors by non-Christian Jews for this.

    harry potter is just the cry of a heart that is stunted in childhood fantasies of getting power to bop more powerful adults. It has none of the lifelike qualities of LOTR in it. “wizards” really was a bad translation in the KJV.

  16. Travis, thank you for your interesting insights into the meaning of “wizard”. I am sure that Tolkien understood this better than the KJV translators did. As for what Rowling understands the term to mean, I suspect it is more like Tolkien’s meaning than you think.

  17. It might help to share with you all a Biblical definition of Wizard I found while doing some research on the topic. The Biblical definition of “Wizard” is: a pretender to supernatural knowledge and power, “a knowing one,” as the original Hebrew word signifies. Such an one was forbidden on pain of death to practice his deceptions ( Leviticus 19:31 ; Leviticus 20:6 Leviticus 20:27 ; 1 Samuel 28:3 ; Isaiah 8:19 ; 19:3 ).

    The definition has changed significantly since then, and I don’t think this definition describes the fictional character Gandalf at all.

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