I. Use of Term:
II. Teaching of Scripture.
To begin with, we may safely say, in general, that there is no ground for asserting that the Bible admits the possibility of conscious and voluntary communion with spirits. This is an essential element of popular demonology in all ages, but it is absent from Scripture. Even in the passages mentioned above which refer to necromancers and wizards, while, as we shall see, the words indicate that such practitioners professed to rely upon spirits in their divinations, the Scriptures carefully refrain from sanctioning these claims, and a number of features in the various passages serve to indicate that the true scriptural view is quite the opposite. As this is not a prevalent opinion, we should do well to examine the passages with some little care.
(1) We may first deal with the New Testament. In the Gospels the demoniacs are consistently looked upon and treated as unconscious and helpless victims (see DEMON, DEMONOLOGY). The frequent use of this term "demonized" (daimonizomenoi) together with all that is told us of the methods of treating these eases adopted by our Lord and His apostles (see Exorcism) indicates the belief of the New Testament writers that the control of demons over men is obtained outside of or below the region of conscious volition and that the condition of the sufferers is pathological.
(2) The same must be said of the Lydian maiden whose cure by Paul is recorded in
(1) Turning now to the Old Testament, the instance which requires the most careful treatment, because it holds the key to all the rest, is the narrative of Saul’s visit to the Witch of Endor in
(a) a person who controls a spirit,
(b) the spirit controlled,
(c) the power to control such a spirit.
This meaning appears to be altogether too broad. Omitting to translate the word we have: (verse 3) "Saul had put away ’obhoth, and yidh`onim"; (verse 7), a woman, a mistress of an ’obh; (verse 8) "Divine unto me .... by the ’obh." It is extremely unlikely that the same word should be used in two senses so far apart as "person who has a spirit" and the "spirit itself" in the same context. In the last passage mentioned (verse 8) there is a double indication that the word ’obh cannot have either signification mentioned. Saul says: "Divine unto me by the ’obh and bring me up whomsoever I shall name unto thee." The expression "divine by" clearly points to some magical object used in divination. Control of a spirit through some magical object is familiar enough. The rest of Saul’s statement confirms this view. The result of the divination is the calling up of a spirit. A spirit would hardly be used to call up another spirit. This conclusion is confirmed by the etymology. The word ’obh is supposed to mean "one who has a familiar spirit," from its root-significance of hollow and its primary meaning of wineskin. According to this derivation the word is applied to a necromancer on the supposition that the spirit inhabits his body and speaks from within. The transference to spirit is extremely unlikely and the explanation is not consistent with primitive ideas on spirit manifestation (see Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, ’owb end).
(2) We, therefore, hold with H. P. Smith (International Critical Commentary, "Samuel" in the place cited.), though partly on different grounds, that the word ’obh has the same meaning in all the passages where it occurs, and that it refers to a sacred object or fetish by which spiritistic divination was carried on.
The significance of this conclusion is that the misleading expression "familiar spirit" disappears from the text, for Dr. Driver’s interpretation of the companion word yidh`onim (see International Critical Commentary, Commentary on Deuteronomy in the place cited.) will scarcely be maintained in the face of this new meaning for ’obh. The prohibition contained in the law (
(3) This opinion is confirmed by two separate items of evidence.
(a) In the Witch of Endor story Samuel’s appearance, according to the idea of the narrator, was due to a miracle, not to the magic power of the feeble and cheating old woman to whom Saul had resorted. God speaks through the apparition a stern message of doom. No one was more startled than the woman herself, who for once had a real vision (
3. The Meaning of Idol-Worship:
This leaves the way clear for a brief consideration of the words of Paul in
(1) He argues that since idol-worship is really demon-worship, the partaking of heathen sacrifice is a communion with demons and a separation from Christ. It is usually taken for granted that this characterization of heathen worship was simply a part of the Jewish-Christian polemic against idolatry. Our fuller knowledge of the spiritism which conditions the use of images enables us to recognize the fact that from the viewpoint of heathenism itself Paul’s idea was strictly correct. The image is venerated because it is supposed to represent or contain an invisible being or spirit, not necessarily a deity in the absolute sense, but a super-human living being capable of working good or ill to men.
The term "communion with demons" does not imply any power on the part of men to enter into voluntary relationship with beings of another world, but that, by sinful compliance in wrongdoing, such as idol-worship and magical rites, men may enter into a moral identification with evil powers against which it is their duty to fight.
The Dictionaries and Commentaries dealing with the passages quoted above contain discussions of the various aspects of the subject. Jewish superstitions are ably treated by Edersheim, Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (8th edition), II, 771, 773.