Does the Story of the Witch of Endor prove Christianity False?

1 Samuel 28

In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You know, of course, that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” David said to Achish, “Very well, then you shall know what your servant can do.” Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
 

Saul Consults a Medium

Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. Saul had expelled the mediums and the wizards from the land. The Philistines assembled, and came and encamped at Shunem. Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, not by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her.” His servants said to him, “There is a medium at Endor.”

So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes and went there, he and two men with him. They came to the woman by night. And he said, “Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He answered, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” 13 The king said to her, “Have no fear; what do you see?” The woman said to Saul, “I see a divine being<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-7956a" data-link="[a]”>[a] coming up out of the ground.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” She said, “An old man is coming up; he is wrapped in a robe.” So Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.

15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; so I have summoned you to tell me what I should do.” 16 Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you just as he spoke by me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord, and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you today. 19 Moreover the Lord will give Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”



Gary:  I believe that this passage is proof that the Bible teaches that witches and wizards have real powers (black magic).  Some conservative Christians will try to say that the medium was surprised to see Samuel “coming up” for the reason that she had never previously had success in bringing up the dead.  I believe that a close reading of the entire passage says otherwise.  If the medium was surprised that she was successful, you would think that her response would be more shock that she was actually seeing a real ghost!  But that isn’t what she seems concerned about.  She is concerned that the person who is asking for her assistance is someone who has the power to execute her…the king!

Isn’t it much more likely, reading the full passage, that the medium did not expect someone as important as Samuel to come up for just anyone.  When he did, she realized he would only come up for someone very important…like the king…King Saul.  So I think the full passage supports the idea that the medium was surprised, not by her success in calling up the dead, but by realizing who was asking for the dead prophet to be called up.  Could conservative Christians be right?  Yes, but I don’t think that a nonbiased third party would read this passage and easily come to their conclusion.

What about Saul’s reaction?  Saul seems fully confidant that the medium can call up the dead.  He doesn’t ask her if she can, he just asks her to do it.  When she is successful, Saul is not surprised.  Conservative Christians would probably say that all people who go to mediums believe that the medium will be successful, so Saul’s reaction is not indicative of anything.  I would agree, up to the point that the author of this Bible passage tells us that Saul has a conversation with the dead prophet.    Christians will most likely counter that this “calling up of the dead” was a one time act of God, the medium had nothing to do with it. 

Let’s then look at Samuel’s reaction in this passage.

Notice that Samuel’s first words are,  “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”  If this was an act of God, why would Samuel credit Saul with bringing him up from the grave?  If God had brought Samuel up out of the grave, why doesn’t Samuel point this out to Saul by saying something like, “You sought out the assistance of a witch, but it is God who has brought me up to you.”

But Samuel doesn’t say that, does he?  Samuel seems irritated by having his eternal rest disturbed but he doesn’t seem to find it at all odd that a witch/medium had the capacity, the power, to call him up from the dead.  And this passage is not the only passage in the Bible where the “wicked” possess magical powers.  The priests of Pharaoh were able to turn walking sticks into snakes and even in the New Testament times, nonbelievers were able to cast out demons.

So what does this have to do with conservative/orthodox Christianity?  I believe that this passage blows Christianity out of the water.

Why?

Here’s why:  If witches, mediums, and warlocks were able to call up the dead in the days of the Bible, then they should be able to call up the dead today.  If Christians want to say that they cannot, then they have to explain why not.  What has changed?  Unless there is a verse in the New Testament that says that devils, demons, witches, warlocks, and mediums no longer have any power in the New Covenant, then Christians are simply inventing excuses to eliminate a devastating discrepancy in their belief system.

So if witches, warlocks, and mediums do have the power to bring up the dead, that presents a dilemma for Christian doctrine.  If a medium can bring up a dead believer, who according to Christian doctrine is in heaven, sharing in the bliss of eternal happiness, how is it possible that a wicked sinner like a witch has the power to drag them out of heaven and down to earth to answer some human’s questions?  And more devastating, how is it possible that a witch or medium has the power of pull some poor soul out of Hell, giving them a welcome respite from the flames and brimstone, to chat with some client of the medium??  Can you imagine the deals the damned souls would make with the medium to increase their time out of Hell to appear to Uncle Bob, Aunt Betsy, and every other member of the family who will pay the medium’s fee?

The story of the witch of Indor is proof that the Bible and Christianity are nothing more than the superstitions of an ancient, scientifically ignorant people.


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5 thoughts on “Does the Story of the Witch of Endor prove Christianity False?

  1. The OT account of Saul and the Witch of Endor is not a coup de grace to Christianity as you imagine. There are two distinct explanations for what Saul encounters, both of which are plausible.

    The first explanation is that Saul had utterly hardened his heart against God, and breaking God's command, sought out a necromancer to tell him what the will of God was in the mater of his upcoming battle with the Philistines. Saul therefore found a witch to 'call up' Saul. Having demonstrated the hardness of his heart by asking the necromancer to do her art, God sends Samuel to speak to Saul. This is a surprise to the witch. Perhaps because she is used to doing ventriloquism for her clientele, which she can get away with since nobody else can 'see' the dead but her. The point here is that it isn't far fetched that God could send Samuel to speak to Saul and the witch went along playing her charade as usual, even though she was a bit surprised.

    Explanation two is nearly identical with the first one. The difference is that rather than Samuel being sent by God to speak to Saul, the necromancer actually sees a demon whom she describes as looking like Samuel. Just as Saul disguised himself and sought God's will through a medium, God allows a demon to disguise itself and repeat what is common knowledge of the day; namely Saul has lost the kingdom. The second explanation is supported by the text where the witch says she sees a “celestial being” (vs. 13) coming up from the ground. The Hebrew word elohim in verse 13, translated “divine” in the text you provide, doesn't mean “divine” in the sense of a deity in this context, but more like the meaning of elohim as used in Psalm 8:5 “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings….” It is plausible therefore that what the witch saw was not the ghost of Samuel, but an elohim and in this case a demon.

    Both explanations I provide are plausible and do not present any difficulty for the Christian.

    The remainder of your article suggests that Christians no longer believe in the supernatural. On the contrary, a majority of Christians do accept the supernatural and believe that there are real demons in the world, as well as God's holy angels. Yes, there are real witches today who can be possessed by demons. One need only look at the very real demonic encounters with practitioners of the black arts in countries such as Haiti. The Roman Catholic Church has documented at least two cases of demon possession according to this Wiki article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exorcism_in_the_Catholic_Church).

    As far as witches (warlocks, etc.) calling up the dead, the question is whether or not they ever called up the dead? The 1 Samuel account doesn't support the idea that the Witch of Endor called up the dead. She was most likely a scam artist like most of those leading seances today. She is surprised by the results of her 'magic.'

    I don't see why you would be surprised supernatural forces could be at work in the world, should God, angels, and demons exist.

    You blog hasn't disproved anything at all, but it does show how you are jumping to conclusions and not being fair in your treatment of texts such as 1 Samuel.

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  2. Why do the overwhelming majority of scientists deny the existence of magic: the supernatural powers of witches, warlocks, and demons? If these powers exist, why haven't scientists documented these powers and admitted their existence?

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  3. I am not sure the majority of scientists deny the “existence of magic” if by that you mean the supernatural. I am close friends to an atmospheric scientist and a mathematician both of whom assure me they are far from a minority among their peers when it comes to belief in the supernatural.

    On the other hand modern science excludes the supernatural from their observations as a matter of priority. The job of a scientist is to explain natural phenomena with a naturalistic explanation and if they can't do that, then they must reserve judgement until the phenomena can be explained in physical terms. I don't see why that would be surprising to you or even Christians.

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  4. Sorry, I should have been more specific: Why do the overwhelming majority of scientists not believe in the supernatural powers of witches and warlocks nor in demon possession?

    Many scientists, maybe even the majority, DO believe in “God” so that would affirm a belief in the supernatural. I do not deny the existence of the supernatural or of a Creator god or gods, but I do NOT attribute events in the natural world as a direct result of the acts of witches, warlocks, and demons. I would be that the overwhelming majority of scientists would agree.

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  5. “Sorry, I should have been more specific: Why do the overwhelming majority of scientists not believe in the supernatural powers of witches and warlocks nor in demon possession?”

    It looks like I am not tracking with you here. You are talking about two different things as if they are one and the same, what scientists 'believe' and what they can tell us through a natural explanation of things. As you point out, many scientists do believe in the supernatural, but I am not sure they would claim to have the ability to demonstrate the supernatural through natural means (that would be contradictory).

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