“THE word of God is alive and exerts power.” (Heb. 4:12) With those words the apostle Paul highlighted the power of God’s word to touch hearts and to transform lives.
That view of the power of the Bible’s message became muddled, however, when the foretold apostasy took root after the death of the apostles. (2 Pet. 2:1-3) In time, church leaders started to attribute magical powers to God’s Word. Professor Harry Y. Gamble wrote about “the magical use of Christian texts.” He noted that in the third century, Church Father Origen suggested that “the very sound of sacred words in the ear is somehow beneficial: if words have power in pagan magic, how much more powerful must be the truly divine words of scripture.” John Chrysostom of the late fourth century wrote that “the devil will not dare to approach a house where a Gospel is lying.” He also reported that some hung excerpts from the Gospels from their necks as a powerful amulet. Professor Gamble further noted that the Catholic theologian Augustine “considered it permissible in case of a headache to sleep with a copy of the Gospel of John under one’s pillow”! Thus Bible texts were employed for magical purposes. Would you consider the Bible to be an amulet, or a good-luck charm, that could protect you from evil?
Perhaps a more common misuse of the Bible is the practice of bibliomancy. What is that? It refers to opening at random a book, often the Bible, and reading the text that first meets the eye in the belief that those words will provide needed guidance. For example, according to Professor Gamble, when Augustine on one occasion heard the voice of a child in a neighboring house saying: “Take and read, take and read,” Augustine took that to be a divine command to open the Bible and read the first text that he saw.
Have you heard of people who when facing a difficult situation prayed to God and then opened the Bible at random, believing that the first verse they saw would help them cope with the problem? Although they may have had good intentions, that is not the way Christians should seek guidance from the Scriptures.
Jesus assured his disciples that he would send them “the helper, the holy spirit.” He continued: “That one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” (John 14:26) In contrast, bibliomancy requires no knowledge of the Scriptures.
The practice of bibliomancy and other superstitious uses of the Bible are common. God’s Word, however, condemns looking for omens. (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:9-12; Acts 19:19) “The word of God is alive and exerts power,” but we must be skilled in the use of it. Accurate Bible knowledge, not using the book superstitiously, improves people’s lives. Obtaining such knowledge has helped many to develop sound morals, to abandon ruinous lifestyles, to strengthen family life, and to nurture a personal relationship with the Bible’s Author.