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I've seen many conflicting biblical statements that have been interpreted as condemning psychics and others that promote using "gifts from God". How can a psychic reconcile such a gift without conflicting with biblical teachings?

For that matter, if one is psychic, how can you tell if it's a gift from God or somewhere else?

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"Psychic abillities" such as interpreting dreams was possible, admired, and common in the ancient world. I don't see why this would be a problem today... however Christendom shuns such things. –  The Freemason Apr 10 at 13:13

10 Answers 10

If by psychic you mean somehow able to foretell the future or discern secret things in someone's life, we could examine what the Bible said about prophets.

JEREMIAH 28:9 The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

To summarize, if it is from the Lord, it will always be 100% correct, without error, no mistakes at all.

It's also important to note that the prophets of old were very specific. It was easy to tell if they had made a mistake or not. For example, Jeremiah prophesied that Hananiah would be dead within a year. It was very easy to tell if the prophecy was true (from the Lord) or not.

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If you only look after-the-fact and apply "if it came true, it was from the Lord", then that is rather circular and self-fulfilling, no? One could make any claim, in the knowledge that the things you get wrong will be dismissed and the things you get right are attributed to prophecy...? Much like the tactics used by predatory false psychics? –  Marc Gravell Sep 3 '11 at 17:11
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That's a good point, which I think Deteronomy 18:20-22 addresses. Once anything the prophet prophecied failed to come to pass (or was otherwise determined to incorrect), you should pretty much ignore any future prophecies (don't fear them), because the Lord was not with them. –  Bob Black Sep 3 '11 at 17:15
    
@Marc: Consider this. If you're assessing the viability of a syntax checker for C#, then you can run some sample code through the checker in question and see what it says. If it spits out warnings and errors (or lack thereof) that match what the C# definition states should show up, then you can probably continue trusting it. But, if it ends up making a mistake then you know that it's a bad syntax checker and you can safely ignore what it (at least until a patch comes out that corrects the errors :P). –  RCIX Sep 3 '11 at 18:31
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So let me get this straight. You're saying if a psychic prediction or vision is accurate, it's from the Lord? –  David Good Sep 3 '11 at 18:39
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@David I don't think so; it says if it isn't, then it's not from the Lord, but not necessarily if it is. –  Peter Olson Sep 3 '11 at 23:32

That would depend on the source of the power and how it is being used. In the scripture, those who are what we'd traditionally call 'psychics' are depicted as having congress with some kind of spirit.

Secondly, the more important question is how it is being used; it is not uncommon for a person to claim to be a Christian psychic but fall into the trap of using their gift to attract followers and magnify themselves.

Recall that Paul admonishes the Christians to accept no other Gospel than what they received from him, even if it comes from an angel. Therefore wisdom acquired even from a good spirit is suspect according to tradition.

The most common use of psychic abilities (alleged or otherwise) is to predict the future; and the truth of the prediction may be irrelevant. Consider this story from St. Antony the Great's sayings:

Sayings of the Fathers: Anthony

12. Some of the brothers came to Abba Anthony to tell him the dreams they had seen, and to learn from him if they are true, or from demons. Now they had a donkey, and it died on the way. When they finally came to the elder, he said to them first, How did the little donkey die on the way? They said to him, How did you know that, Abba? And he said to them, The demons showed me. And they said to him, That is why we came to ask you, lest we be led astray, because we have seen dreams, and many times they are true. And the elder fully convinced them by the example of the donkey, that they are from demons.

The lesson here is that a demon could give a true prediction to a certain extent, and this may be utilized to mislead the psychic.

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It depends what you mean by "psychic." Do you mean a prophet - someone who sees the future just kinda unprovoked, as in "I had a dream that the plane would crash and it did?" Or do you mean a fortuneteller, as in crystal balls/Tarot cards? Or do you mean having other psychic kinds of powers like telekinesis or others? Those are three fundamentally different things, Biblically.

Small Medium At Large

The Bible is extremely against spiritists. Here's a collection of verses about mediums, necromancers, sorcerers, etc. Probably most to the point:

“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.” Leviticus 20:27 (ESV)

This is because they are seeking answers not from God, but from other supernatural beings. This is one of those basic "Ten Commandment no-no's."

The Prophecy, Starring Christopher Walken

A prophet is different. God has told them to go do something and/or carry some message to someone. They are sometimes (but less commonly) told of (e.g. Abraham re: Sodom)/granted visions of (e.g. Revelation) the future by God. Those who are posing as prophets but aren't (lying, or getting it from somewhere naughtier but in God's name) are false prophets. Needless to say, discerning between the two is a big deal in Scripture.

Ego Whip

What about a more sci-fi psychic, like Stephen King's Carrie or Firestarter? Well, not that telepathy/telekinesis/etc. have been shown to exist, but if they do, I imagine Christian opinion would be split since it's not really spoken to in the Bible. If it was simply some physiological/scientific process, then it would be fine, or at least morally neutral, no different from being good at math. If it were truly supernatural power, then the question would become what its source is, and is that source good or evil from a Biblical perspective.

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If I remember my hagiography correctly, there are at least a few accounts of Saints performing miracles which fit into a quasi-telekinesis type of thing, but not substantially more than, say, performing a healing. –  Ignatius Theophorus Oct 16 '13 at 2:48
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+1 and kudos for the section headers. –  Ignatius Theophorus Oct 16 '13 at 3:51

Yes, the Bible speaks strongly against the pagan practice of divination, of which so-called psychic ability is part. Divination is defined as "the practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by occult or supernatural means", which would certainly include Psychic fortune-telling.

A number of scriptures associate astrology with pagan magic arts:

  • Isaiah 47:13: Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month
  • Daniel 2:2: So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed.
  • Daniel 2:10: The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer.

Leviticus 19:26 forbids divination:

Do not practice divination or seek omens.

as does and Deuteronomy 18:14

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so

and numerous other scriptures can be found in my answer for Astrology.

So, like Astrology, if you accept that psychic abilities are a subset of divination, it seems clearly abhorrent to God. Given the ensnaring nature of the occult, I would be engaging the "flee from all appearance" tactic with this.

It would seem that being a psychic and being a Christian are mutually exclusive.

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1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NIV)
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

The Bible has accounts of many great prophets that did amazing things. Not only did some of them contribute to the actual writing of the Bible, but they were also a part of many miracles and wonders. They made a difference in the outcome of important Biblical events. They were the messengers of God.

The calling of a psychic is very similar to the work of a prophet. I guess it is just on a smaller scale? When a psychic does a reading they see many things from the past, the present and the future, the same way the prophets did in the Bible. The prophets were there to help, guide, advise and warn of coming danger, the same way modern psychics read for their clients.

1 Corinthians 14:3 (NIV)
3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Being born a psychic or medium is a God-given talent and calling. Did you know that one of the world’s most well-known psychics, Edgar Cayce, was also a devout Christian who read through the whole Bible once every year. Why should a psychic, who received his gifts from God, be persecuted as someone who is doing evil?

It is sad that people sometimes judge psychics and mediums for helping others to overcome fear, sadness and grief. There is a difference between having a God-given ability and using it for evil purposes. Evil and corrupt people can be found in all professions and all walks in life. People being evil is not due to the talents or gifts they received from God, but due to their abuse of those gifts or talents for their personal, selfish gain.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE. I cleaned up your formatting a little bit. If you post a lot of verses you might consider this script to make that part easier. –  Caleb Feb 15 '12 at 0:04
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As for this answer, I think you really need to reference some kind of doctrine on this issue. Most Christian traditions do not acknowledge the kind of phychic powers you describe as being from God in the way that prophecy is. Which Christian traditions believe this and where are their teachings on the matter? –  Caleb Feb 15 '12 at 0:06

This is admittedly not based in the Bible (there are other answers here which already address most of the relevant passages), but according to An Exorcist Tells His Tale (good book, I recommend it), the majority of the times that specific knowledge of the future (or clairvoyance, etc.) it is not from God, but rather demons. His test is simple:

  • Do these purported gifts serve to further the cause of Christ (are they evangelistic)?
  • Do they cause great disharmony in the Church?
  • Are they used for personal gain or profit (as opposed to the benefit of others, such as saving lives or conversion of souls)?

If the answer to any of those is, "yes," then it is highly probable that the prophecy has non-divine origins. Of course, this is all summarized by the idea that we are to "test everything and retain that which is good" (1 Thes.) as well as, "let everything be done for building up." (1 Cor. 14)


This of course falls under the prevue of private revelation, which also has some other distinct markers (this is paraphrased from Fire Within, another great book). Revelation can be known to be from God if:

  • it is memorable. (The details remain vivid even years later)
  • it is beneficial (as above).
  • it carries an impetus for good (John of the Cross said it this way (paraphrasing), "The more God quenches your thirst for him, the more glorious it is, and the greater your yearning becomes.")
  • it is uplifting (Teresa of Avila experienced this quite literally (the sisters at her convent literally had to hold her to the ground or she would float up into the air), but overall the descriptions of divine visions from God have a type of peace to them, even if they are of things which are not necessarily good)
  • it (generally) cannot be attributed to mental illness (which isn't to say that the mental illness precludes visions, but certain illnesses make them doubtful).

Of course, even if all of those things are true, there is no guarantee that it is revelation, and that can only be seen over time. It is a bit of a paradox — you know it is reliable when it shows itself reliable — but these are the only real measures we have. Even if all of these are true, there is no guarantee that the hand of man of the hand of the devil is not in them somewhere, so we must use our wits and trust the Lord.

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As has been stated, in both the case of the psychic and the prophet, there is communication between man and a spirit. In the case of a psychic, that spirit is probably of the Devil, in the case of the prophet, that Spirit is the Spirit of God. That is why amongst the skills of a mature Christian and the gifts of the Spirit is that of "distinguishing amongst the spirits"

As 1 Corinthians 12:8 - 10 states:

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

An interesting case presents itself in Acts 16, in which Paul is being tailed by a young girl with psychic powers. She is called a "diviner" or a "fortune teller" in the ESV. As Acts states it:

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

Here we had a psychic who was telling the truth, but clearly in a fashion that was not from God. It fits all the points of the assertion - a spirit and - unknown origin. Paul, gifted by God, casts out the evil spirit.

The story goes on to say that this girl's owner became irate, because "their hope of making money from her was gone." This leads me to a simple test that, while not 100%, would cover what I think of as the garden variety psychic who has a fortune telling storefront. The test is this - is the gift being used to make money? If so, it is clearly not from God.

This is supportable through a few other instances of Scripture:

  • 2 Kings 5 tells the story of Elisha healing Naaman of leprosy. After he does this, it says:

16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.

Elisha's servant, however, desires this tribute, and when he accepts it, the servant becomes a leper himself. God is a jealous God, he shares his Glory with no other, and clearly needs no reward for what he does.

  • Acts 8 tells the story of Simon the Magician, after whom we get the term simony

In this story, Simon is a believer, but desires power from God in order to make money from it. Peter says:

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

In short, then, the answer is, No. A Good Christian would not use his psychic gifts as is normally done. The source of the spirit must be known, and if the gift is being used gain, it is clearly not from God.

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You can be anything and be a good Christian. It's what you do that determines whether you sin or not. Some people, by their nature (who or what they are), will have a harder time with different sins than others.

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You cannot "be" an idolater and be a good Christian at the same time. You cannot "be" an advocate for the powers of darkness and a good Christian, as the two camps are mutually exclusive. –  DrFry Apr 10 at 15:38
    
@DrFry Those are "do"s, as in actions you take, like committing idolatry. They are not "be"s, as in things that are integral to who you are, like being female, or black, or American. Another example: in this context, your professional occupation is never a "be", even though we often describe it that way in common language. "I am a salesperson." doesn't have to mean you've ever sold anything (though if that's true, you might not get to stay a salesperson for long). –  Joel Coehoorn Apr 10 at 16:31

The term "good" is ambiguous. If you mean "good" as in moral or the type that gets into the metaphorical pearly gates of heaven, then I think it is possible, because I see no relationship between a person's moral character and the same person's believing in paranormal activities. Now, if you mean "good" as in conventional or the type that follows the rules, conduct, and beliefs of a denomination in order to be in good standing with that church, then I believe that it is not possible to be a "good Christian".

Source: MENCKEN, F., BADER, C. D., & STARK, R. (2008). CONVENTIONAL CHRISTIAN BELIEFS AND EXPERIMENTATION WITH THE PARANORMAL. Review Of Religious Research, 50(2), 194-205.

In the source, There have been studies that suggest:

In sum, a person who is bound to conventional Christian beliefs should find paranormal practices risky and unattractive.

That is to say, a Christian in good standing with the particular church denomination is more likely to adhere to the rules and beliefs of that denomination, and thus, will find paranormal beliefs unsuitable for the Christian lifestyle or may be punished by the church for supporting such beliefs. Social pressure in some churches (the author mentions Evangelical churches, for example) certainly discourages some Christians from believing in the paranormal. Whether not believing in the paranormal will change the moral character of the Christian is another story.

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Satan often disguises himself as an angel of light. For example, in the Garden of Eden, he gave them comforting words ("surely you will not die, but become like gods"), helping them overcome their fear of death from disobedience. It was true that the fruit was good to eat and it was useful for gaining knowledge. No harm in eating fruit, right? And no violent act was done. However, the act itself of disobeying God was more evil than if they had cut down the tree and burnt it. If they had not disobeyed God, none would die and we'd all still be worry free in the Garden of Eden instead of having to deal with the consequences of death, both physically and spiritually.

It seems that often, in the bible and in life, we are warned by God, but make excuses to disobey, falling for the same kind of deception (I see no harm in it and it seems good, so go for it) Adam and Eve did. If there were no evil in yet another forsaken knowledge, there wouldn't be so many warnings in the bible about it. When it's from God, there's no doubt. For example, those in the bible and also saints who truly had "psychic" powers did not seek such power, they only sought God, nothing else. Their focus in life and main concern was God, not their "psychic" experiences.

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Satan did not give comforting words in the garden, he gave words in direct opposition to what God had spoken. –  DrFry Apr 10 at 15:29
    
@DrFry I meant that very often we are deceived by comforting lies that make us think it's ok to sin ("surely you will not die and will become like gods"). It took away Eve's fear and incited her desire to acquire knowledge. She was comforted by the thought that she would not die even if she disobeyed God, and perhaps that the knowledge was a good thing to have. –  user10774 Apr 12 at 9:24

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