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“Thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live”

By Havoc (BCPagans & VanIsle Pagans)
reprinted with permission

Most of us have run up against this particular piece of Christian Propaganda from time to time

Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live

Usually it is in the form of “proof” that we are Satan worshipping, evil people, or at least in Satan’s thrall. This verse is used as justification to deny us our right, to take away our Children, and to allow Fundamentalist Christians to single us out for special persecution. Many times we are reminded that we should be grateful that Christians aren’t permitted to carry out their God’s Law, a very thinly veiled threat that we should no doubt be wary of, considering that religious fundamentalists of all the Abramic religions are capable of committing murder on a vast scale if they believe their God commands it.

But are we really under this death sentence at all? Ignoring for a minute the fact that we generally do not acknowledge the Bible as the infallible and perfect Word of the Divine, does it really refer to us at all?

There are several pieces of evidence that show how the word “witch” was not in the original manuscripts of the Bible, nor any word that could reasonably be translated as “witch”. The Hebrew word which is translated as “witch” in the King James version is Kashaph which according to Hebrew Scholars means a person who uses sorcery or poison to harm others. We can see from the following that even before King James time the etymology of the word was known.

From The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Sir Reginald Scott. King James attempted to have all copies of Sir Scott’s book destroyed as it contradicted his need to have the word “witch” in the bible (more on that later). Fortunately the book was already in third printing


Chapter I – The exposition of this Hebrue word Chasaph, wherein is answered the objection conteined in Exodus 22. to wit: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, and of Simon Magus. Acts. 8. page 64) Chaspah, being a Hebrue word, is Latined Veneficium, and is in English, poisoning, or witchcraft; if you will so have it. The Hebrue sentence written in Exodus, 22. is by the 70. interpretors translated thus into Greeke, (sorry-unprintable), which in Latine is, Veneficos (sive) veneficas non retinebitis in vita , in English, You shall not suffer anie poisoners, or (as it is translated) witches to live. The which sentence Josephus an Hebrue borne, and a man of great estimation, learning and fame, interpreteth in this wise; Let none of the children of Israel have any poison that is deadlie, or preparted to anie hurtfull use. If anie be apprehended with such stuffe, let him be put to dfeath, and suffer that which he meant to doo to them, for whom he prepared it. The Rabbins exposition agree heerewithall. Lex Cornelia differeth not from this sense, to wit, that he must suffer to death, which either maketh, selleth, or hath anie poison, to the intent to kill anie man. This word is found in these places following: Exodus. 22, Deut. 18, 10. 2 Sam. 9, 22. Dan. 2,2. 2 Chr. 33, 6. Eay. 47, 9, 12. Malach, 3,5. Jerem. 27, 9, Mich. 5, 2. Nah. 3,4. bis. Howbeit, in all our English translations, Chaspah is translated, witchraft.

The New testament word translated as “witch” is actually pharmakeia which means one who uses poisons or drugs. Of course those Concordances that focus primarily on KJAV will list both words as meaning Witch but that is simply because the KJAV does. Most other translations, most of which are considered more accurate, do not use the word Witch. Here is a cross section reprinted from The Ontario Consultants for religious tolerance

Interpretation of 19 English translations of Exodus 22:18

Various Biblical translations render this verse as:
American Standard Version “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live.”
The Answer: Put to death any woman who does evil magic.
Amplified Bible: You shall not allow a woman to live who practices sorcery.
Good News Version: Put to death any woman who practices magic.
James Moffatt Translation: You shall not allow any sorceress to live.
Jerusalem Bible: You shall not allow a sorceress to live. King James Version: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Living Bible: A sorceress shall be put to death.
Modern Language Bible: Allow no sorceress to live.
New American Bible: You shall not let a sorceress live.
New American Standard Bible: You shall not let a sorceress live.
New Century Version: Put to death any woman who does evil magic.
New International Version: Do not allow a sorceress to live.
New Living Translation: A sorceress must not be allowed to live.
New Revised Standard Version: You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.
New World Translation: You must not preserve a sorceress alive.
The Promise: Contemporary English Version: Death is the punishment for witchcraft.
Revised Standard Version: You shall not permit a sorceress to live.
Revised English Bible: You must not allow a witch to live.

In the original Hebrew manuscript, the author used the word m’khashepah to describe the person who should be killed. The word means a woman who uses spoken spells to harm others – e.g. causing their death or loss of property. Clearly “evil sorceress” or “woman who does evil magic” would be the most accurate phrases in current common English usage for this verse.

Interpretation of 22 English Translations of Galatians 5:19-20 Various translations of the Christian Scriptures render this verse as a list of “acts of the sinful nature”, or “works of the flesh” and specify the following practices:

American Standard Version: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery…”
The Answer: “being sexually unfaithful, not being pure, taking part in sexual sins, worshipping gods, doing witchcraft….”
Amplified Bible: “immorality, impurity, indecency, idolatry, sorcery…”
Authentic New Testament: “adultery, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery…”
Good News Version: “immoral, filthy and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft…”
James Moffatt Translation: “sexual vice, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, magic…”
Jerusalem Bible: “fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery…”
King James Version: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft…”
Living Bible: “impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, spiritism (that is, encouraging the activity of demons),…”
Modern Language Bible: “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, magic arts…”.
New American Bible: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery…”
New American Standard Bible: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery…”
New Century Version: being sexually unfaithful, not being pure, taking part in sexual sins, worshipping false gods, doing witchcraft…”
New International Version: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft…”
New Living Translation: sexual immorality, impure thoughts. eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities….”
New Revised Standard Version: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery…”
New Testament & Psalms: An Inclusive Version: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery…”
New World Translation: fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism…”
The Promise: Contemporary English Version: “immoral ways, impure thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft…”
Rheims New Testament: “fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts…”
Revised Standard Version: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery…”
Revised English Bible: “fonication, indecency, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery…”

The key word of interest here is the Greek word “pharmakia” from which the English words “pharmacy” “pharmaceuticals,” and “pharmacology” are derived. Interpreted literally, it refers to the practice of preparing poisonous potions to harm or kill others.

So it seems that most modern translations of the bible agree that the words should not be translated as Witch. The KJAV seems to be in conflict with scholars of both it’s contemporary and more modern times.

The timeline for the words also do not fit. The word “witch” is derived from various Celtic and Saxon roots which mean variously “to bend” or “wisdom”. According to the Scofield Reference Bible this verse from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) was written in the year 1491 BCE. This is some 650 years before the origin of the Celtic people circa 850 BCE. Add to this that “Witch” refers specifically to practitioners of a set of ancient Northern European and British religions whom the Hebrews would have had no chance of encountering then it becomes clear that GOD was warning them about something other than a “Witch”.

So why was the word changed to “Witch”? Two reasons are given by historians. 1. King James was not a very morally solid man even by the standards of his days. As well as being a sadist and homosexual he had a tendency toward underhanded dealings. He believed in the “divine right of Kings”, in other words Kings were not subject to laws but answerable only to God. The bible in use by common people of the day, the Geneva Bible, contained what is known as marginal notes, something like a side-by-side concordance and commentary. Many of these marginal notes were critical of Monarchs who followed their own version of morality as did King James. He decreed that the Bishops’ Bible, a more politically correct version used by the upper Clergy and lacking marginal notes, be used as the basis for a new translation. The “Authorized” version was to follow the Bishops Bible with as little alteration as possible. The Bishops Bible was criticized by scholars of the time as being less correctly translated than the Geneva Bible.

2. King James Made a considerable sum of money as the Chief Magistrate by accusing people of Witchcraft. The Chief Magistrate was entitled to seize the property and holdings of those accused of Witchcraft. If the person was convicted, which they always were under King James,

One “witch,” Barbara Napier, was acquitted. That event so angered James that he wrote personally to the court on May 10, 1551, ordering a sentence of death, and had the jury called into custody. To make sure they understood their particular offense, the King himself presided at a new hearing – and was gracious enough to release them without punishment when they reversed their verdict. (Global Insights)

the Chief Magistrate was permitted to keep the property and holdings. King James apparently enjoyed the spectacle of torture as well. He personally supervised the torture of many of the accused and even wrote papers suggesting and devising new methods of torture. It was definitely to his advantage to make sure his “authorized” version of the bible specifically contained the word “Witch” as that was the commonly used word surviving in Britain from the time when Witches were the Village healers and Spiritual leaders, before Christianity.

So as we see from historical and biblical perspectives the word “witch” was inserted into the bible in order to persecute Witches in Britain. We can see that there are no words in the original Greek and Hebrew in the bible that can reasonably be translated as “Witch”. We also see that most modern translations of the bible, barring those which are merely language modernizations of the KJV, correctly translate the words as being other than “witch”.

I hope that clears up the misconception that the bible condemns Witches by name. Next time you get the finger pointing and the chest poking from some “well meaning” Evangelist quoting that particular verse you can simply say “Sorry, that verse doesn’t apply to me”.

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