They Came to Jesus and Burned Their Dark Magic Books

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles Dark magic has been around for a long time.  When Israel was going into the Promised Land the LORD told his people not to dabble in the pagan occultic practices of the Canaanites (Dt. 18:9-14).  They were to avoid omens, fortunes, divination, spiritists, sorcery, psychic readings, and other sorts of dark magic.  The same goes for God’s people today.  Paul called sorcery one of the sinful “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:20).  In Acts 19, when Paul was in Ephesus, many who turned from their sins and believed the gospel ended up confessing their wicked practices of sorcery and dark magic.  They even went a step further:

Large numbers of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them up in the presence of everyone. When the value of the books was added up, it was found to total fifty thousand silver coins (Acts 19:19 NET Bible).

I appreciate David Peterson‘s comments on this in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on Acts:

The remarkable humiliation of the exorcists and the consequent glorification of the name of the Lord Jesus by many led to another amazing event. ‘Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed (exomologoumenoi kai anangellontes, ‘confessing and disclosing’) what they had done.’ There was a public expression of repentance on the part of ‘many of those who believed,’ whereby ‘a number who had practiced sorcery (ta perierga,’ ‘superfluous works’, a technical term for magic) ‘brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.’ Apparently they were moved by the exposure and overcoming of the exorcists to realize that their own previous involvement with the magic arts now needed to be acknowledged. Perhaps they had kept scrolls in which spells were written as an insurance policy, in case their newfound faith proved to be inadequate in some situation! Burning the scrolls was a way of repudiating what they contained and represented a greater trust in God to deliver them from trouble and supply their needs.

Such repentance before God and his people was costly: When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand [drachmas] (argyriou, ‘of silver’, without specifying the units of silver as ‘drachmas’). Luke’s reference to the price of these scrolls once more suggests ‘his strong dislike of the money-making side of magic and his clear rejection of it from the Christian side’ (Barrett). These people recognised that genuine discipleship involved letting go what they treasured in order to enjoy the blessings of God’s kingdom (cf. Lk. 9:23–27; 18:18–30). The scrolls that were burned may have contained the famous ‘Ephesian letters’, with their words of power for warding off demons, and ‘the sort of material preserved in the magical papyri such as thaumaturgic formulae, incantations, hymns and prayers’ (Trebilco). By depicting the defeat of the magicians in this way, Luke conveyed the message ‘that in the name of Jesus, the faithful shall triumph over the forces of darkness: Christians need not fear the devil, for there is no power in him against them’ (Garrett).

David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 19:18-19.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015