At the sound of the true name, the powers of the god
stood ready to perform the invoker’s bidding.
—Kurt Seligmann, Magic, Supernaturalism, and Religion (1948)
Exorcism in Jesus’ Name
In the Book of Acts, we learn of some itinerant exorcists who had seen the apostle Paul cast out demons (19:13ff). Paul had banished the evil spirits “in the name of Jesus.” These wannabe exorcists saw and appreciated the effectiveness of Paul’s approach to exorcism. They wanted a piece of the action and decided to imitate his methods. So when they came upon a demon-possessed man, they spoke to the demon “in Jesus’ name.” They said, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”
The demon, speaking through the host body, said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know. But who are you?” At that point the demon-possessed man proceeded with a big-league beat down of the rookies. They fled from the man’s house, wounded and naked.
Magic and the True Name
These exorcists had a magical view of exorcism. They believed that there was an ontological connection between all things in the physical universe, and the way to harness the “power of the connection” was through the strategic use of cosmic name-dropping. This is a common theme in magic and magic-based religions. The children of Israel who received God’s law at Sinai were certainly familiar with this belief because it was part and parcel of the Egyptian religion they just left.
According to Egyptian mythology, the first god, Khepri (one manifestation of the divine sun), created himself from nothing by uttering his own name. The goddess Isis gained the power of the sun god Ra by tricking him into revealing his true name to her. The Egyptians believed that the essence of a thing was to be found in its name. To know the true name of a thing was to have power over it. To know the true name of a god was to have power over him. In Magic, Supernaturalism, and Religion, Kurt Seligmann writes:
In the magic incantations of the Egyptians, not only the name but every spoken word had its supernatural effect. Nothing could come into being before its name had been uttered. Not before the mind had projected its idea upon the outside world could a thing have true existence. “The world,” the hieroglyphics tell us, creates all things: everything that we love and hate, the totality of being. Nothing is before it has been uttered in a clear voice.” To accomplish its full effect, the word must be spoken correctly (39).
In fact, the exact pronunciation of the word was a huge deal. Intonation and rhythm were crucial in the practice of magic and required intense study and preparation. “Success depended on the exact delivery of the formula.”
God’s Word versus Man’s Word
Scripture says that God called the world into existence by His word (Ps. 33:6, 9). On each of the six days of creation, God created, shaped, or filled His world by speaking His word (Gen. 1). God’s word expressed and accomplished His will. God’s word is powerful. It never returns to Him void and always accomplishes His purposes (Isa. 55:11). But here’s the thing: The power is never in the words or phonetic sounds, but in God Himself.
Man’s word is not creative. Man doesn’t share the mind of God. Man can repeat God’s words, but He speaks them as the image of God and as a creature in covenant with God. Man’s repetitions of God’s word may have covenantal significance and status, but they have no magical power. In other words, man may use God’s words in a way that God has authorized with the expectation that God will fulfill whatever promises or threats He has expressed in those words.
The Name of God
In Scripture a name represents identity, character, and authority. God’s name tells us who He is. In the Old Testament, God names Himself “I am” (Jehovah or Yahweh), the self-existent, covenant-keeping God. But He also calls Himself Adonai, our Lord, and El Shaddai, God Almighty. He is El Olam and El Elyon, God Everlasting and God Most High. He is the LORD of Hosts, Jehovah Sabaoth, and the LORD our Righteousness, Jehovah Tsidkenu. He is Elohim, the powerful One who made the world.
In the New Testament, God reveals Himself more clearly as Trinity. He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Three divine Persons, but only one God (Matt. 28:19). In His incarnation, the Son of God took the name Jesus (Yeshua), “Jehovah saves” (Matt. 1:21). Paul tells us that this divine name is above all names (Phil. 2:10; cf. Eph. 1:21). Jesus bears the title Messiah or the Christ, “the Anointed One,” because God has anointed Him to be the Prophet, King, and Priest of man’s redemption. Jesus is Lord, Redeemer, and Savior. He is the divine Logos, the eternal Word of the Father (John 1:1). He is King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:6). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the earth (Rev. 13:8). He is Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23).
The Third Commandment that God delivered to Israel from Mt. Sinai tells us to always have reverence for God’s name. We are not to take His name “in vain,” in an empty, foolish, or cavalier manner. Rather, we are to use His names and titles with respect and seriousness. The man who liberally punctuates his speech with “God” and “Lord” is using the divine name in a vain, irreverent manner. This, according to the Bible is sin, and God holds such behavior accountable. But the Third Commandment has a much deeper and broader scope than this.
In Jesus’ Name
God has given His people a sort of power of attorney. He has given us the privilege of speaking and acting in the name of Jesus. This is a covenantal privilege, not a magical one. To act in Jesus’ name means that we act with the authority He has given us and not on our own authority, and that we act within the limits of our authorization, whatever those limits may be. We act as His agent, in His stead, to His credit, and for His benefit. His subjects are to receive us on those terms, and He will call to account those who don’t. Of course, we’re not to use this privileged status to enrich, empower, or amuse ourselves. Nor may we dictate the exact manner in which God will carry out His will and promises through us or for us. We are creatures, not gods. Servants, not magicians.
God has ordained quite a few uses of Jesus’ name. We pray in Jesus’ name. We teach and baptize and bless in Jesus’ name. In His name we excommunicate as well as restore. In each case, we are acting for Him. We must do all these things biblically, or we take God’s name in vain. But when we use His name lawfully, we may rightly expect Him to perform His will in response to, or in connection with, our words and actions. Speaking specifically of church discipline, Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). That is, He stands with His own to ratify and enforce their actions when those actions are in harmony with His word. To return to the case of the would-be exorcists, these folks apparently had no commission from Jesus to cast out demons as Paul did. His commands to evil spirits were effective. Theirs weren’t and led to the beat-down.
Oaths and Covenants
The implications of the Third Commandment for the political and social spheres are profound. Our basic social institutions—church, State, and family—are all covenantal, since each rests upon a self-maledictory oath sworn in God’s name. We “promise to submit in the Lord to the government of this church.” We swear “to tell the truth” or “to uphold and defend the Constitution.” We vow, “‘til death do us part.” But when we rebel in an ungodly way at church, defy the civil courts, commit treason, or break our marriage vows, we also take God’s name in vain. And the Third Commandment tells us that God will not hold us guiltless when we do. God will actively judge those who break their oaths and vows. He brings judgment within history (Ps. 58:11) and at the end of history (Matt. 12:36). His timing, though, will always be on His own terms.
The Covenant State versus the Sorcerer State
In Scripture, the State is a covenant institution ordained by God and subject to His laws. Paul calls the civil ruler “the minister of God” (Rom. 13:1-7). As a minister, the civil ruler exercises delegated power. That power is neither plenary nor omnipotent. The scope of that power is civil justice and national defense, nothing more.
The pagan world, however, has always seen the State as the point of continuity between the human and the “divine.” The “divine” may be a formal deity, humanity in the abstract, or the evolving universe. In any case, the State is seen as the agent and incarnation of deity. The State therefore speaks magically and with sovereign power. What the State declares must be. Fiat currency, fiat security, fiat social change—the State need but speak the word and the reality appears. Of course no secular society admits its religious commitment to magic. It never recognizes images as idols or meaningless slogans as magical incantations. But no amount of rational criticism or prophetic denouncement will shake the faith of the True Believer in the all powerful State. The State is ultimate and solves all problems by proclaiming the word. Just believe. “So shall it be written … so shall it be done.”
When a society no longer reverences the name of God and no longer fears His judgment and wrath, its people feel free to violate their oaths and break their vows. Commitment at any level evaporates. Covenants, constitutions, and contracts become pointless pieces of paper. The ties that bind men and women together are blurred, bent, and broken. Convenience and expediency govern all. Interestingly, these same people, the covenant benders and breakers, always look to the State as a source of magical salvation from all of life’s problems. Worse, they offer up their very souls to the devil to get quick, something-for-nothing salvation, as all true magicians must.
For Further Reading:
Gary North, Unholy Spirits, Occultism and New Age Humanism (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1986).
Gary North, The Sinai Strategy, Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: The Institute for Christian Economics, 1986).
T. Robert Ingram, The World Under God’s Law, Criminal Aspects of the Welfare State (Houston, TX: St. Thomas Press, 1962).
Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (N.p.: Craig Press, 1973).