How do we apply Deuteronomy 18:9 today?

In a recent discussion, @alison made an interesting point:

I thought this was fascinating and started to look into it.

I first noticed that a little more context helped me understand what’s at stake.

Here’s Deuteronomy 18:9-14,

“When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations. No one among you is to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, cast spells, consult a medium or a spiritist, or inquire of the dead. Everyone who does these acts is detestable to the LORD, and the LORD your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable acts. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. Though these nations you are about to drive out listen to fortune-tellers and diviners, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do this.

I think it’s important to specify that these are detestable customs.

To exaggerate, non-Christians are known to sleep, eat, drive cars, use the internet, and work in return for compensation. Are these forbidden to Christians because these are customs common to non-Christians? I hope not!

However, child sacrifice? My goodness! If anything is detestable, that’s it.

As the scholar Michael Grisanti explains,

Most ancient cultures manifested a keen need to receive some kind of direction from their god and created various practices to facilitate that endeavor (Ex 7:11; Eze 21:21–22 [26–27]; Da 2:2). Their sacrifices were intended to prod their gods into certain courses of action. The practice of child sacrifice, though not a divinatory rite (an attempt to determine future events), represented an attempt to convince a god to do something in particular in light of the total dedication of the worshiper (evidenced in the willingness to sacrifice his or her own flesh and blood (Expositor’s Bible Commentary).

Alison later asked:

We must be clear that the Bible only imitates certain pagan things to highlight their inferiority. We must be careful not to think that the Bible is suggesting we can take a pagan practice and ‘Christianise’ it for Christian worship. One example might be ‘Jesus deck’ cards that are the ‘Christian’ version of tarot cards. I believe that in imitating practices in this way is a direct defiance of Deut 18:9. I think this discussion could be extended to the idea of ‘holy yoga’, the idea of taking a Hindu worship practice and doing it for Jesus.

I don’t see how we can “Christianize” casting spells. No matter how we change the words, the idea of casting a spell to compel God to do something on our behalf is an inappropriate way to respond to a God of love, holiness, and grace.

However, sometimes, how people pray seems more like ‘casting a spell’ than communing with God. The idea is “ask and you shall receive” - if you pray with the right faith, intensity, tools, movement, pastor, etc.

Here’s one example from the prosperity preacher Paula White:

@alison, I also agree that “Jesus deck” cards seem more designed to manipulate God into revealing his will. The “logic” of this tool is not Christian, even if the surface level language and symbols are from the Bible.

I don’t know enough about the origins of yoga to know if it can be Christianized. There are probably also many ways in which this is done. In my very limited experience, yoga is marketed more as a secular fitness routine than a Hindu practice. The market forces of secular fitness routines also need to be questioned!

I don’t know enough about the meaning attributed to yoga within Hinduism to have a firm belief about whether or not these same movements could be done in a manner that connected participants in worship of Jesus.

However, it is interesting that Christian traditions around bodily movements in prayer have developed: lying prostrate, kneeling, raising our hands, and so on.

Perhaps there are some wise guides who we can learn from in terms of how the posture of our bodies can connect us to God and others - or lead us astray!

These are complex issues that require deliberation, discernment, and wisdom. And areas where different people’s consciences will lead them to different conclusions!


Applying Deuteronomy 18:9 today is indeed a complex issue. I can think of several instances in my own Christian journey where I have needed discernment on whether an art form or a practice of pagan origin is suitable for Christian involvement. Festivals like Halloween and Diwali, physical activities like yoga, martial arts and cultural dances, healing techniques like acupuncture and reiki, alternative medicine like ayurveda, meditation, personality tests like the enneagram are some areas for discerment that I have encountered. Though each of these issues deserve individual attention and study, there are some broader principles we can draw from Deuteronomy 18:9-14.

It is true that not everything pagans do is abominable. What could make certain practices abominable? As Carson mentioned certain responses are inappropriate responses to God’s love, holiness and grace. As I read Deuteronomy 18, I was struck by how the pagan practices were opposed to God’s revealed truth. The pagans were sacrificing their sons and daughters to their gods. They thought God’s love could be bought! They were practicing divination while rejecting the leading of God’s Spirit. They were interested in fortune telling when God had ordained his own prophets. The practices of the pagan nations compared to that of the Israelites were based on a different understanding of reality on the nature of God, nature of man, nature of spiritual beings, sin, salvation, worship, etc. God’s prohibition against these pagan practices was to protect the Israelites from all things that had no basis in God’s truth.

So if I had to extrapolate the logic of Deut 18 to modern day practices, I would not dabble in anything that is founded on principles that oppose God’s plans and design revealed in scripture. I may consider asking some of the following questions -

  • Is the view of God promoted by the practice compatible with Christianity?

  • Does the practice promise spiritual growth through techniques or through holiness in daily decisions motivated by the love of God in Christ Jesus?

  • Is the practice in any way related to divination? God has clearly prohibited divination, which means He also prohibits knowledge received through divination.

  • Can the practice be explained by natural explanations alone? Any spiritual explanation is cause for concern because the Spirit of God acts according to His will and cannot be controlled by man.

  • Does the practice affect my Christian witness?

  • Does the practice minimize sin?

  • Is the view of man promoted by the practice compatible with Christianity?

  • How does the practice impact my relationship with God?

  • Are pagan practices merely given Christian vocabulary or are there substantial differences based on Christian understanding of scripture?

I realize we may not all respond the same way to the different issues, but hopefully such questions will guide us in our discernment.


That’s a deep insight!! Thank you for giving us so many different ‘lenses’ we can use to evaluate a practice.

I’d like to invite follow-up posts that apply these ways of discerning how a practice lines up with Scripture. E.g.,

  • Shopping on Amazon
  • Yoga at the local gym
  • Halloween


1 Like

Thank you. Glad to look into practices like yoga that have roots in non-Christian approaches to spirituality. I am not sure how Shopping on Amazon is in this category though.

1 Like

Perhaps it isn’t. I included it because I think it’s worthwhile to consider how normal practices in our lives can pull us away from faithfulness.

For instance, does Amazon (or credit cards, shopping malls, etc.) facilitate a culture of consumerism?

For some people, it doesn’t. For others, it could be a major challenge. I don’t want to be legalistic but seek wisdom.

So, either way, reflecting on how our culture is materialistic and consumeristic may help us resist these temptations and steward our financial resources in ways that honor God.

1 Like