Two other early rivals to Christianity should be considered, the first because of its attractiveness, the second because of its persecuting power. Both are equally operative in the Asian world of today. The first, more a movement and a climate of thought than a coherent religious system, is represented by Gnosticism and the mystery religions. It is also represented by the substratum of magic that underlay all first-century religions, as Taoism underlies modern Chinese popular religion or the bomah (witch doctor) underlies the popular Islam of Malaysia.

If we start at the lowest level of magic, the classical biblical example is at Ephesus, where the triumph of the Gospel meant the burning of many of the famous “Ephesian letters,” the magic spells for which the city was famous. Simon of Samaria and Elymas of Cyprus apparently used this sort of magic in connection with more developed religious systems. In one respect at least, magic corresponded very closely to science in modern times. It was an attempt by man to manipulate and control his natural environment for his own benefit. Of course, we know that it was a false and pseudo-science; but those who used it believed in it implicitly, and it did seem to produce some results, no doubt by demonic power. The fortune-teller of Philippi bore true witness to the mission of Paul and Silas, just as the demon-possessed man in the Gospels bore unwilling but true testimony to the nature of Christ. Christian workers today are sometimes puzzled by the heathen fortune-teller who can actually foretell the future; this problem too was known to the primitive Church.

The belief in magic led to that bondage of fear of the spirit-world that is still prevalent in many lands. To such people, the ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.