Is there really a difference between miracles and magic?
"Magic" is often used in a derogatory way, particularly in discussions of spirituality and religion. Miracles ascribed to various religious traditions are dismissed as tales of "magic," with the assumption that this is simply what unsophisticated people call things they don't understand. It's also used as way to categorize any claim a person finds ridiculous or unlikely. The word is also a term used to describe acts of illusion, such as sleight-of-hand or disappearing acts. This, too, is sometimes implied when the term magic is used as a smear, suggesting that what's occurred is merely an act of deception.
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From a biblical standpoint, there is no meaningful connection between stage magic and miracles. Scriptural miracles don't involve disappearing coins or swallowing swords. Ancient people knew, just as well as modern people, that serious skin diseases aren't healed by trickery (2 Kings 5:9–14). Neither are lifelong conditions (John 9:1–7), permanent disabilities (John 5:5–9), or death (John 11:38–44). Miracles involve something more than distraction, confusion, or coincidence.
On a related note, biblical miracles often lack the ostentatious character of stage magic, or the miracles of other faiths. In the Bible, people are miraculously healed without flashes of light or rumbling thunder. Those healed are returned to a "normal" state. In contrast, most miracle claims from other faiths involve great spectacle and drama. Healed persons become immortal, superhuman, or divinely empowered as a result. Just as stage magic uses spectacle to disguise what's really happening, false miracle claims often add window dressing to make them more enticing. Scriptural accounts of miracles, for the most part, are almost mundane.
Miracles are also different from magic in terms of their source. Magic is generally seen as a power within a particular person. Or, it is a natural energy that certain people can manipulate through words and hand motions. In other cases, magic is the activity of spirits commanded by the magician. All of these imply that the person performing the magic is in some way an authority over that power, or the one ultimately controlling it.
Miracles, on the other hand, are different from magic in that they are performed by God, not by men. Biblical accounts of miracles all involve God's power creating the miracle, not some mystical force commanded by the miracle worker. This also relates to a key aspect of "true" miracles, which is the message they convey. Magic can be performed at the whim of the magician. Miracles only happen when God is explicitly speaking some message, or proving some point.
In short, magic is something performed by men, by the will of men, for man's purposes, and without any legitimate supernatural component. Miracles are performed by God, by the will of God, and for God's purposes, purely by His power. Those who dismiss biblical miracles as "magic" misunderstand both.
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