"Be Thou an Example of the Believers": Recognizing Modern-day Egyptian Magicians

In a letter Paul wrote Timothy, we learn the names of two people who are mentioned in Exodus.1

Exodus 7:10-12 [emphasis added]

“Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs” 

Who are these Egyptian magicians?  Paul calls them Jannes and Jambres.

2 Timothy 3:8 [emphasis added]
"Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith."

Here's the story of Jannes and Jambres.2

Using the power of God, Aaron performs a miracle.  The Pharaoh asks Jannes and Jambres to do the same, and they do.  They are then asked to replicate the 10 plagues that Moses brings upon the people of Egypt.  They are able to perform 2 of the 10 plagues, turning water into blood (sort of) and producing frogs, but they can't do the others.

As I read these scriptures about Jannes and Jambres I asked myself two questions:

1. Why does the Pharaoh want sorcerers to replicate something that Aaron has done?
2. Why is Paul talking about them to Timothy?

My quest for answers led to me learn about the relationship between Egypt and magic.3

In ancient Egypt a world without magic was inconceivable.   They believed that magic was necessary for every stage of life: conception, birth, life, death, and afterlife.  Bodies were mummified and items were left with the body because when magic brought them back to life, they'd need those items.

Ancient Egyptians worshipped many gods.  Most of these gods had their own temple cult and priests and priestesses that served to protect and defend that god.  The god of magic, Heka did not have a temple cult.  Heka was considered to be the god present in the power of all the other gods.  Heka was believed to have existed before the creation of the earth.  That is how the earth was able to be created using magic.

Priests were assigned to certain gods.  It was their job to display the power of that god against someone else's god of another nation.  It's pretty safe to assume Jannes and Jambres would have been priests assigned to display the power of Heka, basically making them magicians.4

So now that we know the context of these Egyptian magicians, why would Paul bring them up when talking about the last days?

I had a lengthy discussion about this with a certain Englishman. We came up with a few ways we see modern-day Egyptian magicians try to replicate the power of God.

However, before I share our thoughts, I want to say this.  I have a great respect for other beliefs and religions.  I would never want to intentionally hurt or offend anyone.  However, I also believe that I belong to the Lord's church that is authorized to use the priesthood in these latter-days, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This does not mean that as members of this Church only we have truth, but rather we have the fullness of the truth as it has been restored since its founding by Joseph Smith.

So let's look at four magic tricks the world uses.

Magic Trick #1 - Zombies 

Years ago when I was teaching a graduate class, I had students form teams and give group presentations.  I taught the class in two sections but had the same TA for both sections.  One day in both sections the teams presented their material using the theme of a zombie apocalypse .  I said to my TA, "That is so strange that both sections would think to talk about a zombie apocalypse."

He said, "Yeah, it's offensive since we believe zombies are real."

Uh, what???

I was stunned that this mild-mannered, straight-laced, law student would tell me without a hint of sarcasm that he thinks zombies are a real thing.  So stunned in fact that I didn't say anything and just dropped it.  But I spent the rest of the semester looking at my TA thinking, "This guy thinks zombies are real."

I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me years to finally figure out that zombies indeed are real.

What is a zombie?  It's a person who dies, rises out of their grave, and comes back to life.  Where would anyone gets such a crazy idea?


"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose" ~ Matt. 27:52

The zombie craze is an attempt to duplicate a powerful miracle when God is able to bring someone back from the dead so that they might live.  It is because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ that all will receive victory from the grave and live again.

Magic Trick #2 - #naturechurch

Many people today are rejecting organized religion, but some are actually attempting to replace religion by exploring spirituality in nature.  It's basically the idea that we can get closer to God in the mountains than we can in a chapel.  I'm sure you have heard someone say something to the effect of, "I would much rather spend my Sunday with my family than attending church with a bunch of people that I don't like."

I think nature is a perfect way to commune with God.  We are among His creations.  I love hiking in the mountains and listening to the sounds of nature.  It's awe inspiring and uplifting.

So why even have a church?

Throughout history God established a formal structure of a church.  He did it with Moses and with Alma, and even Jesus Christ Himself established the Church of Jesus Christ.

After the Great Apostasy, God again established a church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Why is church on Sunday better than #naturechurch?

I'm going let a current apostle, Elder D. Todd Christofferson answer this one. [emphasis added]

It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fulness” of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end. One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”
#naturechurch is an attempt to duplicate what only church can provide.  We can only make covenants with the Lord administered to us by those with proper priesthood authority. Church gives us the opportunity to teach and edify others, even with all of our personal idiosyncrasies.

Magic Trick # 3 - Dry baptisms

Like I said before, I have respect for other religions, even those that do not believe in baptism or don't baptize by immersion.  There are some organized religions and followers of Christ that preach traditional baptism is not necessary. Sometimes called a "dry baptism" they claim that a declaration of a commitment to follow Christ is enough, water has no effect on our soul.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does practice baptism with water.  Little children are not baptized, but rather those who have reached the age of accountability, usually age eight.  (See Moroni 8:10-11).  We believe in baptism the way Christ was baptized, full immersion.  Baptisms are performed by one with the proper priesthood authority.  In order for the baptism to be complete, the person then receives the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands by one with the proper priesthood authority.

One religion argues that water does not have any literal effect on a person's heart.  The immersion doesn't do anything, therefore it isn't necessary.  And while that technically is true, Joseph Smith explains that its power comes from the view of the person being baptized.  He said that "you might as well baptized a bag of sand as a man, if not done in the view of the remission of sins..."

Just as our temple garments are not magic underwear, we do not believe the water has magical properties, rather it is the symbol of the ordinance that creates the change in us.

Dry baptism is an attempt to duplicate the necessary ordinance required to qualify for exaltation.6

Magic Trick #4 - Marriage vows written by the couple

 The origin of today's traditional marriage vows began in the marriage liturgy in the Common Book of Prayer published in 1549.  Amazingly, the vows have changed very little for almost 500 years.  A common phrase is "til death do us part." However, that is beginning to change as couples are writing their own vows.  Here are a few that I have found:

Everything I am and everything I have is yours,
from this moment forth and for eternity.

I take you as you are now, tomorrow and for eternity to come, to be my husband.

I will give you all my love from now until eternity ends

Unfortunately, saying this doesn't automatically make it true.  This is what Joseph Smith said: 

“Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory.” (History of the Church, 5:391; see also Smith, Teachings, pp. 300–301.)

In order to enter into a marriage for eternity, one must enter into the covenant by one who has the proper priesthood authority.  

Marriage vows written by the couple is an attempt to duplicate the new and everlasting covenant found in Doctrine and Covenants 132.  

These are just four "magic tricks" that a certain Englishman and I thought of, but do you see a pattern?  The world is trying to bypass the power of God and do it alone.  And that is what Jannes and Jambres did, they used their own art of illusion rather than God's power.  I think that is ultimately what Paul was trying to say to Timothy, rely on the power of God.  

1. This is according to both Jewish and Christian tradition.
2. There are actually many more supposed stories about Jannes and Jambres, but they are not considered to be scriptural text, so I'm going to leave them alone.
3. https://www.ancient.eu/article/1019/magic-in-ancient-egypt/
4. You can find lots of information as to how Jannes and Jambres were able to replicate the miracles of Aaron and Moses.  Some say it was through the power of Satan, others, the art of illusion.  But I don't think how they were able to do it is as important as to why, so I left it out of this article.
5. Born Again, April 2001 General Conference, Pres. James E. Faust
6. Note that I used the word exaltation and not immortality.  Baptism is not necessary to live after we die, but it is if we want eternal life or a life in what we call the Celestial Kingdom.

To coincide with the Come Follow Me 2019 lesson for October 28-November 3.

Not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.