Today some superstitions seem harmless and even funny. Others are dark and ominous. What does the Bible say about superstitions?
A basic definition of superstition is “a belief that things such as magic or luck have the power to affect your life” (Macmillan Dictionary Blog).
Today, some would class any belief outside the realm of science as superstition, but those who believe in the God of the Bible have a different perspective. We believe the religion of the Bible is true and logical, and any unbiblical, irrational fear or ritual falls into the realm of superstition.
Example of a superstition in the Bible
The Philistines worshipped various gods, including Dagon. When the Philistines captured the biblical ark of God, they put it in the temple of Dagon, next to the statue of Dagon.
From what happened next, a new superstition developed.
“And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of it. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who come into Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day” (1 Samuel 5:4-5).
Hundreds of years later, the prophet Zephaniah seems to have referred to a similar superstition and God’s displeasure with it:
“In the same day I will punish all those who leap over the threshold, who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit” (Zephaniah 1:9).
Other pagan superstitions in the Bible
In Ezekiel 13:17-21 God also expressed His opposition to magic charms sewn on sleeves and to veils used to “hunt the souls of My people.” Though it is difficult to know exactly what these occult rituals were, it seems they were “casting magic death spells through sorcery or witchcraft” (Thomas Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible note on Ezekiel 13:17-19).
God warned Israel to avoid the religious rituals and superstitions around them. The customs of the surrounding pagan nations included ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 23:17; 12:31).
What does God say about religious customs and superstitions?
According to the Bible, there is only one true God and one true religion. Any religious rituals and practices not taught by the Bible for the worship of the true God are thus based on false premises. They are superstitions and an affront to God.
God warned Israel not to follow the pagan customs and superstitions of the nations around them.
“Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).
The Bible clearly condemns the occult, magic, sorcery, witchcraft, astrology and idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:19; 5:7-10; 18:10; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 47:13; Acts 19:19; Revelation 9:21; 21:8). We are not to give credence or pay attention to superstitions.
God’s laws, plans and help should be our focus.
Some modern superstitions might actually be just common sense—like not walking under a ladder. Even if some trace its roots to the ancient Egyptians’ veneration of triangles, it really makes sense to avoid the possible dangers of things falling on the person under the ladder. That’s not to mention the worry for the person on the ladder that someone may bump it!
Opening an umbrella indoors also seems unwise. This is not because it is “bad luck,” but because historically many umbrella spring mechanisms could be dangerous. Charles Panati explained, “In eighteenth-century London, when metal-spoked waterproof umbrellas began to become a common rainy-day sight, their stiff, clumsy spring mechanism made them veritable hazards to open indoors.”
Other superstitions and customs have a more complicated story, and others are just plain pagan in origin.
Here is some interesting history of a couple of modern customs and superstitions.
Saying “bless you” when someone sneezes
If you search the Internet for the origin of people saying bless you when someone sneezes, you will find various ideas. Many trace it back to superstition, while others believe it was said to show a desire that the person who sneezed would get well.
For example, here’s how the website How Stuff Works explains its origin:
“Wishing someone well after they sneeze probably originated thousands of years ago. The Romans would say ‘Jupiter preserve you’ or ‘Salve,’ which meant ‘good health to you,’ and the Greeks would wish each other ‘long life.’ The phrase ‘God bless you’ is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, who uttered it in the sixth century during a bubonic plague epidemic . . .
“The exchangeable term ‘gesundheit’ comes from Germany, and it literally means ‘health.’ The idea is that a sneeze typically precedes illness. It entered the English language in the early part of the 20th century, brought to the United States by German-speaking immigrants . . .
“For the most part, the various sneeze responses originated from ancient superstitions. Some people believed that a sneeze causes the soul to escape the body through the nose. Saying ‘bless you’ would stop the devil from claiming the person’s freed soul. Others believed the opposite: that evil spirits use the sneeze as an opportunity to enter a person’s body. There was also the misconception that the heart momentarily stops during a sneeze (it doesn’t), and that saying ‘bless you’ was a way of welcoming the person back to life.”
Today, many people just say “bless you” as a matter of reflex, without thinking about it or having any meaning to it.
Many superstitions are based on the concept of luck—that some action brings bad luck or good luck.It certainly makes sense for a Christian to avoid superstitious sayings or sayings with no meaning. We should consider all of our words and say only what we mean (Matthew 12:36-37; see our Daily Bible Verse Blog post “Every Idle Word”). If we desire to let someone know that we hope they get well, we can say that.
The Bible encourages us to bless others (Ruth 2:4; Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14), but this is best done with thought-out words and actions rather than rote sayings.
So the decision to not reflexively say “bless you” when someone sneezes has biblical support. If someone else says “bless you” to you when you sneeze, however, it might be best to assume they are saying it from good motive and not to assume they are superstitious or need to be corrected (see our article “Giving the Benefit of the Doubt”).
Friday the 13th superstition
The Bible does not mention Friday the 13th. It does not support any negative connotation for the number 13; in fact, because of Jacob’s adoption of his grandsons, there are actually 13 tribes of Israel. None of the 13 uses of the number 13 in the Bible is negative.
And, though some have a different impression, the truth is that Friday is just another day in the Bible.
National Geographic traces the following history of Friday the 13th (though we will see that the biblical part is, in fact, not really biblical):
“Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun . . . ‘traces the fear of the number 13—aka, triskaidekaphobia—to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, Norse mythology’s heaven. In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous god Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.
“‘Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day,’ Dossey said.
“There is also a biblical reference to the unlucky number 13. Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper . . .
“As for Friday, it’s well known among Christians as the day Jesus was crucified. Also, some biblical scholars believe Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on Friday. Perhaps most significant is a belief that Abel was slain by his brother Cain on Friday the 13th.”
Actually, the Bible does not say Judas was the last one to arrive at the upper room. It does not say which day of the week Eve tempted Adam or when Cain slew Abel. And many are surprised that it doesn’t say Jesus died on a Friday! See our article “Sign of Jonah: Did Jesus Die Good Friday, Rise on Easter?”
The nonbiblical history seems more likely:
“Meanwhile, in ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.”
There is nothing innocent or redeeming about the Friday the 13th superstition.
What does the Bible say about luck?
Many superstitions are based on the concept of luck—that some action brings bad luck or good luck.
The Bible teaches that some actions have good results and some have bad results. But these are based on God’s laws and wisdom, not on random accidents. (See more in our blog post “Is the Bible Practical?”)
Breaking a mirror, spilling salt and crossing paths with a black cat have no actual power over our lives. They do not cause bad luck. Horseshoes, rabbits’ feet and knocking on wood do not cause good luck. These are all superstitions and can only become self-fulfilling prophecies if we give them credence.
The Bible doesn’t ignore the fact that there is an evil spirit world, but it makes clear that God is in control. When we fully trust in Him, we have nothing to fear from the devil and his demons. See more in our article “How to Resist Satan, the Roaring Lion.”
Christians do not need to worry about superstitions, and they should not give them credence. God is in charge. The real way to ultimate blessings is to trust in Him and follow His instructions. The Bible says, “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).