I have been interested in hypnosis for a number of years. After having done a great deal of academic study on the subject, since I had already read a number of books and articles on hypnosis, I chose to look at another book with which I have some familiarity and, to my amazement, I found a firm biblical basis for the use of hypnosis. It is described five times in the New Testament (Mt. 1:24; Lk. 9:32; Jn. 11:13; Acts 20:9; Rm. 13:11).
A. THE BIBLICAL BASIS OF HYPNOSIS
1) The hypnotic experience of Joseph
The first of the synoptic gospels presents the classic description of an individual being hypnotized and while under hypnosis being given a post-hypnotic suggestion on which he immediately acts as soon as he awakens from his hypnotic trance. This account comes in the very first chapter of the first book of the New Testament. It is as if much of the New Testament is built upon this experience.
In Matthew 1:24, the Greek word “hypnos” is used. It is interesting to note that, in Greek, there are three different words, of which two are translated into English as “sleep”. They are “Katheudo” and “Koimaomai”. The other is either transliterated – the sound in Greek is “hypnos” – or is translated as “sleep”.
The account in Matthew reveals that a messenger from God went to visit Joseph after Joseph had discovered that Mary was to have a child. Joseph knew that he was not the father. The Greek word “aggelos” is either translated “angel” or “messenger”. It does not always convey the meaning of a heavenly, winged creature.
A messenger from God came to Joseph after Joseph had made it know that he would not follow through with his vow to marry Mary. The scripture indicates that all of this occurred in a dream. Joseph was told that it would be appropriate for him to follow through with his marriage plans because Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit.
In verse 24, the Greek text indicates that when Joseph came out of “hypnosis,” he acted on what had been suggested under hypnosis. He took Mary and they went home as husband and wife. He had received positive insight through a hypnotic experience upon which he immediately acted as soon as he regained full mental awareness. This is a classic example of post-hypnotic behavior which had been agreed upon under hypnosis.
2) The Mount of Transfiguration
The experience of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels, but the one in Luke is most interesting – particularly since Luke is the only Gentile writer in the Bible and is also the only physician (Luke 9:28-33). There were no Jewish physicians. That function was fulfilled by the religious leaders or, in later years, gentile physicians were engaged. That is how Luke became involved in the Christian movement. He was enlisted by the Apostle Paul.
The biblical narrative in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is similar. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain or high hill. The three disciples became sleepy and then they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus and telling Him that he must go to Jerusalem and allow God’s will to prevail.
The significant difference in the three accounts is that Luke uses the word “hypnosis” to describe the sleep of Peter, James, and John. Since Luke was a physician and hypnosis was a common experience of the first century, it is logical to accept that a hypnotic induction occurred. Since there were only four people who went up on the mountain top and three of them were in “hypnosis,” it is a logical conclusion to draw that Jesus was the hypnotist.
It was used as a positive force to enable the disciples to be able to accept that which would later develop in Jerusalem. It was not only reinforced by the great teacher, Jesus, but by the most revered lawgiver and prophet, Moses and Elijah.
3) The Sleep of Lazarus
The Gospel of John records the vivid account of the misunderstanding of the death of Lazarus (John ll:1-44). Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill, yet Jesus did not immediately respond and Lazarus died. When Jesus was informed that Lazarus was dead, he declared that he would go and awaken him. The disciples misunderstood what Jesus was saying. They understood Jesus to say that he would awaken him from a hypnotic trance, but in reality Jesus had stated that he would bring him forth from the dead. The significant point to be made at this time is that hypnosis was understood and practiced during biblical times.
4) Paul as a Hypnotist
The author of Acts is the same as the writer of that gospel which bears his name: Luke. He was a great first-century writer who wrote from a physician’s point of view. There are more of his lines in the New Testament than anyone else other than from the Apostle Paul. In Acts 20:7-12, Luke records an incident in the life of Paul, the evangelist.
In Troas, Paul has met with a number of believers who gather for communion and worship. Paul is the preacher and he goes on and on. A young man sitting in an open window by the name of Eutychus finally drops off to sleep and falls out the window, to the street below. Luke describes this incident by saying that Paul “hypnotized” Eutychus and after a while Eutychus lost his balance and fell. Paul went down to see what had happened. Many thought Eutychus was dead, but Paul said, “No”. Paul awakened him out of hypnosis and together the group went back upstairs and spent the rest of the night enjoying food and conversation.
5) The Hypnotized Society
The Apostle Paul uses the concept of hypnosis in a different way (Romans 13:18). He suggests that it is time for society to be aroused from a hypnotic slumber and become fully aware of its god-given potentials to live the Abundant Life. He indicates that no longer does one need to struggle with all the negative aspects of broken laws and demanding rules which cause sluggish behavior like one under hypnosis. He urges us to become fully alive and simply live a life of love of God, of others, and of self and all the laws would fulfilled.
The point is that hypnosis was very much a part of the first century. It was not limited to those with a Judeo-Christian perspective, but it was very common to them. It is described in Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, and Romans. It was known and practiced by those who wrote the majority of the New Testament. But how can it be used today to enable the people of God to become, in fact, what they are in faith: powerful, dynamic people who experience and express the Abundant Life?
B. A Practical Use of Hypnosis
1) Personal Control
The classic introduction of the New Testament hypnosis is encountered in the early life of Joseph, the husband of Mary. He seems to have been in complete agreement with the suggestions received under hypnosis for his behavior validates his consent. He was, in fact, able to follow through and live as was suggested
There is no question but that a dedicated mind is the greatest asset one can surrender to God, but what does the individual do who seems at a loss to explain an inability to follow through on personal choices and inner convictions? How can you help the individual who knows what to do and genuinely desires to follow through, but for some reason just does not? Hypnosis can be a marvelous support, uniquely reinforcing with abundant encouragement that which one feels is proper and should be done.
I would never suggest that hypnosis be used for anything other than to enable an individual to become the good person one desires to be. Every post-hypnotic suggestion must be one of agreement with the individual and one with moral, healthy, and therapeutic values.
There are many ways in which hypnosis can have positive values. Three involve enhancement of the body in the areas of weight control, smoking, and drug abuse.
The Bible teaches that the body is the temple of God and should be respected as holy. Most people from a religious background will readily admit that they must assume full responsibility in providing the best of care for their bodies. It is interesting to note that the first recorded act of disobedience involved the breaking of a diet by Adam and Eve.
Professional hypnosis and self-hypnosis both normally begin by using ancient practices of relaxation therapy. We don’t yet completely understand what happens to the body under relaxation and/or hypnosis but it seems to be very healthy. Negative responses are few and far between. I have never known of a negative response to religious hypnosis. Religious hypnosis is always aimed at enabling the individual to become more fully that which God desires. There are so many biblical aids which support this concept.
2. Biblical Cases of Personal Control
The greatest assurance which the Bible can present to a believer who is beginning to live the Abundant Life is the quote from the pen of the Apostle Paul according to the Clarified Bible- in Philippians 4:13, “I can do what I ought to do for God will provide me the power.” This one verse has given great strength to millions who quote it daily. Many follow the prescription of saying it three times a day. Under hypnosis, an individual can be assured that he/she is able to follow through with the good decisions which have been made, for God will provide the power. All of the energy does not have to come from within. You can be reinforced with the power of God.
The author of the Gospel of John, in the first chapter, indicates that God has given the power, for those who believe, to be children of God. There is a great power available for those who believe, to enable them to live in such a way that a healthy body will be the result. Simply say “no” to excess food, excess alcohol, or drugs and “yes” to adequate exercise, proper rest, and nutritious food. The individual who desires can be strengthened under hypnosis.
One of the greatest biblical affirmations is that “as a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” The thought is the leader of the deed. Every rational person thinks before he acts. As the mind goes, so goes life.
A classic biblical example is the prodigal son. The father of two sons was approached one day by his youngest son who requested his share of the estate since he intended to leave home. The father quietly submitted to the son’s request and gave him a bonus as he left. The son made a choice and left home. Most people identify with the prodigal son. After a time of deliberate debauchery and damaging drifting, the young man made a decision, “I will return to my father.” This was a strong-willed and determined son because no sooner had he visualized whom he could be than he began to take steps to realize his visualization. He saw himself working once again on his father’s farm, if not as a son, at least as a hired hand.
Once the decision is made to return to the best that you know, then you may face trouble. You may have a mind that agrees but a body which is reluctant. This is an area in which religious hypnosis can be helpful. You can go towards the best that you know. Resources are available to support you on your journey. A dedicated mind has the potential to influence all of one’s life for good. A healthy mind is the greatest support for a healthy body.
A leper came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you will, I know you can make me whole.” Jesus said, “I will. Be clean.” A man with a diseased arm believed that Jesus could supply the therapy to provide healing. He was healed. A woman who had been caught in the act of adultery looked up into the face of Jesus after her other accusers had departed and said, “Lord, you can still condemn me.” Jesus quickly replied, “I don’t condemn you. Arise and live the Abundant Life.” And the sinner of the streets became the saint of the sanctuary.
We must believe in ourselves. We have the ability to be successful in life, healthy in body, and dynamic in faith. We can use personal meditation, corporate worship, and religious hypnosis to achieve these spiritual and personal goals.
W. Leo Peacock, retired Army Chaplain.