There is a doctrine making the rounds today which is really just an enhanced version of “Christian Science” which was born in 1875. This doctrine said that good, god-fearing, church-going folk don’t been science or medicine to cure their illnesses, but rather the power of prayer alone. Thus, turning to a physician to heal the body demonstrates weak faith at best, and anathema at worst.
Today’s version of the doctrine is less anecdotal. Here’s the gist of it:
In the Bible, Paul condemned “sorcery.” What you don’t see in your English Bible is that the Greek word translated into sorcery is pronounced “PHARMAKEIA,” and it is the VERY SAME ROOT WORD of such modern English terms as “pharmacy,” “pharmacist,” “pharmacology” and “pharmaceuticals!” Thus, the OBVIOUS conclusion here is that medicine is a form of sorcery, because why else would we be using a similar word 2,000 years later and on the other side of the planet?!
Now, anybody who really thinks logically about this “reasoning” sees the hole right away. The pointy teeth in your mouth are called “canines” and “canine” means “dog,” therefore the pointy teeth in your mouth are actually DOG PARTS!
But still, let’s not just dismiss the possibility outright. To do so would be as foolish as to base an entire doctrine on the similarity of words, so let’s dig in a little (lot) deeper and really see what’s going on behind the scenes.
New Testament Usage:
Let’s start exploring this doctrine in Scripture. Where does this word occur, how is it used, what is the context, and how does it fit into Torah? Here are the THREE places that this word “φαρμακεία” appears in the New Testament – translated in each case into either sorcery or sorceries.
Gal 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, SORCERY, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of YHWH.
Rev. 9:20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their SORCERIES nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
Rev. 18:21 Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. 22 “And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; 23 and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your SORCERY. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.
In Galatians, we see Paul putting a strong context on all of the items in his list: “These things will cost you your salvation!” Yikes! And what are the things that separate us from our Creator? Sins. And what is a “sin?” Sin IT the transgression of the Law (of Moses).
1John 3:4 Whoever commits sin transgresses also the Law: for sin is the transgression of the Law.
Well, that makes perfect sense! Looking at Paul’s list of sins in Galatians 5, we recognize every single one of these things as being a trespass of the Laws YHWH gave His people. “Sorcery” is a word which can mean SEVERAL different things, but we’ll get to that in a later section. But for the time being, think of it as “magic” (which will make sense later).
But for the time being, store this in your memory banks: whatever “pharmakeia” is – it HAS TO BE a violation of Torah or else it wouldn’t make sense appearing in this list. Let’s move on to Revelation…
In Revelation chapter 9, John is making a list of things of which people refused to repent. Again – we don’t need to repent of OBEDIENCE, but rather DISOBEDIENCE. So once again, this “sorcery” was something that violates the Law of Moses. In chapter 18, we read the consequences of “Babylon’s” judgment and subsequent destruction, and “deceiving sorcery” was the cause given. Once again, this is a clear violation of Torah, only now we have a bit more context: this “pharmakeia” was used to deceive the nations.
Old Testament Usage:
The word “pharmakeia” (φαρμακεία) is Greek. That’s why we can search for it in the New Testament and not the Old Testament (which is mostly Hebrew). But, many of you know that 2,000 years ago, there WAS a version of the Old Testament which was written in Greek called the Septuagint (LXX). So we can actually look at the word pharmakeia in the Greek Old Testament, and then see what word the Prophets used in Hebrew!
First, I’ll give you the verses where pharmakeia appears in the LXX and then in the next section we’re going to look at the words both in Greek and Hebrew to try to understand what them mean and how they are used. I’m warning you now: it’s going to get a LITTLE BIT HEAVY, but if you want to sort through all of the phony doctrines which play on our ignorance of the original languages, you’re going to have to take a small step up and process some new information.
Ex. 7:8 Now YHWH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 9 “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Work a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’” 10 So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and thus they did just as YHWH had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their SECRET ARTS. 12 For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.
Here, “Secret arts” appears in the LXX as pharmakeia. And then it tells us EXACTLY what they were doing: they threw their staffs onto the ground. Did the make any medicine? From reading the story, it certainly doesn’t sound like it! The Hebrew word used here is (pronounced) “lat” which has even less to do with medicine, but we’ll get into that in the next section.
Later in chapter 7 (verse 22), the word pharmakeia appears again to describe the work of Pharaoh’s magicians.
Ex. 7:20 So Moses and Aaron did even as YHWH had commanded. And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood. 21 The fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. And the blood was through all the land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their SECRET ARTS; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as YHWH had said.
Again, the magicians did the SAME as Moses, and this was “pharmakeia.” What did Moses do? He lifted up his staff and struck the water. This doesn’t sound like medicine unless maybe they were drugging Pharaoh and just telling him what to hallucinate (which isn’t what either passage says).
Ex. 8:6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 The magicians did the same with their SECRET ARTS, making frogs come up on the land of Egypt.
Aaron stretched out his hand. The magicians did the same. This was called pharmakeia. No medicine was mentioned. But in the NEXT passage we’re going to look at, there is a POSSIBILITY that medicine IS being referenced!
The rest of the places where pharmakeia appears in the LXX, it is a replacement of a different Hebrew word (pronounced) “kesef.” We’ll get into all of these next section.
Is. 47:8 Now, then, hear this, you sensual one, who dwells securely, who says in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me. I will not sit as a widow, nor know loss of children.’ 9 “But these two things will come on you suddenly in one day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come on you in full measure in spite of your many SORCERIES and in spite of the great power of your spells.
Because the arrogance being portrayed is of being able to ward off death, medicine COULD fit into this passage. So out of the verses we’ve considered so far in this section, we now have ONE which sounds at first like it could POSSIBLY mean medicine. But as we keep going, we’ll find pharmakeia appears once more in this chapter, and with all the relevant context to lead us BACK AWAY from suspecting that this may be a jibe on pharmaceuticals…
Is. 47:12 Stand fast now in your spells and in your many SORCERIES with which you have labored from your youth. Perhaps you will be able to profit. Perhaps you may cause trembling. 13 You are wearied with your many counsels. Let now the astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons, stand up and save you from what will come upon you.
And there we go right back to the things we know are prohibited in the Books of Moses: divination, astrology, necromancy, soothsaying, consultation of familiars and so on.
We also have two apocryphal references from the Book of Wisdom which don’t give us a whole lot, but we can go ahead and bring them into consideration anyway just to be thorough. While we won’t try to expound on the context, it should be noted that there is nothing here to suggest a reference to medicine / drugs.
Wis. 12:3 For it was your will to destroy by the hands of our fathers both those old inhabitants of your holy land, 4 whom you hated for doing most odious works of WITCHCRAFTS, and wicked sacrifices.
Wis. 18:12 So they all together had innumerable dead with one kind of death; neither were the living sufficient to bury them: for in one moment the noblest offspring of them was destroyed. 13 For whereas they would not believe any thing by reason of the ENCHANTMENTS; upon the destruction of the firstborn, they acknowledged this people to be the sons of Elohim.
Okay, let’s go into information-overload mode here! First, we want to consult multiple sources for the meaning… or rather MULTIPLE MEANINGS of these words we’re trying to understand to ensure we have a CORRECT understanding of the Apostles’ intent when they used the word “pharmakeia.” First, let’s look at that word itself.
- φαρμακεία pharmakeia; gen. pharmakeias, fem. noun from pharmakon (n.f.), a drug, which in the Gr. writers is used both for a curative or medicinal drug, and also as a poisonous one. Pharmakeia means the occult, sorcery, witchcraft, illicit pharmaceuticals, trance, magical incantation with drugs (Gal. 5:20; Rev. 9:21; 18:23; Sept.: Ex. 7:22; Is. 47:9, 12).
Syn.: mageia (3095), magic.
“Φ,” The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, 1438.
So what are our possible meanings here? We see DRUGS, POISON, THE OCCULT, SORCERY, WITCHCRAFT, NARCOTICS and POTIONS. We also see that this word is akin to “mageia” or MAGIC. Let’s check our second source:
53.100 φαρμακεία, ας f; φάρμακον, ου n: the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people — ‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’
φαρμακεία: ἐν τῇ φαρμακείᾳ σου ἐπλανήθησαν πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ‘with your magic spells you deceived all the peoples (of the world)’ Re 18:23.
φάρμακον: οὐ μετενόησαν ἐκ τῶν φόνων αὐτῶν οὔτε ἐκ τῶν φαρμάκων αὐτῶν ‘they did not repent of their murders or of their magic’ Re 9:21.
φαρμακεία and the variant φάρμακον (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.
“φαρμακεία φάρμακον,” L&N, 545.
Here we’re seeing a bit more of the picture. Drugs being used to cast spells on people… sorcery… magic… The focus here is on CASTING SPELLS. Do you see what is NEVER part of the context? Healing!
Now, we saw that the word pharmakeia appears in several places in the Greek Old Testament, so let’
לָט 7 n.[m.] secrecy—לָאט; sf. לָטֵיהֶם—1. secrecy, <PREP> בְּ of accompaniment, with, in, + בוא come Jg 421 Ru 37, דבר pi. speak 1 S 1822, כרת cut skirt of robe 1 S 245.
- magic spell, enchantment, <PREP> בְּ of instrument, by (means of), with, + עשׂה do Ex 722 83.14 (Sam לַהַט enchantment in all three).
“לָט,” DCH, 4:540.
And this is what we see OVERLAPPING with the definition of the Greek pharmakeia in the definition of “lat:” MAGIC, SPELLS, ENCHANTMENTS. But don’t give up just yet! There IS a connection to more classical “pharma” in the second Hebrew word we want to look at.
- כשׁף (√ of foll.; cf. Ar. كَسَفَ cut off, cut up, Syr. ܐܶܬܟܰܫܰܦ to pray (lit. prob. to cut oneself, v. 1 K 18:28): so RSJ Phil. xiv. 125, 126 NöZMG 1886, 723; acc. to RS כֶּשֶׁף is prop. herbs etc. shredded into a magic brew).
3785 † [כֶּ֫שֶׁף] n. m. 2 K 9:22 sorcery, only pl. (As. kišpu, id.);—כְּשָׁפִים Mi 5:11, Na 3:4; sf. כְּשָׁפַיִךְ Is 47:9, 47:12; כְּשָׁפֶיהָ Na 3:4, 2 K 9:22;—sorceries:
- lit. וְהִכְרַתִּי כ׳ מִיָּדֶיךָ Mi 5:11, said of Isr.; רֹב כ׳ Is 47:9, 47:12 || חֲבָרַיִךְ, said of Babylon.
- fig. of seductive and corrupting influences: of Jezebel 2 K 9:22 (|| זְנוּנִים); of Nineveh person if. as harlot Na 3:4 (|| id.), called בַּעֲלַת כ׳ v:4 (following מֵרֹב זְנוּנֵי זוֹנָה).
3784 † כִּשֵּׁף vb.
Pi. denom. practice sorcery (As. kašâpu, id.);—Pf. 3 ms.: וְעוֹנֵן וְנִחֵשׁ וְכִשֵּׁף וְעָשָׂה אוֹב וְיִדְּעוֹנִ֑י 2 Ch 33:6 (of Manasseh); elsewh. only Pt. as subst. ms. sorcerer, in Israel, מְכַשֵּׁף Dt 18:10 (following קֹסֵם קְסָמִים מְעוֹנֵן וּמְנַחֵשׁ); fs. מְכַשֵּׁפָה = sorceress Ex 22:17 (E); mpl. מְכַשְּׁפִים Mal 3:5 (named with adulterers and false-swearers); of diviners, or astrologers in Egypt (חַרְטֻמִּים q.v.) Ex 7:11 (P; || חֲכָמִים); in Babylon Dn 2:2 (+ חַרְטֻמִּים, אַשָּׁפִים, כַּשְׂדִּים).
3786 † [כַּשָּׁף] n. m. sorcerer, only pl. sf. (As. kaššapu, id.; kaššaptu, sorceress);—אַל־תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל־נְבִיאֵיכֶם וְאֶל־קֹסְמֵיכֶם וְאֶל חֲלֹמֹתֵיכֶם וְאֶל־עֹנֲנֵיכֶם וְאֶל־כַּשָּֽׁפֵיכֶ֑ם Je 27:9.
“כשׁף,” BDB, 506.
There we have it – herbs shredded into a MAGIC brew as well as sorcery. But again, what’s missing?
We’ve looked at everything there is in the Scriptures pertaining to the usage of a 2,000 year old Greek (Koine) word “pharmakeia” and in not a single one of these places do we see anybody practicing medicine, science, treating illnesses, healing or strengthening the body, supplementing nutrition, neutralizing a virus or anything else that proponents of this doctrine seek to condemn… simply because we use a word for medicine that sounds the same.
“Pharmakeia” can mean any kind of MAGIC or any kind of POTION used for magic. Something hard for modern English speakers to understand is that ancient Hebrew was a very IMPRECISE language. Ancient Greek was not as imprecise, but it had nowhere near as robust of a vocabulary as modern English.
In other words, words in those languages were a lot more flexible and often had several more meanings. For people who preach sound bites instead of sound doctrines, this is a tremendous gift! You can make the same word say several different things as long as you take it out of context. So it really clears the doctrinal canvas for some extremely creative interpretations.
So, what’s the bottom line? Medicine, healing and science DO NOT violate Torah. Performing magic does. Consulting spirits, invoking “dark sayings,” casting spells, preparing magic potions: these are violations of Torah.
Nowhere in the Bible was the word “pharmakeia” used to describe anything similar to what the word “pharmaceuticals” describes today. These words have a COMMON origin, but they mean VERY DIFFERENT THINGS. This is something you budding linguists have to understand: the meanings of words CHANGE over time.
Still don’t understand? Just 100 years ago, a “faggot” was a bundle of sticks, “gay” just meant happy and a “queer” person was just a little eccentric. And that change happened in ONE country (USA) in just a century. So – do all those words still mean the same thing?
Now, tell me again how “pharmakeia” is the same thing 2,000 years later on the other side of the planet!