Dear Friends,

Over the years I have been asked many times if the Bible specifically speaks against drug use.  To begin with, let’s qualify that as illicit (forbidden by law) or recreational drug use or improper use of legally obtained drugs.  Modern medicine has vastly improved and lengthened human life with the proper or directed use of various natural and synthetic chemicals. So, we do need to be careful about what we are talking about.

Usually, I respond with the most obvious answer, the use, possession and sale of these drugs is illegal!  Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 all tell us to be subject to governing authorities.  The only time that is suspended is when the laws of men conflict with the Law of God (Acts 5:27-29).  So, in that sense, the Bible does speak against illicit drug use.  However, many will respond then that Marijuana as well as some or all “recreational” drugs should be legalized just like alcohol.  Then it will be OK, Biblically, to use them.

To that I respond with Ephesians 5:18-19And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…” This verse negatively contrasts being controlled by wine which leads to uninhibited, wasteful living with being controlled by the Spirit which leads to positive, joyful relationships with God and man.  Most scholars agree that Paul uses “wine” and “drunkenness” here because it was the most common vice of the day but his intention was that anything we allow to control our mind and actions other than the Holy Spirit should be avoided.  However, it doesn’t say “drugs” specifically, right?  No, it doesn’t.

Recently, I came across an article that explained the Greek word “pharmakeia.”  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  This is where we get our English words “pharmacy” and “pharmacist.” In the ancient Greek language, this was the generic term for “the use and administration of drugs” so it was also used for potions, poisoning, spells, witchcraft, and sorcery. Because common English uses entirely different words, phrases like selling drugs evoke something illicit while taking meds or prescription drugs don’t imply anything nefarious. Ancient Greek used “pharmakeia” to refer to the whole spectrum of medicines, hallucinogens, poisons and those who provide them. This makes cultural and Biblical context crucial when interpreting terms related to “pharmakeia.”

The Greek word “pharmakeia” appears in Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 18:23. The same root word appears in Revelation 19:21, Revelation 21:8, and Revelation 22:15. These are all translated into English as “sorcery,” “witchcraft,” or “sorcerer.”  When we hear the word sorcery we think of supernatural power and spells or a user of black magic.  However, the Biblical use of “pharmakeia” doesn’t really fit well with our idea of sorcery. Rather, the term suggests various forms of drug abuse such as used in pagan worship, as an addiction, or as a poison used to kill, manipulate or control others.

Ancient societies were no stranger to mind-altering chemicals. Archaeologists note the presence of opium, hemp, and many other substances in Bible-era cultures. These compounds were not as potent as modern options but still capable of powerful effects. Pagan temples such as those in Greece, Ephesus and around the Near East sometimes used mind-altering drugs in fortune-telling and worship practices. These may have included natural vapors and deliberately mixed compounds. So, a Biblical “sorcerer” could be thought of as the equivalent of a modern “drug dealer.” Or as the type of person who slips chemicals into a woman’s drink to take advantage of her.  When Paul wrote Galatians and John recorded Revelation, these practices would have been part of the local culture.

I found this study very interesting.  While the exact meaning of “pharmakeia” isn’t exactly crystal clear, neither is it completely obscure. Nowhere in Scripture is “pharmakeia” used in conjunction with true workers of supernatural miracles (God, Jesus, angels).  While I suppose it’s true that the Devil and his demons influence and encourage drug use, again, the word is not used.   There’s no sense that Scripture uses “pharmakeia” in reference to supernatural powers.  Instead, Biblical “sorcery” seems to be about abusing drugs for idolatry, recreation, and the oppression of others.  So, the Bible, I believe, does indeed specifically speak against this practice.

Only by Grace!

Pastor Mike