SORCERY IN THE BIBLE, PHARMAKEIA AND MODERN MEDICINE:
A QUESTION I WAS ASKED:
'I HAVE HEARD THAT THE “SORCERERS” DESCRIBED IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION ARE ACTUALLY MEDICAL PRACTITIONERS AND THAT WE ARE SINNING WHEN WE GO TO SEE OUR DOCTORS. ANY TRUTH IN THIS CLAIM?'
There are three or four places in the New Testament describing 'sorcerers' and 'sorcery' (in the KJV that is, newer translations often don't use these words). Some (mainly in the cults, sects and extremist charismatic groups) have associated these references with modern pharmacists and the medical profession; but is there any validity in this approach? We need to look at these words very closely:
SORCERER (Acts 13:6,8 - KJV)
This is from the Greek 'magos', it means 'sorcerer', 'magician' or, 'wise man' (Word 3097 in Strongs). There is no association with pharmacy or medicine.
SORCERIES (Acts 8:11 - KJV)
This is from the Greek 'mageia' it refers to magic (Word 3095 in Strongs) – no connection with pharmacy.
SORCERIES (Revelation 9:21 and 18:23 - KJV)
This is from the Greek 'pharmakeia' (Word 5331 in Strongs). There is some connection here to the word 'pharmacy' which we must look at in a moment.
SORCERERS (Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 - KJV)
These uses of 'sorcerers' (KJV) use a different Greek word to the singular use of this word in Acts 13:6,8; so this is not just the plural of the same word. From the Greek 'pharmakeus' (Words 5332 and 5333 in Strongs). So there is a connection between all four uses of words 5331, 5332 and 5333 in Revelation. There is indeed a relationship here to the English word 'pharmacy' (which of course, is directly derived from these Greek words). Is this calling modern medical practitioners 'sorcerers'? Is this saying that you and I should never visit a doctor??
Okay. Now lets ensure that we correctly understand this:
The root meaning of this group of Greek words is 'druggist' 'poisoner' or, 'giver of potions'. These particular 'sorcerers' were persons able to prepare and dispense potions. But why did they dispense these potions? Was it in order to give relief from illness?
Absolutely not! It was in order to stimulate hallucinations or visions! We must understand that it was long part of pagan religious practice to administer potions, or drugs, which would encourage hallucinations! There is, of course, a direct parallel here to modern illicit drug taking. But these original 'pharmacists' were involved in the black arts and in demonology; the basic idea was that taking certain potions could bring one into contact with the spirit world, and that this was to be desired. But the fact that the modern English word 'pharmacy' happens to be derived from 'pharmakeia' frankly proves absolutely nothing! Do people visit doctors in order to be given drugs which will bring them into contact with the spirit world? Of course not!! People visit medical practitioners in order to to have an illness diagnosed, to be treated for sickness, or to gain relief from illness! Yet there are some extremist charismatic ministries around today which teach that we sin when we visit a doctor just because the word 'pharmacy' happens to be related to these Greek words!
We must understand that on several occasions the Bible backs up the principle that sick people should look around for remedies for their sickness. This is a very clear biblical principle! Lets look at some examples:
When Job was afflicted by boils he seemed to be aware of the principle that the draining sores needed to dry out so he sat in ashes (Job 2:7-8).
Jeremiah refers to the balm of Gilead which was evidently deemed to have medicinal qualities (Jeremiah 8:22; 46:11).
When Hezekiah was seriously ill, Isaiah told him to put some figs to boil, although we cannot be sure in what way this may have been medicinal (2 Kings 20:7).
The therapeutic affect of happiness of mind upon one's health comes out several times (Proverbs 17:22, for instance).
The medicinal use of wine is mentioned in Scripture several times (including 1 Timothy 5:23). Indeed, today pharmacologists recognise how good a small amount of wine is for the digestive system, backing up Paul's advice to Timothy!
The good Samaritan treated the wounds of the injured man with wine and oil (Luke 10:34). Wine is an antiseptic and will tend to coagulate blood, thereby assisting healing. Oil soothes and forms a coating.
The Church at Laodicea is admonished to use their locally-produced eye salve because of their lack of spiritual vision (Revelation 3:18).
Even way back in Genesis it is obvious that the Israelite midwives had developed obstetrical care to a high standard (Genesis 35:17). It has been said that the procedure of Genesis 38:27-30, for instance, would even be very challenging for modern obstetricians!
Mark 5:26 shows that physicians were certainly available within Israel and we also know that Luke was a physician. According to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, the rabbis ordained thatevery town should have at least one physician (Vol 3, page 1430, 1997 printing).
So we see it well established that those becoming sick or injured were expected to seek medical help! Indeed Jesus Himself shows acceptance of this principle when He said:
'.....They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.' (Luke 5:31)
What about very serious illnesses?
In the case of Christian believers who develop life-threatening injuries or illnesses, we see the principle established that they should make their illnesses known to fellow-believers and to request prayers (James 5:13-18). The prayers of faith are indeed efficaceous as many of us have found! But this does not mean they should not also seek medical help! All the sick of the Bible are prepared to seek whatever help is available. James 5:15 (KJV) says 'The prayers of faith shall save the sick', that is, those prayers will save those sick people whom God decides to heal – many of us have learned that this is not a blanket promise, and if such very sick righteous people die, they are instantly healed at the point of death in any case (when their souls depart to be with the Lord). Of course, we should pray for the gravely ill whether they are in the faith or not.
Likewise Psalm 103:3 states that the LORD,
'....Healeth all thy diseases.'
That is, it is God alone who heals! When we are healed, we are only ever healed through the grace of God. Doctors may do their bit but God alone grants healing. So Psalm 103:3 says that God heals all our diseases: that is, He heals all the diseases or illnesses or injuries which we attain healing from. But this is not a blanket promise of healing in this life as countless other Scriptures show and many of the righteous of the Bible were not healed in this life (though were certainly healed at the point of death).
But the Bible does suggest that those who are in a relationship with God do wrong when they place their full trust in physicians – God alone is our healer and deliverer!! Too many times I have heard sick people say things like,
'I am undergoing treatment but I have full faith in my doctors!'
Yes, seek medical help and assistance, but place your full trust and faith in God who alone is our healer – not in doctors!
Finally, what about different kinds of remedial treatment and assistance?
Some Christians seem to think that only herbal treatment is acceptable, but where is the justification for that view? This ignores the fact that medical practice is increasingly adopting herbal agents and practices where they are helpful, and also ignores the fact that some herbal treatments – when exhaustively tested – have been shown to be completely useless (although such treatments could have helped as placebos). Others think that any far eastern medicine must be useless at best or demonic at worst. Yet acupuncture, for instance, is apparently well established as a helpful treatment and I have never yet heard of anyone undergoing acupuncture treatment subsequently becoming possessed by demons! Western mechanistic medicine does not necessarily have all the answers; it is not wrong to look around for alternatives. Nevertheless, look to God alone as your healer.
What I Am NOT Saying...
I am not saying that the edifice of 'modern medical science' is without fault! I just want believers not to be hypocritical nor naive in their biblical interpretation. Much within modern medicine is sometimes scandalous, especially its control by the wealthy pharmaceutical industry. Sometimes highly worthy forms of alternative treatment for cancer, for instance, have been discredited without mercy - even though there has been real evidence of their efficacy. Why? Because the drug industry wants the cancer sufferer to only use their treatments/products - even though the two of these which they most rely upon involve putting poisons into the body in the hope that those poisons might also kill the cancer. Again, I am not even saying that this is wrong in every single case; every Christian must make his/her own decision in this very difficult area. But let that decision be guided by prayer.
While the English word 'pharmacy' is indeed derived from a group of Greek words used to describe those pagans who used potions to encourage hallucinations in those who wanted to contact the spirit world, to suggest that modern medical pharmacists are in any way associated with the 'black arts' is as ludicrous as to suggest that when my friend took penicillin for a very serious infection, he was really more interested in contacting spirits!!! (By the way, my friend was healed and gave the full glory to God who alone is our healer). The modern medical profession is not by any means without its faults (there are certain things which I would certainly question) but it is ridiculous to blacken them (no pun intended!) because they borrowed a word which had sinister connotations in the original Greek!