Word of the Week
September 23, 2023
Pharmakeia: It’s Magic!
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery . . . .
Galatians 5:19-20 NASB
“I’m talking to someone who says it’s OK to practice witchcraft, even though the Old Testament condemned it, because things have changed. Contemporary practices are not the same as the practices outlawed in the laws of Israel.“ My friend raised this issue recently, gathering information to answer this position.
The Old Testament unmistakably outlawed witchcraft in any form. Manipulating spirit forces to unlock the future or to produce good crops was a blatant slap in God’s face, ignoring Him and turning to alternate deities. It was so serious that the Law prescribed death as the penalty for it (Exodus 22:18).
The occult is too broad a topic to handle in one article, but we can contribute one small slice of truth by examining one of the primary Greek words for such practices.
In reality, we will look at a small cluster of words built on the same base:
Pharmakeia – “sorcery, magic”
Pharmakon – “magic potion, drug, enchantment”
Pharmakos – “sorcerer, magician”
It is no surprise that these words, which form the base of our English “pharmacy,” originally described someone who mixed herbs and other substances to make potions for medical purposes. Anyone who can mix a drink to cure your asthma can easily concoct a dose of poison, so the word took on that meaning as well.
Ancient medicine was often tangled with spirit practices, and practitioners of sorcery would also use potions to attract the gods with a pleasing smell, to satisfy the demands of the spirits, or to put a person in a stupor that would make them receptive to spiritual influences.
New Testament references to pharmakeia all refer to sorcery or witchcraft, not mere medicine. Every mention of the words condemns the practice.
- It appears in a list of the “works of the flesh” which are incompatible with the kingdom of God.
“. . . idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy . . . (Galatians 5:20)
- The book of Revelation spotlights the sin of sorcery several times.
“And they [the people of earth] did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality or of their thefts” (Revelation 9:21).
Regarding end-time Babylon: “. . . all the nations were deceived by your sorcery” (Revelation 18:23).
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable . . . and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
“Outside [of the New Jerusalem] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Revelation 22:15).
Dabbling in magic with or without drugs is rejected in the New Testament just as strongly as in the Old. Pharmakeia and the other words in this group appear in several of the references to witchcraft in the Greek Old Testament (Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18; Isaiah 47:9, 12). God made His position clear in the Old Testament; He had not changed His mind in the New.
Modern enthusiasts sometimes claim that they engage only in “white magic,” used to help people, not harm them. But that misses the point. Anything that seeks help from an alternate spiritual realm, rather than from God Himself, is a violation of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
To study this topic further, you can look up these additional Greek words:
Mageuō – to practice magic
Magos – magician, Magi
Goēs – sorcerer
Baskainō – to bewitch, cast a spell with the evil eye (Galatians 3:1)
Q – What do we know about the spirit that enabled a slave girl to tell fortunes in Acts 16:16?
A – Paul had arrived in Philippi with his companion Silas. As they were walking along, a slave girls followed them, shouting that they represented the most high God. Paul recognized that a demonic spirit was behind her behavior, so he cast out the demon. It is identified as a “spirit of divination,” but the Greek literally says “a spirit puthōna” or Python spirit. According to Greek mythology, a huge serpent named Python was guarding the sacred site at Delphi. The god Apollo slew the serpent, and Delphi became the site where people would go to receive messages from the gods. The word was later used to describe a spirit in the belly which enabled priestesses to pass on the supernatural messages. The slave girl evidently possessed similar powers.
Jesus once announced that He was gentle, and He has often been portrayed as a mild-mannered softy. Next week we will examine the word He used to describe Himself to get a more accurate appraisal of His character.
©Ezra Project 2023