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Snow capped peaks in the Olympic Mountains

Drugs, Bible, and Morals

Article is in proccess

Marijuana Legalization

 But for the cowardly, the faithless, the vile, the murderers, those who commit sexual immorality (πορνοις, pornois, porn), those who use drugs (φαρμακοις, pharmakois, drugs) and cast spells, the idolaters and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8, Common English Bible (CEB)


In 2012, the citizens of  Colorado and Washington states were asked to approve an initiative to legalize the recreational consumption of marijuana. The majority of their eligible citizenry voted to pass the initiative.  This is surprising.  A few years ago, such an initiative would have been easily defeated.

The first purpose of law is to teach the citizenry to avoid behavior that is contrary to the common good of society. Yet, the citizens of these states have voted to permit the sale and recreational use of the drug marijuana.  In other words, the citizenry voted to enact a law teaching that marijuana smoking  accords with the common good of society.

The force for one of the words in the book of Revelation is nearly always missed. The reason that it is missed is that it is usually translated sorcery or magical arts instead of drugs. The Common English Bible (CEB) is an exception to this trend. In this translation we find the Greek word φαρμακία (pharmakeia) translated as those who use drugs and cast spells.  Except for Galatians 5:20, all the occurrences of the root word for pharmakeia are found in the book of Revelation (9:21, 18:23, 21:8, and 22:15). Perhaps, it is instructive that the book of the Bible  describing the End Times mentions the illicit use of drugs and the divine judgment their use entails.

Pharmacy Located on a Greek Island

Back in 2009 my wife and I traveled to several countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  While in Athens we decided to go on a day-tour to a few of the Greek isles.  During a stop at one the isles, I took a walk into one of the port villages, and I noticed a sign in front of a pharmacy and photographed it. As you can see in the photo, the sign is in capital Greek letters (ΦΑΡΜΑΚΕIΟ, or PHARMAKEIO in transliteration). Except for the last letter, the text is exactly like the Greek word in Revelation 21:8. The Greek word in this verse is φαρμακεια which in upper case Greek letters would be ΦΑΡΜΑΚΕΙΑ, or PHARMAKEIA.[1]  The following verse is Revelation 21:8 in Koine Greek.

τοις δε δειλοις και απιστοις και εβδελυγμενοις και φονευσιν και πορνοις και φαρμακοις και ειδωλολατραις και πασιν τοις ψευδεσιν το μερος αυτων εν τη λιμνη τη καιομενη πυρι και θειω ο εστιν ο θανατος ο δευτερος  ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:8 (Westcott-Hort Greek NT)[2]


However, you will notice that the NIV translation does not indicate anything that is related to drugs.  Rather, it would appear to be related to the art of magic.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts (φαρμακοις, pharmakois, drugs), the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation (Apokalypsis)  21:8 (NIV)

Yet, the New Testament has a Greek word that is clearly related to the art of magic. It is μαγεύω or mageuo in transliteration. Strong’s  New Testament Dictionary entry 3096 gives the following: μαγεύω; (μάγος); to be a magician; to practise magical arts: Acts 8:9.

But a certain man, by name Simon, had been before in the city, using magic arts (μαγευων, mageuón, practice magical arts), and astonishing the nation of Samaria, saying that himself was some great one. Acts 8:9 (JND Translation)

So, it would seem reasonable to think there must be a real difference between μαγεύω (magical art) and φαρμακοις (drugs). When we look at the use of  pharmakois or pharmakon in ancient literature, we see the word is translated as a drug, medicine, or poison, and not an art of magic.

Ancient Literature

In Xenophon’s Memorabilia, the Greek words, pharmakeias and pharmakon, are translated as medicine. The usage of these words by Xenophon shows that their usage was related to something related to health, rather than to magical arts.

ἐὰν δέ τις υἱὸν ἑαυτοῦ δεόμενον φαρμακείας καὶ μὴπροσιέμενον φάρμακον ἐξαπατήσας ὡς σιτίον τὸ φάρμακον δῷ καὶ τῷ ψεύδει χρησάμενος οὕτως ὑγιᾶ ποιήσῃ,ταύτην αὖ τὴν ἀπάτην ποῖ θετέον; δοκεῖ μοι, ἔφη, καὶ ταύτην εἰς τὸ αὐτό.[3]

Socrates. “Suppose, again, that a man's son refuses to take a dose of medicine when he needs it, and the father induces him to take it by pretending that it is food, and cures him by means of this lie, where shall we put this deception?” “That too goes on the same side, I think.”[4]

Hippocratic Oath uses the word drug in the sense of  something that could be used to end a life.  Again, here pharmakon is not used as something magical, but rather as a drug that could be administed to a patient, causing the patient’s death.  An ancient Greek physician would take this oath, declaring that he would never use a drug to euthanasize an individual.

οὐ δώσω δὲ οὐδὲ φάρμακον οὐδενὶ αἰτηθεὶς θανάσιμον, οὐδὲὑφηγήσομαι συμ2 βουλίην τοιήνδε: ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω.[5]

I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.[6]

Athenian Constitution uses pharmakon for a drug. In this case, the drug is used to cause the death of an individual by poisoning.  Again, the Greek word is used in the sense of a drug rather than an item for magic.

εἰσὶ δὲ φόνου δίκαι καὶ τραύματος, ἂν μὲν ἐκ προνοίας ἀποκτείνῃ ἢ τρώσῃ, ἐν Ἀρείῳ πάγῳ, καὶ φαρμάκων, ἐὰνἀποκτείνῃ δούς, καὶ πυρκαϊᾶς: [7]

Trials for deliberate murder and wounding are held in the Areopagus, and for causing death by poison, and for arson;[8]

[1] The original Greek manuscripts of the NT were books (singular, codex; plural codices), rather than scrolls,  written in upper case Greek letters (uncial script, a style of majuscule or upper case letters) without spaces between the words. Only later was the Greek NT text written in minuscule or lower case letters with spaces between words.

[2] Revelation 21:8 (Apocalypsis Ioannou).

[3] Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC),  Memorabilia book 4, chapter 2, Section 17 (Greek)

[4] Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC),  Memorabilia book 4, chapter 2, Section 17 (English)

[5] Hippocrates Oath, Hippocrates, Jusjurandum by W.H. S. Jones (Greek).

[6] Hippocrates Oath, by Michael North (English).

[7] Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, chapter 57, section 3 (Greek).

[8] Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, chapter 57, section 3 (English).