Some professing Christians have argued that the Bible prohibits the use of psychotropic drugs to treat mental illness. They argue this on the basis of the etymological relationship the Greek word “pharmakeia” bears to the modern word “pharmacy.” Some Christians even go so far as to argue that the prohibition issued in connection with this word means that Christians should not visit any medical doctor at all. These interpretations are simply false, and a study of the use of this Greek word and related words bears this out.
The word is used only three times in the New Testament. As with any word that is used sparingly in the Bible, we should be careful about building a major doctrine around it. It is used once in Galatians and twice in Revelation (Gal. 5:20; Revelation 9:21; 18:23). Here are the four definitions provided by The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon:
1. the use or the administering of drugs
3. sorcery, magical arts, often found in connection with idolatry and fostered by it
4. metaph. the deceptions and seductions of idolatry
In Rev. 18:23, it is cleared used according to the 4th definition, regarding seductions and deceptions of idolatry (cf. Rev. 9:21). Let us look at related words in general:
“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)”
All relevant commentaries and Greek lexicons make it clear that this passage refers specifically to the use of drugs or potions whose purpose is to supposedly allow the consumer to commune with the spirit world:
Original Word: φαρμακεύς
Phonetic Spelling: (far-mak-yoos’)
Short Definition: sorcerer
Cognate: 5332 pharmakeús – a person using drug-based incantations or drugging religious enchantments; a pharmakeus-practitioner who “mixes up distorted religious potions” like a sorcerer-magician. They try to “work their magic” by performing pseudo “supernatural” stunts, weaving illusions about the Christian life to use “powerful” religious formulas (“incantations”) that manipulate the Lord into granting more temporal gifts (especially “invincible health and wealth”). This has a “drugging” effect on the aspiring religious zealot, inducing them to think they have “special spiritual powers” (that do not operate in keeping with Scripture). See 5331 (pharmakeía).
NAS Exhaustive Concordance
variant reading for pharmakos, q.v.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
STRONGS NT 5332: φαρμακεύς
φαρμακεύς, φαρμακεως, ὁ (φάρμακον), one who prepares or uses magical remedies; a sorcerer: Revelation 21:8 Rec. (Sophicles, Plato, Josephus, Lucian, Plutarch, others.)
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance
From pharmakon (a drug, i.e. Spell-giving potion); a druggist (“pharmacist”) or poisoner, i.e. (by extension) a magician — sorcerer.”