The Greek Word Pharmakeia

Q. Can you please explain in depth what Pharmakeia means? Is it really the use of medicine? What was Pharmakeia in Biblical times, what is Pharmakeia in modern times?

A. The Greek word pharmakeia only appears 3 times in the New Testament. Its primary meaning is “the use or administering of drugs” but in Galatians 5:20, it’s translated “witchcraft”, and Rev. 9:21 and Rev. 18:23, it’s translated “sorceries”. When written in the masculine gender (pharmakeus) it refers to one who prepares or uses magical remedies. Both words are derived from pharmakon, which means ” a drug, or spell binding potion”. When used metaphorically, it refers to the deceptions and seductions of idolatry.

In modern times the opinion that pharmakeia refers to drug use is widespread, especially when interpreting Rev. 9:21. I’ve never heard it applied to the use of medicine in general. The deception and seduction of the ways of this world may be more appropriate in Rev. 18:23 where the context is how Babylon has led the world astray through the use of false religion, world commerce, and human government.

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