Pharmakeia: The Abuse of Drugs

James Sanders
Greencastle, Indiana

Paul in his epistle to the Galatians enumerated a concise list of the works of the flesh. Contained in that list is the Greek word, pharmakeia. The King James scholar translated pharmakeia as "witchcraft" but a more probable rendering is that of "sorcery" and is so given by the American Standard Version. Sorcery is far closer to the meaning of the term.

Pharmakeia (sorcery) is a form of the Greek root from which we get our English words pharmacy, pharmacist, and pharmaceutical. Pharmakeia (sorcery) fundamentally has to do with drugs or medicine. Originally the word was used only in the sense of medicine. Plato talked about the different kinds of medicinal treatment: cautery, incision, the use of drugs (pharmakeia), and even starvation. (Plato, Protagorus 354a). In the beginning, pharmakeia was a medical term; it had to do with the proper use of drugs.

Later pharmakeia took on an entirely different meaning. The learned William Barclay says that pharmakeia began "to denote the misuse of drugs, that is, the use of drugs to poison and not to cure. So we read about the law regarding poisoning (Plato, Laws 933 B), and Demosthenes accuses a bad man of poisoning and all kinds of villainy (Demosthenes 40.57). This is the beginning of the bad use of the word" (Flesh And Spirit, p. 36)

In the New Testament, pharmakeia carried with it the idea of sorcery, occultism, and black magic. It is in this sense that Paul used the term in Galatians 5.20. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia clearly points out that "since the ideas we attach to 'witch' and 'witchcraft' were unknown in Bible times, the words (witch and witchcraft) have no right place in our' Eng. Bible..." (p. 3097). When Paul spoke of pharmakeia (witchcraft KJV) he certainly did not have in mind witches on broomsticks, black cats, and silly superstitions. The Apostle was speaking of sorcery -- the evil abuse of drugs.

The Greek scholar, W.E. Vine summarized the different uses of pharmakeia in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Said Vine of pharmakeia: "primarily signified the use of medicine, drugs, spells; then, poisoning; then sorcery." It is at this point the dark and grim fact of pharmakeia emerges. Pharmakeia literally is the abuse of drugs coupled with the occult. Pharmakeia is a chain connecting drug addiction with sorcery!


The increase in drug abuse hag soared during the past few years. Hardly a day goes by that somewhere we do not hear or read of the influence of drug addiction. "Trips," "pot parties," "rock festivals with their accompanying use of drugs," make the headlines of our newspapers. Television frequently portrays stories that are in someway connected with drugs. Magazines run articles about addiction and the problem of drug abuse. Talk is even heard of legalizing marijuana. Pharmakeia (the misuse of drugs) has boiled to the surface and with it have come the bitter fruits of addiction, insanity, suicide, crime, and immorality of all sorts. It is little wonder that Paul said those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21). Pharmakeia (drug abuse) is a sin and like all sin, pharmakeia will enslave and ultimately ruin.

Coupled along with the rise in drug abuse is the secondary meaning of pharmakeia that of sorcery. The interest in the mysterious, the black arts, "witchcraft," and the occult is perhaps at an all time high. Even a Satanic Church complete with High Priest and members has been established. For many the open worship of Satan is a living reality. TIME magazine recently told of a young student in California who received a degree in black magic or the occult. Pharmakeia undeniably is at work. The results are all too obvious. Pharmakeia is the misuse of drugs. Pharmakeia is sorcery. Pharmakeia is a work of the flesh that will doom the soul to a devil's hell!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 6, pp. 11-12
December 10, 1970