Does Pharmakeia include contraception?

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The book of Revelation condemns those who practice pharmakeia along with those who practice idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality (Rev 9:20-21). Pharmakeia is included with those other three sins - does this show that pharmakeia includes the semantic range of producing medicines to prevent contraception or inducing abortion?

Here is a quote, "The second-century physician Soranos of Ephesus, in his book Gynecology, uses the Greek term pharmakeia to refer to potions used for both contraception and abortion. In a similar manner, the third-century theologian Hippolytus condemned certain Christian women who employed “drugs {pharmakois} for producing sterility.”"

Does this (1) show that pharmakeia includes contraception/abortion? And (2) Is this an evidence that contraception is sin?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
If the connection holds--and I am not sure at the moment--it would mean that chemically (potions) induced contraception is pharmakeia. I don't think it would apply to condoms or NFP.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
If the connection holds--and I am not sure at the moment--it would mean that chemically (potions) induced contraception is pharmakeia. I don't think it would apply to condoms or NFP.

Oh boy! This could very quickly become a thread on birth control. :)
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The thread is already about birth control. The question is whether the condemnation of pharmakeia also includes condemnation of contraception or must its condemnation be affirmed or denied based on logical argument not directly drawn from Scripture. .
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Do you have a source for this quotation? Just curious.

"The second-century physician Soranos of Ephesus, in his book Gynecology, uses the Greek term pharmakeia to refer to potions used for both contraception and abortion. In a similar manner, the third-century theologian Hippolytus condemned certain Christian women who employed “drugs {pharmakois} for producing sterility.”"
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
All I see here is that methods of terminating pregnancy or causing sterility, such as a vial of poison purchased from the local apothecary, would be out of bounds. This quotation says nothing about methods of contraception involving prevention of pregnancy (ie. condoms). Such were known in ancient times, however.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Do you have a source for this quotation? Just curious.

"What Is Pharmakeia?

In the Greco-Roman world of the first century, sensuality, perversion, and general decadence reigned supreme (often in connection with worshipping false gods). As a result, contraception (usually the drinking of potions to achieve temporary sterility), abortion (including the drinking of potions to destroy fetuses), and even infanticide ("exposing" infants to the elements and wild beasts, drowning them, etc.) were widespread, facing little moral objection.

The apostle Paul condemned the immorality of his day, but was strangely silent, or so it may seem, on the subjects of contraception, abortion, and infanticide. The reason for this apparent silence may be that these specific practices are included in broader categories. Surely infanticide and at least late-term abortion are included in his condemnations of murder. Does contraception likewise come under a broader category?

In this regard, we need to rethink Paul's condemnation of pharmakeia in Galatians 5:20. Most Bible scholars have uncritically assumed that this Greek word means "sorcery" or "witchcraft" (as translated in English Bibles). But pharmakeia (from which our word pharmacy comes) originally referred to the use of potions, drugs, and often poisons, generally for evil purposes. Since these concoctions were often thought to have magical properties, the word developed the secondary meaning of "sorcery." Both meanings were current in Paul's day; which one fits better in this text?

Galatians 5:19-21 presents a long list of "the deeds of the flesh." These are personal vices, which would be common in the general population. But sorcery was the craft of a sorcerer, not really a common personal vice. The use of potions and drugs for evil purposes, however, was widespread. It makes more sense to find such "drug abuse" listed alongside such things as immorality, idolatry, jealousy, and drunkenness, than to find sorcery on such a list.

This view is strengthened by the position of pharmakeia on the list. Between sexual sins (vs. 19) and sins involving disputes (vs. 20) we find "idolatry" and pharmakeia. Since pagan temples featured "sacred" prostitution, we should think of "idolatry" as attached to the first group of sins.

That leaves pharmakeia. It obviously does not belong with the sins involving disputes, but it, too, can reasonably be attached to the first group. What would then be in view is the evil use of potions and drugs, especially in connection with sexual practices. That would refer to the potions and drugs used to prevent conception and destroy fetuses.

Interestingly, the early third-century theologian Hippolytus, in the first clear reference to contraception made by a Christian in a work that has survived, condemns certain women who are "called believers," and yet use "drugs for producing sterility" (atokiois pharmakois, in The Refutation of All Heresies, 9.12.25).

The same term is used by the early second-century physician Soranos of Ephesus, in his book Gynecology, to refer to both contraceptive and abortive potions. And the first-century biographer Plutarch mentions pharmakeia(without any qualification) alongside other practices (furtive child substitution and adultery) by which a woman might thwart her husband's obtaining of a legitimate heir (Romulus, 22.3).

Thus, there is good reason to think that pharmakeia in Galatians 5:20 refers to the evil use of potions and drugs, especially contraceptive and abortive agents.

There is likewise good reason to find condemnations of contraception (and abortion) in Revelation 9:21, 21:8, and 22:15. In 9:20-21 people are said not to have repented of their idolatry, murdering (including abortion and infanticide), pharmakeia, immorality, and thievery. Once again we find pharmakeia in a list of popular vices centering around sexual immorality. And again we say, this arguably includes the use of contraceptive drugs. The same analysis would be made at 21:8 and 22:15. (At 18:23 there is probably a reference to sorcery, since the passage is not listing personal vices, but describing the evil influence of "Babylon" on the world; cf. Isa. 47:9, 12.)"
https://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=471&pfriendly=Y&ret=L25oLmh0bWw/YXJ0aWNsZV9pZD00NzE=
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you for the sources.

Based on the above, couldn't pharmakeia apply also to drugs used for sexual practices, not only to contraceptives?

Here is Galatians 5:19-21

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Idolatry, witchcraft [pharmakeia], hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Thank you for the sources.

Based on the above, couldn't pharmakeia apply also to drugs used for sexual practices, not only to contraceptives?

Here is Galatians 5:19-21

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Idolatry, witchcraft [pharmakeia], hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
Like viagra?
 

TheOldCourse

Puritan Board Sophomore
Are there any solid commentaries that actually take this approach? I've seen it a few times associated with arguments against contraceptives or abortificants such as Perg cited but in commentaries that I've read (with the caveat that I mostly stick to older ones) it is always taken as relating to sorcery, charms, incantations, etc. That makes me wonder if in abortificant interpretations the argument is driving the exegesis rather than the other way around. It seems like "contraceptive" is, while viable, a very narrow and particular meaning of a term with a very broad semantic range and as such the contextual arguments should be a lot stronger to take it in this manner in these texts. There are plenty of other ways to argue against abortificants, of course, but so far, to me, it seems that using these passages is a bit of a stretch.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
If pharmakeia is a type of sexual immorality it seems as likely to be love potions or charms as abortifacients or contraceptives, and I'm not sure how one would determine which of these it is by association alone.

Sometimes pharmakeia is closely associated with sexual immorality and sometimes it isn't. For example, compare Ch. 2 and Ch. 5 of the Didache:

And this is the second commandment of the teaching. Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not corrupt boys, thou shalt not commit fornication, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not deal in magic, thou shalt do no sorcery, thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods, thou shalt not perjure thyself, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not speak evil, thou shalt not cherish a grudge, thou shalt not be double-minded nor double-tongued; for the double tongue is a snare of death. Thy word shall not be false or empty, but fulfilled by action. Thou shalt not be avaricious nor a plunderer nor a hypocrite nor ill-tempered nor proud. Thou shalt not entertain an evil design against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not hate any man, but some thou shalt reprove, and for others thou shalt pray, and others thou shalt love more than thy life.

"But the way of death is this. First of all, it is evil and full of a curse murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, witchcrafts, plunderings, false witnessings, hypocrisies, doubleness of heart, treachery, pride, malice, stubbornness, covetousness, foul-speaking, jealousy, boldness, exaltation, boastfulness; persecutors of good men, hating truth, loving a lie, not perceiving the reward of righteousness, not cleaving to the good nor to righteous judgment, wakeful not for that which is good but for that which is evil; from whom gentleness and forbearance stand aloof; loving vain things, pursuing a recompense, not pitying the poor man, not toiling for him that is oppressed with toil, not recognizing Him that made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the creatures of God, turning away from him that is in want, oppressing him that is afflicted, advocates of the wealthy, unjust judges of the poor, altogether sinful. May ye be delivered, my children, from all these things."
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
If the context you've described is correct, I don't see enough evidence that it necessarily includes modern birth-control pills willingly used by a married couple. The context, in such a case, is quite different. So too, by the sound of it, is the chemical method used.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Huh. I guess I always thought of pharmakeia as being related to pagan sorcery, ie., to create an altered state of mind to enter the "spirit realm." Think the way native Americans smoke peyote and African tribalisms eat various poisonous mushrooms, etc. I guess I was wrong.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
It's a bit ironic that pharmakeia is now treated as a wax nose to mean something specific from contraceptives to psychedelics, depending on the agenda of the interpreter, when it seems that by the first century AD the term had broadened beyond its root definition of a magic potion to mean sorcery or witchcraft more generally.
 
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