“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

[See Part I]

In the first part of this investigation we looked at the uses of pharmakeia, pharmakon, and pharmakos in the NT. The intent was and is to try to determine a more precise meaning for pharmakeia in our subject verse, Revelation 18:23:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

Below is a more expansive look at the use of pharmakeia. We will survey literature contemporaneous with the NT era. Later we will view material in the Greek Old Testament (OT), known as the Septuagint, aka LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, ca. 200 BC). And we will also look at synonyms of the pharma– nouns for comparison.

What It Does Not Mean

Sometimes determining what a word does not mean can aid in determining what it does mean. Immense help in this sort of investigation comes from Louw & Nida’s (L&N) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.).8 Rather than sorting alphabetically, this lexicon categorizes terms by definitions, synonyms grouped together. Under the broad category Religious Activities (category 53) is the subdomain Magic (53.96–53.101), which includes the pharma- nouns. Within these definitions is the following crucial note:

Pharmakeia and the variant pharmakon (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.9

In other words, 53.100 (both pharmakeia and pharmakon), as well as 53.101 (pharmakos) include ‘focus upon certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells’. Conversely, the words correlating to 53.96, 97, 98, and 99 do not focus upon potions, drugs and casting spells.

The L&N lexicon appears to differ from Danker’s in this comment about potions and drugs. Or does it? Following is the L&N definition for pharmakeia and pharmakon (53.100): the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people—‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’10 If we take the “often” in the definition here and reconcile it with “the focus is upon” in the above note, we might understand this to mean that the pharma– nouns often, though not exclusively, refer to “the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells”. Therefore, many times they do, but sometimes they don’t. This, then, would not contradict Danker’s definition: ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic.11

Now we shall investigate the synonyms to the pharma– nouns—those that do not focus upon using potions or drugs and casting spells (53.96–53.99).

The first synonym is the verb mageuō and its noun form mageia (53.96): to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers—‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’12 Both forms are found introducing the account of Simon, known as Simon Magus, in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9 A particular man named Simon was formerly in the city practicing mageuō and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All, from the least to the greatest, began paying attention to him, exclaiming, “This one is the power of God called ‘Great’!”  11 And they continued paying attention to him, because of the long time he had amazed them with mageia.

Next is the noun form for the practitioner of the above, magos: (53.97): one who practices magic and witchcraft—‘magician.’13 The account of Elymas Bar-Jesus contains two occurrences in reference to him:

Acts 13:6 After traveling through the whole island up to Paphos, they found a certain man, a magos, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. He [Paulus] summoned Barnabas and Paul, wanting to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the magos—for this interprets his name14—began opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul from the faith.

(Read the rest of the account to see how Paul handles Elymas’ attempt at deception!)

The next synonym is baskainō (53.98): to bewitch a person, frequently by the use of the evil eye with evil intent—‘to bewitch, to practice magic on’ . . . Baskainō differs from mageuō ‘to practice magic’ (53.96) in that the former [baskainō] involves the use of so-called ‘black magic’.15 The sole NT occurrence of this word is used by the Apostle Paul in response to the Galatian ekklēsia upon learning they began Mosaic Law observance. It seems possible, if not probable, Paul is being a bit sarcastic and hyperbolic here, not literalistic:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who baskainō you!

The final synonym for analysis here is periergos (53.99): the use of magic based on superstition—‘magic, witchcraft’.16 The only usage in the NT is in reference to those who burned their occult works after accepting Christ:

Acts 19:19 Many of those who practiced periergos gathered their books and burned them in front of everybody.

From this investigation we see that there are a number of synonyms to the pharma– nouns in the NT that do not encode ‘potions or drugs and the casting of spells’ as part of their definitions. And baskainō encodes ‘black magic’ as part of its definition, while mageuō/mageia/magos does not. And since the definitions of the pharma– nouns do not include ‘black magic’ in either Danker or L&N, we might assume these do not encode it either.

Venturing Outside the NT

These distinctions will prove useful as we survey extra-Biblical works written by those commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The writers of these works are believed to have had contact with the first century Biblical Apostles. The works span part of the first and into the second centuries AD, all roughly contemporaneous with the NT era.

Since we are now venturing outside the NT, it would be prudent to provide more suitable definitions. These are found in the BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. One must be judicious in using this resource, however, for, as the title indicates, it includes ‘other early Christian literature’. Moreover, besides including definitions for the AF, it also contains definitions for “Selected Apocrypha”, the OT (LXX), “Intertestamental/Pseudepigraphical Literature”, “Inscriptions”, “Papyri/Parchments and Ostraca”, and “Writers and Writings of Antiquity”.17 Therefore, one must be careful not to apply a definition that is appropriate for an earlier work/period to the NT era (this could be anachronistic18). With that clarified, here are the relevant definitions (transliterated):19

mageia, a rite or rites ordinarily using incantations designed to influence/control transcendent powers, magic20

This definition is much like L&N above. Though it includes “incantations”, these are not spells cast upon others; these are, like L&N states, ‘to invoke supernatural powers’.

pharmakeia, sorcery, magic21

pharmakeus, maker of potions, magician22

pharmakeu, to make potions, practice magic23

pharmakon, Primarily ‘a drug’, ordinarily contexts indicate whether salubrious or noxious. 1. a harmful drug, poison 2. a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm 3. a healing remedy, medicineremedy, drug24

pharmakos, 1. one skilled in arcane uses of herbs or drugs, probably poisoner 2. one who does extraordinary things through occult means, sorcerer, magician25

Most of the above aligns with Danker (see previous segment). However, note the increased focus on making potions/drugs (-keus/-keuō/-kon/-kos). Taken all together, it seems like “magic” here primarily involves making potions/drugs. Yet, there must be some distinction between “magic” in the pharma– words and “magic” in mageia. We must keep this in mind as we go along.

Four occurrences of mageia or mageuō are found in the AF, and three of these are in contexts which also include pharmakeia or its verb form pharmakeuō. The first one we will look at is the one excluding any of the pharma– words. This is found in Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 19:3 Consequently, all mageia and every kind of bondage began to loosen, the ignorance of evil began to disappear, the old kingdom began to be abolished—being destroyed by the appearing of God in human form, Who brought newness of eternal life—only when what had been finished by God began to be received.

Next we will look at two selections from Didachē (Greek: Δίδαχή, literally “teaching”), typically dated to the first century (or early second).26 Both include forms of pharmakeia and mageia side-by-side in a list of prohibitions/vices. This fact of occurring side-by-side, of course, implies a clear distinction between the two.

Did. 2:1 The second commandment of this teaching is: 2 You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery [moicheuō], you shall not molest children [paidophthoreō], you shall not commit sexual immorality [porneuō], you shall not steal, you shall not mageuō, you shall not pharmakeuō, you shall not murder a child by miscarriage [i.e., abortion] or kill the born [i.e. infanticide], you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

Take careful note as to how the above is grouped. Three sexual sins are listed in a row (one against children), abortion and infanticide are listed one after the other, and in between these two groupings are mageuō and pharmakeuō one next to the other. Each of the three groupings contains similarly-themed terms, but each term within each grouping is individually distinct, different in nuance.

Did. 5:1 But the path of death is this: First of all, it is evil and entirely cursed—murders, adulteries, inordinate lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, mageia, pharmakeia, extortions, false testimonies, hypocrisies . . .

The above is not grouped quite as well as the other selection from Didachē. However, once again, mageia is right next to pharmakeia. Below is the final occurrence of the two terms together, side-by-side. This is from the Epistle of Barnabas, and it is quite similar to the immediately preceding selection:

Barn. 20:1 But the path of the black one is crooked and entirely cursed, for it is a path of eternal death with punishment, in which is the destroying of all the souls—idolatry, audacity, exaltation of power, hypocrisy, duplicity, adultery, murder, extortion, arrogance, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, pharmakeia, mageia, greed, lack of the fear of God.

There are two passages containing pharmakon, which also, helpfully, include adjectives to assist in defining them. This eliminates the necessity of providing any further context. The first is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (6:2): thanasimos pharmakon, “deadly poison/potion”, or “deadly drug”. The next one is from Papias of Hierapolis (3:9): dēlētērios pharmakon, “destructive poison/potion”, “harmful drug”.

Two more passages contain pharmakon. The first one we shall investigate is again from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 20:2 . . . that you come together in one faith and one Jesus Christ—Who according to the flesh is from the lineage of David, Who is son of man and Son of God—in order that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the pharmakon of immortality [athanasia], the antidote against dying, but rather to live everlastingly in Jesus Christ.27

Clearly, the term means “medicine” in the above. The word for “immortality” (athanasia) is the same word Paul uses in 1Cor 15:53–54 to refer to our spiritual (non-flesh and blood) bodies we receive at “the last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52).28

The final pharmakon appears in The Shepherd of Hermas, in which the term occurs twice and in context with two occurrences of pharmakos, as well:

Shep. 17:6 (3.9.6) Look, therefore, you who exult in your riches, lest those in need groan, and their groaning rise up to the Lord, and you be excluded, with your goods outside the gate of the tower. 7 (3.9.7) Now, therefore, I say to you, those leading the ekklēsia and in the exalted chairs, do not be like the pharmakos[pl]. For the pharmakos[pl] indeed take up their pharmakon[pl] in wooden boxes, but you [take up] your pharmakon and its poison [ios] into your heart.

The context defines the terms. The pharmakos (plural pharmakoi) make substances, pharmakon (plural), and we can infer that these are poisonous. The leaders, those in the exalted seats, are like the pharmakos in that they also carry poison (not in literal ‘wooden boxes’, but, figuratively, in their exalted chairs) but they take it into their own hearts. The Shepherd is using plays on words here (“to exult”, “rise up”, “exalted”, “take up”).

Tentative Findings

From our investigation of synonyms in the NT and in Christian-themed works contemporary (or nearly contemporary) with the NT, in conjunction with our more expansive survey of pharma- words in these extra-Biblical works, we can arrive at some tentative findings. Comparing the pharma- terms with these synonyms has helped to better define both the pharma- terms and the mag- terms. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to completely take these findings and impose them onto our subject verse (Rev 18:23), it seems we have enough data to come a tentative conclusion: pharmakeia is more likely than not to include “potions” or “drugs” in its definition—understood as carrying negative connotations, of course (not “remedies” or “medicines”).

The next part, the conclusion will survey the LXX, which will include both the Greek OT and works known as the apocrypha (or deuterocanon [literally, “second canon”] in some traditions).


8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4.

9 This is under 53.100 pharmakeia, p 545. Greek transliterated.

10 L&N, p 545, bold added.

11 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

12 L&N, p 545.

13 L&N, p 545. Note that this same term is used for the Three Wise Men in Matthew 2. L&N categorizes this usage under Understanding: Capacity for Understanding, with the following definition: a person noted for unusual capacity of understanding based upon astrology (such persons were regarded as combining both secular and religious aspects of knowledge and understanding) . . . (p 385).

14 From the ISBE (S. F. Hunter, “Bar-Jesus”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st ed. [1915] prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.5): “Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name (Acts 13:8). It is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic or Arabic word equivalent to Greek μάγος [magos]. From Arabic ‘alama, ‘to know’ is derived ʾalı̄m, ‘a wise’ or ‘learned man’” (paragraph 7611).

15 L&N, p 545, bold added. Since there is some uncertainty as to its nuance and application here, the editors also place this word under Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behaviors: Mislead, Lead Astray, Deceive (88.159): to deceive a person by devious or crafty means, with the possibility of a religious connotation in view of the literal meaning ‘to bewitch’ . . . It is also possible that baskainō in Ga 3:1 is to be understood in the sense of bewitching by means of black magic . . . (L&N, p 760). Nonetheless, I take Paul’s words as hyperbole, sarcasm, not literal.

16 L&N, p 545.

17 BDAG, pp xxxi–li. Many thanks once again to the late Rodney Decker for providing a learning shortcut: BDAG (scroll down to second post “BDAG” dated October 10, 2012, then scroll further down to hyperlink “A Basic Introduction to BDAG” to open a PowerPoint.

18 Words may change over time, with nuances added or subtracted.

19 Of the other synonyms in the NT, none proved to help in our analysis here. Periergos occurs only one time, but there the connotation is “meddling” or “curious”. As to baskainō, it appears more often and in two other (noun and adjective) forms, but none of these appeared to mean “bewitched” in some black magic sense; the terms connote “begrudge” or “envy”.

20 BDAG, p 608.

21 BDAG, p 1049.

22 BDAG, p 1050.

23 BDAG, p 1050.

24 BDAG, p 1050.

25 BDAG, p 1050.

26 The work as we have it today appears to be a composite, seemingly redacted over the course of time. The ISBE (J. R. Michaels, “Apostolic Fathers”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. W. Bromiley Gen. Ed., Rev. Ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979]) states: “Total agreement is seldom possible as to which forms are primitive and which are later adaptations. Therefore, it is difficult to speak about dates, but the compilation of purportedly apostolic material under the name of the apostles as a group [ED: complete title is The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations] indicates the apostles are already figures of the past. This together with the apparent use of Matthew’s Gospel tends to suggest a date of composition in the 2nd cent., though many specific elements . . . may well go back to the apostolic age and even perhaps to the early days of the Jerusalem church” (p 207).

27 This text is used to support the “real presence” doctrine, but one must understand Ignatius through his strong use of metaphorical expression. See the White Horse blog for explanation of how Ignatius is not teaching the “real presence” (much less Transubstantiation): Eating Ignatius.

28 Note also that athanasia (noun) is the opposite (the prefix a negating it) of thanasimos (adjective) in the selection from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians just above.


39 Responses to “By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

  1. Craig says:

    I listen to this doctor’s vlog on occasion. In passing he used the the term I’ve heard used to describe modern Western medicine: “sick care”. Not “health care”:


  2. SLIMJIM says:

    Will have to read this tomorrow, running out of steam

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim 64 says:

    What Bible version are you using for Rev 18:23?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. SLIMJIM says:

    This is an incredible work spanning extrabiblical literature and LXX

    Liked by 2 people

    • Craig says:

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve seen others assert that pharmakeia definitely refers to Big Pharma, based upon absolutely NO evidence besides their eisegesis and circular reasoning (and my frustration with this sort of thing is part of why I wrote the sentence I am continually dismayed by individuals making various assertions with misplaced confidence in my Lament post).

      From my perspective, I’d wondered about this sort of thing for quite some time, but I wanted to fully investigate it before coming to any sort of conclusion–final, tentative, or inconclusive. I purposely wrote the first part a bit less technical, in order to (hopefully) bring in readers with no Greek background, to illustrate that the NT cannot decisively make the case either way, so as counter such baseless assertions. But I couldn’t see how I could escape being very technical in this part. My hope is that the motivated reader could follow what I’m stating here. But, perhaps, there are VERY few motivated readers anyway…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Craig says:

        Hey Mandy!

        Do you have anything to add, critique, comment on about the content of the post? I know you’ve mentioned you’ve been traveling, so I fully understand if you don’t the time.

        But, briefly, did you happen to see footnote 27?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hey, Craig! I have also heard about big pharma and have thought that can’t possibly be, yet I haven’t done the work to support that premise biblically. I have heard the pharmakeia potion referenced to something in Mecca (that seemed like a real stretch!). The Ignatius blog was genius! Metaphors are to Ignatius as Jesus used Parables. I am amazed by your work and knowledge of Greek! I have been wanting to know your thoughts on the pharmakeia and its end time significance because I know they are truly rooted in Scripture! I learn so much from you! I appreciate that you are a thinking man of conviction and are willing to work with the Lord to form your conclusions! I am really interested in the third part and then I want to read all of them together as one unit!!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Craig says:

          Mecca? Some folks come up with the strangest musings!

          I came across the White Horse blog “Eating Ignatius” years ago and thought it was well-researched (at least one of the guys is a former RCC member, as I recall). Thus, I HAD to include it here, but in a footnote, so as not to distract from the main point. (And I’d recalled Paul’s use of athanasia from when I was preparing the Rapture Ready post to compare with that last Ignatius quote.)

          Regarding my Greek, please keep in mind that I don’t know very much, really; however, I have some great resources, and my focus had been on learning Koine grammar and syntax. This way, since my software parses all the words, I can more easily put words/clauses/sentences together. (This doesn’t mean I may not be making some mistakes on the material, especially the extra-Biblical material, as I might have missed something a more studied person would readily pick up on.) Also, Accordance allows me to triple-click on individual Greek words to get right to the lexicon I’d selected (default is BDAG, which has click-throughs for abbreviations, etc.). I don’t recall how I got Louw & Nida (it may have come with part of a package), but this is a great additional tool. If you have it on Logos, I’d check it out.

          I really think what I am doing comes from a Spiritual gifting. God certainly uses imperfect vessels.

          The end result may be a bit piecemeal. I feel like I rushed though some the areas in this current post, and the result lacks the clarity I’d prefer. And I’ve got a LOT to do on the third part (a lot of time is taken in translation, as I don’t want to use anyone else’s work on this–great practice to boot!). I’m not exactly sure how in-depth the conclusion will be. I’ll only know once I’m done!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Craig, I respect your humility, take the compliment! You really do have a mind for Greek! I have BDAG and Louw-Nidia and a few others, super helpful!!! I think Tim at White Horse is former RCC but don’t hold me to that!! I am glad you are using your gifting!! Praise God!! My first two classes will be Greek I and Intro to Systematic Theology. I have no concerns with the latter praise God (I don’t mean that in arrogance or anything like that!!) which will give me more time for Greek!!!

          I will be watching your videos!! I never know if I should comment on them here or email you!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Craig says:

          Yes, it was Tim I’d thought was former RCC; so, I suppose you/we’re right.

          I’m sure your Greek classes will go well (your Hebrew background should help a bit, I’d think). Then you can tell me anywhere I’m wrong here!

          Anything I post in the comments section is fair game to respond to!

          ADDENDUM: I also have a hard copy of BDAG, which I bought before I purchased the Accordance software.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Craig says:

    Yet another excellent vlog by Bret and Heather, asking the right questions that need to be posed to whomever is at the ‘top’, as well as providing the kind of anecdotal data that’s needed:


  6. Jim says:

    Babylon’s pharmakeia?


  7. Jim says:

    That global booster propaganda machine is in full swing too. This article gives the real health issues as opposed to the infomercial above.


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jim says:

    I couldn’t get the URL to copy and paste Craig, but if you google The Defender Gene Editing May Cause ‘Massive Damage’ to Chromosomes, Study Finds this will illustrate the inherent dangers of this genetic process.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jim says:

    Should have mentioned up front. This technology is developed from mRNA. Any wonder the effort placed around the vaccine programs.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jim says:

    The main thesis of the video is interesting, but the reason it’s on this post, Craig, is the last minute from about 15:00.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      I watched the entire thing, and I don’t know what to make of it. I have no background to assess the pagan rites performed. One thing I do know is that Alice Bailey speaks of a supposed benevolent “Hierarchy” (in Externalisation of the Hierarchy) of spiritual beings that will eventually be “externalised”–i.e., come from the spiritual to the physical plane (via possession). One in particular may well be what we would call “the lawless one”, aka the Antichrist.

      As for pharmakeia, I’m still, and slowly, working on the conclusion for this series. Unfortunately, more off than on as of late. Too many things going on.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Jim says:

    Watched a report by Drbeen on a recent Swedish study that has found in vitro evidence that Pfizer mRNA spike proteins affect the DNA of liver cells with the risk of cancer cells and auto-immune problems.

    In vitro only and early, untested concerns, so watch this space basically.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      I saw that, as well, on a few channels. Glad you qualified that with ‘in vitro’, as many are trying to say it’s happening to those who were vaccinated. As always, NUANCE is the key!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Jim says:

    Whenever you get to finalise III it will be good. Praying the other issues are manageable Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      Thanks Jim! Prayers are always appreciated. I hope all is smoothing out for you, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      As I’ve been writing and researching off and on, I’ve had to look at the conclusions in the conclusion from a number of different angles. Now, I’m convinced I’ll have to incorporate a bit more data into it, which has been making the research time-consuming. And I’m still not exactly sure where it will end up! But it’s been a fruitful exercise.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Jim says:

    Keeping an eye out for more pharmakeia to counter monkeypox! Is the next wave beginning to build?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jim says:

    That’s good Craig. If it’s been ‘bad busy’ maybe use the long weekend for a well earned rest! 😄 Stay well my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Craig says:

    Yes, I’m still working on the conclusion here…


  16. Craig says:

    I gave up watching SNL L-O-N-G ago. But THIS is funny!


  17. Craig says:

    Related is this excellent segment!


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