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What is pharmakeia?

Pharmakeia is the original Greek word for “sorcery” in Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 18:23. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, pharmakeia involves the “use or the administering of drugs, poisoning, sorcery, and magical arts, often found in connection with idolatry and fostered by it.” Revelation 18:23 says that all nations will be deceived by pharmakeia during the End Times. 

(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > pharmakeia是什么? | 繁體中文 > pharmakeia是什麼?)


Revelation 18:23 ESV  and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery [pharmakeia]. 

The roots of sorcery lead back to the idols of Egypt

The Bible tells us that anyone who practices sorcery will not inherit the kingdom of God. defines sorcery as “the art, practices, or spells of a person who is supposed to exercise supernatural powers through the aid of evil spirits; black magic; witchery.”

Galatians 5:19-21 ESV  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery [pharmakeia] … I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The first sorcerers mentioned in the Bible were those who practiced their magic arts in Egypt. Sorcery or magic was very commonplace in Egypt. According to the World History Encyclopaedia, “To the Egyptians, a world without magic was inconceivable. It was through magic that the world had been created, magic sustained the world daily, magic healed when one was sick, gave when one had nothing, and assured one of eternal life after death.” (Source: World History Encyclopaedia, Magic in Ancient Egypt) 

Exodus 7:11 ESV  Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts.

Exodus 15:26 ESV  … “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”

The Egyptians rejected the one true God and exalted their magic or sorcery over God in every aspect of their lives. According to World History Encyclopaedia, they credited magic for:

  • creating the world | God’s truth: Genesis 1:1 ESV  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
  • sustaining the world | God’s truth: 1 Corinthians 8:6 ESV  Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
  • healing the sick of all diseases | God’s truth: Psalm 103:2-3 ESV  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
  • providing when one has nothing | God’s truth: 1 Timothy 6:17 ESV  … God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
  • assuring believers of eternal life | God’s truth: 1 John 5:20 ESV  And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Unfortunately, the sorcery in ancient Egypt also laid the foundations for our modern-day healthcare systems. According to Medical News Today website, “Ancient Egypt was a civilization that lasted from 3300 to 525 B.C.E. This is probably where the concept of health started. Some of the earliest records of medical care come from ancient Egypt.” (Source: Medical News Today, What was ancient Egyptian medicine like?)

The World History Encyclopaedia points out that, “Medical practice in ancient Egypt was so advanced that many of their observations, policies, and commonplace procedures would not be surpassed in the west for centuries. Later famous physicians of Rome and Greece like Galen and Hippocrates (“father of modern medicine”) – studied the Egyptian texts and symbols and so passed down the traditions to the present day.”  (Source: World History Encyclopaedia, Egyptian Medicine)

The sorcery and idols behind pharmakeia

The ancient Egyptians were probably the first people to have professional doctors, and it was a respected occupation. Priests and doctors were often one and the same. Many healers were priests of Sekhmet, an Egyptian warrior goddess and the goddess of healing, curses, and threats. Most healers were also priests, but, in time, the profession of a “doctor of medicine” emerged.” (Source: Medical News Today, What was ancient Egyptian medicine like?)

The priest-physician-magician would carefully examine and question a patient to determine the nature of the problem and would then invoke whatever god seemed most appropriate to deal with it. Disease was a disruption of the natural order and so, unlike the role of the temple priest who maintained the people’s belief in the gods through standard rituals, the physician was dealing with powerful and unpredictable forces which had to be summoned and controlled expertly.” (Source: Magic in Ancient Egypt) 

This is because to the ancient Egyptians, “The cause of disease was usually understood as the consequence of sin and, when that seemed not the case, that the patient was under a demonic attack, was being plagued by an angry ghost, or that some god felt they needed to learn a lesson. Disease, therefore, was commonly treated through recitation by a doctor of magical spells.” (Source: World History Encyclopaedia, Egyptian Medicine)

The Egyptians had numerous gods of medicine and health. 

Their god of medicine was also their god of magic, Heka. Heka carried a staff entwined with two serpents. Besides Heka, there were a number of other major idols worshipped for healthcare and healing.

Idols worshipped


god of magic and medicine, who enabled the act of creation and sustained both mortal and divine life


goddess of fertility and motherhood.


scorpion goddess, protective and also an important funerary


goddess of destruction and healing with the head of a lion


god of childbirth, fertility, sexuality, humor, and war


goddess of childbirth and fertility


god with crocodile head associated particularly with surgery

It can be observed that “the culture’s reliance on supernatural assistance from the gods prevented them from exploring more immediate and practical solutions to the medical problems they encountered daily.” (Source: World History Encyclopaedia, Egyptian Medicine)

Note: A version of Heka was later adopted by the Greeks in the form of Asclepius, their god of medicine. Asclepius also carried a snake-entwined staff. This staff remains a symbol of medicine today (not to be mistaken for the staff Moses used). We see that global health organisations currently use the rod of the idol, Asclepius, as their logo.

Pharmakeia’s influence on modern healthcare 

Ancient Egyptian medical records were steeped in sorcery and instructions on how to invoke Egypt’s gods in healing. These records formed the basis for present-day pharmaceuticals, surgeries, birth control, acupuncture, dentistry, aromatherapy, homeopathy, public health systems, and the medical profession.

Here are some examples of the pharmakeia practices that have endured and carried over into modern times.

1. Pharmaceuticals

The pharmaceuticals of the ancient Egyptian priest-physicians included antacids, copper salts, turpentine, alum, astringents, alkaline laxatives, diuretics, sedatives, antispasmodics, calcium carbonates, and magnesia. They also employed many exotic herbs. All dispensing of medicines carefully stipulated in the medical papyri, with explicit instructions as to the exact dosage, the manner in which the medicine was to be taken internally (as with wine or food), and external applications.”  (Source: World History Encyclopaedia, Egyptian Medicine)

2. Surgery 

Surgical procedures were common and many instruments have been identified which are still in use today. The Egyptians had a flint and a metal scalpel, dental pliers, a bone saw, probes, the catheter, clamps for stopping blood flow, specula, forceps, lancets for opening veins, sponges, scissors, phials, bandages of linen, and scales for weighing the proper amount of raw materials to mix for medicines. Surgeries were frequently successful as evidenced by mummies and other remains found who survived amputations and even brain surgery for years.”  (Source: World History Encyclopaedia, Egyptian Medicine)

3. Aromatherapy

Nefertum, the god of perfumes associated with the lotus and healing, was invoked in procedures which today would be recognized as aromatherapy.  (Source: World History Encyclopaedia, Egyptian Medicine)

4. Birth control – condoms 

Another extremely old method of pregnancy control is the use of physical barriers like condoms. The first documented representation of a condom can be found in an Egyptian tomb painting from circa 1350 BCE.” (Source:, Ancient Egypt Birth Control: History & Methods)

5. Abortion 

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus, dating back to 1850 B.C. is the oldest medical text of Egypt if not the world and is also the oldest text to mention abortion.” (Source: Facts about Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Egypt Abortion Methods and Herbs)

6. Acupuncture

The first written evidence of acupuncture techniques appeared in the ancient Egyptian medical document, Ebers Papyrus dating around 1500BC.  Other ancient Egyptian papyri also show “meridians” like those described later in China.  Imhotep should really be considered the Father of Modern Medicine, but even before Imhotep was Isis, who successfully treated her patients with essential oils as medicine.” (Source: AcuTherapy & Chinese Herbal Medicine, History of acupuncture)

Pharmakeia and God’s people

Sometime between 1300 to 1201 BC, the Israelites served as slaves in Egypt under increasingly cruel leadership and brutality. God heard their cries for salvation and sent Moses to rescue them out of Egypt. 

Before they left Egypt, God released 10 plagues on Egypt that were judgements on the gods that the Egyptians worshipped, two of which were related to pharmakeia (Heket and Isis).

Egypt’s 10 plagues and gods

Water Turned to Blood 

Hapi, the Egyptian god of the Nile

Frogs Coming From the Nile 

Heket, Egyptian goddess of fertility, water and renewal

Lice From the Earth’s Dust 

Geb, the Egyptian god of the Earth

Swarms of Flies 

Khepri, the Egyptian god of creation, movement of the sun, and rebirth

Death of Cattle and Livestock 

Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love and protection

Ashes Turned to Boils and Sores 

Isis, the Egyptian goddess of medicine and peace.

Hail in the Form of Fire 

Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky

Locus Sent From the Sky 

Seth, the Egyptian god of storms and disorder

Three Days of Complete Darkness

Ra, the Egyptian sun god

Death of the Firstborn (Pharaoh)

Pharaoh, the ultimate power of Egypt

As the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God reminded the Israelites to follow Him and obey His commandments. If they obeyed Him, God made them a promise, saying, “I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”  Based on archaeological findings and research, the ancient Egyptians are known to have suffered diseases such as arthritis, cancer, malaria, polio, tuberculosis, parasital sicknesses, headaches, fertility issues, and other aliments.

Exodus 15:26 ESV  saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” 

(Side note: The understanding that the Egyptians had that “the cause of disease was usually understood as the consequence of sin and, when that seemed not the case… that some god felt they needed to learn a lesson” was not far from the truth. God’s judgment came upon the Egyptians because they had rejected Him and sought other false gods. They invoked evil spirits, cast spells, made potions (drugs), and practised all sorts of sorcery.)

God instructed the Israelites to leave the ways and practices of the Egyptians behind and live in a new way that He had ordained for them. This included forsaking the pharmakeia practices and gods of the Egyptians and seeking Him for healing through prayers in His tabernacle, where He had come to dwell among them. 

Leviticus 18:1-3 ESV  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.

Deuteronomy 7:11-12,14015 ESV  You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers… There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you.

Exodus 23:24-26 ESV  you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.

These weren’t just empty rituals, they brought very real physical restorations, just as this testimony of a modern day Iranian Jewish man below goes to show.  This Jewish man experienced miraculous healing both through the Law  made through Moses (his earache as a boy) as well as the new covenant made through Jesus (his son’s recovery from brain injury).

Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Law of the Old Testament, but as followers of Jesus, we are no longer bound to observe all the rituals set in the Law. This is because we now have direct access to God through Jesus. We can pray for healing at any time with Jesus as our High Priest, we don’t need a human rabbi. He is also the sacrificial lamb who was slaughtered as the scapegoat for our sins.

Matthew 5:17-18 ESV  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 

Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV  Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

John 1:29 ESV  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

Note: Please refer to the end of this post for other examples of believers who have experienced healing through prayer, confession, and repentance before God on other parts of the Teaching Humble Hearts website.

Seeking the Holy Spirit for guidance first

Even though ancient Egypt no longer exists as a civilisation, it appears that its pharmakeia practices still continue on. The word, pharmakeia, appears only in the New Testament.

Not all modern day medical procedures are rooted in sorcery (pharmakeia) but there are those that are. It takes spiritual discernment from the Holy Spirit to show us how we are to navigate all the medical terminology and diagnosis we may come across, because our bodies are His temple. Our bodies don’t belong to us, but to God.

Acts 17:24 ESV  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV  … do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

As a start, it is helpful to note that God does not forbid the use of ointments (balm of Gilead) or oral medications, but He does warn us against “every defilement of body and spirit.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to set ourselves apart from the ways of the world i.e. kept holy, so we do not quench the Holy Spirit who is our guarantee of our spiritual inheritance from the Kingdom of God.

2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.  

Jeremiah 46:11 ESV  Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.

Matthew 15:10-11 ESV  And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV  And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

The following list comprises a few sample points to consider, it is by no means, comprehensive. Its purpose is to encourage us to think twice before we agree to any medical procedure and to seek the Holy Spirit for His ultimate guidance. 

Q1. Will this medical procedure defile the temple of the Holy Spirit?

Many vaccines today have been researched, developed, and produced using the cell tissues of aborted foetuses. Scientists have admitted that micro-fragments of these babies’ DNAs remain in the vaccines which are injected into our bodies. (Source: USA Today, Fact check: While vaccines contain human DNA, there is no link to cancer, autism) Do we want to fill the temple of the Holy Spirit with traces of murdered babies? What impact will that have on us spiritually? How does the Holy Spirit view this?

Some potent medications also cause side-effects because they contain chemicals that are considered poisonous or even lethal in larger doses. We should consider carefully before consenting to such treatments. Do we want to fill the temple of the Holy Spirit with poison?

Brain chips are now being tested that promise to enhance a person’s knowledge and intelligence. This is in essence, the same temptation from the devil in the Garden of Eden; to see and know things beyond what God has set as our human boundaries. It tempts people to exalt and rely on worldly wisdom, instead of going directly to the Holy Spirit for all truth. How does the Holy Spirit view this?

Genesis 3:4-5 ESV  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

John 16:13 ESV  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

Proverbs 21:30 ESV  No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.

Q2. Will it submit me to lifelong slavery to a fear of death?

Some medications become addictive. Others, we are required to take for the rest of our lives out of a fear of death. Before consenting to such life-long treatments, we need to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom. Will He consent to us becoming dependent on institutions, people, and man-made things for life, or does He want us to rely on His life-giving power? If so, how?

Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV  Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Q3. Will it numb or “blind” my mind?

Some medications “hijack” the brain to dull or numb the senses. While such medications can be helpful in the short term to counter debilitating conditions, forming a long term reliance on them is grievous to God. 

Satan works to blind the minds of millions, while the Holy Spirit works to transform us so we can have the mind of Christ. Would God want us to continue to rely on substances that numb our minds or allow His Word and His Spirit to renewed us in the spirit of our minds?

2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Q4. Does it defile the marriage bed?

Children are a gift from God as a result of a covenant marriage before God and sexual union between a husband and a wife. Today, we have created different ways to create children outside of the marriage bed, conceived in the hands of strangers. Research shows that children born from such procedures can suffer long term health risks. God does not judge us for our desires but will He judge us for our choices? 

Psalm 127:3 ESV  Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Hebrews 13:4 ESV  Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

There are no easy or straightforward answers to some of the questions we face when it comes to medical procedures, particularly when very real pain and suffering are involved. We all need the Holy Spirit’s ultimate guidance.

Here are three testimonies to illustrate.

Testimony 1

From J: “In my 40s, I took a test that diagnosed me as having severe allergy to milk, eggs and yeast. As I began to renew my mind, based on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit showed me that I should receive all natural foods He created with thanksgiving. As a result, I fasted for a period of time and repented of putting my faith in whatever pharmaceutical test was used to tell me what I could or could not eat. Praise God that I can report to you that I no longer have those allergic reactions.”

Testimony 2

From G: “I was nervous and excited about giving birth to our first child but when I reached the hospital, I began to feel a spiritual heaviness and oppression in the maternity ward. It seemed there was a dark unseen presence patrolling the corridor. This was supposed to be a joyous time because the Lord had shown me that He was going to bless the birth but I felt unsettled in my spirit. I reached out to my sisters-in-Christ for prayer. The Holy Spirit led one sister to search the background of the ward I was in and we discovered it was also the “managed pregnancies” ward, which was where they also conducted abortions. The same forceps they were going to use on my child was the same one they used for killing babies! I am so grateful that The Holy Spirit led us to this understanding and I felt more covered and protected as I prayed for God’s mercy and grace to lead the delivery.”

Testimony 3

From I: “My sister was only in her thirties when she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. It was a terrible time of worry for our family. We were all so worried about her daughter (my beloved niece!). The Holy Spirit revealed to a friend that my sister might have unforgiveness towards a woman in our family and that if she forgave her, she would receive a miraculous healing without much need for chemo. I very much doubted the word. As far as I knew, we were a close-knit family. But because it was late cancer, I felt I had nothing to lose. When I pressed my sister to tell me if there was anyone she had not forgiven. She was very quiet and evasive until I told her what the Holy Spirit revealed to my friend. Then my sister confessed that she had been very angry with me all her life for being her “pushy, bossy big sister.” I couldn’t believe my ears! Immediately, I asked for her forgiveness, and also the same from my brother-in-law. I began to see why there was a growing coldness in our relationship over the years. To cut a long story short, my sister recovered from her cancer in miraculous time. Even the doctors were amazed. Praise God!”

Also, see
Vaccines and transplants that use the tissues of aborted babies
Wisdom in making medical decisions for our bodies
Confess the emotions that make us sick
A prayer for healing over ourselves
Praying for physical healing

More testimonies

Joyce: Healed from severe eczema 

Mike: Healed from torn labrum in shoulder

Brian: Healed from ulcer colitis

Denise: Healed from cancer


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