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Drug Abuse in Scripture

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                        Luke the Physician
'For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life' St. John 3:16 KJV



Drug Abuse in  Scripture  and Other extra-Biblical Writings




Although fundamentally for the pious Jew God alone was seen as the supreme healer (Deuteronomy 32:39) according to the Jewish Talmud a licensed Physician was appointed to every city in Bible times, and it is clear from Christ’s sayings "They that are whole have no need of a physician" (Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31-32 etc.) that they were appointed in Galilee at the time of the Ministry.

Where Scripture however in ancient times sought also to admonish the Hebrews against the illicit pharmakeús φαρμακεύς or drug magician, (again in the LXX generally for the drug wise kashshãph כשף, Cf. Jeremiah 27:9, Exodus 22:18) it is clear that the position of the Iatrós Ιατρός or healing physician was at the same time both respectfully and cynically held in both the ancient Gentile and Jewish world. 2

Saint Luke

Saint Luke, who penned both Acts and the Third Gospel is said by tradition to have been one of the Greeks who would ‘see Jesus’ at John 12:20-21.  He was styled ‘The beloved physician’ (Ιατρός Iatrós) by Saint Paul at Colossians 4:14. He is also said by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (313 AD) to have been a physician by profession and a native of Antioch. The medical vocation of Saint Luke is well documented by the early writers and there can be little doubt, apart from the Biblical evidence of Saint Paul himself, that Saint Luke was a licensed physician adhering to the legal requirements of the time. Jerome of the fourth Century records ‘Lucus medicus Antiochensis’ (Der.Ver. III:7) the Monarchian Prologues have ‘Lucus ...Antiochensis, arte medicus.’ (Kleine) and it would seem, as outlined below, a purely lexicographic argument that any corroborative evidence may appear a little thin.

The preface of Luke’s Gospel is modelled on the classical writers and undoubtedly reflects the influence of ancient medical works, for example evidence of Saint Luke’s medical background can be found in his narrative of Christ’s raising of Jairus’ daughter at Luke 8:41 f.

54  αύτος δε κρτήσας της χειρος αυτης εφωνησεν λεγων Ή παις εγειρε 55 καί επέστρεψεν το πνεύμα αυτης, και ανέστη παρχρημα και διέταξεν αυτης, και δοθηνι φαγειν

Luke 8: 54-55

is apparently a medical improvement on

41 λέγω εγειρε. 42 και ευθυς ανέστη το κοράσιον... 43 και ειπεν δοθηναι αύτη φαγειν

from Saint Mark 5:41-43 in the earlier Marken Gospel.


Luke states the age of the little girl at the onset of his narrative as would a good physician at the time of Christ, (8:42) further, after the manner of the physicians, he places the order that the child be given something to eat (vv. 54-55) before the general injunction that the matter should not be spoken about. 4

The editors of the scholarly Hastings' Dictionary of the Apostolic Church do maintain however, that although there may be a certain amount of supportive evidence in the detail, too fine a point may have been pressed here in terms of a purely lexicographic argument, even so the academics do agree that Luke, a refined and educated Greek, (perhaps a Jewish proselyte) did frequently employ language which can be illustrated from the classics and the text and practice of early medicine. 3

The eminent Sir W. Ramsay in the early 20th Century also drew attention to two words in Greek at Acts 28:8-9 (28:8-9 Eng.) namely ιάσατο ‘he healed’ v.8 and εθεραπεύοντο ‘and [they] were cured’ at v.9 which he translates ‘received medical treatment’ and from this, as further evidence of Saint Luke’s profession he concludes that Saint Luke, as a professional physician, aided the missionary journeys of Saint Paul with medical remedies (Ramsay Luke the Physician 1908). (Harnack Studies: Luke the Physician p.15 (q.v.) also points out that the preceding πυρετοίς και δυσεντερίω is a precise medical phrase) though again some scholars (partic. Cadbury 1926) maintain that the lexic. evidence of itself is insufficient to fully substantiate these points. 5, 6.

The core of the argument would seem to be that simply because a writer is prone to use medical terminology this would not necessarily make him a physician - but that would ignore the first-hand witness of Saint Paul and the testimonies of the Early Church itself.


For a detailed study of the above and other points see

The Medical Language of Luke

William Kirk Hobart 1882

Public domain


See also eBook chapter

Everyday Medicine in Bible Times

FREE eBOOK Drug Abuse in Scripture



 Source Index

 (1) Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 1977 Abbot-Smith. T.& T. Clark, Edinburgh. p.466. (2) Biblical and Talmudic Medicine, Preuss. J. pp.11-39.  1913. (3) Hastings’ Dictionary of the Apostolic Church  (HDAC) vol.1 pp. 718-22. (K. Lake). (4) The Mission and Message of Jesus Major, Manson, Write. p.79. London. 1937. (5) Ramsay Luke the Physician 1908. 6 Harnack Studies: Luke the Physician Berlin 1906 (7) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia vol iii p.1936


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