Using Herbs for Medicine — What Does Scripture Say?

Question from a Site Viewer
I have been looking at the use of herbs as both food and medicine, and I am trying to determine what scripture says about these things. Is the use of herbs for medicine sorcery (pharmakia)?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question of whether the use of herbs for medicine is sorcery. Scripture says very little about the use of herbs for medicine. Isaiah speaks in Isaiah 1:6 about the failure of Israel to have their wounds soothed with ointment. Jeremiah 8:22 speaks of the balm of Gilead, which was known from other sources as valuable for medicine and probably was traded as early as Genesis 37:25 in the days of Joseph and continued to be traded in the days of Ezekiel, a millennium and a half later (Ezekiel 27:17). Jeremiah also refers to healing medicines in Jeremiah 30:13 and 46:11. Perhaps these references are to herbal products. We do not know for sure. Ezekiel 47:12 speaks of the tree of life as having leaves that will be for medicine.

But while Scripture is very thin on potential references to the use of herbs for medicine, such paucity of information stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding nations. The Egyptians and the nations in Mesopotamia have extensive records of the use of herbs as medicine. Medicine, as practiced in the ancient world, was tied into incantations, magic, and sorcery. In fact, the Greek word “pharmacy” comes from the Greek word “pharama” meaning to charm or enchant.

What we know is that the sorcerers and physicians of the ancient world made extensive use of herbs for medicine in combination with their charms and enchantments. But the mere association of herbs with those who also practiced sorcery does not mean that herbs themselves were viewed as sorcery by the writers of Scripture. The New Testament mentions sorcerers or sorcery (the Greek words “pharmakeia,” “pharmakeus,” or “pharmakos”) five times, and never expressly associates the same with herbs (Galatians 5:20; Revelation 9:21; 18:23; 21:8; 22:15).

Given the apparently positive view of Jeremiah to the balm of Gilead in Jeremiah 8:22 and Jeremiah’s other references to healing medicines (or the lack thereof in Jeremiah 30:13 and 46:11), I think it is possible to find some support for the use of herbs for medicine in Scripture. But the evidence is admittedly thin, although it is stronger than any evidence condemning the use of herbs as medicine. I am not aware of any Scriptural passage that would condemn the use of herbs as medicine. I am reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles the person, but what comes out of the mouth (Matthew 15:11).

The bigger picture of Scripture is that God is the physician and healer of His people. The promises of God to Israel were that if they followed Him, He would give them health (Deuteronomy 7:12-15) but if they forsook Him He would bring upon them all of the diseases of Egypt (Deuteronomy 28:60). He was their healer (Psalm 103:3), although we know that the use of oil and wine was not forbidden to aid in the healing (Luke 10:34; 1 Timothy 5:23).

I hope this helps. May you find in Jesus Christ the hope of life, and the One who alone is worthy of our worship and adoration.


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