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Minnesota Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › Question about the Inerrancy discussion by Grant Steves

Question about the Inerrancy discussion by Grant Steves

A former member
Post #: 1
In the discussion Inerrancy: The Christian Text, Dr. Steves made a reference (at the very end) to the word Pharmaceutria (or one of it's derivatives) being misinterpreted from the Old Testament.

The thing that puzzles me is that Pharmaceutria is a Greek word and the Old Testament should be (originally) in Hebrew.

Now, I know little about Greek or Hebrew, so I'm probably just misunderstanding what he said, but can Dr. Steves or someone who understands the point he was making please clarify what word was used and how it was misused? Is this referring to the "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" passage?

Thanks very much.

PS -- My apologies if this isn't the correct place to post this question. If there is a better place, can someone please direct me?
Grant S.
Saint Paul, MN
Post #: 1
My reference to pharmakeia was to note how the variants of this Greek word are translated. Bauer's Greek Lexicon defines it as referring to mixing potions, being a sorcerer, mixing medicines or a remedy,and use of magic. 'Witch' is not one of the words he used.
Paul uses it in Gal. 5:20 - the King James Version translates it as witchcraft. Other translations use sorcery or divination. These are all selections that may or may not mislead a person reading the verse.
My use of the Old Testament was a reference to the Septuagint Greek Translation that was completed around 250 CE.
Ex. 22:18 and Deut. 18:10 are early references to the word. I did not have time to develop the point on the program of how the word was applied by Jewish law, and how it would have been applied by Paul.
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" is one example where it is translated as 'witch' by the King James Version, however, some translations use sorceress.

My apology for making the short answer confusing.
I hope the above answer helps and perhaps encourages you to pursue more items of research.
A former member
Post #: 2
Dr. Steves,

Thanks so much for the clarification.

Obviously it is difficult to know exactly what the connotations of language were at the time that a particular translation was written. In all likelihood, there may have been understood meanings which aren't clear today.

I just want to mention that there is some precedent for the use of the word to mean a practitioner of witchcraft. Please note that there is a Greek Poem by Theocritus (dating to around 3rd Century BC) entitled Pharmaceutria which describes a woman using using potions and/or spells to snare and control a man.

I don't know what liberties were taken with translation, so it is possible that more modern perceptions have colored the work, but it certainly seems to describe someone very close to the medieval concept of a witch. This poem was probably fairly well known among scholars during the first centuries of the Christian church and may have influenced the choice of words.

Here is a link to the poem:


I would just like to add that I have greatly enjoyed the presentations by Minnesota Atheists. Thank you so much for making them available on the web. I particularly appreciate that unlike some other Atheist blogs and podcasts, you present information and discussion, not rhetoric and emotional retorts.

Rick Smathers

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