I’ve been grazing through Peter Williamson’s new commentary on Revelation in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series. Revelation 9:21 reads “Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (NIV) The phrase here “magic arts” is translated as “magic potions” in the NABRE, “sorceries” in the ESV, “magic spells” in NET. Williamson notes that the word “literally means ‘drugs’ and, like its modern counterpart, could be used positively to mean medicine, or negatively, as in this case, to mean potions used as aphrodisiacs, abortifacients, contraceptives, or for other morally objectionable purposes.” (p. 173) In a footnote he refers to Michael Gorman who “suggests the possibility of an allusion to abortion in this text.” (p. 173n.12) I found the footnote pretty interesting so I checked Gorman’s book (Abortion and the Early Church). I recount here a little longer quote than is offered by Williamson.

“Although the New Testament makes no specific reference to abortion, the association of the use of drugs (pharmakeia) with abortion in pagan and later Christian writings suggests that there may be an implicit reference to abortion in such texts as Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 9:21, 18:23, 21:8 and 22:15, where words of the same group are used. This suggestion is by no means far-fetched. The word pharmakeia (and its cognates) can be a neutral, generic term for the use of drugs, but more often it has the negative connotation of drugs and potions supplied by a sorcerer or magician. It is also used to refer to poisons and mind-disturbing drugs. In Sorano’s Gynecology, it refers specifically to the use of one type of evil drug, the abortifacient. The word pharmakeia itself, then, can mean the used of drugs, evil or magical drugs themselves, or a specific evil drug such as a poison or an abortifacient. . . . Moreover, noncanonical condemnation of abortion before A.D. 125 is found in connection with the same related sins of fornication and murder which appear in the texts of Galatians and Revelation where pharmakeia is used. Thus, while a conclusive affirmation of explicit New Testament condemnation of abortion is impossible, the word pharmakeia and the contexts in which it is found suggest that Galatians and Revelation implicitly reject at least one major means of abortion in their rejection of magic, drugs, and poisons.” (p. 48. Page numbers are referenced to the original IVP edition. Gorman’s book is now published by Wipf and Stock.)

It’s something to think about.