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Interpretation of Revelation 21:8

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About Revelation 21:8:

This chapter deals with life after death. Some people will attain Heaven; others are sent to Hell, which is here described as the lake which burns with fire and brimstone (sulfur). In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Henry refers to the horrors of Hell as involving the: "...far greater terrors and agonies of eternal death..." Its victims will: "...die and [continue] to be always dying." 1

Verse 8 describes various groups who will automatically be relegated to Hell. In a typical biblical display of religious intolerance, the verse defines one group of victims as consisting of "unbelievers" -- apparently those who follow a non-Christian religion, or no religion at all. This would involved more than two thirds of the human race.

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How the verse is translated:

There is no consistency in the translations of this verse, as they appear in various English versions of the Bible. The sixth group which is destined for Hell has been identified as:

  1. 21st century King James Version: "sorcerers"
  2. American Standard Version: "sorcerers"
  3. An American Translation: those who "practice witchcraft"
  4. The Answer (New Century Version): those "who do evil magic"
  5. Amplified Bible: "practicers of magic arts"
  6. Authentic New Testament: "sorcerers"
  7. Darby Translation: "sorcerers"
  8. Good News Version: "those who practice magic"
  9. James Moffatt Translation: "sorcerers"
  10. Jerusalem Bible: "fortune tellers"
  11. King James Version: "sorcerers"
  12. Living Bible: "those conversing with demons"
  13. Modern Language Bible: "those practicing magic arts"
  14. New American Bible: "sorcerers"
  15. New American Standard Bible: "sorcerers"
  16. New English Bible "sorcerers"
  17. New International Version: "those who practice magical arts"
  18. New Living Translation: "those who practice witchcraft"
  19. New Revised Standard Version: "sorcerers"
  20. New Testament & Psalms: An Inclusive Version: "sorcerers"
  21. New World Translation: "those practicing spiritism"
  22. Phillips Modern English "those sorcery"
  23. The Promise: (Contemporary English Version): "uses witchcraft"
  24. Rheims New Testament: ""sorcerers"
  25. Revised Standard Version: "sorcerers"
  26. Revised English Bible: "sorcerers"
  27. Today's English Version "those who practice magic"
  28. Today's New International Version: "those who practice magic arts"
  29. Tyndale's New Testament: "sorcerers"
  30. World English Bible: "sorcerers" The translation has a footnote: "The word for 'sorcerers' here also includes users of potions and drugs."
  31. Young's Literal Translation: "sorcerers"

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In the 31 translations studied, the original Greek has been translated as:

bullet Sorcerers, or those practicing evil magic: 19 times. These are people who engage in black magic to harm or murder others.
bullet Those who practicing magic: 6 times. This would presumably include people who either try to hurt or heal others through spells, incantations, etc. It is unclear whether this would cover Christian clergy who conduct healing services.
bullet Witches: 3 times. This presumably includes people performing at least one of the 18 different practices that have been referred to as "witchcraft." It is not clear to which of the 18 practices the passage refers.
bullet Fortune tellers: once. Presumably this would include tea-leaf readers, palm readers, preparers of horoscopes, people who predict the weather based on the actions of a groundhog, or the diameter of caterpillars, etc.
bullet Those who contact demons: once.
bullet Spiritists: those who contact the dead: once.

The latter two categories may include channeling by New Age practitioners.

It would seem that this verse has traditionally been translated incompetently. It appears that the translators simply selected their favorite evil, and inserted it into the text. This is seen throughout many translations of the Bible, particularly with passages that refer either to homosexuality, poisoning, or evil sorcery.

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Some commentaries on Revelations 21:8:

bullet Clarke's Commentary: defines "sorcerers" as "Persons who, by drugs, philtres, fumigations, &c., pretend to produce supernatural effects, chiefly by spiritual agency." This would appear to refer to persons performing magic. 2
bullet John Gill's Exposition of the Bible defines sorcerers very broadly. He includes: "conjurers, dealers with familiar spirits, necromancers, and such as use the magic art...and poisoners of kings and princes; whoredoms and witchcrafts..." (Bigoted statements against Roman Catholics deleted). 3 It is unclear how he can derive so many varied activities from a single Greek word.
bullet Wesley Notes comments "...whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters - These three sins generally went together; their part is in the lake" of fire. 4

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What does the original Greek text imply?

The critical word here is "pharmakeus" pronounced <far-mak-yoos'>. It is derived from "pharmakon," which means a drug.

It is commonly believed to have two meanings:
bullet A person who uses magical potions for to poison others.
bullet A person who engaged in black magick to harm others -- a sorcerer.

A few commentators suggest a third meaning:
bullet A person who goes around spreading dissention - poisoning people's minds.

Of all of the translations, the word "sorcerer" is probably the best. Unfortunately, while this term usually refers to a person who casts evil spells to harm others, it is occasionally used to refer to any spell caster, whether the intent is to harm or to heal. So the optimum translation would probably be "evil sorcerer."

Since the Wiccan Rede specifically prohibits Wiccans from harming, dominating, manipulating or controlling others, Wiccans could in no way be covered by Revelation 21:8.

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References Used

  1. "Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible," at:
  2. "Clarke's Commentary - Revelation 21," at:
  3. "John Gill's Exposition of the Bible: Revelation 21:8," at:
  4. "Wesley Notes on the Revelation of Jesus Christ: Chapter XXI," at:

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Copyright 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-JUN-2
Author: B.A. Robinson

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