Last night, I went into the garage to switch laundry and noticed the edge of my old Bible hanging out of a box. With a bit of guilt, I picked it up and dusted off the cover, knocking a couple of notes from the inside cover to the ground. Apparently in July 2010, I was doing a study over the concept of gambling within the confines of Christianity. I found them fascinating and would like to share them with you.
Gambling Within Scripture
The concepts of gambling or throwing of lots is mentioned some 70 times in the Old Testament and 7 times in the New Testament, most of which do NOT have any negative connotation as is the prevalent attitude in modern Christian cultures.
- Leviticus 16:8 – Aaron cast lots to decide which goat he would keep and which goat would be slaughtered as the scapegoat to atone for their sins.
- Joshua 18:10 – Joshua cast lots to divide the land among the tribes
- Nehemiah 10:34 – The priests cast lots to decide which families were responsible for bringing the wood for the altar.
- Acts 1:26 – The disciples cast lots to decide who would replace Judas among the twelve them.
The underlying theme seems to be God’s sovereignty penned by the author of Proverbs (16:33) and wonderfully paraphrased by famed Christian rapper Lecrae, “I just roll and trust you…you cause the dice to land”.
Inherently, gambling is not evil or sinful. Done in moderation, as with everything in life, rolling the dice, pulling the levers, playing the cards is just a waste of money but nothing more. The problem is with the symptoms that accompany that lifestyle: gambling for the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5) or because you addicted (Matthew 6:24) to the pleasure of winning or thrill of suspense. The attitudes are sinful regardless of what habit you associate them with.
Gambling Within Christian History
Historically, there concepts of faith and casting lots were intertwined. Homer mentions in the Illiad that lots were cast purim or “clay dice” into helmets of soldiers as a means of determining who would fight. While purely fictional literature, it indicates that there was the concept of casting lots in the first place.
Interestingly enough, there were also accounts of lot casting within the parameters of Church History as well. In 782 AD, the body of St. Leger was up for grabs in an argument between the bishops of Poitiers, Autun, and Arras (F. H. David, Games, Gods & Gambling: A History of Probability and Statistical Ideas). John Wesley, the forefather of Methodists, writes that he had three lots to choose from when deciding upon his wife in his 4th letter dated in Mar. of 1737. The First Congregational Church of Stamford in 1670 cast lots to determine if they should build a larger building (ref).
So then, where does the bad rep come from? The most likely culprit was born out of good intentions from the Early Church fathers. Casting of lots was closely associated with pagan rituals of divination and in order to protect congregants the practices we see so evident in scripture were frowned upon. According to the Sixth Ecumenical Council (Canon 50), dice-playing was forbidden. St. Chrysostom warned in his 15th Homily that such games would lead to “blasphemies, injuries, anger, reproaches, and a thousand other things more fearful still”. Clement of Alexandria in Book 3 of The Instructor indicated that the placing of dice stems from idleness and therefore is sinful.
The purpose was to protect each other and that intent has been corrupted into legalism through the ages. My understand is that God looks at your heart and with all habits of this nature it is a matter of whether you are addicted & love money or if this is just for fun.
Your thoughts on gambling?