Gambling Within Christian Culture

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?

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2 thoughts on “Gambling Within Christian Culture

  1. I kind of think you're mixing up concetps. Gambling, as I understand the common use of the English word, means to risk losing something desirable for the unpredictable chance of gaining something more desirable. The outcome possibilities are clear, but whether the favorable one will come to pass is not. On that subject, I basically agree with you that it can be done as harmless entertainment, as long as the player has the good judgment to know how little entertainment is worth. Otherwise, it is potentially destructive.But your Scripture and church history references I think refer to decisions that godly people need to make, when they want to do the Lord's will but do not know what that is. I don't see that concept as gambling because the outcome possibilities are unknown (hence the indecision), but the presumption is that the preferable outcome will come to pass. Yes, there are biblical examples of God showing His decision through lots, but I would not recommend that to a fellow believer for a couple of reasons: 1) the danger that the person is turning to the dice in hopes of getting out of what he really knows is right (“I know the Bible says this, but I think it might not aply in my case, so I'll use lots to find out”). That would not be doing it out of faith. Reason 2) I don't see a Biblical example of casting lots after Pentecost. If we have the leading of the Holy Spirit, why turn to something so impersonal as dice? I'm not saying I judge Christians if they really don't think they have any other indication what God wants them to do and so pray over some dice or “yes/no” papers in a hat or whatever to use. I just know the way the Lord guides me, and while it's certainly not always clear when I want it to be, if nothing else, I can pray, “Lord, I asked You for the best You have for me. Now I'm making the best decision I know to make, and if it's less than the best, please redirect me.” He is more than capable of directing our paths if we really want to do His will. I've found in my own life, when it's really something so gray I can't find an answer in the Bible (like “what should I major in?”), God either uses circumstances to make it clear, or I pray and then just know.

  2. Something I did not take into consideration is Pentecost and you bring out an interesting perspective on that. As with all things, it is a heart issue. Should “casting of lots” to make a decision ever change from trusting God for the outcome to trusting the dice, then you have erred.As to why people would want something as impersonal as dice, I think for some it may be a tangible way of expressing their faith. You worded as if dice and the leading of the Holy Spirit have to be two mutually exclusive choices (pick one or the other). I would argue that some would see the casting of lots as the leadership of the Spirit through the outcome.You also make a valid point on the difference between gambling and decision making. It has given me something to chew on. At the end of the day, I don't know that I would roll the dice on any decision. However, I think the process is the same. If I am presented with two choices, I sometimes just pick one and whatever happens is God's will. That's the same process as rolling the dice in my opinion.At any rate, appreciate the conversation!

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