It seems as though the question “Is gambling allowed?” has been asked for centuries. Back in the Bible, God gave the answer “No” to the question of whether or not He approved of gambling, saying, “You shall not gamble; you shall not wager (risk) money or anything at all that is valuable” (Exodus 22:7). Even in modern times, some still wonder about the morality of gambling, and many question whether or not God still disapproves of the practice. In reality, though, the Bible never really answered the question of whether or not gambling was good; it only told us what was and was not “allowed.” That being said, it is important to recognize that gambling can and often does serve a purpose, even if that purpose is not always constructive. In this article, we will discuss the biblical definition of gambling and how it compares to modern-day definitions of the practice.
What Does the Bible Say About Gambling?
God’s perspective on gambling comes from Genesis 22:1–3, where God Himself tells the story of the origin of humankind:
- “Now the first human being, Seth, had a son who was born to him while he was still under the influence of the devil; his name was Adam.”
- “During that time, Satan had great zeal for humankind, and he persuaded a number of them to avoid God’s covenant and instead live forever in disobedience.”
- “These people, led by the devil, ignored God’s commands and forced everyone, including those who were unable to fight back, to commit evil acts. As a result of their rebellion, humankind had to suffer greatly.”
From God’s perspective, gambling was a sinful practice that led to humanity’s fall. It wasn’t that God was opposed to all forms of entertainment; quite the opposite. It’s that He knew that, in the presence of temptation, our best judgment would be impaired, and we would unintentionally commit acts that were displeasing to God. For this reason, He forbade it.
What Does Today’s Science Say About Gambling?
While the Bible was the first place that most people looked for guidance on this issue, the early years after the Christianization of the Roman Empire didn’t really bring us much in the way of new information on the topic. Although there were some exceptions, like Saint Augustine, the early church fathers mostly avoided giving a solid theological answer to the question of whether or not gambling was sinful. Instead, they preferred to focus on the individual acts of gambling, citing the Greek philosopher Epictetus, who said, “The thing which disarms us is not the things we fear might happen, but our own incapacity to suffer what might happen.”
The attitude of detachment continued through the Middle Ages. During that time, the church largely left the question open, saying that it was up to the person involved to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to gamble. As far as the church was concerned, if you were born into a family that practiced it, you would most likely grow up with a predisposition to the activity. Besides, since there was no easy way to determine whether or not someone was of sound mind when they decided to indulge in the activity, the church had little interest in getting involved.
Is Gambling Always Wrong?
Although the early church fathers had little to say about the morality of gambling, the question of whether or not it was always wrong began to be asked much more frequently in the centuries that followed. This is most likely due to the fact that, as science and mathematics developed, the ability to accurately determine the odds of any given game became readily available. With this development, the question of whether or not gambling was a “fair game” became more appealing.
The issue of whether or not gambling was always wrong was dealt with in great detail by a man named Émile Deschamps in a book titled The Ethics of Gambing. In this work, Deschamps argued that although there are times when gambling can be justified, there are also circumstances where it is not. For example, he wrote:
- “In the case of certain lotteries, it is clear that this game is intrinsically and essentially harmful. It is a sin against nature to subject oneself to the laws of chance…This kind of game invites a person to sin against his own will.”
- “Certain games of cards, such as blackjack, have no absolute value. Some card games are innocent; others are very dangerous. There are even some games, like poker, that can be played in sinful ways.”
- “Gambling produces a total disorder in the social life of a community.”
Based on the scientific and mathematical rigor that characterized his work, Deschamps’ opinion was widely respected. However, his claim that there were some instances where gambling was justified still faced strong opposition. The opponents of his work suggested that, since the practice was widely accepted, it must be beneficial in some way. To this day, the question of whether or not gambling is always wrong still divides the Christian world. While some see it as a sinful activity that should be avoided, others see it as a tool that can be used to give meaning to one’s life, believing that God sometimes allows it for the purposes of testing His believers’ faith.
Gambling From A Theological Perspective
As science and mathematics developed during the Renaissance, the ability to accurately calculate the odds of any given game improved, prompting many to reinterpret Augustine’s, Epictetus’, and Deschamps’ views on the matter. At that time, people began to see gambling as a form of strategic investing that could be used to accumulate money and/or properties. It wasn’t that they saw gambling as a way of giving meaning to their lives; quite the opposite. For wealthy individuals of the era, gaming had the ability to become a form of status symbol, allowing them to establish and/or enrich their social status.
This trend toward reinterpreting gambling from a less judgmental perspective continued through the early modern period, and, even today, some Christian denominations still hold a generally positive view toward the practice, seeing it as a way of giving meaning to life, while others still see it as a tool for sinning. Only through careful study, unbiased research, and thoughtful reflection will we be able to understand the true motivations and purposes of those who engage in the practice.