The Bible And Mental Health

(More Bible Studies Available @

It is written:

Proverbs 31:6-Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to those who are bitter of heart.

Throughout the Bible, we are reminded that the recreational use of drugs is forbidden and condemned (Ephesians 5:18; Titus 2:12-14; Proverbs 20:1). However, there is a place for the use of drugs for legitimate cases of medical need. We are reminded of this, for example, throughout the Old and New Testaments. One scholar notes about the different types of medicine in the Old and New Testaments:

“In ancient Israel, the closest approach to the activities of a physician could be observed when priests, acting as public health officers, examined and diagnosed people suspected of having “leprosy” (Lev 13–14). There were also those in ancient Israel who employed folk remedies, set fractures (Ezek 30: 21; 34: 4), and, perhaps, those who dressed wounds (2 Kgs 20: 7; Hos 6: 1). Most medical treatments, however, seem to have been primarily in the form of “first aid” (cf. Isa 38: 21). The Hebrew word sori, “balsam, balm,” designates an aromatic resin (Liquidambar orientalis) that was used for medicinal purposes. This substance was associated especially with the area of Gilead (Gen 37: 25; Jer 8: 22; 46: 11), and it was exported from Palestine to Egypt (Gen 43: 11) and Tyre (Ezek 27: 17). The prophet Jeremiah sarcastically suggests of Babylon: “Get balm for her pain; perhaps she can be healed” (Jer 51: 8). B. THE NEW TESTAMENT The NT employs several words to refer to medicine and physicians. The verb therapeuo refers to medical treatment and occurs forty-three times, almost exclusively in the Gospels and Acts. The verb iaomai, “to heal,” appears twenty-six times, but the cognate noun iasis occurs only in Luke 13: 32 and in Acts 4: 22, 30. Sometimes, as in Matt 9: 21, the verb sozo, “to save,” means “to heal.” According to the NT, Jesus is the Healer par excellence (Luke 5: 17). The Gospels contain twenty-four stories of healing by Jesus, including seven exorcisms of demons. On eleven occasions, friends bring sufferers to Jesus, but in six the patient appeals directly to Jesus. On three occasions, Jesus heals at a distance. The word iatros, “physician,” occurs seven times in the NT. Luke, the author of the Gospel and of Acts, was a physician—Paul calls him “the beloved physician” (Col 4: 14, KJV)—but despite the claims of some scholars, Luke’s language does not reflect any special medical vocabulary. Most NT scholars believe that Luke was a gentile who would have had access to medical training at the city of Antioch, which Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 3.4.2) identifies as his hometown. When the Pharisees question why Jesus associates with tax collectors and “sinners,” he responds with a proverbial statement, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt 9: 12 | | Mark 2: 17 | | Luke 5: 31). When the people of Nazareth demand a miracle from Jesus, he responds, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ ” (Luke 4: 23). Jesus healed a woman who was subject to bleeding for twelve years and who “had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (Mark 5: 26 | | Luke 8: 43). The NT contains several references to substances used for (or that could be used for) medicinal purposes. Frankincense and myrrh, the gifts of the magi (Matt 2: 11), were used not only as incense but also for medicinal purposes. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan bandages the victim’s wounds, “pouring on oil and wine” (Luke 10: 34). On the cross, Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15: 23)—or according to Matt 27: 34, wine mixed with gall (chole)—as an anodyne, or pain killer. Paul advises Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim 5: 23). The Lord counsels the church in Laodicea to use “salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Rev 3: 18). Laodicea had a medical school that specialized in ophthalmology, and the city was also famed for its eye ointments. Though in ancient Greek literature (including the Septuagint) the word pharmakon can refer to a medicinal drug (cf. the English word “pharmacy”), it is also used to denote drugs employed for nefarious purposes, such as witchcraft and abortion. In the NT, pharmakon (Rev 9: 21) and its cognates pharmakos (Rev 22: 15), pharmakeus (Rev 21: 8), and pharmakeia (Gal 5: 20; Rev 9: 21; 18: 23) are consistently used only in the negative sense of “sorcery” or “sorcerers,” as is also the case for all of these words (with the exception of pharmakon, which has both positive and negative uses) in the Septuagint (see, e.g., Exod 7: 11, 22; 8: 3; Deut 18: 10).” (Edwin M. Yamauchi, Marvin R. Wilson, Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity: Complete in One Volume, A-Z, 1668-1670 (Kindle Edition); Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC)

Keeping in view the fact that the Bible clearly authorizes the use of medicines for legitimate medicinal use, we must ask the question: What does the Bible teach us about the use of drugs for mental health?

Right away, we will need to observe that there are indeed illnesses of the mind that need to be acknowledged before they can be treated. One of the problems that we face in our world is the belief that there are really no mental illnesses, that all of these are just misdiagnosed as spiritual weakness or some such.

However, the Bible itself makes it clear that there are mental illnesses which can be caused by physical maladies. We see this, for example, in the Gospels where Jesus heals various illnesses:

Matthew 4:24-Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.

Notice the Bible speaks here of epileptics that Jesus healed. The word “epileptic” has reference to a very real neurological condition, an illness of the mind which affects many people. In other translations of the Bible, this is rendered with the word “lunatic.”

Matthew 4:24 (AFV)-Then His fame went out into all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were sick, oppressed by various diseases and torments, and possessed by demons, and lunatics, and paralytics; and He healed them.

Matthew 4:24 (BBE)-And news of him went out through all Syria; and they took to him all who were ill with different diseases and pains, those having evil spirits and those who were off their heads, and those who had no power of moving. And he made them well.

Matthew 4:24 (CEV)-News about him spread all over Syria, and people with every kind of sickness or disease were brought to him. Some of them had a lot of demons in them, others were thought to be crazy, and still others could not walk. But Jesus healed them all.

“Matthew goes on to lunatics (apparently different from the demoniacs); these are often held to be epileptics in modern discussions (NRSV and other translations have “epileptics”), and some of the cases may indeed be those of epilepsy. But we should bear in mind that the word is the exact etymological equivalent of “lunatic” 76 and that there is no reason for denying that meaning here.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According To Matthew (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 89 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

So, the Bible here teaches us about those who suffer from what we would term “mental illness.” These are real illnesses, and notice also that they are (in this passage) contrasted with those who were under demonic attack. While many believe that the Bible affirms that all mental illnesses are a result of demonization, the Bible here contradicts such a notion.

Furthermore, notice that Matthew classes these “lunatics” along with those who were in need of physical healing from other maladies. Jesus provides miraculous healing for them, again demonstrating Divine sanction in aiding those who suffer from physical and mental conditions.

There is a passage of Scripture which demonstrates that medicinal aid may be used in cases for mental illness. Let’s have a closer study of what the writer of Proverbs tells us about this subject.

Proverbs 31:6-Proverbs 31:6-Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to those who are bitter of heart.

Notice that the admonition to give “strong drink” to him who is perishing is set in parallel to giving to “those who are bitter of heart.”

This phrase “bitter of heart” is very interesting.

“Lit. “bitter ones in soul.” Nepeš is a genitive of location (IBHS, pp. 147f, p. 9.5.2f) and designates their emotional state due to deprivation (see B. K. Waltke, nāphash, TWOT, 2: 589). It matches ʿw in v. 4. Against Kutler (“ A ‘Strong’ Case for Hebrew MAR, UF 16 [1984] 111–118), who argued that mar here means “strong,” cf. the critique of the alleged root in D. Pardee (UF 10 [1978] 249–288).” (Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 536 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Those who are “bitter of heart” are here those that are beset with mental anguish. Notice that these are counseled to be given “wine” and “strong drink.” This is not an endorsement of getting people drunk (intoxicated) for recreational reasons, but encouragement to use wine for medicinal reasons. We see similar uses of wine throughout the Bible:

Luke 10:34-So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.


1 Timothy 5:23-No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.

Mental health issues are very real physical conditions, and we would be wise to consider medical treatment for such.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑