The subject of gambling is one that is multi-faceted and it something that can divide Christians. On the one hand, there are those who argue that it is only a game and like anything else (eating, drinking, etc.) it is acceptable as long as it does not become controlling and overly indulged in. On the other side of the fence are believers who argue that gambling on any level is morally wrong. Which side is correct?
Giving an adequate answer to the dilemma first requires a Biblical review of money in general, after which gambling itself can be examined.
Where money is concerned, the Bible certainly is not silent. To begin, Scripture makes it clear that everything belongs to God. Paul simply asks his readers, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Even though individuals work and earn money, the Bible says that it is God who is the ultimate source of their income: “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18).
The Bible also says that we should ultimately trust in God and not get-rich-quick schemes that promise wealth: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Scripture also makes it clear that money is to be gained through work and labor: “In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23) and “He who tills his land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty” (Proverbs 28:19).
Further, the Bible warns against debt and owing any creditor large amounts of money: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Proverbs 22:7) and “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).
In fact, the opposite of debt is advocated in Scripture – saving money vs. becoming a debtor: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6–8).
Finally, the Bible promotes a generous and willing heart to share what financial resources a person has gained through their labor: “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25). Jesus simply said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
These principles explain the core truths that are summarized in God’s Word. Money itself is not evil, but the passion for it is according to Paul: “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).
Like Paul, Jesus – in His parable about the sower – also warned how the desire for money can thwart the pursuit of true riches that come from living in accordance with God’s precepts: “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).
Once the above Biblical truths on money and its uses are understood, a position on gambling is much easier to reach. Today, gambling can be seen in a variety of forms: lotteries, casinos, sports betting, quick stop gaming stands (video poker, etc.), and perhaps the most prevalent type today, online or internet gambling.
While these modern varieties of gambling exist today, gambling itself has been around for a very long time, and universally, the Church has taken a dim view of it. For example, an early second century sermon preached out of a North Africa church contained the following description of gambling: "The game of dice is an obvious snare of the devil. He presides over the game in person, bringing to it the deadly venom of the serpent and even inducing ruin which when it is seen to be nothing, a great let down is brought about in the players.”
Key figures in Christianity down through history have also held an unfavorable view of gambling. Augustine said, “The devil invented gambling.” Martin Luther proclaimed, “Money won by gambling is not won without sin and self-seeking sin.” John Calvin outlawed gambling in the city of Geneva.
But why did these key figures and others in the Church reject gambling – why did they believe gambling to be sinful? First, as opposed to the proper spirit promoted by the Bible where money is concerned, gambling results in the following internal attitudes:
- Reliance on chance vs. reliance on God’s providence
- Laziness vs. working
- Thwarts charity
- Seeks gain from the loss of others
- Family strife and divorce
- Escape into alcoholism
- Exploitation of the poor
In the Old Testament, God specifically warned about the spirit behind gambling when He said: “But you who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune, and who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not hear. And you did evil in My sight and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isaiah 65:11–12).
The phrase “set a table” means to bring food to an idol. The Hebrew word for “Destiny” comes from the Hebrew word Meni and it means luck. Israel was literally worshipping the gods of luck and fortune, and trusting them for their needs, rather than God.
This is what people do today who immerse themselves in gambling. And because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, it is foolish thinking to believe His views on the matter have changed.