The Biblical Case Against Gambling

“Gambling can’t be morally wrong, since even the Good Book doesn’t condemn it.” That is what overzealous defenders of the dancing dice claim. As Sasuly put it, “Nowhere does the Holy Bible, bedrock of Judeo-Christian morality, in either its Old or New Testaments, take a stand against gaming.” (Richard Sasuly, Bookies and Bettors, Rinehart and Winston, New York: Holt, 1982, p.36.)

It is true that the word gambling is found nowhere in the Holy Bible. Surely, if gambling is as bad as we are saying it is, one would expect to find it mentioned in the Ten Commandments, but it isn’t. Furthermore, it’s not in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, no condemnation of gambling ever fell from the lips of Jesus. The Bible seems strangely silent on the topic.

The truth is, the Bible is filled with condemnations of gambling, but gamblers would have to read it to find them. Let’s take a look for ourselves.

Gambling and the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments form one of the oldest and most respected moral codes of mankind. Three of the great world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all claim divine authority for this moral code. Other great religions, like Confucianism and Buddhism, while not affirming belief in one God, nevertheless accept the basic moral duties stated in the Ten Commandments.

There are at least two commandments that bear directly on the question of gambling: “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:15, 17). When Moses told the Israelites, “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:13), he set forth a principle that covers all types of financial shenanigans. There is plenty in Moses’ law against gambling, and as Ted Koppel of “Nightline” said, “God didn’t give Moses the Ten Suggestions.”

First, the Ten Commandments declare, “Thou shalt not covet.” Desiring what belongs to another is wrong. Gambling is an example of coveting what does not rightfully belong to us, a strike-it-rich scheme. The signs of covetousness are written all over the gambling enterprise. Consider the exorbitant amount of money changing hands annually–nearly $300 billion. Also, the hungry knife of organized crime, slicing off its oversized piece of the gambling pie, is nothing less than grandiose greed. Or, to bring it down to the individual, the desire to win money that we did not work for is covetousness pure and simple. Judging by the estimated 100 million Americans who gamble legally in forty-seven states with thirty state lotteries, covetousness is a major problem in this country. What could be more relevant to this seemingly unquenchable thirst for drinking out of the golden goblet of gambling than the injunction, “Thou shalt not covet”?

Further, gambling is a form of stealing. As we have already seen, gambling is a form of stealing from the poor. State lotteries, for example, take a disproportionately high amount of their revenue from the poor. Many lottery outlets are strategically placed in poor and minority communities. This is state-sponsored stealing from the poor, a form of economic immorality. In short, it is a violation of the command, “Thou shalt not steal.”

Do Not Oppress the Poor

Some attempt to justify gambling by insisting that playing a lottery is strictly voluntary. It can’t be stealing, they insist, because the players are gambling of their own free will. The fact that the poor gamble of their own free will does not justify taking advantage of them. Exploiting their weakness toward gambling doesn’t justify stealing from them, certainly not by the government that should be looking out for their welfare.

It is the responsibility of the government to educate, not exploit, the poor. The Constitution charges government to look after the “general welfare” of its citizens. Government-sponsored gambling, which clearly exploits the poor, is immoral, and the Bible is far from silent on that.

The Old Testament is filled with exhortations against the oppression of the poor and needy. Consider the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:14). Or hear the sharp words of Amos, who denounced the exploiter, saying, “Hear this word, ye . . . which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. The Lord God hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fish-hooks” (Amos 4:1, 2). Zechariah added, “Oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart” (Zechariah 7:10). Here again, the Bible is far from silent about oppressing the poor, of which state-sponsored gambling is a prominent example.

A Word to the Wise

Solomon is considered the wisest man who ever lived. His proverbs, or wise sayings, contain many exhortations against gambling. For example, “Wealth from gambling quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows” (Proverbs 13:11 TLB). What could be more to the point? Gambling is a form of monetary magic. By a wave of the bookie’s wand, the rabbit of financial success is supposed to appear in the gambler’s pot.

In starker terms, gambling is a form of slothfulness. Solomon exhorted, “The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long. . .” (Proverbs 21:25, 26). A little folding of the hands and a little rolling of the dice, and poverty will come on like a tiger.

Hear another word from the wise: “. . . the man who wants to get rich quick will quickly fail” (Proverbs 28:20 TLB). If there was ever a get-rich-quick scheme, it is gambling. There are now hundreds of people who have become instant millionaires–many not for long. Millions of others are waiting in line to buy lottery tickets. Even putting aside the fact that many people regamble–and lose–what they have won, and others squander it away, lotteries teach the bad lesson that working is not necessary. Little wonder that Solomon commended work in the same verse in which he condemned gambling, adding by contrast,”. . . wealth from hard work grows” (Proverbs 13:11 TLB). Wealth from gambling vanishes; wealth from working increases. A word to the wise is sufficient.

You Can’t Serve God and Mammon

Other than the fact that the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garment at the crucifixion, there is no record of gambling in the New Testament. However, Jesus spoke to the heart of the issue many times. He addressed the basic problem behind gambling when He said, “. . . Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Those who covet money have made it their god. They have made the ultimate commitment to get gold at all cost, and one cannot have two ultimates in his life. If gold is supreme, God isn’t. If God is supreme, gold isn’t. One man cannot have two masters.

Another famous word of Jesus, this one to the tempter, speaks directly to gambling: “. . . Man shall not live by bread alone . . .” (Matthew 4:4). Interest in gambling indicates a failure to trust God for our needs. In this connection, He said: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). What could speak more clearly to the money-loving gambling industry than words like these? God, not gambling, is the answer to greed.

Gambling Is Bad Stewardship

Throughout the Bible, believers are urged to be good stewards of the treasure God has given them. Paul said, “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). All that we have and are comes from Him. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof . . .” (Psalm 24:1). The recognition of divine ownership is the beginning of good stewardship. Yet, at the heart of the gambler’s fancy is the belief that, “I have the right to do what I want to with my possessions.” Wrong! According to the Bible, ultimately they aren’t our possessions, and I certainly have no right to gamble away God’s goods.

For the faithful, financial resources are part of a divine stewardship. We are responsible to God for how we use them. Those who squander these gifts violate a divine trust. For that they will be held responsible. Jesus made this clear in His parable of the stewards. Those who did not fruitfully use their treasure were chastised. Only those who wisely invested their treasure were commended by the words “. . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).

Job penetrated to the point when he wrote, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return . . .” (Job 1:21). We didn’t bring anything with us, and we won’t take anything when we leave. What we have while we are here is a gift of God. It should be used for Him and for helping others. Robbing the poor is certainly not a way of helping them, yet state-sponsored lotteries do just that.

Church-sponsored gambling is no better. Here again, it is usually the poor who play and, therefore, the poor who pay. Of all institutions on earth, the church should be giving to the poor, not taking from them. Benevolence, not bingo, is the church’s duty to the needy.

The Root of All Evil

First Timothy 6:10 is often misquoted. Look it up. It does not say, as many wrongly believe, that money is the root of all evil. Rather it says, “the love of money is the root of all evil. . . .” There is nothing wrong with gold; it’s greed that the Bible condemns. Having loot is not an intrinsic evil, but lusting after it is wrong. Possessing wealth is not wrong in itself, but being possessed by it is. Jesus said, “. . . a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Our duty is to love others and use things, not to love things and use others.

If there was ever a perfect example of the lust for money, it’s gambling. Those who are content with what they have do not crave more, but the vast majority of those who gamble have a problem with greed. Gambling is a classical example of the love of money the Bible says is the root of all kinds of evil.

Those Who Don’t Work Shouldn’t Eat

The divine imperative rings clear: “. . . this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). According to the Bible, for the able-bodied, work is a duty, not an option. The Scriptures add, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28). But, as was just seen, gambling is a form of stealing. What’s more, each person is obligated to work so he can provide for himself, to say nothing of having some to help the needy.

Gambling runs contrary to the moral injunction to work. It short-circuits the duty to labor for a living. Gambling is, in fact, the opposite of work. According to the Bible, gaining a living without working is harmful. It teaches the wrong lesson. It destroys the character of the gambler and sets a bad example for the nongambler.

Nothing Comes From Nothing

“Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” Julie Andrews sang it, but gamblers have not listened. Gambling is an attempt to get something for nothing. The gambler is an economic hitchhiker, a financial freeloader who wants pleasure without work. However, human beings need to work. According to the Bible, working is a divinely appointed function of life, one that gambling vainly attempts to bypass.

Only God can make something from nothing; we mortals can only make something from something. According to the Bible, gambling is contrary to our creaturehood. Of course, some gamblers do acquire what they didn’t earn, but they still didn’t get something for nothing. Someone worked for that money. The gambler just took what someone else earned.

Your Heavenly Father Knows

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:31, 32 NIV). If God clothes the lily and feeds the raven, then surely we can trust Him for our basic needs. Such were the words of Jesus to His disciples. The psalmist said of God, “Thou openest thine hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16). According to the Bible, God is not only the Creator and Sustainer of all things, He is also the Provider. Gambling is a failure to trust the providential hand of God. It is distrust in God’s goodness. “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8). Gambling is discontent with the divine provisions. It is a greedy desire to have more than God wants us to have.

A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing

Some people have just enough knowledge of the Bible to make them dangerous. They point to the fact that lots (dice) were cast to apportion the Promised Land among the Jews and to make important decisions. However, even a cursory glance at the context of these passages reveals that they do not involve gambling but trust in the providence of God.

First of all, Solomon made it clear that it was a divine decision they sought, not monetary gain. He said of the lot, ” . . . but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). Only God knows for sure how the dice will fall. No human can repeatedly and accurately know the result. The use of throwing lots in the Bible took the decision out of man’s hands and put it in God’s. That was precisely why the lot was recommended in disputed cases: it was a means of letting God decide the issue.

Furthermore, in the biblical casting of lots there was no money wagered. Biblical lot casting was entirely different from gambling. Casting a lot for the purpose of submitting to divine determination is the exact antithesis of gambling out of distrust of God’s provision for us. Letting God decide His will for us is the very opposite of taking things into our own hands. Those who trust God don’t gamble, and those who gamble do not trust God to provide for them. So, as stark as it seems, we must choose between God and gambling.

(Norman L. Geisler, Gambling: A Bad Bet, Fleming H. Revell Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1993, pp. 111-119.)