Playing cards have been a popular pastime across many cultures for centuries. However, some Christians view standard playing cards as promoting gambling and divination, which are prohibited according to Scripture. This has led many believers to shun playing cards altogether.
In this post, we will take a balanced, biblical look at playing cards and their use among Christians. There are good reasons to exercise caution with regular playing cards given their association with gambling and fortune-telling. However, there are also ways to redeem card games so they can be used constructively. With wisdom and discernment, believers can utilize playing cards in a way that honors God.
- Regular playing cards have a long history of use in gambling and divination which Scripture prohibits. However, this does not necessarily mean cards are evil in and of themselves.
- The Bible distinguishes between that which is inherently evil vs. that which is morally neutral. We must be careful not to classify all playing cards as evil if they can potentially be used for good.
- With intentionality, wisdom, and discernment, believers can discern if and how playing cards can be redeemed for godly purposes.
- Card games used for wholesome recreation, mental stimulation, and fellowship can be profitable for Christians if care is taken to avoid associations with gambling.
- Rather than categorically rejecting cards, Christians should focus on whether a particular use of cards promotes godliness and serves others in the body of Christ.
A Brief History of Playing Cards
Scholars debate the exact origins of playing cards, but most agree they developed in China sometime in the 9th century. From China, playing cards likely spread to Europe and the Middle East through trading networks. By the 1300s, references to card games began appearing across Europe.
Different cultures created a variety of card games, but the standard 52-card deck familiar today emerged in France and England in the mid-15th century. The suit symbols, card ranks, corner designs, and two-color system were established during this era.
From their earliest days, playing cards were associated with gambling as people wagered money on card games. Special decks were also created for occult purposes like fortune-telling and cartomancy (divination using cards). Despite occasional bans on cards by European authorities, their popularity for gambling and mystery arts continued to grow.
While standard decks made no inherent spiritual claims, the context in which they were often used connected them with greed, deception, and the demonic realm in the minds of many. This association of cards with societal vices created an aura of moral suspicion that has continued to the present day.
Throughout their history, playing cards have maintained their recreational appeal across multiple cultures and classes. But it was their frequent use for gambling, deception, and exploitation that first caused moral concern over what was essentially benign material.
What Does the Bible Say About Gambling and Divination?
Scripture contains clear prohibitions against gambling and divination which have direct relevance to the playing card debate. In many instances, cards have been closely linked with these forbidden practices. To understand the biblical principles involved, we will briefly survey passages on gambling and divination.
The Bible depicts gambling or casting lots as an illegitimate means of gaining material goods. Rather than honest work, gamblers rely on mere chance in the hope of easy profits. Scripture associates gambling with laziness, love of money, and exploitation of the vulnerable. Consider a few verses on this topic:
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” (Proverbs 12:11, ESV)
“The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.” (Proverbs 21:6)
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
These passages portray gambling or similar schemes to gain wealth without labor as unwise, deceitful, and parasitical. Scripture exhorts honest work and warns against greed for money as the root of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Gambling stands opposed to these biblical principles.
Divination refers to various rituals or practices aimed at predicting the future and revealing hidden knowledge apart from God. These include astrology, witchcraft, interpreting omens, spiritism, and cartomancy. The Old Testament strongly prohibits all forms of divination, sorcery, and magic arts:
“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
Why does God condemn these practices so emphatically? Because they represent humans seeking knowledge, guidance and power from demonic sources rather than God Himself. The Lord denounces these practices because they undermine trust in Him and glorify the powers of darkness.
The New Testament echoes similar warnings, condemning sorcery and occult practices:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-20)
As followers of Christ, we must avoid any practice that involves trafficking with evil spirits. All forms of divination, sorcery and communing with darkness are completely off limits as they yield control of our lives to demonic influence.
In summary, the Bible clearly prohibits gambling and divination as unwise, deceptive, exploitative and opening doors to the demonic realm. These have been the very areas historically associated with standard playing cards. This should give us pause regarding the potential spiritual significance of cards.
Are Standard Playing Cards Evil?
Given the frequent use of playing cards for gambling and divination, some Christians have concluded that cards are inherently evil or “the devil’s picture book.” Is it fair to make such sweeping judgments? To answer this, we should reflect carefully on a few key points.
The Need for Discernment
As Christians, we must exercise wisdom and discernment rather than blanket condemnation on morally ambiguous matters. Playing cards have no inherent spiritual power – they are simply cardboard and ink. However, their frequent association with gambling and fortune-telling imbues them with a cultural context that can influence their use.
Does this mean we should label cards as irredeemably evil in themselves? No. Just as with alcohol, musical instruments, or dance, playing cards have potential for good or ill depending on how they are used. Their moral value depends entirely on what purpose and spirit governs their use. The biblical texts quoted earlier were condemning greedy attitudes and occult practices, not material objects themselves.
Potential for Redemption
The principle of Christian liberty allows believers freedom to act according to conscience and biblical precepts, even regarding matters not specifically forbidden in Scripture (Romans 14:1-4). With playing cards, if we exercise discernment and separateness from sinful associations, we can potentially use them in godly ways. The morality of cards depends on users, not something inherent in the cards themselves.
This is consistent with other areas of life where we must be discerning. For example, the Internet can be used to greedily consume pornography or charitably run a ministry website. A sexual relationship in marriage is blessed by God, while sexual immorality outside marriage is sin. In these examples, we weigh the activity based on its purpose, context and extent of biblical alignment.
The same balanced discernment should govern decisions about playing cards – looking at how, why and in what spirit they are used. This emphasis on edifying use, rather than banning everyday objects themselves, is a more mature biblical approach.
Mindfulness of Associations
Since playing cards do carry baggage from frequent associations with gambling and the occult, Christians who choose to play card games should be mindful of avoiding even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Avoiding decks with occult symbols, refusing to gamble, and not playing cards in environments with drinking or immorality are all wise precautions.
Being aware of cultural associations tied to an activity demonstrates maturity and honors others’ sensitivities. We should aim to use card games for positive purposes like family bonding, mental exercise, or friendly competition. The more we infuse card play with Christian fellowship and godly values, the more we can break down unhelpful cultural stigmas.
In conclusion, it takes discernment and wisdom to judge the complexities of playing cards and Christian morality. While regular decks have been abused in sinful ways historically, cards do not seem to be forbidden in Scripture intrinsically. Believers have liberty in Christ to play cards with clear consciences as long they do so mindfully, purposefully, and ethically. The morality rests not in the cards themselves, but in how Christians use them.
Practical Wisdom for Christians Using Playing Cards
Given the biblical principles we have surveyed, what might guide Christians who wish to use playing cards with discernment? Here are some practical suggestions:
- Avoid decks with occult symbols or imagery – Use either general standard decks or those made specifically for family audiences. Refrain from decks with tarot symbols, runes, or other spiritual images.
- Avoid playing cards in environments with alcohol, gambling or immorality – Be wise about the culture or atmosphere you allow card playing in, steering away from contexts promoting drunkenness or greed.
- Emphasize games of skill over chance – When possible, opt for games requiring mental ability, memory and strategy over those based on pure luck. This helps redeem cards as a wholesome mental exercise.
- Focus on positive social interaction – Make card playing an opportunity for healthy relationships and discussion, not idle time-wasting. Set times and parameters to keep it from becoming an unhealthy escape.
- Be aware of personal convictions – If your conscience remains troubled over cards, exercise freedom not to play. But also grant grace to others who feel liberty to play if done wisely.
- Make it an opportunity to witness – Use card playing occasions to build relationships with unbelievers and model Christlike character. Avoid a judgmental attitude but explain your moral reasoning if asked.
The main goal is using discernment to separate playing cards from ungodly associations, emphasizing their potential for good rather than responding legalistically. With guidelines like these, believers can enjoy cards while honoring moral boundaries and biblical obligations.
4 Wholesome Card Games for Christian Families
For those wishing to redeem cards for godly purposes, countless wholesome games exist that provide fun and mental enrichment. Here are 4 classic card games suitable for believers wanting to use playing cards constructively:
1. Crazy Eights
This fast-paced game uses a standard 52-card deck. Players take turns discarding cards and matching suits or values to be the first to get rid of their hand. It’s engaging for all ages and helps develop quick thinking and reflexes.
2. Go Fish
Go Fish is a simple matching game great for younger children. Using pairs like 2 aces or 3 kings, players ask others for cards and collect sets. It’s fun, easy to learn, and builds memory and grouping skills. Christian decks even create versions using biblical imagery and values.
Spoons involves observation, reflexes, and a bit of friendly chaos. Players try collecting four of a kind, then grab one of several “spoons” set out. Fast and fun for families, it offers a good group experience. Just set safe boundaries beforehand.
This classic game uses a 48-card deck and involves scoring points by melding cards into sets. Good for older kids and adults, it builds memory, strategy, and meld classification skills. Allowing good interaction, Pinochle provides quality family bonding.
Hundreds more wholesome card games exist including Memory, Speed, Hearts, Spit, and variations of Solitaire or Rummy. Biblically-wise families can enjoy the recreational and mental benefits of cards when guided by biblical values and played in a God-honoring spirit.
Objections Some Christians Have About Playing Cards
Even when avoiding evil associations and focusing on positive use, some believers still object to playing cards over concerns they may open subtle spiritual doors better left closed. What are some common objections?
1. Gambling promoters originally helped popularize cards – It’s true early card decks were commissioned by gamblers and aristocrats. But should this origin forever condemn them? Biblically speaking, no. Paul said some eat meat once offered to idols but their conscience remains undefiled since idols have no real power (1 Corinthians 8). The origin of a morally neutral object does not control its present use.
2. Cards are habit-forming and can become an unhealthy addiction – It’s true cards can become an obsessive compulsion, but so can myriad neutral activities. Eating food can become gluttony. The problem is not the cards but allowing any amusement to turn from a moderate pastime to a controlling addiction. Believers should guard their time and appetites, not just avoid cards.
3. Using cards makes me personally uncomfortable – If your conscience remains bothered, by all means abstain from playing cards! For you, it could promote moral confusion and distance from God. But do not project your convictions onto others, or assume cards are intrinsically evil because you reacted against their misuse. Grant other believers freedom to act according to their understanding.
4. Playing cards feel spiritually oppressive or dark – In certain dysfunctional environments, demonic oppression could possibly be attached to playing cards, depending on their abusive use. But instead of fearfully labeling all cards as dangerous, we can pray against and cast out any darkness in Jesus’ name. Light eliminates darkness – so renewing your mind with Scripture and godly fellowship will protect you from any occult influence through healthy use of cards.
These concerns represent valid reasons certain Christians may wish to avoid cards. However, the solution is not banning cards entirely but each person acting according to biblical precepts, conscience, and leading of the Holy Spirit for their life.
Conclusion and Summary
Throughout history, playing cards have stirred controversy in the church because of frequent connections to gambling and divination. This association caused many believers to reject using regular decks altogether given biblical prohibitions on greed and occultic practices.
Yet as we have seen, playing cards themselves are a morally neutral object that can be used for either good or evil. With intentionality and discernment, Christians can potentially redeem cards as a means of wholesome recreation, mental stimulation and positive social interaction. The key is using this pastime to glorify God and benefit others in the body of Christ.
The proper biblical response is not extreme rejection or embrace of playing cards. Rather, it is cultivating personal and corporate discernment over when and how to use cards in a way aligned with Scripture. Cards should be kept separate from any hint of gambling or the occult. Instead believers can emphasize their family, mental, and fellowship benefits.
In disputable matters of conscience, mature Christians grant each other grace and space. The one playing cards for godly purposes should not judge the abstainer, and vice versa. Each should follow personal conviction as unto the Lord.
While playing cards merit caution and wisdom given their checkered past, they can be transformed to bring joy and enrichment rather than vice. When done carefully and redemptively, games utilizing cards can become part of wholesome Christian living, to the glory of God.