What is casting lots?

by Matt Slick

casting lotsCasting lots was a method used by the Jews of the Old Testament and by the Christian disciples prior to Pentecost to determine the will of God.  Lots could be sticks with markings, stones with symbols, etc., that were thrown into a small area, and then the result was interpreted.  "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." (Prov. 16:33).  There are many instances of casting lots in the Bible.

"In the Bible the practice was used in a variety of circumstances, including (1) the selection of the scapegoat (Lv 16:8–10); (2) the allocation of the tribal inheritance in the Promised Land (Nm 26:55, 56; Jos 14:2; Jgs 1:3; etc.); (3) the determination of the families who had to relocate to give a proper distribution of the populace or of those warriors who had to go to war where only a percentage was required (Jgs 20:9; Neh 11:1); (4) the order of the priests and their duties (1 Chr 24:5–19; Neh 10:34); (5) the determination of an offender (Jos 7:14–18; cf. Prv 18:18)."1

Scripture cites many instances of people casting lots, and it seems to be used when important decisions needed to be made; but there was not enough guidance that had already been provided through wisdom and/or Scripture.  Also, God never condemned the casting of Lots in the Bible.

  • Leviticus 16:8, “And Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat."
  • 1 Chronicles 25:8, "And they cast lots for their duties, all alike, the small as well as the great, the teacher as well as the pupil."
  • Psalm 22:18, "They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots."
  • Matthew 27:35, "And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots."
  • Acts 1:26, "And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles."

In the New Testament, after Judas killed himself, the disciples cast lots to see who would be his replacement.  The lot fell to Matthias, but this was before Pentecost.  Since the New Testament does not have any instance of Christians casting lots to discern the will of God after Pentecost, we conclude that after the arrival of the Holy Spirit we do not need to rely on that method but instead must rely on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the further revelation found in the New Testament.

Following is a listing of verses dealing with casting lots as cited from the New Nave’s Topical Bible by Swanson, James, and Orville Nave, 1994.

Lev. 16:8; Num. 34:13; 36:2; Josh. 17:14; 18:6, 8, 10; 21:8; 1 Chr. 6:65; 24:31; 25:8; 26:13, 14; Neh. 10:34; 11:1; Esth. 3:7; 9:24; Psa. 22:18; Prov. 1:14; 16:33; Isa. 34:17; Ezek. 24:6; Joel 3:3; Obad. 1:11; Jonah 1:7; Mic. 2:5; Nah. 3:10; Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24; Acts 1:17, 26; 1 Pet. 5:3

  • 1. Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.

 

 

 

 
 
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