Undoubtedly we can agree that it is a sin to murder a person in cold blood. Why? Because the sixth commandment is clear: thou shalt not murder. Most likely you would also say a punch in the nose is a sin despite that fact that there is not a Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt not pop someone on their honker.”
How did you conclude that it is a sin to smack someone in the mush even though there is not a definitive Scripture? Because you put all of your Bible skills to work and reached a conclusion. That is precisely what we must do with the issue of smoking pot.
Because there are no specific Bible verses that instruct us to abstain from marijuana, we are left to employ all of our theological skills to determine a correct position on an issue that is suddenly thrust upon us due to the legalization of recreational marijuana in two states.
As the Bible is not crystal clear on the subject of pot smoking, we must proceed with caution and humility. Good Christians might disagree on different facets of a complicated issue. Let’s take it one cautious step at a time.
1. Lose your pre-understandings. We all have an opinion about this issue, but we must recognize the influences that helped us form our position and leave them at the door.
When I think of pot, I think of Cheech and Chong. I also think of multiple interviews with former drug addicts who have shared their pot horror stories. While these may be valid and eventually helpful, I must be aware that they have influenced me and I cannot let that happen. I must check all pre-understandings at the door and move forward methodically and Biblically.
Conversely, perhaps you know someone who consumes marijuana who appears to handle life well. Again, that information may be valuable later but you cannot let your pre-formed opinion based on experience influence your thinking. Fair enough?
2. What are the direct Bible verses that address my subject? This is going to be tricky as the Bible does not use the word marijuana. Are there any verses that apply directly to this issue? I think there is one, but only one.
The Greek word “pharmakeia” is used three times in the New Testament. This word broadly means: the use or the administering of drugs, poisoning, sorcery, magical arts, often found in connection with idolatry and fostered by it, the deceptions and seductions of idolatry.
What exactly does pharmakeia mean? That is the million dollar question. If pharmakeia (you can hear the word “pharmacy”) meant “any consumption of mind altering substances,” then this would be a no brainer.
Galatians 5:19-20: Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery (pharmakeia), enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Case closed if pharmakeia means mind altering substance consumption. But does it? Most translations render our word as either witchcraft or sorcery, but that does not mean that Willie Nelson is off the hook. Witches and sorcerers specialized in connecting followers with the netherworld by concocting mind-altering substances.
That leaves us with what appears to be a strong prohibition against drug use. Is it definitive? While I would love to say yes, it is not. The admonition against pharmakeia may simply be a warning to not practice divination. It might also include the prohibition against mind-altering substances. While I believe it encompasses both, I cannot say with absolute assurance. Some would disagree with me.
3. What are the in-direct verses that address our subject? There are many, but I am going to select three that give us the thrust of dozens of related verses.
The first verse is Galatians 5:19-20 (see above). Ongoing drunkenness is clearly labeled as a damnable sin. Remember, that does not mean that alcohol is in and of itself a sin; drunkenness is a sin, alcohol is not. Can we at least agree that getting stoned would be a reasonable application of the word drunkenness? But that does not mean that neither wine nor marijuana is necessarily a sin; at least not based on this verse alone.
Our second verse is Galatians 5:22-24: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
This verse is fairly representative of many, many verses that paint a picture of a Christian who is self-possessed, sober-minded, in control, not drunk, serious and mature. Does pot smoking produce that type of fruit?
Our third verse is Galatians 5:22-24 again. A Christian should be under the influence of the Spirit. If a person is in Christ, he is educated, led and controlled by the Spirit which leads to works of righteousness. A worldly man is led by the flesh lead which leads to sinful deeds. Where do you think pot smoking fits in this scenario?
4. How does the Gospel influence my understanding of the issue? This is tricky, but we must consider the entire thrust of Scripture and how it affects my decision.
The entire Bible is basically the story of God redeeming a sinful people for Himself through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus Christ, leading to works of righteousness and obedience to the command to make disciples who will obey God’s commands to the praise and glory of the Father.
You must thoughtfully, honestly consider this: does pot consumption fit into that picture? Does getting high sound like the Gospel?
5. What has been the historic position of the church? While it is true that the church is fallible, if there is a clear consistent understanding of an issue throughout history, we should be slow to cast it aside.
You will be hard pressed to find a church father or reformer who gave a thumbs up to pot. Again, they are not infallible but they weren’t idiots either. I am not aware of one respected saint of old who even hinted that cannabis should be an acceptable practice for the believer. That is not definitive but instructive.
6. What does recreational pot smoking do to my Christian witness? This is always a tricky issue, but we must not overlook it because it is challenging.
Even if pot smoking is not a sin, until the overwhelming majority of humans genuinely accept getting high as an acceptable practice, it might be a sin for a Christian to partake. Why? It ruins their testimony.
Take tattoos as an example. I do not believe that body art separate from a pagan practice is sinful. While the overall perception of tattoos in society is moving from “evil” to “cool,” until the vast majority of people do not think tats are sinful, I suggest that a Christian should abstain. I would not make it a law, but I would strongly urge a Christian to think long and hard before allowing Butch to practice his art on one’s body.
If I cause anyone to stumble, I am not acting in love and I am compromising my Christian confession. Clearly the world has not embraced pot as morally acceptable. It is only the inconsiderate, immature, unloving Christian who casually casts aside this consideration.
7. Let’s handle the big objections.
>Didn’t God create everything for us to use and enjoy? Yes and no. God has given us everything to enjoy rightly. While sex is good, adultery is not. Hemp should be used for warm stockings but not for getting high.
>Wine gives you a buzz, how is that any different from pot? Just because two different substances give the same general result, that does not make them equal. A car transports people to and fro. So does a rocket. Nobody confuses the two.
>If pot could be manufactured in a way that did not get you stoned or cause addiction, would it still be a sin? No, but then it wouldn’t really be pot, would it?
>What about medicinal usage? This requires a far more nuanced answer, but let me suggest the jury is still out on the benefits of medicinal marijuana. Assuming marijuana has medicinal benefits, would it not be wiser to pharmaceutically manufacture the components that offer patients relief rather than offer them a bong? Heroin can be used medicinally but I don’t hear anyone demanding that anyone should have the right to mainline.
>I know people who use pot wisely, are those valid experiences? While they are valid, I do not believe a few anecdotes are enough to overwhelm the preceding considerations. There may be a few “high functioning” pot users, but there are millions of people whose lives have been trashed courtesy of marijuana. Besides, are we certain that “high functioning pot users” like Justin Timberlake might not function even higher (no pun intended) without pot consumption?
>If pot were legalized, the deadly devastation historically associated with pot would go away. You know this? How? There is a reason the “pothead” stereotype exists.
While I understand how some of my Christian brothers and sisters might arrive at a nuanced position allowing some form of recreational pot consumption, I believe they are the overwhelming minority and their position fights against Scripture, history and common sense.
The evidence points to the conclusion that Christendom has always had toward the recreational use or non-pharmaceutical medicinal use of cannabis: it is a sin.