Is Smoking Directly Called a Sin? Definitive Bible Verses

Is Smoking Sin? Bible Verses

Ever since I can remember, my father was a smoker. His preference was Viceroy, in the gold foil pack. He’d buy them by the carton at the gas station, or the grocery store, about once a week.

I can remember him sitting at the kitchen table after supper. He’d push back from the table a bit, lean back in his chair, and tap a cigarette out of the gold pack into his hand. After placing the filter tip into his mouth, he’d reach down and flick open his little chrome zippo, spark the wheel and light up. I’ll always remember the “snikt-snacht” sound of that little zippo as it opened and closed.

Honestly, whenever I remember my Dad during those early years growing up, I picture my dad with a cigarette in his hand, or his mouth.

In spite of the fact that I loved my Dad, and I admired him in many ways, I somehow never felt tempted to pick up his smoking habit.

But, I’ve always wondered if smoking is a sin, or not? Maybe you’ve wondered that, too?

If we go to the scriptures, there’s not much there. At least, nothing specifically like “Thou shalt not smoke!” or “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Smoking shall be for the man, yet not for the woman,” or anything like that.

Curiously enough, if you search the word “smoking” you only find 3 references in the entire Bible, and none of those 3 are about smoking cigarettes or cigars, but about visions of God’s power, and one about burning sacrifices to God. That’s it.

There are, equally, a large number of verses in the bible that mention “smoke”, but again, those are almost all about “offering up in smoke” a sacrifice to God on the altar. Nothing about inhaling smoke into your lungs as a form of leisure.

This is odd, if you take into consideration the fact that drug use, and that would include smoking various substances, was common during Biblical times. So, the absence of any mention of smoking – even to condemn it as an element of pagan sacrificial idol worship – is strange. We don’t know exactly why the Bible is so deathly silent on the topic, whether or pro or con, but at any rate, the fact remains that the Bible has nothing to say on the subject.

Well, other than to tell us that we should not overdo the use of intoxicants – usually alcohol – and to warn us that our bodies are the temple of God and therefore we should be careful what we do to them.

Now, that last part is usually quoted as a verse against smoking, and drinking too much. But, is that how we should understand them? Let’s see.

The first reference is in 1 Corinthians 3:15-17:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

The second reference is just a few chapters later in the same epistle where Paul says again:

Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body. 1 Cor. 6:18-20

But, it should be noted that, in both cases, Paul is not talking about smoking or drinking. In the first example, Paul seems to merely be making the point that people are the temple of God, and not any man-made buildings. So, it’s not really about anything other than that. His statement that “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him” appears to be more of a warning against those who persecute the Body of Christ and not intended to be a warning for us, per se.

In the second example, the verse is very specifically a warning against engaging with prostitutes, as indicated by the verses directly previous to it:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, The two shall become one flesh. But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 1 Cor. 6:15-17

So, yes, in general the New Testament scriptures do teach us that our bodies are the temple of God, but this is not about smoking or drinking.

In fact, there’s no indication that Paul would have even been ok with someone applying those verses to smoking or drinking. Why? Because Paul himself never talks about drinking or eating things this way.

Here’s how Paul talked about drinking and eating:

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving… 1 Timothy 4:4

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 1 Timothy 5:23

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations. ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20–23

So, here, and in several other places, Paul seems not to be very concerned at all about Christians drinking alcohol. His attitude seems to be that it’s ok for digestion, and that it’s something good that God created for us to enjoy, and that we shouldn’t get too legalistic about the “Do’s and Don’ts” of religious piety.

Now, granted, Paul does say this about alcohol:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Eph. 5:18

But, to be honest, this might not be as cut-and-dried as you might think. Sure, Paul says “Don’t get drunk on wine” as if that is a command not to get drunk. But, it may also be an example of a Hebrew idiom known as a Limited Negative. This is where you make a statement that appears to say “Not A, but B”, like:

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life. John 6:27

In this case, Jesus doesn’t mean for us to understand that we should NOT work for food. That would mean that Jesus wants us all to quit our jobs and start begging for our food. But, that would be foolish. What Jesus actually means is this: “Do not work ONLY for natural sustenance, but MAINLY for your spiritual sustenance”

See that? It’s an idiom that stresses one thing as compared to another thing.

Here’s another example:

He who believes in me believes not in me, but in him who sent me John 12:44

Meaning: “He who believes in me, believes NOT ONLY in me, but ALSO in him who sent me.”

And another example:

…for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Matthew 10:20

Meaning: “It is not ONLY you speaking, but it is MAINLY the Spirit of God speaking through you.”

See that? Jesus talks like this all time. Once you begin to notice the pattern, you can see that Jesus talks like this quite often.

Now, let’s go back and re-read what Paul said in Ephesians:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Eph. 5:18

It’s quite possible that what Paul intends to communicate is that we should not ONLY get drunk on wine, but we should ESPECIALLY be filled with the Spirit.

Based on the previous examples where Jesus uses these Limited Negatives to stress a point, it’s quite possible that his is exactly what Paul means.

Still, we need to answer our original question: “Is smoking directly called a sin?” The answer is, “No.”

Instead, we’re left with an overall impression from scripture – especially from Jesus and Paul in the New Testament – that God is less concerned with what goes into our bodies, and more concerned with what comes out of our heart, as Jesus said:

Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. Mark 7:15

Smoking might not be very healthy for you, so you may not want to light up without first investigating the side-effects. But the Scriptures are very libertarian when it comes to issues like this. Our God ultimately trusts us to make up our own minds about what we do – or don’t do. We may have to live with the consequences of our actions, but at the end of the day, God hasn’t given us any commands to either partake or not partake.

If anything, the scriptures seem to be concerned with much greater questions, like “Loving God and loving others.”

Keith Giles
Keith Giles
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. He is now a best selling author and co-hosts the "Heretic Happy Hour" podcast on iTunes, Spotify and Podbean. He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

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