The Bible on Smoking

By Ernie Sprinkel

One might ask why an article on smoking or the use of tobacco is appearing in an issue that is designed to deal with “moral issues.” Is smoking a moral issue? Or maybe the better question would be, “Is smoking a sin?” Those who try to defend the habit of smoking are quick to point out that the Bible does not have a “thou shall not” clause concerning smoking. They are right, but does this mean that smoking is not a sin. I believe this attitude stems from a lack of understanding of what sin is. Sin is defined in the Scripture as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, NASB). The Scriptures not only teach the negative (“thou shall not”), but the positive (“thou shall”). If we violate one of the “thou shalls” we are as guilty of “lawlessness” as if we had violated one of those “thou shall nots.” “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17; NASB). I want, in this article, to show how smoking violates those basic principles, those basic guide-lines, the “thou shalls” of Christian living.

Love of the Brethren

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35; NASB). “In one year, passive smoking causes 37,000 deaths from heart disease, 3,825 deaths from lung cancer, and 1,200 deaths from other cancers” (Glantz & Parmley, UCSF 1991). “Children of parents who smoke have more bronchitis and pneumonia during the first year of life and more respiratory illnesses in subsequent years than children of nonsmokers” (Pedueira FA, et al. Involuntary Smoking and the Incidence of Respiratory Illness During the First Year of Life, Pediatrics 1985; 75:594-597). With the information available today, we now know the harm passive smoke does to those in the presence of the smoker. “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:24; NASB). If I am not looking out for my neighbor by smoking in his presence am I not sinning? Or how about “love … does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5; NASB). Why do people smoke? Is it not for their own pleasure, their own self gratification. When people smoke in the presence of those who do not, is that not selfish? Love, the love of the Bible, is a love which always takes the other person into consideration first. Does the smoker truly do that?


In John 15:1-6 we are told by Jesus that we are to bear fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23 we read of the “fruit of the Spirit” one aspect of which is “self-control.” Have you ever heard a smoker say, “I smoke to show my self-control”? I do not think I have. “Nicotine in tobacco products is as addictive as heroin and cocaine” (Surgeon General’s Report, 1989). When a person becomes addicted to anything he is no longer in control of self. Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27; NASB). If you are a slave to tobacco, you do not have control of your own body, but it is the tobacco that has control over you. Thus, the question is, should I be a slave to anything but Jesus Christ?


I once heard a man who was defending the use of tobacco products say that “of all the arguments against smoking, that of example was the strongest.” Though all the arguments are strong, the one made from the point of view of the Christian example is very strong. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2-3; NASB). “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Every day people see us. Brothers and sisters, you are the only letter of Christ that some people will ever read. What can the worldly learn about our Lord by seeing you smoke? Is smoking a good work by which you can let your light shine and thus glorify your father who is in heaven? The worldly will only find justification for what they do and God will never be glorified.

One might then ask the question, “Does everything I do have to glorify God?” The answer to that question is simple, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31; NASB). There it is, simple and to the point. What fits into the category “what-ever you do” must be done to glorify God. This would include smoking. For smoking to be acceptable, not a sin, someone is going to have to explain how a Christian can glorify God with their use of tobacco products. We are all to teach both by word and action. Is there anyone who wants the smoking Christian teaching his children that it is just fine to smoke or that it is not only OK but it has redeeming qualities? I think not, but is that not what is happening when all the smokers gather outside the building and smoke? Are they not teaching by their example that smoking is accept-able to God? Sure they are! When those of the world drive by the building and see brethren smoking outside the building what do they think? This argument alone should be enough to convince anyone, who will look with an open mind, that smoking is a sin.

Harm to Oneself!

This is an age old argument. Should a Christian do any-thing, whatever it is, that will knowingly do harm to his own body? “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19; NASB). There it is, that same old verse, but as long as this argument rages this verse will continue to come up. Why? Because it is pertinent, that’s why. Brothers and sisters, we are God’s creation not just in the spiritual but also in the physical. If I am to glorify God in my body (1 Cor. 6:20), how can I when I am killing myself day in and day out? Note the following: “Cigarette smoking causes more premature deaths each year than do all of the following causes of death together: AIDS, drug abuse, alcohol, automobile accidents, suicide and homicide” (Warner, K.E. Health and Economic Implications of a Tobacco – Free Society. Journal of Amer. Med. Assoc. 1987). Also “Smoking is the major preventable cause of premature death in the United States” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1988 Reducing the Health Consequences of Smoking.).

Brethren who continue to smoke are killing themselves as assuredly as if they put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger, all-be-it slower. If we knew a brother or sister who ® was about to commit suicide we would do everything we could to stop him. We would not just sit idly by and let it happen. But I am afraid that is just what we do when wejustify smoking. For those who do not believe this is a strong argument against smoking read Romans 12:1: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (NASB). This same requirement exists for the smoker as well as the non-smoker. Can the smoker present his body as a “holy sacrifice, acceptable to God”? Please explain to me how.


I once heard someone ask the question, “Are you then condemning all those who smoke and do not repent to hell?” My answer to that is that I condemn no one. Either the Scriptures teach something or they do not. Once again, it is just that simple. I do believe that all those who have over-looked this problem in the past and those who have tried to justify the use of tobacco over the years have in fact, al-lowed brethren to continue to live in a life of sin. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, what-ever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8; NASB). Brethren, until we can fit smoking into this verse, we as Christians should not do it! I, a one-time smoker, who has repented of his use of tobacco, offer you these words in the love of Christ with the hope that any Christian who continues to smoke may read these things and have a more complete knowledge of the truth, repent and quit.

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 13, p. 20-21
July 4, 1996