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Is smoking a sin?

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The Bible never mentions smoking. The Bible contains no example of a person cultivating, drying, or smoking tobacco, and it issues no command governing the use of the tobacco plant. So, there is no verse that says, “Thou shalt not smoke tobacco”; neither is there a passage that describes the practice, positively or negatively. The most we can do is infer principles from Scripture that may apply to smoking.

One biblical principle is that we are not to allow ourselves to become “mastered” by anything. “‘Everything is permissible for me’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12, BSB). Smoking is addictive, due in large part to the presence of nicotine, a naturally occurring chemical in the tobacco plant. Are those who are addicted to nicotine being “mastered” by it? If so, then it is sin.

Another principle that may apply to smoking tobacco is that our bodies do not ultimately belong to us: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). According to health groups such as the American Lung Association, smoking is an unhealthy practice, being “a main cause of lung cancer and COPD. It also is a cause of coronary heart disease, stroke and a host of other cancers and diseases” (“Health Effects of Smoking,” citing the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, “The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General,” 2014). Are smokers knowingly damaging their bodies? If so, then it is sin.

A third biblical principle is that all we do should be done “for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Can a smoker light up for the glory of God? If not, then it is sin.

Charles Spurgeon, who was quite open about his appreciation for cigars, publicly defended his smoking. Spurgeon firmly believed that “to smoke tobacco is [not] in itself a sin. It may become so, as any other indifferent action may, but as an action it is no sin. . . . I will not own to sin when I am not conscious of it” (from Spurgeon’s letter to The Daily Telegraph, quoted by Pike, G., The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 5 vols., 1991, 5:138–40).

Spurgeon insisted that his use of tobacco was a small matter. Alluding to 1 Corinthians 10:31, he said, “I feel clear in my conscience before God. . . . No Christian should do anything in which he cannot glorify God; and this may be done, according to Scripture, in eating and drinking and the common actions of life” (ibid.).

In 1874, Spurgeon addressed from the pulpit the issue of smoking. The next week, a Christian magazine reported Spurgeon’s words:

If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, “Thou shalt not smoke,” I am ready to keep it; but I haven’t found it yet. I find ten commandments, and it’s as much as I can do to keep them; and I’ve no desire to make them into eleven or twelve.

The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sins, not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples. At the same time, I know that what a man believes to be sin becomes a sin to him, and he must give it up. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” [Rom. 14:23]. . . .

Why, a man may think it a sin to have his boots blacked. Well, then, let him give it up, and have them whitewashed. I wish to say that I’m not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don’t feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God (quoted in Christian World, Sept. 25, 1874).

There are other godly men who are or have been smokers. Is criticism of them deserved? Or are they right that smoking is a matter of conscience? Is smoking one of the “disputable matters” of Romans 14:1?

In the matter of smoking, the believer in Christ should weigh the benefits and risks, consider the health warnings, bear in mind his or her personal testimony, and, above all, look to Christ. Then an informed, prayerful decision can be made. If a smoker is convicted that the habit is sinful, then it is time to forsake the smoking and, with God’s help, overcome it. Non-smoking brothers and sisters in Christ should help bear the burden (Galatians 6:2), eschewing judgmentalism and striving for grace.

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This page last updated: November 28, 2023