A Survey of Arguments Both for and against Recreational Marijuana Use

Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

Search for “marijuana” and “cannabis” in any online Bible, and your search will inevitably come up empty. That Scripture doesn’t address the issue of marijuana use directly, however, has not kept Christians from reflecting on it biblically and theologically—or even from attempting to find cannabis where our modern translations purportedly obscure it. As with any other ethical or political debate in the U.S. today, pastors and theologians occupy various, even opposing, positions in the marijuana debate. The following is a brief, introductory survey of popular arguments both for and against such use. It does not conclude with any ethical reflections of my own (or of other Thinker Sensitive contributors, for that matter), but rather provides a mere catalog of arguments for the sake of introducing readers to the issues.

Pro-Recreational Arguments

Several biblical arguments have been made supporting the recreational use of marijuana and its legalization. Of these, two main arguments stand out; the rest are fairly minor and have not received as much attention among proponents.

Perhaps the most widely used argument, first of all, is the argument from creation. Proponents of this argument contend that God created marijuana (Genesis 1:11–12a), deemed it good (Genesis 1:12b), and permitted us to consume it (Genesis 1:29).[1] Sometimes, this is cast in terms of Jesus creating marijuana himself (an inference made from John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16).[2]

A second common argument is that from the analogy of alcohol. This argument assumes that since the Bible approves of moderate alcohol consumption (cf. Proverbs 31:6–7; John 2:1–10), it also, by analogy, approves of moderate marijuana use.[3]

A variety of other, less prominent arguments have been made as well. According to the argument from the analogy of caffeine, for example, the frequent use of caffeine among Christians—widely accepted as morally permissible, despite its mind-altering properties—suggests the moral permissibility of the use of other mind-altering drugs such as marijuana.[4] Moreover, the argument from ancient Israel states not only that cannabis was sanctioned as a healing gift from God (Ezekiel 34:29; cf. Isaiah 18:4–5; Revelation 22:1–2), but also that it was used in the Israelite cult without censure (Exodus 30:22–29).[5] The issue centers on the identification of the Hebrew phrases qĕnēh-bośem (Exodus 30:23) and maṭṭāʿ lĕšēm (Ezekiel 34:29; translated “plant of renown” in the King James Version [KJV]). Closely related, finally, is the pragmatic argument from religious aid, which suggests that the use of marijuana can aid religious experience (i.e., as an aid to meditation or even Bible study).[6]

Anti-Recreational Arguments

A variety of counterarguments and other stand-alone arguments have been offered as well. These can be summarized as follows:

  1. Counterarguments[7]
    1. The argument against the argument from creation: The argument from creation does not address the problem that not all created plants are edible, nor does it address the fact that the original creation was impacted by sin, such that some created plants may no longer be in their original state.[8]
    2. The argument against the analogy of alcohol: Whereas wine is associated in the Bible with dietary concerns, table fellowship, and weddings, cannabis has an exclusively intoxicating function.[9] In other words, the two are not sufficiently analogous.
    3. The argument against the analogy of caffeine: Whereas marijuana temporarily impairs the reliable processing of reality, caffeine ordinarily sharpens that processing.[10] Like the previous analogy, then, the two are not sufficiently analogous.
    4. The argument against the argument from ancient Israel: There is no indication that cannabis is referenced in Exodus 30:22–29 or Ezekiel 34:29. qĕnēh-bośem (Exodus 30:23) refers to “sweet cane,” rather than cannabis, and maṭṭāʿ lĕšēm (Ezekiel 34:29), translated “the plant of renown” in KJV, refers to the place of planting, not to the plants themselves.[11] For example, the New American Standard Bible translates this phrase as “a renowned planting place,” while the New International Version translates it as “a land renowned for its crops.”
  2. Constructive arguments
    1. The argument from intoxication: Intoxication is forbidden in Scripture (e.g., Ephesians 5:18). Since recreational use of marijuana is almost always for the sake of intoxication, such use is also forbidden in Scripture.[12]
    2. The argument from mind alteration: Unlike caffeine, marijuana use jeopardizes the Christian’s ability to discern God’s will and to love him with all of his/her mind (Proverbs 23:32–33; Matthew 22:37 and parallels; 1 Corinthians 14:20).[13]
    3. The argument from the sanctified body: The sanctified human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:13, 19–20). This implies keeping it ready for the Spirit’s use: not dulling our God-given powers of seeing clearly, observing accurately, thinking soundly, and remembering helpfully.[14]
    4. The argument from silence: The Bible nowhere provides guidelines for the moderate use of drugs, as it does for wine and other alcoholic beverages. Hence, Scripture does not intend even for the moderate use of marijuana.[15]
    5. The argument from virtue: Since the medical data reveals that recreational marijuana use is detrimental to the well-being of the user, it is a vicious activity, an instance of the vice of intoxication, and as such is morally illicit.[16]

Undoubtedly, many other arguments could be added to these lists. However, this provides a good starting point for ongoing research. See, for example, “For Further Study” below.

Notes

[1] See, for example, Family Council on Drug Awareness, “Marijuana and the Bible,” Equal Rights 4 All, http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm. All access dates for websites in this post are as of February 13, 2018.

[2] Benjamin L. Corey, “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal,” Patheos, September 8, 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

[3] See Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, “Marijuana: A Theology,” HuffPost: The Blog, January 2, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/marijuana-christian-theology_b_4529031.html.

[4] This is an argument anticipated and argued against by John Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot,” Desiring God, January 9, 2014, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot.

[5] Family Council on Drug Awareness, “Marijuana and the Bible.”

[6] Brooks Thistlethwaite, “Marijuana.”

[7] Among the few posts and articles read in preparation for this post, no counterargument is proffered against the argument from religious aid.

[8] H. Wayne House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” Christian Research Journal 38, no. 5 (2015): 8.

[9] Ibid., 9.

[10] Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.”

[11] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 8–9.

[12] Ibid., 19; Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot”; Joe Carter, “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?,” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/.

[13] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 9; Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.”

[14] Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.” Note that Brooks Thistlethwaite appeals to the same texts (i.e., 1 Corinthians 6:13, 19–20), though in support of moderation and respect, not abstinence.

[15] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 9.

[16] Ezra Sullivan and Nicanor Austriaco, “A Virtue Analysis of Recreational Marijuana Use,” Linacre Quarterly 83, no. 2 (2016): 158–73.

For Further Study

Breeden, Tom, and Mark L. Ward Jr. Can I Smoke Pot? Marijuana in Light of Scripture. Minneapolis: Cruciform Press, 2016.

Brooks Thistlethwaite, Susan. “Marijuana: A Theology.” The Blog, January 2, 2014. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/marijuana-christian-theology_b_4529031.html.

Carter, Joe. “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/.

Corey, Benjamin L. “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal.” Patheos, September 8, 2016. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

Driscoll, Mark. Puff or Pass: Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not? N.p.: Mars Hill Church, 2012. E-book available at http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/bethany_baptist_church/puff-or-pass_marijuana.pdf.

Family Council on Drug Awareness. “Marijuana and the Bible.” Equal Rights 4 All. http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm.

Frame, John. The Doctrine of the Christian Life. A Theology of Lordship. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008. S.v. “Health and Safety,” 739–43.

House, H. Wayne. “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?” Christian Research Journal 38, no. 5 (2015): 8–9. Accessible online at http://www.equip.org/article/bible-teach-cannabis-plant/.

Lacine, Jeff. “Marijuana to the Glory of God.” Desiring God, January 7, 2017. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/marijuana-to-the-glory-of-god.

Merritt, Jonathan. “What Evangelicals Miss in the Marijuana Debate.” Religion News Service, January 27, 2014. http://religionnews.com/2014/01/27/evangelicals-missing-marijuana-debate/.

Parlor, Branson. “Medical Marijuana and a Theology of Pot.” Think Christian, November 27, 2012. https://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/medical-marijuana-and-a-theology-of-pot.

Piper, John. “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.” Desiring God, January 9, 2014. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot.

Rochford, James. “The Ethics of Marijuana Use.” Evidence Unseen. http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/practical-theology/the-ethics-of-marijuana-usage/.

Storms, Sam. “10 Things You Should Know about Marijuana and the Christian.” SamStorms.com, March 13, 2017. http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/10-things-you-should-know-about-marijuana-and-the-christian.

Sullivan, Ezra, and Nicanor Austriaco. “A Virtue Analysis of Recreational Marijuana Use.” Linacre Quarterly 83, no. 2 (2016): 158–73.

Van Wicklin, John F. “Drugs.” In The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity: An A-to-Z Guide to Following Christ in Every Aspect of Life, edited by Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens, 318–21. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

About the Author
Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

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