Allen C. Tomlinson
As a Christian and pastor in the Reformed Protestant tradition, I do not believe we have studied and applied the Scriptures properly when we interpret the biblical text in a “surface” manner only. For example, when people reject the doctrine of the Trinity because the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, I believe they are reading the Bible in a very superficial manner. If all the elements of the doctrine of the Trinity are found in the Bible, (and they are), then the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity even though it does not use the word “Trinity.” The Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, in the New Testament documents, interpret the Old Testament in a doctrinal or theological manner, that is, “connecting the dots” of the various affirmations in the Word of God to arrive at “the big picture,” i.e., major conclusions. For example, the Lord Jesus Christ taught that if the Sadducees had “connected the dots” correctly, they would have known that God’s people rise again physically, even though there may not have been a direct Old Testament statement to that effect in those specific terms (Matt. 22:29–32). Though the word “marijuana” does not occur in the Bible, and the people who lived during the biblical times may or may not have made use of this particular plant to achieve a “high” or even a “buzz,” I believe the Bible does speak very directly to the question, “Should a Christian use marijuana?”
This article is not primarily concerned with the possible physical health issues, or even with the more serious long-term mental issues that have been connected with using marijuana. Such matters should be a concern to the Christian who desires to live in a way that pleases the God of the Bible. Our physical bodies and our minds are wonderful gifts from God, of which we are stewards. It is a sin to be poor stewards of God’s gifts; it is to show ourselves horrible ingrates, and it runs against the command to do all to God’s glory, whether we eat or drink or whatever we do (1 Cor. 10:31). There is research that indicates physical and mental long-term health issues in the use of this drug. So if I did choose to come at this subject from the viewpoint of the Christian’s stewardship of his physical and mental health, I could build a very strong case for the Christian not using marijuana, as far as recreational use is concerned.
This article is not dealing with doctor-prescribed medical use of marijuana, for I am not qualified to speak to the subject. There are some medical uses of marijuana though, interestingly, it appears that at least many medical benefits can be experienced without the hallucinogenic affect by using the prescription drug Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, this article is concerned with recreational use of marijuana, not the doctor-prescribed use.
I am also not primarily considering this subject from the viewpoint of human law. A Christian is to obey the law of the land (Rom. 13:1–7; 2 Pet. 2:13–17). Even if the punishment for a crime is minimal, we are not to obey the law of the land only because we are afraid of it, but “for conscience sake” (Rom. 13:5). The law of the land can change almost overnight, for the nations of this earth are, for the most part, directed by the sinful whims of human rulers and not by the unchangeable Law of the Lord. Though an argument can be made for not using marijuana because it violates the law of the land at a given time, that cannot be the most important argument for the believer.
My primary concern regarding professing Christians using marijuana is a biblical and directly spiritual one. From this point of view, I believe there is an issue with an intentional or unintentional connection with the occult and idolatry in the use of marijuana. The use of marijuana also violates the spirit of the prohibitions against drunkenness. Finally, the use of marijuana and other mind-altering drugs leads to other sins, especially against other people, but also against God and his moral Law. The practice of using marijuana is not appropriate for the Christian.
The occult, or the use of “magic arts,” has historically and in nearly every place made use of natural products to produce a “high” or a sense of heightened consciousness, which many practitioners have even considered a “religious experience.” When I was a graduate student at Indiana Wesleyan University, a theology professor showed us a film documenting the “religious experience” that those who use hallucinogenic drugs often describe. Some users even go so far as to affirm, “I find God when I smoke weed” or use some other drug. Such statements can be found online today.
Some may say in response to this, “But even if some users are doing this as a religious experience, that does not mean all of us do.” However, the Bible addresses the occult and, in its use of language to refer to the occult, appears to be addressing the use of a drug-induced “high” in contrast to the genuine spirituality of the gospel and as a contrast to joy in the Holy Spirit, which is experienced only in Jesus Christ. In Revelation 22:15, “sorcerers” are among those who are forever outside the City of God, i.e., those in the Lake of Fire. The word we translate “sorcerer” is the plural form of φάρμακος (pharmakos), which is part of a “family” of words in Koine Greek meaning, “Sorcerer,” “poison,” or “drugs.” This is the word from which we get our word “pharmaceutical,” because one of its meanings historically was “drugs.” Magicians would (and still do?) make use of various drugs from nature to manifest their “power.” These drugs would give a “high” and a sense of being “oracles of supernatural truth.” These drugs could be used to give others a sense of having connected with a higher realm through the administration by the “powerful” sorcerer. This would be a potion. These drugs could also be used to destroy enemies with “supernatural power,” from the viewpoint of the onlookers of that time who were unaware of the involvement of drugs. Hence the related meaning of pharmakos, “poison.”
It seems to me that the Holy Spirit’s use of this word for “sorcerer,” which emphasizes among other things a drug-induced “spirituality” or “connection to the supernatural,” should give a committed believer in Jesus Christ pause. It should create a concern to avoid a practice and a product historically and practically connected to the occult: Satan’s false religion which tries to imitate the one true religion of the gospel.
God never forbids the drinking of wine or even of stronger drink in his Word, but even commends it as a gift from him to his people, to be received with thankfulness. For example, Deuteronomy 14:26 states: “spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.” This legislation concerns God’s people giving the LORD their tithes. They were to take them to Jerusalem, but if the journey was too long to take their actual tithes, they could purchase replacements in Jerusalem themselves, to offer to the LORD, as they rejoiced before him. This tithe would be used to provide for the earthly needs of the priests and Levites, including “wine and strong drink.” This would make no sense if alcoholic consumption was wrong in itself.
We find the same thing in other parts of God’s Word. For example, the Lord Jesus turned the water into wine in John chapter 2. The text makes it clear that he made somewhere between 120 to 130 gallons of wine. And it was the best wine according to the wine taster! It was not unfermented wine as has been suggested by some who reject all alcoholic consumption by the Christian. It was the really “good stuff.” We see the same word used in regard to the so-called “Good Samaritan” pouring “oil and wine” into the open wounds of the poor man who had been left for dead. Why wine? Because it was fermented, and the alcohol was used with the oil as “medicine.” Plain grape juice would not have the same advantage at all.
Wine and strong drink, like the other earthly gifts of God, are to be received and used according to his rules, and we are to be thankful, setting them apart by God’s Word and prayer (1 Tim. 4:3–4). That is, we are to use them in accordance with the Scriptures while setting them apart in prayer by giving thanks for them.
So why is drunkenness always forbidden in God’s Word? Abraham’s nephew Lot sins by getting drunk, even though he is a “just,” that is, “justified” man. The Christian is not to live contrary to God’s standard by “revelry and drunkenness” or by “lewdness and lust” (Rom. 13:13 NKJV). Instead, by way of contrast, he is to live in the light of the gospel (v. 12) by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 14). “Drunkenness” is a work of the flesh and, unless there is repentance by the grace of Jesus Christ, those who practice it “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19–21; 1 Cor. 6:9–11).
Why, if strong drink and wine are among God’s good gifts, is drunkenness itself so wrong? Drunkenness involves a lack of moderation in the use of alcoholic beverages; it is drinking too much. However, we are never condemned for drinking too much water in Scripture. It is not just the lack of moderation, but the fact that in drinking too much alcohol one loses control of his own thinking and bodily use so that he is controlled by the alcohol instead of controlling it. The drunk loses perspective, even though often at the time he is drinking overmuch he thinks that he is getting perspective. The drunk considers himself in a joyful state and as having a good time, even though he is really being pulled down and losing control, and will suffer for it afterwards.
Bringing in too much alcohol can be compared to smoking marijuana or using other hallucinogens. Thinking one has a heightened sense of reality, a bigger perspective, and that here is true joy, the user actually is losing perspective on reality, is losing control, and often suffers for it afterwards. The suffering can be an effect of the drug itself, as in worse depression after the artificial “high,” or suffering can come about because of the breaking down of relationships caused by the wrong, erratic, and indolent life of the user while under the influence.
Again, surely the parallel between drunkenness and getting “high” (or even “a buzz”) should concern the true Christian who does not want to live for himself but for the one who died for him and rose again to enable his people to live for God (2 Cor. 5:15).
Bringing together the sin involved in the occult (including the use of drugs to make one “high”) and the sin involved in drunkenness, we find the Bible condemns false approaches to getting “high” or becoming “spiritual” in such a way as idolatry. This is in contrast to the experience of the Christian finding new life in the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:2). The Bible contrasts drunkenness to being filled or controlled by God’s Spirit and Word because both ways of life lay claim to elevating the inner person. However, one of these ways gives true and eternal life, while the other destroys earthly life in the long run and eventually, if the sinner remains impenitent, results in hell fire for eternity.
In Acts 2:1–17 the apostles and other faithful disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit in that unique event of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit in a new covenant fullness was given to the blood-bought church. All of the observers recognized this as an unusual and powerful event. Some claimed it was the result of drunkenness. The Apostle Peter rebutted such an evaluation, saying that it was the Holy Spirit. Effects of the one experience had something in common, at least outwardly, with the effects of the other experience. What is common, outwardly, to both drunkenness and being filled with the Holy Spirit? An outside factor is entering the person that controls the person’s thinking and actions.
The Apostle Paul picks up on this same point in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” There is a pattern found in Ephesians 5:18 through 6:9 which is repeated in the same order in Colossians 3:16–4:1. In Ephesians being controlled by the Spirit leads to the proper self-control as far as public worship, daily gratitude to God, and personal relationships. In Colossians being controlled by God’s Word as we keep bringing it into our minds and hearts leads to the proper self-control as far as public worship, daily gratitude to God, and personal relationships. To be filled with the Spirit takes place as we seek the power and grace of God by hiding God’s Word in our hearts. All of this is contrasted to “being drunk with wine.”
The sin involved in drunkenness is ultimately the sin of idolatry. It is trying to find joy and experience reality on a higher level by this natural substance instead of by the gospel. When either drunkenness or hallucinogenic drugs are used for a “high,” this is an alternate approach to reality and wholeness, to that approach which we call the gospel. It is in Jesus Christ that the Christian finds help in times of discouragement; it is in Jesus Christ that the Christian experiences the joy of salvation and renewal of one’s thinking and life; it is in Jesus Christ that the Christian finds wholeness. Any other approach, including that of mind-altering drugs, is a form of idolatry. “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
The Bible commands the Christian not to practice anything that gives unnecessary offense to either a fellow Christian, contrary to the law of love (Rom. 14:13), or to the unbeliever who will be offended by behavior that is at the very least questionable (1 Cor. 10:31–33). As a Christian I do not live to please myself, but to please God and to serve others by encouraging fellow believers and being a positive testimony to unbelievers.
The ill effects of using mind-altering drugs are usually in themselves sins against God and others. Driving under the influence, stealing for the purpose of buying drugs, misusing provided funds for drugs instead of their intended purpose, violent or indolent behavior that violates God’s Word and harms others, and lying to cover up one’s actions, are all sinful consequences of such use. All of this is sin and the gospel believer should distance himself as far as possible from anything that leads to such sins.
The Church of Jesus Christ has rejected the use of any mind-altering drug as a means of experiencing joy, of finding wholeness, or of finding God. It represents another solution to our problems as fallen people than the one solution approved by our Savior, which is his gospel. Thus, the church has been properly concerned with:
If a believer in Jesus Christ, regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will seek God’s will in his Word, and make an honest examination of the facts surrounding the use of marijuana and all mind-altering drugs, he will be able to “discern between good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). He will find his joy, his wholeness, and his life, in God’s truth and not in any drug-induced “high.”
 This article was written for the congregation that I have been blessed to shepherd for thirty years, First Church of Merrimack, Merrimack, NH (OPC).
 I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this subject, in which I especially concentrated on the interpretive method of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. “The Analogy of Faith: The Biblical, Logical and Reformed Rule of Bible Interpretation” (Whitefield Theological Seminary, 1998).
 See, for example, “Drug Facts,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, accessed February 23, 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana.
 As a pastor of nearly forty years, this author has noted the relationship between occult experiences and the use of drugs that lessen normal inhibitions. The devil seems to find a mind that is “high” easier prey. Why give the devil an open door into one’s mind and life?
Allen Tomlinson is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of the First Church of Merrimack (OPC), New Hampshire. Ordained Servant Online, March 2019.