The spirit of libertinism is the new asceticism. Our culture is quickly becoming one giant meme that denies any form of self-denial. Instead of cloisters filled with monks assiduously demonstrating the mortification of the flesh, we are surrounded by a growing number of people who pride themselves on finding new ways to affirm the lust of the flesh. Unfortunately, the Church has not been immune to the prevalent moral sickness of self-affirming freedom.
For many who claim to be followers of Jesus, the concept of Christian liberty has reached the level of a sacrament. No matter how grounded in the authority of the Bible, words of even mere caution are loudly shamed as expressions of legalism. Challenges to license are one of the new heresies. And not just within the progressive Christian orbit; many mainstream evangelicals have staked out sacrosanct positions on Christian liberty, and woe to anyone who dares question the wisdom of engaging in pet activities. And the freedom to smoke marijuana is one of the fastest growing claims of Christian liberty by otherwise conservative Christians. Unfortunately, solid exegesis of the Bible doesn’t allow for the recreational use of marijuana by followers of Jesus.
To be clear, the Bible doesn’t specifically say anything about marijuana. The Bible also doesn’t specifically condone or condemn the intentional running of red lights while street racing. However, the Bible does have plenty to say about obeying authority and preserving life. Running red lights violates both principles. Likewise, while the Bible may not directly mention the recreational use of marijuana, the Bible’s condemnation of drunkenness is applicable.
The Bible’s stricture against drunkenness is well-attested in verses like Ephesians 5:18, which commands, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” Many other verses and passage explicitly forbid drunkenness while others frame the discussion in the sharpest of warnings. One such passage is found in Proverbs 23:29-53:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.
On top of the obviously negative social and health ramifications of drunkenness, God’s people are called to be set apart from drunkenness because God is holy. According to the late theologian Louis Berkhof in his seminal book Systematic Theology, “The Hebrew word for ‘to be holy,’ quadash, is derived from the root qad, which means to cut or separate.” Berkhof goes on to develop the doctrine of God’s holiness; one of the aspects he highlights is the ethical dimension of God’s holiness. “The fundamental idea of the ethical holiness of God is also that of separation, but in this case it is a separation from moral evil or sin. In virtue of His holiness, God can have no communion with sin.”
The nations that surrounded the Israelites celebrated drunkenness; even the Greeks with their public masks of Platonic staidness had a culture that reveled in drinking parties. In the book Drink and Be Merry: Wine and Beer in Ancient Times, commissioned by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, museum curator and author Michael Dayagi-Mendels highlights how the Greeks gave themselves over to a debased mind during their famous symposiums. God’s expectation that His people refrain from getting drunk and the accompanying lifestyle fit under the umbrella of the call to affirm and demonstrate God’s holiness. By not participating in the cultural lifestyle of drinking parties and the subsequent drunkenness and loss of inhibitions, the Israelites demonstrated that they were set apart.
It’s not difficult to see the parallels between the drunkenness of ancient cultures and our modern society. In and of itself, drunkenness is fraught with health and moral pitfalls that are only exacerbated when society winks at, if not downright encourages, a lifestyle characterized by intoxication. It’s next to impossible for anyone to deny the negative effects on both individual and societal morality brought about by drunkenness; whether people care or not is another issue. Unfortunately, like God’s people of old, we are surrounded by licentiousness and a total disregard for ethics rooted in God’s commands; our society’s approval of intoxication is an example of this. In contrast, Christians should demonstrate an allegiance to the teachings of the Bible—teachings that prohibit drunkenness.
Of course, the challenge is often raised that being intoxicated from the consumption of alcohol doesn’t apply to marijuana. Christians who believe that the recreational use of marijuana falls under their constantly moving target of Christian liberty argue that getting drunk and getting high are not comparable. That argument is nonsense.
Those who ingest marijuana for recreational purposes do so for the high. People who smoke weed or eat edibles are chasing the intoxicating effects of THC. And it takes far less marijuana than it does alcohol for a person to become intoxicated. According to a study published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, the average person only needs to ingest less than 7 mg of THC in order to become intoxicated. In non-technical language, four drags on a joint are all someone needs to get high. Breaking it down even further, there’s no reason for anyone to recreationally ingest marijuana except to get high.
Whatever differences exist between being intoxicated as a result of ingesting marijuana versus consuming alcohol are irrelevant in reference to the Bible’s strictures against drunkenness. While physically feeling different for most people, the end result is the same – an intoxication that leads to loss of control and lowered inhibitions. Study after study, including the BJCP study cited above, demonstrates that the intoxication produced by ingesting marijuana impairs critical thinking skills and judgment, and lowers inhibitions.
Applying the Bible’s instructions about intoxication to the use of marijuana is consistent with the internal and cultural applications of the texts that forbid drunkenness. If the Bible forbids intoxication—and it does—and if people who recreationally ingest marijuana do so to become intoxicated—and they do—it’s hard to see how the recreational use of marijuana is covered under Christian liberty.