What Does the Bible Say About Drugs?

Beliefnet's scripture scholar shares biblical views on mental illness, drug use, and the Hail Mary.

BY: Ben Witherington


Have a scriptural question? Write to Ben Witherington III at columnists@staff.Beliefnet.com.

In this column, Ben Witherington answers questions about the Bible and:


The Hail Mary

Mental illness


Does the Bible prohibit drug use? I've read the passage that says that all animals and plants were created for our use.

Much depends on your definition of drugs. There are, in fact, various places in the Bible where the drinking of wine (clearly an alcoholic beverage in that era; see Proverbs 20:1) is actually encouraged (for example, in Isaiah 55:1). Though wine would often be watered down in antiquity, it was nonetheless clearly potent, and is used in several places as a contrast with the powerful effect the Holy Spirit has on someone (see Acts 2:12-16, with its reference to new wine that can make one drunk contrasted with the effect of the Spirit. See also Ephesians 5:18).

In John 2:1-12, Jesus provides the wine for a wedding. It is clear from the toastmaster's comment ("you've saved the best wine for last") that we are dealing with an alcoholic beverage. The normal procedure in a feast would be to provide the best and most potent wine first, and then the more watered down and less flavorful later as the palate became less discriminating.

There is, however, no endorsement in the Bible to use drugs that have the potential to seriously damage the mind or body. This is why church leaders are to be those not given to too much wine (1 Timothy 3:3,8--not a drunkard, not given to too much wine). There is then condemnation of overindulgence, but not of drinking in moderation.

There is not however any encouragement or endorsement of using drugs which do not constitute food or beverage in any age of human history. In fact, there may well be a prohibition of a particular kind of drug, one which produces abortions: In Galatians 5:20, there is a reference to pharmakeia (from which we get the word pharmacy). This term may, however, refer to the use of drugs in pagan worship ceremonies.

Do you have any idea where the Hail Mary prayer is in the Bible? Someone told me it's in Luke somewhere but I don't know where, so if you know you'd help out a lot.

The beginning of the passage where Mary is greeted with this phrase is found in Luke 1:28ff. It was not originally a prayer, but rather a greeting from an angel to Mary. Praying to Mary using this phrase is a later Roman Catholic practice that finds no endorsement in this text. That practice reflects the later veneration of Mary as a heavenly intercessor for pray-ers who did not feel they could address their prayers to Jesus directly. This practice is in part based on a misunderstanding of Revelation 12, which refers to mother Zion (the people of God in a corporate female image) and also perhaps the mother of the Messiah, using a cosmic apocalyptic symbol.


Continued on page 2: 'Is my schizophrenic brother possessed by demons?' »

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