This is among the top ten verses quoted by SDA. It is their chief proof-text of the health message. It is actually used for more than just smoking, but that is a good example as there isn’t any verse in scripture that identifies tobacco use.
Before progressing let’s take a close look at the verse being quoted and see what we find.
That is really the whole deal right there. The idea is that since your body is the Temple of God that means it is a sin to smoke because smoking is unhealthy. Specifically, the unspoken minor premise in this syllogism is that which is unhealthy is sin. Before digging into that though let’s take a look at the context, as with most abused verses we don’t have to go far. Paul makes this clear enough in the verse that just precedes it.
Notice Paul is talking about sexual sin. This is something that is severely condemned as sin in many places of both the New and Old Testaments. It seems to me that Paul is making a distinction between sins against the body and others that are not. In any case though the verb has to be identified as sin first, in this text or elsewhere, before the the category Paul speaks of applies.
This is actually what I am getting at with the syllogism that SDA use here. For those who are unfamiliar, a Syllogism is a form of argumentation. The way I understand that it works is that the one presenting the argument has to defend a major and minor premise. If you cannot successfully refute either then you have to accept the conclusion they derive.
It’s a means of fairly comparing ideas in an objective format. This way neither party can get away with simply asserting whatever they want. The syllogism SDA use with this verse appears to me to be as follows:
1 Cor 6:19 teaches that sinning against the body is wrong
Unhealthy acts constitute sin against the body
Unhealthy acts are sin
My dispute is not with the major premise, it is with the minor one. The modern concept of healthful living is an anachronism to the Biblical texts. Thus, bringing in modern medicine journals is off the table completely.
The scripture doesn’t handle health with regards to the law. Even in the Old Testament, when laws speaking on cleanliness are given notice that they are with respect to spiritual cleanliness. Today, we infer that there was a health benefit to some of these laws but it is not something actually taught in the Torah.
This is why matters of health, especially with regards to food and even tobacco, are wisdom issues not sin issues. If you want to know if smoking is a good idea or not consult your physician and maybe read a medical journal. This isn’t the kind of stuff the Bible talks about and trying to bend it in that direction just makes us look silly.
Also, just push this argument SDA present to it’s final logical conclusion. If all unhealthy acts are sin, then that means it is a sin to live in Los Angeles due to the smog. That means Jesus was sinning by not wearing sun screen in the middle east. Did you get less than 7 hours of sleep last night? Well that’s apparently a sin too!! What if you’re poor and can’t afford enough food to properly nourish yourself? Well you better get it together because now that’s a sin.
See you cannot have it both ways. If good health is a virtue and poor health is a vice there is no where to draw the line. You have to keep raising and lowering the bar of morality as it suites you.
While there are many excellent reasons not to smoke, it is certainly not a sin. Don’t let anyone condemn or look down on you if this is a habit you choose to keep. This is especially ridiculous in the highly selective nature that SDA apply the verse in question. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an obese pastors wife extol the heavenly virtues of a vegetarian diet and smoking cessation.
If unhealthy living is a sin then anything in western culture is also a sin and should be treated with the same contempt that SDA treat smoking or meat eating. That means SDA cannot eat the veggie pizzas they love so much, or pretty much anything brought to pot luck. The sodium content in one of those is as unhealthy as any meat or tobacco product.
Just know that whether or not you smoke is your choice. The Bible was written for higher things than matters such as these.