What to Do When There’s No “Thou Shalt Not”
The Bible has the answers to a lot of questions, but there are also issues and questions it doesn’t directly address. How do we find answers to those questions?
The Bible is a book of answers!
The apostle Paul wrote that the Bible is “for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Another writer called it “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Yet the reality is that the Bible was completed almost 2,000 years ago.
A lot has changed in those 2,000 years. There have been many innovations and new issues that have developed since its completion—such as smoking, computers, the Internet, rock music, and the list goes on and on.
So, can the Bible be a lamp and a guide on modern issues totally foreign to the time it was written? Should it be deemed out-of-date, or should we pray for an updated Bible—perhaps a Bible 2.0? Or should we just let our feelings be our guide, as so many do?
Or should we still turn to the Bible?
Although the Bible hasn’t been updated for the last nearly 2,000 years, that doesn’t make it 2,000 years out of date. The Bible gives definitive “thou shall” and “thou shalt not” statements that are just as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago, and the Bible also gives us plenty of guidance to make judgments on the issues that don’t have “thou shalt nots.” For these matters, the Bible gives us principles—timeless, general truths that can be applied to specific issues and situations.
One of the goals of a Christian is to be able to use discernment and make judgments in the modern era using the principles of the Bible.
One of the goals of a Christian is to be able to use discernment and make judgments in the modern era using the principles of the Bible. As Paul said, we are to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Sometimes His “perfect will” is obvious (the clearly stated “thou shall not” issues, such as don’t steal someone else’s stuff!) and sometimes we have to dig deeper to “prove” what His will is. By looking at the principles that are revealed in His Word, we can discern what His will truly is.
Case study: smoking
There are many examples of areas where we must use scriptural principles and spiritual discernment. Smoking is a good example. The Bible doesn’t provide a direct statement: Thou shalt not smoke tobacco.
During biblical times, the only tobacco plants on earth grew thousands of miles across the ocean in the still undiscovered Americas. Tobacco wasn’t introduced to the Old World until after Christopher Columbus “discovered” America and the Columbian Exchange began.
Since the Bible doesn’t contain a direct statement prohibiting smoking, a Christian needs to analyze the issue, looking at scriptural principles in order to make a right judgment. We must ask: Do the effects of smoking break principles clearly stated in God’s Word?
Consider these facts about smoking:
- Smoking produces adverse effects on the health of our bodies (especially the lungs), with diseases like cancer and emphysema being directly attributed to smoking. View the CDC’s “Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking” to learn the many different ways smoking can compromise the human body.
- On top of the risks to the smoker’s body, it is also proven that smoking is dangerous to others who breathe the tobacco smoke (commonly called secondhand smoke). Some studies say secondhand smoke is as toxic as firsthand smoke.
- It is also a scientific fact that nicotine (from tobacco) is extremely addictive. It is so addictive that many people who want to quit find they can’t do it on their own. That’s why the various forms of smoking cessation products amount to a multibillion-dollar industry (including patches, gum, hypnotism and e-cigarettes).
We find three biblical principles that are directly relevant to these issues:
- The human body is likened to a “temple” that we are to care for (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
- We are to show love and concern to those around us (Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:10).
- We are to have “self-control” and not be slaves to negative influences (Titus 1:8; Romans 6:16).
When considering the scientific evidence that smoking causes great harm to the bodies of both the smoker and those around the smoker and that nicotine is an addictive substance, the above three biblical principles clearly show us that smoking is against God’s will for us and is a sinful practice for a Christian.
The importance of making right judgments
Making these kinds of judgments isn’t easy. It takes a willingness to dig into the Scriptures, accept what we find, and pray for the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit to make the right judgment and act on it.
But we have to take great care when we do this. We don’t want to be like the Pharisees, who practiced a rigid system of judgment that led them to condemn hundreds of human practices—such as picking some grain to eat on the Sabbath—as sinful (Mark 2:23-24).
Because they misapplied God’s law and did not use wisdom and the Holy Spirit when making judgments, Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24). This is why we must use God’s Spirit, combined with wisdom, to properly “discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
True Christians are in training to be “kings and priests” in the Kingdom of God (Revelation 5:10). We will be involved in ruling and judging the world. The apostle Paul wrote about how this future connects to our lives now: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
These judgments—and the process that we go through in making them—are very important because they will be the basis of what we do for eternity. It’s certainly not a matter to take lightly. Whenever we make a judgment based on biblical principles, we have to take a very close look at everything the Bible says that could apply to the matter and use prayer, wisdom and God’s Holy Spirit to apply those principles properly.
That is what we should do when there’s no “thou shalt not.”
To learn more about the biblical principles that apply to smoking, read our article “Is Smoking a Sin?”