Skip to main content



In Galatians 5:1 (NWT13) we read: “For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore, stand firm, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.” No one has the right to make rules regarding Christian faith and Christian living that other Christians must follow when these rules are not found in the Bible. The literature published by the Watchtower Society in the three decades after 1940 opted for Christian freedom and shunned rules not based on the Bible.

The Watchtower of 1942 says: “The use of tobacco is extremely filthy.” But it also says: “To be sure, the Society has no power or authority or desire to say that a person who wishes to use tobacco may not do so. Nor can it say, ‘You may not witness for the Kingdom’.”

The book Questions in Connection With the Service of the Kingdom (1961) shows that if there is no other brother available to be an overseer, a brother who is using tobacco can have this position. This view was reversed before 1965, and in 1969 The Watchtower said that no person using tobacco can be an appointed representative of the Watchtower Society. A strong admonition for everyone to quit the tobacco habit was also given.

In 1973, persons who used tobacco were given a period of six months to quit the habit. If they did not do that, they would be disfellowshipped. If “causing divisions” mentioned in The Watchtower of 1952 is referring to the disfellowshipping offense of making a sect, then the prohibition of the use of tobacco is the first disfellowshipping offense not based on the Bible that the leaders of the Watchtower Society have introduced.

No one can dispute that the use of tobacco is an unclean habit regardless of how it is used. But the important question is how should Christians who believe in the Bible view the use of tobacco. Below I will make an outline of the changing viewpoints of the organization.


N.H. Knorr became the president of the Society in 1942, and he had already had an important share in leading the organization. F.W. Franz was also an experienced leader, particularly in connection with Bible doctrines. The view of the use of tobacco during the time they were leaders was clearly in accord with the Bible. We see this in the quotation below from The Watchtower of 1942, pages 205 and 206.

The use of tobacco is extremely filthy, regardless of the form in which it is used…These scriptures [1 Timothy 4:12 and Romans 13:9, 10] bring forcibly to the attention of the Lord’s people that those who are proper representatives of the Lord and the Lord’s organization must be examples to the believers and of the believers; that they must follow a course of action that will work no ill to their neighbor. For these reasons these appointed to represent the Society as special or general publishers or as servants in the various company organizations are required to refrain from the use of tobacco in any form…those who persist in the use of the harmful weed cannot be considered as proper examples in word, in charity, in spirit, in faith, or in purity, and by their course of action the example they are setting forth works ill to their neighbor. They are rebelling against a reasonable requirement of the Lord’s organization…To be sure, the Society has no power or authority or desire to say that a person who wishes to use tobacco may not do so. Nor can it say, “You may not witness for the Kingdom.” But it can say who are its appointed representatives. Each one must decide whether he or she wishes to be in or out of line for privileges of service…Those who are appointed as a direct representative of the society in any capacity must refrain from the use of tobacco in all its forms.

The quoted words above express a balanced view of the use of tobacco, and they opt for Christian freedom. Its use is extremely filthy. But the Society does not have any power to force anyone to stop using tobacco; it is not even authorized to ask persons to quit their tobacco habit. This is a personal decision. However, those who quit may get privileges inside the organization, and this is a positive reward.


When I started as a circuit servant (overseer) in the spring of 1965, I received the book Questions in Connection With the Service of the Kingdom, which was published in 1961. On page 78 we find the question, “Will the use of tobacco result in restrictions for one who wants to serve Jehovah?” The answer follows the pattern of the article in 1942. But it also mentions one exception.

If a person who uses tobacco, is presenting himself for baptism, one should in a friendly manner show him that the use of tobacco is an impure habit that is not becoming for a servant of God. Even though we will not refuse to baptize him because he uses tobacco, we will not view him as a good example for the brothers in the congregation. And as long as he uses tobacco we will not appoint him as a ministerial servant or an overseer in the Christian organization. He cannot receive any privileges of service. He can participate in the theocratic ministry school and give talks, but he will not be allowed to give lectures. He may go from house to house, make back-calls, and conduct Bible studies, and in other ways be helping in the field service, as he is looking to Jehovah to get the power to quit his impure habit. One who is using tobacco cannot serve as pioneer or a fulltime representative for the theocratic organization.

There may be exceptions from this rule. But one who is using tobacco can only be appointed as a ministerial servant or an overseer if there is no other baptized person in the congregation who can serve as a servant. If one who is using tobacco is appointed as a servant, he must accept that he cannot use tobacco publicly while he is preaching in the field or in the neighborhood of the Kingdom Hall. And he must make conscious efforts to quit this bad habit.

In 1965, there was no scrutiny by an overseer whether a person was qualified to be baptized. But anyone could present himself or herself for baptism without any questions beforehand. So, persons who used tobacco were baptized. The exception mentioned, that a person using tobacco could, under special circumstances, serve as an overseer,  shows that using tobacco was not viewed as a serious sin, even though it was understood to be a very filthy habit.


When I received the Questions in Connection With the Service of the Kingdom book in 1965, I was instructed to delete the section about tobacco, because it was no longer fully valid. This means that at some point between 1961 and 1965 there was a change in the view of tobacco expressed in the aforementioned book. The change was that a person who used tobacco could not under any circumstances be appointed as a representative of the Society. But the other views of the use of tobacco were not changed, as we see in The Watchtower of 1969, page 129. The magazine had a question regarding the attitude of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the use of tobacco. The answer was:

The Bible does not comment directly on the view that God’s servants should have concerning the use of tobacco…Yet, from what we read in God’s Word, it is easy to see that the use of tobacco, whether one is smoking, chewing or snuffing it, is an unclean habit that goes contrary to Bible principles. So Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly discourage its use, and they view as spiritually immature any Christian who continue to use tobacco…

Since the use of tobacco violates so much of the counsel provided for Christians, one who had not yet overcome this habit would not have the blameless reputation that an appointed servant in the Christian congregation should have. Those privileged to be overseers and ministerial servants are to be examples of Christian maturity. (1 Tim. 3:2, 10) Consequently, in addition to the aforementioned reasons for overcoming the unclean habit, one should strive to conquer the habit so as to be available for special privileges in the congregation, such as being an appointed servant or a full-time pioneer minister.

Since the occasion of one’s water baptism is such a significant point in his life, that is an excellent time to break the tobacco habit if it has persisted up to that point. But what if that step is already past and you still use tobacco? The situation is not hopeless. Others have quit, and you can too. Obviously, more self-control is needed. This quality is a fruit of God’s spirit, so one seeking more self-control needs more of God’s holy spirit. And that is available if you will but ask Jehovah for it and work to obtain it. (Luke 11:13) Seek association with Christians at meetings where the spirit is in evidence. Regularly read God’s inspired Word. Instead of thinking about satisfying a craving for tobacco, talk about Jehovah and the clean new order he has promised.

In this article, we read that the Society “strongly discourages its use.” However, there is no absolute requirement to have quit the tobacco habit before one is baptized, although this is recommended. So there are no sanctions against a Witness who is using tobacco, but a Witness who is using tobacco will not get any service privileges in the organization.

The three quotations above show that during the time when Knorr and Franz were leaders of the Society, Christian freedom was stressed. And because the Bible does not say anything about the use of tobacco, a Witness could not be punished by the organization for using it.


The first Governing Body was instituted in 1971, and two years later, the members of the Governing Body took steps of putting themselves above the Bible. They instituted one of the first disfellowshipping offenses that did not have a basis in the Bible, namely, the prohibition against the use of tobacco. It was even admitted that this new law was a manmade law. The Watchtower of 1969, page 129, says:  

The Bible does not comment directly on the view that God’s servants should have concerning the use of tobacco.

The Watchtower of 1969 admitted that the Bible does not say anything about the use of tobacco. In spite of this, the members of the Governing Body in 1973 introduced the law that the use of tobacco was a disfellowshipping offense.

The Watchtower of June 1, 1973, pages 340 and 341, stated that those who used tobacco would get a period of six months to quit the habit. And if not, they would be disfellowshipped. This also indicates that no person who used tobacco could  be baptized.

20 For decades the publications of Jehovah’s witnesses have warned against the use of such addictive products as tobacco. Persons associated with congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in almost all cases recognize the wrongness of these habits. Newly interested ones, then, should take a firm stand and not postpone matters by asking to be baptized and accepted into the congregation, or to share in presenting information from the platform in their Kingdom Halls, while still in the grip of nicotine or other harmful addiction. As the new order now draws very near, it is assuredly in harmony with God’s Word to take the position that those unwilling to abandon any such harmful addictive practices do not qualify for our baptizing them and recognizing them as approved members of Jehovah’s Christian congregation.

21 Actually, to accept such ones into the congregation could prove a disservice to them, salving their consciences. Refusal to accept them can prove a blessing, aiding them to feel seriously the need for decisive action and for preparing themselves for life in God’s new order. By facing up to such challenges one gains a moral victory that brings true strength and confidence in God’s power and willingness to help.

22 What, then, of those who in the past were baptized while still using such addictive products as tobacco, other drugs, or who are on some treatment such as the “methadone program” and who continue in such practice? They may now be given a reasonable period of time, such as six months, in which to free themselves of the addiction. So doing, they will show their sincere desire to remain within Jehovah God’s clean congregation of dedicated servants.

23 Surely if one can go through the agonizing experience of withdrawal from “hard”-drug addiction in order to become a true disciple of God’s Son, then those addicted to tobacco or similar products should have no sound objection to undergoing the lesser suffering of withdrawing from their addiction. Refusal to do so would certainly set a very poor example for the person striving to overcome a “hard”-drug habit who faces a much more difficult challenge.

24 If persons already baptized are not willing to abandon their addiction to damaging and enslaving products, what then? Then they show that, like Esau, they do not ‘appreciate sacred things,’ preferring such habits to the privilege of being part of Jehovah’s clean people. They should therefore be removed from the congregation due to such conduct unbecoming a Christian.— 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 12:15,16. 

The quotation above is one of the first examples of the introduction of a disfellowshipping offense in Jehovah’s organization that is not based on the Bible.[1] Understanding the consequences of this step is very important because the quotation from The Watchtower of 1973 shows that the members of the Governing Body now had insinuated themselves above the Bible. They believed that they had the right to make laws on life-and-death issues that were not based on the Bible. Therefore, the 1973 article represented a negative milestone in the history of Jehovah’s  Witnesses. And it was the first step in the direction of the autocratic organization that we see today.

Another life-and-death issue that was decided in 1973, which to some extent resembles the use of tobacco, was that the use of methadone by persons struggling to quit the use of hard drugs, such as heroin, was also a disfellowshipping offense. This again was a man-made commandment that was not based on the Bible, and it prevented thousands of Witnesses from restoring a good relationship with Jehovah. Moreover, a great number of Witnesses, who had managed to quit their heroin addiction with the help of methadone, were disfellowshipped. Such ones lost the loving support of their family and friends in the congregation, with the consequence that they might return to hard drugs again. That the unbiblical decision regarding methadone was unquestionably a bad one is seen by the fact that today the use of methadone is no longer a disfellowshipping offense. This issue of methadone is discussed in the article “Methadone and disfellowshipping” in the category “Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses.”

In 1974, the Governing Body introduced a new disfellowshipping offense that was not based on the Bible. The members of Governing Body wanted all Witnesses to have the same view of sexual relations inside marriage that they had. Therefore, they introduced the rule of what they called “lewd actions,” or porneia inside marriage, were disfellowshipping offenses; and thus, also a basis for divorce. This created great problems, and so in 1978, porneia-inside-marriage was retracted.

[1]. In The Watchtower of March 1, 1952, page 134, the following three disfellowshipping offenses are mentioned; “Backbiting, bringing forth false doctrine, causing divisions.” The word “backbiting” may refer to “reviling,” which is a disfellowshipping offense according to 1 Corinthians 6:10. The expression “bringing forth false doctrine” may refer to making a sect, which is a disfellowshipping offense according to Titus 3:10. As I show in the article “Causing divisions” in the category “Apostasy,” causing divisions is not a disfellowshipping offense according to the Christian Greek Scriptures. It may be that the author of the article connected this expression with “bringing forth false doctrine” and both together refer to the making of a sect. If “causing divisions” is an independent expression, this is the first example of the introduction of a disfellowshipping offense that is not based on the Bible.


A Governing Body was for the first time formed in 1971, and the elder arrangement started in 1972. From this time, the bodies of elders were to a great extent independent of the Governing Body. But in the year 1976, the first small step was taken to transfer power from the bodies of elders to the Governing Body. This process continued in small steps until 1992 when F.W. Franz died. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a power struggle inside the Governing Body between those who wanted to stress Christian freedom and those who wanted to make many rules that were not mentioned in the Bible. The latter group came out victorious, and subsequently, during the 21st century, the members of the Governing Body have given themselves all power.

Two of the disfellowshipping offenses that were newly introduced in 1973 and 1974 were later reversed: The remedial use of methadone and the fallacy of porneia-inside-marriage are no longer disfellowshipping offenses. But the use of tobacco is still a disfellowshipping offense, even though The Watchtower of 1969, that is quoted above, says: “The Bible does not comment directly on the view that God’s servants should have concerning the use of tobacco.” So, the power of the Governing Body is so great that they can invent disfellowshipping offenses that they admit are not based on the Bible.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

More posts by Rolf Furuli

Leave a Reply