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By 17. October 2020February 4th, 2023Gross uncleannes with greedinenss


The book for elders “Shepherd The Flock Of God” puts tobacco, marijuana, and abuse of medical, illicit, or addictive drugs on the same level. Grouping these together appears to give a biblical legitimacy to the human commandments against the use of tobacco and betel nut. By putting these two side by side with marijuana, which most people view as a dangerous narcotic, the reader gets the impression that tobacco and betel nut are just as bad as marijuana. Because being permeated by intoxication is a biblical reason for being disfellowshipped, and tobacco and betel nut do not lead to intoxication while marijuana does, tobacco and betel nut cannot be compared to marijuana.

The continued use of marijuana and hard drugs are disfellowshipping offenses because these cause intoxication. But abuse of drugs is not automatically a disfellowshipping offense unless the abuser is permeated with sin by becoming habitually intoxicated. It is difficult to know when the use of drugs becomes abuse. This along with the elders’ lack of experience with drugs creates several problems in judicial cases where supposed drug abuse is considered.

Both the abuse of medical drugs and hard drugs often occurs before the person is aware of it (Galatians 6:1), and so the drug abusers are not wicked persons. Therefore, the drug abuser should receive help and consideration from family, friends, and the elders instead of being disfellowshipped.  Users of hard drugs who are permeated by intoxication can be disfellowshipped. But because completely shunning disfellowshipped persons has no basis in the Bible, users of hard drugs who are disfellowshipped can and should also receive help from family, friends, and the elders.

Abuse of drugs is a big problem all over the world, and the Watchtower literature has discussed this problem in many articles. This has been helpful for the readers. However, the Governing Body has grouped different kinds of drugs with different side effects together as disfellowshipping offenses. Of course, such a grouping would appear to give biblical legitimacy to the human commandments against the use of tobacco and betel nut. By putting these two side by side with marijuana, which most people view as a dangerous narcotic, the reader gets the impression that tobacco and betel nut are just as bad as marijuana. But this is not true.


Regarding the misuse of drugs, “Shepherd The Flock Of God”, 12.15 (4) says:

Misuse of Tobacco or Marijuana and Abuse of Medical, Illicit, or Addictive Drugs: Elders should use good judgment in weighing the circumstances and extent of the wrongdoing so as to determine whether a judicial committee should be formed. For example, one or two elders may handle matters by means of counsel if a Christian abused an addictive drug or smoked cigarettes on one or two occasions and the matter is not widely known. The coordinator of the body of elders should be informed. However, a judicial committee is required for a practice of abusing addictive drugs, including betel nut, marijuana, and tobacco. (2 Cor. 7:1; w06 7/15 pp. 30-31; lvs pp. 110-117) lf a medical doctor authorizes and/or prescribes marijuana for a medical problem, a Christian may choose to make use of this form of treatment. Although no judicial action would be taken, if an issue arises in the congregation, the elders will need to determine whether the individual can be viewed as exemplary. The proper use of addictive drugs under medical supervision, such as for pain management, would not require judicial review. When questions arise, consult the Service Department.

The first line illustrates the inconsistency in the disfellowshipping offenses listed by the Governing Body: three very different subjects are fused into one. The real issue to consider is expressed by the following quotation from The Watchtower of January 15, 1968, page 63:

What difference is there between a person drunk with alcohol who engages in wild, uncontrolled conduct, or who becomes a disgraceful incompetent, and the one who does the same things under the influence of some modern drug or chemical? From a Scriptural standpoint there is no difference! (Rom. 13:13) If a person deliberately pursues a course that causes him to lose self-control, causing mental aberrations so that he does not realize what he is doing or why, then he is just as reprehensible as a drunkard. He has allowed himself to get to the point of acting as a drunk man and so should be dealt with as a drunkard and as one who has lost self-control.

Drugs are not mentioned in the Bible. But the misuse of alcohol to the point of being intoxicated is mentioned. Those who are permeated by the sin of habitual intoxication may be disfellowshipped. (1 Corinthians 6:10)  In the ancient world, there were other means to “get drunk” than by wine, for example, by the use of the plant Henbane (hyoscyamus niger). An article discussing how ancient people used and abused drugs says regarding the use of Henbane:

Pliny described the effects of this plant as similar to drunkenness, when either breathed as smoke or ingested. It was typically taken as part of a cocktail of hallucinogenics for magical or medicinal purposes.[1]

The article also says:

There were more than a dozen ways of altering reality in the ancient world of the Mediterranean, but two drugs dominated – opium and hemp…There is a highly suggestive passage in Homer’s The Odyssey, in which Helen of Troy dopes wine with a drug “that took away painful memories and the bite of pain and anger. Those who took this drug dissolved in wine could not shed a tear even at the death of a parent. Indeed not even if his brother or son were put to the sword before his eyes”.

Modern drugs made from opium, such as Heroin and Fentanyl can make persons “intoxicated” in a way similar to alcohol. So we cannot escape the conclusion that the habitual users of these drugs who become “intoxicated” must be put  in the same group the Bible classifies as “drunkards.”



The brown text in the quotation above shows one reason why intoxication is a serious sin, namely, the behavior of intoxicated persons. Their self-control is lost, and they may act in a wild, uncontrolled way. Let us compare these side effects with the items in brown text in the first quotation above of the previous heading. If we consider tobacco, does it cause intoxication and lack of self-control? No. Does betel nut cause intoxication and lack of self-control? No. Is this the case with marijuana, or is marijuana known for causing an intoxicating effect leading to loss of self-control? In many instances, the answer is Yes. What about the abuse of medical, illicit, and addictive drugs? In some cases, that answer is also Yes, but in other cases, the answer is No. This means that putting the three drugs together does not make sense if we are using the Bible as the categorizing authority.

Tobacco is discussed in the study, “The use of tobacco — A disfellowshipping offense not based on the Bible” in the category, “Gross uncleanness with greediness,” and I show that while the use of tobacco is a filthy habit, using tobacco is not a disfellowshipping offense. However, using marijuana is very different. Descriptions of the effects of marijuana are seen below.

While high on marijuana, you might feel:

  • euphoric
  • relaxed
  • amused
  • giggly
  • creative
  • hungry
  • more sensitive to light, color, sound, touch, taste, and smell

However, marijuana use can also lead to unpleasant feelings or experiences. These include:

  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • delusions and hallucinations
  • high blood pressure
  • nausea and vomiting
  • panic
  • paranoia
  • psychosis
  • racing heartbeat

Negative reactions are more likely when you’re inexperienced or take too much. Strong cannabis can trigger a stronger reaction.[1]

Initially after using cannabis, there’s a buzz. This might only last a few minutes before the high kicks in, but it largely depends on potency and strain type as well. As its name suggests, a buzz describes the feeling experienced when an intoxicant first kicks in and begins to alter one’s state of being. Rather than being the peak of inebriation, this is the lead-up period where you might start having the giggles and feel a rush of euphoria.[2]

The effects of marijuana are unpredictable. But the descriptions above show that the effects may be the same as intoxication by alcohol and even other serious side effects. Therefore, intoxication by marijuana is in the same class as intoxication by alcohol. The same is true with different hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. To put marijuana in the same class as tobacco does not make any sense.




When we use the word “abuse,” what do we mean? The basic definition is: “wrong or improper use; misuse.[1] On the basis of this definition, we may ask what the abuse of drugs really is. The quotation below gives very clear answers.

Of course, drug use—either illegal or prescription—doesn’t automatically lead to abuse. Some people are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without experiencing negative effects, while others find that substance use takes a serious toll on their health and well-being. Similarly, there is no specific point at which drug use moves from casual to problematic.

Drug abuse and addiction are less about the type or amount of the substance consumed or the frequency of your drug use, and more about the consequences of that drug use. If your drug use is causing problems in your life—at work, school, home, or in your relationships—you likely have a drug abuse or addiction problem…

There’s a fine line between regular drug use and drug abuse and addiction. Very few drug abusers or addicts are able to recognize when they’ve crossed that line. While frequency or the amount of drugs consumed do not necessarily constitute drug abuse or addiction, they can often be indicators of drug-related problems…

Neglecting responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children).

Using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.

Experiencing legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.

Problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of friends.

Common symptoms of drug addiction

You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.

You use to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.

Loss of control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.

Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, or recovering from the drug’s effects.

You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.

You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, financial issues, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway.[2]

I am discussing the abuse of drugs from the point of view of the Bible and the Christian congregations. What can we learn from the quotation above? The brown text shows that if a person’s use of drugs causes problems in his daily life, he or she may have a drug abuse or addiction problem. If a person experiences one or two of the points described in bold script, that may indicate an abuse problem. However, the blue script shows that while the frequency and the number of drugs consumed may indicate a problem, that is not always the case. And the green text shows that it may be difficult to distinguish between normal use of a drug and abuse and addiction.

The book for elders 12.15 (4) says:

However, a judicial committee is required for a practice of abusing addictive drugs, including betel nut, marijuana, and tobacco.

These are words that can be dangerous for many Witnesses. The words about the judicial committee show that the mentioned actions are viewed as disfellowshipping offenses. But the articles about tobacco and betel nut show that according to the Bible neither the use of tobacco nor betel nut are disfellowshipping offenses. And the claim that “a practice of abusing addictive drugs” is a disfellowshipping offense is particularly dangerous. On the one hand, the claim is sweeping because it would include a great number of situations. On the other hand, the claim is ambiguous because it is difficult to distinguish between normal use and abuse.

We may consider opioids used for pain as an example. Only the person using these painkillers know how much pain he or she has, and only the person knows when the body has built up a tolerance for the painkiller and more is needed to get the remedial effect. And even if an onlooker sees a person experiencing one or two of the situations mentioned in bold script, this may be caused by something other than the drug; it may be the result of a physical or mental disorder.

And the most important point: Even if it becomes clear that a Witness has crossed the line from the normal use of a drug to abuse, where in the Bible can we read that this is a disfellowshipping offense?  Only when the abuse leads to intoxication, and the Witness is permeated by this kind of abuse can a judicial committee be formed on a Scriptural basis to the effect that the Witness can be disfellowshipped.



Abuse of drugs is not a disfellowshipping offense, according to the Bible. Only when the abuse leads to intoxication and the person is permeated by this kind of behavior can he or she be disfellowshipped.


Cases where a Witness is supposed to be abusing drugs have many difficulties:

  • No course for elders dealing systematically with the handling of judicial cases has been held during the last 30 years. So the elders have no training or competence in the handling of judicial cases.
  • No clear definition of the abuse of drugs is given in the Watchtower literature. So, the elders have to guess what the words about abuse of drugs in the book for elders really means.
  • Being certain that a Witness is not using drugs, such as painkillers, in a normal way but is abusing drugs is very difficult—particularly because there are so many different definitions of abuse.
  • Even if one or more of the situations in bold script in the last quotation are evident, the reason may be the result of something different from drug abuse.
  • Most elders do not have the advantage of a medical background, or perhaps even the necessity of one to distinguish between normal drug use and abuse.

In addition to the points above, we should keep in mind that abuse of drugs is not a disfellowshipping offense, according to the Bible. Only when the abuse of drugs leads to the situation that a Witness is permeated by habitual intoxication can this person be disfellowshipped.

The result of the disfellowshipping of a person who is abusing drugs is really bad. To be an abuser is not a part of a plan, but it is something that can happen because of the way our body functions. For example, a person is given a drug as a pain-killer and in time the body craves this drug even when the pain is not there. If the elders disfellowship a person who has not stopped using a drug that he or she does not need, this prevents the person from receiving help and care from family and friends—ironically, one of the basic human needs proven to assist addicts in recovering. This is a situation where help is sorely needed, and instead of understanding this, the elders have, instead, handed the person over to Satan, thus preventing the person from receiving the needed help.


There is also an important biblical point to take into consideration, namely, inherited sin and the ransom sacrifice of Jesus. Because all humans have inherited sin, God does not demand that we be perfect. When a human has committed sins, he or she may get forgiveness because of the ransom sacrifice. But some sins cannot be forgiven, namely, sins against the holy spirit. (Matthew 12:31, 32; 1 John 5:16).

What is the difference between sins that can be forgiven and those that cannot be forgiven? Every sin that directly or indirectly is caused by our imperfection, by the sin we have inherited, can be forgiven. But sins that are caused by our own wickedness can not be forgiven. What does that mean? According to Matthew 12:27, the son’s (disciples) of the Pharisees could expel demons. In this case, the demons cooperated with the disciples of the Pharisees, in order to mislead those who saw the demons being expelled. When this expelling of demons occurred, the Pharisees evidently used this as an argument that God was on their side. Jesus expelled demons on a much greater scale than the disciples of the Pharisees. But in his case, the Pharisees said that Jesus expelled the demons with the help of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (verse 24).

Were the Pharisees tempted to ascribe the great works of Jesus to Satan? Did they say this due to their inherited sin from our first father? No! They disregarded the obvious manifestation of God’s holy spirit at work here, and accused Jesus of being in league with Satan because they were wicked, and Jesus threatened their position. This was a conscious decision that could not be ascribed to their inherited sin. Sin against the holy spirit, therefore, is an intentional wicked course of action that continues despite the fact that the sinner knows that his or her course is wrong, and it is done because of pure selfishness. This is the sin that “incurs death,” that is, the unforgivable and unchangeable penalty of death, according to 1 John 5:16.

How can we apply the words in the Bible to the person who has become an abuser of drugs, for example, of painkillers? Can this be compared to what the Pharisees did? Absolutely not! To use painkillers when one does not have pain is not wicked. And, while not using inherited sin as an excuse, we must admit that the way our imperfect bodies function can be part of the reason why a person becomes an abuser of drugs. There is no wicked plan, as was the case with the Pharisees, to start down a path that leads to addiction and drug dependency. This may happen gradually inside our cells, and the person has not asked for this situation.

In the light of the above, how should we view the situation when a Witness abuses drugs? First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that the abuse of drugs is not a disfellowshipping offense, according to the Bible. Second, this is a situation where the Witness needs help according to the principles found in James 5:14-16. By disfellowshipping the person, any possibility for help is cut off according to the view of the Governing Body of shunning disfellowshipped persons. Third, even if the Witness accepts help but has one or several relapses, there is no biblical reason why the congregation should not continue to treat him or her as a dear brother or sister.

But what about abusers of marijuana and of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine? Should they be treated in the same way as abusers of painkillers and barbiturates? In situations with the use of hard drugs, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 can be applied. Persons who are permeated by habitual intoxication due to alcohol or hard drugs can be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. However, because of the rule of shunning, giving any help to such ones is impossible when a person is disfellowshipped. However, as my articles on shunning show, this is a human commandment that has no basis in the Bible. Christians should not fraternize with disfellowshipped persons, but they can greet them and speak with them and thus, still offer them all the help they need.

Let us look at the use of hard drugs in the light of what the Bible says about sin. A young Witness may be offered a drug by a classmate. And in a thoughtless moment of weakness, he takes the drug and then takes another drug, and suddenly he or she is hooked. Is this wickedness? Absolutely not. But the body of the user of hard drugs develops an addiction to the drug without the consent of the drug user. The addiction to hard drugs is extremely strong, as we see in the quotation below.

When people become addicted to heroin, they crave the drug so strongly that, even when they know what consequences they face as a result of their heroin use, they are unable to stay away from the drug. This makes relapse to heroin use incredibly likely after detox. Often, those struggling with heroin addiction experience multiple episodes of relapse on their road to recovery.[1]

So what should we do as Christians when a Witness is rightly disfellowshipped for the use of hard drugs? We find the principle of what to do in Galatians 6:1 (NWT13):

Brothers, even if a man takes a false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.

I use the word “principle,” because Paul speaks of one false step, and a person who is disfellowshipped for the use of hard drugs must be permeated by this use in contrast with one false step. But the words “before he is aware of it” very well fit the situation of a user of hard drugs. He or she became hooked before he or she was aware of it, and therefore family and friends and the elders should do everything they can to help the drug abuser to quit his or her abuse after the disfellowshipping. They should not give up, but they should not let the abuser make demands on them. This is Christian love on the basis of the example of Jesus Christ, and it is absolutely not a lenient application of the laws of God.

In 1973, the Governing Body went in the opposite direction of supporting Witnesses who had been hooked on hard drugs. As the quotation above shows, it is extremely difficult to quit the habit of using hard drugs. But if an addict, after his or her strong effort to quit the drug habit, had succeeded, there was one drug that could help the person against relapse, and that was methadone. This drug fills the same opioid receptors in the brain that heroin and prescription painkillers do. But those who use methadone do not become intoxicated. In Norway, a person using methadone is allowed to drive a car, but a person who has taken a pint of beer is not allowed to drive a car. However, in 1973, the Governing Body decided that the use of methadone was a disfellowshipping offense, just as was the use of hard drugs. (See the article “Methadone and disfellowshipping” in the category  “Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses.”) By this decision, they took away the remedial help drug addicts, who had been a part of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses  could have received.

The decision that the use of methadone was a disfellowshipping offense remained in place for 40 years. It was first in 2013 that the letter prohibiting the remedial use of methadone was removed from the files of the congregations. I am certain that the Governing Body’s prohibition against the use of methadone has prevented thousands of Witnesses from being able to quit their drug abuse.

The members of the Governing Body are responsible for denying drug addicts the help to quit their addiction: They have forbidden family and friends from offering the addicts help, and they have forbidden the medicine methadone that can help an addict live a normal life after quitting the drug habit.

Thus, the members of the Governing Body have partial responsibility for the degraded life and addiction of thousands of Witnesses and for the death of many of these.




On the basis of the discussion above, we must conclude that the words about tobacco, marijuana, and the abuse of drugs are misleading. No one can deny that marijuana is a dangerous drug that can lead to intoxication and uncontrolled conduct. By placing tobacco and betel nut in the same category as marijuana, a misleading impression is given that tobacco and betel nut are also in the same category of disfellowshipping offenses. But this is not true!

The basic error of the Governing Body in this case is the focus on the use and abuse of different drugs as disfellowshipping offenses rather than where it should be, on the uncontrolled conduct as a consequence of the intoxication certain drugs can induce. This is a human viewpoint that is not based on the Bible, and the many arbitrary rules that have resulted from this mistaken view are unacceptable for those who believe in the Bible as the only authority for their faith and life.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

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