(1 Cor. 3:17) Will God destroy someone for smoking?

CLAIM: Some Christians will use this passage to denounce cigarette smoking. Paul writes, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Cor. 3:17). Will God destroy someone for polluting their body with cigarettes?

RESPONSE: While being addicted to cigarettes is a sin,[1] this passage does not refer to cigarette smoking for a number of reasons:

First, this is a command to the plural church—not an individual believer. The pronoun “you” is plural in the Greek language. Therefore, it refers to the entire church—not individuals in the church.

Second, the context refers to division—not smoking (1 Cor. 3:3). Paul is claiming that Christians will be confronted by God if they create division in the Body of Christ—not if they have a smoking habit.

Third, the word for “destroy” can be translated in other ways. The Greek word for “destroy” (phtheirō) is translated “corrupt” (1 Cor. 15:33), “led astray” (2 Cor. 11:3), and “destroyed” (2 Pet. 2:12). This word was used to describe the defiling or corrupting of the OT temple, when articles in the Temple were damaged or defiled. Paul could be using this OT imagery to describe how God’s new temple (i.e. the church) is being defiled by division. If phtheirō literally means being “killed,” it could either refer to being destroyed in this life (1 Cor. 11:27-30; Acts 5:5, 10).

[1] While the Bible never specifically addresses smoking, we can make a good case that being addicted to cigarettes is a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, 1 Corinthians 6:12 states that we shouldn’t be mastered by “anything.” Because this is a universal statement (“anything”), addiction to nicotine would fall under the umbrella of this verse—even though the immediate context refers to sexual immorality. Second, smoking cigarettes is a bad stewardship of our money. Smoking a pack a day (at five bucks a pack) for only ten years adds up to roughly 20 thousand dollars! This money could be better invested toward the poor, missions, or other works of God. Third, smoking takes years off of our life. Imagine if a twenty year old said, “I’m going to stop following Christ for the next twenty years, and I’ll start following him when I’m forty.” We would surely argue that this is a bad idea. However, a cigarette smoker is saying the same thing—except those twenty years will be taken off the end of their life, rather than the middle of it. Moreover, this person would be losing the years when they have the most amount of wisdom, knowledge, and equipping in their life. For these reasons, we can make a good biblical case for not being addicted to cigarettes.