Not Forbidden

But Not Recommended

by Tom Pittman

Believing as I do that the Bible is the final standard of faith and practice, I am particularly gratified to find there unequivocal teaching for or against behaviors I might choose to do or abstain. Cruelty and fornication are forbidden; self-control and self-sacrifice are strongly recommended. There are also topics the Bible simply does not address, such as computers and cars and airplanes.

Then there are topics that the Bible touches on obliquely, not so much to forbid or encourage that behavior, but perhaps as a caution, "There be dragons." The purpose of this essay is to explore some of these. I may add to this list as readers recommend topics to me.


(not) Fat


I grew up and continue to circulate in a Christian subculture that forbids alcoholic consumption. The Biblical support for that position is rather thin.
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. -- Prov.20:1

Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. "They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?" -- Prov.23:31-35

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. -- Eph.5:18

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. -- 1Tim.5:23

Did Jesus drink wine when he was on earth? It never actually says so, but the conclusion is unavoidable. They even accused him of excess. Grape juice starts to ferment immediately after it is squeezed, unless it is refrigerated. They did not have facilities for refrigeration in the fall when grapes ripen. But they drank it diluted two parts water to one part wine, mostly as a way of sanitizing the water. Self-control is a virtue, and drunkenness is the opposite of that.

Evidently Timothy was a teetotaler, and the Apostle Paul is advising medicinal wine. So the prohibition is against drunkenness, not for total abstinence. Yet so many conservative Christians take the more stringent position. I wonder why?

My best guess is that while small amounts of alcohol are permitted, there is the danger of going to excess, and the thinking in the churches has been "better safe than sorry." Especially in our culture, where the water is safe to drink pretty much everywhere, and we have so many other suitable beverages.


The Greek word for "sorcery" is farmakeia, literally "pharmacy". First-century sorcerers and shamans used psychotropic drugs to induce visions and altered states of consciousness. Your Bible does not say that. It forbids sorcery and witchcraft, with the evident implication that calling up evil supernatural beings is what is wrong. We get this impression because the stories in the Bible about sorcery and witchcraft do not mention drugs, they only tell of attempting to control the supernatural. I do not believe those translations are wrong, but I wonder if something got left out.

Alcohol and tobacco are psychotropic drugs. Consuming them alters your mental state (nicotine is an addictive tranquilizer). Testosterone is an addictive psychotropic drug, but most people's bodies make their own -- fortunately not in large quantities. God made psychotropic drugs as part of His (good) creation, because they serve a useful purpose.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel -- not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. -- Prov.31:4-7
The principle here is that alcohol (considered as one of psychotropic drugs in general) alters the mind of the consumer. If you are poor and miserable, that may be all you have -- and that's what God made it for. But God's people and kings and princes, we are not poor and miserable; psychotropic drugs are inappropriate activity. Self-control is the virtue, and drunkenness -- including drug-induced states -- is the opposite of that.

Some drugs that serve useful therapeutic functions have psychotropic side effects. This is not about them. But we must be honest. There are those who claim that marijuana is such a drug, but it is obvious from their usage that their intention is to induce the altered mental states; any therapeutic effect is merely an excuse.

Scripture says little about drugs as such, but self-control is a strongly recommended virtue. Psychotropic drugs get in the way of that.

(not) Fat

Fat is a curious contradiction, where the modern science opposes the vague sense of the Bible. Nothing in the Bible endorses nor prohibits body fat, but it is curious that fat is always associated with blessing, and leanness is associated with the curse. In Pharaoh's dream, the 7 fat cows were the 7 years of plenty; the 7 years of famine were scrawny cows in his dream. Later, when Moses pronounces the Blessings and the Curses, fat is again connected with the Blessing.

Today we live in a very rich society, so it's hard not to be fat. Fat people are a burden on the public health care system, with their higher levels of heart disease and diabetes. Fat is a consequence of self-indulgence, not self-control.


The nature of fiction is a lie. The story you are being told is not true. The Bible tells us that it is "impossible for God to lie," so that suggests that at the very least, God is not capable of telling fictional stories.

What about the parables? Jesus told numerous parables. Was Jesus giving out fiction? We really don't know for sure, but at least one of his parables (the Minas in Luke 19) actually matches a historical event. Perhaps they were all historical.

We tell fiction to entertain, and sometimes (more often in the past) to carry a moral, to train people in virtuous character. Morality is good, but does the end justify the means? Or can we assume that the literary genre sufficiently gives away the fact that this never actually happened, so that the reader is not deceived?

When I finished reading Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, I set the book down wondering, "Did this really happen?" Crichton novels are sometimes like that. He intends it so. Another of his novels has a disclaimer at the front:

This novel is fiction,
except for the parts that aren't.
Many of Crichton's novels name real persons and places to give the story verisimilitude. That's Latin for "seeming like it is true." Christian novels try (with lesser success) to do the same thing. It makes them very entertaining. I don't know if it's very Christian.


A joke is a special kind of fiction -- or sometimes it is the truth -- which is intended to entertain by inducing laughter. There are no jokes in the Bible, as far as I can tell. Some of the stories are humorous, but in a ridiculous way, that is, they ridicule the foolish behavior of wicked people. Laughter in the Bible is always set in a context of ridicule, usually God ridiculing the wicked, but sometimes (like Sarah) people ridiculing some notion they consider foolish -- in her case the very idea of bearing a child so long after menopause.

Except for puns (for which the appropriate response is more of a groan than a laugh), I don't know of any jokes that do not derive their humor from some form of ridicule. Maybe it's OK to ridicule animals, but ridicule directed against a person is often cruel -- maybe only slightly so, but unless they can turn the tables (many or most people cannot), the hurt can build up until you get Columbine.

Cruelty is not Christian. I had a friend in college whose idea of humor was to insult you. I did not consider his "jokes" funny, and when the year was over and we went our ways, I did not maintain the friendship. I never told him why.


God made Adam and Eve naked and unashamed. Subsequent history -- including the Bible -- has not been so generous. Nakedness in the Bible is always associated with shame. It's not forbidden -- Peter apparently took all his clothes off when he was fishing [John 21:7], but he put his toga back on to jump in the water and swim ashore when he learned Jesus was there.

Shame is a cultural thing. Children need to be trained to want to hide their body parts. Why? The Bible does not say. Some pre-civilized tribes in warm climates wear no clothes, and they seem to feel no shame over it, but when civilization arrives, everybody starts wearing clothes. Not being in the habit of spending time in nudist camps, I can't say for sure, but I wonder if there is a sexual thing.

The Law of Moses uses nakedness as a euphemism for sexual relations. Movie producers use naked women (not naked men) to arouse and attract male audiences. There are other kinds of attractors for women; those are called "chick flics", or if both kinds of attractors are in the same movie, "date flics." Modest attire does not have that effect on people. They can concentrate on the story without that distraction.


God made Abraham and Solomon very wealthy, but the Bible is not generally kind to wealth. Referring to money in opposition to God, Jesus said you cannot serve two masters. Going after money is anti-Christian, but if God deems you able to handle it without idolizing it, and therefore makes you wealthy without your trying to, that seems to be OK. In the Middle Ages, many pious Christians took vows of poverty, as Jesus invited the Rich Young Ruler to do. Most people now as then can't bring themselves to do it, to their own great loss.

First draft 2008 July 25
All reverences NIV

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