Alcohol and the Christian
Growing up in the religious background that I did, there are certain subjects that you learn not to question. When you think you see a verse that may go against a firmly established truth, but it must not be saying that. I’m not saying this was ever encouraged; it was more of a “this subject is non-negotiable, and you must have a spiritual problem for even questioning the established doctrine.” Even this would not have been stated in the instances I’m thinking of, just implied.
Because of the title, you know where I’m headed. I was raised (as were many of you) to believe that a Christian ought never to touch a drop of alcohol. There were a variety of verses that were quoted and referred to in support of this, and anyone who did not follow this policy was considered to be in grievous sin.And the verses that condemn abuse of alcohol are plentiful. Consider:
Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
Proverbs 23:20-21 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
Romans 13:13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.
Proverbs 23:29-32 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.
From these verses, it is clear that drunkenness is sin, and I believe this wholeheartedly. But there’s more to the story then this. Gluttony is a sin, but is food bad? Fornication is a sin, but is sex bad? The love of money is the root of all evil, but is money evil?
My point is, there are at least as many verses in the Bible that show that wine is a good gift of God:
Psalm 104:14-15 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen mans heart.
Amos 9:13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”
In fact, God demanded wine as an offering in the Old Testament.
Exodus 29:40 And with the first lamb a tenth seah of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering.
Lev. 23:13 And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the Lord with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin.
Num. 15:5 and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb.
What is interesting about using wine as a drink offering is that God demanded that everything offered to him be the choicest and purest. The fact that He is commanding for wine to be used shows that there is nothing inherently wrong with it.
Another truth that I had not thought of before undertaking this study is that wine is not just praised in the Bible for being a nice tasting beverage, but it is praised specifically for it’s effect. If you look back up to Psalm 104:15, you will see that God causes plants to grow so that man may cultivate them, and one of the reasons given is for “wine to gladden the heart.” This is a recurring theme in the Old Testament.
Eccl. 10:16-19 Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility, and your princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness! Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks. Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.
In Isaiah 55, God even compares spiritual blessings to wine:
Isaiah 55:1 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Proverbs says to use wine specifically for the forgetting of sorrows:
Prov. 31:6-7 Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
On the other hand, one of the curses often mentioned in the Old Testament is not being able to partake of the wine that is the natural reward of man’s labors in the vineyard.
Deut. 28:39 You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them.
Another passage that is very interesting on this subject involves God commanding a tithe that was to be eaten in a place appointed by God as a gathering for this event. What is interesting is that they are commanded to, if they are unable to carry everything to the appointed place, sell it and take the money with them. Once they get to the appointed place, they are to buy “whatever their appetite craves,” including wine or strong drink, to eat before the Lord.
Deut. 14:22-27 You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.
In the New Testament, there are more examples, although mostly of a different type. For example, Luke tells us that Jesus drank wine:
Luke 7:33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, He has a demon. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.
Now, before you say, “this is just grape juice,” grape juice would not be cause to accuse someone of being drunk. In fact, the contrast that is given throughout the Bible is that of wine in moderation or drunkenness. There is no difference between the words used in these cases, nor any indication in the text to show that there were different qualities of wine. The wine that was used was something that could get people drunk, even in the Lord’s Supper:
1 Corinthians 11:21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.
Whatever the Corinthian’s were using in the Lord’s Supper, was alcoholic enough to cause drunkenness. But that’s not what Paul condemns them for. He condemns them for the drunkenness and gluttony (the two seem to go hand in hand), but makes no complaint about the beverage used. Notice also the marriage in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine:
John 2:7-9 Jesus said to the servants, Fill the jars with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.
Not only did Jesus make wine, which is an alcoholic drink, not grape juice; he also made better wine than that which was at the feast before. It seems evident that the wine that was higher quality was probably more fermented as well.
Also, if you look back at some of the verses I’ve mentioned, you will see that there is more than wine mentioned here. Strong drink is sometimes mentioned, and Strong’s says the Hebrew word means “intoxicant, i.e. intensely alcoholic liquor.” This is definitely not a watered down wine like many Christians try to claim the wine of the Bible was, and yet this is used in a drink offering:
Numbers 28:7 Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the LORD.
And is also combined with wine in the exhortation of Proverbs 31:6, to “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;” as I mentioned above.
Another note in the New Testament is that, in the couple of instances where someone is accused of being drunk (like Jesus as I noted earlier), they do not deny drinking. Look at Peter on the day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:13-15 But others mocking said, They are filled with new wine.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.
The excuse that Peter gave was totally unlike what most of you would say if you were put in a similar situation. Would you not say something more like, “No, I’m not drunk, because I don’t drink.”? But Peter did not say that, because there was nothing wrong with the drinking. He showed instead that it was too early in the day to reasonably expect them to be drunk.
To summarize, although Scripture clearly warns against drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol, just like it warns against gluttony and fornication, it is also clear that alcohol is a gift from God to be enjoyed with thankfulness to God.