What Does the Bible Say About Drinking: Four Points to Consider

Wes  —  February 16, 2012 — 9 Comments
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What does the Bible say about drinking? That is a question about which I wonder, do people really want the answer? Like many issues, Christians tend to pick out passages that “prove” their position, instead of allowing Scripture to dictate what their position should be. Let’s take an honest look at the Bible and see what God has to say about the issue of alcohol.

What Does the Bible Say About Drinking?

First, I think we should define what “drinking” we are talking about. Obviously, God is in favor of us “drinking” liquids. Without drinking something, we’d die. The issue here is, what does the Bible say about drinking alcohol? I say this, not to be sarcastic, but to introduce the first point.

1. Not all wine in the Old Testament is “wine.”

We must understand an important point. Just because someone is said to have been drinking “wine” does not mean they were necessarily drinking alcohol. Did you know that many of the Hebrew words translated, “wine,” do not necessarily imply an alcoholic beverage? We even read in passages such as Isaiah 65:8, “the new wine is found in the cluster.”

Obviously, today we would not say “wine” is found in a cluster of grapes. We would say “juice” is found in a cluster of grapes. In Hebrew, however, their words for “wine” were more generic, applying both to intoxicating and non-intoxicating beverages made from grapes. If you are interested in further study on the words used in the Old Testament for “wine,” consider these articles: “Drinking in the Old Testament“ and, “What About Social Drinking and the Old Testament” by Wayne Jackson.

So, while there are many references to wine in the Old Testament, not all of the references are to alcohol. The only way to tell whether or not an intoxicating beverage is being referenced, is by the use of context clues. Do not make the mistake of assuming a drink is alcohol just because the word “wine” is used!

2. Not all wine in the New Testament is “wine.”

In Greek, it seems even harder to tell whether or not the “wine” in question is fermented or unfermented. Again, just as with the Hebrew language, the Greek word for “wine” (oinos) is a generic term that can refer to any beverage made from grapes. Context must tell us whether the beverage contains alcohol or not.

In fact, many point to Jesus turning water into wine as “proof” that the Christian is free to indulge in the drinking of alcohol today. They quote the master of the feast, “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” (John 2:10). And explain his statement to mean that everyone at a party is usually so drunk by the end, they cannot distinguish whether the wine is good or not.

If this explanation were true, it would imply that everyone at the wedding feast in Cana was drunk, and that Jesus was providing more alcohol to already intoxicated people. In fact, He would have provided between 120-130 gallons of intoxicating wine to people who were already drunk! How contradictory that would be to New Testament teaching, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery” (Ephesians 5:18)!

Doesn’t it make more sense to understand that the “wine” of the wedding feast was not like the wine people drink today; but was more along the lines of grape juice. Furthermore, wouldn’t it make more sense to understand the master of the feast to be saying that once the people had been drinking so much juice, their sense of taste was so dulled, they could no longer distinguish good drink from poor? To understand this account any other way, is to make Jesus out to be one who contributes to the drunkenness, and thereby sin, of others!

3. Drunkenness is Condemned

We are told that drunkenness is a “work of darkness” (Romans 13:13-14) and drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:21). What is always interesting to me, is how some Christians view the term, “drunk.” They admit it is a sin to be “drunk,” but believe moderate drinking to be acceptable. I wonder, who gets to define what it means to be, “drunk”? Does the government decide that for God? Is a blood alcohol level of .08, God’s definition of drunkenness? Are you acceptable to God when your blood alcohol level is .07, but sinning when it passes .08?

Let’s all be honest here, shall we? Drunkenness happens in degrees. There is not a line, before which there is absolutely no impairment, and after which you are suddenly “drunk.” Drunkenness comes as a result of accumulating alcohol in your body. As soon you start accumulating alcohol in your body, you begin the process of getting drunk!

4. Sobriety is Commanded

The Christian is not just commanded to, “not be drunk.” The Christian is commanded to be “sober.” And the word “nepho,” translated “sober” (1 Peter 5:8) literally means, “to abstain from wine,” according to Strong’s Dictionary of Greek Words. As soon as one begins to drink alcohol, he can no longer claim that his mind is sober. A Christian cannot fight the spiritual battle he needs to fight and resist the attacks of the evil one unless his mind is sober! Ten times in the New Testament, Christians are commanded to be sober:

  • We are told to think of ourselves with, “sober judgment” (Romans 1:23).
  • We are told to be “children of the day” by keeping awake and sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6).
  • We are told to be sober, dressed in the armor of God (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
  • Elders are told to be sober-minded (1 Timothy 3:2).
  • The wives of deacons are told to be sober-minded (1 Timothy 3:11).
  • Evangelists are told to be sober-minded (2 Timothy 4:5).
  • Older men are told to be sober-minded and self-controlled (Titus 2:2).
  • Christians are told to have their minds “prepared for action” and be sober-minded (1 Peter 1:13).
  • Christians are told, for the sake of our prayers, to be sober-minded and self-controlled (1 Peter 4:7).
  • Christians are told to be sober-minded and watchful because of the devil, who like a lion, is looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

How is it possible to drink, even moderately, and still be “sober” as God commands us to be? Can a Christian honestly say he is having a beer or a glass of wine to better glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? Understanding God’s will concerning sobriety and His warnings against drunkenness, is there no better alternative for a beverage than alcohol? Just some things to think about.

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams

 

 

 

  • http://samsnoggin.com Sam @ Sam’s Noggin

    I’m been looking for a great resource to share with others on this topic that is easy to read and concise. THANK YOU!

    • http://www.radicallychristian.com Wes

      Thanks! Glad it was helpful!

  • Ryan Vaughan

    You almost proved your point, except you did not clarify WHY Jesus turned water into “old” wine if Christians are not “allowed” to drink. Check your concordance on the word used in that miracle. Second, your opinion of “sober” is not biblical, it is your opinion. Just like so many things in our Christian faith, we develop rules and try to surround it with scripture. Abstaining from alcohol is a rather new “rule” in the Church. Even Martin Luther drank beer. In fact, most hymns were old bar tunes and words were added to be hymns. If you study our faith in depth, you will question the “newer” ideas we have. Even the idea of a “rapture” is relatively new. So I ask… Did the early Christians have it wrong or do we follow rules that stemmed from things that aren’t biblical? At least stick to the “stumbling block” excuse… I can respect that a little more. :) I appreciate your thoughts though, Wes.

    • Auntie M

      I agree with Ryan. Upon look up the words sober and wine you will find that you have chosen the part of the word that fits your topic. The word sober also means circumspect or vigilant. and if we are to go with your use of sober in these passages then we can also come to the conclusion such as in 1 Peter 5:8 that Christians are to always be awake because we are told to be vigilant which means to keep awake.

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  • jan

    Our preacher just preached an excellent sermon on this topic. It is not up yet at our church website, but I’d be glad to put the link on here when it is or to send you a CD of it. It is just an outstanding lesson on drinking. I am not a drinker. I personally think it is not a wise choice to drink, especially in our society where drinking is so often associated with partying. However, after having said that, I also have to say that I do not believe the Bible teaches that drinking is a sin. I do believe the Bible teaches that drunkenness is a sin. I often wonder how a person who is drinking would know exactly the point where they become drunk. I just think its a better example and a wiser choice to stay away from it. But we can’t say one is sinning because they have a drink.

  • Tom

    Excellent..So touching lesion that I’ve came across and read all about..

  • m$softengineer

    Thanks for putting this together, good to have in one place.

    I read in another article there are 15 Greek and Hebrew words for the word “wine”, curious to see a list of these and uses of each.

  • Hali

    Is gluttony not also a sin? The idea to eat only to refuel and not over-eat would be most difficult for many (particularly for us Baptists haha). The moment we put the first bite of food into our mouth to eat we begin the process of becoming full. Just something else to ponder. I feel that it is something an individual should have prayer about for their personal convictions regarding a glass of wine :)