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

Wes  —  February 16, 2012
  • Sharebar

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