Biblical perspective on Alcohol

Many folk will tell you the Bible condemns the consumption of alcohol.  Many churches have taught for years that drinking is a sin.  Some teach that the wine in the Bible was really grape juice, not a fermented alcoholic drink.  Right up front, I tell you drinking is sinful – for some, but not for all.  And no, the wine in the New Testament is not grape juice, it’s wine.  Let’s see, in part, what the Bible tells us – as saints of God.

The English word “wine” occurs 37 times in the New Testament (KJV).  33 of those (scattered throughout the 4 Gospels, Romans, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, Revelation) are the Greek word oinos, which is a direct derivative of the Hebrew word for intoxicating wine, yayin.  2 more occurrences are found in Paul’s pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, wherein the qualifications of Bishop are given - a double use of a Greek word, paroinos, which is a compound word taken from para (to be near) and oinos. One of the other 2 occurrences of the English word is inferred by the scribes to make the sentence make sense in English – Luke 5:39 and the other is in Acts 2:13, where the term “new wine” refers to a more intoxicating wine (gleukos) than oinos.

Note – all of the New Testament references to wine warn about being drunk and advise us not to abuse it nor our freedom to consume it.  These warnings are because our Maker knows our frailties.  How many people do you know who “can’t handle their liquor”?  Many people abuse alcohol and don’t think they do – just like folks who swear.  But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

Note also that in John 2, where Jesus performed His first recorded miracle, people were getting drunk when the wine ran out.  They weren’t drinking grape juice.  When He turned the water into wine, it was declared by the wine steward to be the best wine of the evening – whereas most hosts served cheap stuff once people were under the influence.

Thirdly, note that folks had no refrigeration and grape juice would ferment quickly if left in its natural juice state.  Wine, fermented on purpose, would keep much longer.

Here are some scripture passages that reveal God’s will on this topic, based on a review of the word, “drink”:

Leviticus 10:8 – 11    God forbids priests who are performing ministry to drink wine or strong booze during the time they are ministering.  The big unspoken implication is that they could drink these when not performing their ministerial duties; else the Word would not have made this specific prohibition.

Judges 13:1 – 7    God details the prohibition of drinking alcohol for Nazerites.  Again, if the non-abusive drinking was prohibited to all God’s people, He would not have made this specific prohibition.

Song of Solomon 8:1 – 3    In this love song, God shows the proper use of alcoholic wine.  Note the Hebrew word for wine in this verse is yayin, which means “wine (as fermented); by impl. intoxication:–banqueting, wine” and not merely grape juice as some say.

Isaiah 5:21 – 22 and 29:9 – 14    God shows that drinking booze can be a trait of proud, arrogant men.

Amos 9:11 – 15    God promises to bless His people and one of the blessings bestowed upon them is the wine of the vineyards He will give them; and they will drink the wine.

Romans 14:19 – 23    God shows us to be careful in what we do – including drinking – as regards our weaker brothers and sisters in Christ.  But this is not a general prohibition against drinking alcohol.

1 Timothy 5:23    This is the famous verse where Timothy is advised to drink a little wine (goes back to the same Hebrew word used in the Song) for his stomach.

Now here are some more scripture, based on the word, “wine” (always using yayin):

Genesis 9:20 – 24    God shows how wine can be abused and man suffers the consequence.

Genesis 14:17 – 20    The high priest Melchizedek set forth bread and wine (yayin) before weary travelers.

Exodus 29:38 – 41    God prescribes the use of wine (yayin) as part of a required sacrifice.  He would not use something in this manner if the thing (wine) was sinful in all its use.

Leviticus 23:10 – 14    God again requires wine be a part of a sacrifice.

Numbers 6:18 – 21    Once a Nazerite has completed his service, he may drink wine.

Numbers 28:7    God requires wine and strong drink be used in sacrifice.

Psalms 104:14 – 15    God gives us wine to give us happiness.

Proverbs 20:1    Booze is to handled with great care, as many will be taken into excess.

Ecclesiastes 9:4 – 7    Wine is to be enjoyed as part of the fruit of our work.

John 2:1 – 10    Jesus creates wine for a wedding celebration.  Why would He do this if the reasonable consumption of wine was sinful?

Ephesians 5:17 – 21    The famous verse tells us not to be drunk with wine, but filled with the Holy Spirit.  This shows that it is being drunk that is sinful, rather than merely drinking a glass of wine.

1 Timothy 3    Qualifications for bishops and deacons – don’t be a drunkard.  Again – not a word about “do not drink”.

There are many verses that warn about the dangers of excessive drinking.  These ought to make every saint careful about drinking.  But it’s the heart – have a drink to enjoy life, don’t drink to excess nor allow the alcohol to influence you or make a brother stumble.  See Romans 14:14 – 23.  And back up to Romans 14:1 – 13 to see how we should not look down on a brother who has a different view on eating or drinking.  A shorter view of this point is found in Colossians 2:16 – 17.

Let the Word of God be your guide about this – and every subject; not the word of any man.  Life is too important to rest on man’s opinion.  We have the word of God and the mind of Christ.  Let us live in such a way as to make this present world know we don’t belong to it – we belong to Jesus!

In His grip,

14 thoughts on “Biblical perspective on Alcohol

  1. Nigel Taylor says:

    Great article! It’s so obvious that the Bible doesn’t condemn the drinking of wine, just the abuse of it. Psalm 104:15 can’t be referring to grape juice:-) We in Australia, produce the best wines in the world; a great blessing to enjoy in moderation.

  2. DavidW says:

    Volatile subject. And just what was alcoholic “wine” (the liquid from the fruit of the vine, that is, grapes), and what wasn’t, in any given Scripture, must be thoroughly studied and understood. All our “wine” today is alcoholic (except for that specifically labeled non-alcoholic), but it was not so centuries ago. Seems though to be in vogue these days to extol the benefits of alcohol for Christians. Problem is, I don’t see it’s use promoted in the New Testament, but rather cautions issued concerning it. The wedding at Cana is often given to support the case that God wants us to drink alcohol or He wouldn’t have made it for the wedding guests. Problem with that theory is that the sinless, Almighty God temps no man, and thus would not tempt man to sin with a known mind altering drug (they were well-drunk BEFORE Jesus made the wine). “But Jesus drank wine” is another excuse. So did most everyone else with meals. Never says how much He drank, certainly not to mind-altering excess (or He wouldn’t be sinless). And we do know today that wine, particularly red wine, does have certain digestive benefits when consumed with food.

    I used to be an alcoholic, so I know the foolishness of playing with this fire. And I never knew or heard of anyone suffering from abstaining altogether from alcohol. But the dangers of the stuff are all too well known. Having said that, it is imperative that we do not judge those who do drink it, as long as it hasn’t over worked the liver to the point of affecting the brain. At that point they have reached drunkenness and are in sin.

  3. Jak says:

    Good job. More in depth than most people care to write about. And while I use to be completely against drinking, scriptures such as ones you shown above convinced me otherwise. I completely agree with you.

  4. Rose says:

    This is what my pastor says about whether or not Christians should drink alcohol: “How would you feel about alcoholic beverages being brought into the church for consumption (‘in moderation’, of course)? Would you be ok with the pastor or a church member bringing in a couple of 6 packs to share at a fellowship dinner? If it is not ok to bring it into the church and consume it (even moderately), why would you do it in your home or socially?” I agree…seems like a double standard to me. I am not going to condemn Christians who have an occasional drink, but I do feel it is a poor testimony.

    I have to admit though… I am a bit biased on this issue of alcohol. I absolutely hate it! I lost my mom in the prime of her life because of a drunk driver and alcoholism destoryed a close family member’s life and family. The biggest heartache of all though is the sorrow of seeing how alcohol has affected the life of my adopted daughter who has fetal alcohol syndrome. Most people aren’t aware that even one glass of wine a week in pregancy can seriously and irreparably damage a developing fetus. My daughter is severely disabled and will never live a normal life. Hard for people to believe that so little alcohol can do so much damage. But, while one drink isn’t that much to an adult body, when it passes through the placenta into the tiny developing fetus…it is ALOT and it is lethal! It damages/stunts the proper growth/development of the frontal lobes of the brain which control cause and effect reasoning, attention, short term memory, impulse control, and executive functioning skills. Besides mental affects, there can also be lasting physical problems and deformities.

    “SCIENTISTS have captured graphic ultrasound images of the damage done to unborn babies as a result of women drinking during pregnancy. Just one glass of wine a week can make babies “jump” in the womb throughout a nine-month pregnancy.”
    Watch video of ultrasound here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL2k5SMKrY4

    Every time I watch that video, I want to cry. I wish every pregnant mother would watch it and vow never to take even a single drop. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is 100% preventable and it a terrible tragedy that any child has to be cursed with it for life.

  5. Rose, that was a sad video. My wife and I have been blessed with two little additions to our family through adoption. Although it is only mild, both girls were diagnosed with FAS due to their mothers drinking and doing drugs while they were pregnant. The whole story is not very pleasant, but people never seem to learn. The depravity of the heart continues to inflict untold harm and damage to the lives of others.

  6. Jak – thanks for your encouragement.

    Rose – I am so sorry for the situation you are in. Nobody should make light of the danger alcohol poses. Some people have no tolerance for it, some consider it sin; such should avoid it. And – as your testimony points out – everyone should consider his or her specific situation so as to not be blind-sided. “Do no harm!” is good counsel for normal people as well as for doctors.

    I ride a motorcycle and hear very similar arguments against riding – it’s dangerous and some folks have been killed and maimed. Life is precious and we ought to guard it judiciously.

  7. DavidW,

    One comment in response: your position that Jesus wouldn’t have made alcohol at the wedding because God tempts no man is a false set-up. We often confuse testing with tempting – the one tree in the garden that was forbidden is reasonably seen as being a temptation from God. But it was a test.

    There is nothing in the Scripture to cause one to reasonably think Jesus made anything other than alcohol at the wedding; only supposition that rests on man’s wisdom.

    As I pointed out in the original post, alcohol is nothing to play with and each ought to approach with care. But it is a construct of man’s imagination for men such as Adrian Rogers to say the wine at the wedding and all other approved uses by God’s people was non-alcoholic.

    I respect all who abstain from alcohol. I do not respect anyone who tells me all consumption of alcohol is sin.

    Let us all live for the glory of God and sharpen one another.

  8. Rose says:

    Desert Pastor,

    God bless you and your family for adopting those little ones. Alcohol affected children deserve a chance …loving homes where they can be nutured and helped to reach their fullest possible potential in life. It is so good that your girls have already been diagnosed with FAS. Early diagnosis is the key to helping these children. We did not find out the origin of our daughter’s multiple cognitive and behavorial problems until she was almost 18. Had we known from the start we could have helped her so much more and possibly her life would have had a better outcome. Children with FAS are like snowflakes…no two are alike. Each is affected a bit differently depending upon when in the pregancy the birthmother drank, how much she drank, and other factors. But, nonetheless, there are certain symptoms that are common to all FAS children in varying degrees. When they are small, it can be hard to detect any severe problems. It is as they grow to school age when things begin to stand out. Though your girls may very well be only mildly affected, you will want to learn all you can about FASD right now while they are still little… how it may affect their mental and social development. One of the best resources on-line for parents is The FAS Resource Community at http://www.come-over.to/FASCRC/. I don’t know what I would have done without all the help and good information I gleaned there over the years. It was a lifesaver so many times when I was searching for answers. There are also links there to on-line support groups consisting of moms/dads (most of whom are adoptive parents, but also some birthmoms) who are raising FAS children. Very loving group of people, many of whom are Christians.

    Thanks for sharing! God bless you and your new little ‘arrivals’.

  9. Whoohoo! Manfred has given us the verses telling us drinking is okay….okay he has also give us the verses that say getting drunk is a sin. Great article brother!

  10. Dear Brother Manfred,
    The very first perspective God gave us on the use of alcohol is found in Gen. 9 when Noah drank some of the wine from his vineyard and became drunk and naked. The consequences of his decision to drink alcohol in the home led to a devastating future for his grandson Canaan. When Noah woke from his drunkeness he said “Cursed be Canaan the lowest of slaves will he be…” The most important thing to note in Gen. 9 is not the nakedness of Naoh but the fact that future generations were cursed as a result of this one mans decision to drink alcohol in the home. This was the very first perspective God gave us concerning the use of alcohol. Here God warns us that alcohol use impairs our judgment and has the power to curse, produce bondage, slavery and additction for future generations to come… should we just ignore this indisputable fact or should we pay attention? I dont imagine that Noah intended to end up passed out and naked on the floor of his tent… No, most likely one drink led to another, and then well another, and another and before he knew it he was passed out and naked on the floor of his tent. Sure it started out innocent and harmless, just a few drinks to take the edge off, problem was thats not the only thing Noah took off, He took off his clothes, he lost the sharpness of good judgment, he dulled his senses and the consequences that followed were lasting and severe for Canaan Noahs grandson. Make no mistake, your decisions to drink alcohol in the home regardless of how harmless it may seem to you are sending a message to the next generation.
    It all started when Ham saw his Fathers nakedness, The Bible says the other two brothers “did not look upon their fathers nakedness”, teaching us that children are deeply affected by what they see their parents doing. How is your life impacting those around you, how could your drinking influence your children or grandchildren? I ask you dear reader, How has drinking alcohol affected our future generations? How many young people in our society have drinking problems? How many are being killed as a result of alcohol use? Do you know someone killed in a DUI related car accident? If moderation is the answer then why are so many are accidentally crossing the line? Could it be… because alcohol “In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper”? Proverbs 23. Do you want something in your home that bites like a snake an poisons like a viper? If God speaks through circumstances what is He saying to us? As for the Wedding at Cana. Once again, this passage has been misunderstood. The wedding at Cana had nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus feeling sorry for the guests at the banquet and deciding to bring some more booze to the party. Not even close… In eastern jewish culture it is considered shameful even disgraceful to run out of food or beverage at a wedding feast. Knowing this Mary approached Jesus, why? She was not so concerned with the absence of wine but the presence of shame and disgrace… Thats why Jesus said “Woman, why do you involve me “my time has not yet come”… What time is He refering to? The Cross, where He would take away our sin, shame and disgrace. Jn.17 Jesus said “Father the time has come”… when speaking of his death, burial and resurrection.” What does Jesus do? He goes on a mission to do what he came to do… to remove shame and disgrace, how does he do it? Water becomes wine… The jars of water were the type used for ceremonial cleansing and purification. Notice when the Master of the banquet drinks the Water that had become Wine he goes to the bridegroom and says “Most people bring out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guest have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best until now” O Really? Not true, fact is, the bridegroom ran out of wine… he didn’t even have cheap wine for the guest to drink.. So why is he being complimented? Please dont miss this The bridgroom was credited with righteousness at Christs expense. He did nothing to deserve such a compliment, it was Jesus who deserved the highest praise and yet He allowed the bridegroom to get the credit. All shame and disgrace was removed because of the marvelous grace of God. Jesus was clearly foreshadowing the cross where He would take away our sin, our shame and our disgrace and extend to us His mercy and grace. 2 Cor 5:21 says “God made Him who knew no sin, to be sin, (the water became wine) for us to that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus Christ is the living water of God who fell like rain from heaven in order to cleanse and purify. He became as the wine, when He willingly placed Himself into the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty in order to take away our sin, His body was crushed like a grape and His blood was poured out like wine in order to remove our shame and our disgrace. Water became Wine in order to take away our sin. The first miracle Jesus ever performed would clearly illustrate His lifes purpose. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” One thing is for certain we should never ever use the bloodbath of the cross of Jesus Christ to justify social drinking habits. Never was this miracles intended to be perverted the way it has been in our culture today. In John chapter 2 Jesus is clearly portraying the miracle of redemption by the sovereign grace of God.” Brother Manfred you have pointed out some verses that seem to justify social and responsible drinking. However the Bible is clear.. “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler, whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” I encourage you and all of your readers to go to WatertoWinebook.com for a clear biblical perspective on alcohol use and download this ebook for free. This book will be published next month. It was written in an effort to educate and inform Gods people on a subject so often ignored in the pulpit as well as the pew. Alcohol is the number one drug problem in America. With over 12 million alcoholics in the U.S and a person killed approx. every 30 minutes in an alcohol related car accident. I think its safe to say that God desires His children to become a part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.

  11. David,
    Read the article. Post shorter if you want your comments read. Bottom line – the Bible tells us what is sin, not the culture nor the consequences of behavior. When Noah got drunk – that was sin, because the Bible tells us getting drunk is sin. If Noah had stopped at one glass of wine – no sin, unless he had determined in his mind it was so for him. Sinful people cause the carnage you describe – ruling by the law will not change their souls.

  12. Learner says:

    Clearly, most of the responses here are well considered; some are based, at least in part, upon scripture and all are emotionally charged. While I agree with most of the emotional pleas toward abstinence, scripture must be the light by which believers discern truth and not emotion. We can not add to scripture, our law (abstinence regarding alcohol), in order that we might not bump up against God’s law (Drunkenness/intoxication regarding alcohol). If we allow it, based upon an emotional, though rational, justification; then we must also broaden our constraints to all other areas of “potential” sin. If I recall correctly, wasn’t there a group recognized in scripture for doing this very thing?

    What if you carry the emotional argument forward to another topic, equally devastating in our current culture? What if we looked at say…LUST. And we use the “causing a weaker brother to stumble” argument. Well, it would then be reasonable to say that any skin showing, any swimsuit, any form fitting sweaters, any make-up or perfume, or any attempt by a woman to make herself look more than “un-attractive” would be considered dangerous and even sinful! And the woman that violates said law, would be guilty of sin and deserving of punishment. (for their own good and the good of the weaker brother, of course) In fact, there is another religious group in existence in our world that believes just that and commits untold atrocities against women in the name of their religion and protection against sin, unrighteousness, and in the name of their god.

    Personally, I find that those who argue the issue most vehemently on either side are generally the ones who need to resolve the issue for themselves. One who is confident in their position doesn’t need to defend it at all costs.

    Maybe we all need to “accept him who is weak in the faith” and let “each man be convinced in his own mind”. But remember…perhaps you are not the one “accepting” but rather, you may be the one being “accepted”! “NO” you say, “this cannot be”? If so…then your problem is much greater than wine or no wine, pride may very well have its hold on you…and pride does more destruction to a man’s heart, soul and fellowship with his Creator God, than a little wine ever did!

    But…then again…this is coming from the weaker brother!

    Cheers!

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