To Drink, Or not to Drink…

Posted: August 11, 2012 in Bible Related, Social Concerns
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Drinking alcohol is generally frowned upon by Christians traditionally. But newer converts and younger converts seem to be more liberal on the issue. I, myself, was always on the fence towards this subject. I like to drink socially every now and then (responsibly of course), but always felt like I was doing something wrong, or not being a good Christian role model to others. The problem I had was identifying where this feeling I got came from. Was it from what I read in the Bible or did I get this guilt trip from expected traditional Christian behavior? As any Christian might find, sometimes we tend to adhere more to the traditions of a classic American Christian image instead of reading what is actually in the Bible to model ourselves off of.

 

The first distinction we need to make is between alcohol and being drunk. We often put these two into synonymous realms, but they are quite different. Alcohol is a beverage. Being drunk is the result of having too much of that beverage. With this distinction made it is now appropriate to look at what the Bible says about these subjects.

 

Alcohol:

 

Deuteronomy 14:26 says, “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.” (NIV) Here we see the wine and fermented drink written of as something to purchase and consume in the presence of the Lord and rejoice over.

 

Leviticus 10:9 writes that priests may not have been drinking when entering the tabernacle, “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations,” (NKJV) This verse has a more negative view on drinking, but in context only applies to priests entering the holy tabernacle. The reasoning being that only the pure and cleansed may enter the tabernacle, and if you have had alcohol you were not pure enough to be in the presence of God.

 

Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart;” (NKJV) This is undoubtedly an “alcohol is good” passage.

 

Proverbs 31:6, “Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!” (NIV) This verse is tricky. Some believe this verse is referencing the use of alcohol to treat those that are sick. This makes sense because in Biblical times alcohol was recognized as a pain reliever and anesthetic.[1] But others believe, and this is more in line with many Biblical scholars, that this verse is more in context with drinking for those who are impoverished or suffering, as a form of relief. Indeed, if you read this verse in context (verses 4-7) the latter seems to be more appropriate.

 

Psalm 104:14-15 says, “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.” (NKJV) This seems to suggest that wine is a gift from God that is good for man.

Isaiah 25:6 declares, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (NIV) Here we see alcohol as a form of luxury.

 

Isaiah 55:1 says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (NIV)  Isaiah 62:9 says, “…but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.” (NIV)  Amos 9:14 says, “…and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.” (NIV) All these verses relate to wine possession as prosperity and a blessing.

Jesus drank alcohol; Luke 22:18, “For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Or Matthew 26:27-29, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” (NIV)

Religious scholar J. Stephen Lang writes, “The Bible definitely does not prohibit drinking alcohol… Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine suggests that He did not disapprove of drinking it.”[2]

 

But before we all go out and buy a six pack and start getting crazy there are some very important historical factors to take into consideration here. There wasn’t modern sanitation in Biblical times. The water available for drinking was often filled with bacteria, heavy metals, viruses and other contaminants. However, through the process of making wine, many of these contaminations are removed. This made the drinking of wine and other fermented beverages a healthier option.[3] Many believe this comes into play in 1 Timothy 5:23 when Paul instructs Timothy to stop drinking water and instead drink some wine for his constant illnesses. It is possible that Timothy was getting sick from the water.

 

This brings up another vital point though. If wine was consumed as a safer alternative in the past, and now today we have access to safe drinking water (in first world countries that is), should we still be drinking wine, or any alcohol for that matter? With the variety of safe beverages we have, what are the reasons we have for drinking alcohol? Is it just to get drunk? But before we answer that, there are some more things to consider and weigh in.

 

We additionally need to define what exactly wine was in Biblical times. It would be inaccurate to say it was just grape juice. But it would likewise be inaccurate to say it is the same wine we drink today. Wine was not fermented to the same degree it is today.[4] The wine drank by Jesus and others in Biblical times did not have as strong of alcohol content. But, it was still alcohol. So if it took two to three glasses of ancient wine to account for one glass of wine today, that still doesn’t change the fact that they were consuming alcohol. So clearly alcohol can’t be generalized as being bad and sinful by itself. There are clearly some other factors involved, and now is when we turn through the pages in the Bible in search of drunkards!

 

 

Drunkenness:

 

Genesis 9:20-21 speaks of Noah becoming drunk enough at one point that he passes out naked. Some shenanigans with his sons occur afterwards when one of them accidentally sees him on the ground naked that leads to Noah being very upset about the whole thing. Later in Genesis, Lot’s daughters get him drunk, seduce him and bear his children. Biblical scholars in general disagree on the meaning of both these stories outside of just stating the facts of what really went down, but they do agree that there is some semblance of negative connotation attributed with the stories and not praise. I use them here to simply point out the weird and odd things that happen when you drink too much. Which anyone reading this, that has at least at one point drank too much, is all too well aware of I’m sure.

 

Proverbs 41:4-5 says, “It is not for kings, Lemuel— it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.” (NIV) Here we see drinking being bad for Kings if they drink to the point of forgetting important things. Loss of memory would definitely be associated with being drunk.

Isaiah 28:1-3, 7 says, “Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley — to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine! See, the Lord has one who is powerful and strong. Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, he will throw it forcefully to the ground. That wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards, will be trampled underfoot. [Verse 7] And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions.” (NIV) Here we see God’s wrath on a people that are heavily drinking.

Isaiah 56:11-12 says, “Yes, they are greedy dogs Which never have enough. And they are shepherds Who cannot understand; They all look to their own way, Every one for his own gain, From his own territory. ‘Come,’ one says, ‘I will bring wine, And we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; Tomorrow will be as today, And much more abundant.’” (NKJV) Here we see drinking in the context of greedy dogs that can never have enough, which seems to suggest excessive drinking.

Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,” (NIV) Leave it up to the New Testament to give a more straight forward answer. It is pretty clear that this verse condemns getting drunk.

 

So at this point we can make two conclusions: First, the Bible does not condemn the consumption of alcohol. Second, the Bible DOES condemn getting drunk off that alcohol. But we cannot stop here. As much as this may seem like the case is closed, there are definitely some more variables at hand. Addiction? Witnessing? Abstinence? How do we even gauge what being drunk is? Isn’t that a relative standard that varies from person to person? As you can see, the case is far from closed.

 

 

Addiction:

Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (NKJV) Proverbs 23:39-35 says, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. 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 will 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?’” (NIV) These verses in proverbs paint the picture of someone who is led astray by wine, consumed by it, tempted by it, addicted to it. And what do people do who are addicted to alcohol? They mock, fight, have woe, have sorrow, have strife, complain, have blood shot eyes, and can’t feel pain when they’re beat. The message here is very clear; addiction to alcohol is destructive.

Isaiah 5:11 says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.” (NIV) Again, here we have the behavior of someone addicted to alcohol presented as being bad.

Titus 2:3 says, “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.” (NIV) Titus speaks of teaching what is good by teaching older women to not be addicted to wine. Clearly being addicted to wine is bad.

 

Though 1 Corinthians 6:12 is in context speaking of sexual immorality, it can also apply to alcohol addiction in my opinion, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.” Or 2 peter 2:19, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.’”

 

The conclusion here is that alcohol should not consume you and be your master. You should not be addicted to it. If you are, than the alcohol is your master and not the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Discipleship and Witnessing:

The next problem to consider is whether drinking aids or hurts the Christian’s ability to witness and be a good role model for Jesus. Common rational in the church is that if the unconverted see you drinking they will accuse you of hypocrisy, which will damage any attempt you have at witnessing to them. But this rational is based on the false assumption that the Bible condemns drinking. When in truth, the Bible condemns being drunk, but does not condemn drinking.

A new rational that is emerging in newer and younger converts is that not drinking may actually harm your ability to witness. That refusing to drink will perpetuate the misconception that Christianity is just a long list of do’s and don’ts. Again, this is based on the false assumption that the Bible condemns drinking. So the real issue at hand is that drinking or refusing to drink may hurt your witness if people (both the converted and unconverted) don’t know what the Bible actually has to say about the subject.

The real solution to this problem is proper knowledge of the Bible and bold ability to properly address the issue to others. Jesus drank wine, and he even hung out with the drunkards. When people called Him a hypocrite for claiming to be holy yet hanging with unholy people, Jesus said did not back peddle or retreat. He boldly declared, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32, NIV). Jesus, as always, provided an excellent example in helping sinners, while maintaining the integrity to not sin Himself. So if you’re drinking in public and not getting drunk, no one can accurately call you a hypocrite. And if they do, respectfully educate them on what the Bible actually says.

But what about becoming a stumbling block to others? As mentioned in Matthew 18:6-9 and 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, Christians are not supposed to indulge in activities that may be a stumbling block to others. In other words, if you’re hanging out with a recovering alcoholic, you probably shouldn’t be drinking in front of them as it may lead them back into their drinking problem. Now many argue with analogy that if someone has a credit card problem, does that mean you can’t make credit card purchases in front of them? If someone is over weight from eating too much, does that mean you can’t eat in front of them? The distinction made is that if someone has a problem with irresponsible usage of an item does that mean you cannot use that same item in a responsible manner? If anything, your responsible behavior may actually help show that person the healthier way to manage that particular item. Regardless, the verses mentioned earlier seems to suggest it is best to not even risk being a stumbling block. After all, the only thing at risk with ourselves is not being able to enjoy certain indulgences. Sounds like a small sacrifice… But now we must ask, should we just take the safe route and avoid any possible chance of becoming a stumbling block by never drinking in public? Should we just take the safe route and take a vow of abstinence?

 

 

Abstinence (from alcohol):

 

Even though the Bible green lights drinking responsibly, some Christians do have a good reason for not drinking. Maybe they just don’t like the taste. Maybe they’re under age. Maybe they’re recovering alcoholics, maybe they were raised by alcoholic parents, or maybe they’re in a country where the culture prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Maybe you’re pregnant. In Judges 13:4, an angel commands Samson’s mother not to drink because she is pregnant. But if you do enjoy having a drink from time to time (responsibly of course), should you stop?

 

Biblically, the only people mentioned that had to completely abstain from alcohol where the Nazirites, a small group in Israel.[5]  Numbers 6:1-15 speaks of the rituals of the Nazarite, who made a special dedication to the Lord by doing many things like not cutting their hair, not touching dead bodies, and not drinking. They were to be pure at all times. This was not a command for all Israelites to do, but a command for those who chose to make the vow.

 

Back to the core issue at hand: It doesn’t hurt to not drink. If you think it may hurt your witness, take that opportunity to explain to others around you why you’re not drinking. If you’re a Christian, and you’re not drinking because of alcoholism in your family and not your religious convictions, explain this to your friends or family if you think it may be a problem.

 

However, to never drink because it may lead to alcoholism or irresponsible behavior, is in my opinion, a poor argument. People become slaves to making money, does that mean we should never use money? People who eat too many sweets may become diabetic or over weight, does that mean we should never eat sweets? People become addicted to the internet or use it to look at porn, does that mean we should stay away from the internet? As mentioned before we need to distinguish between what is in itself a sin, and what is only a sin when used irresponsibly or in great excess. Since the Bible does not declare alcohol a sin, but does declare the over excessive consumption of it a sin, then alcohol is clearly only a problem when consumed irresponsibly. Therefore there is no command to abstain from it if you do not wish to.

 

In my opinion, it can’t hurt you as a Christian to not drink. But if you do drink, be aware of the environment you’re drinking in. Be responsible. Communicate with those around you to make sure you are not a stumbling block. Be respectful and ask if they don’t mind you drinking. Defend yourself and your faith if you’re accused of hypocrisy. Know what your limit is. And with all this considered, I only have one last thing to say; CHEERS!


[1] Lang, J.S. (1999) 1001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible but Never Thought to Ask, 2010 Ed., Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York: NY, pp. 119

[2] Lang, J.S. (1999) 1001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible but Never Thought to Ask, 2010 Ed., Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York: NY, pp. 119

[5] Lang, J.S. (1999) 1001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible but Never Thought to Ask, 2010 Ed., Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York: NY, pp. 119

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Comments
  1. Noel says:

    I believe in drinking alcohol in moderation. We should be responsible for how much alcohol we can consume without compromising our principles.

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