The stance of a Christian toward intoxicating drinks or stimulants is one that crops up time and again in Bible study and discipleship classes. It is a legitimate area of discussion because the witness we give to the world about our faith really matters.
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet. 2:12).
Several Christian denominations teach that moderate alcohol is permitted but excess drinking is unwholesome.
Reading some of their arguments for this position, one has a feeling they are influenced more by the prevalent culture – particularly western culture – than a willingness to subjugate one’s desires to scriptural dictates.
But Americanism or Eurocentricism is not Christianity. There are some practices that may be deemed acceptable in American, Danish or Irish societies, but the Bible carries the highest authority to arbitrate on these matters.
While opinions differ on wine issues, scientific studies are establishing that the harmful effects of intoxicating drinks exceed their benefits.
Some scientific studies actually show that alcohol consumption can result in erectile dysfunction and low testosterone in men. However, the questions on many lips are:
Should Christians avoid alcoholic beverages? Does the word “wine” in the Bible refer to all fermented drinks – beer, whiskey, cocktails or brandy? Are certain kinds of wine permitted for believers? Or are we to do away with any kind of wine – natural palm wine, grape or other fruit wine?
In sound biblical interpretation, you don’t force a single meaning onto a word when that is used in conversely different ways.
The Bible calls Jesus a Lion and it also refers to the devil as a lion, but that doesn’t mean Jesus is the devil.
Similarly, looking at the Bible, we see that there are two kinds of wine. Though the term “wine” is used, the contexts determine which type is being referred to.
The Bible presents us with the benefits that one kind of wine offer and the damage that the other type does in the lives of those who indulge in it. They are:
The Bible describes wine as a good drink and also points at the consequences of its use as desirable.
Different terms are employed by the Bible to describe this kind of wine: “the best of the wine” (Num. 18:12) and “new wine” (Neh. 10:37, 39).
It’s mentioned as part of the blessing or prosperity in the land.
“May God give you of the deal of heaven…and plenty of grain and wine.” (Gen. 27:28); “He will give rain for your land in its season…that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil.” (Deut. 11:14).
It’s referred to as wine from the vine “which cheers gods and men” (Judges 9:13).
The Bible clearly mentions the benefits of this kind of wine and this can be seen in the way it was used as an offering to God in the verses above.
It must be noted that yeast which was used to make wine intoxicating was forbidden with all sacrifices, so the wine mentioned in the temple sacrifices were not intoxicating (“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast” Exodus 23:18; 34:25).
Leaven or yeast was also used as a symbol of sin and wasn’t acceptable in offering sacrifices to God.
This good wine was used to quench thirst or refresh. “He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil” (Deut. 7:13)
“Then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (Prov. 3:10).
It was also used as a symbol of spiritual blessing or of the Holy Spirit (Prov. 9:2; Song 5:1; Eph. 5:18). This is non-fermented “new” or non-alcoholic wine which is permitted.
This kind of wine is the fermented brand, variously described as “mixed wine,” “strong drink”, venomous “poison” and “staggering wine”:
“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.” (Prov. 23:29-30).
“And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment.” (Isa. 28:7).
“The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. The shepherds also have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all. “Come,” they say, “let us get wine, let us fill ourselves with strong drink…” (Isa. 56:11-12)
“Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper.” (Prov. 23:31-32).
“You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger.” (Ps. 60:3).
It is also described as a “mixture” (Ps. 75:8), “the cup of trembling” (Isa. 51:17), and “the wine cup of fury” (Jer. 25:15). Those who drink this type of wine are described as “sick” and “inflamed with wine” (Hos. 7:5).
In Jeremiah 35, we read about the Recabites (those who descended from Moses’ father in law) who refused to take wine:
“Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups before the Rekabites and said to them, “Drink some wine.” But they replied, “We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jehonadab son of Rekab gave us this command: ‘Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine.” (vv. 5-7).
This couldn’t be referring to the good wine God promised as a blessing to His people, but fermented wine. Though the term “wine” is still used, the context indicates which kind of wine it is.
The wine apologists
• Those arguing for drunkenness fail to make the necessary distinctions between “good/sweet wine” and “intoxicating/strong wine” but intentionally blur the lines in order to cement their own agenda.
• They also appeal to the instance of Jesus giving the disciples at the Last Supper wine as a legitimation of taking intoxicating wine.
An evidence that the wine served at the Last Supper wasn’t intoxicating can be seen in the fact that leaven/yeast which was used to ferment sweet wine was forbidden for use by Jews during the Passover.
God gave them the law that any Jew who must participate in the Passover must not eat leaven (Ex. 23:18; Lev. 6:17). There’s no reason to suggest that Jesus would break the ceremonial law by identifying with sin, particularly giving or taking intoxicating wine, prior to the Passover.
Another problem for those using this text as a prop is: the drink at the Lord’s Supper is never called wine. The Greek words there are tou genēmatos tēs ampelou meaning “the fruit of the vine.” (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).
• Most commentators who are pro-social drinking allude to the miracle of Jesus changing water into wine are the wedding of Cana of Galilee (John 2:8-10). This is Jesus’ first miracle in the NT and we need to get a clear picture of it.
Dr. Elmer Towns enunciates:
“Nature’s process to make wine (sweet) is by bringing water from the clouds to the earth, up through the vine into the grape, finally to be crushed into a juice. The miracle followed this process at the wedding although the process was speeded up into an instantaneous act. Making intoxicating wine involves allowing the grape to rot and adding man’s creative elements (leaven) to produce alcohol. God said, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly” (Prov. 23:31). As God, Jesus could not have contradicted this command from Proverbs and provided wine for the guests at the wedding meal.” (Bible Answers For Almost All Your Questions, Thomas Nelson, TN, 2003, p. 19).
From the passage itself, a distinction is made between “poorer wine” (Greek: elasso) and “good/superior wine” (Greek: kalon).
Intoxicating wine is not the superior or good wine, it’s the inferior wine. We need to be careful of all those who argue otherwise.
• Another desperate argument in support of Christians taking intoxicating wine is to latch on to the accusation of the enemies of Christ that he was a “winebibber” unlike John the Baptist who didn’t take any strong drink (Matt. 11:19 KJV).
One Jehovah’s Witness friend told me rather defiantly, “Jesus drank with sinners, so He drank alcohol.” This statement was quite revealing, since it is an attack on the sinlessness of Jesus Christ.
By alleging that Jesus indulged in sin with sinners, he’s telling us that Jesus is not really a Saviour and that it’s also necessary for us to drink alcohol with sinners, even though celebrating Fathers’ day or Mothers’ day or birthdays with them can mark us for destruction. What a convoluted logic!
Studying the NT, you won’t find any record of Jesus ever tasting wine, not even sweet wine (although He probably enjoyed sweet wine). Second, the verse appealed to is a claim by Jesus’ enemies.
“The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Jesus went to the feast to preach the gospel to them and deliver them from sin – including the sin of drunkenness – but His enemies maliciously accused Him of being a “drunkard.” That’s like someone accusing me of being a stoner because I went to preach to a gang of cannabis addicts.
• Another tactic is for the strong wine teachers to create a moral allowance for drunkenness by creating an artificial distinction between “drinking moderately” or “drinking in excess.”
“It’s not a sin to drink moderate alcohol but it’s a sin when you indulge in it excessively,” they argue.
All you have to do to see the danger lurking in this argument is to replace alcohol with another sin:
“It’s not a sin to fornicate or commit adultery moderately but it becomes a sin only when you indulge in it excessively.”
“It’s not a sin to steal moderately but it becomes a sin only when you indulge in it excessively.”
“It’s not a sin to tell lies moderately but it becomes a sin only when you indulge in them excessively.”
Can you see the warped reasoning this is? Is there any sin in God’s Word that is permitted only in moderation?
Considering the nuance of human variation, who exactly gets to set the definite standard between taking alcohol in moderation and in excess?
The US Department of Health and Human Services says one drink or less per day for women or two drinks or less per day for men qualifies for moderate drinking. But this is quite dicey and is not applicable to everyone.
It has been scientifically established that the human body acclamatizes to the intake of alcohol such that the quantity that can make you tipsy varies within few months. But if you start out with a bottle of alcohol, your body soon gets used to it until you want more and more of it.
On the other hand, those who abstain from alcohol for months will find just one bottle quite intoxicating. The fact is: drunkenness is drunkenness. It’s a matter of action, not its degree.
I have personally known and lived with religious people who subscribe to this broken cistern of “moderate” drunkenness and I don’t know of a single one of them that didn’t become a full-blown drunk within a period of time.
That is the deceptive power of sin. “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free,” was Samson’s rationalization after his consecration had been shaved off in the valley of Sorek.
Bondage to sinful habits usually start out with that sweet little voice in our heads: “I’ll just do it a little and walk away from it.” Go check the lives of these people ten years down the line, they are addicts still repeating it to themselves: “I’ll do it just a little once more and I’ll finally stop.”
It’s only a matter of time before they realize that the fleeting pleasure that alcohol offers holds them like a fly in amber and all their superb intentions will fail to keep them from being dragged down into the morass of physical, mental, psychological and spiritual ruin!
Why a Christian should avoid alcoholic beverages
1. God rejects drunkenness because it degrades human dignity.
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18).
Here, we see intoxicating wine or strong drink contrasted with the filling of the Spirit.
Just as the Holy Spirit wields influence over our thinking, manner of speech and comportment – to the degree at which we yield to him – alcohol can also affect the way we talk, walk and our outlook on life.
God warns us, not to gaze at intoxicating wine because it stings like a viper (Prov. 23:31-32). The deleterious health effects of indulging alcohol testify to it.
The kind of wine that gets you drunk and make you stagger is not what you should justify. “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!” (Hab. 2:15).
If God pronounces woe on something then it’s dangerous for us to wink at it.
2. The Bible identifies drunkenness as a characteristic of the unsaved. (1 Cor. 6:10). In ancient Rome drunkenness was very rampant. It was seen as a social beverage but Paul writing to Christians there, exhorts them to avoid it:
“Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Rom. 13:13-14).
We cannot use our culture as an excuse to indulge in liquor or drugs. God will hold us accountable to His revelation.
3. Drunkenness defiles the body. (1 Cor. 6:19) In addition to this, it destroys the personal and collective morals of any society. It opens the door to lawlessness, violence and disrespect for God-instituted authorities.
4. It is a lifestyle that is contrary to the Spirit and teaching of Christ. As Christians, we are to follow the examples of Jesus Christ. He never gave Himself to drunkenness and He never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:21). He always did the will of God and would not disobey God’s commands regarding drunkenness.
5. Drunkenness opens the door to other sins. Whilst it’s known to numb pain by tranquilization, it removes a person’s inhibitions and destroys his self-control.
With the inner moral restrain of the drunken person now out of the picture, sinful acts he would never consider doing otherwise becomes very easy to indulge in. This has led to some of the most vile, degrading and abominable outcomes in human experience.
The spectres of drunk persons spewing obscene language, reacting in rage, unleashing violence on others or engaging in sexual depravity even to the point of committing murder is an indicator of the destructive consequences of the sin of taking intoxicating wine.
A man who is a distinguished professional in his field under the influence of alcohol would roll in gutters and even wet his own pants. Another would get drunk at various places where he worked and would be fired and even the savings he had would be frittered on alcohol. Alcoholism strips people of their dignity.
I once interrogated a man who bragged of sexually assaulting many young men after intentionally plying them with alcohol in order to draft them into his debased gay circle. He personally admitted that alcohol is his biggest tool of weakening their moral defenses.
The Bible never teaches that happiness is result of an artificial stimulant such as alcohol. True happiness comes from within – peace, observing the beauty of nature, joy in the Holy Spirit and doing God’s will.