A Biblical View on Drinking Alcoholic Beverages

“Wine is a mocker, beer is a brawler, and whoever staggers because of them is not wise.” – Proverbs 20:1

clear wine glass on top of brown table

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What does the Bible say about drinking alcoholic beverages? I’ve sat in classes where people taught about it, but I wanted to revisit it to have a thorough understanding of it my own. So I did a little research, and it didn’t take months or years to figure out the answer. The investigation into it is over. There are no fuzzy lines, there’s no mystery involved, and there is no confusion.

Drinking alcohol is worldly and sinful, and it causes a great deal of trouble – whether it be social drinking, casual drinking, or excessive drinking. It is not a practice that the Lord wants anyone to partake in – especially the Christian.

Whenever you mention the subject of not drinking to anyone, most people will undoubtedly reference Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine. But, a closer examination of what the word wine means in the Bible quickly crushes that argument.

There are two main meanings for the word wine in the Bible. One is grape juice, and the other is fermented juice – or an alcoholic beverage. In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for wine that are most-used, according to the Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary-Index of my Strong’s Concordance.

One is yayin, which means “wine, an alcoholic beverage made of naturally fermented juice (usually grapes), usually diluted with water for general consumption” (Strong, 1397). The other Hebrew word is tîrôš, which means new wine or sweet wine (Strong, 1469).

The word for alcoholic beverage is used in Genesis 9 to refer to the wine Noah drank when he got drunk and uncovered his nakedness (Gen. 9:20-21). It is also used in Genesis 19 in the account of Lot’s daughters getting him drunk with wine to sleep with him and preserve the family line (Genesis 19:30-35). They schemed and took advantage of their father by using alcohol to dull his sensibilities so that he did not even know what was happening.

“So they got their father to drink wine that night, and the firstborn came and slept with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she got up.” – Genesis 19:33

The Proverbs writer warns of such type of dangers that come with the drinking of alcohol:

“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has conflicts? Who has complaints? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has red eyes? Those who linger over wine, those who go looking for mixed wine. Don’t gaze at wine when it is red, when it gleams in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a snake and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things. You’ll be like someone sleeping out at sea or lying down on top of a ship’s mast. ‘They struck me, but I feel no pain! They beat me, but I didn’t know it! When will I wake up? I’ll look for another drink.'” – Proverbs 23:29-35

The other use of the word wine in the Old Testament refers to a non-alcoholic beverage, most likely, grape juice. This is the type of wine that was a part of the tithes offered to God and kept in storerooms (Nehemiah 13:5). It is the same kind of wine that God said He would give the Israelites as a blessing (Deut. 7:13).

“He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will bless your descendants, and the produce of your soil – your grain, new wine, and oil – the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks, in the land He swore to your fathers that He would give you.” – Deuteronomy 7:13

It wouldn’t make sense for God to accept as an offering and give to His people as a blessing the kind of wine described in Proverbs 23 that causes so many bad things to happen to a person. And He didn’t. The passages mentioned are talking about two different types of drink. God says the person who drinks wine and beer is unwise (Proverbs 20:1). So He definitely wouldn’t bless someone with something that’s bad for them. It would not be a blessing, then. It is undeniable that there are different meanings for the word wine in the Bible.

The Greek word for wine found in the New Testament is oinos. It is found in passages like Matthew 9:17 where Jesus talks about putting new wine into new wineskins. The Bible tells us, “Don’t be drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

And, in order for a man to be qualified as an elder or a deacon in the church, he must “not [be] addicted to wine” and “not drinking a lot of wine” (1 Timothy 3:3, 8). Women are also instructed likewise:

“In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to too much wine. They are to teach what is good.” – Titus 2:3

Peter condemns drunkenness as the way of pagans:

“For there has already been enough time spent in doing the will of the pagans: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry. In this regard, they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation – and they slander you. They will give an account to the One who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.” – 1 Peter 4:3-5 

And Paul reminds us that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God:

“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: no sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you were like this; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

I know that the Lord sanctified me. When I fell away from the church and lived like the world, I tried drinking alcohol. The stuff does not taste good, anyway. I’m glad that God has redeemed me from that way of life. His warnings and admonition are true. Christians should not partake in drinking – however moderate or innocent it may seem at the time.

Because many of the verses listed above reference being drunk and not drinking too much wine, people will contend that it’s okay to drink alcohol in moderation as long as they don’t get drunk or become addicted to it. However, the Bible does not teach that.

The Bible tells us to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Peter urges Christians to “abstain from fleshly desires that war against you” (1 Peter 2:11). We shouldn’t subject ourselves to being controlled by alcohol or becoming addicted to it.

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” – 1 Cor. 6:12

The Word tells us, “Don’t set foot on the paths of the wicked; don’t proceed in the way of evil ones. Avoid it; don’t travel on it. Turn away from it and pass it by. For they can’t sleep unless they make someone stumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence” (Proverbs 4:14-17).

Many crimes are connected to drinking. People lose their inhibitions, their ability to make sound judgments, and their capacity to move, think, and behave as they normally would when they drink. The loss of those capabilities begins with fewer drinks than most people realize.

And think of all the traffic fatalities that occur as a result of alcohol-impaired-driving. “It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (Romans 14:21-22).

To add to that, it is more than likely that the phrases “not drinking a lot of wine,” “not addicted to much wine, “and don’t be drunk with wine” were used because in that time period, they had to use wine for medicinal purposes. They didn’t have all the pharmaceutical companies or advanced medicines that we do today. Paul told Timothy, “Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illness” (1 Timothy 5:23).

Timothy probably didn’t want to drink any wine at all, even if it would help him because it might give the appearance of him approving of drinking wine for ungodly purposes. So Paul had to tell him it was okay to take some medicine to feel better; but, he told him to drink a little. So I believe that’s why those phrases were used, because if they were sick, they had to drink some form of wine, as medicine, to get well. But we don’t have to do that (though we have cough syrups and other medicines that contain alcohol) and that’s not a reason why people drink today.

Lastly, when Jesus turned water into wine, it was said to the groom, “Everybody sets out the fine wine first, then, after people have drunk freely, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now” (John 2:10). If that wine was the alcoholic kind, then Jesus would have been supporting the guests getting drunk, since the wine that He made was good and better than the first wine that they had and since they had already drank freely. But Jesus was perfect and sinless. It would also mean that His mother, Mary, supported the drinking of alcohol and drunkenness, as well, since she, in her own way, asked Him to make it. I submit that the wine that Jesus made was grape juice. If it was anything else, then it would be contrary to God’s teachings elsewhere throughout the Bible.

So, that settles it. Drinking alcoholic beverages is condemned by God. And we should all stay away from it and in no way endorse the sale of, buying of, or consumption of alcohol.

 


Sources: Strong, James. The Strongest Strong’s Concordance.

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