Many evangelicals and fundamentalists are tea-totalers, and a good number of them also look down upon Christians who do use alcohol. And while such judgmental Christians are disobeying the command of Romans 14:3 to “not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him,” this does not mean that they are wrong to abstain. But the question arises, is the biblical perspective on alcohol entirely or mostly negative, or the opposite? NOTE: You can hear my sermon on this subject at The Biblical Perspective on Drinking and Alcohol.
1. Wine as a blessing
The biblical position on alcohol is, on one side, actually very positive – the passage below indicates that one of God’s main purposes in giving wine was to “make our hearts glad.”
Psalm 104:14-15 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.
In fact, the Psalmist also remarks on this gladdening affect when trying to explain how God fills our hearts with gladness:
Psalm 4:7 You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.
In fact, having lots of wine around is a sign of prosperity and blessing.
Genesis 27:28 Therefore may God give you Of the dew of heaven, Of the fatness of the earth, And plenty of grain and wine. Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
Proverbs 9 personifies wisdom as a woman who offers a wonderful meal with wine.
Proverbs 9:4-6 Let all who are simple come in here!” she says to those who lack judgment. “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.”
2. Wine can soften the pain of sorrow
Though we often think of “drowning our sorrows in booze” as something that leads to alcoholism, scriptures indicate that in times of sorrow, wine may be helpful to ease our pains. But I may be misunderstanding this scripture in context:
Proverbs 31:6-7 Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
3. Wine has medicinal purposes
Luke 10:34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; Timothy 5:23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
4. The Bible warns about the dangers and abuse of wine
Many sins are merely the abuse of something good that God has given for our pleasure – food, sex, and wine are all pleasurable and potent, but abuse invites disaster, and the Bible also reflects this reality.
Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. Proverbs 21:7 He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich. Proverbs 23:19-21 Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. Proverbs 23:29-35 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 things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me,’ you will say,’but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.’
Those of us who have had a hangover understand this well.
5. Those in leadership should probably abstain
Proverbs 31:4-5 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
Interestingly, the Levitical priests were not allowed to drink wine at all as part of their vows (Leviticus 10:9).
6. Those who focus on drinking and feasting often forget or leave God’s way
Isaiah 5:11-12 Woe to those who rise early in the morning, That they may follow intoxicating drink; Who continue until night, till wine inflames them! The harp and the strings, The tambourine and flute, And wine are in their feasts; But they do not regard the work of the LORD, Nor consider the operation of His hands. Isaiah 28:7 But they also have erred through wine, And through intoxicating drink are out of the way; The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, They are swallowed up by wine, They are out of the way through intoxicating drink; They err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
7. Fundies often accuse those who don’t abstain of abusing alcohol
Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.
8. Jesus’ first miracle was to create wine from water (John 2)
This alone ought to convince tea-totalers that Jesus was not against having a drink. But there is more to this story than the metaphor of wine as spirit, or the idea that the Kingdom of God will be like a wedding feast. Jesus’ turning water into wine also speaks to his view of sinners, of celebration, and of the dangers of wine. He seemed to be unconcerned about making enough for people to become drunk. He didn’t seem to have a Pharisaical fear of drunkeness, nor was he a drink counter. Some well-meaning Christians teach that the alcohol of Jesus’ time was either non-alcoholic or of low alcohol content, but there are at least four reasons why this is non-sensical. First, if wine in the Bible is non-alcoholic, that renders all of the other Old and New Testament warnings against drunkeness non-sensical. Second, if the wine is only slightly alcoholic, people will drink enough to get the ‘gladdening’ effect no matter how little is in it. Third, they had 30 pots of water to drink, so the complaints of being out of wine did not mean that they were out of refreshment, but the kind that keeps the party going – i.e. alcohol. Fourth, the fact that people remarked that it was a surprise to have the best wine last is important, but why? Because when people drink, they slowly get intoxicated, and care less about the actual taste of the wine. So you start out with the best wine, and later they don’t really recognize that the wine is inferior. To serve it in the opposite order is notable, and the Bible catches that very reality. Otherwise, this point about the good wine last is meaningless, or has to be strangely made into some sort of spiritual metaphor. Not convinced because I have not delved into the original languages or history? Read these scholars:
- The Bible and Alcohol by Daniel B. Wallace – “One question we must wrestle with is this: If there is a subcultural Christian prohibition that goes beyond scripture, are we obligated to follow it? Should we even endorse it? Ignore it? Fight against it? As we all know, there are numerous Christian taboos that go beyond scripture, depending on when and where one lives. Perhaps this one can be seen as paradigmatic for how to treat the others.”
- Wine in the Ancient World at Church History 101 – “It is an unfortunate fact that incorrect information regarding wine in the ancient world continues to be repeated. The data which is incorrectly presented, and which I want to address here, comes from non-Christian ancient writers including Pliny the Elder and Columella.”
- Did Jesus turn water into wine or grape juice? at Parchment and Pen Blog – Acts 2:13: “But others, mocking, said, ‘They are filled with new wine’.” How could the Apostles be accused of being intoxicated from a drink that is not fermented? There is no indication, either in the culture of the day or in the Bible, that there was such a thing as unfermented wine. Wine is wine because it is fermented.
9. We should consider how our drinking affects others
The main passage that tea-totalers refer to when justifying their stance is Romans 14, which talks about not causing others to stumble in their faith because of your own freedom of conscience.
Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
So while Paul certainly allows us to drink, he recommends that we curtail our freedom in order to help others. In addition, Paul warns that we should not condemn those who do feel free to drink. You can see my “complete” discussion on Romans 14 in Navigating Moral Gray Areas.
10. We should not waste our time in drunkenness
We should avoid drunkenness, which is wasteful, and instead, be filled with the Spirit of God
Ephesians 5:18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit
Now, those of us familiar with the manifest presence of God in our services understand that such a filling does bring on a drunkenness – in fact, when the Disciples first received the Spirit, people thought that they were drunk:
Acts 2:14-17 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’
Christians certainly have the liberty to drink and enjoy all that God has given us to enjoy, with liberty but with caution – abuse of those things leads to ruin. And those who are cautious for the sake of others in not drinking, are doing something admirable, as long as they realize that those who do not share their conviction on the matter are not lesser in a spiritual maturity sense. We must be careful not to condemn what Christ has not condemned, lest we be like the Pharisees adding out own rules as heavy burdens. However, if we feel free to drink, we should not flaunt our freedom, lest we also be sinning against God:
Romans 14:22 Do you have faith [enough to feel free to drink]? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.