Alcohol…and the Bible? Part II

 

Part 2: Getting into the Debate Points

With the history behind us and the Bible clearly discussing alcoholic drinks many times, now we need to get to the crux. From a big picture, there are differing church perspectives on the issue of drinking alcohol. These positions (in a nutshell) are:

  1. Drinking alcohol is a sin
  2. Drinking alcohol is not a sin
    1. But one should abstain
    2. But one should not abstain

Regardless of these positions, each view holds that drinking in excess (i.e., drunkenness) is sinful. Many Scriptures attest to this (e.g., Ephesians 5:18, Luke 21:34, Romans 13:13, Galatians 5:21, 1 Peter 4:3) but this is not the issue between the positions. And even someone who gets drunk will usually be the first to tell you that it wasn’t a good idea the morning after!

There is also the issue of a one-off event where one gets drunk, intentionally or not…is it sin? For example, if someone spikes the punch bowl and someone gets drunk as a result! To look at these various views, we will look at common claims that have been presented by Christians of these various positions.

Answering common claims from both sides biblically

To my experience, adherents for each position, when pressed, rightly admits that there is no direct passage stating that drinking alcohol (e.g., wine, etc.) is sinful. Any claims of drinking being a sin come from loose interpretations of passages in the Bible.

But as we dive into this topic, let’s first evaluate some common claims. Let’s check their validity against the Bible and their relationship to theology:

Claim: Wine in the Bible was non-alcoholic. False, otherwise how could Noah or Lot get drunk on non-alcoholic wine (Genesis 9 and 19)? Throughout the Bible, wine was a substance that could lead to one getting drunk (John 2:10, 1 Samuel 1:13-14, Proverbs 20:1, etc.), so this claim is without merit. Even the terminology between “wine” and “grape juice” was rather nebulous.

Claim: It is sin to make wine and other alcoholic beverages. False, otherwise Jesus was a sinner in John 2 when making wine at Cana…yet Christ was without sin.

Claim: The wine that Jesus made was non-alcoholic. False. John 2:10 says: And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

They ran out of wine, which showed that there was not enough wine. So anyone would have noticed if grape juice was suddenly served, being exceptionally sweet and without fermentation. If it was merely grape juice, then they would have noticed and said it was inferior and perhaps would have thought it to be a joke but in fact said the opposite. Aged wine is superior and the price at retailers reflects this!

Claim: Alcohol kills brain cells. False; when used in moderation. Studies have revealed that moderate uses actually stimulate the brain to function better and be more cognitive.[1] In massive amounts, alcohol would kill brain cells; but this also occurs with other substances taken in too high of quantities, including water.

Claim: It is a sin to give an alcoholic beverage to someone. False, otherwise Israelites were sinning when offering wine to God through the Levites as a drink offering (Exodus 29:40). Christ gave wine to the people of Cana. Again, Jesus was without sin.

Claim: Communion wine was non-alcoholic. False; because Paul chastised those who were getting drunk on it in 1 Corinthians 11:21 for having too much. He also chastised those who were showing up and using the Lord’s Supper as a means to get a free meal!

Claim: Jesus never drank alcohol. False, Luke 7:33-34 says: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber [drunkard as some translations say], a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

There is a direct contrast between John not drinking wine or any other fermented drink (Luke 1:15) and Jesus drinking wine. This is obviously referring to alcoholic wine as one comment is “name-calling” for Jesus being a “winebibber”. Also it refers to Luke 1:15 where it specifically says fermented drink. These verses simply do not make sense if it were non-alcoholic.

Consider also Jesus at the wedding in Cana, it seems far-fetched that Jesus never partook in the wine He created at the wedding. Christ also drank sour wine on the Cross.   

Claim: Drinking alcohol leads to bad things. True, it can – so can eating or talking! In fact, the Bible commands to not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). See also Proverbs 20:1 and so on. This shows that one should not get drunk (as the Bible clearly teaches) and alcoholic drinks should not be taken in abundance – especially not on a regular basis, which is dissipation and drunkenness! In the same way, someone should not eat too much food; as they would be a glutton—is that any reason to forbid food? The Bible talks extensively about the dangers of the tongue—does that mean that one should refrain from talking?

Claim: Drinking alcohol has health benefits. True. The Bible doesn’t give many details on this, but it does give some. If we turn to 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul instructs Timothy to drink a little wine to help his stomach problems. Recent research in the last 50 years or so has revealed that red wine and dark beer has significant health benefits, mostly for the heart among other health benefits.

Claim: New wine was non-alcoholic. False. Otherwise, it was not wine. It only takes a short time (hours to days) to turn grape juice into wine. Yeast quickly converts sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide. As time progresses, the yeast breaks down longer chain alcohols and other by-products that sometimes form as intermediates in the brewing process. This makes older wines better (fewer long-chains alcohol strains). But this does not negate that new wine is non-alcoholic. Furthermore, fruits and their juice inherently have a traces of alcohol in them when they are growing, so the issue should not be that new wine or even juice had no alcohol, but instead, how much.

Claim: The Bible says to “not drink wine” in Leviticus 10:9 and Numbers 6:3. This is misleading. In Leviticus 10:9, Levite priests were forbidden to drink wine in the Tabernacle of Meetings. So this isn’t for everyone or even for Levite priests when in different instances. In other situations, they received the drink offerings in Exodus 29:40 to which they partook). But, this is a good reason people should not be drinking on the job, since the Levite Priests were not to be drinking on the job either.

The next passage (Numbers 6:3) is speaking of those taking Nazirite vows. They abstain from wine and even non-alcoholic grape products. But note that they are permitted to drink wine when the vow is complete (Numbers 6:20). Other fermented drinks, such as grain alcohol (e.g., malted barley) or mead (honey alcohol), were not forbidden here.

Claim: No place in Scripture gives wine a positive light. False, Ecclesiastes 9:7 says “Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works.” Psalm 104:15 points out that wine can make the heart glad. Amos 9:14 says to drinking wine from your own vineyard is a blessing.   And Isaiah 55:1 encourages the purchase of wine. Also, consider 1 Corinthians 10:31 where one is to drink to the glory of God. Another passage is when Paul instructed Timothy to drink wine in 1 Timothy 5:23! There are many more. I suggest doing a study on wine in the Bible to search for all of them.

Claim: Drinking is a sin against the conscience as per 1 Corinthians 8:9-13. Let’s view the entire passage to the get the context here:

7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. 9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

This particular passage is not speaking of wine or alcohol, but instead speaking of food sacrificed to idols (false gods). During the time of Paul, there were many so-called “gods” and people regularly sacrificed to them and feasted on the animals (an aberration of true sacrifice). Such false “gods” are not real and have no power and Paul rightly states in verse 8 that it is not sinful to eat, because of the sheer fact that those false “gods” don’t really exist.

But if one eats in plain view of a new Christian whom they know is weak in that area, then they may think that the sacrifice really is for this other “god”. So that person is sinning by deceiving the weak Christian into thinking it is acceptable to “pay homage” to this false “god”.

But what does this have to do with drinking alcohol? Alcohol is not sacrificed to false “gods”, at least not to my knowledge today, nor do I know people who struggle with alcohol being sacrificed as a drink offering to false gods.

Claim: Drinking alcohol is a stumbling block for non-Christians coming to know the Lord. After some extensive searching online (research beginning in 2007 as well as more searching since then) to see what the top reasons why people, from their own mouths, resisted Christianity, I found:

  1. Hypocrisy in the church over millions of years/evolution, when the Bible does teach it
  2. God is silent, inert, and hidden
  3. No evidence
  4. Origins and Evolution (Creation not true)
  5. Christianity is intolerant
  6. Christians being hostile (Genocidal)
  7. Christianity is the enemy of moral progress
  8. God is a jerk
  9. Jesus is a liar
  10. Jesus was not real
  11. Because Christians don’t believe the Bible is true
  12. The Biblical God is not fit to worship
  13. God sends people to hell
  14. God is not just
  15. God neglects
  16. It requires blind faith
  17. God creates evil
  18. Because no miracles have proven to me
  19. Christian morality is flawed
  20. The Bible is not God’s Word
  21. Bible is full of errors
  22. Bible supports slavery
  23. There is no archaeology for the Bible
  24. Adam and Eve didn’t exist
  25. Christianity borrowed from other religions
  26. I couldn’t listen to boring Christian music
  27. Books of the Bible are not the right books
  28. God is irrational

(As a note, many of these things are misconceptions, e.g., the Bible doesn’t have errors, but people, taking things out of context, misinterpreting things, etc. which mistakenly led people to falsely conclude there are contradictions). Not one person mentioned alcohol as a stumbling block. These answers were repeated over and over again in various forms and often times, there was more than one reason given. Yet none of these came up as stumbling blocks for the gospel after I checked about 50 pages in Google, from non-Christians own mouths.

I tried to find where drinking was a reason for someone not coming to Christ, to my surprise, I found the opposite. One result was that a person didn’t want to become a Christian because Christians had told him drinking was sin and one must be abstinent and when he checked this against the Bible, he found the opposite. So he wanted nothing to with Christianity because they “lied to him”.

One person said, “A religion that bans drinking is more about control that it is about God.”

Since the time of this initial research, I met an individual on a float trip down a river who told me he had walked away from the faith when his church leadership said drinking was a sin and he knew better when looking at the Bible. He said their hypocrisy caused him to walk away from the faith.

It appears that even making the claim that drinking is wrong, is more of a stumbling block to non-Christians coming to know the Lord.

Since 2007, the book Already Gone and Ready to Return by Ken Ham, Britt Beamer of America’s Research Group, et. al., asked kids who grew up in conservative churches why they walked away from Christianity and not one out of 1,000 said that it was due to someone drinking, but hypocrisy in the church was the biggest factor, especially over issues of millions of years and evolution, when the Bible doesn’t teach it.

Claim: Drinking alcohol is a stumbling block for Christians as per Romans 14. Paul in Romans 14:1-23 again addresses food being a stumbling block (this time for the Jews who were new Christians). Christians were set free from the strict regulations in the Law (e.g., sacrifice which Christ covered for example) and many new believers, who were Jewish converts, were still struggling with what could be eaten. Jesus (in Mark 7:14) and Paul makes the case that all foods are now clean and can be eaten (v. 20), but again for the sake of the weak and new Christians, one should not intentionally put a stumbling block ahead of them. At the end of this section, Paul concludes:

19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 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. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

In this passage, it is evil to eat meat with offense (v. 20) to others who may be coming out of Jewish heritage or even later movements like Islam (e.g., where pork is also forbidden) and this may be a weakness to them.

Verse 21 shows that it is good not to eat meat, nor wine, nor do anything else that causes one to stumble, be offended, or made weak. Such things of themselves are not sin (v. 22). But again, to refrain from it in view of those who have such a weakness (vs. 20-21) and do not know the teachings in the Bible. But note that those who may be weak about food and eat with doubts about the food are sinning.

So here is what we learn about this passage with a practical example. If someone is Jewish and coming out of Judaism and becomes a Christian, then they are free to eat any meat such as pork (v. 20). However under the law, this was originally forbidden (Leviticus 11:7). Consider if a new Jewish-heritage person becomes a Christian and is unaware that they now live by faith and a Christian decided to eat pork in front of them, knowing they would have trouble with it, this is evil, i.e., “doing it out of spite”.

But also learn that those who get offended are those with weak faith. Hence, they need to be taught the truth of the Bible regarding meat or wine, etc. to help them grow in their faith. So what needs to be done, if one knows someone is weak in an area, is to help teach them why that view is incorrect and so they will not be weak and can grow in their faith.

This is important considering verse 23. If the Christian insists the new Christian who used to be Jewish eat the pork, and they eat with doubts, then that person is sinning without teaching them the truth of the Bible.

As a Christian, we should want no one to sin and encourage no one to sin. To avoid such a sin, one needs to explain how Christ fulfilled the Law and how the Apostles permitted the eating of unclean meats again, so we are now under grace and can live by faith. Hence, one would be free to eat pork, without a guilty conscience to resume the previous freedom of food from a previous rules by God (Genesis 9:3). Once the new Christian realizes this, then they can eat without doubts and not sin. Also, the Christian can eat pork with them, knowing they have no doubts and therefore, his actions are no longer sinful. The same thing could be said of alcohol.

One needs to be careful and not take verse 21 out of this context and use it as a blanket statement to cover anything that someone may cause offense. Consider those Christians who are offended at those who say alcohol is sinful? If this were a blanket statement, then it works both ways. In fact, I’ve met people who were offended at Christians who think alcohol is a sin! Naturally, a Christian should never do anything unbiblical in an effort to avoid offenses to brothers. In other words, I’ve met people who were offended at people who refused to drink!

Let’s face it, people are often offended at many teachings in Scripture—does this mean we should avoid them? No. Christ himself was stumbling block for the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23), but the stumbling block was removed due to preaching and teaching by Paul and Peter and others. This is the key to solving the problem between the two parties: biblical teaching. If a Christian is offended or weak due to seeing another Christian drink alcohol, then that offended Christian needs to be taught the truth of what the Bible teaches. Then they should no longer be as weak and there should be no problem.

Cite this article: D. Abrahams, The Bible and Alcohol? Part II, Biblical Authority Ministries, January 14, 2016, https://biblicalauthorityministries.wordpress.com.

[1] Dufouil, C. Sex differences in the association between alcohol consumption and cognitive performance. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1997, 146(5), 405-412.

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Alcohol…and the Bible? Part II

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