Monday, July 17, 2017

Can a Christian Drink Alcohol?




     Recently in the church I pastor this matter came up and it sparked a bit of controversy. Naturally, I’ve been asked my position on the matter and what a Christian should do regarding this topic. Well, as everyone knows it can be a very sensitive and complicated subject to discuss. However, in some circles this topic has become so polarized it’s difficult to have a rational conversation regarding this topic with a pursuit of truth. So, with no further ado let’s jump right into it.

     It’s no secret that alcoholism has been a problem for thousands of years (since biblical times actually) We’ve all heard the tragic stories of the abusive alcoholic father, the broken drunken mother, or the friend that got killed from a drunk driver. These things are horrible especially because they’ve effected other people. However, as Christians asking this question…we must ask ourselves what the Bible says regarding this topic.

     What got me asking this topic was about ten years ago I was in high school and my best friend invited over to his family’s house for Thanksgiving. We arrived and all the festivities had started. I met my friend’s family including his grandpa who was a pastor of a church in town. As we sat down for a meal the pastor got up, reached into the cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of wine to share (as was tradition apparently) I was caught off guard since I knew he was a pastor and I leaned over to my friend and asked “Your grandpa drinks? But I thought he was a pastor…” My friend acknowledged this and said “The Bible only says that we can’t be drunk…not that we can’t drink.” I sat there awkwardly pondering every verse I could think of in my head and decided I’d go home and see if he was right. But I was almost certain he was wrong. Therein started my journey of studying this topic in depth.
  
     Now remember, as we study this we need to have an objective view on what the Bible says. Because the Christian’s sole authority lies in the Word of God. Not in the opinions or fears of man. We have to understand that it is our job as Christians to follow God and therefore follow His word. To add or to take away from it is sin. To ignore blatant commands is also sin.


Warnings in Scripture

     There are endless amounts of warnings in scripture about being drunken or being a drunkard. There is no doubt that according to scripture and the Bible that to be drunk is a sin. Here we can see some of the various warnings in scripture.


Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray (šōḡeh: intoxicated) by it is not wise (KJV)


Proverbs 23:29-31 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.



(Also see: Prov. 23:20-21, 31:1-7)


     When reading these passages, we see there is a large emphasis on drunkards and being intoxicated with alcohol, seeking it early in the morning and desiring it at all times. This is clearly a picture of alcoholism. Proverbs has many passages regarding this. Consider for a moment, what the book of Proverbs is. A Proverb, in short, is a principle of wisdom. This was a text from Solomon to his son. Proverbs are not necessarily commands or promises of God, but more like wise principles. A good example of this is:


Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

     This principle from Proverbs places an emphasis on training your children properly. However, we’ve all known children who were raised right but still went astray. Does that mean this verse is lying? No. It’s because Proverbs are principles. Not promises or commands. Many times, Proverbs reflect a promise or command or reiterate one, but the book of Proverbs is a book of wise principles to help us in day to day decision making. This is what makes Proverbs such a practical book.


Proverb: a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.


     Now all that being said, all these Proverbs really emphasize one thing: drunkenness is a sin. Now what about other passages outside of Proverbs? Well some other popular passages are as follows.


Leviticus 10:9 Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.

     This verse is found in Leviticus. Remember, Leviticus was the law to the priestly tribe of the Levites. There were a lot of various commands on what they could and could not do when entering the Tabernacle of God all the way down to what kind of threads their clothes were made out of. However, the law of the Levites does not apply to the New Testament Christian because we are not Levitical priests nor are we under any Levitical Law. 


Numbers 6:1-6 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.
“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.
“All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body.

     Well this one is pretty clear. This was a special vow for only the Nazarite and they were forbidden to even touch grapes. If you read forward through the passage you’ll find that they weren’t able to cut their hair, touch dead flesh, among many other things. If you remember, Samson was a Nazarite. This was a special vow for a special people. This does not apply to the Christian.

     Then we see that in Proverbs there are commands on when to give someone strong drink. Especially those of a heavy heart. However, most of us would tell people not to drink if they are depressed for fear of falling into alcoholism. But this was written by Lemuel’s mother to him as advice to rule the kingdom. Not a command from God.



Proverbs 31:5-6 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress...


(This goes back to Proverbs being principles from a wise parent to a child. Not necessarily promises or commands of God)

      I could go on but in the Old Testament the only parts that forbid it were part of a special vow, and the rest were warnings of not being drunk. In the New Testament, we see the same pattern except all we really see are commands of not being drunk and instead staying sober (I Peter 4:3, Galatians 5:21, Romans 13:13 etc.) If you comb through every verse regarding this topic in the Bible you will find a pattern…it’s only a sin to be drunk not necessarily to drink.

     When I discovered this in my studies I still wasn’t convinced. I mean, after all it probably was still unwise for any Christian to imbibe such a thing, right? I mean, I would hate to be a stumbling block. Well, the next bit is where things became very real for me regarding the topic.


Did Jesus Drink Wine?

     As a child in Sunday School they always said that Jesus turned the water into wine. But the wine was really grape juice. I, as a child, took their word for it. However, when I got older and decided to study it…I found this out. Brace yourself were going to get technical here…

     According to Jewish wedding tradition (even to this day) fermented wine is/was always served. Therefore, Jesus was attending a wedding where alcoholic wine was served. So, when they ran out of wine the people became upset. This is because wine was always expected and wine “makes glad the hearts of men.” This is when Jesus chose to turn the water into wine. In fact, the master of the feast noted that it was better so it was an even finer wine...but wasn't it grape juice?

Read this verse carefully…


John 2:9-10 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine (oinos), and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine (oinos) first, and when people have drunk (methysthōsin) freely, then the poor wine (oinos). But you have kept the good wine (oinos) until now.

(Oinos: Greek word for wine meaning ‘to be fermented’)


(Luke 7:33-35 we see Jesus drank wine and was called a drunkard, but John the Baptist did not drink wine and was accused of demon possession)


     I want us to notice the word used in the Greek here for drunk: μεθυσθῶσιν (methysthōsin) this word means you can get drunk or intoxicated. This word is also used in Acts 2:15 when Peter is defending the apostles against accusations of drunkenness. So, the wine being served was indeed alcoholic since this word is exclusively used when referring to the ability of one becoming drunk.

     Jesus turning the water into wine was His first miracle and there’s a reason for it. Wine was a symbol of God’s blessing and promise throughout the Old Testament. Wine was a symbol of wealth, prosperity, and blessings (not just carnal drunkenness) the miracle expressed that God blessed the works and doings of Jesus and that His promises were fulfilled in Christ. Don’t believe me? Read this passages from the Old Testament.


​Isaiah 55:1-2 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?


Psalm 104:14-15 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.


Amos 9:14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.


Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.


(How can God approve what you do if what you do is sinful? If drinking wine was a sin then how could God ever accept their works?)

...Or was it grape juice?
In the Old Testament, this was not just grape juice.
Yayin (יַיִן): from the root to boil up or to be fermented. (translated: wine)

     Grape juice is not fermented. Wine is fermented. This actually makes a lot of sense since they had no means of refrigeration so it didn’t take long for the grape juice to become fermented. They had no way to preserve it and they had no way to stop it from fermenting.

     So, to answer this question “Did Jesus drink wine?” He most certainly did if we are being honest with what the Bible actually says. Jesus turning the water into wine was confirming the blessing of God upon Jesus Himself. Read Isaiah 24:9-13, here we see a desolate picture where there is no wine or blessing from God. In fact, everything is down trodden and torn. Jesus committing his first miracle at a wedding feast (the church is the Bride of Christ) and turning water into wine (a blessing from God) is no coincidence.

Later on, in the New Testament we see that Paul forbids being drunk as it is excessive.


Ephesians 5:17 And do not get drunk with wine (oinos), for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.

However, later on we see Paul tell Timothy to drink wine…


1 Timothy 5:23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine (oinos) for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments

     Back then their water was filthy in comparison to our water today. It was filled with bacteria and would make people sick. So, Paul tells Timothy to drink wine to settle his stomach. Paul wouldn’t tell them to drink wine if it was a sin, would he? No. He wouldn’t. So, one must assume that to imbibe isn’t necessarily a sin.


Stumbling Block Principle (Rom. 14:13-23, I Cor. 8:9-13)

     So, what about being a stumbling block? Couldn’t someone imbibing in wine or other things be a stumbling block to someone else? The first problem with this principle is people apply it to everything without any regard to the context. The first thing I have to mention is that it’s important to note that the stumbling block principle refers to a “weaker brother” (I Cor. 8:13) Paul said he wouldn’t eat of meat or drink of wine if it were to offend someone. However, later we see that he tells Timothy to drink wine. So it wasn’t a blanket rule to all Christians, but instead a choice Paul made while being around those that could be offended. Plus, today Christians get offended by what we watch on TV, what music we listen to, if we go to theaters, where we shop, what brands we wear, if women wear pants, what Bible version we use etc. It’s actually impossible to not offend anyone. Even Jesus and Paul offended the Pharisees.

     We all do this generally speaking. When someone is around whom you know doesn't like something you don't bring it up. If you avoid certain topics with people, or showing certain things to people this doesn't necessarily make you two-faced. It can make you wise. I don't want to offend a brother unnecessarily, especially over something trivial. It's not secret that I love Star Wars, but I have people in my life who find Star Wars evil/offensive. So to be respectful when I'm around them I don't bring it up. If you have someone around who struggles with addictions or just got out of AA it would be a stumbling block to bring out alcohol around that individual. This would seem a practical application to the weaker brother/stumbling block principle.

     The key is to pay attention to the weaker brother and treat carefully to not stumble them in their walk. To not trip them and instead to uplift them. We all live our Christian lives differently. We shouldn’t be offended by that. Instead, we should just be respectful of other people’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences and not stumble them if we can avoid it. It's also important to note that a mature Christian should not allow themselves to be tripped up by things that fall under individual soul liberty.


2 Cor. 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

(Also see Romans 14:12-16)


In Conclusion

      There is no verse in God’s Word that states one cannot drink alcohol (Besides the Nazarite vows) We see many positive pictures of wine. We see many negative pictures of wine. We even see Church leaders endorse the use of it. All the negative pictures we receive of wine is when it is used in excess. This would be the same as gluttony. Food isn’t bad, obviously, but it can be in excess. In fact, anything can be evil or even become an idol when used in excess. (Prov. 23:2, Eph. 5:18) Plus, the idea that every time wine is used in the Bible negatively must mean it’s alcoholic and every time it’s used positively it must be grape juice is faulty and ignoring history, language, cultural context, and not being intellectually honest.

     Many people say “Well, families have been destroyed by alcohol!” No, they have not. Families have been destroyed by people making poor decisions. When someone is shot with a gun we blame the individual. Same should be with alcohol. It’s never an object’s fault for the choice of an individual. To blame the object is to create a scapegoat where people do not take responsibility for their actions. People make poor decisions and must take account for those decisions. Not blame the alcohol, not blame the gun, not blame the food, but instead blame themselves and become better for it. God teaches us we are responsible for our deeds. No one else and nothing else. We are all individually responsible for the self.

     It’s important to take scripture at face value and not add any more to it. We will all live our Christian lives differently and we should not take offense by that. To claim it’s a sin is to overstep a bound that God never did. In fact, it appears God made it as a luxury and a symbol of blessing, but it's mankind’s sin that perverted its usage. God is not the author of confusion and makes clear what is sin and what is not. If drinking alcohol was a sin He would lay it out plainly before mankind. He wouldn’t send mixed messages. God created language and knows how to communicate clearly. When it comes to alcohol God communicated it perfectly clear. It’s not sinful to drink, but it is a sin to be drunk.

     It would appear that this view is biblically sound as presented above and is also more biblically consistent than any other view. It makes sense the wine/alcohol could be used in a luxurious and enjoyable manner. Also, that the excess of it would be sinful (since food is the same way) Christians should also be mindful of their weaker brother and if they choose to drink they should do so with wisdom, discretion, and caution. Remember, we are to care for our own bodies as the Temples of God. However, when we care for ourselves in excess it becomes selfishness and pride. We are to eat and sustain ourselves, but in excess it becomes gluttony. We are to provide for our families, but when we focus on an excess for money it becomes greed. We are to care about our testimonies, but in excess we become man-pleasers. We are to be good stewards about our futures, but in excess we have a lack of faith. Likewise, someone can drink an adult beverage, but in excess it becomes drunkenness.

     I can now say with confidence that after careful study and being corrected about my previous stance years ago, that technically speaking to imbibe is not a sin. Keep in mind that no Christian should push something on another Christian for risk of making a Christian brother compromise his own conscience. A Christian is free to drink casually, but they are also free not to. How you decide to apply these principles in your life is your choice. Abstention or moderation: it’s your decision. For me to forbid its use is to overstep a boundary God never did and I am not comfortable with that nor do I have the authority to do that. Because once I start applying other standards without a clear statement in scripture we start sliding down a very slippery slope of applying people’s opinions over the commands of scripture. That’s how legalism and Pharisaical behavior sets in. By applying principles/rules to people’s lives that God never did. By telling God “Your Word is not enough so I must apply a rule here where you didn’t.”

     So, can you drink? I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you what the Bible says. Be careful, be cautious, stay sober, stay vigilant, and make wise decisions regarding this topic.

1 comment:

  1. Covered the Word of God so thoroughly on this! Thanks - Will!

    ReplyDelete