What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol? More importantly, if you were shown that the Bible’s consistent witness with regard to alcohol was different than your viewpoint, would you change your mind?
In this article you will find an honest summary of alcohol in the Bible and some reasonable conclusions drawn from it. What you won’t find is a justification of your own views through proof-texts. So leave your preconceived notions behind and let Scripture speak for itself.
This article is not my original work, but merely a summary of a great article on alcohol: “A Christian Perspective on Wine Drinking” by Norman Geisler (in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 139). If you want to examine the subject in greater detail, make sure you include Geisler’s article in your studies.
What the Bible Says About Alcohol
- Drunkenness is a sin (cf. Deut. 21:20-21; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:18).
- “Strong drink” is deceptive and sinful (cf. Lev. 10:8-9; Prov. 20:1; 31:4-5; Isa. 5:11; 24:9). The Hebrew word for “strong drink” is a different word than the word used for “wine.”
- Drinking in excess is wrong (cf. Amos 6:1-6; Hab. 2:15).
- Church leaders are to be moderate in their use of wine (cf. 1 Tim. 3:3, 8).
- Wine was used as a medicine (cf. Prov. 31:6; 1 Tim. 5:23).
What the Bible Does Not Say About Alcohol
- The Bible does not teach that New Testament communion wine was unfermented. All wine was fermented wine. Some Corinthians were drunk at the Lord’s Table (cf. 1 Cor. 11:21), which would be very difficult to accomplish if the wine was unfermented.
- The Bible does not teach that “new wine” was unfermented. Hosea 4:11 says that both “old wine” and “new wine” take away understanding. And Acts 2:13 tells of how Spirit-filled believers were accused of drunkenness, being filled with new wine.
- It is false to say that Jesus made unfermented wine (compare John 2:9-10 with Mark 2:22 and Eph. 5:18).
- It is incorrect to say that the New Testament teaches that first-century Christians were not to use wine at any time.
- It is a myth to say that total abstinence was a New Testament condition for church membership.
Is Wine Today Like New Testament Wine?
New Testament scholar Robert Stein (“Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times,” Christianity Today, June 20, 1975, pp. 9–11.) points out that wine in the New Testament was essentially purified water.[shareable]In ancient days, wine undiluted with water was considered ‘strong drink,’ which the Bible forbids except to relieve a dying man’s excruciating pain.[/shareable] Water was usually mixed with wine, and many ancient writers tell us how much water they mixed with wine:
- Wine in Homer’s day was twenty parts water to one part wine.
- Pliny referred to wine as eight parts water to one part wine.
- Aristophanes: three parts water to two parts wine.
- Euenos: three parts water to one part wine.
- Hesiod: three parts water to one part wine.
- Alexis: four parts water to one part wine.
- Diocles and Anacreon: two parts water to one part wine.
- Ion: three parts water to one part wine.
- Strong wine was typically considered to be one part water to one part wine.
- Anyone who drank wine unmixed was called a Scythian or a barbarian. Ancient Greeks would say to us today, “You Americans are barbarians–drinking straight wine!” The pagan Mnesitheus of Athens was quoted as saying about wine, “Mix it half and half and you get madness; unmixed–bodily collapse.”
- According to the Talmud, wine used in the Passover was three parts water and one part wine.
In ancient times, water was sometimes unsafe to drink, just as it is in many undeveloped areas of the world today. Water could have been made safe in many ways: boiling (costly and tedious), filtering (not always safe), or adding wine (kills the germs). Today, wine has a much higher alcohol content than in the days of the New Testament. If you lived back in those days, you would have to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the same amount of alcohol in two martinis today. Today’s wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages fall within the category of what Scripture calls “strong drink,” which are forbidden.
Deciding About Drinking Alcohol Today
If you are considering drinking alcohol, you should first answer four questions:
- What are the facts about alcohol? Thirty-six percent of adults who drink alcohol can be classified as problem drinkers. There are over 3 million 14-17 year-olds who are problem drinkers. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the third greatest cause of birth defects. Drinking impairs your social and intellectual capacities. Half of all traffic fatalities and one-third of all traffic injuries are alcohol-related. A high percentage of child-abusing parents have drinking problems. A relatively high correlation exists between alcohol consumption and robbery, rape, assault, homicide, and suicide.
- Will wine-drinking lead to sin? First Corinthians 6:12 says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” You may think that you are master of your drinking, but if alcohol is something you must have, then it masters you.
- Will wine-drinking lead anyone else to sin? Philippians 2:4 says, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Romans 14:21 says, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.”
- Can wine-drinking be done to the glory of God? First Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you cannot praise and glorify God when you are drinking, then you don’t need to do it.
Why Christians Need Not Drink Wine
- People today have plenty of wholesome, nonaddictive beverages to consume. This is different than in biblical times.
- America is an alcoholic culture, but the New Testament culture was not. In the New Testament, there were relatively few drunks.
- Total abstinence is the safer policy. How many people would fly if they knew there was a one in ten chance that their plane would crash? That is the same chance of an occasional or moderate drinker becoming an alcoholic.
- Total abstinence is the more consistent policy. The biggest drug problem in the U.S. is not marijuana or heroin, but alcohol. Alcohol is the “establishment” drug, the adults’ drug, the legal drug. We cannot expect our children or grandchildren to stay away from drugs if we refuse.
- Alcohol cannot deliver on the expectation people place upon it. The main reason people drink alcohol is because they believe it will provide relaxation and enjoyment. But God says that real peace and joy comes through experiencing Him. “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11). “The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
Geisler concludes his article with these words: “And it is an insult to the Holy Spirit for Christians to seek the superficial pleasure of stimulants when they can have the permanent joy of the Holy Spirit. God wants people to eat and drink with joy, but without jeopardy. He desires that man’s pleasures be Spirit-directed, not self-centered; that they be helpful, but not harmful.”