Question from Inbox:
Is it right for Christians to drink alcohol seeing that there are a number of scriptures (e.g. 1 Cor.11:22, Psa.104:15, Mat.11:19, 1 Tim.5:23) which seem to suggest so? Many verses quoted by some Christians (e.g. Eph.5:18 and Prov. 23:20-21) seem to actually address and forbid the abuse of alcohol, not its proper use.
Did Jesus Christ drink wine? Yes. As a follower of Jesus Christ would I indulge in wine drinking? No. How do I reconcile my two answers? Well, you need to read every word in the following explanation to understand.
First, it is important to know that something can be true but yet not contain the truth. A statement or explanation can be true but yet deceptive. And in this day when most Christians are mainly given to Charismatic emotionalism and not serious study of Scriptures, simple matters can become pretty confusing. Consider when Peter said “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt.16:16). Peter must have felt encouraged when the Lord said that was revealed to him by God. However, one day evil spirits cried out saying, “Thou art Christ the Son of God” (Luk.4:41) but were instead rebuked to hold their peace. The statements of Peter and the demons were both true but only Peter’s constituted a confession of Truth. Truth here is not that word you find in a dictionary but the revelation of God’s Word. Without revelation one will read the Bible the same way they read a novel or a research thesis. The Devil is not afraid of that. Like one preacher said, the Devil is actually eager to let you read letters from cover to cover of the Holy Bible as long as you can’t see the life behind the letters (2 Cor.3:6)!
Now the answer to the alcohol question is not a multiple choice type of a “YES” or “NO.” One needs to comprehend the truth of the whole subject. My explanation will begin by first highlighting the main verses used by Christians against alcohol. Hereafter I refer to them as anti-alcohols. Secondly, I will present verses commonly used by Christians in support of drinking alcohol (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses). Hereafter I refer to this group as pro-alcohols. Finally, I will present what I believe is fully consistent with the Truth of scriptures.
Scriptures commonly used to speak against alcohol drinking include:
- “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
- “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Pro.20:1).
- “Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags” (Pro.23:20-21).
- “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink” (Pro.31:3-4).
Anti-alcohols are so adamant at supporting their position that they would go to extents of presuming that when Jesus made wine at the wedding of Cana (see Joh. 2:1-11), it had not yet fermented! However, with all due respect to efforts of such Christians, who no doubt are sincerely trying to present a teaching that will prevent people from succumbing to carnal and ungodly lifestyles, it is important to know that we cannot use falsehood to defend truth. One can only stand with Truth. It defends itself. At the wedding in Cana when the ruler of the feast tasted the miracle-made wine he remarked, “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now” (Joh.2:10). “Good wine” is the fermented one, not grape juice!
Pro-alcohols often use the following verses to justify the drinking of alcohol.
- In a parable in Judges, wine is said to cheer both God and man: wine, “which cheereth God and man” (Jud.9:13).
- Paul wrote a letter to the church at Corinth which often abused Holy Communion services by over-drinking the wine. He admonished them saying, “have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?” (1 Cor.11:22). There are two important things to note about this verse. First, this verse exposes the error of Christians who use grape juice in place of wine for the Lord’s Supper. This verse shows that the practice of early Christians was to use actual wine. The Corinthian church was only abusing that which was the normal practice. Secondly, pro-alcohols explain using this scripture that it was permissible for Christians to drink wine in their homes.
- “[God] causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart” (Psa.104:15). This verse indicates that God made wine to excite man.
- “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Mat.11:19). A winebibber is a habitual drinker of alcohol, a drunkard! So, it appears drunkards would find great solace in this verse. But, does this verse really mean that Jesus was actually a drunkard?
- Paul in giving advice to Timothy because of his sickness said, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Tim.5:23).
Before I proceed to present my answer I would like to state here that I have found it interesting to note that both Christians and non-Christians (including drunkards) often despise and doubt the testimony of one who professes to be a Christian but yet is a drinker of alcohol. However, there are worldly people who feel comforted of their situation when they hear someone quote a scripture to support the drinking of alcohol. But,…
What is the Truth?
To see the truth one needs not to look at the ‘trees’ but see the ‘forest’ of Scripture. A common mistake with regards to this (and other similar) subject(s) involves looking at the ancient Jewish custom of drinking wine through the modern setting of consuming beer. When one uses the modern term “beer” in place of the term used in the Bible, “wine”, a subtle error is already introduced so that “Jimmy drinks beer” and “Jesus used to drink beer” means Jimmy does what Jesus used to do. To an undiscerning person that seems to be the case, but yet there is a clear mis-presentation of Jesus into a modern setting of what connotes beer drinking. Beer drinking is well understood today as a practice that has moral issues attached to it. It is for this reason that when a Christian is spotted drinking beer people will talk about it, and they will question his character. But how is this so when in Jewish culture wine was such a well-known beverage that would be taken even by men of God and during holy ceremonies? Firstly, it is important to properly understand what constituted drinking wine in the Jewish culture and in the Torah. Secondly, one needs to understand God’s dealings with His people through time, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. And lastly, it is important for a believer to know that a Christian has an obligation to not only do what is justifiably right but that which will give the right impression for the edification of another person.
Jewish culture and the Torah
Rabbi Menachem Posner notes:
Wine’s ability to bring joy is because it relaxes our inhibitions and weakens the body’s natural defenses. This “weakening of the body” allows the soul to shine through. After taking [wine] one is more easily inspired, because the body offers less resistance. This obviously applies only when one drinks in moderation and on special, holy occasions in an attempt to make them a bit more festive and to introduce an inspirational ambiance (Posner, 2017).
In a perfect world, where every human being was wise, morally upright, subscribed to the same moral code, and worshiped one God, there would be no problem with the subject of wine. There would be no need to include lines in codes of conduct of organisations which forbid officers to be drunk whilst on duty; they would know what to do because they are all morally upright. However, since the Fall in Eden, man has a terrible moral problem so that even when he knows the right thing to do, he finds a thin line between right and wrong, so that on a scale of modest and excess, each person devises their own knobs of what is acceptable to them. In the Jewish society there were the noble and wise who knew the proper use of wine. They drunk wine sparingly and appropriately. And there were also the foolish who indulged in alcohol (Pro.20:1). And then there were Nazarites who were completely consecrated to God and were forbidden to drink wine. These were called to “separate themselves unto the LORD” (Num.6:2-4).
A Nazarite presents an important lesson here. His abstinence represented the ideal practice for mankind.
Some people would drink wine wisely, and others would drink it foolishly. God permitted the foolishness because of the fallen condition of man. Not only did He permit the foolishness (like in the case of Noah getting drunk), but he let hopeless man (born and shapen in iniquity and filled with trouble on his mind) drink it to forget his worries – “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine…Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more” (Pro.31:4-7). Notice here that the noble should not drink wine, but those in misery are to drink it to remember their misery “no more”. But how long is this “no more”? Certainly, it is only as long as one is in his drunken stupor! When he sobers up, the problem and misery is still there! But again, why should God provide such an imperfect solution? Well, we need to understand God’s dealings with mankind through time.
God’s dealings with His people through time
A patient experiences chronic excruciating pain in the head. There is a pain killer, A, he has been prescribed to ease the pain but for which he has been warned that prolonged use may lead to bad side-effects. He only uses the drug for a week and then a new drug, B, is discovered which is not only more effective but has zero side-effects. It certainly would be ridiculous for the patient to refuse drug B in preferring A!
The Old Testament presents the picture of man as a patient of sin and iniquity. He chose sin wilfully. The gentle God had to let man partake of the fruit of his chosen way – “They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices” (Pro.1:30-31). Even so, God in His mercy was so patient, to the extent of permitting certain things which were unpleasant in His eyes. Some things permitted were divorce and polygamy. However, like the Lord Jesus Christ explained to the Jews, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Mat.19:8). However, note that it is God who spoke to Moses to let people divorce. That doesn’t mean he sanctioned divorce. He permitted it because of the weakness of man. However, God knew that there would come a time when man would be delivered from the bondage of sin by the power of the blood of Jesus and the infilling of the Holy Ghost (Jer.31:31-34, Eze.36:27), and when that happens, that which was permitted would no longer be allowed.
So, in the New Testament we seek the perfect will of God. As was stated earlier, a man in the Old Testament was permitted to drink wine to make his heart merry and forget his misery – “Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more” (Prov.31:7). But the “no more” was only as long as the drunken state. When he sobered up, the problem was still there. That was the agony of hopeless man. Wine could only solve the problem “in part.” It was not THE solution! When Christ came, He gave the invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28-29). On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given and the believers staggered with the ‘new wine’. The joy that comes with this new wine is abiding. Surely one won’t seek the joy that comes with the drunkenness of the old wine when he tastes the new wine, simply because “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor.13:10). When medicine B has come, I don’t want to have anything to do with medicine A.
But, what if someone says, “Well, I don’t drink it to get merry in order to forget problems; I have a clean conscious. I would just take it as a drink to refresh myself”?
We abstain from things that hinder others
The Christian walk is not all about doing something simply because your conscience doesn’t condemn you; it has much to do with what impression you portray to another person and the general community around you. Understand that Jews had a well-developed moral code which was far ahead of many Gentile nations. Jews would never gather in a church and get drunk in a service the way Corinthian (gentile) believers behaved. Clearly, alcohol consumption among gentiles was quite abused. And although they received the Gospel, it took severe rebukes of apostle Paul for them to learn about the new life in Christ. Paul had a hard time establishing the Corinthians in the truth. In the church there were such terrible sins as one of a young man committing fornication with his father’s wife. This was not a heathen but a brother in a congregation. They were certainly so very far from understanding the Gospel. Thus, when Paul admonished them saying “have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?” (1 Cor.11:22) we need to understand that he wasn’t sanctioning their indulgence in alcohol; he was speaking to a morally bankrupt people. Consider this: I have once told a cigarette smoker, “Please sir, kindly smoke outside this room.” That in no way meant I sanctioned his smoking wherever he went outside the room!
I should emphasise here that Paul had a hard time to establish Gentile people. Although now in the Gospel, there were many of them who had a ‘hangover’ of their past life. These were people with a different culture and attitude towards things like wine. A thing like wine which was used appropriately in Jewish religious gatherings found itself being abused among gentiles. To this day, the problem of drinking is widespread around the world. Drinking has become an addiction for many people. The last thing a Christian wants to do is to be identified with the thing which has become a symbol of sin and immorality and is destroying many people’s lives. Wisdom speaks – “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Rom.14:21), and “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor.8:13). But more than this, know that if you are hoping to one day rule with Christ, then live as a king now, for He has “made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev.5:10). And if you are a king then this verse is for you – “It is not for kings…to drink wine” (Pro.31:3-4).
 Posner, M (2017). What is Judaism’s take on alcohol consumption? [Online] Available from: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/581082/jewish/What-is-Judaisms-take-on-alcohol-consumption.htm [Accessed October 25, 2017].