Antipodean59's Blog

Restored New Testament Christianity

There is no Biblical defense for the consumption of alcohol

I’m back from the holidays having relaxed and recharged for a new year that hopefully will be better than last year’s disasters.

As it happens, I viewed some interesting blogs and commentaries that issued forth some poignant thoughts especially of a Biblical nature. However, in printing or referring to such articles or thoughts doesn’t mean I endorse the faith of the author for such may go beyond that which is written (I Corinthians 4:6) or may be in fellowship or endorse the fellowship of those that abide not in the doctrine of Christ and therefore share in their evil deeds (II John 7-11).

One such article that caught my eye comes forth from Martin Johnson, a church of Christ minister who served as a missionary in Indonesia. He presents a position on the consumption of alcohol that I, personally, can relate to when I first became a Christian back in 1985.  Here is a snippet:

When I first became a Christian I thought it was okay for Christians to drink alcohol socially or recreationally as long as they didn’t get drunk. I based this decision on the following reasons:

  • In the first century they couldn’t have prevented grape juice from fermenting since they had no refrigeration.
  • Jesus made wine.
  • Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine.

However, after I began to hear others say that Christians couldn’t drink socially I began to study the issue secretly hoping that they were wrong. But, I’m now convinced that my reasoning was wrong and that Christians have no business drinking alcoholic beverages socially or recreationally.

Read the article and let your heart react to some good, practical advice.

Graham

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4 thoughts on “There is no Biblical defense for the consumption of alcohol

  1. The article you link to is interesting. I want to point out a few things regarding his arguments and the faults that are in his handling of the scriptures.

    First, in regards to the large quantity of wine consumed at a wedding. A wedding in ancient Israel was not the sort of affair we would think of today. It was typically a week long feast and often involved entire towns. The quantity of wine involved in the miraculous production of wine was a great deal. That large quantity of wine would be necessary for this sort of event. Further, it feels pretty unnatural to assume that Jesus made grape juice at a party to the praise of the attendees. Very few people go to a party and after several hours thank the host for breaking out the near-beer. Consumption of alcohol was pretty common culturally for Jews.

    Regarding the word “wine” as translated in the bible. You should take the time to consider how various translations handle the word used in John. I would challenge you to find one translation that doesn’t use the word “wine”. This is because greek words are translated based on context and common usage. The context and common usage here clearly refers to alcoholic beverages. Literally thousands of Bible scholars have unanimously decided that this word is “wine” and not grape juice. This is basic biblical hermeneutics. The number one rule of translation: context context context. The number two rule is that a word does not take every potential meaning found in a lexicon. the specific meaning is found based on rule number one. Every Bible translator in every reputable translation picked this meaning.

    Further, Jesus was referred to by his enemies as a drunk and a glutton because he came both eating and drinking. This accusation seems to arise out of the observation by the pharisees that Jesus consumed alcohol. It is unlikely that they would accuse him of such behavior if he did not drink wine and he probably would have denied it when referencing the accusation if it were false.

    On the topic of 1 Timothy, check out 3:3. Elders are not to be “addicted to wine” (NASB). This is not a prohibition against the consumption of wine, but rather a direction for elders to not be addicted. Paul doesn’t forbid it, which is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament.

    A final quick cultural note: alcohol was so commonly consumed among the jews that the scriptures specifically describe abstinence as a part of the Nazarite vow. This was an extreme stance taken as a part of religious observance set forth in the Old Testament in which an individual agrees not to consume alcohol, cut their hair or have sex for a specific period. This vow was still practiced during the New Testament era. If wine was not consumed commonly within the culture, then the vow would have been pointless. If Godly people avoided alcohol the vow would be silly.

    Finally, I am finding myself wondering if the only justification you have for a biblical defense of not drinking socially is that there is no clear line for drunkenness that can be discerned in the text. I would argue that to look for this sort of clear delineation is somewhat akin to trying to figure out how much effort constitutes work on the sabbath. When we begin slicing the law into finer and finer bits to make certain we stand in the right place, we end up in a spot where we wander into legalism. In reality, there is no instruction not to drink alcohol socially. I would argue that the Biblical prohibition against drunkenness was specifically intended to discourage individuals form becoming a slave to a gift God gave us. This is the “spirit” of the prohibition.

    Now, certainly if your conscience is pricked by the consumption of alcohol, you ought to avoid drinking. However, you ought not teach that the Bible forbids something that is not forbidden in the scripture. To put God’s name to this as authority without God actually saying “don’t drink wine ever” is using his name in vain. Be careful of this.

    Now, as a recovering alcoholic I don’t drink. I have not drank in years. It would be a sin for me to drink at all because it is an idol for me. However, as much as I hate the stuff and won’t be around folks that drink, I cannot say that the Bible forbids something it doesn’t.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read the article and thanks for the comments. However, with all due respect I take issue with some of the points you raise.

      You say it is “unnatural to assume Jesus made grape juice.”
      I would not dare “assume” as you put it but would take the wider context that Jesus would not encourage the use of or provide a mind altering substance that lowers the state of alertness needed to avoid sin (I Peter 5:8). Alcohol is the number one contributing factor to rape, violence, murder and manslaughter and general destruction in the world today. If anyone at that wedding feast (John 2) committed the slightest sin attributable to the consumption of the alcoholic wine you say Jesus made, then Jesus is guilty of the very sin He condemned the Pharisees of, hypocrisy (Matthew 23). Just think of the hypothetical scene on Judgement Day when Jesus says ya or nay to entry into heaven and Zebeddee is denied entry because in his inebriation he raped a girl behind the water pots that day and did not repent of it. “But Jesus, You provided me with the wine that lowered my inhibitions thereby indirectly contributing to that rape”. Yeah, right!

      You say “Jesus was referred to by His enemies as a drunk”.
      I would argue for book, chapter and verse of which you fail to provide. While they can provide material useful for inductive study, historians and scholars are, however, notorious for bias depending on the discourses they have been exposed to. Besides, Jesus was accused of blasphemy (John 10:33) yet that accusation did not hold water for the Jews only reason for such a charge is they couldn’t accept His substantiated claim to deity. Their claim of such does not prove Jesus was a blasphemer any more than your claim His enemies thought He was a drunk.

      You say elders are not forbidden to drink alcohol citing I Timothy 3:3.
      I would argue that Paul’s use of paronios ie alongside wine is in reference to the context of what takes place at such gatherings when alcoholic beverages are served ie revelry and general unruliness. Remember, Paul said an elder must be “blameless” ie not linked in anyway even construed with such behaviour. Example: it is not a good look to be seen departing from a drinking establishment as a person that is supposed to be “blameless”. The excuses the elder may offer may be legitimate but that does not erase from the mind someone involved in seemingly hypocritical behaviour. Many a seemingly respectable person has had their reputation damaged by such a perception.

      Finally you make the comment that I believe “there is no clear line for drunkenness that can be discerned from the text.”
      I would argue that there is a “clear line” as indicated by the aforementioned words of reply. Let me add that the Bible does not have to state directly a prohibition. The Hebrews writer gives a clear example of this in Hebrews 7:13-14 in which the Law of Moses prescribed those from the tribe of Levi were to officiate at the altar. But he goes on to say that “For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.” Jesus was from the tribe of Judah yet is now High Priest which is not possible under the Law of Moses even though it is not specifically stated as such. Another example is found in Leviticus 10:1-2 where the apostate priests Nadab and Abihu offer “strange fire” at the altar. The text says the Lord had “not commanded” such ie made no mention of such fire they offered. In other words, God’s people can only do that which is commanded directly, by implication or by example which is to be “sober” (I Peter 5:8). To be allowed to drink alcohol cannot be found in the text either directly, implicitly or by way of example therefore it is prohibited.

  2. Thank you for the thorough and thoughtful response. It is a real blessing to search the scriptures and talk about the word with a fellow believer. Lets have a look at this point by point.

    First, Adam offered a similar argument as you suggest regarding sin at the fall when he argues that the woman God provided gave him the fruit. So is it God’s fault that Adam sinned? Certainly not. Simply because God provides a gift for us, does’t make him responsible for our misuse of it. I cannot blame God for lustful looks at women because he created so many gorgeous women. It would be wrong for me to blame Him for my misuse of his gifts. We cannot force ideas into the text based on our reasoning. We can only go with what the passage says. Its just not what the text says. If I was going to point to a scholarly source regarding this matter I would use the Holman New Testament Commentary:

    “Many interpreters have pondered whether Jesus created intoxicating wine, and arguments have been raised on both sides. The word oinos is of no help since it is used for both intoxicating and non-intoxicating wine. We can hardly imagine, however, that people who had been drinking throughout the evening would not immediately recognize a switch from normal wine to grape juice.
    Perhaps we must simply recognize that the culture of the day accepted and even demanded drinking on occasions like this. The most we can say here is that this passage cannot support abstinence, but verse 10 hints at the importance of moderation. Whatever we believe or do not believe about the use of alcoholic beverages will have to draw support from some other passage.” ********This is a conservative Baptist commentary************

    (Kenneth O. Gangel, vol. 4, John, Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 31.) <———reference

    This 1 one commentary, but I checked 10: The NICNT, the New American Commentary, the Critical Exegetical Commentary, etc. Its pretty universal that there was alcohol involved here.

    The translation handbook I checked for John indicated that the text doesn’t explicitly state that all of the jars were turned to wine. It only refers to one. Kinda interesting.

    Again I will point out that EVERY translation uses the word wine and no translators opted to soften the word to exclude alcohol from the discussion.

    Regarding the passage in which the Pharisees refer to Jesus as a drunk and a glutton, we find this at Matthew 11:18-19 and Luke 7:33-34. I would agree that Jesus was often the target of accusations. Your example of blasphemy is a good one for this discussion. Jesus was definitely not blasphemous. However, he did refer to himself by God’s name. (John 8:58) and he did talk about the destruction of the temple (John 2:19). These things are not blasphemy because Jesus was the Son of God. However, if I were to say them it would be blasphemy. They accused him of blasphemy because they didn’t know who he was. The point being that they accused him based on his words, which were not blasphemous because they were true. I point this out because the Pharisees apparently took Jesus’ words and actions and called them sin. Healing on the Sabbath is another example of this. (Mark 3:2, Matthew 12:10, Luke 13:14)

    Regarding your arguments in relation to 1 Timothy 3:3. πάροινος specifically refers to drunkenness. The word study dictionary of the New Testament specifically indicates that this does not include the temperant consumption of wine. The image is of one who is always drinking. The Theological dictionary of hte New Testament points to the word as referring to drunkenness (though with a heck of a lot more pages devoted to its discussion). To indicate taht Paul is saying no alcohol ought to be consumed is simply not in the text. The prohibition here is against drunkenness.

    The sin of offering strange fire involved not following the instructions given in tabernacle worship exactly. God gave very specific instructions on operating the tabernbacle. They were destroyed for deviating, which was forbidden specifically.

    The argument that we can only do that which is directly commanded in scripture is a bit of a slippery slope. The scriptures do not have a lot to say about social dancing either. We cannot therefore state that it is explicitly or implicitly forbidden. Silence ought not equal legalistic mandate.

    • Once again, thanks for the feedback and may the truth of God’s word prevail.

      To the faithful Jew alcoholic wine was seen as defilement (Daniel 1:8). It led people astray (Proverbs 20:1). It enslaves (Hosea 4:11). To the faithful Christian, wine is on a par with lewdness, lust, revelries and idolatry (I Peter 4:3, 4). On that last note Peter’s words can be linked to the behaviour an elder should avoid as per the comments I wrote regarding I Timothy 3:3 i.e. not to paroinos, that is, be alongside wine drinkers.

      Now consider the wine that God’s children should find acceptable. The faithful Jew considered wine in “the cluster” a “blessing” where it is obviously not fermented (Isaiah 65:8). By the way, it is this “new wine” that Jesus produced at the wedding (John 2).

      Now back to your claim Jesus made alcoholic wine at the wedding. As Jesus is the word of God (John 1:1-2) and the word as God’s truth (John 17:17) was spoken by holy men moved by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 2:21), it should become apparent that if Jesus did do as you claim then He is guilty of gross hypocrisy. For consider what His spokesman Habakkuk says, “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink– you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!” (Habakkuk 2:15). This is precisely what I pointed out in my comments earlier, woe to any man who gives another man alcoholic beverage.
      I was once a truck driver but when I became a Christian I soon realised the hypocrisy I was involved in by delivering 20 ton of beer at a time to my fellow man up the country. It was this among many other factors that led me to quit.
      No, Jesus did not make alcoholic wine, for to have done so would not be consistent with Habakkuk.

      Obviously the first century church had problems much the same as we have problems today. One of those issues consisted of drinking alcohol especially in Asia where different religions celebrated holiness with drinking festivities. The church at Ephesus was not unusual in that regard which prompted Paul to write “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery” (Ephesians 5:18). He uses an inceptive [i.e. meaning beginning, initial- Oxford Dict] verb in the present tense to issue forth a prohibition of such behaviour. This verb, methusko, that W.E. Vines says is “to grow drunk” comes from methuo which means a process of state. So Paul is actually saying do not even begin the process of drunkenness. As one drink leads to another (I can vouch for that before becoming a Christian) would mean Paul is saying do not even have one alcoholic drink to begin with.

      As I have stated before, historians and scholars have core beliefs that are moulded by life discourses and therefore should be used with caution regarding absolute factualness. Having said that, below is a quote from Geisler that you may find of use:

      Is Wine Today Like New Testament Wine?

      Many wine-drinking Christians today mistakenly assume that what the New Testament meant by wine is identical to wine used today. This, however, is false. In fact today’s wine is by biblical definitions “strong drink,” and hence is forbidden in the Bible! What the Bible frequently meant by wine was basically purified water.
      Stein researched wine-drinking in the ancient world, in Jewish sources, and in the Bible.7 He pointed out that wine in Homer’s day was twenty parts water and one part wine (Odyssey 9.208–9). Pliny referred to wine as eight parts water and one part wine (Natural History 14.6–54). According to Aristophanes, it was stronger: three parts water and two parts wine. Other classical Greek writers spoke of other mixtures: Euenos—three parts water, one part wine; Hesiod—three to one, water to wine; Alexis—four to one: Diocles and Anacreon—two to one: and Ion—three to one. The average was about three or four parts of water to one part of wine.
      Sometimes in the ancient world one part water would be mixed with one part wine; this was considered strong wine. And anyone who drank wine unmixed was looked on as a Scythian, a barbarian. That means the Greeks would say today, “You Americans are barbarians—drinking straight wine.”
      For example, Athenaeus quoted Mnesitheus of Athens as saying, “in daily intercourse, to those who drink it moderately it gives good cheer; but if you overstep the bounds it brings violence. Mix it half and half and you get madness; unmixed—bodily collapse.”8 Here is a pagan saying, “Half and half is madness, and unmixed wine brings death.”
      Stein also observes that “in several instances in the Old Testament a distinction is made between ‘wine’ and ‘strong drink’“ (e.g., Lev 10:8–9). Strong drink is one thing, wine is another thing. The same distinction is made in Deuteronomy 14:26; 29:6 ; Judges 13:4; and elsewhere. According to the Talmud the “wine” used in the Passover meal was three parts water and one part wine (cf. 2 Macc 15:39).9
      It may also be that the wine Jesus miraculously provided at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1–11) was a similar drink, that is, wine mixed with water. The word oi\no” (“wine”) refers sometimes to fermented grape juice (e.g., Eph 5:18) and sometimes to fresh, not fully fermented grape juice (e.g., Rev 19:15).
      Furthermore, in ancient times not many beverages were safe to drink. Stein indicates that in the ancient world water could be made safe in one of several ways. It could be boiled, but this was tedious and costly. Or it could be filtered, but this was not a safe method. Or some wine could be put in the water to kill the germs—one part wine with three or four parts water.
      Wine today has a much higher level of alcohol than wine in the New Testament. In fact in New Testament times one would need to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in two martinis today. Stein humorously notes, “In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with three parts water, but one’s drinking would probably affect the bladder long before the mind.”10
      Though fermented wine was drunk in Bible times and though the Bible approved of wine-drinking, one needs to remember that the alcoholic content was much less than that of wine today. What is used today is not the wine of the New Testament! Therefore Christians ought not drink wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages for they are actually “strong drink” and are forbidden in Scripture. Even ancient pagans did not drink what some Christians drink today! – Dr. Norman Geisler, http://www.wcofc.org/sermons/alcohol_and_the_christian.htm

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