There are some Christians who should never drink alcoholic beverages because they realize they are alcoholics and must “take one day at a time.” There are some Christian groups who argue that all Christians should abstain from wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages. Still other Christians feel that drinking wine or beer in moderation is actually Biblical.
What does the Bible say about wine, drinking, drunkenness and related matters? Some would have all Christian abstainers or teetotalers and actually condemn any Christian who does “drink.” What will an examination of the Bible of this subject reveal?
The word “wine” occurs about 280 times in the Bible. The word “beer” occurs over 40 times. The first occurrence of the word “wine” in Hebrew is at Genesis 9:21 when Noah became drunk after the Flood. So in this context both wine and drunkenness occur at the same time. The account reads:
“And [Noah] took of the wine of it and was overcome by drink.” [BAS]
The Hebrew word for “wine” is YAYIN [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 3196, meaning to effervesce” (Job 32:19)]. It refers to the fermenting of grapes that are “still foaming or fermenting.” Noah drank enough to become “drunk” or intoxicated and fell into a deep sleep. [The affects of wine, good or bad, are listed at the end of this article.] Evidently something of an unclean nature occurred during Noah’s drunken sleep. Genesis 9:24 records his rising from sleep: “And, awaking from his wine, Noah saw what his youngest son had done to him.” [BAS] In some versions the word “drunken” [KJV] occurs here. It is from the Hebrew SHAKAR [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 7937, intoxicated].
Wine is next mentioned in the context of the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek. Genesis 14:18-20 records:
Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him, and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be God Most High.” [WEB]
These verses are later quoted by Paul. Unlike the case of Noah, where wine is associated with drunkenness, here wine is associated with a blessing. Some would see a fore-shadowment here regarding the Messiah and his own association with wine and drinking.
Wine is next mentioned in association with Lot. Genesis 19:32-36 say:
“‘Come, let's make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve our father's seed.’ They made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father. He didn't know when she lay down, nor when she arose. It came to pass on the next day, that the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine again, tonight. You go in, and lie with him, that we may preserve our father's seed.” They made their father drink wine that night also. The younger arose, and lay with him. He didn't know when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus both of Lot's daughters were with child by their father.” [WEB]
Regarding this circumstance one must remember that the Law of Moses had not yet been given so as to condemn the above as sin. Later such conduct would demand an execution by stoning. The account shows the affects of wine on a man. Though drunken enough to not realize what he was doing, nonetheless Lot is able to “function.” Millenniums later Shakespeare would write: “Wine arouses the desire but destroys the function.” In the case of Lot this was not true.
No matter how modern readers might view Lot and his daughters, Peter calls him “righteous” three times. [2 Peter 2:7, 8] For Lot had not broken any law. There may also be something of a sarcastic absurdum here in that it reveals the genealogy of those who would later be known as the Arabs.
The next mention of wine in Genesis is with regard to Isaac’s blessing,
“He said, ‘Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son's venison, that my soul may bless you.’ He brought it near to him, and he ate. He brought him wine, and he drank. His father Isaac said to him, “Come near now, and kiss me, my son.” He came near, and kissed him. He smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him, and said, ‘Behold, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed. God give you of the dew of the sky, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and new wine.’” [Genesis 27:25-28 WEB]
As in other Bible verses to follow wine is viewed as a divine blessing.
Another blessing is associated with wine in Jacob’s prophetic dream related to the coming of the Messiah:
“He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk. [Genesis 49:11, 12 NIV]
The phrase “his eyes will be darker than wine” may refer to the affect of wine in causing “blood-shot” eyes.
In the Law of Moses wine is mentioned as a “drink offering.” [Exodus 29:40; Numbers 15:5, 7, 10; 28:14] Thus, the drinking of wine may be part of formal worship. [Leviticus 10:9] This can also include “strong drink.” [Hebrew SHEKAR (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 7941)] [Compare also Leviticus 23:13.] Wine could also be part of a contribution to the worship of Jehovah. [Numbers 18:12, 30] Deuteronomy 14:26 puts it:
“Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the [YHWH] your God and rejoice.” [NIV]
So the drinking of alcoholic wine was actually encouraged as part of the formal worship of the Israelites. Such drinking of wine was associated with joy in the worship of God. The word “wish” above is also rendered “crave” by some versions.
Under the Law of Moses there were also certain vows that would prohibit not only the drinking of wine but also anything made from grapes. [Numbers 6:3, 4, 20] Such is the case related to Samson. [Judges 13:4, 7, 14] Some modern Christians have also taken vows - whether right or wrong - to abstain from wine. This presents something of a problem with the annual celebration of the death of the Master Jesus when it comes to partaking of The Cup of wine.
Consider other words associated with wine under the Law of Moses. Wine is an evidence of God’s blessing:
“He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land--your grain, new wine and oil--the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you.” [Deuteronomy 7:13 NIV]
The lack of it is evidence of God’s curse:
“You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them.” [Deuteronomy 28:39 NIV]
Wine can become a toxin or poison if abused. Moses writes:
“You drank the foaming blood of the grape. …Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah. Their grapes are filled with poison, and their clusters with bitterness. Their wine is the venom of serpents, the deadly poison of cobras. [Deuteronomy 32:14, 32, 33 NIV]
Wine under the Law of Moses was also required in tithing. [Deuteronomy 12:17; 14:23; 18:4] Wine is an evidence of God’s blessing. [Deuteronomy 11:14]
Beginning with Joshua 9:4, 13 for the first time the wine-bota or wine skin-bottles are mentioned. The Hebrew is NOD [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 4997]. In a parable Judges 9:13 speaks of wine:
“But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?’” [NIV]
The LXX has it “cheers God.”
Hannah is accused of being drunk because of staying a long time drinking wine. [1 Samuel 1:14, 15, 24] Large amounts of wine may be transported. [1 Samuel 10:3; 16:20] Abigail brought “two large jars of wine” to David’s men when her husband failed to be hospitable. [1 Samuel 25:18] Abigail waited until her husband was drunk before telling him and as a result he died of a heart attack. [1 Samuel 25:36-38]
Wine can put a person in a merry mood as 2 Samuel 13:28 says, and wine can also provide instant energy or quick recovery from exhaustion:
“When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine. The king asked Ziba, “Why have you brought these?” Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king's household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the desert.” [2 Samuel 16:1, 2 NIV]
Wine can lift the spirits. [2 Samuel 13:28]
Just as wine was used in worship during the period of the Tabernacle of Moses, it was also used at Solomon’s Temple. 1 Chronicles 9:28 reads:
“Others were assigned to take care of the furnishings and all the other articles of the sanctuary, as well as the flour and wine, and the oil, incense and spices.” [NIV]
A considerable amount of wine was give to King Hiram for his help in building Solomon’s Temple. [2 Chronicles 2:10, 15]
After the captivity to Babylon the Jews continued to use wine in their worship. [Ezra 6:9; 7:22] Tax payments were made in wine. [Nehemiah 5:15, 18] New wine was given as a contribution to the Temple priests. [Nehemiah 10:37, 39; 13:5] Some Jews were warned for treading wine on the Sabbath. [Nehemiah 13:15]
Job’s children drank wine at their banquets. [Job 1:13, 18] Wine is associated with rejoicing. [Psalm 4:6] Too much wine can send one “reeling.” [Psalm 60:3; RHM: confusion; ASV: staggering; NAB: stupefying; KNX: made our senses reel] Even Yahweh is compared to a “mighty man awaking from his wine.” [Psalm 78:64] Psalm 104:15 sings:
“Wine that makes glad the heart of man.” [WEB]
The word “glad” is also rendered: cheer the human spirit [AR], elate the spirit [BER].
In the Book of Proverbs wine is associated with blessings and reward. [Proverbs 3:10; 9:2] Wine was a beverage at meals. [Proverbs 9:5]
Proverbs gives several cautions against drinking too much wine. Proverbs 20:1 warns:
“Wine is a mocker, and beer is a brawler;
Whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” [WEB]
Others render “wine is a mocker” as scoffer, reckless, insolent. Too much wine - that is, drunkenness - can cause the personality to change into a fighting mood. The stories of drunken men getting into brawls are legendary. The drunk will never become rich:
“He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.” [NIV]
Drunkenness or alcoholism has ruined many a person’s livelihood.
The description and dangers of drunkenness is characterized in Proverbs chapter 23:20, 21, 29-35:
PR 23:20 Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
PR 23:21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
PR 23:29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
PR 23:30 Those who linger over wine,
who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
PR 23:31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!
PR 23:32 In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper.
PR 23:33 Your eyes will see strange sights
and your mind imagine confusing things.
PR 23:34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
lying on top of the rigging.
PR 23:35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I'm not hurt!
They beat me, but I don't feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?” [NIV]
Proverbs warns kings and judges about drinking wine before their judgments as this may cause them to err. On the other hand wine is recommended and encouraged for the poor and those sick unto death. Proverbs 31:4-7 counsels:
PR 31:4 “It is not for kings, O Lemuel--
not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
PR 31:5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
PR 31:6 Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;
PR 31:7 let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.” [NIV]
Such drinking of wine by the poor will aid them to forget their poverty and misery. Wine is God’s natural pain-killer and mood-lifter. The Jewish rabbis speak of “sober intoxication” which is not real drunkenness.
Solomon also encourages the use of wine in Ecclesiastes:
“I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly--my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. … Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. … A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry.” [Ecclesiastes 2:3; 9:7; 10:19 NIV]
The burden of the vanity of life is eased by the God-given beverage of wine.
In the romantic poem of the Song of Solomon wine is spoken of favorably. [Canticles 1:2, 4; 2:4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:2, 9; 8:2]
The prophets mention wine in several contexts. Jehovah through His prophet Isaiah condemns both who dilute their wine and those who habitually get drunk:
“Cursed are those who get up early in the morning to give themselves up to strong drink; who keep on drinking far into the night till they are heated with wine! … Cursed are those who are strong to take wine, and great in making mixed drinks!” [Isaiah 1:22; 5:11, 22 Bible in Basic English]
Isaiah 22:13 is a very quoted by Paul:
“‘Now is the time for food and wine, for tomorrow death comes.’” [Bible in Basic English; compare 1 Corinthians 15:32]
The lack of wine may be a sign of God’s condemnation:
“There is no more drinking of wine with a song; strong drink will be bitter to those who take it. The town is waste and broken down: every house is shut up, so that no man may come in. There is a crying in the streets because of the [lack of] wine.” [Isaiah 24:9-11 Bible in Basic English]
Wine is an evidence of Jehovah’s blessing and is associated with Messianic rewards:
“And in this mountain will the Lord of armies make for all peoples a feast of good things, a feast of wines long stored, of good things sweet to the taste, of wines long kept and tested. … He has put an end to death for ever; and the Lord God will take away all weeping.” [Isaiah 25:6-8 Bible in Basic English; compare Isaiah 27:2]
Paul quotes this very and applies it to the attainment of immortality at 1 Corinthians 15:54.
Drunkenness caused by over-drinking of wine may cloud the thinking and actions of even religious men. Such heavy drinking may cause vomiting as Isaiah warns:
“Ho! crown of pride of those who are given up to wine in Ephraim, and the dead flower of his glory which is on the head of those who are overcome by strong drink! … And further, these are uncertain through wine, and have gone out of the right way through strong drink: the priest and the prophet are uncertain through strong drink, they are overcome by wine, they have gone out of the way through strong drink; their vision is false, they go wrong in their decisions. For all the tables are covered with coughed-up food, so that there is not a clean place.” [Isaiah 28:1, 7, 8 Bible in Basic English; compare Isaiah 29:9]
Jehovah uses the analogy of wine when He calls to the spiritually thirsty:
“Ho! everyone in need, come to the waters, and he who has no strength, let him get food: come, get bread without money; wine and milk without price.” [Isaiah 55:1 Bible in Basic English]
Isaiah describes shepherds who mislead others by the abuse of wine:
“Yes, the dogs are for ever looking for food; while these, the keepers of the sheep, are without wisdom: they have all gone after their pleasure, every one looking for profit; they are all the same. Come, they say, I will get wine, and we will take strong drink in full measure; and tomorrow will be like today, full of pleasure.” [Isaiah 56:11, 12 Bible in Basic English]
The restoration of Israel uses language associated with wine as a blessing:
“The Lord has taken an oath by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Truly, I will no longer give your grain to be food for your haters; and men of strange countries will not take the wine for which your work has been done: But those who have got in the grain will have it for their food, and will give praise to the Lord; and those who have got in the grapes will take the wine of them in the open places of my holy house.” [Isaiah 62:8, 9 Bible in Basic English]
Indeed, the winepress is used as a prophetic analogy of Jehovah’s vengeance:
“Why is your clothing red, and why are your robes like those of one who is crushing the grapes? I have been crushing the grapes by myself, and of the peoples there was no man with me: in my wrath and in my passion, they were crushed under my feet; and my robes are marked with their life-blood, and all my clothing is red. For the day of punishment is in my heart, and the year for the payment of the price for my people has come.’” [Isaiah 63:2-4 Bible in Basic English]
Though wine can be an indication of God’s blessing it can also be associated with gambling and “lady luck”,
“This is the word of the Lord: As the new wine is seen in the grapes, and they say, Do not send destruction on it, for a blessing is in it. … But as for you who have given up the Lord, who have no care for my holy mountain, who get ready a table for Chance, and make offerings of mixed wine to Fate.” [Isaiah 65:8, 11 Bible in Basic English]
In the prophet Jeremiah wine is used in analogies of Jehovah’s condemnation of Israel. [Jeremiah 13:12; 25:15, 27; compare also Jeremiah 48:33 and Lamentations 2:12] Wine and drunkenness are used as an analogy of the prophet being filled with God’s Words:
“About the prophets. My heart is broken in me, all my bones are shaking; I am like a man full of strong drink, like a man overcome by wine; because of the Lord, and because of his holy words.” [Jeremiah 23:9 Bible in Basic English]
Like Isaiah, Jeremiah also uses wine as a symbol of Jehovah’s blessing. [Jeremiah 31:12; 40:10, 12] Also in Jeremiah is the case of the Rechabites who as a people had vowed never to drink wine. [Jeremiah 35:2-10, 14]
In the futuristic prophecy regarding a third Temple of Yahweh priests were not to drink when on duty just as under the Law of Moses. Ezekiel 44:21 charges:
“The priests are not to take wine when they go into the inner square.” [Bible in Basic English]
In the case of Daniel and his young Hebrew associates, they refrained from drinking the Babylonian wine. [Daniel 1:5, 8, 14-17] This did not necessarily mean Daniel abstained from wine the rest of his life, for he suggests wine might have been part of his regular diet many years later. Daniel 10:3 states his words:
“I had no pleasing food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, and I put no oil on my body till three full weeks were ended.” [Bible in Basic English]
Drunkenness led to disaster in the case of one Babylonian king. [Daniel 5:1-4, 23]
The prophet Hosea records a parable regarding Jehovah’s care of His People, but because of their religious and political prostitution He would withdraw his blessing of wine. [Hosea 2:8, 9, 22] Hosea 4:11 establishes a prophetic principle:
“Loose ways and new wine take away wisdom.” [Bible in Basic English]
The word “wisdom” here is really the word “heart” which is the center of motivation. The prophet warns that wine can weaken resolve or ruin good motives. The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh renders this: “New wine destroy the mind of My people.” The abuse of wine may cause anger and laziness. [Hosea 7:5, 14] Because of rebellion Jehovah would remove His blessings of wine. [Hosea 9:2, 4] However, at the end of the day Jehovah blesses his New People:
“They will come back and have rest in his shade; their life will be made new like the grain, and they will put out flowers like the vine; his name will be like the wine of Lebanon.” [Hosea 14:7 Bible in Basic English]
Joel predicts the removal of wine as God’s blessing. [Joel 1:5, 10] In the context of the outpouring of Jehovah’s spirit wine will be part of His blessing. [Joel 2:18, 19, 24] Thus, it is inferred that the rejoicing of wine will come upon God’s new nation of the Israel of God. [See Acts 2:17 and Peter’s application of these verses.] In the restoration of God’s People wine will flow freely as Joel 3:18 promises:
“And it will come about in that day that the mountains will be dropping sweet wine, and the hills will be flowing with milk, and all the streams of Judah will be flowing with water; and a fountain will come out from the house of [YHWH].” [Bible in Basic English]
[NOTE: the Hebrew word here may mean “sweet grape juice” (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 6071).]
Amos 2:12 describes how the abstaining Nazirites would be “given wine to drink.” Israel will be cursed and not be able to drink wine. [Amos 5:11] Religious apostates would drink their wine out of bowls. [Amos 6:1] The prophet Amos also foretells the drinking of wine by the Messianic Church:
“See, the days will come, says the Lord, when the ploughman will overtake him who is cutting the grain, and the crusher of the grapes him who is planting seed; and sweet wine will be dropping from the mountains, and the hills will be turned into streams of wine. And I will let the fate of my people Israel be changed, and they will be building up again the waste towns and living in them; they will again be planting vine-gardens and taking the wine for their drink; and they will make gardens and get the fruit of them.” [Amos 9:13, 14 Bible in Basic English]
Amos 9:11 is cited by the Christian disciple James at the first Church synod and applies the words to the non-Jews coming into the restored Israel. [Acts 15:16]
Micah 6:15 warns that God’s people will be punished by the removal of their wine. According to Habakkuk 2:5 too much wine can cause one to act treacherously. Zephaniah 1:13 predicts that the inhabitants of Jerusalem will never drink wine from their vineyards. Haggai 1:11 promises that God will cut off wine. [Compare Haggai 2:16] In Zechariah 9:15, 17; 10:7 Jehovah promises to bless Israel with wine.
Though the word “beer” is rare in the Bible some versions do use the word. Compare New International Version at Proverbs 20:1; 31:4, 6; Isaiah 24:9; 28:7; 29:9; 56:12; Micah 2:11.
The godly man who introduced the Messiah to the world refrained from drinking wine or anything made from grapes. Likely this was because he had taken a Nazirite vow. [Numbers 6:2-21] Before the birth of John the Baptist, an angel declared:
“For he will be great in YHWH’s sight and ‘he will not drink wine or strong drink’. [Numbers 6:3] He will be filled with holy Pneuma even while in his mother’s womb.” [Luke 1:15 Christian Scriptures 2001]
However, this was not the case of Jesus the Nazarene. Demonstrating that nothing could satisfy the Jewish religious hierarchy, Jesus said:
“But, with whom shall I compare this generation? (This generation) is like young children, sitting in the market-squares, who yell at various ones, saying, ‘We played the flute but you did not dance! We cried but you did not mourn!’ For John did not eat (normally) or drink (wine), and yet they say about him, ‘He is demonized!’ (And yet) the Son of Humankind came eating (normally) and drinking (wine), and yet they say about him, ‘Look! a gluttonous human and a drunk -- friend of tax-collectors and sinners.’ Now, wisdom is justified by its works.” [Matthew 11:19 Christian Scriptures 2001; compare also Luke 7:33]
So, unlike the abstainer John the Baptist, Jesus confesses that he was a drinker. He is seen at a number of banquets and feasts where wine was traditionally served.
Jesus also used wine in some of his parables. [Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37, 38; 17:8, 27, 28] In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus illustrates how wine was used to cleanse wounds. [Luke 10:34] According to John’s Gospel wine was involved in Christ’s first miracle. John 2:3-11 records the event:
Now wine became lacking. The mother of Jesus approached him, saying, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, we have no such relationship! My hour is not yet arrived.’ His mother told the servants, ‘Do what ever he may tell you.’ Now there were six stone water jars according to the purification [requirements] of the Jews holding two or three measures. Jesus told them: ‘Fill the jars with water.’ So, they filled them to the brim. Then he said to them: ‘Now all of you draw out [some] and bring it to the one in charge of the dining room.’ So they took it to him. Now when the one in charge of the dining room tasted - he not knowing the water had become wine - nor did he know from where it came - though the servants who had drawn the water out knew - the one in charge of the dining room called for the bridegroom, and said to him: ‘Every person first serves the best wine, and when they all have become intoxicated, [he serves] the inferior [wine]. [But] you have kept the best wine until now.’ This Jesus did in Cana of Galilee as a beginning of the signs [when] he manifested his glory. And so his disciples believed in him. [Christian Scriptures 2001; compare also John 4:46]
The account demonstrates that Jesus was not at all opposed to the proper, God-given use of wine. He turned 120 gallons of water into wine of the finest variety. The steward of the wedding feast acknowledged that Jews did “become intoxicated” during such banquets. It is possible this is “sober intoxication” as mentioned above.
Jesus uses the words “drink” and “drinking” likely in the context of imbibing wine. In his parable of the four servants the “evil slave” is described:
“However, if that slave ever says in his heart, ‘My Master delays his return’ -- and begins to beat male and female servants and to eat and drink and get drunk -- the Lord of that slave will return on a day that he did not expect and in an hour that he did not know. And he will cut him in two and will put him with the unfaithful.” [Luke 12:45, 46 Christian Scriptures 2001]
The word “drink” is associated with “drunk” which is METHUSKO in Greek [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 3182]. Thus, when Jesus sent out his disciples he instructed them:
“Stay in the same home eating and drinking whatever they provide. For the worker is worthy of his wages. Do not move from house to house.” [Luke 10:7 Christian Scriptures 2001]
These missionaries were not told to refrain from drinking wine, but to drink whatever beverage was offered them in the hospitable home.
Though Jesus himself drank moderately he cautions end-time Saints not to become heavy drinkers and as a result not be prepared for his Return. Luke 21:34 warns:
“Continue paying strict attention to yourselves lest your hearts become burdened in overeating and drunkenness and life’s anxieties, for that Day will arrive upon you suddenly.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
The word “drunkenness” is from the Greek METHE [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 3178] and is also rendered: heavy drinking, dissipation, self-indulgence, revelry. Some point to this warning about over-drinking but miss the warning about “overeating.”
So, Jesus does not warn future end-time Saints not to drink but to be on guard about “overeating and drunkenness” just as the Hebrew Scriptures do. Unfortunately in these days as we enter the 21st Century Christians around the world are over weight from overeating. Also chronic alcoholism plagues much of the Western world, even among Christians. But, what about the early Church? What was its view of wine, drinking and drunkenness?
Right from the start of the early Church, just as was the case with the Nazarene, the disciples are accused of being drunk with wine. Acts 2:13, 15 records the charge and Peter’s response:
However, others continued to mock and say: ‘They are all full of sweet wine!’ … [Peter said:] ‘For these men are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only nine in the morning!’ [Christian Scriptures 2001]
Peter did not say, “You know you are lying for we do not drink wine.” He merely said it was too early in the day for any normal person to be drunk.
Wine and drunkenness are not mentioned often in the Christian Bible, but where they are it is very informative. The next mention of wine in the New Testament is at Romans 14:21. Here Paul does not condemn drinking wine, but rather the stumbling of others by such freedom. He writes:
So, then, let us pursue peaceful and upbuilding matters among each other. Do not undo God’s work because of food. Really every [kind of food] is clean but it can harm the person who eats by putting a stumbling-block in the way. So, it is good not to eat [a certain] meat, nor drink wine, if it puts before your associate a cause for tripping. In the sight of The God keep your own conviction to yourself regarding what you ‘approve’. [Romans 14:19-22 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Paul has elsewhere written of the conscience and the matter of stumbling others. Though he does not mention wine or drinking the principles would seem to apply. Note what he wrote to the Corinthian congregation:
“However, this knowledge is not in everyone. Rather it is their custom until now to eat [food] sacrificed to an idol and their weak conscience is being defiled. But, any food eaten will not make us closer to the God. Nor do we fall short if we should not eat; nor do we acquire credit if we should ever eat. Be on the look out that somehow this authority of yours does not become a stumbling block to those with a weak [conscience]. For if you ever should see someone with knowledge reclining in an idol temple, the person with a weak conscience will be emboldened to eat [food] sacrificed to idols. So, the weak person is being ruined because of your knowledge [that an idol is nothing] - the very brother for whom Christ died. Thus, you are sinning against your brothers making them sin and wound their weak conscience. Consequently, if food ever causes my brother to fall, I will never ever eat [idolatrous] meat during this Period so that I should never cause my brother to fall. … Everything is lawful, but everything is not profitable. Everything is lawful, but everything is not upbuilding. Let no one seek just self-concerns, but rather the concerns of others. You may eat anything being sold in a meat market without a judgment of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness is the LORD’s’. [Psalm 24:1] If any one of the unbelievers invites you [to a meal] and you wish to go, eat everything set before you without asking any questions for the sake of conscience. However, if anyone [present] should state, ‘This [meat] is a holy [pagan] sacrifice,’ do not eat it because of the person who disclosed this, and [because of] conscience. I am not talking about your conscience but the other person’s [conscience]. Now then, whether you are eating or drinking, or doing anything else, continue doing everything unto God’s glory. Do not become a cause for stumbling to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the Congregation of the God, just as I also am pleasing everyone in everything - not seeking my own self-interests, but those of the many, so that they might be saved.” [1 Corinthians 8:7-13; 10:23-33 Christian Scriptures 2001]
By reading the above it is clear that a Christian is free to eat meat and drink wine, unless such freedom might would the conscience of a weak and immature Christian. [Compare Romans 14:1-9, 13-18.] This does not mean that the weak and immature should control - or, self-righteously criticize - those Christians who choose to eat meat or drink wine. [1 Corinthians 10:29, 30] The counsel does urge mature Christians who choose to drink be aware how this might affect others.
Drunkenness is clearly condemned in Paul’s counsel to other Christians. At Ephesians 5:18 he warns:
“Avoid getting drunk with wine for such inhibits salvation. However be constantly filled up with the Pneuma.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
Indeed, habitual drunkenness would prohibit any many from becoming or remaining a Christian elder. Regarding such requirements Paul writes to men who were assigned to appoint elders and deacons [including deaconesses]:
“Therefore, it is a necessity the overseer be: without reproach, a husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, orderly, hospitable, skillful in teaching, not given to a lot of wine. … In similar manner, deacons must be: respectable, not double-tongued, not indulging in a lot of wine. … ” [1 Timothy 3:2, 3, 8 Christian Scriptures 2001; compare Titus 1:7; for details see Nazarene Community 2000]
In addition to the above counsel was given by Paul to regarding other members of the Christian Church. Elderly women were not to be guilty of drunkenness as Paul writes at Titus 2:3,
“Similarly, elderly women -- holy behavior, not slanderers, nor enslaved to a lot of wine.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
There is a famous text much discussed at 1 Timothy 5:23,
“Drink water no longer, but use a little wine because of your stomach, and your frequent illnesses.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
It seems obvious that if one no longer drinks water the daily requirement of fluid would have to be replaced with something else. In Europe and the Middle East wine is regularly drunk at meals, and in the ancient Greek world even children drank wine with dried bread for breakfast. In some parts of the world it is not wise to drink the local water and so wine is used as a regular beverage.
Some feel that Paul’s counsel above is to drink diluted wine and water as to some extent the former ‘sterilizes’ some germs or bacteria. Whatever the case, Paul does not counsel Timothy to abstain from wine, but to use it wisely. Wine at this historical period was generally of a very weak content at 4-6%. Those who drank it regularly with meals would have to consume very large amounts to become “drunk” as described in Proverbs 23:29-35. The word “alcohol” is actually an Arabic word to describe the strong drink created by them through distillation. Such liquor did not come into existence until about the 10th Century AD.
Someone once said: “Moderation in everything, including moderation.” Such a truth can be applied to wine and drinking. It is true Peter warns against “excesses with wine”. [1 Peter 5:18 NWT] The important thing is not whether a Christian chooses to drink wine or not but to apply the principle Paul exhorts at Ephesians 5:18,
“Avoid getting drunk with wine for such inhibits salvation. However be constantly filled up with the [Spirit].” [Nazarene Saints Paraphrased Rendering]
Truly, Christians may rejoice as does the psalmist in “wine that makes the heart of humans rejoice.” [Psalm 104:15]
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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