We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, a “marvelous” work (Psalm 139:14). However, many are self-destructive and never come close to fulfilling their potential. Dr. Bess Francher observed, “we don’t have much to say about how we look at sixteen. But we are the ones who determine how we look when we are sixty” (S.I. McMillen, None of These Diseases, p. 116). Moreover, it is not just looks. It is mobility and physical ability. It is brain capacity and function.
Drug abuse is one of these destructive habits. We considered a variety of drugs last time. However, we did not consider the most abused drugs of all – alcohol.
Alcohol is involved in fatal accidents. Drunk driving is involved in about 32% of all fatal accidents (www.madd.org). Even the first drink slows reaction time. “There are subtle physiological effects after one alcohol equivalent drink… overall, intoxication is a matter of degree… a process that begins with the individuals first drink [Letter from Robert C. Bux, M.D., Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of Bexar County (San Antonio) Texas to Lynn Parker dated Nov. 16, 1993].
Alcohol lowers inhibitions. It causes some to lose clothing (Habakkuk 2:15 cf. Country music song, “Tequila makes her clothes fall off” by Joe Nichols). It causes people to do things they ordinarily would not do (Genesis 19:3-36). It has caused young men to “behold strange women” (Proverbs 23:33 KJV). An abstinence program director has written, “Alcohol is the number one reason why teens have sex. Think about it. Alcohol and drugs cause a person to lose self-control” (Marilyn Morris, ABC’s of the Birds and the Bees, p. 293).
It leaves one vulnerable and defenseless. Date rape and rape in general is very possible when one is in an inebriated state.
Most preachers can tell of seeing homes damaged or destroyed by alcohol. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial ruin, and divorce are common by-products of alcohol abuse.
Good wine / Bad wine
The Bible:(1) Sometimes speaks favorably of wine (e.g. Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 7:13; Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:14-15; Proverbs 3:10; Isaiah 65:8; Joel 3:18; Zechariah 9:7; John 2:1-11); (2) Sometimes speaks unfavorably of wine (Deuteronomy 32:33; Proverbs 4:17; 23:29-35; 31:4-5; Habakkuk 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8).
How do we reconcile those thoughts? (1) Some have suggested that the term “wine” is used in two different ways in the Bible. Sometimes the term is used of alcoholic wine, and this is spoke of unfavorably. Sometimes the term is used of non-alcoholic wine (grape juice), and this is spoke of favorably. This first position is the position I hold. (2) Others suggest that the difference is in quantity. Drunkenness is condemned, but not moderate use of alcoholic beverages. This position is held by most, but not by me.
It is our aim to discern God’s will for us on this subject. Let’s study with an open mind.
1. It is commonly thought that preserving wine in an unfermented state was impossible in Biblical times.
The truth is history speaks of several methods by which those in Biblical time preserved the juice in an unfermented state. (a) The juice could be boiled down to a thick syrup. This would both prevent fermentation and eliminate and alcohol already present. The thick syrup was called honey (some think that the words “a land flowing with milk and honey” refers to grape honey and not bee honey. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible lists grape syrup as one definition of “honey”). The boiled down syrup could be eaten in that state, or it could be rehydrated into liquid. This method existed hundreds of years before Christ. (b) Grapes could be dried before the skin was broke, preserved in that condition, and later rehydrated. I have personally seen this method used in Africa. (c) Cold storage was another ancient method, dating back long before the time of Christ. Fresh juice was bottled, and sealed with pitch. It was then submerged deeply in ponds or lakes. If kept below 40 degrees for a month, the bottle could be removed from the water, and kept sealed without fear of fermentation. If fermentation had begun before the submersion, the cold separated the mass. This method was used hundreds of years before Christ. (d) Sulfur Fumigation also existed. The bottles or jars were not filled full. Prior to sealing the bottles, the room was fumigated by burning sulfer. The bottles were sealed with the sulfur fumes still being present in the unfilled portion of the bottles. This inhibited the formation of yeast germs. (e) Writers from the 1st century A.D. speak of filtration methods to remove gluten, thus preventing intoxicating juice (Note: Space has not allowed me to include the abundant historical testimonies which sustain these methods. I recommend for further study “Wine in the Bible” by Samuel Bacchiocchi, “The Bible, and ‘Social’ Drinking” by W.D. Jeffcoat, and “Bible Wines” by William Patton).
2. Many, when they see the term “wine”, immediately think the term necessarily means alcoholic wine. After all, this is generally how we use the term today.
The English term “wine” did not used to imply such. Many dictionaries from time past indicate that the term was generic and could refer to wine fermented or unfermented (grape juice).
The two most common words for “wine” in the Bible are “yayin” (Hebrew) and “oinos” (Greek). These are both generic words.
There are passages in which “wine” clearly refers to unfermented wines. Here are some examples: Genesis 40:11; Josephus commenting on this used the term gleukes, “sweet wine”; Genesis 49:11, notice the parallelism: garment = clothes, wine = the blood of grapes, which is connected in context with “the vine”; Isaiah 16:10, unless this is figurative language, this must refer to grape juice for alcoholic wine is not what is squeezed from the grape literally speaking; Isaiah 65:8, alcoholic wine does not literally abide in the grape; Lamentations 2:11-12, what mother gives infants alcoholic wine? My point is one should not assume when “wine” appears that it necessarily refers to the intoxicating kind.
Arguments for Abstention
1. The Bible warns of the dangers of wine (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35). True, these are Old Covenant passages. However, the same dangers still exist.
2. The Bible provides examples of otherwise good men being brought into shameful situations due to alcoholic wine (Genesis 9:20-ff; 19:32-ff). If good men can so fall to its influence, I surely should stay away from such.
3. The Bible counsels that wine be avoided (Proverbs 23:31). In fact, it tells man not to even look upon such. It certainly cannot be wrong to follow this path.
4. We’re taught to “flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22) and to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Alcohol tends to break defenses down against sinful lusts.
5. We have an enemy trying to spiritually destroy us. Thus we’re told to “be sober” (1 Peter 5:8). The original word means “to abstain from wine” (Strong’s) The word is from ne = not, and piein = to drink. The word is figuratively used of being clear thinking; literally, it refers to not drinking. Can we afford not to be in our clear minds, when we have an adversary seeking to “devour” us? (The original word is from kata = down, and piein = to drink. It is a play on words –don’t drink, for someone wants to drink you down).
6. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8
The context concerns being prepared for the Lord’s return, as one would want to be for a thief’s entry at night. When a thief breaks in one does not want to be asleep or drunk, but awake and sober. Even so, spiritually, we should want to be found awake and alert when He comes. In other words, we don’t want to be caught unprepared.
The language of 1 Thessalonians 5:7-8 is interesting. The first word “drunk” (methusko) is “an inceptive verb” (Vine’scf.Young`s). The second word “drunk” (methuo) refers to the state of being drunk. These words are positioned opposite of the word “sober” (1 Thes. 5:8), which literally means “not to drink”. Thus, the kind of soberness being taught is the kind which does not even take the first step toward drunkenness.
True this is figurative language. However, this figurative language is based upon the literal illustration. Question: How can one think that he is spiritually sober (spiritually clear thinking), when he isn’t physically sober (physically clear thinking)?
7. There is not one passage which clearly teaches that Jesus, or the apostles never engaged in what we call ‘social’ drinking.
Arguments for Moderation
1. Deuteronomy 14:26 – many versions render this “Wine and strong drink” (NASB, ESV). It is thought that “strong drink” must refer to alcohol. Therefore, the total abstinence view is incorrect.
This original term is shekar. Many scholars believe that this word refers to juice, from sources other than grape, whether fermented or unfermented (William Patton, Bible Wines, p. 51; W.D. Jeffcoat, The Bible and “Social Drinking, p. 23). The New King James Version renders this “wine or similar drink”.
However, even if the term does refer to alcoholic drink, it is an Old Covenant passage. It no more authorizes strong drink today, than other Old Covenant passages authorize worship with mechanical instruments of music.
2. Proverbs 31:4-7
This may justify the medicinal use of alcohol (cf. 1 Timothy 5:23) But it does not justify casual consumption. In fact, the dangers of alcohol are expressed in these verses (Proverbs 31:4-5).
Another point of view is expressed by Jim McGuiggan. He said, “The ‘give’ in verse 6 is not an order or inspired advice to follow… it is more of a ‘leave’ strong drink to those who use it” (The Bible, The Saint and the Liquor Industry, p. 111).
3. John 2:11
Many great lessons can be learned from this passage. It teaches that Jesus sanctioned marriage. It teaches that it is okay to enjoy life, and to celebrate.
It is not a warranted deduction to say this teaches that alcohol is permissible for social drink. The term “wine” is the generic oinos.
True, it is called “good wine” (John 2:10). The term refers to quality, not alcohol content. Grape juice differs in quality. “Plutarch points out that wine is ‘much more pleasant to drink’ when it ‘neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind’s passion’.” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p. 42 quoting Plutarch, Symposiac 8, 7).
True the term “well drunk” is used (John 2:10). The American Standard Version renders this “drunk freely”. There is nothing in the term which demands intoxicating drink.
4. Matthew 9:17. The common explanation is that new wine skins were to be used due to elasticity. As fermentation occurred within the skins, the skins would be elastic enough to handle such without breaking. This must refer to the acceptable use of alcohol.
The explanation has problems. William Patton explains, “Chambers, in his encyclopedia… says, “The force of fermenting wine is very great, being able if closely stopped up, to burst through the strongest cask. What chance would a goat skin have?” (Patton, p. 66). W.D. Jeffcoat has written, “No skin… could remain whole if fermentation should get under full headway. The carbonic acid gas generated by the process would rupture a new skin almost as rapidly as an old one” (Jeffcoat, p. 66).
The true explanation is that freshly squeezed juice was placed in new skins to prevent fermentation. Old skins would “almost inevitably have some of the sour remains of the former vintage adhering to it” (Jeffcoat, p. 53, cf. Patton, p. 67).
However, some wonder why the parallel teaching, as found in Luke, indicates that the old wine is better (Luke 5:36-39). Doesn’t this indicate alcohol? The answer is not necessarily. “Age improves the flavor not only of fermented wine, but also unfermented grape juice (Bacchiocchi, p. 45).
Further, keep in mind that Jesus is giving an illustration. He is not necessarily approving or disapproving of the “wine.”
5. Matthew 11:18-19
Jesus must have drunk alcoholic wine.
The term “wine” is oinos. It may, or may not refer to alcohol.
The contrast seems to be this: (1) John lived in the wilderness (Matt. 3:1; 11:7), Jesus lived among men; (2) John lived under what appears to be a lifetime nazarite vow (Luke 1:15 cf. Numbers 6:1-23), Jesus ate and drank normally. They lived different lifestyles yet both were criticized for their lifestyles. Some people just can’t be pleased.
Also, remember this is being said by Jesus’ enemies. They also accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Mark 3:22), and teaching others not to pay taxes (Luke 23:2) – neither of which were true. He associated with sinful men (Matthew 9:10-11), perhaps this was the source of this misrepresentation. If Jesus was really guilty of what they claimed, He was guilty of a sin punishable by death (Deuteronomy 21:20-21).
8. Romans 14:21
The word is the generic oinos. It is joined with the word “meat”. Nothing here demands that alcohol is in view.
The teaching is that we should be willing to forego even morally neutral matters, if necessary, to prevent being a stumbling block
to our brother.
9. 1 Corinthians 11:21. It is argued that the word “drunk” indicates the use of intoxicating beverage.
The word “drunk” is used opposite to “hungry”. The word is being used of a state of fullness. The word is sometimes connected with things like milk, food, water, and wine (Patton, p 87).
Moreover, this is an odd place to look for approval. This passage is a rebuke.
10. Philippians 4:5, The King James Version uses the word “moderation.” Some have thought that this passage should be applied to the consumption of alcohol.
It is true that there are some things we should consume in moderation (cf. Proverbs 25:16). A Christian needs to possess self-control (Galatians 5:23; Titus 2:2; 2 Peter 1:6). We need to be good stewards of all we have, including our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20; Mark 12:30).
However, this is not the point of this passage. The word “moderation” (KJV) is also rendered “forbearance” (ASV), “gentleness” (NKJV), “reasonableness” (ESV). “The Greek term carries the idea of ‘yieldingness’, ‘gentleness’ or ‘sweet reasonableness’… the term suggests the disposition of one who is willing to forgo his own ‘rights’ in the interest of the higher good of others” (Wayne Jackson, The Book of Philippians, p. 79-80).
11. 1 Timothy 3:3 cf. 3:8; Titus 1:7 cf. 2:3. Defenders of the moderation view make a couple of different arguments from these texts.
(a.) Many stress the distinction between “wine” and “much wine”. They claim that those who would be elders are not to drink, at all; while, those who would be deacons, and women can drink a little.
The adjectives “much” does not necessarily suggest that a little is permissible. Illustration: An elder is not to be “covetous” (1 Timothy 3:3), while a deacon is not to be “greedy of filthy lucre” (1 Timothy 3:8). Does this mean that an elder can’t be greedy for money at all, but a deacon can be, so long as it isn’t “filthy lucre”? Illustration: Does 1 Peter 4:4 allow one to run to riot, so long as it is not to “excess of riot”? Illustration: James 1:21 suggests that it is okay to be naughty, so long as we aren’t of superfluity of naughtiness?
(b.) Some have been quick to appeal to the translations which use wording “addicted to” instead of “given to” (NASB, ESV). It is claimed that what is being condemned is addiction to wine.
The wording in 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7 is: me=not; para=with, near, by; oinon=wine. This sounds like total abstinence.
The wording in 1 Timothy 3:8 pros=to, towards; echo=have. This may refer to addiction.
The wording in Titus 2:3 is doulow=to be enslaved. This clearly refers to addiction. It is okay to be addicted to a little, but not much?
Keep in mind that more than once man has been warned to stay away from such (Proverbs 23:31; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; 1 Peter 5:8). The condemnation of addiction does not justify moderate use.
12. 1 Timothy 5:23
Paul is not instructing Timothy to socially drink. The instructions are for medicinal purposes.
It could be that Timothy’s “frequent infirmities” were helped by the drinking of wine. The word for “wine” is oinos. It could refer to alcoholic wine, or mere grape juice. “There are historical testimonies attesting the use of unfermented wine for medical purposes” (Bacchiocchi, p. 57). However, if this is non-alcoholic wine one wonders why Timothy had avoided such?
Another possibility is that the water in the area was causing Timothy’s stomach ailments, and that it is for this reason Paul advises him to use a little wine. Non-fermented grape juice preserved in such a way as to need no rehydrating would have avoided the local water problem. However, some popular methods of preserving the juice did require rehydration. Since it mentions “a little wine”, it seems likely to me, the reference is to the use of alcoholic wine due to a water supply problem. This is to be an exception to Timothy’s normal pattern of abstinence.
Note: There has been much publicity in the news of the health benefits of drinking red wine. These same benefits are found in drinking red grape juice (archives.cnn.com).
Millions have started out believing in drink by moderation, only to find that they become enslaved to the wine. The best course of action is found in the words, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper” (Proverbs 23:31-32). Avoiding such, except for medicinal usage, is a way which is right and cannot be wrong.