by Brent MacDonald, edition 3c
I was naïve to think that a concise article, with a few examples, would be sufficient on this subject of drugs and alcohol. What long ago began as that brief article has now become an extended and much expanded examination. The subject of alcohol raises many passionate voices in the church, each with their own experiences, prejudices, thoughts, and yes, even agendas. One thing that can be said of all these voice, with 100% certainty; there is no unified position. Of the plethora of letters, articles, and comments I have received on this subject, a majority are at complete odds to each other, even when sometimes trying to obtain the same conclusion or outcome. Many aren't even close on their desired outcome.
My articles become, in my opinion, far better over time. The questions, comments, and challenges that I receive force me to revisit and reexamine topics. An increasing understanding of Scriptures and their application to issues, as the Holy Spirit continues to teach and illuminate through personal study, combines to provide riches, more details, and better scripturally defended works. In revisiting this article for the third time in a decade, it is my desire that work supersede those that I have written earlier and provide a unified and consistent biblical approach and answer to the matters arising on the subject or alcohol and drugs.
introduction to the second edition, I noted that the reason for the
first expansion was primarily due to a host of traditional arguments
which had been brought forth primarily in opposition to the brief
conclusions of the original. This has not changed. Many of those same
arguments have returned, occasionally with a slightly different
nuance and sometimes with the professed support of
"important" authors and pastors. This has led to further
expansion within some existing subtopics and the addition of a few
Let's be honest; virtually every Christian teacher, preacher and author - indeed all believers - would be guilty of eisegesis, intentionally or unintentionally, at some point in their life. Exegesis and Eisegesis are two diametrically opposed approaches to studying and teaching the Bible.
Exegesis (from two Greek words "out" + "to lead") is the exposition, or clarification, or explanation, of a passage based on an objective and detailed analysis of the text. The reader or teacher is seeking to allow the text, through established rules of Biblical interpretation, including context, to lead them to a conclusion. The goal is to discover what the author intended the passage to say and mean. A methodology for exegesis can be briefly summarized as:
Eisegesis (from two Greek words "into" + "to lead") is interpreting a passage based on a subjective and often cursory reading of the text. The reader or teacher begins with an already determined subject or conclusion and then imposes their own ideas into the text, using it, or forcing it, to mean whatever they desire it to say. While often claiming otherwise, there is little regard for what the author intended the passage to say and mean. A methodology for eisegesis can be briefly summarized as:
Our "sound-bite" generation loves eisegesis; any passage that quickly sounds like it justifies a particular position will do. Switching translations or paraphrasing to find the desired wording is fair game. Eisegesis is concerned about making a point and will do so at the expense of the meaning of the words. Obviously (or it should be!) eisegesis is a mishandling of God's Word, one that leads to misinterpretation of the text and misapplication on behalf of those being taught through such a method. Our goal is to never force the Bible to agree with us and any preconceived ideas we might have (even if they may represent the best of human wisdom). It is only through Exegesis that we are enabled to agree with the Bible and fullness of God's wisdom contained throughout.
To avoid Eisegesis, this study cannot be reduced to a handful of "proof texts". It becomes imperative that each reader take the time to consider the totality of this subject. While I have urged the same in earlier editions, a considerable number of the professed rebuttals we received did so by utilizing one or two passages, which in isolation perhaps could be construed to say what the respondent wanted. Passages far more difficult to explain, from their viewpoint, were ignored or left in silence. This eisegesis of the text could be summarily dismissed, but for the purposes of critical examination, I have incorporated many of their claims and arguments into the sections which follow. The truth never has to fear a lie, indeed the lie will be exposed by the truth.
In our exegesis, it is vital that we consider the events of Scripture in the historical and geographical setting where they took place. While it is true that God's Word is timeless and for all people wherever they live, understanding how the original readers would have understood something (especially the usage of words) helps to establish context. It has been a goal of these subsequent editions to provide even more in this area to combat the easy fallacy of interpreting Scriptures through the lens of our modern culture and relatively recent traditions.
Did Jesus drink fermented drinks? Is all drinking of alcoholic beverages wrong? Does the Bible speak about not doing drugs? All are common and very much related questions. Some would say that drugs are a completely different topic than alcohol; we believe it to be an intertwined subject requiring at least a brief consideration in this article that admittedly focuses primarily on that alcohol issue. While there are strong emotional responses to the subject of alcoholic beverages, emotions are often misleading. Likewise, a host of "good" people have offered up their opinions and preferences on this matter, many passionate in their defenses whether pro or con. Their good intent and passion does not settle a matter, as wrong things said and done, even with good intent, may cloud the truth of Scriptures. The examination must be exhaustive; the truth of God's Word must be discovered. Don't let our topical headings mislead, there is only one issue being resolved and all parts of this article will, together, establish a Scriptural view.
The issue of alcoholic beverages has brought division to the church for almost two centuries. For this reason alone the church should and must deal with the subject, not with traditions and platitudes but in truth. Those who claim that it shouldn't be debated or studied, solely because it is divisive, have missed the message of Scriptures on division. Jesus came to bring division (Luke 12:51), a division rooted specifically in the message, one that irrevocably divides truth from error. Wherever there is someone standing for the truth and someone else opposed to that truth there is and will be division. This is not a cause for retreat or compromise, it's an opportunity for the one grounded in the truth to gently teach and correct (2 Timothy 2:24-25; Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 3:15) and, as necessary, to rebuke (Titus 1:13, 2:15) the one bound to a lie. It's not an issue of trying to win a debate, it's contending for God's truth (Jude 3). The church of Jesus Christ is called to be myth-busters.
Every warning in the New Testament to watch out for those causing division comes with an obligation. Only wherein someone is teaching or holding to something that is false, against the revelation of God's word, can a person be legitimately charged with causing division and warranting a rebuke of the church. For even if the entire church is in agreement on a matter, yet it is contrary to God's Word, a single voice calling the greater host to remembrance of the truth may legitimately charge the whole with being divisive. A majority cannot overrule the will and revelation of God. The goal of complete agreement and single-mindedness of the church can only be found in God's truth (1 Corinthians 1:10, 12:25) and never man's traditions (Colossians 2:8; Mark 7:7-13). [A related article, on church discipline, is here]
Much of the relatively modern controversy, on this specific issue of alcohol, dates back to when church groups and well meaning individuals became the leading factor in events surrounding prohibition in the United States. During and following that era, many churches added a line similar to "we shall abstain from the use and sale of alcohol as a beverage" to their church covenants. A number of them still recite those lines today. For specific example, we have included two currently circulated versions in their entirety (bold emphasis ours):
Many more churches, apart from such a written covenant, still unequivocally cite drinking of alcoholic beverages to be sin. Others hold to an "I'm a better believer if I don't drink" mentality. This makes it very important that all of Scriptures be examined to find if there is sound biblical basis for these claims or if they, perhaps, fall into the categories of traditions of men or establishing new law or standards beyond or in opposition to what God desires or commands.
A phrase casually tossed about by many who readily dismiss any debate over this issue is: "Better to err on the side of caution." While this sounds like words of wisdom, it is human wisdom, not the wisdom that comes from God. We are never called to compromise and error for the sake of anything let alone "caution". The fact of the matter is: "To err on the side of caution is still to err". Be zealous for the truth.
"Any wine that Jesus or the apostles would have drunk was non-alcoholic". This is one popular myth that needs to be laid to rest at the onset, as it is the foundation on which many erroneous modern claims are built.
Wait a minute! Of course there's non-alcoholic wine, we've all seen it in our grocery stores, plus there's the ever popular Welch's grape juice that many churches use for the Lord's Supper. There is no disputing the fact of non-alcoholic wine existing today. The question is; when did we first get non-alcoholic wine and grape juice? The answer comes as surprise to many people raised in churches that have said that all alcoholic beverages are evil and/or that Jesus only drank non-alcoholic wine.
Prior to 1869 there was no such thing as non-alcoholic wine, or grape juice, apart from drinking it the very day it was squeezed. Until that time, and actually for a number of years afterward, every church that celebrated communion (or the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist) utilized alcoholic wine. It was the only thing available! Today, many North American churches look down on what they derisively call or believe to be a "third world" practice, feeling that our churches today are better than those, or even the ones at the time of Jesus, because we now have non-alcoholic grape juice.
To understand why alcoholic wine was the norm until the 19th century, and still is for many churches around the world, we need to take a few minutes to consider how wine is produced. When grapes are crushed the resultant grape juice is, at the moment, true grape juice. Unless it is processed in a special manner that was invented in 1869, that grape juice almost immediately begins a natural process of fermentation.
Fermentation happens rapidly, caused by natural yeasts in the environment. In modern settings, specific yeasts are often introduced to enhance flavor. In fact, some natural yeast can introduce distinctly undesirable flavors. In theory, in a perfectly sterile environment the grape juice would not ferment. In practice the grapes themselves are covered with these yeasts and sometimes other contaminants (some that can even ruin the wine). Regardless, in ancient times, the non-sterile stone or wooden vats and buildings would easily have had everything necessary to start the process of fermentation.
For emphasis, it must be again noted that the freshly pressed grape juice begins the process of fermentation almost immediately. The natural chemical procedure results in the yeast converting the inherent sugars of the grape into alcohol. In modern settings winemakers have methods for stopping the fermentation process to make the wine sweeter if desired, which also results in a slightly less alcoholic wine. During ancient times the process would continue until the sugars were consumed.
Drinking the wine at earlier points in the process would have yielded a sweeter wine with less alcoholic content, but after the secondary fermentation was complete, there would be little change in alcoholic content. Modern wines (excluding those few that are fortified, meaning they have extra alcohol added) vary from 8-14% alcohol. Fermentation naturally stops when the sugar level drops below 0.1%, so the alcohol content is normally dependant on the sugar content of the grapes. Grapes grown in different areas, and different types of grapes, will yield varying alcoholic content.
As for Welch's grape juice, it came about from the efforts of a well meaning New Jersey churchman...
There was no Welch's Grape juice in Bible times and throughout almost two millennia of church history. The norm of today cannot, indeed must not, be ascribed as being the standard of yesterday, let alone imposed on Scriptures.
An idea, that appears to be rooted only in the teachings of John MacArthur Jr., is that in Bible times alcoholic wine was subsequently transformed into non-alcoholic fruit juice. By his account, this juice could still be called "wine" yet it was merely a reconstituted fruit juice with no alcoholic properties. To be fair, it appears that John MacArthur may have abandoned this belief in later years, as I am told that it does not appear in his later writings. Unfortunately, the mere fact that this idea was ever circulated and published by such a prominent teacher and author means that it will live on and appear in subsequent citations by others seeking to use him in support of their preconceived ideas on alcoholic beverages.
Roman authors of the first century wrote about procedures for making jams, jelly's and syrups, even for preserving fruits in sweet wine and wine syrups. These alternate uses of fermented fruit juices cannot be misconstrued as saying that this was the norm - they were merely alternate ways that the products could be used, even as today we have many varied uses. In fact, there is some implication and a few statements claiming some procedures and recipes as being newly created. If true, earlier usage of some of these syrup methods may have been non-existent especially outside of the specific regions of the authors.
In all the historical materials I have examined, there is absolutely no first century or earlier writings that speak of making syrup or jam and then reconstituting it with water for use as a drink. In fact, making of pastes and syrups was not done with fermented wine, it was made directly and immediately from the "must". Must (from Latin "vinum mustum", literally "young wine") is the freshly pressed grape juice that still contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. Creating must is the normal first step in wine-making.
Sapa or defrutum could be added back into fermented wine as a sweetener, but no indication exists that it was used for flavoring water as a standard drink. Its primary use was neither; these reduced syrups were used for directly for preserving fruit or by adding vinegar (which also could be from wine) they could create a pickling preservative.
Later usages, in the second to seventh centuries A.D., utilized pastes as a component in medicines, usually mixed with other ingredients or other medicines and even wine. Simply put, there were other usages for grape juice, juices from other fruits, and various wines, but storing and drinking the quickly fermented juice was unquestionably its primary use. Even if MacArthur was merely pointing out valid alternate uses, which his fanciful reconstituted fruit juice is not, it would still be misleading in indicating these to be a primary use. Worse still, MacArthur attempts to redefine a Hebrew word:
Yayin is certainly a Hebrew word for wine, mentioned from the very beginning (Genesis 9:21) as being made from the fruit of the vine (i.e. grapes) and having intoxicating properties if drunk in excess. If the word was to mean "bubbling up" from boiling it down, that would have to be the most ancient and primary use of the word, which, in fact, it is not. All major word studies and concordances legitimately acknowledge that the "bubbling up" which is at the heart of the word "yayin" refers to the process and effect of fermentation; to effervesce. While yayin could refer to wine in any stage of its creation, from the fresh pressing to fully fermented, it's normal and most common usage referred to fermented wine as this was all that was available for the majority of the year.
This portion of a parable that Jesus taught, clearly reflected a well known fact of ancient times; namely that old wine was considered to be the better wine. Verses 37 and 38 show that the wine being spoken about was following its initial fermentation, during which the wine would have burst any wineskin. The reason that old wine would have been considered better than new has nothing to do with alcoholic content (which is present almost immediately); it has everything to do with taste. Aging often enhanced the taste of the wine, making it more flavorful, so long as other contamination did not occur. Our modern processes are more likely to produce an aged wine, with better flavor, as we are more careful to sterilize equipment and containers and control other airborne impurities. Even though the ancient world did not understand why some of the aged wine would deteriorate it didn't stop them from desiring a well flavored wine through this natural aging process.
Nowadays our well sealed bottles typically allow wine to age much longer, again for the purposes of enhancing flavor, as it has no bearing on alcoholic content. Notably, though less likely, even the best bottled wine can potentially still turn at any time to the chagrin of many wine collectors and connoisseurs.
Consider the wedding at Cana that Jesus graced with his presence and participation...
The wine Jesus created in such a miraculous way was obviously the best tasting wine. Which wine was that? The rarer, aged, old wine! To say anything else would be a meaningless statement to a first century reader. Yet this has not kept abstinence proponents from claiming that the good wine would have been unfermented grape juice. An aged wine is not to say that it would be any more fermented than a newer wine, merely that the old had better flavor. All of the wine being served at this wedding was fully fermented due to the time of the year the wedding was being held - only shortly before the Passover, as implied by John 2:12-13. The "poorer wine" would have been newer wine, perhaps four or five months old. There's also a small possibility that the "poorer wine" may have been diluted with water, due to a fear of running out and having insufficient quantities on hand for all the guests. This latter idea presupposes that common rural practice of Jewish commoners may have followed a practice that was better known among aristocratic Roman society. If the poorer wine was diluted, it would make the good wine undiluted and certainly a better and stronger flavor.
Remember that the wedding celebration extended over many days, so it should not be presupposed or misconstrued that Jesus was encouraging guests to drink to excess. Mentioning that the guests had "drunk freely" in verse 10 does not have to mean that they drank too much, rather that they drank each of the days of the celebration until supplies had run out. The groom, to his shame, had failed to have enough wine to make it through all the days of the celebration. Jesus merely provided that which was lacking (removing the shame of the groom and blessing the ordinance of marriage as practiced in their culture).
Regardless of the elaborately contrived theological scenarios some have invented to say that the wine Jesus created could not have been alcoholic, these clearly violate a standard principle of Biblical interpretation, namely recognizing the historical/cultural context of the account. In regards to historical narrative, such as the account of the wedding at Cana, it is important to ask, "What would the original readers of John's gospel have understood this account to say?" While God's Word is written for all ages; the Bible will not change in meaning for subsequent generations, regardless of how culture changes. It must be understood in light of how it would have been accepted at the time and place where it was written, this alone is a true understanding of the text.
Returning to the aforementioned account of Dr. Welch, the reason cited for his desiring to create a non-alcoholic wine was, on the surface, out of good intent.
Of course, any Christian would be concerned about this man and his excess regarding alcohol. What remains is the question of whether creating a means of total denial, or total abstinence, is the best possible solution. It was similar belief that led to monks of old seeking isolation and Spartan living conditions. The thought, even then, was that removing all possible stimuli or temptation would keep the individual free from sin and excess. History shows that these ascetic monastic conditions of external denial accomplished very little. At the most it created a false expectation that merely following suit would deal with the thoughts and actions plaguing others - and from this came the common belief that those who did so were somehow more spiritual or godly solely because they choose this austere path. The true lesson of scriptures (see again Colossians 2:20-23) is that this method is prone to failure. Why? Because sin comes from the heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Removing all the externals, if this was possible, does nothing to cure the real problem which requires an inward-outward work. Self-control is the fruit of a life being led by the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23).
Renewing our mind comes from retraining it in a godly manner as enabled by the Spirit of God dwelling within us. Many believers, though, believe that somehow adopting the pattern of this world will somehow accomplish personal or societal change. Some go so far as to cite the best modern wisdom on alcohol as if it was on par with Scriptures; others cite the "benefits" of cults and other religions who have adopted lists of rules to enforce their denial of alcohol. Mormon's and Muslims don't become positive examples on this subject; they follow the world's pattern that says externals make all the difference. It's a worldly and godless mindset that thinks external change is real change. When adopted by the church, this is the mindset that teaches external conformity to all the rules; if a person looks like and acts like a "good" Christian (by the rules they set) it's what matters most. The result of this is all too often counterfeit Christians, people who believe they're good people, or saved, merely because they externally conform to all the rules.
Before leaving this subject, the remainder of Welch's story provides additional understanding of what took place in elevating his non-alcoholic wine to the exclusive status it now holds in many churches.
It took many years for the churches to leave what had been the norm for more than 1800 years, namely the use of alcoholic or real wine. The pressure to do so was never really religious reasons, though often couched in those terms; it was primarily worldly. Ultimately the church followed a trend that was popularized by a government official who had adopted the "externals" approach to an internal problem.
Imagine for a moment that someone invents a food substitute that provides most of the flavor but almost none of the calories. This happens not just for one or two foods, but an entirely new line-up of all foods engineered for this purpose. Within a few years, the government starts promoting it as a cure for the poor eating habits of America, a fix for gluttony and the overweight problem of society. How long would we have to wait before churches adopt it for religious reasons? Imagine how it would be promoted... "Doesn't the Bible teach that gluttony is a sin? Of course! This is why God never intended any person to be overweight and has provided us with alternatives that are healthy. It would be a sin to eat those things that cause you to be overweight." After a hundred or so years, it's not inconceivable that some churches would be teaching that Jesus made the "low/no calorie version" of fish and loaves, during His miracles, since "there is no way He would have promoted the sin of gluttony by making the other."
Our last hypothetical example regarding gluttony may sound absurd, but this is exactly what has been done with alcoholic beverages. It often results in filtering Biblical events by our modern cultural worldview. Regardless of the culture in any age, the problems of both gluttony and alcoholic excess rest in a worldly mind-set that misuses (or takes to excess) what God has made to be, and has said to be, good.
Canadian statistics, I came across recently, provide another illustration: 2.7% of Canadians over the age of 15 are addicted to alcohol. 7% of women over the age of 15 are in abusive relationships or marriages. If it is necessary to ban alcohol to help the 2.7% perhaps it would be far more prudent to ban all relationships or marriages to stop the 7% from being abused. (Indeed, the report showed that 5% of those who abuse alcohol permanently stop doing so each year. 80% of which do it without the help of Alcoholics Anonymous or similar 12 step abstinence programs. They found that the key factor for all was their desire and motivation to change). Far better that all be taught proper action and have right motivation, none of which can be higher than living for the Lord!
"Total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation."
This quote is attributed to Augustine of Hippo. While it does summarize what he taught, his actual words are equally compelling.
In the same John MacArthur message we referenced earlier, where he claimed a non-alcoholic reconstituted fruit juice as being a common way to drink wine, he referred to one additional way he believed was likewise commonplace. In fact, he placed the reconstituted fruit juice second to this. Any listener or reader of that sermon would assume that the two methods together constituted the whole and normative of wine drinking, except perhaps for those rebellious who would wrongly choose to drink pure wine.
We, of course, know that standing water can grow unwanted organisms. Indeed, virtually everyone today knows the harmful effects of bacteria and the precautions necessary to keep us from them. That alcohol has antiseptic properties and can be used to help kill contaminants in water is a noble use of such. All this MacArthur subtly weaves together to make a plausible story of why wine would be mixed together with water. Of course, the wine is really the incidental here; they were merely trying to make their water healthy to drink. It's a great story, but it's a myth.
Bacteria were completely unknown until 1676 (first observed by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in a simple microscope he designed) and it wasn't really until the 18th century that it was better understood that bacteria were the cause of many diseases. Prior to then, no one was trying to kill or neutralize bacteria. While alcohol was known to have some medicinal properties to the ancients, they had no idea why. Wine was not added to water for any specific reason, rather water and other substances were added to wine, either for purposes of taste or to enhance or reduce the speculated medical properties.
Paul does not instruct Timothy to add wine to his water; he was instructing him to substitute a little wine (i.e. not to excess) in place of drinking water. Wine was known to the Jews and Gentiles to have medicinal value, not so much as water was known to cause illnesses. In fact, it appears that Paul may have been mildly rebuking Timothy here, perhaps for buying into some early form of asceticism concerning food and drinks. Drinking wine was a normal part of first century life, the mere fact that Timothy had withdrawn from doing so, and was drinking only water, showed his actions to be out of the ordinary. Paul made clear that returning to the norm, namely drinking wine without excess, was good and proper, even beneficial.
The expression "little wine" cannot be construed to say little in total, but rather a little at any one time. This is proper example for using wine as a beverage. Those who claim that Timothy was "properly" refraining from all alcohol "as a good example" have the burden of proof. Nowhere is there a command that refraining from all alcohol is required, preferred or in anyway beneficial. Indeed, Paul's words here, and a number of other passages, state otherwise. History records that Jews, in the first century era, normally drank about 4 to 8 ounces per person (dependant upon estimates of average family sizes during this period). This amounted to an annual consumption far above most nations of today, yet quite normal within much of the Roman world, and certainly within the confines of what would be called a moderate drinker today (at 1 to 2 glasses per day).
The only time that watered wine is specifically mentioned in the Bible, it is used as a pejorative. It was a sign of corruption found in the same passage with murderers, thieves and bribe takers.
Clearly, in Old Testament times, diluted wine was not the norm. Indeed, it is highly improbable that diluted wine was the norm in New Testament times as well. It was a Roman practice to cut or mix wine with water, one that came into vogue primarily during the Roman period. Even so, it was a topic of debate among the Romans themselves who often had differing feelings regarding the propriety of doing so. Drinking wine "neat" (i.e. free from mixture or adulteration) was known to be the norm in many cultures. The aristocratic Romans had adopted a practice introduced by the Greeks. It was not just with water that wine was mixed, though water in various forms was common during this period.
This three to one ratio is quite less that the 8 to 1 implied as common by MacArthur. While it marginally minimized the alcoholic effects of wine; as shown from Roman literature, it did not prevent drunkenness. Their non-believing revelries often led to merely drinking much more and still falling into drunkenness. Those who do not have God-given self-control will always find ways to abuse anything.
The mixing of water, or other spices and substances, into wine was a mater of taste. Sometimes chalk and marble dust was added to reduce the acidity of the wine. Lead was even said to be used as sweetening agent (obviously, this would be hazardous to one's health!). Honey was another common and far better sweetener (adding up to 6.5 pounds per 3 gallons of wine or loosely 3 kg per 12 liters). As for adding water, Romans believed it enhanced the flavor of the wine. Some of the wealthy had snow brought from the mountains so they could mix their wine with snow to chill it. Others enjoyed adding boiling water to warm their wine.
In the Roman period, for most of the Roman world, wine was rarely pure wine. This may have been different in Jewish culture, solely because many Jews resisted all things Roman and tried to adhere to their ancient practices.
Returning to a scriptural account of mixed wine, consider the mixed wine Jesus was offered on the cross. Contrary to popular myth it had no special analgesic properties. This wine mixed with myrrh, a valuable perfume resin or oil, was merely a flavor wine drink, one that would have been consumed by those who were rich and powerful. It was being offered to Jesus to mock him and his claim to be a ruler (Mark 15:2-13).
Jesus refused it because it was done to mock him, not as some presuppose because it would have numbed his senses. Translations such as the NEB, which calls it "drugged wine", or God's Word, that uses "wine mixed with a drug called myrrh", both are misleading and show translator bias. Myrrh, as with hosts of other substances and compounds, can be found as being a medicine or a component of a medicine in ancient texts. Yet, as with many other benign substances then used, its actual medical properties were dubious and it never was known to have any analgesic properties or even a claim to such by the ancients. The God's Word translation would have been far more accurate to say "wine mixed with a perfume or flavoring called myrrh".
For the record; wine mixed with spices dates far back into Old Testament times and it referenced in Scriptures both in a positive light and in a negative connotation associated with judgment.
The first passage clearly uses the Hebrew words for spices and wine, while the latter uses the term "mixed wine". There is no way that God meant the passage in Psalms to mean diluted with water (rather mixed with spices) as this would make the symbolism that He would be diluting justice. God merely used a common practice, the use of wine mixed with spices, as suitable illustrative device. Certainly those on whom God pours out His wrath will drink all of it, as one would if it was good tasting spiced wine.
A recent find shows that flavored wine was also found in other contemporary cultures during Old Testament times:
There was period of abstinence from all alcoholic beverages in Israel's history, it lasted forty years.
God made it known that the events of the Exodus journey were extra-ordinary, nowhere close to the norm, and evidence that He was at work in sustaining and caring for them in an abnormal way. Instead of bread and wine, God fed them with manna and water, this is no more to say that wine is evil than it would be to say that bread is evil. The removal of both was with a purpose, so that they would know that it was God providing apart from any normal means.
When the Israelites almost got to the Promised Land, a couple of years after the Exodus began, not surprisingly, they were interested in the grapes of the land. They desired what had been a norm.
Upon the final arrival of the Israelites in the Promised Land, the normal was again restored. They had bread and wine again (of course, they had to wait awhile longer for the wine, but certainly within "that year").
Moving much later, in the church era, it was cults and sects who became known for their complete abstinence from alcohol. Two related groups that arose in what is now modern Turkey, in the region of Phrygia, illustrate the ascetic and legalistic practices that some adopted.
Their practice in regards to alcohol was so out of the norm with the rest of the city of Hierapolis, a major Christian destination in the region, that a 4th century tomb merely had to have the inscription "hydropotes" on it, meaning "drinker of water" to identify himself with the Gnostic Encratic cult. (Referenced, ibid., Page 42)
There is absolutely no doubt that the misuse of alcohol has led to serious consequences in many lives. While perhaps not quite as grim as the above writer made them out to be, the following statistics are not trivial.
As examined earlier, blaming and banning the alcoholic beverage is the same mindset that would claim the need to ban knives or cars because they can be used recklessly and wantonly to commit crimes and atrocities. The object itself is not the problem; it is the misuse of the object that is the predicament. Even as driver's education attempts to deal with vehicle use and gun education classes address those lethal tools, so too proper education is the right response for alcohol. Consider knives; what parent doesn't start instructing their children in the proper use of knives from a very early age? First of all they see their parents using them properly, second they are given warning regarding the danger of them, thirdly they are given limited hands-on practice in their usage, the goal being that in time - when left to their selves - that they will use knives properly. Sadly, due to the corruption and callousness of man's heart, there are still those who will misuse knives to commit crimes and even murder. This shouldn't, and indeed doesn't, dissuade parents from doing that basic training on the use of knives. Indeed this is the proper and biblical course of action on all objects that can have good application but carry with them a potential possibility of misuse.
The very reason that children fail to "discern the nuances between disciplined social drinking and that which has gone to excess" is because they have not been given proper example. The only example many have been left with is wrong example, perhaps by unregenerate individuals in their family but far more commonly by our pervasive media including television and movies. Anyone who naively believes that their silence on the issue or withholding of proper instruction and visual example will help this has missed a biblical principle. Children learn most of all when they see actions combined with words.
While this passage in Proverbs is often applied only to spiritual things, the same principle applies in all things. Abraham was called to teach and direct his family and household (Genesis 18:19) and he publically drank wine (Genesis 14:18-19). The Israelites were specifically commanded to remind their children of all that God taught them (Deuteronomy 4:9, 6:6-9) and they were instructed by God that they could drink wine and other alcoholic beverages publically as part of a family celebration (Deuteronomy 14:24-26)! Indeed, Jesus, our perfect example (Hebrews 4:15, 7:28, 12:3), participated in a public family gathering where people properly drank wine (John 2:1-10). If God wanted the example for children to be never to see anyone drinking wine or alcoholic drink He certainly did not say it or show it in His word. The only plea of Scripture is that there must be proper example. The example of God's discipline and instruction is far better than all the perceived wisdom of man (i.e. Colossians 2:21-23).
If people saw church leaders, such as John MacArthur, being responsible examples of self-controlled drinking, they could follow their example. But there's no need for people to say that they can drink simply because some church leader does, they have a higher example, that of Scriptures, that shows we can drink responsibly because Jesus and other greater men of faith did! Likewise, if any do not follow the proper example of Scriptures or any other spiritual leaders, it is that person that must take the blame for their failure, never the one who provided proper example as did our Savior.
Longstanding principles of interpreting Scriptures provide established and accepted rules to help us properly determine what any passage intended to say. Included in these principles, in simplified wording, is the fact that Scripture interprets Scriptures, and context establishes meaning. (For a good book on this, read Studying and Interpreting and Applying the Bible by Walter Hendrichsen and Gayle Jackson). The rule some have called "the law of first mention" does not appear in all of these accepted lists of rules, and actually in no ancient ones. Respected teacher Arthur W. Pink, who held it as ones of his rules of interpretation, acknowledges that it was not truly established as a rule until the 1600's...
Notice that Pink also admits that as a rule, the first use does not always establish everything there is to know about the subject; merely that later usage will not contradict the original though it might expand on it.
Those who draw upon this rule in regards to alcoholic beverages claim that the account of Noah, the first usage of the word "wine" in the Bible, proves that all other references to alcoholic wine should have negative connotation. In fact, by this principle of first use, the warning about excess (as obviously Noah experienced) is the primary scope of this text which is clearly carried forward throughout Scriptures. With out a doubt, every future misuse of alcoholic wine is shown to be the source of pain and trouble. It's the misuse of wine that is established in this first mention (and reinforced by the third mention, regarding Lot... see Genesis 19:32-38).
As mentioned earlier in this section, not all interpreters of Scriptures hold first mention to be a concrete "law." As such the first mention of "sword" is given in regards to righteous judgment (Genesis 3:4) yet not every mention of a sword afterwards is for righteous purposes, some were for very evil purposes. I will even concede that the "law of first mention" could apply regarding swords, only wherein a broader perspective is in view, that it is an object that could be used to kill and whether it is for righteous purposes or evil purposes must be gained from context. Wine, too, fits into that category.
It's interesting that one letter we received from a church, in regards to alcohol, skipped over the second mention of wine in Scriptures (calling the third occurrence, the one about Lot, the second). In fact, due to their insistence that the "law of first mention" ascribes negative connotation to all future references, they have a real problem with the second occurrence, which may be why it was easier for them to ignore it. The second occurrence...
If their "law of first mention" guarantees that all subsequent uses of "wine" have to show that it was evil (or brought about evil acts), then they would have to say that Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, intended evil in bringing bread and wine to Abram to eat and drink. This is certainly not true as shown by context or further reference in Scriptures.
[A digression: Utilizing the methodology of this "law of first mention", as adopted by some; consider the first recorded mention of the word "priest". It's the occurrence of the priest Melchizedek presenting bread and wine, an act that was portrayed as a good and positive action! Based on their thinking, shouldn't all future priests be presenting wine as a good thing? And if believers are all priests unto God (i.e. Revelation 5:10) shouldn't all believers be presenting wine as a positive act?]
Knowing, as we have already seen, that grape juice begins to ferment on the same day it is squeezed, some would hold that perhaps it could have been fresh squeezed the day of the Passover. There is a reference in Scriptures (albeit from a dream) that showed this could have taken place in some settings or circumstances.
The juice in Pharaoh's cup certainly would have been non-alcoholic wine or grape juice. Could this have been the case for the Passover? There's not a chance that this was so.
The Passover was celebrated at the beginning of the religious New Year...
Due to being based on a lunar calendar the actual date of Passover shifts between our March and April but the point remains, it is far after the grape harvest time of all regions in Israel. Remember there was no hothouse growing or imports from other climates in their day, let alone refrigerated storage. Grapes had to be eaten soon after harvest, or turned into wine (or raisins), or they would not last.
Without exception, grape juice consumed during Passover would have been in the form of wine aged for at least half a year. In other words; it was automatically alcoholic wine.
This command from Leviticus followed immediately after the untimely deaths of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, who had offered "unauthorized fire before the Lord". Though not explicit in the text, the giving of this regulation, for the priests on duty, in the direct aftermath of that event implies that Nadab and Abihu may have had impaired judgment (through alcoholic excess) in doing what they did.
God always wanted His people to be of sound mind in making decisions and especially when leading or judging the people (i.e. Leviticus 19:15). Because of the possibility of fermented drink clouding one's judgment (even inadvertently), and since each person is affected in different ways, God strictly enforced times when drinking was not acceptable for His leaders.
Any priest who was to be on duty was not to be drinking anything that could impair his judgment or ability to properly dispense his duties. Wine could, if used in excess, so all wine was banned including new and old wine (Leviticus 10:9). This provided an easy way of avoiding even the appearance of an impropriety for this prominent office. The text is very clear; it was not banning the priests from ever drinking wine, but was rather using specific terms of restriction: "whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting" and "when he enters the inner court." The priest remained a priest while not formally on duty and could and did drink wine as a priest during these times of leisure and even during religious festivals such as Passover.
This Biblical principle still applies; drinking (especially to any possibility of impairment) before anything requiring sound judgment (including driving) has to be wrong. Even in our present state of moral decay, society would never accept a judge being drunk. One great warning about this very thing comes from Isaiah's day. Note the tie between the miscarriage of justice and drunkenness (from the misuse of alcohol)...
Some have claimed that Jesus is always on duty, as our high priest, so this would guarantee that He never drank alcoholic beverages. "If He did it would violate His perfect fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures". We agree that Jesus is our high priest and that He continuously serves in this duty (Hebrews 6:20, 7:24). The problem with their logic is that they take the earthly symbolism to far and also fail to recognize the nature of Jesus' priesthood.
Jesus, born in the line of David (Matthew 1:1), clearly had the right to claim kingship in Israel. On the other hand, Jesus was not of the Levitical line, the mandated line for priests under the law (Exodus 29:9). Jesus, who perfectly fulfilled the just requirements of the law, could not have violated it in this area by becoming a Levitical priest or taking on the duties of a Levitical Priest. (Consider what happened to one king who unjustly took on the duties of a Levitical Priest: 2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Instead, Jesus was/is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek, perfectly fulfilling the prophecy of David...
When Jesus presented His perfect sacrifice to His Father, in the temple of heaven, He was doing so as High Priest in the order of Melchizedek! In replacing the Levitical priesthood with a more perfect one, Jesus permanently set aside the weaker. For this reason we have no more need of Levitical priests or regulations.
The regulations of the old law have been set aside, which includes all of those for the Levitical priesthood - they no longer apply! Remember, the primary weakness of the old law was that it tried to create holiness from external regulations, resulting in merely showing people that they were incapable of keeping them (that they were sinners!). Under the new, God changes us from the inside out so that we can truly do what is right; we no longer need long lists of intricate dos and don'ts.
As a priest in the order of Melchizedek, could Jesus have drunk wine? Most certainly! Consider again what Melchizedek, the king of Salem, presented to Abraham and his men to eat and drink. It must be noted that Melchizedek was serving as priest at that very moment, as such on-duty, when he offered the blessing. It was a later regulation that Levitical priests were required to serve only at the temple...
Drinking wine and getting drunk are truly two different things. Our High Priest provided us perfect example and drank without getting drunk. We imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1).
Regardless of how good the Mosaic Law was for those it was given to, once abrogated (fulfilled in purpose and intent) it no longer serves its original purpose and capacity.
For purposes of illustration, consider this example:
The Law (singular) was the combined body of ordinances that were handed down by Moses. Picking through them to find a few portions that you want to continue is in no way beneficial to a believer, unless they can be shown to be part of a new law that now pertains. Inclusion in any new law cannot be arbitrary or due to the desire of the ones being governed by the law, it must be the expressed will of the Lawmaker. (A related article on The Law is here).
Rarely is there any consistency in what is selected by those who want some of the Old Law to apply. For example; if a person teaches that following one original aspect pertaining to priests applies to believers now, then all aspects pertaining to priests in the Mosaic Law should still apply.
only a small segment of all the regulations priests had to follow.
There are those who have tried to make a portion of these priestly
rules apply to pastors; others claim that some apply to all believers
as each are priests before God in Christ. Inconsistency is in
application and scope is the rule. As for why some claim that at
least a few priestly regulations should apply to believers, this is
the subject of the following section.
It is unquestionable that God has made believers to be a kingdom of priests, all in service to Him. The question is this, "What order of priests are we?" As considered in the section regarding the priesthood of Jesus, where we found that He is a High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, we too are priests in that same order. Even as Levitical priests served God under the authority of the Levitical High Priest, we too serve God under the authority of our High Priest. Again, all the regulations concerning the former no longer apply to us or our High Priest.
If believers were to be Levitical priests each would first have to be Jewish and secondly from the physical line of Levi. As priests in the order of Melchizedek, all of this is no longer necessary. As believers and priests in the order of Melchizedek God has granted us eternal life, this enables us to remain a priest forever (see Hebrews 7:3) - unlike the Levitical priests whose death prevents them from continuing in office (Hebrew 7:23). Why would anyone want to be under the Levitical rule and order when that of Melchizedek is so much superior?
The celebration of the Passover required that no yeast be eaten. Some have said that this shows that things made with yeast are impure. The reason God told them to not eat yeast during that feast had nothing to do with any intrinsic impurity but everything to do with reminding them of what He had done in bringing them out of Egypt (see Exodus 12:8). It was part of the symbolism that illustrated the urgency with which God was about to take them out of Egypt. Making bread with yeast takes time, without it can be prepared rapidly (consider also Genesis 19:3 and 1 Samuel 28:24).
Once again, we need to emphasize that these regulations of the Mosaic law have been completed in the person of Jesus Christ and no longer apply to believers (see Romans 10:4). All the mandates concerning yeast are certainly part of that former Old Testament law.
In regards to wine, like bread, the yeast is typically consumed in the process of making it. Even as they ate bread made from yeast during the other 51 weeks of the year, so too they drank wine made from yeast. In fact, they drank wine made from yeast during the Passover, as only bread made with yeast was banned. Remember, as we have already seen, all wine during the season of the Passover was fermented. Before continuing we also need to note that yeast is not always used in a negative connotation throughout Scriptures, as some have claimed. While it's true that it is used to illustrate the pervasive, incremental, and infectious nature of sin (Mark 8:15, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:7-9), it also is used to show how the gospel of Christ, starting small, continues to expand throughout society (Matthew 13:33).
Returning to the usage of wine during the Passover; when Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)," he was holding a cup of fermented wine (that was likely approximately a half year old). The concept of wine being poured out harkens back to an Old Testament practice, namely the drink offering. While prescribed in the Old Testament law, it appears to have been practiced even prior to the giving of the law (see Genesis 35:14). The drink offering, in the law, was typically poured out on an altar in association with sacrifices and other offerings (Exodus 29:40-41, Exodus 30:9, Leviticus 23:13, Numbers 15:5-7, Numbers 28:7, 15). The law being a shadow of good things to come carried much symbolism (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 10:1). Jesus' words, that the cup of wine represented His blood being poured out, are the same as what was represented in the past. All need of sacrifices (and offerings that were part of them) pointed to the fact that a perfect sacrifice was required to pay for sin. Some, who believe alcoholic beverages are wrong, have tried to say that drink offerings represented sin being poured out, but this is not so. The drink poured out, was part of the offering (representing a solution) not the problem (sin) which called for that sacrifice. This is clearly represented when Jesus referred to the cup as being his perfect blood, which was to be poured out. The apostle Paul, in like manner, refers to his life of service to God in a similar way - saying that his blood (or life, see Leviticus 17:11, Deuteronomy 12:23) was being poured out as a living sacrifice. Obviously this characterization of wine is far from representing sin, as Paul's good work was done in the power of the Spirit.
While it's certain that the Passover wine was alcoholic wine, what is not as certain is its' purity. Wine mingled with water (or even spices) was often referred to merely as wine (new or old). It was not an uncommon practice in Roman times to make your limited supply of wine go further through mixing it with water. In addition, Jews knowing that drinking wine was good but drunkenness was not sometimes utilized this practice during events which called for drinking more cups of wine in a short period of time. The Passover became one such celebration. During the Passover meal, four cups of wine were consumed according to the Jewish Mishna. To be fair, the Mishna, compiled after the destruction of the temple, may only be reflecting what had become common practice following that destruction, when some elements of the Passover had to change from necessity.
Bede, writing circa 734 A.D., says this emphatically...
It is quite possible that this was the case, wherein multiple cups of wine were utilized, as it also fits the symbolism of Jesus' own words.
With the wine symbolic of Jesus' blood being poured out in sacrifice, that it would be mingled with water fully illustrated what later physically took place on the cross.
In the Lord's Supper, with only one cup now in use, either pure wine or wine mingled with water would both be appropriate and still carry the symbolism intended in Scriptures.
One concept that has been commonly confused throughout church history is being a Nazarite or a Nazarene. Properly said, this common mix-up is between being from Nazareth and taking a Nazarite vow. Not everyone from Nazareth lived as a Nazarite, much less all the time. In fact you didn't even have to be from Nazareth to take a Nazarite vow. Normally the Nazirite vow was temporary and voluntary and its conditions were for a set period only.
How can we prove that Jesus did not live His life under a perpetual Nazarite vow? Consider what He drank anything that came from grapes. Even those who try to turn the Passover wine into grape juice have to concede that He was still drinking something that comes from a grapevine. The Nazarite vow excluded the individual from ANY product of the vine; old wine, new wine, diluted wine, grape juice, and even wine that had turned to vinegar - not even raisins! Obviously Jesus was not a Nazarite and likewise didn't have to have long hair as commonly portrayed in paintings.
Actually, there appears to be only two men that may have been under a Nazarite vow from birth; Samson and perhaps John the Baptist. Quite uniquely, Samson's mother and Samson himself were instructed to not drink fermented wine or any strong drink, in Samson's case as a uniquely involuntary Nazarite.
Samson was to be raised under a Nazirite vow from before birth - by God's choice, not Sampson's - something God determined before he was even born yet. This was certainly not the norm and certainly without other Old Testament precedence. While nowhere expressed, John the Baptist is thought by some to be under a similar vow as he was given some of the same restrictions.
While John had some appearance of being a Nazirite, the restrictions given him did not exclude grapes or raisins, or require uncut hair, so it may have been unique. These unique circumstances cannot be construed as being a norm, or something that was necessary for Jesus or for us, to fulfill perfection before God. This hasn't stopped some church leaders from hold up the Nararite Vow as though it was something that was normal, widespread, and still desired as an example of righteousness for Christian believers.
I find it amazing that a church leader such as John MacAurthur would elevate a practice of the Old Testament Law and encourage an imposition of it onto believers who have been freed from that old Law. Indeed, the prescribed application is a distortion, or new law, as only the aspect of refraining from alcoholic wine is being advocated. Why not refraining from cutting your hair and eating grapes and raisins too? If this is truly the "highest level of dedication" why not do it all? Is this the example MacArthur is himself living?
As for John the Baptist being under a Nazarite vow, as MacArthur testifies, I again emphasize that this is a dubious statement as shown earlier. If Samuel was a Nazarite, it was done by his mother, but the text only speaks of not cutting his hair (Samuel's mother even brought an offering of wine to the tabernacle, i.e. 1 Samuel 1:24, something improbable if she was under a Nazarite vow herself as some have speculated). Samson's Nazarite status was different than most others as he also had no choice in it and it cannot be held as a norm. Those under a Nazarite vow normally did so for a voluntary, reserved, and limited period of time, even as someone who fasts for a limited period of time, removing themselves from the norm for a specific period of focus and devotion. Even if you accept MacArthur's speculation that "many, many Jew" may have chosen to take the Nazarite vow - something not attested anywhere in history or Scriptures - they would have only entered into such a vow for a defined and limited period of time, not for life. Indeed it would have been highly unlikely that they would have spanned a high holiday such as the Passover where they would want to partake of the integral cups of wine.
In the passage from Luke regarding the restrictions on John the Baptist, as examined in the last section, "other fermented drink" is mentioned. The words translated as such, in the Old and New Testament, refer to additional fermented drinks made with other types of fruit or even from grains (similar to beers). The meaning of one Old Testament word, "shekar", (as in Numbers 6:3) includes:
In New Testament times (as in Luke 1:15), there was a directly correlating word, "sikera", which functionally meant the same:
Many of these drinks would clearly carry the label "strong drink" for the reason that they were made from substances containing more sugar than grapes, thus permitting greater fermentation as their sugars were converted to alcohol.
These alcoholic beverages were permitted to be used as part of an offering at the temple, even as wine was (see Numbers 28:7). This alone showed that the people made and consumed these as common beverages, as it is highly unlikely that a person would go through the effort to make just a little for taking to the temple. More specifically, an amazing passage almost always overlooked today speaks of the original use of the Biblical tithe in the Old Testament law. Notice that the greater portion of the tithe was for the consumption of the giver in fellowship.
The permitted use (v26) included drinking fermented wine and other fermented drinks ("shekar") while on a worship pilgrimage to Jerusalem! This ancient and accepted practice would have continued to Jesus' time.
In this accepted use of stronger alcoholic drinks, God never condones drunkenness. The usage of these beverages is presupposed, on the basis of many passages, to only be in moderation. To be fair and perhaps to make this clear to all, there are more passages in Scriptures which speak to the possible effects of misuse than there are the positive. God seems to work this way throughout Scriptures, often using repeated negatives to show harm when we deviate from the more rarely stated good. Consider the topic of marriage... certainly the good is mentioned, yet many more passages warn of the harm that comes from adultery.
Some, believing that all wine is a mocker because it is alcoholic, claim that Jesus would have refused it because it was being used to mock him (the passage above, from Proverbs, being their "proof text"). Notice that the passage in Proverbs is specifically speaking about being "led astray" from alcoholic drinks, or in other words, drinking to excess. Truly drunkenness is the factor that makes wine a mocker even as it makes beer a brawler. Contextually this passage doesn't apply to what was happening at Jesus' crucifixion as drunkenness was nowhere in view.
Certainly, Jesus was being mocked though, not by alcohol but by the people. Three occurrences are in view...
Here Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh. Some have speculated that it would have been a numbing agent, which the wine might have done if offered in large quantities. Myrrh adds nothing to the intoxicating properties of wine. Myrrh and other spices were commonly added to wine in Jesus' day because the wine often didn't have excellent taste sometimes due to the natural yeasts that fermented it. For the wealthy, the cure was extravagant spices to make the wine taste even better. Those offering the wine mixed with myrrh were mocking Jesus on the same level as those wanting "King of the Jews" written over his cross. They were offering him the drink of the powerful and elite. Of course He refused it!
The soldiers mocked Jesus in a different fashion, this time offering Him wine that had turned to vinegar, wine that had started to go bad, barely a drink of the poor, while called Him a king. Of course He refused it again!
Toward the end, Jesus actually drank some of the cheap wine (most likely that which was earlier offered mockingly), after He had asked for it. This He drank (certainly in moderation) as it was given in response to His request and not as part of cruel mocking. This action obviously did not contradict what Jesus said in Mark 14:25 or He would not have done it! The fruit of the vine in Mark 14:25 was clearly the wine taken in fellowship of the Passover, see verses 23 and 24 before, an element of which became the celebration of the Lord's Supper in the Kingdom of God. The wine-vinegar on the cross certainly was not the same thing; it was merely an available drink.
A number of Bible passages, especially as worded in the King James Version (NKJV and NASB too), call for believers to "be sober." The KJV doesn't consistently translate the underlying word to "be sober" instead using the command to "watch" in a few places. The New International Version translates it to be "self-controlled." While the word itself can literally mean "to abstain from wine" (as in Strong's Concordance), a meaning that would perhaps first come to mind by our English usage of the word, it's figurative meaning is much broader - far closer to the idea of being "self-controlled".
Something very important to understand about all of the usages of the word "be sober" in the New Testament is this...
It's the figurative sense of the word that is in view, a meaning that includes:
In general, these references to being sober say that we are not to have willfully impaired thought processes, something which can come from drinking in excess or even from misusing drugs (a related subject).
The use of "be sober" in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 is the only place in the New Testament that the word could possibly be accepted in its literal sense.
A primary reason why most scholars defer to a figurative meaning in 1 Thessalonians is the preponderance of passages that show permitted use of alcohol in moderation. In the 1 Thessalonians passage (v7) it says "those who get drunk get drunk at night". It is drunkenness that is a characteristic of unbelievers, in contrast to moderation and self-control of those who are sons of the day.
Through the absolute principle of using Scriptures to interpret Scriptures it can be shown that to "be sober" does not mean absolutely abstaining from all alcoholic beverages. Paul instructed Timothy to "be sober"...
Yet, Paul could and did also instruct Timothy to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation.
Obviously, by Scriptures, being sober does not have to mean complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages.
The special case of John the Baptist, which we considered earlier, was legitimately thought to be out of the ordinary by society - enough so that they improperly attributed it to influence of demonic forces.
Moderate use of alcoholic beverages was a regular part of life in first century Israel, only restricted for specific times by optional vows or in certain instances due to duties being performed. In contrast, John the Baptist's dress, austere eating regiment (Matthew 3:4), and restricted group of friends, all made John stand out from the norm, obviously something that God wanted!
Jesus' actions appeared to be in sharp contrast to John the Baptist, not because of their common message, but because of the way He lived. Jesus freely ate and drank, even with those who society held to be unclean. Those who didn't like this were quick to twist this freedom as well, claiming that His eating was gluttony and that His drinking of alcoholic wine was drunkenness. Of course, the perfect and sinless Son of God misused neither.
The clear sense of these two verses show that Jesus drank fermented wine. If He was only drinking unfermented grape juice (an impossibility year round) their claims and contrast to John the Baptist would make absolutely no sense.
What Jesus had done went beyond merely demonstrating perfect self-control in not over-eating or drinking wine to excess; He revealed the misguided nature of the people in looking to externals.
Even as we have many today with preconceived ideas of how a religious leader should be acting, there were people in Jesus' day with all the same prejudices. John and Jesus were in completely different way on the extreme and outside of what society held to be their desired norm. John the Baptist would have been taken as being similar to the extreme sects of the Essenes and Jesus just wasn't separate enough from the "common" folk. Neither compromised God's message, yet because people wrongly focused on externals, both were unjustly condemned and mischaracterized.
As believers, with the freedoms we have been given, we no longer enslaved to long lists of rules concerning external actions. The internal change that God is working in us, by His word (John 17:17), should be showing through in everything we do. If people mischaracterize our freedoms, or wrongly condemn them, while expecting a preconceived set of externals, remember that they did so to Jesus before us. This didn't cause Jesus to change what He did. Like Him, we must continue to teach what the real focus is supposed to be, namely the real change that comes about through faith in Jesus Christ.
The freedom believers have been given in Christ gives us great liberty, but not to sin. If drinking is for the purpose of drunkenness Paul clearly states that it is the flesh that is being gratified...
Believers living out the greater command to "love your neighbor as yourself" have to consider the effects of their actions on others, especially if they have less faith.
Some have tried to take verse 21, above, to say that it means you should stop eating or drinking everything that offends any believer. If this is so, it would likely leave a whole lot less to eat because there are people who are offended with various corporations over their unbiblical stands, or because a company also sells products they disagree with (including alcohol) or ownership by cults such as the Mormons. These Christians call for boycotts of all food and drink products from those companies. A few claim all carbonated drinks to be harmful; others abhor all or some meat products (...I like the principle of 1 Corinthians 10:25-33 here!). The list could go on and on and we haven't really gotten to alcoholic beverages yet. Verse 22, which follows right after, helps to clarify the concept of verse 21. If I have freedom to eat or drink any of these items in faith, that is between myself and God. I must never use that freedom in such a way as to harm a weaker brother or sister. For example, if I in my Christian liberty was able to have a drink of wine with my evening meal, serving it while having a brother over who struggles with alcoholism (or drunkenness) would be completely wrong. In the principle of 1st Corinthians 9:19-23 it would be just as wrong to serve it to a Muslim (who drinks no alcohol) while seeking to witness to him (this would be like serving a pork sandwich to a Jew; certainly not beneficial to the cause of Christ).
The issue of Romans 14:21 is that of stumbling. We are never to encourage a brother to go against his conscience. If he believes it wrong to drink wine, then, even though Scripture doesn't prohibit the drinking of wine, it would be wrong for him solely because it would violate his personal conscience. If a believer, as one drinking wine, induces him to also drink wine (in opposition to his conscience), then they have caused him to stumble, and this is wrong. If the non-drinker is strong in his convictions, and would not be tempted by the drinker's example, then it would not necessarily be wrong for them to drink a glass of wine in the other's presence. Whether the non-drinker is strong or weak, if the drinker explains to him why it is not wrong for them to drink wine in moderation, and demonstrate this from God's Word, then perhaps he will come to a different conviction on the matter, and then he also could drink without sinning against his conscience. This is proper action in light of Scriptures, including this passage in Romans 14.
The New Testament continues the same theme, to be wise and not unwise. Part of the wisdom of not getting drunk is the sin it can lead to. As believers we should be controlled by the Holy Spirit and not by anything of this world. We've been set free from the control of sin (Romans 6:22)!
Verse 18, as in the KJV ("And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess") is all about the excess and getting drunk through the same. In contrast, being filled with the Holy Spirit is what brings about the self-control that we so desperately need.
For the record, it is NOT imposing one's freedom on another to study this issue through Scriptures or to teach what the Bible says about it to others. Like all instruction however, everything is to be done in proper time. Believers who don't understand what it means to have freedom in Christ will never understand this particular freedom. Chipping away at one legalistic practice doesn't cure the problem of legalism.
The Passover cup with which Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper utilized alcoholic wine. For the exact same reasons, this was the practice of the church until Welch came along. Yet, today, there are church leaders who claim that this ordinance should never use fermented wine.
One of the very reasons that Paul wrote the following passage in 1 Corinthians was to caution their gathering of the church that their excess was wrong in how they were celebrating.
These believers had turned the Lord's Supper into something that it was never intended to be, where large quantities of wine could be consumed. This was certainly far from the moderate ceremonial usage of wine in the original Passover ordinance (Luke 22:15-20). The Lord's Supper was a continuation of an element of the Passover celebration with a new focus, namely the fulfillment as found in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul sets the Corinthian church straight on the proper observance of this ordinance in the verses that follows, clearly stating that bread was to be the only food item (verses 23-24) and then refers to the cup. The contents of the cup were assumed, based on usage in the original Passover, and already known by the church to be wine (the very thing some had been misusing to drunkenness in turning it into a common meal). As an aside, take note that Paul also assumed they would known that the bread served during the Passover would have been unleavened. Neither a chance of gluttony nor a possibility of drunkenness made Paul call for banning the alcoholic emblem or the bread being consumed. In both circumstances, using the proscribed elements in moderation and proper reverence was all that was required.
In an extreme to the total abstinence camp, there are believers that think all Christians need to drink wine. While it is the clear example and teaching of Scriptures that it was and can be common practice, there are justifying reasons for total abstinence for some. Others take a position of near abstinence, only partaking of wine during the Lord's Supper.
If refraining from all alcoholic beverages is necessary to keep yourself from being led astray, from being caught up in excess and drunkenness, then that is what you need to do. It may be different for someone else.
Numerous medical studies of late have shown that there is benefit to moderate drinking of especially wine. This appears to be alluded to in some passages of Scriptures as well, but never in a way that says "everyone needs to drink". Verse 15, above, does not say that it's the excess of wine that gladdens the heart, merely having some to enjoy will have this effect.
For others, having any cannot be a joy, rather it is a burden. With these individuals the potential for harm (drunkenness) outweighs any potential benefit (this is often called alcoholism). It's due to man's tendency toward excesses that God recorded far more warnings against a potential abuse...
Consider this last passage in Proverbs where drunkenness and gluttony are uttered in the same breath. No one suggests giving up food as a solution to gluttony, rather the issue is one of self-control (or should I say, "God-control!" See Galatians 5:22-23). For some, the self-control has to come in the form of total abstinence from all alcoholic beverages, because they know that a little would present too great a temptation. For them, this is the wise and right course of action.
Individuals can set different personal lines of restriction to help limit their own personal temptation. For example, some guys can go to the beach and not be tempted by the females in bathing suits. Another may choose to never go solely because he has a weakness in this area. For him this is the right thing to do, and certainly God honoring. Where it becomes wrong (called "legalism") comes from attempting to impose it on others as the only right thing to do. Each believer is accountable to God for his or her own actions in areas of freedom that He has granted.
Throughout Biblical history, some people choose not to drink for a variety of reasons. Daniel chose not to partake of the king's wine in Babylon because it, as with the meat, would have been offered to idols (see Daniel 1:8-16). One entire family line choose not to drink (and live only in tents) to honor their father.
these individuals honored God in their actions, yet their actions
were not the norm, nor are they taught in Scriptures that they need
When a person tries to legalistically ban all alcohol it creates a standard that can't be upheld. Merely eating many ripe fruits contain some alcohol, as do other much used items including cough syrup. In fact, the internal medicinal use of alcohol is often conceded by those who would ban it in all other areas. The following passage becomes their proof verse...
This passage actually goes further than mere medicinal use of wine as a cure or even as a preventative measure. It stated the norm as being better than the abnormal, namely that of only drinking water. Even today, wine is safer to drink in many areas where the water is highly contaminated. As always, the issue is still moderation. Beyond its internal consumption, external use of alcohol for medicinal purposes is accepted by most everyone, even in Bible times.
For those that say all recreational drug use is wrong (lumping alcohol in with everything from heroin, to cocaine, or marijuana - as in the church covenants referenced earlier), they generally seem to have no problem with other recreational drugs including caffeine. The issue with all drugs comes down to these questions...
Caffeine, like alcohol, appears to be safe in moderation. So is chocolate, which acts on the same receptors in the brain as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana, on the other hand, has been shown to be harmful with side-effects ranging from rapid impairment to cancer-causing elements even more intense than that of cigarette smoke. Other drugs like cocaine and heroin also create rapid impairment and physical harm, again ruling them out completely. The spice curry, which recent studies have shown to have mild addictive properties like other drugs, could be placed in the same category as caffeine. In moderation it's not going to be physically harmful and certainly it doesn't cloud judgment. So while the Bible doesn't explicitly ban drugs by name, it does certainly provide sound principles for evaluating them. Perhaps the most significant of these is founded in the principle of moderation and non-impairment as taught in regards to alcohol.
Another factor has to be considered in evaluating the use of any drug, including alcohol, namely the issue of lawful authority. If any lawful authority - be it a parent (Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20) or government (Romans 13:1-5, Titus 3:1) - says that a drug cannot be used by any person, that authority is to be honored. As one person said, "I chose at an early age not to drink for reasons of health... my mother would have killed me." A very clear indication that for that individual there was only one God honoring choice, to abstain from all alcohol in obedience to his parent. The same would go for underage individuals that the government has banned from drinking. And, of course, for all illegal drug use!
Even as aspirin can help, or kill in excess, anything can be misused to the point of being intoxicating or toxic to the user. Accounts of people being killed from drinking too much water at one time show that even this staple of life can be intoxicating (and ultimately toxic to point of fatality) in the excess. The physical effects of consuming water in excess actually mimic the effects of alcoholic overindulgence including death, which alcohol can bring about as well.
This passage utilizes three beverages, water, wine, and milk, as symbols of God's blessing. Some have tried to say that God would never use a possibly intoxicating substance such as wine in this manner - all because they believe the wine automatically would lead to excess. As we mentioned in the last section, even water can be taken in excess to cause harm. Additionally, milk and the products made from it are rich in fat and can lead to gluttony and weight problems if consumed in large quantities over a longer term, or even a stomach ache (or immediate sickness) in large quantities on the short term. Holding that God couldn't be referring here to fermented wine because it could possibly be misused is an artificial construct. All three of these drinks are good when used within the confines that God has set for them. It's a dangerous thing when we start calling things evil that God has said to be good (see Isaiah 5:20).
Some churches that pay lip-service to the idea that a believer could drink alcoholic beverages, and indeed may have even done so in biblical times, yet nonetheless require their leadership to agree to never do so. This double standard is never found in the New Testament.
The idea could be one who is a drinker; one who goes to the feast and hangs around the wine; one who goes to the tavern or the inn or the bar, places associated with drinking, where there's potential for drunkenness, where there is potential for indiscretion, where there is a potential for losing control of yourself to the degree that you say things or do things that are inappropriate. Where there is obviously the association with those who are drunkards, and those who are sinners. Everybody knows that taverns and inns and bars, things like that in ancient times, were places of debauchery and iniquity.
Outside of fast food, almost every eating place is "associated with drinking". In ancient times, the inns and taverns where travelers stayed for the evening were likewise. Staying away from all places where there's "potential for drunkenness" would require a person to almost completely withdraw from society (which sadly some believers have done, failing to be salt and light to the world around them). Jesus went to a wedding where there was certainly "potential for drunkenness" and, indeed, the church is called to live in the world and not be a part of it. This means setting proper example and showing right use of all things and not a monastic like withdrawal from the world. The Bible in numerous places shows that living a life of example is a key to church leadership, one that requires moderation in regards to drinking.
The passage in Titus is clearly talking about fermented wine, with the proviso that the women who were to be leaders in the church were not to be "addicted" (literally the word "enslaved") to "much" (meaning "large quantity") of wine. It is excessive use that is being warned against!
Paul, in 1st Timothy, instructs that Deacons (likewise to elders) should not be indulging in much wine. Some have said that if this was only saying that you could indulge in a little wine, it would also have to say that you could pursue a little dishonest gain. What's dishonest here is the word game being played. Literally, in Greek the passage is saying that they cannot be addicted to much wine (again singling out the excess), in the next clause it is not the gain that is being singled out as being wrong (even as the wine was not); it is the "dishonest" gain. Pursuing gain is legitimate (it's called profit to a businessman); it's only wrong when misused or in other words is dishonest. Regarding the wine, of itself it is not the problem; it's the excess of it. In fact the word for "much", in regards to the wine, is the same as the one used in Titus, signifying a large quantity.
The bottom line is that church leaders are to be setting an example for the church in all things. Leaders, men and women, exampling self-control in moderate usage of alcoholic beverages are a great example of living out the fruit of the Spirit. Church leaders are not a special "I'm holier than you" class of individuals, they are fellow believers set apart for particular duty and instruction of the church.
Believers highly divided when it comes to medical things. Some loose classifications that I've observed include:
This quick list is by no means exhaustive and some are moderate or extreme within these loose classifications. For those who readily accept their doctor's recommendations and that of the medical research community, preventative medicines are often readily accepted. A low-dose aspirin may help prevent stroke, vaccines may help prevent a virus, a quick dose of a particular medicine may prevent the onset of a specific disease. At the other extreme, there are those who avoid the latest medical research or doctor's recommendations, typically believing that "all natural" solutions are far better. Vitamins, minerals, food supplements, specific dietary nutrients, extra water, maybe even set exercises are all viewed as prevention and/or treatments.
If those predisposed towards medical things where told that they could have a preventative medicine that would potential prevent a number of common ailments including some associated with aging. Not only has this medicine been long studied, it has been determined to have no side effects if taken in the recommended dosage. Moreover, it is a low-cost and readily available! Most would be lined up to get their prescription and diligently follow through with proper dosages.
Those who are looking for natural solutions, often readily accept all the anecdotal accounts of possible benefits derived by users of what ever supplements, food items, or exercises being considered. Dosage amounts are determined in a similar fashion, heeding accounts of what has "worked". If multitudes knew of a natural dietary supplement that appears to aid in health, prevent a number of diseases and conditions, and have no side-effects so long as not taken in excess, this is the type "cure" that drives this community.
In the case of alcoholic beverages, they meet the standards of both of these communities. There are perhaps more medical research studies on alcohol than any other "medicine", only surpassed by more anecdotal statements throughout history. In all of these, the only normal negative has been found if it is used in excess or beyond recommended dosages. Sure, as with any substance, there are a few that react negatively at any dosage, but the same can be found for many food and beverage items, including severe allergic reactions. (For example, as a hemophiliac, I cannot ingest safely any amount of aspirin, something that most others can take in small or normal dosages without being harmful). These possible negatives with alcoholic beverages only mean that the positives are to be focused on and specific instructions adhered to in regards to proper usage. If no safe amount is available, due to possible complications for a specific individual, that individual should not use it.
When Paul told Timothy to return to the norm of drinking alcoholic wine as a beverage, instead of merely water (1 Timothy 5:23), he was giving divinely approved medical advice. Certainly the positive statement of Psalms 104:15, that "wine which makes man's heart glad", is a statement that has been found to have a medical foundation.
Well established research has found that moderate drinking (i.e. 1/2 to 2 glasses of wine a day) provides the following benefits:
This is merely a sampling of thousands of studies and medical reports. With no surprise, most of these same studies also show that excessive drinking is very harmful. What is a surprise, for many, is that risk factors for many of the things that moderate alcohol consumption prevents, are the same for excessive drinkers AND non drinkers. (A number of studies, quite specifically, showed drinking just under three drinks a day as bad as having none, with more than this rapidly being far worse and having devastating consequences). Again, the only advantage seen in these studies was for those who regularly drank moderately.
Since God has given us something good, that Scriptural and medically is beneficial when used properly, it has actually convicted me that I need to be more of a moderate drinker. Rather than being an occasional drinker (once or twice a month maybe), a plethora of this medical advice shows advantages only come about when drinking small amounts more times per week (such as a glass daily). This sound medical advice directly fits with Scriptures and certainly is permissible by it, so I would do good to follow it. It's good preventative medicine!
One easy attack often made against anyone, such as myself, who would write in support of drinking alcoholic beverages is to claim that we are being influenced by society or modern culture. The charge is that we are merely trying to defend our cultural bias or norm. While this may be so for some, let it be known that the ultra-conservative evangelical culture that I grew up in was adamantly against all drinking of alcoholic beverages and subscribed to a church covenant similar to one of those considered in an earlier section. Many subsequent churches that I have attended have taught likewise, either explicitly or implicitly.
Within this professed Christian culture of total abstinence, I was taught that we were far better than those "compromisers" who drank and that we were earning favor with God through our actions. While it was held as a theoretical possibility that some of those drinkers could be believers, they were obviously in a state of sin, needing to reform their lifestyle. It would have been very easy for me, and highly commendable by many churches that I have been associated with, to write in support of this no-alcohol position. I could have remained within this total abstinence camp and continued patting myself on the back believing that I'm somehow better than those who do drink. Instead, following a commitment I've made to God, many years ago I determined that I was going to study out and research fully all doctrines and practices taught in the church. In this quest I would be willing to consider, and re-consider, all I've been taught, including many so-called "sacred cows" and traditions. Where I'm determined to rest is in the clear teaching of Scriptures, as found in the totality of the Bible, not in one or two "proof verses" wrested from the context of the whole. With God's word to live by, why would I want to be enslaved by conflicting tenants of churches, movement, or denominations? The answer is clear; I must follow God instead of the commands of men (Acts 5:29; Mark 7:7-9). If what I have written is in violation of Scriptures, I implore you to make a detailed case from it. Sadly, most opposition that I've experienced chooses to not want to discuss the matter, make detailed examination of Scriptures, or consider any evidences. Their arguments rest solely in traditions, denominational stances, "proof texts" apart from context, and personal convictions. Their standard, applied to any subject in Scriptures, allows the Bible to be distorted and unnecessary division to exist throughout God's church.
My question for those who charge cultural bias in supporting drinking alcoholic beverages is this: Have you considered that you may be doing exactly what you charge? Might you be found to be defending a cultural tradition of total abstinence that is less than 150 years old (as seen in what we have documented in previous sections)? Trotting out a few commentators from within this new "Christian culture" to defend your view is insufficient to say otherwise. It is necessary that you show clearly by a totality of Scriptures, by Bible-era history and culture, and by the continued teaching of the Bible-believing church throughout history (which has always been led by the same Holy Spirit) that this is true.
I thank those of you who have written to confront me, and occasionally condemn me, for examining this issue. I even thank those who have removed missions support from us for merely saying alcoholic beverages are permissible. You have challenged me to research even harder and rest solely in God's truth. Perhaps the most freeing result is that I no longer wrongly judge my Christian brothers and sisters who do partake, with thanksgiving, of alcoholic beverages. Prior to studying and taking to heart what I have learned, I could not partake in fellowship with them, with clear conscience, even in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. While it's still rare for me to drink, I now do drink wine in moderation - especially when I'm in countries and areas where believers have not been as influenced by this modern (and artificial) Christian subculture of total abstinence (including Israel).
Obviously the Bible does not ban, or condemn as sin, all consumption of alcoholic beverages. For this reason alone I'm am persuaded the we should never go beyond God's word and call sin something that God has not (i.e. 1 Corinthians 4:6). To do so is legalism, attempting to be Holier than God. Doing this sets a person up for a fall by creating a standard that God never intended.
The whole of this matter is summed up in the word "moderation". In regards to fermented beverages, the warning to stay away from excess, a message found throughout Scriptures, will be reinforced with this final Bible passage that clearly speaks of abuse and alcoholism...
Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries, (c) 2003/2005/2009/2010/2011, as posted on www.bibleistrue.com. Please contact the author for permission to reprint in whole or in part. Web links to this page are welcome and encouraged.
All quoted Bible passages in this document are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise marked. Our use of this translation does not imply endorsement or recommendation, rather it was selected due to its widespread usage. Each passage was compared with other popular translations, including KJV and NASB, to assure clarity of usage. We recommend examining the passages in your favorite translation.