The issue of alcohol and the Christian is an incredibly volatile subject causing great division and harsh judgments on both sides. Among Christians there are two primary camps of thought on this sensitive topic. The first group argues that Yeshua Himself drank wine, and since a Christian is a follower of Christ, how can it be forbidden?
Then there is the other position: Alcohol is an addictive and destructive drug that no sincere Christian should use to any degree. Of course, between these two diametrically opposed poles, there are countless variations of opinions.
Let's look at our text first, and then we'll look at what the rest of the Bible has to say about alcohol.
We have been talking about our walk, our conduct, as Christians:
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, Ephesians 5:15 NASB
Paul says, "be careful how you walk," and then explains what he means by three antitheses, "not...but," in the following clauses: not as unwise, but as wise; not foolish, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And then in verse 18, he says:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:18 NASB
As in verses 15 and 17 Paul first states the negative and then follows it with the positive. For this morning we are just going to look at the negative.
"Do not get drunk with wine" — any questions? That seems clear enough doesn't it? But someone is bound to ask, "What about getting drunk on beer or whiskey?" The point here is: Don't get drunk, period. "Drunk" here is the present passive imperative of methusko. The prohibition expressed with the present imperative could suggest that Paul was exhorting them to stop an action or prohibiting them from a course of action. The Bible condemns drunkenness. Drunkenness is depicted by Paul as epitomizing the ways of darkness:
so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober... 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 NASB
Drunkenness is a part of the night; we are of the day and are to be sober:
The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. Romans 13:12-13 NASB
Our culture addresses drunkenness as an addiction, which is the result of the disease of alcoholism. God's Word calls it a sin, not a disease. We are light and are to walk in the light:
for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light Ephesians 5:8 NASB
Now, one very clear way to act as a fool is to get drunk. Now that is the antithesis of wisdom.
"For that is dissipation" — is from the Greek asotia, which is a presumed derivative of sozo, thus meaning: "unsavedness," that is, by implication: excess, riot. "Dissipation," in modern slang is to be wasted. It points to the wastefulness and destruction of property, relationships, and life that often go along with drunkenness. The adverb is used in Luke 15:13 of way that the prodigal son wastefully spent his inheritance on loose living. It means to be out of control, because alcohol now controls the person.
Some say that Paul's reference here to drunkenness is religious. They connect it with the mystery cult of Dionysius, the god of wine. Drunkenness was associated with pagan religion. The pagans believed that to commune with the gods, you had to put yourself in a drunken stupor to come to the highest level of communion with the gods.
The difficulty with this interpretation is the lack of clear evidence. It is possible, but unlikely because Paul does not mention directly that this was their religious practice as he does in other places. Drunkenness no doubt occurred both inside and outside of the religious practices of the day. And all drunkenness is condemned.
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation" — this is a direct command against drunkenness. The Spirit of God is saying, children of light are not to be drunk. Drunkenness is a work of the flesh:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NASB
So the bible warns against drunkenness. A believer is not to be drunk. Proverbs has much to say about drunkenness:
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise. Proverbs 20:1 NASB
As we saw in Ephesians 5 we are to walk in wisdom, to get drunk is not wise.
Listen, my son, and be wise, And direct your heart in the way. Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe one with rags. Proverbs 23:19-21 NASB
A person who becomes an alcoholic winds up in rags. In verse 29 he gives us a vivid picture of drunkenness:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, Those who go to taste mixed wine. Proverbs 23:29-30 NASB
He is saying abuse of alcohol will mess you up!:
At the last it bites like a serpent And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. "They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink." Proverbs 23:32-35 NASB
What a clear picture of the drunk. Brad Paisley has written a song called "Alcohol." Listen to some of the lyrics:
I can make anybody pretty
I can make you believe any lie
I can make you pick a fight - with somebody twice your size
I been known to cause a few break ups
I been known to cause a few births
I can make you new friends - or get you fired from Work
I've influenced kings and world leaders
I helped Hemingway write like he did
And I'll bet you a drink or two that I can make you
Put that lampshade on your head
In other words, alcohol can make you a fool. All Christians should agree that being drunk is expressly forbidden in Scripture as it relinquishes control of our faculties to alcohol rather than to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
Okay, are we clear on that drunkenness is a sin, it is not wise, it is darkness and not light. So the Scriptures have nothing good to say about alcohol right? Wrong! If that were the case then Christians wouldn't be so divided on this issue.
The Bible teaches that alcohol is a gift from Yahweh:
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man's heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man's heart. Psalms 104:14-15 NASB
The Hebrew word for "wine" here is yayin; keep that in mind; we'll come back to that. The word "glad" is samach, which means: "to brighten up, cheer up, make glad, make merry, cause to rejoice." So this wine is to have a positive effect on the drinker.
Along this line Ben Franklin wrote, "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."
Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Ecclesiastes 9:7 NASB
"Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit. Amos 9:14 NASB
Drinking wine from your own vineyard is a sign of Yahweh's blessing. As we have seen, Proverbs has a lot to say about the destruction that drunkenness brings, but notice what chapter 31 says:
Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty And remember his trouble no more. Proverbs 31:6-7 NASB
That's interesting. Wine is used to cheer those whose life is bitter. So the Bible condemns drunkenness, but not drinking. The Bible also says that our Lord Yeshua made and drank wine. Paul told Timothy in I Timothy 5:23 to drink a little wine for his stomach's sake. From these and other Scriptures, it is clear that alcohol itself is not inherently sinful. Rather, it is the abuse of alcohol (drunkenness and/or addiction) that is sinful.
So what I see is that the Scriptures clearly condemn drunkenness, it is foolish and destructive. But the use of alcohol in moderation is not forbidden. And it seems the purpose of alcohol is to cheer the heart.
Now those who say that Christians should not drink alcohol at all attempt to teach that the alcohol of the Bible is different from the alcohol of today.
John MacArthur writes, "The wine of the Bible times was not necessarily the same as the wine we have today. The wine drunk today is unmixed with water, it is straight wine. That is not true of biblical wine." He goes on to say, "First of all some of the wine of Bible times was absolutely not unintoxicating, it was just not fermented. It was unintoxicating in any sense Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University says this:
'That yayin, mixed wine, or oinos does not refer only to intoxicating liquor made by fermentation, but more often refers to a thick unintoxicating syrup or jam produced by, watch this, boiling to make it storable,'"
MacArthur goes on to say, "What I'm trying to say is this, if you want to defend the fact that you can drink wine today on the basis of the fact that they drank it in the Bible then you need to re-examine whether what we drink today is the same as what they drank then. And we find out as we get close to the subject that they drank what was either totally unintoxicating such as the syrup base or what was so diluted with water that its intoxication level was very, very minimal."
MacArthur goes on to say, "First of all the most common word in the New Testament is oinos, the Greek word oinos, it's a word that simply refers to the juice of grapes, it is a very general word, it is used very commonly and, it is the normal New Testament word for wine.
Now the Old Testament equivalent for oinos is yayin, that's the Hebrew word. It's used 141 times in the Old Testament. And the word yayin is referring to, watch this one, wine that is mixed, not with other wine but usually with water."
Then MacArthur quotes Horace, Plutarch, Pliny and Aristotle to try to prove his point that the wine of the Bible was not intoxicating. Let me ask you this, WHY WOULD PAUL SAY TO THEM, "BE NOT DRUNK WITH WINE" IF THEIR WINE COULD NOT MAKE THEM DRUNK? Was Paul writing Ephesians 5:18 for some distant audience who would have much stronger wine? Maybe for 21st century Americans?
R. A. Torrey represented the position that the wine Christ provided was unfermented "new wine." He writes:"[Jesus] provided wine, but there is not a hint that the wine He made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until some time after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay or death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation. It is true it was better wine than they had been drinking, but that does not show for a moment that it was more fermented than that which they had before been drinking" (Difficulties in the Bible).
"There are significant problems with this argument. New wine was fermented. Its ability to cause intoxication is well represented in the Scriptures. Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the apostles are speaking in tongues and sharing the Gospel with the people. Some people are amazed, but others accuse the apostles of being intoxicated."
But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine." Acts 2:13 NASB
"Sweet wine" here is from the Greek gleukos. How could the apostles be accused of being intoxicated from a drink that is not fermented? There is no indication, either in the culture of the day or in the Bible, that there was such a thing as unfermented wine. Wine is wine because it is fermented.
Some scholars have attempted to contrast the two Hebrew terms for wine in the Tanakh to make a case that one was unfermented grape juice. However, the evidence does not support such a conclusion. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible draws this conclusion about the term tyirosh, which is often translated: "new wine or fresh wine," that is purported to refer to grape juice:
"(1) The Hebrew word is found in primarily neutral contexts; (2) Often that particular word is found in contexts definitely including a fermented beverage (e.g., Gn 27:28; Hos 4:11; Mi 6:15); (3) The Ugaritic parallel to the term in question refers with certainty to a fermented wine; (4) The Septuagint equivalents refer to fermented wine; (5) Fermentation in the ancient Near East, unlike Greece, took only about three days; (6) The Mishna provides no such evidence of the practice of having unfermented wine. There seems to have been no attempts to preserve wine in an unfermented state; it may have been a near impossible task."
The article concludes: "A careful examination of all the Hebrew words (as well as their Semitic cognates) and the Greek words for wine demonstrates that the ancients knew little, if anything, about unfermented wine.
There are several Hebrew and Greek words for "wine" in our English Bible. How can we know which one means fermented wine? To find the answer, do not go to Aristotle or Pliny, but go to the Bible itself. By comparing its usage, the Scriptural meaning of wine can be defined. One of the Hebrew words for wine is "yayin." Remember that MacArthur says, "The word yayin is referring to wine that is mixed."He is saying it is unintoxicating. Notice its first used in Genesis:
He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Genesis 9:21 NASB
"Wine" here is yayin. Was this grape juice or wine super diluted with water that got him drunk? This wine caused drunkenness!:
Then Eli said to her, "How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you." 1 Samuel 1:14 NASB
Wine here is yayin. Eli thought she was drunk from yayin. Why would he think that if yayin could not make you drunk?
In the New Testament, one Greek word for wine is oinos. Proof that it is alcoholic is given in the story of the good Samaritan:
and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. Luke 10:34 NASB
The Samaritan poured oil and wine on the man's wounds, showing that the wine had enough alcoholic content to be used as an antiseptic. Would you pour grape juice or molasses on a wound?
MacArthur gave eight questions that we must ask to try to convince us that no Christian should drink alcohol. His first question is, "Is it the same as the wine of Bible times?" He tries to prove that it wasn't, I think I have shone that it was.
His next question is, "Is it necessary?" MacArthur says, "Today, you can drink anything, I mean the cupboards in the market are just jammed full of stuff, everything conceivable. We would have to say this: Is drinking wine necessary today? What's the answer? No, it is not necessary so it moves out of the category of necessity and into the category of preference." This is a non-argument. Who today who drinks alcohol says that it is necessary? Believers drink alcohol because they choose to. And they have the freedom to choose to because the Bible does not forbid it.
MacArthur's third question is, "Is it the best choice?" Here is where it gets interesting. MacArthur sites:
"Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:11 NASB
Then he sites:
"For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. Luke 1:15 NASB
Then he says, "The greatest man who ever lived was a teetotaler." So our best choice is to abstain from all alcohol. Well John the Baptizer may not have drunk wine, but his Lord Yeshua did. He then sites:
The LORD then spoke to Aaron, saying, "Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die — it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations — Leviticus 10:8-9 NASB
MacArthur argues that Yahweh didn't want priests to drink, and we are priests to the Lord so we shouldn't drink. First of all notice the verse says, "Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting." He is not saying don't ever drink wine, but don't drink when you are ministering. No priest was to drink alcohol while performing his duties, though he could consume while not working. Speaking to Aaron Yahweh says:
"All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you. Numbers 18:12 NASB
What is the point of giving them wine if they can't drink it? The Hebrew word for wine here is tyirosh. Some say this is referring to grape juice, unfermented wine. Well this same Hebrew word is used in:
Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding. Hosea 4:11 NASB
"Wine" here is yayin and "new wine" is tyirosh. Notice that they both take away understanding, they make men fools. So the priest could drink wine and so could the people. Deuteronomy 14:22-27 shares commandments regarding the tithe and how it was to be used, notice verse 26:
"You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. Deuteronomy 14:26 NASB
So the priest could drink wine and so could the people. There is only one group of people who are explicitly told in the Bible to never drink wine/alcohol, and that is the Nazirites (Numbers 6:1-4). Yeshua was not a Nazirite; He was a "Nazarene," a native of the town of Nazareth (Luke 18:37). Yeshua never took the Nazirite vow.
So I would say that alcohol is not a bad choice at all if done in moderation and at the proper time. The priests couldn't drink when they were ministering, and the kings were not to drink when making decisions. Alcohol affects us so we should use wisdom as to when we drink it. Paul Harvey writes, "Tests show that after drinking three bottles of beer, there is an average of 13 percent net memory loss. After taking only small quantities of alcohol, trained typists were tested and their errors increased 40 percent. Only one ounce of alcohol increases the time required to make a decision by nearly 10 percent; hinders muscular reaction by 17 percent; increases errors due to lack of attention by 35 percent."
One of the other questions that MacArthur asks in an attempt to say all Christians should abstain is, "Is it offensive to other Christians?" Abstentionists wrongly teach that drinking is not sinful, but that all Christians should avoid drinking out of love for others and a desire to not cause anyone to stumble. Notice what Paul wrote:
It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. Romans 14:21 NASB
NOTE: Wine is a non-moral thing. It is not a sin to drink wine, or he wouldn't use it here as an illustration. I would say that Christians should avoid drinking in the presence of others who they know have a problem with alcohol. But, it is unreasonable to demand that all Christians abstain from all alcohol so you don't offend.
In his book, God Gave Wine, Kenneth Gentry Jr. argues for the Biblical freedom among God's people to consume alcohol in moderation (he does not drink at all and is therefore not arguing to support his position but is attempting to clarify what the Bible says).
Gentry writes, "Christians should avoid causing an actual person to actually stumble, but to seek to avoid causing a hypothetical person to hypothetically stumble is unreasonable, if not impossible when applied to every single issue.
"For example, if a skinny person eats dessert in front of a dieting, obese glutton, they could tempt them to sin by also eating dessert. So, in love they should forego it. But, to tell the skinny person to never eat dessert again, even at home alone with only his or her skinny spouse, because someone, somewhere, who eats cakes by the sheet instead of the slice, may hear about this dessert consumption and be thrown into a frosting frenzy, is unreasonable."
Much of the taboo regarding Christians drinking in moderation seems to be more cultural than biblical. Many great Christians down through history have drunk wine. John Calvin's annual salary package included upwards of 250 gallons of wine to be enjoyed by him and his guests. Martin Luther explained the entire reformation as, "…while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow."
If it was wrong or not the best choice for Christians to drink alcohol why did our Lord make and drink alcohol?:
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Yeshua was there; and both Yeshua and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Yeshua said to Him, "They have no wine." And Yeshua said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Yeshua said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and *said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." This beginning of His signs Yeshua did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. John 2:1-11 NASB
This question raised by this passage does indeed contribute a great deal to the overall debate. For if Christ turned the water into an alcoholic beverage, then His participation in the issue certainly does not bode well for those who preach that the biblical position requires Christians to abstain from alcohol altogether.
Throughout the passage, the Greek word translated "wine" is oinos, which was the common Greek word for normal wine, wine that was fermented/alcoholic. The Greek word for the wine Yeshua created is the same word for the wine that they ran out of at the wedding feast. The Greek word for the wine Yeshua created is also the same word that is used in Ephesians 5:18, "...do not get drunk on wine..." Obviously, getting drunk from drinking wine requires the presence of alcohol. Everything, from the context of a wedding feast, to the usage of oinos in 1st century Greek literature (in the New Testament and outside the New Testament), argues for the wine that Yeshua created to be normal, ordinary wine, containing alcohol. There is simply no solid historical, cultural, exegetical, contextual, or lexical reason to understand it to have been grape juice.
This word for "drunk" is methuo, which means: "to become intoxicated." It is used 7 times in the New Testament and all have the idea of intoxication. It is a form of the word used in Ephesians 5:18, "Do not get drunk [methusko] with wine." The only testimony we have about the state of the wine Christ created is the headwaiter's review of it, and he suggests that it is the type that can intoxicate. It is very difficult to draw any other conclusion.
Yeshua made wine and He drank wine: According to His own testimony, He drank wine that others abstained from:
"For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon!' "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Luke 7:33-34 NASB
Yeshua goes on to say the religious leaders accused Him (falsely) of being a drunkard. Yeshua was never a drunkard, any more than He was a glutton. He lived a completely sinless life (1 Peter 2:22); however Luke 7 strongly suggests that Yeshua did indeed partake of alcoholic wine.
So I see the Scriptures as saying that drunkenness is a sin, it is foolish. Believers are not to get drunk. But I think they also teach that there is nothing wrong with us using alcohol in moderation. We are never to be controlled by alcohol, but we are always to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. We are to walk in wisdom, which is a sober walk.
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