Tag Archives: alcoholic beverages

St. Paddy’s Day Fallout: Answering Objections To What The Bible Says About Social Drinking

It is inevitable that objections come whenever biblical truth is proclaimed.  There are several reasons for this.  Some might sincerely object out of ignorance to what the entirety of the Scriptures teach on a subject, while others might reflexively object due to having heard truths never before heard and thus needing time to process them.  However, there are also those who object due to stubbornness, selfishness, jealousy, pride, and a host of other sinful reasons (Acts 7:51; 13:45; Rom. 2:5; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3-4).  In my life, I have repeatedly struggled to accept and obey the precepts of God’s Word, and have found myself objecting to Scripture for each of these reasons.  I’m sure all of you can say the same.

Regardless of the intent behind the objections, faithful proclaimers of the truth must “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).  Accordingly, I have prepared a list (which I’m sure is far from exhaustive) of common objections some within and outside of the church have to what the Scriptures say about alcoholic beverages as shown in a post I wrote yesterday:

Didn’t Christ turn water into wine at Cana?  Don’t his actions thereby permit us to socially drink alcohol in moderation as long as we don’t get drunk?

This episode in Christ’s life, in which He performed his first miracle by turning water into wine, is recorded in John 2:1-11.  The overlying question surrounding this event for proponents of social drinking is whether our Lord really made an alcoholic beverage for those at the wedding to socially drink.  However, what is even more important to consider is whether our Lord really made an alcoholic beverage capable of intoxicating those at the marriage feast.  Friends, I know he did not make an alcoholic beverage that day!

The Bible says he made “wine”; therefore, some claim it had to be fermented, alcoholic wine that he made.  Such is simply not true.  Today, we see the word “wine” and assume it must mean fermented, intoxicating wine…because that is what it means in our society.  (We make the same assumption when we assume the biblical word “baptism” would include sprinkling and pouring, or the biblical word “sober” would include having a blood alcohol content which meets the government’s approval for operating a vehicle.)  However, the three words most frequently translated wine in the Hebrew and Greek languages could mean anything from the grape itself, to the juice of the grape, to fermented, intoxicating wine.

In the Hebrew, three words are typically translated as “wine” in English.  (There are more, but for the sake of space I will focus on three.)

  • Yayin is one such word, which Vine defines as “the usual Hebrew word for fermented grape…usually rendered wine…clearly represents an intoxicating beverage…In Gen. 9:24 yayin means drunkenness…”  However, the Bible also generically uses the word in obvious references to the unfermented, non-intoxicating stage of wine, such as “all kinds of wine” (Neh. 5:18), wine gathered along with summer fruit which would imply that it was still in the cluster of grapes (Jer. 40:10), and “the grapevine” (Num. 6:4).
  • Sēkār is another word often used, which the Hebrew lexicon at http://www.blb.org defines as “strong drink, intoxicating liquor, whether wine…or intoxicating drink like wine, made from barley…or distilled from honey or dates.”  However, this word also does not exclusively refer to intoxicating alcohol.  According to the biblical scholars Moses Stuart and Frederick R. Lees, sēkār could be applied to the definition of sweet drinks from juices other than grapes, either fermented or unfermented.  Stuart found it unfortunate that sēkār was always translated as “strong drink,” because it suggests to the modern reader the idea of distilled liquor, which was not known in biblical times.
  • Finally, tîrôš is commonly used, which Strong defines as “must or fresh grape juice (as just squeezed out); by implication (rarely) fermented wine: – (new, sweet) wine.”  Keeping in mind Strong’s acknowledgement that tîrôš on a rare occasion would allude to fermented wine, it is also clear most of the time it refers to the natural state of wine on the vine, freshly-squeezed, unfermented grape juice.

In the Greek of the New Testament, two words are typically translated “wine.”  (There are more, but for the sake of space I will focus on two.)  Vine describes oinos as “the general word for ‘wine,’” and gleukos as denoting “sweet, ‘new wine.’”  Strong exhibits oinos as “wine (literally or figuratively),” and gleukos as “sweet wine, i.e. (properly) must (fresh juice), but used of the more saccharine (and therefore highly inebriating) fermented wine: – new wine.”  Thayer defines oinos as “wine” and gleukos as “the sweet juice pressed from the grape, sweet wine.”  Keep in mind that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament used in Jesus’ day) uses oinos repeatedly when translating the Hebrew words yayin, sēkār, and tîrôš, and gleukos when translating the Hebrew word tîrôš.

So we see that the Hebrew and Greek words which translate into “wine” in the Bible could mean either alcoholic wine or unfermented grape juice.  As is the case with determining the correct meaning of any word with several definitions, one must consider the context in which the word is found.  Such is the case here.

As another example, consider the words of Isaiah:

“And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field, and in the vineyards no songs are sung, no cheers are raised; no treader treads out wine in the presses; I have put an end to the shouting” (Is. 16:10, emphasis mine).

According to http://www.blb.org, “wine” in this passage is yayin, but which definition of yayin would correctly apply to this verse?  Would it be the clearly alcoholic yayin which inebriated Noah in Genesis 9, or the “the grapevine” of Numbers 6?  From examining the context around the word, it is clear from references to the treader treading out the wine, “the fruitful field” and “the vineyards” that the “wine” in this passage is unfermented, non-alcoholic grape juice.

Context would also be the key in determining that wine defined as the freshly squeezed fruit of the vine would not be condemned for consumption in either Testament (with the exception of the prohibition given to the Nazarites in Num. 6.)  The Bible does not contradict itself.  So passages commanding the consumption of the non-alcoholic fruit of the vine (technically “wine”) in communion (Matt. 26:27-29; cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-29) would not contradict the condemnation of the alcoholic wine clearly alluded to in other passages of Scripture (Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 5:6-8).

With this in mind, let’s consider whether Christ made intoxicating wine at Cana.  We know that he was born and lived under Old Testament law (Gal. 4:4).  We also know that he was very familiar with the Old Testament and quoted frequently from it (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10); as a result, he would have been familiar with the passages dealing with the condemnation of alcoholic wine which I’ve cited yesterday (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Hab. 2:5, 15-16).  So Jesus knew that it was a sin for a Jew to partake of and give intoxicating drinks to a neighbor.  Knowing this, did Christ our Savior make the people at Cana avoid wisdom and embrace mockery and brawling by giving them intoxicating wine (Prov. 20:1)?  Did he, by giving them intoxicating wine, cause the people he came to save to violate God’s command to not even look on wine when it is in the cup and thus be bitten like they would by a poisonous serpent (Prov. 23:31-32)?  Did he violate Habbakuk’s law and cause others to do the same by giving his neighbors intoxicating wine (Hab. 2:5, 15-16)?

The obvious answer to these questions is NO!!  Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews would agree (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15).  Therefore, it is clear that Jesus Christ did not make intoxicating wine nor did he approve of drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation at the wedding in Cana.  Instead, it is clear that Christ miraculously made oinos in Greek (the general word for wine), with the context of the entirety of the Scriptures clarifying that the type of wine was tîrôš in Hebrew (fresh grape juice)

Before moving on to the next objection, let’s also specifically note two verses out of the John gospel in particular:

“When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now’” (John 2:9-10).

Let us first note the Greek for “drunk freely” (methuo, according to Thayer).  Methuo, according to Strong, does have as a definition, “to drink to intoxication,” but it also has as another definition, “drink well.”   Other translators, such as Henry Liddell and Robert Scott in their A Greek-English Lexicon and Samuel Bloomfield in his Greek New Testament with English Notes, agree and state that it could refer to the quantity of drinking without necessarily indicating as to whether or not the drink is intoxicating.  Therefore one should not be quick to look at “drunk freely” and assume that it is only talking about getting intoxicated.

Notice also that the master of the feast said that Christ’s wine was “the good wine,” or “beautiful” wine in the original Greek (kalos, according to Thayer).  This is important to remember because some say “good wine” indicates alcoholic content instead of taste or appearance.  Not only does the Greek definition of “good” contradict this, but notice also that the master of the feast “tasted” the water which had become wine.  If the master truly was, as some affirm, simply saying, “Christ’s wine is the best wine for getting wasted,” then how could he have known that after a single taste of the wine?

Did Paul give Timothy permission to be a social drinker?

The passage under consideration is Paul’s command to Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23).  Paul used oinos for “wine” in this passage, and we’ve already seen how oinos is a general term for wine, leaving it open for the context to determine whether the wine was alcoholic or not.  Still, proponents of social drinking use this verse to say something it does not say when they provide it as a “proof text” for their sinful habit.

  • First of all, it is a proven medical fact that non-alcoholic wine, or grape juice, is very sufficient to help cure physical ailments.  Therefore, it could have easily been the fruit of the vine which Paul had in mind when he wrote this verse.
  • Secondly, especially considering that he taught the same thing everywhere (1 Cor. 4:17), it is not reasonable to assume that Paul would tell the Thessalonians to nēphō (abstain from wine, be temperate, be free from the influence of intoxicants) and the Ephesians to not methuskō (grow drunk, be involved in the process of becoming drunk), and then tell Timothy to do what proponents of social drinking claim he is telling the young evangelist to do in this passage, which is basically to socially drink.
  • Thirdly, notice that Paul acknowledged that Timothy had been drinking water exclusively, and had yet felt the need to give him an apostolic command to drink a little wine.  We therefore have it implied that Timothy had already been doing exactly what Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 commanded him to do, i.e., abstain from wine!

However, I also realize that a lot of medicines have extremely small quantities of alcohol in them, and I concede that oinos leaves it open for either non-alcoholic wine or alcoholic wine to be what Paul had in mind.  Nevertheless, several details found in the passage prohibit any honest, open-hearted person from concluding that Paul was giving Timothy permission to socially drink.

  • For example, notice that Paul specifically said to “use a little wine.”  A little, not a lot.  For those who cite this verse as proof they can have a six-pack of Bud Light or a martini at Applebee’s, where is the comparison?  There is a huge difference between modern social drinking and what Paul prescribed for Timothy here.
  • Also, note that he specified the particular purpose behind his command for Timothy to ingest a little wine, namely, “…for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”  He told him to use a little wine for medicinal purposes.  It was NOT to relax, or to get away from it all, or to be sociable, or to enjoy the party.  It was for a medical problem.  Therefore, assuming that alcoholic wine was what Paul had in mind for this verse, 1 Timpthy 5:23 can be taken into account in light of 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 and Ephesians 5:18 to mean that God condemns the social consumption of alcoholic beverages but not the consumption of small amounts of alcohol for medicinal purposes.

Did Paul forbid elders to drink but give deacons permission to drink?

The passages under consideration consist of one of the qualifications for elders and one of the qualifications for deacons:

“A bishop then must be…temperate…not given to much wine…”  (1 Tim. 3:2-3)

 

“For a bishop must be…not given to wine…”  (Tit. 1:7)

“Likewise deacons must be…not given to much wine…”  (1 Tim. 3:8)

The thought many social drinkers have is that elders are prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages, while deacons (and thus, they assume without scriptural proof, all other Christians) can consume small amounts.  This is not a valid claim for several reasons:

  • First, God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:11; Col. 3:25).  We have already seen the commands of Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 which command all Christians to abstain from alcoholic beverages.  God would be showing partiality to have Paul make those universal commands, but then allow a small group of Christians (deacons) exemption.
  • Furthermore, 1 Tim. 3:11 says that wives (contextually, either the deacons’ wives, the elders’ wives, and/or all wives) are to be “temperate” (nēphalios, a derivative of nēphō, meaning to “abstain from wine.”)  It would be the height of partiality for God to deny the wives of deacons to have a cocktail at dinner while allowing their husbands to have one right in front of them.
  • Also, exactly who determines what a small amount of wine consists of as opposed to “much wine”?  Medical science would say that the person doing the drinking certainly isn’t qualified to make such a judgment, because their judgment has already been impaired by the alcohol they have taken into themselves.
  • Furthermore, if the command to not be addicted to “much” wine opens the door for small amounts to be consumed, then what happens when this same logic is applied to other commands in the Bible?  For example, God inspired Solomon to write, “Do not be excessively wicked…” (Eccl. 7:17).  If “not given to much wine” opens the door for social drinking, then consistently “Do not be excessively wicked…” opens the door for a little wickedness, just not a lot.  Yet the wages of sin, regardless of quantity, is death without repentance (Rom. 6:23; Luke 13:3).

In actuality, this is one of those cases where the English translations are not the best ones possible.  All English translations make it sound like the word “much” is adjectivally applied to “wine.”  However, let’s examine the original Greek.

  • According to http://www.blb.org, “not given to much wine” is “me prosecho polus oinos.”
  • Strong translates me as “not.”
  • Strong also translates prosecho as “(figuratively) to hold the mind…towards, i.e., pay attention to, be cautious about, apply oneself to, adhere to: – (give) attend…beware, be given to, give (take) heed (to unto); have regard.”
  • Polus is translated by Strong to mean, “(singular) much (in any respect) or (plural) many…”, while oinos of course is the general word for wine.

The key is found in the word polus, or “much.”  Most English translations, as said before, make out “much” to be the adjective to wine, but Strong defines it as adverbial in nature.  Thus, instead of being adjectivally joined to oinos, polus is actually adverbially linked to prosecho.

This changes the entire meaning of the phrase!  Instead of meaning, “Deacons must…not pay attention to a lot of wine…” and thus opening the door for proponents of social drinking to grasp onto this as a proof text, the literal Greek Paul was inspired by God to write says, “Deacons must…not pay attention much in respect to wine.”  It seems that “much” is not describing the quantity of wine, but rather the quantity of attention the deacons were to show towards it.  Therefore, 1 Tim. 3:8 does not authorize social drinking like some believe, but instead should be added to a long list of warnings in the Bible against the use of intoxicating beverages.

Didn’t God authorize social drinking in Deuteronomy 14 and Proverbs 31?

In light of the previously cited Old Testament prohibitions against alcoholic consumption (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Hab. 2:5, 15-16) and more that could be cited (e.g., Gen. 9:20-24; 19:30-36; Is. 5:11-12; 28:7-8; 56:9-12; Hos. 4:11), it amazes me how pride, selfishness, and stubbornness can cause some to continue to grasp at straws in their search for scriptural authorization for their sin.  Their attempts are made even more irrelevant when one remembers that what God may or may not have allowed in the Old Testament does not apply to those of us who live under the New Covenant and its laws concerning alcoholic consumption.  Nevertheless, these efforts are still being made, and their inquiries must be answered.

Let’s examine the first passage under consideration:

“And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire – oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves.  And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deut. 14:24-26, emphasis mine)

The thought is that since God told the Israelites to spend their money on whatever they wish, and specifically listed wine or strong drink, then he must have been giving them permission to be social drinkers!  Such a thought is ludicrous when one considers the other passages in the Old Testament that specifically condemn the consumption of alcoholic wine and remembers that God does not contradict himself.  Some will still stubbornly point out that God, in telling Israel to spend the money on whatever their appetite craves, specifically used yayin (“wine”) and sēkār (“strong drink.”)  However, as pointed out earlier when talking about the definitions of these Hebrew words, yayin is used in the Bible in both an alcoholic and non-alcoholic sense depending on the context, and scholars have acknowledged that sēkār can refer to the sweet, either fermented or unfermented juice of many fruits other than grapes (some of which could have a particularly strong taste, thus earning the term “strong drink.”)  Therefore, if one is to take the Bible in its entirety, it is clear that God is not commanding Israel to buy “alcoholic wine (yayin) and alcoholic wine (sēkār),” but rather “fruit of the vine (yayin) and “sweet fruit drinks (sēkār).”

Let’s now examine the second passage under consideration.

“Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7).

These are the words of the mother of King Lemuel (Prov. 31:1), a king named nowhere else in Scripture and whom some believe to be another name for Solomon.  As with the Deuteronomy passage, one must examine both the Hebrew definitions of the terms as well as the biblical context.  According to http://www.blb.org,  sēkār (“strong drink”) and yayin (“wine”) are used, and again one must examine the context to determine whether the alcoholic or non-alcoholic definitions of these words apply to this passage.

Clearly, the context surrounding the words in verses 6-7 are promoting the definition of intoxicating beverages, but one must not stop there if one wants to truly know if divine support for social drinking is found here.  To start off, one need go no further than the previous two verses, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine (yayin), or for rulers to take strong drink (sēkār), lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Prov. 31:4-5).

It is interesting how the proponents of social drinking grab onto verses 6-7 while conveniently ignoring the message of verses 4-5!  Keeping in mind that God found the words of King Lemuel’s mother worthy enough to inspire him to include them in scriptural canon for the spiritual benefit of the man of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), why would God and this obviously wise woman warn about the dangers of alcoholic consumption for royalty in one sentence and then in the very next promote alcoholic consumption (and its dangerous results) for the dying and impoverished?

While it is true that the inebriation resulting from getting drunk would definitely cause anyone, regardless of their physical or financial state, to forget their troubles (Prov. 23:35), there are other things to consider.

  • First of all, ethyl alcohol (the kind of alcohol in intoxicating drinks) is a medically-proven toxic poison which, according to DiPalma’s research, “is the greatest single irritant we can ingest.”  (While it is true that DiPalma cited a medical source who acknowledged that extremely small amounts of alcohol in medicines is not harmful to the body, that would not apply to the implied amount of alcohol suggested to be given to the dying and poor in this passage.)  Why would God basically be telling us to poison the dying and the poor, and in the same book where he provided instruction designed to prevent early deaths and care for the poor (Prov. 2:18-19; 5:23; 14:21; 17:5)?  Not only would this be a contradiction, but in a way it would be a divinely-supported method of euthanasia!
  • Secondly, God would be contradicting himself in another way if he would tell the Jews to give intoxicating beverages to others when he expressly condemned both the giving of it to others and even the tasting of it and looking at it in the cup (Hab. 2:5, 15-16; Prov. 23:29-31).  “But,” some might say, “in Prov. 31:6 it is for a medical condition, like it was for Timothy in 1 Tim. 5:23.”  The fallacy in this argument is found when one remembers that Prov. 31:6 talks both about the dying and the poor, the latter not necessarily having a medical problem.  Furthermore, remember that Paul told Timothy to have a small amount of wine for his medical problem, whereas Prov. 31:6 clearly is talking about an amount large enough to cause one to reach enough of a state of inebriation to “drink their worries down the drain.”  Therefore, God would be promoting not drinking, but also the state which even professed Christian proponents of social drinking acknowledge is sin, drunkenness (Gal. 5:21)!  And why would God promote “drinking our worries away” when he knows that they’ll still be there when we sober up, only then there will probably be more of them due to what we did while drunk and how we feel with the hangover!
  • Thirdly, remember that God has shown that alcoholism can lead to poverty and an early death.  While warning against following the pathways of the wicked, Solomon said that “they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence” (Prov. 4:17), and later called “strong drink a brawler” (Prov. 20:1).  How many early deaths have come about due to alcohol?  How many have been killed in bar fights, by drunk drivers, by drunken spouses and parents?  And how many have lost their jobs and their financial security because of drinking?  Solomon wrote, “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Prov. 19:15), and warns that the one who lies in bed all the time will end up impoverished (Prov. 6:9-11).  Employers, who among your employees is most likely to end up with a pink slip?  Let’s face it, it’s probably the one who can’t keep up with his duties because he’s drunk or hungover all the time and keeps calling in sick from his bed where he’s nursing a hangover!

So what is the true meaning of the passage?  Considering the entire Bible’s divine condemnation of the consumption of alcoholic beverages (with the exception of small amounts for medical purposes only), and especially keeping in mind the immediate context in which the divinely-inspired author condemned alcoholic consumption, it is clear that Prov. 31:6-7 is not a permit to socially drink, nor is it even a permit for the dying and the poor to drink.

Rather, it is King Lemuel’s mother’s way of emphasizing the warning she had just given to her son in the previous verses.  In other words, she is basically saying in Prov. 31:4-7, “When you become king someday, son, remember that kings shouldn’t drink.  If you do, bad things will happen.  You’ll end up being so drunk that you’ll forget important policies that you’ve made as king and treat your subjects in an unjust way.  Look at those out on the street who are dying and poor.  With many of them, their alcoholism got them there and is keeping them there by helping them forget their troubles and thus take away their motivation to fix themselves.  Don’t be like them.”

Conclusion

Much more could be said about what the Scriptures say about alcoholic beverages, but I hope what is written here can help strengthen the faith of the reader and help them in their personal walk with God when it comes to this area of their lives.  Christians are called to be lovingly obedient to their God (John 14:15) and an excellent example to their fellow man (Matt. 5:16; 18:6-7; Rom. 14:21; 1 Cor. 10:32; 1 Pet. 2:12).

It is simply impossible for them to do those things with a beer or wineglass in their hand.

Yesterday was Saint Paddy’s Day…Yep, It’s Time To Talk About Social Drinking…

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday known for more than anything else as another excuse to have a beer.  Not that we need any more excuses.  After all, Spring Break is around the corner.  Not long ago, the city of New Orleans continued to hold its annual tradition of debauchery known as “Mardi Gras,” in spite of the recent hardships they have gone through due to being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.  Before that, there was Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  If God is willing, the United States will observe Memorial Day in a couple of months…and a little over a month after that she will celebrate the anniversary of her declaration of independence on July 4.

What do St. Patrick’s Day, Spring Break, Mardi Gras, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, July 4…and, let’s face it, every weekend and in some cases every day…all have in common for a lot of folks?

I wish I could tell you that all of these times are set aside by everyone in our society for good, wholesome, clean, and sober fun as a means to relax and recuperate from the stresses of work and life.  I wish I could tell you that there won’t be a single parent who will hear that their son or daughter vacationing in some exotic location during Spring Break was killed, raped, humiliated, or caused someone else’s death, rape, or humiliation due to consumption of alcohol.  I wish I could tell you that there won’t be a single New Orleans citizen or visitor who won’t spend the rest of their life with their sexually transmitted disease, divorce, the memory of their abortion, their illegitimate child, or the knowledge of the existence of photos somewhere out there that show them immodestly displaying themselves for the world to see, ruefully regretting the amount of alcohol they drank at Mardi Gras which caused them to drunkenly take their clothes off in public and commit adultery or some other form of fornication with either a prostitute or some young woman or man who was equally intoxicated.  I wish I could tell you that this morning, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, no one will see a single vehicle wrapped around some tree while its driver’s family is told that Daddy or Mommy won’t ever be coming home again because they decided to join the rest of the world in using the Catholic feast day celebrating the life of one her “patron saints” as an excuse to drink themselves into a stupor and then climb behind the wheel.

I wish I could tell you the day on which many believe Christ was born was not also the day in which millions dishonor his memory by violating the wishes he expressed through the Holy Spirit-inspired apostle (Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 5:6-8; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37).  I wish I could tell you that the first morning of every year is not spent by millions nursing a hangover in jail or in a ditch somewhere because of the pints of whiskey they had consumed as the previous year was ending.  I wish I could tell you that driving back home after the barbeques and fireworks of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July is a much safer undertaking than it actually is due to the millions of intoxicated drivers who are also driving home after drinking three beers for every plate of food they consumed on those days.

I wish I could tell you there is not a single employer who will have to spend their Mondays either putting up with the low productivity of their hungover employees or having to look for new employees because they either had to fire their hungover employees for not being able to do their jobs correctly or, worse yet, being told that their employees won’t be coming into work ever again because during the previous weekend they were either hit by a drunk driver or were the drunk driver hitting someone else.  I wish I could tell you no wife or child has ever been physically abused by a husband and father who nurses a bottle every night, no husband has ever been embarrassed by his wife drunkenly shouting humiliating things about him or herself in public while staggering on his arm, no child has ever been influenced to start drinking during their teen years because they’ve grown up watching their parents stock their liquor cabinets and store six-packs of Michelob in the refrigerator, and no family has ever been torn apart due to a loved one’s suicide which came about because of alcohol.

Most of all, I wish I could tell you that there is not a single person who calls themselves a Christian who would ever in any way, shape, or form defend the social consumption of alcoholic beverages.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Forgetting that we are called to “go out from their midst, and be separate from them…and touch no unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17), too many in the denominational world and even brethren in the Lord’s church, looking for a justification for their sin, point to the regular consumption of alcoholic wine by the citizens of Europe and the rest of the world as though God would accept what the majority of His creation did (Matt. 7:13-14).  My wife once told me about one of her co-workers, someone who professed to be religious, who talked freely of storing six packs of beer in her automobile’s trunk.  Some college friends of mine who are Christians drink with regularity and defend the practice.  There are even leaders in the church, elders and preachers and Bible class teachers, who either hesitate to condemn the practice of social drinking or blatantly defend it.  Brethren, it is a travesty for members of the family of God (1 Tim. 3:14-15) who are called to let their light shine before their fellow men (Matt. 5:14-16) to participate and defend the sin which is and has always been one of the leading causes of grief and heartache in the world!

However, blame must also be laid at the feet of the preachers, teachers, pastors, and parents who, for whatever reason, have failed to teach this generation “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) concerning sin, specifically the sinfulness of social alcoholic consumption.  After all, lack of knowledge destroys (Hos. 4:6).  How can brethren be expected to have the faith which comes from the words of Christ (Rom. 10:17) about the sinfulness of alcoholic beverages when they have not been taught (Acts 8:30-31; Rom. 10:14)?

So I’d like to talk about it now.  In teaching on this subject, my goal is to have and encourage others to have God’s will as the highest priority in life (Col. 3:17).  We know that God has given us everything we need to know in order to obtain eternal life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), and so we must go to God’s Word and search for commands, principles, and examples to get authority for what we are to do and what we are not to do in this life.  God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), and we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), love for the souls of those who are caught up in sin, including the sin of social drinking.

So What Does The Bible Have To Say About Alcohol?

In showing what the scriptures say about alcoholic consumption, let me first say that I recognize this is a sensitive and controversial subject.  Accordingly, in showing what God’s Word says on this matter, it is not my intent to be insensitive or abusive in any way.  Furthermore, it is not my intent to judge or condemn anyone.  Christ is our judge (Acts 17:30-31), and his words will judge us (John 12:48).  This is why, in speaking and writing on the subject of alcohol, I want to lead you to what God’s Word says on the subject, since it is God’s Word that will judge us.

Anyone who watches television, reads newspapers and books, and knows how to use the Internet and its search engines can easily find the news coverage, medical journalistic facts, and statistics that show how the use and abuse of alcohol is our nation’s #1 drug problem.  I recommend contacting World Video Bible School in order to purchase their course notes on CD-Rom.  In addition to the innumerable amount of sound teaching provided on every book of the Bible and just about every religious topic in existence, their course notes on 1 Timothy have two appendices which contain a two-part lesson by brother F.C. DiPalma, Jr. on alcohol.  The first part lists many medical and statistical facts about alcoholic consumption from sources dated mostly from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.  Taking those facts from years past and comparing them with the current medical facts and statistics about the dangers of alcohol only help strengthen the conviction of the honest and open-minded about the evils of alcohol.  DiPalma cites several doctors and medical journals which list alcohol as a poison that is deadly in its working on the body and mind.  He lists sources which warn that even extremely small amounts of alcohol (which your average social drinker would consume) damages the body and mind significantly, including the irreversible destruction of brain and liver cells, as well as the decreasing of self-control and inhibitions.  He cites one expert whom brother Wayne Jackson quotes in a 1982 article for The Christian Courier as saying:

There is no guarantee of a safe level of drinking, no threshold below which alcohol fails to damage or destroy groups of cells in the brain and other vital organs.”  It is very important that such a medical fact be understood, because it has great bearing on what the New Testament teaches about drunkenness.

Brethren in the church who both defend and condemn social drinking acknowledge the following passages:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I have warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21, emphasis mine).

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10, emphasis mine).

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18, emphasis mine).

Both sides acknowledge and concede that drunkenness is clearly forbidden by God in the New Testament.  However, when is one drunk scripturally?  That is the question the proponents of social drinking overlook.  When does God consider someone to be drunk?  This is an important question, and one way to answer it is to study the meaning of the Greek words in the original texts of the New Testament that are translated drunk, drunken, and drunkenness.

According to W. E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words,  the word translated “drunkenness” in Gal. 5:21 is in the original Greek the noun methē, and is defined as “‘strong drink’…denotes ‘drunkenness, habitual intoxication’…”  Vine also ascribes the word translated “drunkards” in 1 Cor. 6:10 to the adjective methusos, and defines it as “‘drunken’…used as a noun…in the plural…‘drunkards’…”  So far the proponents of social drinking are in complete agreement, for in their minds there is a difference between sipping one margarita and being drunk.

However, Vine also says that the verb translated “get drunk” in Eph. 5:18 is methuskō, which “signifies ‘to make drunk, or to grow drunk’…an inceptive verb, marking the process… ‘to become intoxicated’…” (emp. – J.M.).  Note that Vine specifically includes in the definition of the verb “get drunk” not only what the proponents of social drinking would call the end result of several drinks, i.e., drunkenness, but also the entire process of becoming drunk!  Therefore, the word which the Spirit inspired the apostle to use in this command to all would not only condemn the inebriation which comes after a six-pack is consumed, but also condemn the entire process one would undergo to reach that state of inebriation, i.e., social drinking.  Accordingly, the proper translation of Eph. 5:18 should be, “And do not grow drunk with wine” rather than, “And do not get drunk with wine”.

Why would our Creator condemn what many today believe to be only the end result of a lot of beers in Gal. 5:21 and 1 Cor. 6:10 and yet also condemn the entire process of getting drunk, which would include socially drinking the first beer, in Eph. 5:18?  Let us look to medical science for the answer to this question:

  • DiPalma cites Leonard C. Hall’s article Facts About Alcohol and Alcoholism for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  In this report, Hall writes that alcohol, unlike food, does not have to be digested slowly before reaching the blood stream, but is instead immediately absorbed into the blood through the walls of the stomach and small intestine.  The blood then carries the alcohol to the brain and other major organs; once it reaches the brain, the alcohol immediately acts on the brain to slow down brain activity.
  • DiPalma then cites Dr. Melvin H. Kinsley, who wrote an article entitled “Alcohol, Sludge, And Hypoxic Areas of the Nervous System, Liver, and Heart” for the Journal of Microvascular Research.  Dr. Kinsley stated in his report that even small amounts of alcohol result in “a great deal of damage to the brain,” in that the alcohol destroys as many as 10,000 irreplaceable brain cells at a time!
  • DiPalma then cites the writing of Haven Emmerson, M.D., Alcohol, Its Effects on Man, who reports that even the first sips of an alcoholic beverage can cause changes in mood or behavior.  Dr. Emmerson cited studies of how the first measurable effects of alcohol on the brains of younger, inexperienced drinkers were detected after half a can of beer, the equivalent to half a cocktail or half a glass of wine. For adults who are occasional drinkers, Dr. Emmerson reported that the first measurable effects were detected after only one beer or cocktail.
  • DiPalma also cited Dr. Herbert Moskowitz from the University of California, who said, “Even a single alcohol drink may seriously impair one’s ability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time,” and the American Automobile Association, which said, “The effects of alcohol begin with the first drink…The first effects are impairment of judgment and reasoning and weakening of self-control and normal inhibitions.”

There is much more information in DiPalma’s work found in WVBS which cites the effects of small amounts of alcohol on the brain and body, but I have reported the above to show how God, our Creator, knew what He was doing when He inspired Paul to condemn the entire process of becoming drunk in Eph. 5:18.  Medical science proves that one “grows drunk” with the very first drink of alcohol; thus, all faithful Christians should abstain from social drinking.

In keeping with this, something else that condemns social alcoholic consumption by Christians is the meaning of one of the Greek words translated “sober” in the New Testament.  Overall, there are two Greek words translated in English as “sober”:  sōphrōn and nēphō.  Vine defines sōphrōn to be “of sound mind…self-controlled, sober-minded.”  For example, this word is listed among the qualifications of an elder.  “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded (sōphrōn), of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach…” (1 Tim. 3:2, emphasis mine).

Nēphō, on the other hand, is defined by Vine, “to be free from the influence of intoxicants.”  Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Lexicon defines it, “…to abstain from wine (keep sober)…”  Thayer’s second definition of the word says, “to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect” (emp. – J.M.).  While some dictionaries define “temperate” to mean moderation with regards to the consumption of alcohol, the fact that Vine and Strong’s definitions of nēphō promote total abstinence leads one to conclude that Thayer had in mind the definition of “temperance” found in The New World Dictionary:  “total abstinence from alcoholic drinks.”

It is also interesting to note that a derivative of nēphō, the Greek word nēphalios, is defined by Thayer in the same way as he, Vine, and Strong define nēphō:  “abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.”  (Considering how Vine and Strong define nēphō and how, as we have seen with Eph. 5:18 and will soon see again with 1 Thess. 5:6-8, Paul talks about the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the Greek, it is clear that “entirely” is the correct usage of Thayer’s definition of  nēphalios.)  It is also interesting to see that nēphalios is used in conjunction with sōphrōn in Paul’s list of elder qualifications, clearly showing a divine distinction between the two words:  “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate (nēphalios), sober-minded (sōphrōn), of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach…” (1 Tim. 3:2, emphasis mine).

Thus, the usage of nēphō with regards to defining “sober” is more along the lines of how Alcoholics Anonymous use the word when they ask their members, “Are you sober?”  When AA uses the word, they do not mean, “Does your blood alcohol content meet the legal requirements to operate a vehicle?”  Rather, they are asking, “Do you have total abstinence from alcoholic beverages?”  That is what nēphō means in the New Testament.  After all, Strong’s “to abstain from wine” clearly means nothing else, and we’ve proven medically that Vine’s “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” requires complete abstinence from said intoxicants.  Words mean things, and this particular word (nēphō) is used in two apostolic commands to all Christians:

“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober (nēphō, “to be free from the influence of intoxicants,” “to abstain from wine,” “to be temperate”).  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober (nēphō, “to be free from the influence of intoxicants,” “to abstain from wine,” “to be temperate”)…” (1 Thess. 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

“Be sober (nēphō, “to be free from the influence of intoxicants,” “to abstain from wine,” “to be temperate”), be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Resist him, steadfast in the faith…” (1 Pet. 5:8-9, emphasis mine).

It is a given that to violate these commands would be a sin which, without repentance and confession, would condemn the Christian’s soul to hell (1 John 3:4; 1:9; Acts 8:22).  It is also clear that the definition of nēphō given by Vine, Strong, and Thayer fits the context of the 1 Thessalonians passage, where Paul is contrasting Christians with those of the world who get drunk at night, telling us not to be like them.  Clearly, on the basis of the meaning of nēphō and the context of the passage, God’s command to be sober in 1 Thess. 5:6-8 means to drink no alcoholic wine and thereby be totally temperate and free from the influence of intoxicating beverages.  Therefore, it in no way contradicts the literal meaning of methuskō in Eph. 5:18 to not grow drunk with wine, i.e., to not be involved in the process of becoming drunk.  The definition of nēphō also fits the context of the 1 Peter passage also, because it would be impossible to be on the lookout for Satan’s temptations, much less to resist, when one is inebriated.  In fact, the drunkenness brought about by the lack of abstinence from alcohol is the reason for the lowering of inhibitions which frequently leads to the sinful giving into the devil’s temptations.

This is also in keeping with God’s teaching on alcoholic consumption in the Old Testament.  Consider the following passages:

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1)

“Who has woe?  Who has sorrow?  Who has strife?  Who has complaining?  Who has wounds without cause?  Who has redness of eyes?  Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.  Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.  In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.  Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.  You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.  ‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it.  When shall I awake?  I must have another drink’” (Prov. 23:29-35)

“Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest.  His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough.  He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples…Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink – you pour out your wrath and make them drunk in order to gaze at their nakedness!  You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.  Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!  The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!”  (Hab. 2:5, 15-16)

The Lord told Malachi, “For I the Lord do not change…” (Mal. 3:6).  Can we who live under the New Testament really expect that God somehow has changed his mind and does not have a problem with us if we socially drink and prepare social alcoholic beverages for our friends?  With one’s soul at stake due to obedience or disobedience of our Lord’s commands, would any faithful, obedient Christian see how close they could get to that state of methuskō condemned in Eph. 5:18…or would they choose to get as far away as possible from methuskō by choosing to remain nēphō like 1 Thess. 5:6-8 and 1 Pet. 5:8 command them to do?

Tune in tomorrow for a continuation of this study, in which some common objections to this teaching are examined.  See you then, Lord willing…