Okay, here we go. That all too debated and culturally driven topic of alcohol. I just made tenure, so I thought I’d stick my neck out and throw this out on the table since I’ve got nothing to lose.

What does the Bible say about the consumption of alcohol and should Bible believing Christians drink alcohol? These two questions should be answered in the same way, since self-professing, Bible-believing Christians should do what the Bible says. Unfortunately, many Christians lay aside the Scriptures when they think through this issue. In this post, I’m going to stick to God’s word.

Let me begin by laying out some general assertions about what the Bible says about alcohol, to the best of my knowledge.

1. The Bible condemns drunkenness (Isa 28:1-7; Eph 5:18).

2. The Bible condemns being enslaved to alcohol (Isa 5:11; Titus 2:3)

3. The Bible does not condemn drinking when it doesn’t lead to enslavement and drunkenness (too many verses to list).

4. Jesus drank alcohol (Luke 22:18; Matt 26:27-29)

5. Jesus hung out with people who were drinking, some of whom were probably getting hammered (Luke 5:29-32; John 2:1-10, esp. v. 10)

6. Well aged wine will be served in the kingdom of God (Isa 25:6-8; Amos 9:13; cf. John 2:1-10)

None of these assertions are debated; the texts are rather clear. The debate seems to surround other issues that aren’t explicitly discussed in Scripture. Issues like, “what about causing another brother to stumble by drinking around them” (apparently sisters don’t tend to stumble); “what about those who were former alcoholics,” “what about harming our testimony,” and “isn’t it more wise to not drink at all, given all the problems it can create?” And so on.

We’ll try to cover these below or in another post, but let’s first lay out a few more assertions about what the Bible says—and these are often unnoticed in the discussion. The first one answers the last question above: “Isn’t it more wise to not drink at all, given all the problems it can create?”

7. While the Bible condemns drunkenness and enslavement, it never says that the best way to not get drunk or enslaved to alcohol is to never drink.

This is important. If God knows the best way to be sanctified (I’m assuming He does), and if He never said that the best way to avoid drunkenness is to never drink, then logically, those who advocate abstaining from alcohol as the best way to avoid drunkenness are trumping God’s wisdom for our sanctification. (If that sentence was confusing, then read it again slowly. It’s important.) This may sound bold, but I don’t know of another logical conclusion. I’m assuming, with Paul, that the Scriptures are sufficient for our sanctification, and yet the Scriptures never advocate abstinence as the wiser way to avoid drunkenness (or enslavement).

In fact, to be consistent, I would say that those who advocate abstinence as the best way to avoid drunkenness should also place salary caps on themselves. Think about it. What does the Bible condemn more thoroughly and harshly, the misuse of alcohol or the misuse of wealth? Just flip a few pages in the good Book and you’ll see clearly that the Bible condemns the misuse of wealth 10 times more often and more harshly than the misuse of alcohol. That’s actually an understatement; there are over 2,000 passages (a conservative estimate) that condemn the misuse of wealth, even to the point of making it the barometer of whether or not you’re even saved (Matt 25:31-45). So logically—no, biblically—it makes much more sense to place a very tight salary cap on yourself in order to avoid misusing wealth than to not drink in order to not get drunk. A rich teetotaler who abstains in order to not get drunk or enslaved is a walking contradiction—if she or he believes the Bible.

8. Alcohol is often portrayed not as a neutral substance that’s “allowed,” but a blessing that’s often “promoted.”

This is another point that I don’t hear too often in the debate over alcohol, but it’s clear in many passages in the Bible. Like Deut 14:22-27 (esp. v. 26), where Israelites are commanded to use some of their tithe money to buy strong drink or wine and drink it in the presence of the Lord. Did you know that was in the Bible? Commanded…to use tithe money…to buy some ancient near east Jack Daniels. Crazy! Then there’s Isaiah 62:9 that talks about drinking wine “in the courts of my sanctuary.” Isaiah 25:6-8 says that when Jesus comes back He’ll prepare a banquet with strong wine. Amos 9:13 says that wine will flow from the mountains in God’s kingdom, which is why Jesus created over 60 gallons of wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-10), and sanctified one of the four glasses He drank on the night before his death (Luke 22:18). I could go on and on but the point is clear: Like marital sex, alcohol is not just allowed—as if it was a naughty thing that’s okay from time to time—but is actually promoted as a symbol of God’s blood-bought material and spiritual blessings.

This doesn’t mean that all Christians should drink. You never heard me say that, because I didn’t. There are theological reasons for drinking, but this doesn’t mean that every Christian should drink. Some Christian simply don’t like the taste, and that’ll all change when God gives you a resurrected palate in the new creation. There are other more serious reasons why some Christians don’t drink: they’re under age, they come from alcoholic parents, they were alcoholics themselves, or for whatever reason, they are ministering in a culture where it’s forbidden by law or is such a taboo that it would prevent the gospel from going forth. (I’m thinking here of Christians ministering in Muslim countries.) These are all good topics of discussion for a later post.

Stay tuned; there’s more to come!

(By the way, we don’t have tenure at EBC. I made that up. Perhaps this post will get me into more hot water than I realize!)

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13 COMMENTS

  1. This discussion just makes me smile! I’m 50 years old and do not drink and never have. I grew up in the church, believing that anyone who did drink could certainly not “really” be a Christian or go to Heaven. Then God gave me 2 sons that love Him and serve Him….and have taught me more about God, His love and having a relationship with Him than they’ll ever know. Alcohol was just one of those issues. I’m going to pass this post along to them, and don’t even mind if I hear “I told you so.” Thanks for sharing.

  2. Preston,
    I appreciate you taking on this topic. I grew up in a culture where consuming alcohol was reserved for those legally allowed to have it, but it was not forbidden otherwise. We were a church attending family too. I then moved to a rural area and joined a conservative church where “formally” the consumption of alcohol is a no-no. There are folks in our church that would be shocked to find out some of our “brothers and sisters” in the church consume alcohol, although doing so in a private setting or out of the area. You did a nice job discussing the topic and pretty much sharing my feelings on the topic.
    Steve

  3. Preston,

    Your application of sola scriptura is clear and concise! Great job, and if you can bring the grace/law conversation into the next blog it would be greatly appreciated. All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable etc… Also how does marijuana fit into the conversation if it is legal in ours or any society?

    • Hey Scott,

      Thanks for dropping in. Ya, the marijuana one for me is pretty easy. While alcohol in moderation does not alter one’s state of mind, marijuana is much more all or nothing. Take a couple hits from the bong and you’re off to Never Never land. Perhaps there’s a place for medicinal usage, but that’s quite a different category.

      The “all things lawful…” passage is important, especially as it pertains to contextualizing the gospel (it’s the same passage where Paul says that to the Jew he lived as a Jew, etc.). This is what I was thinking when I made the comment about bringing the gospel to a Muslim country. Perhaps we can dig into that issue over the next few posts.

  4. I agree with the points you made, but think you should add Paul’s counsel on these grey areas. Even on issues where there is a correct answer (he was talking about eating meat sacrificed to idols) grace is given to the brother who believes diferently, since this is not a matter directly relating to our salvation.

    Good stuff!

  5. Preston, while I appreciate your taking on this issue in a level-headed,
    scripture-centric way, I think you make a rather large logical leap
    in your discussion of abstinence from drink as a response to the
    difficulties of drunkenness. Your whole argument is based on an
    absence, which is a dubious foundation to begin with.

    The Bible never suggests abstinence as
    a response to drink, but that doesn’t mean that this response is not an
    acceptable one. The lack of such an option could also simply spring
    from the fact that you’re dealing with a culture that existed before an
    understanding of bacteria, thus many sources of water were unsafe.
    Drinking wine and beer were often matters of survival and health as much
    as anything else, especially in urban settings with many people crowded
    into small areas, polluting the water table and generally fouling up
    the place.

    It isn’t surprising that the Word of God avoided
    telling people to do something that, for much of human history, might
    have been, at best, unwise in terms of their health. That is no longer an issue in the first world these days.

    Further, the
    lack of one virtue does not preclude the presence of others, nor should
    it. Your argument about wealth and teetotalism is creating a
    straw-man. Yes, there are people who see drink as sinful while happily
    embracing other sins, but that type of hypocrisy is found in every
    corner of the ethical landscape, and teetotalers can certainly be wise
    enough not to overemphasize the importance of their own choices. Is it
    ever unwise to protect oneself from sin, however incomplete the
    protection may be? It is certainly counterproductive to focus on the
    attainment of one virtue to the DETRIMENT of others, but that need not
    be the case.

    To be fair, you cede those last points in your final paragraph, but I think you rather overstate your case to begin with, enough so that it struck me as worth pointing out.

    Thank you for a thoughtful, interesting article. I think you’re right on target with the rest of your points.

  6. I hope you will address the issue of transportation/DUI’s. Also, you’ll need proof that ancient beverages were as potent as you claim in order to make your case. The onus is on you for that. Maybe you’ll succeed, I don’t know. Also, whether or not an industry could be more worthy of a boycott is worth considering. Take a shot each time a super bowl add promotes drunkenness (not just social drinking) and tell me how sober you are after the game. That’s probably the best way to settle that debate. Buying from a vineyard is one thing, buying from a corporation that spends billions per year promoting drunkenness is another. I wonder if Jesus would have done that. Maybe he would have. I’m not a fan of boycotts myself, but I have to make an exception when it comes to “big beer.” Their practices are downright evil. I’d prefer not to patronize them. Just food for thought.