The study provided below is meant to present the biblical data on the subject of alcohol. While I’ve provided some commentary with each passage, which is meant to guide the reader to notice context and the according proper interpretation, everyone should be convinced in his own mind by the Scriptures about how to live these principles in a way pleasing to the Lord. And, note that those ways may change over the course of one’s lifetime, due to following the leadership of the Spirit of Christ. [Notice that I have included these clear biblical principles within the study.]
Each of our lives have people in them who need us to be wise and deny our own self, so that the reputation of Christ may be upheld. Sometimes that equates to partaking of a thing or situation, and sometimes that demands our abstaining. That being said, no one should live by others’ “standards” and no one should have to endure false guilt or needless shame. Either the Bible is the sole authority for faith and life-practice, or we accept men and culture and traditions as our authority. [This is not to say one should go against governmental authority; I speak only to the insecurity of reverencing men above God.]
Whether it is alcohol, food, people or the Bible; anything can be abused. We all need good doses of humility and the willingness to be perfectly transparent, when coming to subjects like this. In that attitude, I present the most pertinent biblical data on wine, drink and strong drink.
Deut. 14:22-26 (NASB)
(22) You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. (23) You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. (24) If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, (25) then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. (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.
Not only does this passage challenge traditional view about the tithe, but it also shows that God actually commands the tithing Israelite to use the tithe to worship God in a joyful and thankful way, including the purchase of “wine or strong drink” for the purpose of rejoicing in the presence of God… as a celebration of His ability to provide. God loves to see us enjoying his blessings with thankfulness. Thankfulness for blessing is always acceptable to God; it is the fruit of our lips (Heb. 13:15).
Deut. 29:5-6 (NASB)
(5) I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot. (6) You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink, in order that you might know that I am the LORD your God.
Bread, strong drink and wine are here used as symbols of prosperity, as things that can only be produced by a people, which permanently possess a land to grow and process grain and grapes. Though the Israelites had been exhiled to the desert for 40 years, God took care of their basic needs miraculously (being that they were in the desert), and He preserved their possessions miraculously. This shows His care. Furthermore, God’s use of the phrase “had no bread to eat or wine to drink… that you might know I am the Lord your God” must be understood as God’s elimination of abundance, the desire for which was the source of the Israelites often murmuring against God. God sent Israel into the desert in order to learn how to trust God and be satisfied with Him. Notice that God did not say anything to the negative of wine’s use, but He casts a view on it as being a symbol of a people’s permanence in a land in contrast to the then-nomadic Israeilites.
On the other hand, God uses promises of wine (even “aged wine”) as token of His giving abundance and blessing and reward to His covenant-keeping people. [see Is. 25:6]
And, there is mention of wine and those who enjoy it but forget their relationship with God, due to their satisfaction with and pre-occupation with good things. [Is. 22:13] When the blessings God provide take the place of Him in our hearts, then God takes those things away. There are several passages which indicate that when all the wine (or means to producing wine) is gone, then so goes joy and happiness, and this is a curse for those non-compliant to the Covenant [Is. 16:10; 24:7-11]
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: 5 Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. 6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. 7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
The Proverbs are God’s books of instructional wisdom, based on the Law (the Pentateuch or Books of Moses), and are historically used by Jews to provide a moral paradigm for approaching the Books of History. In this proverb, God states wine and strong drink are not for kings or princes. This, of course, does not touch on juices, which would have had a quick expiration in that day.
In passages of the Law such as Lev. 10:8-11; Num. 6:3, 28:7, priests and nazarites were forbidden to partake of wine and strong drink, and even vine-produced juices in the case of the nazarite. Every context of these commands indicates that God made certain prohibitions in order to protect the citizen from cases of perversion of justice by those who held offices of legal/ceremonial authority. Every context indicates that this prohibition was strictly tied to the designation or position one held, not to the morality of the matter of drinking. In Isaiah, God condemns those in legal/ceremonial offices (Old Testament Covenant) for their drunken lives which disregarded that command to them. (Isa 28:7 NASB) “(7) And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment.”
While the kings and other officers of the OT Covenant were forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages, God does provide a principle that strong drink can be given to someone about to die (hospice and pain management) and wine is useful for the heavy hearted, for the purposes of “getting one’s mind off of” poverty or miseries.
Particularly interesting is the nazarite, a positive example being John the Baptist (Luke 1:8-17) and a negative example being Sampson, the Judge of Israel (Jdg 13:4, 7, 14). Also, Christ seems to take such a vow at the Last Supper, showing his dedication to His ministry of High Priest and King and/or of his setting aside some bit of joy until an appointed time of celebration (Matt. 26:29, Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).
Furthermore, some interpretations of Revelation 1:5 & 5:10 lead readers to classify all believers as a collective kingdom of priests (or “kings and priests”), and therfore, forbidden under the Law from drinking any wine or strong drink. While this interpretation is logically enticing, several important details must be noted. First, as mentioned above, the prohibitions on kings, priests, and nazarites are connected to their Old Covenant positions/offices. New Covenant believers are not “under the Law,” especially in regards to offices and positions. Now is the time of the New Covenant. The church is not national Israel by the best traditions of conservative evangelical interpretation. If one still affirms that wine and strong drink should be strictly forbidden, then another could equally argue that 1) There are several orders of priests, not just Levitical, mentioned in the Bible; 2) Believers are of the order of Christ’s eternal priesthood and must follow the Spirit of Christ; 3) If the prohibitionist considers abstinence a must, then he should ascribe to all Old Covenant laws and positions, not just a select few; 4) Under the Old Covenant, it was impossible/forbidden under penalty to combine the office of king and priest (2 Chronicles 26:16-23). [see Sec. 2c in the following link: http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Rev/Rev_1.cfm?a=1168006 ]
A proper contextual interpretation of the Apostle John’s meaning in Revelation will reflect the fact John is worshipfully describing what God has done for us (believers), not what we do for Him. At their faith, Christ has taken the rebellious sinners and has not only cleansed us but made us to be kings–those with privilege, status and authority in Christ…as well as priests–those with intimate access to God for intercession and obtaining blessing. The case can be made for a proper attitude and treatment of alcohol without twisting the Scripture in this fashion. And, further down, more on the believer’s responsibility to follow the Spirit of Christ will be devulged.
Observations of the Life of Christ:
Yes, Christ partook of alcoholic wine in his lifetime (Matt. 11:19, Luke 7:34) which was evidently a thing in contrast to the practice of John the Baptist, who was of Nazarite order [mentioned above]. Furthermore, those who accused Jesus of being a drunkard did so falsely. The Lord was not a drunkard. His accusers were using hyperbole to allege Christ’s abuse of alcohol (just as “glutton” is used to indicate one who abuses food) for the sake of smearing his reputation. However, it is important to note that without the wine’s being alcoholic, there would be no foundation on which the accusers of Christ could build such an hyperbole. The wine was alcoholic. In the end, Christ’s answer to his accusers was essentially that wisdom produces only a certain kind of result (“deeds” or, fig. “children”), and therefore, you can know if someone is wise by what proofs of wisdom are borne out through their life. This was Christ’s way of saying, show me the fruits of your wisdom, and I’ll show you mine. Of course, the Pharisees had no godly wisdom about them–only temporal, human, pride-filled wisdom that resulted in their “shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” and their not entering into it themselves while stopping others who are entering (Matthew 23:13 ESV).
Another side note is that the Lord Jesus also taught, using illustrations which indicate the wine to which he (and others of the day) referred was the fermenting kind (Matt. 9:17, Luke 5:33-39).
Furthermore, Christ even created wine (John 2:1-11), and the context indicates that the wine was better than the wine being previously drunk by the guests. The master of ceremonies at the wedding reasoned, “Every man sets on first the good wine, and when men have well drunk, then the inferior; thou hast kept the good wine till now.” As icr.org points out, “Have well drunk” is one word in the Greek (methuo) meaning simply “are drunk,” and is translated with this meaning in every other instance (e.g., Matthew 24:49) where it is used.”
If one is being honest, God seems to be okay with celebrating in a non-carousing, non-excessive way for such events as a wedding. [This is sort of celebration of birthdays and feast days and “merry making” was customary in Hebrew culture. (see also Job 1:4, Song of Solomon 5:1 and many references in SoS, Eccl. 2:3, 9:7, 10:19; and Levitical feast days requiring wine and strong drink as offerings and elements of observing said feasts)]
Matthew 27:34 & 48, (cf. Mark 15:23 & 36) speak of Christ’s interaction with wine while on the cross:
“they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it,He was unwilling to drink….Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.”
We can only conclude from this passage, that the sour wine (or, the wine mixed with gall) was meant to both quench the dying thirsts of the Lord while lessening His ability to register pain (alcohol + narcotics). This was not an act of mercy by the executioners, but rather a way of tricking the body into a longer endurance of the cross [this attitude can be witnessed by the taunts of his accusers, who wanted to prolong the time Christ suffered so they could see if “Elijah will come to take him down”]. The drink was rejected by the Lord Jesus at one point of His passion but accepted by Him at another point, presumably after he had finished the work of atonement, since only moments later he cried out “It is finished” and then actively gave up on staying alive (Matthew 27:50 cf. John 19:30, Luke 23:46, Mark 15:37). [see CARM]
1 Tim. 5:23 (NASB)
No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
Being inspired, Paul writes to Timothy that wine is good for a pastor who needs the medicinal benefits of wine… which implicates the well-known medicinal value of alcohol, in contrast to mere juice.
Yes, there are passages which indicate a pastor/elder/bishop should be limited in his alcholic intake.
Limitations, NOT prohibitions, are borne out in other passages applicable to deacons, pastors/bishops/elders (Titus 1; 1 Tim. 3). Again, these passages indicate limitation by using grammar that communicates comparison–“much wine”–as opposed to “any” or “none.” In other words, the candidate should not be an addict. He should not be dependent on wine.
The focus is on the pastor’s ability to be temperate or moderate, which is a fruit of the Spirit. No clergy should be without consistent demonstrations of the Spirit, or fullness of Spirit. The Spirit, then, is the Governor of the man, not the rule. Indeed, these “qualifications” for clergy are not a check list used by the candidate to show he has taken on and successfully conquered all of the personal development challenges requisite to his “taking office.” Neither are these the exhaustive tests which prove one should keep his ministy. Rather, they are a description of what one should be like, demonstrations of his consistently yielding to the Spirit’s influence in his natural person, before he is appointed.
Eph 5:15-21 (NASB)
(15) Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, (16) making the most of your time, because the days are evil. (17) So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (18) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (20) always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (21) and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Many people often lift a phrase out of this context to prove that Christians should not get drunk. Personally, I agree that drunkenness is spoken against here. But, I do not agree that it is a carte blanche prohibition of alcohol.
The context of the book of Ephesisans is that (based on either questions in letters sent from the Ephesians or based on Paul’s observations) Paul was inspired to give the Christians at Ephesus an explanation of what the Church is, how it came to be, with what Christ has gifted it, and how it functions for God’s purposes. Ephesians also contains some practical prescriptions, which give the reader an idea of what relationships within the body of Christ (between believers) should look like. Ephesisans 5 is obviously part of those prescriptions. The whole command given here is “do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit.” Then, several results of being filled with the Spirit are given, and they have to do with how Christians worship together and interact with each other in everyday life. That fits the rest of the context of Ephesians 5 precisely.
These things being duly noted, please understand that the occaision for Paul’s commanding the Ephesians not to be drunk with wine must have been that they were being drunk with wine. But, also notice that (based on context discussed above), the Ephesians were evidently getting drunk in order to have a “really good” worship service and/or interaction with each other. Perhaps they were trying to lighten the mood or have an ice-breaker to the worship service, even as today times of worship need some warming up. However, Paul reminds them that the Spirit can do far better than any wine. That was exemplified in the book of Acts (Acts 2:13), when at the day of Pentacost, everybody mistook the Apostles for drunks, because the Spirit had taken their insecure and self-preserving cowardice away. For all practicality, God was telling the Ephesisans and the modern reader,
‘Don’t depend on alcohol to invigorate your worship or free you of social inhibitions with each other. Instead, depend on the Spirit, because the Spirit will always influence you to talk to each other based on the Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs found in the Bible. The Spirit will always lead you sing and to make songs of your own to the Lord. The Spirit will always lead you to give thanks to God the Father for every single thing in your life, and doing so both benefits and further displays the reputation of Jesus. And finally, the Spirit will always lead you to consider others better than or more honorable than yourself, due to reverence you have for the mindset by which Jesus displayed such humility.’
Romans 14:21 (NASB)
It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
Now the reader comes to a verse which teaches him further about the mindset of Christ. It is never ok to insist on your “rights,” no matter what they are, when you know for sure that doing a thing will create an occaision for a Christian brother to possibly succumb to his own spiritual weakness. If you know a brother–and may I say even a lost person–has an alcohol problem or some other addiction, then DO NOT engage in the activity to which they are addicted in their presence. Help them get strong in their dependence on Christ. One day, a person of weakness may grow in grace, but until that day, deffer your prerogatives in order to meet their need. That being said, deffering your prerogatives because a brother has shown you his weakness is quite different from a self-righteous person’s making demands that you give up a thing (on which you are not dependent) so that he can “make you become spiritual.” Galatians speaks quite clearly on that matter. But again, we must become weak to those who are weak. This is the example of Paul in 1 Cor. 9:22, which in context reads, [see next section]
1Cr 9:19-27 (NASB)
(19) For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. (20) To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; (21) to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. (22) To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (23) I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (24) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (25) Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (26) Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; (27) but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
So, the point God is making in 1 Cor. 9 is the Christian should “run to win.” That is, where the fruit of the Spirit is needed for the Gospel’s sake, namely self-control, then allow the Spirit His influence. Deny your self, or “die” to yourself daily, so that the Gospel is forwarded by your life and your witness daily. Doing this will result in your “winning” an actual, eternal victors’ crown (cf. 1 Cor. 3; 2 Tim. 4:7,8) awarded by Christ one day; but not doing this will result in your winning no crown… but rather, it will be like you never finished the qualification race for the crown; you forfeited, and so, were disqualified from getting the crown.
To stimulate your brain and conscience, let me pose a question. If you visit a home or culture in which it is a terrible insult to reject the host’s provision, are you prepared to take a drink of alcohol for the Gospel’s sake? For that matter, are you willing to set aside your prerogative to drink, should the weakness of another require it? Pauls’s moto was, “This I do for the gospel’s sake.”
Other Passages that Can Guide our Decisions with Alcohol:
*Pro 20:1 (NASB) Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.
Drunkeness reveals a lack of wisdom, or God-informed skill at living life.
*Pro 23:29-35 (NASB)
(29) Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? (30) Those who linger long over wine, Those who go to taste mixed wine. (31) Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly; (32) At the last it bites like a serpent And stings like a viper. (33) Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things. (34) 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. (35) “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.”
This passage of Proverbs warns against the consequences of alcohol abuse. I reiterate: this passage (in the entirety of its context) deals with alcohol abuse, not alcohol use. When one says things like are mentioned in v. 35, then you know the person either has an addiction or was in a really drunken state….both of which are not acceptable for the Christian, as other clearer passages have instructed.
[Side note:] Alcohol can be dangerous to the one who has other addictive behaviors, and one may become addicted if he views alcohol as something will answer his problems. Furthermore, alcoholism (as a physiological status) is real and brought about by one’s abuse of alcohol. Alcoholism (both the abuse of alcohol and the physiological state) can be prominent in families, due to the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual consequences of abusing alcohol. This is not to say that alcohol is itself wrong or that any responsible consumption of it is forbidden by God; rather, as anything, abuse of or dependence on a thing (other than God) for joy and answers to life is wrong.
*Isa 5:11, 22 (NASB) (11) Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! … (22) Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink,
Some people are addicted to alcohol. They wake up drinking and go to bed drinking. They depend on it, and it has a hold on them. Other people think themselves macho and brave like heroes for how they can “hold their liquor.” Then, there are those who take real pride in finding the hardest stuff and consuming it to show their “valiance.” That’s the sort of crowd God says to avoid. In fact, Romans 13:13 commands that the party-it-up, club-scene, sleep-around crowd is not the Christian way.
*Isa 56:12 (NASB) (12) “Come,” they say, “let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink; And tomorrow will be like today, only more so.”
Furthermore, the crowd whose philosophy is something like “every day is the same, let’s just party and enjoy, because life is about living it up until you die.” This mindset and one’s similar to it reveal a lack of understanding about life, God, judgement, etc. [See also Isaiah 22:13]