Some see nothing wrong with drunkenness and others believe all drinking is sinful. Some make grand defenses of drinking in moderation more so than they have ever done in proclaiming Jesus Christ. Others find that there is not one positive statement about drinking alcohol in the Bible frustrating those advocating for moderation. Those warning against drinking are apparently concerned for those contending for moderate drinking. With all honesty, Christians can and must warn about looking and lingering over alcohol (Prov 23:31–35).
How should the advocate for moderate drinking respond? Those advocating moderate drinking observe: Did not the high priest Melchizedek honor Abraham with bread and wine (Gen 14:18)? Why does God tell the Israelites to drink wine and strong cider while rejoicing before the LORD (Deut 14:26; cf. Isa 55:1; Amos 9:14)? Why does Psalm 104:15 approve of wine that causes one to be glad? Why does God command drink offerings of wine (Num 15:5-10)? Why does Proverbs 31 recommend drinking to treat misery (v6–7)? Why would anyone overlook these references to wine unless they are bias and somewhat legalistic? Did not Jesus turn water to wine (John 2:1–11)? Did not the apostle Paul encourage a little wine for stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23)? Are not deacons and women told to not become addicted to much wine implying moderation (1 Tim 3:8; Titus 2:3)?
Reconsider Alcohol and the Bible
From this perspective, many perceive a place for moderate drinking of alcohol. However, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17). The whole case for advocating moderate drinking stands or falls by the definition of biblical wine.
Those who proclaim that there is not one positive statement about drinking in the Bible perceive that none of these previous passages about “wine” are certain references to alcoholic wine.
The Definition of Biblical Wine
What is biblical wine? Most assume that the word “wine” in the Bible is highly alcoholic and intoxicating. There are passages that clearly imply that the references to “wine” in the Bible can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic (Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 3:8; Titus 2:3). Biblical “wine” is often simply grape juice without alcohol. There are examples of this. Note the passages and references to non-alcoholic wine throughout the Bible:
- “Wine” is the blood of the grape (Gen 49:11–12, Heb yayin, Deut 32:14, Heb chemer).
- The vineyard consists of “red wine” (Isa 27:2, Heb chemer).
- “Wine” is grape juice from the grapes of the field (Deut 11:14, 2 Chr 31:5, Heb tirosh, Jer 40:10, 12, Heb yayin).
- “Wine” is in the grape (Isa 65:8, Heb. tirosh).
- “Wine” is the grape juice of the wine-press (Prov 3:10, Heb tirosh, Isa 16:10, Jer 48:33, Heb yayin).
The numerous scriptures referencing “wine” do not appear to refer with certainty to alcoholic wine. All of the claims of the alcoholic wine and God permitting its use do not stand on plausible instances but on prima facie. The position appears true that there is not one positive statement about alcoholic wine or any such drink in the Scriptures.
Levels of Alcohol in Wine
Furthermore, alcoholic wine in Biblical times lacked in alcoholic content compared to today’s wine. The sugar of grape juice could only ferment with wild yeast up to 4% alcohol. Yeast was added for grape juice to exceed 4% alcohol. The yeast added to ancient wines produced between 5–10% alcohol. Alcohol killed yeast cells and prevented alcoholic content over 10% in biblical times. Modern fermentation has allowed for higher levels of alcohol Winemaker Magazine, UC Davis, International Biblical Encyclopedia, “Bible Study Guide,” “Alcohol in the Church,” Bible Wine).
Wines today average 12–18% alcohol due to recent modern fermentation. The word “wine” in the Bible was grape juice that may or not refer to intoxicating wine as high as 10% alcohol. The simple use of the word “wine” has become the means for many to try to justify their actions in excessive drinking and drunkenness. The negative references against wine in the Bible are clearly opposing alcoholic wine while the positive references to wine are referring to unfermented juice from grapes.
Warnings about Drinking
What are those scriptures that warn against drinking alcohol? The Scriptures warn, “Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink,” (Isa 5:22, cf. Isa 5:11–12, 56:12). Proverb 20:1 states, “Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Consider the warning in Proverb 23:31–35,
Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying: “They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”
Should Christians warn the same today? Christians are instructed to not walk in drunkenness, which the Greek word for “drunkenness” literally means “filling” oneself with alcohol (Rom 13:13–14). First Corinthians 6:10 blatantly reveals that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19–21 teaches that “drunkenness” and other intoxicating drugs are a “work of the flesh” and “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gr. pharmakeia for “sorcery”).
The Scriptures teach even more than that. First Peter 4:3 states, “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the nations want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness [vain use of wine], wild parties, drinking parties [drinkings], and lawless idolatry.” This word for “drunkenness” is not the usual word for drunkenness in Greek, but it is oinophlugia made of two words oinos wine and phlugia doing something idly and in vain. Also, the reference here to drinking parties is from the word potois, which denotes events for drinking. God commands against being a part of occasions where the purpose of the gathering is to drink. Christians must be sober and not drunk in any way. Christians cannot be a part of occasions for drinking. Being present is a sin even if you do not drink.
Sobriety is repeatedly taught in the Scriptures. The Spirit of Christ says in 1 Thessalonians 5:6–8,
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 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, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
Notice the contrast in the previous verse between sober and drunk. The word for sober is neipho, which means to be self-controlled. Since Christians are to be sober at all times, then they will not drink intoxicants that will impair their judgment.
Biblical Examples of Drunkenness
The Bible tells and warns of sins and abuses also often associated with filling oneself with alcohol. Drunkenness weakens one’s state of mind to be abused. The Bible presents the preacher that got drunk, Noah. Genesis 9:20–21 says, “And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent.” Then Ham came in and saw his nakedness. Lot’s daughters got him drunk to lie with him (Gen 19:32). Habakkuk 2:15 says, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, Pressing him to your bottle, Even to make him drunk, That you may look on his nakedness!” Apparently, the Scriptures warn against disturbed individuals waiting on others to get drunk and pushing others to drink, so that they can satisfy their own lusts against others. What are we to do with these warnings? These Scriptures clearly warn against alcohol and drunkenness.
Jesus, Wine, and the Wedding
Did not Jesus make and drink intoxicating wine? This is often referred to justify excessive drinking and even drunkenness. Many believe that Jesus turned water into intoxicating wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2). First, one has to assert this with bias since “wine” [oinos] was grape juice and may or may not have fermented. Some assert that Jesus aided a wedding by turning the party into a drinking party, which Christ’s Spirit condemned by Peter (1 Pet 4:3). One would have to understand the wedding to have run out of a lot of supposed intoxicating wine, and then when Jesus made 6 containers of 20–30 gallons each totaling between 120 to 180 gallons of supposedly intoxicating wine. If readers assume that this wine was fermented and there were 480 people at this wedding, then each one would now be able to receive another quart of fermented wine, and if there were 960 people, then they would each be able to have another pint. Is half a pint any better for 1,920 people who are already full of supposed intoxicating wine?
John recorded the reference that these “have well drunk” (John 2:10), which this is the same Greek word meaning filled (1 Cor 11:21; cf. “drunkenness”; Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 5:11; 6:10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18). Either the wedding guests were being filled with grape juice or getting drunk on wine. Therefore, either all these people were already drunk if the wine is intoxicating and Jesus made more alcohol, or they were all filled with grape juice and now Jesus had made even better grape juice. Those asserting that Jesus made intoxicating wine are implying that Jesus would have intoxicated these people, encouraged a drinking party, excessive drinking, and drunkenness. That is an absurd notion to think Jesus encouraged sin by making alcoholic wine. In Wayne Jackson’s article, “What about Moderate Social Drinking?,”
There is no proof that the “wine” at the marriage feast in Cana was fermented. The Greek word for ‘wine’ in this text is oinos, which may refer to a fermented beverage (cf. Eph. 5:18), or it may denote freshly squeezed grape juice (cf. Isa. 16:10 – LXX). Since the word for ‘wine’ is generic, the student has no right to import the concept of an alcoholic beverage into this passage without contextual justification — of which there is none.
To assume that Jesus made intoxicating drinks is to assume that after everyone had drunk all the other intoxicating wine, then they needed more of the best intoxicating wine and Jesus was the man to do it.
Jesus, Wine, and the Lord’s Supper
Many denominations have wine as a part of the “Eucharist,” the Lord’s Supper. Did Jesus use wine in the Lord’s Supper? No, He did not. The word “wine” is never used in reference to the Lord’s Supper. People have invented the idea that Jesus used wine in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus mentioned the specific content of the cup to drink is “fruit of the grapevine.” Add to all of this, Jesus used unleavened bread because it was the time of the Passover when all leaven was thrown out (Exod 12:15, 19; 13:7). This also included the removal of fermented wine. In fact, this “fruit of the grapevine” must have also been unleavened limiting any possible fermentation to be between 0–4%. If one asserted this “wine” to be 4% alcohol, then this would be useless to drinkers since gallons would have to be drunk to intake enough to intoxicate, but even then the wine would be so deluded and quickly released from the body.
Favorable Uses of Alcohol
Do the Scriptures permit any use of alcohol? One of the reasons proposed for moderate drinking of alcohol is that deacons and women were instructed to be “not given to much wine” (1 Tim 3:8; Titus 2:3). The Greek word for “given to” is prosecho, which is translated in the American Standard and New American Standard as “addicted,” and so the phrase is translated “not addicted to much wine.” Truly, Paul was not permitting that one be addicted to a moderate amount of wine. Furthermore, the immediate context of 1 Timothy 3 where church elders are not to be given to wine from the Greek paroinos, which literally means to be “beside wine” (1 Tim 3:3). Christians are to follow the examples of their church pastors, the elders (1 Pet 5:3). The wives of these elders and deacons are also told to be sober (1 Tim 3:11; cf. 1 Thess 5:6–8). The moderate use of alcoholic wine is not being permitted in 1 Timothy 3:8 or Titus 2:3.
The Health Benefits of Wine in the Bible
Is wine ever prescribed medicinally? “Wine” is grape juice whether fermented or not, and it has its health benefits without alcohol and as vinegar. However, many assume that the prescription of Paul to Timothy to “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” must be intoxicating wine (1 Tim 5:23). Vinegar is still a prescription for stomach ailments today. Also, a common practice of the time was to purify water with wine and, or vinegar. If this “wine” consisted of alcohol, it would have been deluded with water. Furthermore, Timothy was not drinking “wine” until encouraged by Paul.
Another “prescription” often referred to is from Proverb 31:6–7, “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.” This is certainly not casual drinking, but medicinal for those in “bitter distress” even “perishing.” Some would even suggest these verses are sarcastic within context. The context makes it clear that this proverb is not condoning casual drinking either. The verses before that prohibit drinking. Proverb 31:4–5, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” Again, casual drinking is not being permitted here.
A Final Warning about Alcohol
The Bible does not encourage or permit the use of alcohol. Isaiah exposed the priests and prophets of Israel who became drunks (Isa 28:7). Although, they were not to partake of wine in the service of God (Lev 10:9; Ezek 44:21; Jer 35). Even today, preachers and teachers consent to strong drink using prima facie arguments. However, church leaders must remain aware and not become addicted to wine (1 Tim 3:3). Strong drink and intoxicating wine does not have a positive position in the Scriptures. The Bible does not advocate or permit the drinking of alcoholic wine or any intoxicant. Ethyl alcohol is a toxin and a poison, and has no place in destroying our minds, ruining our self-control, and destroying bodies (1 Cor 6:19–20). Alcohol is a deceptive mocker. Solomon wrote, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things” (Prov 23:31–33).
The CDC’s “Alcohol and Public Health” FAQs states,
“What is a standard drink in the United States?
A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
- 12-ounces of beer.
- 8-ounces of malt liquor.
- 5-ounces of wine.
- 1.5-ounces or a ‘shot’ of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey). […]
How does alcohol affect a person?
Alcohol affects every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver by enzymes; however, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed. […]
What does moderate drinking mean?
There is no one definition of moderate drinking, but generally the term is used to describe a lower-risk pattern of drinking. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, drinking in moderation is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days.
Is it safe to drink alcohol and drive?
No. Alcohol use slows reaction time and impairs judgment and coordination, which are all skills needed to drive a car safely. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the impairment. […]
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits because moderate alcohol intake also is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.
What do you mean by heavy drinking?
For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming an average of more than 2 drinks per day. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming an average of more than 1 drink per day.
What is binge drinking?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about 2 hours. […]
What health problems are associated with excessive alcohol use?
Excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems, including—
- Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
- Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries.
- Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide.
- Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Alcohol abuse or dependence.”
(“Alcohol and Public Health: FAQs.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 28 Sept. 2012. Updated 6 Feb. 2014.).