Reconsider the Biblical Definition of Drunkenness

In the Bible, the Greek word often translated “drunk” has broader meaning than drunkenness. Only by context can the word refer to drunkenness. The Greek word methuo means to be filled, rushed (with liquid), saturated, or satiated.

Today’s Drinking

Today, the word “drinking” has a broad meaning and a specific meaning including to drink alcohol. People may commonly speak of someone who drinks alcohol as a drinker, and speak of a person being thirsty and drinking (without alcohol). The first is speaking clearly about drinking strong drink and the other is drinking to quench one’s thirst and hydrate one’s body. This is similar to the biblical word for drunkenness. The word can refer to one who fills oneself with an alcoholic drink or a non-alcoholic drink.

Filled or Drunk?

Because of the general meaning of this Greek word methuo, some has presumed that methuo means primarily drunk or drunkenness. With this, John 2:10 can be interpreted so that Jesus intoxicated the people at the wedding feast in Cana, and others interpret 1 Corinthians 10:21 to imply that “the fruit of the grapevine” of the Lord’s Supper was alcoholic and people could get drunk from it. This article proposes upon facts that this is all misinterpretation.This is true. The Greek word methuo is the word used to show that the act of being filled with an intoxicant is a sin (Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 5:11; 6:10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18; 1 Thess 5:7). The word methuo refers to one being filled with an intoxicant being a sin while not necessarily being intoxicated. First Peter 4:3 has a different Greek word oinophlugia that is often translated “drunkenness,” but the word is literally made of two different words for “wine” (oinos) and “filled” (phlugia).

A Word Study

Here are the uses of methuo from the Greek Old Testament that show that the word does not exclusively imply intoxication:

  • Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.” *Was God getting David drunk in front of his enemies?
  • Psalm 36:8, “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.” *Notice the parallelism between “abundantly satisfied” and “give them drink from the river.”
  • Psalm 65:9-10, “You visit the earth and water it, You greatly enrich it; The river of God is full of water; You provide their grain, For so You have prepared it. (10) You water its ridges abundantly, You settle its furrows; You make it soft with showers, You bless its growth.” *These same verses use the words methuo. Here, God waters the earth abundantly, but He does not get it drunk.
  • Isaiah 34:5, “For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, And on the people of My curse, for judgment.”
  • Isaiah 34:7, “The wild oxen shall come down with them, And the young bulls with the mighty bulls; Their land shall be soaked with blood, And their dust saturated with fatness” (cf. Deut. 32:42, Jer. 46:10). *See the parallelism between “soaked” and “saturated”.
  • Isaiah 51:21, “Therefore please hear this, you afflicted, And drunk but not with wine.”
  • Isaiah 55:10, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater,” *The earth is not intoxicated, but filled with water.
  • Isaiah 58:11, “The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” *Note the parallelism between “watered garden” and “waters do not fail”. The garden was not intoxicated.
  • Jeremiah 31:14, “I will satiate the soul of the priests with abundance, And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says the LORD.” *Also, compare “satiate” to its parallel “satisfied”. The priests were not intoxicated.
  • Jeremiah 31:25, “For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.” *Note the parallelism between “satiated” and “replenished”.
  • Lamentations 3:15, “He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood.” *Notice also the parallelism between “drink” and being “filled”.
  • Haggai 1:6, “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” *Again, note the parallelism between “not filled” with “not have enough”.

With this knowledge, one can interpret:

  • John 2:10, “And he said to him, ‘Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!’” *These are filled, but are not drunk.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:21, “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk [filled].” *Each person is filled and not drunk.

Notice also the parallelism in the scriptures above showing that methuo means to be filled. This is also seen in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not be drunk [methuo] with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit”. *The actual instruction is to not be filled with wine, rather than simply not be intoxicated or drunk.


One may ask, “How filled with intoxicants can a Christian get?” The Old Testament and the New Testament teach not to be filled with alcohol. Those who drink and are filled are those who are practicing the sin of “drunkenness.” The state of being filled with intoxicants from the Greek methei (Rom 13:13, 1 Cor 5:11; 6:10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18; 1 Thess 5:7). Remember there is not one positive statement about alcohol in the Bible.[1]

The rest of the distinction is left to the examination of ourselves and further study of God’s Word. May God bless us all in the study of His Word.

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