Reconsider the Biblical Concept 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.

Conclusion

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.

Wine of the Lord’s Supper?

What Kind of Wine Did Jesus Drink?

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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17 Responses to Reconsider the Biblical Concept of Drunkenness

  1. Dana says:

    In reference to your statement that there is not one positive comment in the Bible about alcohol I how do you explain the verses in the Psalms that “wine makes the heart merry” and “wine makes the heart glad”!

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    • Where are those scriptures?

      Biblical wine is not like today’s wine. GMO yeast today increases the alcohol in the wine to 15–20% today almost like brandi. Biblical wine was 0–10%.

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  2. Anthony Acevedo says:

    Jews today practice making their own kosher wine for passover which is a tradition that goes back thousands of years to the original passover. They do not drink the wine to be filled with drunkeness nor is drunkeness permitted in their lifestyle of being kosher or honorable before God. Gluttony itself is a sin that encompasses the concept of drinkeness. And gluttony itself is the root of one being selfishly driven to want to sin in such a manner as to be drunk. And I agree that the idea of just grape juice makes no sense or non alcoholic drink when one considers no refridgeration or the kosher tradition of passover. I also agree that the proof on the wine back then was likely very low as back then they seemed to not drink wine that was too old, probably because the proof went up as it fermented longer. Hence the parable of the old wine skins with new wine being very relateable back then, as fresh wine was neccessary to avoid drunkeness as fresh wine would have less proof.

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  3. Cranios says:

    “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that makes glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart.”
    I wonder who “He” is that is referred to, above? If responsible use of wine is a sin, then I guess you’re saying that “He” refers to Satan? Twisting yourselves into knots to explain why wine wasn’t wine, why the wine Jesus made was really grape juice, why the wine that Jesus didn’t make but was served to him and he drank, was grape juice even though refrigeration wasn’t known and grape juice turns into wine within a few days time in a warm climate like Jerusalem. But then, you have your baptist traditions to justify… Well-done.

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    • I’m not Baptist, I am just a Christian.

      See, the articles sited above for my response to such anticipated questions.

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      • craniumlogos says:

        Quite true, I should not have said that you are a Baptist. However, I think it’s clear that you are at least a legalist who makes up rules that are neither Biblical, nor wise. While I certainly agree with you that drinking to the point of intoxication is a sin, drinking alcohol in any form or any quantity, is not categorically a sin. Your beliefs on this subject are not in line with traditional understanding of the Bible that have existed for most of the Christian era. In Europe, all people including the most devout Christians drank alcohol, because if you drank the water, you died. Apparently in your view, they were all sinners for doing so, and it is only when American backwoods fundamentalism was born that people finally recognized the true meaning that had been embedded in the Word all along?
        The greater issue here is that when people such as yourself start adding to the requirements of the Bible as you are doing, it hinders people from entering the Kingdom, just as it did when the Pharisees did it. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they said he was a glutton and a drunkard.
        One cannot satisfy legalists, and I know I won’t convince you, probably. You have your dogmas to defend (perhaps even to keep your job?), after all.
        Peace.

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        • Wrong again. I did not say that all drinking unto drunkenness was a sin. Read the article again.

          I am not a legalist. I am a Christian. I follow Christ, His words, His life, and His words. Those lead me to follow His words that He gave to His Apostles and prophets (John 15:20, 14:26, 16:12-13, 17:8, etc.).

          Actually, you are acting as the Pharisee accusing the innocent of false charges, which is to bear false witness. I will grant that you are mistaken and confused.

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          • craniumlogos says:

            I re-read all three articles. I sincerely apologize that I did see the following two statements near the end of your article: “I did not say that all drinking unto drunkenness was a sin.” and “Having some wine or alcohol does not mean that one is filled with it.” So, you’re right, I was too hasty to conclude that what you seemed to be leading up to, was not what I thought it was. Sorry!
            However I don’t understand where you were headed in the article “What kind of wine did Jesus drink.” where you conclude “The wine that Jesus drank cannot be assumed to be intoxicating or any more than grape juice with no more than 3% alcohol.” Did the wine that Jesus drank only contain 3% alcohol? Possibly. However it is very easy to get stone-drunk on 3% alcoholic wine, as many did in Biblical times (look up the symposia in Greek culture, for an example of how they did this even with 3% alcoholic wine that was watered-down from there). Also, do you understand that this level of alcohol develops in grape juice within a matter of a couple of days, on its own, in the absence of refrigeration? Especially in a warm climate during harvest season for grapes? Essentially there was no such thing as storable “grape juice” until the 19th century when vacuum preservation was invented. From a practical standpoint you are on shaky ground, there.
            So, maybe I’ve once again misunderstood you, but it seemed like you are saying that the wine Jesus drank was not strong enough to induce drunkenness. As a practical matter, it almost had to be, since the reason grape juice was stored as wine in warm climates is because the alcohol in wine reduces it to a shelf-stable condition, where other bacteria cannot survive. Within a day or two, grape juice becomes either wine, or vinegar. So, while on one hand I commend you for not categorically condemning moderate alcohol consumption, it seems at the same time you are building a case that Jesus never drank, even in moderation, the type of wine that could intoxicate someone. And I wonder why you think that’s important?

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  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Scott and Marc:
    You can argue till doomsday, about what writers outside the scriptures say, and never see what is stated clearly in the scriptures. I would suggest that both of you attempt an in scriptures study of this subject. You see I have read and already compared your comments to findings in scriptures, there is such a huge amount of material that will define this, I must condense it before presentation. When you prepare yourselves you will have a good basis to analyze the comments I will post in the near future. You might even find what I have found before I have to explain it.

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  5. Marc Taylor says:

    No Scott, I have given primary sources. These are dictionaries/lexicons. Please cite any source that says the word “drunk” in 1 Corinthians 11:21 means to be filled with food.

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  6. Pingback: What Kind of Wine Did Jesus Drink? | Seeing God's Breath

  7. Marc Taylor says:

    a. NIDNTT: The incongruity of drunkenness and Christian experience emerges very clearly in the context of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:21), so clearly in fact that current Corinthians practice must be declared invalid (11:20) (1:514, Drunken, P.J. Budd).
    b. Vine: The verb is used of being intoxicated in Matt. 24:49; Acts 2:15; 1 Cor. 11:21; 1 Thess. 5:7b (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Drunk – methuw, page 333).
    c. TDNT: Paul censures the Corinthians in 11:21. They destroy the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper. The rich separate themselves from the poor, and some are hungry while others are swollen with excess and drunk with wine. The important point here – in opposition to the Dionysus cult which was well established at Corinth – is that intoxication and the Lord’s Supper are incompatible (4:547-548, methee, Preisker).
    d. Robertson: “Hungry poor meeting intoxicated rich, at what was supposed to be a supper of the Lord” (Robertson and Plummer) (Robertson’s New Testament Word Studies,1 Corinthians 11:21). http://www.godrules.net/library/robert/robert1cor11.htm

    Please supply any sources that say “drunk” in 1 Corinthians 11:21 refers to being filled with food and not in terms of being drunk as it relates to alcohol.

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