Christians and Alcohol…

Oh, boy.  Yes, I’m tackling this totally non-controversial issue.  This is one of those issues that I urge my readers to research for themselves directly from scripture and to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  With this issue there are actually multiple things to consider when trying to answer the question, ” is it permissible for Christians to drink alcohol?”

The first thing to consider is, what does scripture teach?  Is ingesting alcohol inherently sinful?  The plain, straightforward answer is, no.  If a person approaches scripture with an open mind and not some dead set agenda to prove that alcohol is from the pit, it is quite straightforward that alcohol is not sinful, and neither is drinking it in moderation.  Jesus Himself drank alcohol, and He also turned water into wine, and no, it wasn’t grape juice.

Quite simply it is bordering on silly to think that the wine drunk at all the various Jewish festivals, including Passover, was really grape juice.  The Bible, cultural tradition/history, and the state of agriculture and storage at the time all contradict the grape juice idea.  We are also told in the Psalms;

Psalm 104:14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; 15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.

Who is ultimately to be thanked for the things in these passages?  The Lord.  What you will notice as you study these things for yourself, is that when you are reading an author that disavows drinking any alcohol that the passages that clearly support yayin (a Hebrew word for wine), or hold it up in a permissible or even a good way, are said to refer to juice and mysteriously yayin changes meaning when it causes trouble in scripture, then it is suddenly alcoholic.  I would point out that another form of alcohol is indeed usually warned against; strong drink or shekar.

Obviously what this is building up to is a warning against addiction and drunkenness.  But to try to force scripture to be against alcohol in any strength or form doesn’t line up.  Here is another reference to both yayin and shekar;

Deut. 14:26 And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,

There is clear permission to buy both, and ingest it at the God-prescribed festival, though notice that it does not permit drunkenness.  Wine is clearly held up as being something that can be a part of being merry and rejoicing, and it is given by God.  Too much, however, and it leads to sin and trouble.  This is where a very important analogy can be made; and it is with food.  Food is a good thing, it is a blessing, and a gift from God.  If we partake in moderation there is nothing sinful about liking the food we eat.  However, if we eat too much or become addicted to food that is a sin…it is gluttony.  Gluttony does not make all food evil, or wrong, just as drunkenness and addiction to alcohol does not make every drop of alcohol evil.

The scriptures are indeed equally clear that misusing alcohol is a big no-no, and that drunkenness and addiction can lead to bad situations and bad choices.  I will add here that it is fully possible that the wine consumed during OT and NT times was mixed with water to cut the alcoholic effects, and I’d also point out that that means more could be consumed without feeling its effects; for example there are several cups of wine to be ingested at a Passover meal, not just one.

Next, another scriptural truth; we are not to eat or drink anything in front of another that would cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble.  If your friend is an alcoholic who does not drink, and you drink in front of them, how is that loving and respecting your sibling in Christ?  We are to make sure that we don’t offend someone in our freedom, while at the same time, we are to teach the truth; that we are indeed free in Christ, and truth as presented in scripture.

1 Cor. 6:12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

There is also another important matter to consider here; the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As we walk and live by faith, each of us, as individuals, should be paying attention to the leading of the Spirit for each of our own lives. It is quite possible, and I do believe this happens, that the Spirit will convict certain believers not to drink at all.  For example, for the alcoholic fighting their addiction, total abstinence from alcohol is sometimes the only possible way to go.  It is  very very important to seek His guidance in such matters where scripture neither prescribes nor prohibits certain things; in this case imbibing in alcohol.  Perhaps the Spirit guides certain people to abstinence from alcohol, not for the person themselves, but for someone around them, or one of their children, or for health reasons.  For others, the Holy Spirit may not guide into total abstinence from alcohol.

It is also important to note that the Bible mentions wine in a manner that touches upon health issues.  Many people that preach against any alcohol claim that it is bad for the one’s health; however, modern science has modified its tune and now recognizes some health benefits from very moderate intake of things like red wine, which actually seems backed up by scripture.  The wide access to alcohol in our culture simply means we need to monitor the amount, our health, and our motives when it comes to purchasing and consuming alcohol.

My opinion, that I obviously feel is backed by scripture, can be summed up like this; alcohol in and of itself is not evil.  The simple ingesting of alcohol is not a sin either; however, drunkenness and addiction is clearly taught against in scripture.  We need to study this and let the Holy Spirit guide each of us in our own personal actions.  We should each do as He guides; for some that means imbibing alcohol in a responsible and respectful manner in moderation will be ok, for some, He’ll guide away from it for their own good.  Emotions run high over this issue because we each know someone who has been adversely affected by alcohol…but we also have to make sure our stances on it are scriptural and that we are seeking guidance for ourselves from God.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Christians and Alcohol…

  1. JJ

    I enjoyed your thoughts. I was raised that even a drop of alcohol was evil and that interracial marriage was wrong (to be fair, my parents never weighed in about this specifically with me even though they were big on not being discriminatory against other races, but everyone at my southern church thought and said so). I just assumed this was right and in the Bible.

    Imagine my confusion when I lived in Spain for a year (studying my junior year of college at a university there) when the pastor of our evangelical church (I was the only American there) and the young adults group regulary went to a cafe/bar on Sunday evenings after church to have a glass of beer or wine and tapas!! And then, they had a guest missionary couple speak one week. They were from Brazil and the man was Black and the woman Caucasian. Everyone involved was very godly and more mature spiritually than I was. And I could not deny that God was clearly blessing what they were doing.

    So I searched the Bible for any and every reference I could find for both of these issues and came to the same conclusion that you did concerning alcohol; as for interracial marriage, I concluded that God wasn’t concerned about the mixing of physical racial traits — but he was very concerned about the Israelite partner falling away from him because the other partner didn’t worship Him. Every instance God commanded the Israelites not to marry Gentiles (the verses my church always used to justify their stance on interracial marraige) was followed up with the explanation that (not a direct quote) “otherwise they will turn your hearts away from me to their gods.” I also found several examples of interracial marriage (Ruth & Boaz, for one) that God blessed — but again, the non-Israelite in almost all of these instances had become a worshipper of God.

    I grew a lot that year.

    • Kliska

      Thank you for weighing in! I am always a bit concerned when I hear Christians taking such a hard line against alcohol, and “forcing” their teachers/volunteers/congregations to all take such a harsh stance against even a drop because it can cause confusion when someone studies scripture on their own and sees that what they are being taught is not scriptural. I have occasionally ran into someone who teaches against alcohol, but fully admits that scripture does not forbid it…at least they are clear, and do not cause confusion by their stance.

      Yes, with marriage, even in the NT, and this age of grace, the difference is not about ethnicity or race, it is about whether or not a person is a believer in Christ or not. There’s only one race; the human race, and the Lord has always been more concerned about mingling beliefs than “race.” Sounds like you had a really good (and growing) experience over in Spain, that’s wonderful!

      Grace and Peace,
      Kliska

  2. JJ

    Thanks! Another thing that I learned in Spain was some of our convictions are culturally influenced. There is no “drinking age” in Spain and “bars” are more like our “cafes.” Drinking alcohol has no stigma for Christians — but getting drunk certainly does. Even the non-believers in Spain distain those who get drunk, which is why not very many people drink to get drunk over there.

    As I was initially shocked by this, my Spanish evangelical friends were likewise shocked when I asked them to help me find a nativity set to take home with me. No evangelical Christian over there would dream of setting up a nativity display — to do so is idolatry for them. I had no idea how strongly they felt about this until it was too late! After some questioning on my part, I concluded that this stance was a reaction against what everyone else (not the evangelical Christians) does — while Americans have a “nativity set” with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men and a few animals, Spaniards set up a “Belén” (“Bethlehem”) which is exactly what it sounds like — the entire city of Bethelehem. They are very elaborate and take up a lot of space. People are very proud of how detailed they make their “Belén” — what Americans would call the “nativity set” is really just a small part of the whole elaborate set-up.

    Also, while there is no drinking age in Spain, you absolutely have to be 18 or over to legally play video/arcade games. And, I again found out the hard way, no self-respecting evangelical Christian would have a video game on his/her computer.

    • Kliska

      Very interesting! It kind of lends weight to the idea of always searching scripture on things no matter who is presenting an idea…we do indeed let cultural influences determine our stances on a lot of issues, many times we aren’t even aware of this unless we have an out-of-culture experience like you had.

  3. Lynne Sims

    I really like the way you approach the subject of Christians consuming alcohol. My dad was stationed overseas and he was bragging about how the first thing he was gonna do when he got back to the states was grab a 12 pack of his favorite beer. He said the only time he’s ever truly heard an audible voice from God was as he was getting ready for bed that night. God asked him what the high priority was on get a 12 pack of beer? When daddy didn’t have an answer, God told him ‘if you can’t give me a good reason why you need it then you can’t drink anymore. Along with that, God also took away his desire to drink. We never had alcohol in the house growing up but neither of my parents have an issue with me having a glass of wine now and then. I’ve never had the urge to get drunk and while I like it now and then, it’s something I can take or leave…it’s not that important to me. For my dad, it would be a sin to drink because God has told him not to. For others, that don’t have an issue with it, it’s not necessarily a sin. Thank you, for taking on this subject. I know it can be a very difficult subject to tackle because emotions run high on both sides of the fence. I think you did an excellent job of explaining your point of view along with backing it up with Scripture. Thank you & God bless you!

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