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.