Is it allowable for a Christian to drink a beer or have a glass of wine? That’s a great question that has had many different answers throughout history. Depending upon the traditions and teachings of certain church denominations, one may or may not be allowed to even have a glass of wine with a meal. But is that right? Is that best? Perhaps the better question would be, “Is that biblical?”
“To gladden the heart of man”
Who among us can come to the conclusion that something that God brings forth so “man’s heart will be gladdened,” was used as an acceptable sacrifice in the Temple under Old Testament Law, that the Levites were given at the command of God to drink (the best wine, actually), that God has promised to bless for those who honor him with offerings as they follow his commandments, that when the Israelites needed to exchange tithes, God encouraged his people to buy it so that they could rejoice, that Hebrews slaves were given upon their release, and that Jesus made while attending a wedding (he made quite a lot: “six stone water jars” is the equivalent of 58 cases, or roughly 700 bottles)? How about when Jesus and his disciples drank wine at the Last Supper, how Jesus said he was looking forward to drinking wine again in his Father’s kingdom, how the Samaritan in Jesus' parable used wine to clean a wound, and that the Apostle Paul prescribed wine to Timothy to relieve his frequent stomach ailments be inherently evil? Could it be that not the object (the wine) but the abuse of it is really the main culprit?
You make the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. Psa 104:14-15
Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life. Eccl 10:19
May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.Gen 27:28
And spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. Dt 14:26
All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. Num 18:12-14
The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your sheep, you shall give him. For the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for all time. Dt 18:4-5
He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. Dt 7:13
And for the drink offering you shall offer a third of a hin of wine, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. (Num 15:7; see also Num 5, 10; Exo 29:40; Lev 23:13; Num 28:14.)
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. Prv 3:10-11
You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. Dt 15:14
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. Isa 25:6
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jn 2:6-10
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mk 14:22-25
I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” Mt 26:29
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Lk 10:33-34
(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 1 Tm 5:23
“Let’s just ban it!”
In the year 1920, having come to the conclusion that alcohol was the root cause of many of societies woes (and thereby judged sinful), the temperance movement and various Christian denominations championed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This well-intentioned law (“Prohibition”) brought about a national ban on the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol. Alas, even after a thirteen-year span of time of this well intentioned experiment, the woes of society did not fade away. The ban was subsequently repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. (Interestingly enough, this line of reasoning also prompted the move to replace the element of wine with grape juice in the observance of communion – something that holds over in some churches to this day.)
Think about it: We can’t ban ice cream, cheeseburgers, or large bottles of soda (although that was recently unsuccessfully tried by an over zealous mayor in New York City) because they can be over-consumed and cause obesity. We also can’t ban television, movies or video games because some people find them all consuming and able to waste away the hours of our day (as well as the cells in our brains). Beyond that, we certainly can’t ban things like sex, shopping, or work because they can be addictive. A reasonable line of thinking would seem to be that it just doesn’t make sense to deprive someone of his or her God given freedoms and rights because someone else abuses a certain something that was created for good (like wine or… cheeseburgers). Here are quotes from three fairly famous people who, at different points in history, have weighed in on this subject:
“It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberties upon a supposition he may abuse it. Oliver Cromwell
“Do you suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object that is abused? The sun, the moon, the stars have been worshipped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky?” Martin Luther
“Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan; the wine is from God, the Drunkard is from the Devil.” Increase Mather
The flip side…
Admittedly, through the course of history, men and women have found all sorts of ways to abuse that which God once called “good.” (No, I’m not referring to eating too many cheeseburgers.) Of course, alcohol can be abused and ultimately become a destructive addiction with resulting ripple effects that extend to society. Clearly, alcohol addiction is a serious problem with which to be reckoned. Here are some current (and staggeringly sad) facts on alcoholism in our country:
There are currently 14 million alcoholics in the United States.
Approximately every two minutes, a person is injured in an alcohol-related accident
Alcohol-related traffic crashes are the number one killer of 16 to 24 year olds.
Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable deaths (behind heart disease and cancer).
Beyond the above statistics, the Bible has quite a few descriptions of what happens due to the misuse and/or abuse of wine and/or other forms of strong drink.
“The debacles of drunkenness”
“When shall I awake? I must have another drink.” Prv 23:35b
Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? …Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Prv 23:29c-30
Who has strife? Who has complaining? …Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.Prv 23:29b, 30
Confusion & Delusion
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Prv 9:2-5
Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They stuck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? Prv 23:31-35
...to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding. Hos 4:10
Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard. Prv 26:10
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Prv 20:1
Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Prv 26:9
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. 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. Prv 31:4-7
Lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Prv 31:5
Pain & Sorrow
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? …those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Prv 23:29a, 30
For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. Prv 4:17
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler. Prv 20:1a
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. Prv 21:17
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags. Prv 23:20-21
Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Prv 23:31-32
Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! Isa 5:11
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink! Isa 5:22
Responsibility is the rule
The question that we are left with is simply this: “Is there middle ground?” Clearly, we need to guard well against the misuse and/or abuse of alcohol. There is absolutely no dispute that the irresponsible consumption of alcohol can be addictive and damaging to individuals and society at large. On the other hand, we also need to stay clear of judging it as something inherently sinful. There is clear biblical evidence that God intended it to be something good. Further, we need to keep in mind that while “all things are lawful,” “all things” (including wine and other alcoholic beverages) are not necessarily helpful to us or to our neighbors. We need to take serious caution knowing that even our drinking a glass of wine may cause a brother or sister to stumble.
It’s good to know that the Bible gives us three clear guidelines to follow to help us stay responsible in regards to the consumption of alcoholic beverages. May we be mindful of all three and may our hearts be gladdened –with or without a glass of wine.
Don’t drink to get drunk. ("with moderation")
And to not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Holy Spirit. Eph 5:18
Don’t drink without considering the potential negative impact on others. ("with consideration")
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Rom 14:21
All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 1 Cor 10:23-24
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. 1 Cor 10:31-33
Don’t drink while in a leadership position. ("with responsibility")
[Regarding priests of the Tabernacle] Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. Lev 10:9
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. Prv 31:4-5
Wine or grape juice?
In the New Testament, we find references to sweet wine, sour wine, old wine, new wine, poor wine, and good wine. Aside from a varied number of descriptive adjectives to describe wine, it’s interesting to note that there are actually only two different Greek words for the actual wine itself in the entire New Testament. “Oinos,” the word used to describe regular wine, is used twenty-four times while “gleukos,” a reference to a specific sweet wine, is used only once (Acts 2:13).
Now, while it is conceded by just about everyone that “sweet wine” (gleukos) did in fact have a very high alcohol content, the question that arises is what was up with the alcohol content in regular everyday wine (oinos)? There are some that say that this normal table wine contained a ridiculously low alcohol content so that one would have to drink gallons of it to get drunk. Essentially, proponents of this theory are saying that the wine mentioned in the New Testament was pretty much a high-test Welch’s Grape Juice with perhaps a 1% or 2% alcohol content.
The problem with this reasoning is that it seems that people who were living in New Testament days must have been crazy thirsty and in fact, at least occasionally, been drinking multiple gallons of wine at a single sitting. Why so? Well it seems that it was possible to get drunk by drinking wine (oinos), to cause your brother (or sister) to stumble by drinking it (the implication being that certain brothers or sisters could not drink wine without getting drunk), that drinking too much wine could cause you to become addicted to it, and further, that one could become a slave to wine if one didn’t drink responsibly and in moderation.
And do not get drunk with wine (“oinos”), for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. Eph 5:18
It is good not to eat meat or drink wine (“oinos”) or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Rom 14:21
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine (“oinos”), not greedy for dishonest gain. 1 Tm 3:8
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine (“oinos”). Titus 2:3
From the above verses, the only alternative choice (aside from adhering to the theory that people were consuming gallon upon gallon of wine that had a very low (so low a child could drink it…) alcohol content, is that the wine they were drinking was fairly similar to the wine that we drink today – a wine with a moderate alcohol content. Which brings us to yet another interesting argument concerning wine.
Did Jesus really make wine?
There are many who take the position that Jesus didn’t make alcoholic wine at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee (Jn 2:1-11). The logic here is that Jesus would not make anything that would cause people to sin, and since alcoholic wine could possibly be over-consumed and make people drunk (which is a sin), then well, since he is holy, pure and righteous, he simply could not make something as sin-producing as alcoholic wine.
There are two things that are of concern with this theory. The first is the belief that Jesus is too holy and pure to make real wine - something that is inherently evil. (This issue has already been addressed and debunked in the opening to this article.); the second is the belief that people only drink wine to become drunk.
The verse that supporters of this theory cling to seems to imply that God’s “woe” is upon those who make their neighbors drink. And of course, Jesus could do nothing that would cause God’s woe to fall upon him.
“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink.” Hab 2:15
The problem that immediately comes to the forefront is that Jesus is clearly said to have made wine (Greek wine = oinos). This was something even the master of the wedding feast recognized and spoke of (Jn 2:6-10). As already shown, the word for wine (oinos) that Jesus made is the exact same word for the wine that is said to cause drunkenness and addiction. It’s quite clear, from using consistency of translation, that Jesus did in fact make real, normal, alcoholic wine.
Now, keep in mind, Jesus simply made the wine at this wedding reception, he didn’t make anyone drink it and he certainly didn’t force anyone to become drunk. And in fairness, one must look at the entire Old Testament verse that is often used to support the belief that Jesus would not make anyone sin by making them drink to understand the full meaning that the writer intended.
“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink — you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!” Hab 2:15
This “woe” here isn’t pronounced because a drink was (miraculously) made, but rather that someone had the underlying intent, gall, and twistedness to cause a person to become drunk so that they could be taken advantage of. Seriously, it is totally inconceivable that Jesus would have made the wine so that the guests would become drunk or that he could gaze upon anyone’s nakedness.
A gift of leftovers?
Did you ever consider why Jesus made so much (real) wine at the wedding reception in Cana? As already mentioned, he made approximately 700 bottles of wine – that’s more than enough that everyone at the party could have gotten drunk if they wanted to. This is yet another clever reason some people give for Jesus not making real wine. After all, why would Jesus make so much wine that everyone at the party would become drunk?
But is that what really happened – that no one left until all the wine was totally consumed? There is certainly nothing in the passage that would imply or even suggest this is what happened. Those who propose and hold to this theory are arguing from a deafening silence.
So, as we wade through this silence, let’s consider something that we do know. When Jesus fed the 5,000, there were twelve baskets of bread and fish left over (Mt 14:20). When he fed the 4,000, there were seven baskets of leftover broken pieces (Mt 15:37). Now, admittedly, we are still playing in the white spaces, but would it be unreasonable to allow for the possibility that Jesus made an abundance of wine to take care of an immediate need (they had run out of wine) as well as give the couple getting married a very expensive wedding gift with the wine that was left over after all the guests had had their fill and gone home? Which is more plausible, that everyone drank gallons of wine, got drunk and passed out or that Jesus blessed a newly married couple with an amazing gift?
Drinking to get drunk?
And now to address the remaining belief that the only reason someone would drink is to get drunk.
Is it possible to drink too much wine and become drunk? Of course it is. Is it possible to drink a low or moderate amount of wine and not become drunk? Same answer: Of course it is.
In reality, some people only drink to get drunk. Sadly, that’s just the way it is. Most everyone agrees that the Bible clearly warns against becoming drunk and portrays drunkenness as a sin. But what about drinking wine responsibly, moderately and with consideration? Is that even possible? Is it a sin? Better yet, why would someone even want to do that in the first place?
The short answer is that we have been blessed to be able to enjoy all the goodness that God has in store for us. We can enjoy juicy steaks, fresh sweet corn, homemade peach ice cream… and wine. The Bible speaks of wine making man merry, gladdening his heart, and being used in times of rejoicing. Do we need wine to be merry or glad? No, of course not. On the other hand, is it biblically allowable to drink wine to relax, rejoice and be happy? The answer is: YES!