Jesus and Social Drinking

Written by Drew on February 23rd, 2006

Social drinkers often point out that Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). Their argument is that He made alcoholic wine, and He would not have done so if social drinking was prohibited by God.

Leaving aside other considerations for the moment, let’s test the proposition that Jesus miraculously conjured up a batch of alcoholic wine in Cana. See if you can follow my logic:

1. There are numerous prohibitions against drunkenness in scripture. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1; cf. 23:29-35). “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness…” (Lk. 21:34). “Now the works of the flesh are evident: …drunkenness…and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).

2. Since sin is “lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4), and Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15), we can deduce that He never became drunk, nor did He encourage others to become drunk.

3. At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus produced six stone jars full of wine, each holding twenty or thirty gallons (Jn. 2:6).

4. Cana was a small village in Galilee, four miles from Nazareth. Guests attended the wedding in John 2 by invitation only (v. 2). Also, the hosts had to have been poor, for they ran out of wine before the celebrations concluded (v. 3). We cannot know for certain how many were there, but it could not have been many.

5. Normally Jewish weddings were celebrated for a week, sometimes even two weeks. By the time Jesus turned the water into wine, the guests had been celebrating long enough for the wine supply to be depleted. If the beverages had been alcoholic, they would have been pretty inebriated by now.

6. There is no doubt that by manufacturing around 180 gallons of alcoholic wine, Jesus would have encouraged drunkenness. Since we have already established His innocence concerning all scriptural matters, we know the beverage He produced on this occasion had to have been nonalcoholic.

7. “Wine” is not used exclusively in the Bible to refer to intoxicating beverages. For example, in Isaiah 16:10 the prophet says, “No treader treads out wine in the presses.” It doesn’t take a wine expert to realize that a lengthy fermentation process must occur before alcoholic wine can reach its final stages. When it is tread in the presses, it is simply pure grape juice.

This study does not answer all the questions regarding social drinking, but it does rule out Jesus’ miracle in Cana as a possible affirmative argument. Jesus made grape juice on that occasion, a popular beverage enjoyed at the wedding feasts of His day.

 

7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Anonymous says:

    I enjoy reading your blog because you seem to offer logical explanations and witty articles, but this post lacks a great deal.

    Allow me to say that I do not drink nor do I think Christians should partake, but to suggest that what Jesus made in Cana was not alcoholic is not supported by culture, scholarship or the story itself.

    I concur that the social ills of drunkeness is well documented your case against the abuse of wine is better argued by not twisting the miracle of Cana to fit your desired outcome. I have read plenty of COC tracks that suggest Jesus made holy “Cool Aide” and that is just ridiculous. Please consider two points on this issue.

    First, the first-century culture as well as the wedding customs of the day reinforce that it was normal for there to have been wine (alcoholic) present. Now if you wish to argue the water to alcohol ratio was very different in that day compared to today that would be a bit more reasonable, but to argue for a cool aid is ridiculous. The point of the miracle in Cana is not about the presence of fermented wine, instead it is to show that the dead, stale ceremony of Judaism was to be replaced with the fresh life giving vigor of Jesus and His Kingdom. Allan Culpepper in his commentary on John makes a strong case that the miracle at Cana kicked off a series of water narratives each reinforcing the same over arching message. Remember John chooses to place the miracle at Cana as the first miracle. Why? Not because it was chronologically the first one. I believe he was placing these water passages here for a reason. That is a different post though. Also, you have not sufficently dealt with the response of the master of the banquet when he tastes the wine. Even he mentions that it was the choice wine. Again, to take the position you hold would mean that it was customary to serve grape juice. This is not supported by evidence not to mention it waters down the miracle itself. Is it really a miracle if Jesus had taken a grape paste (or cool aid if you will) and mixed it in the water? The miracle was that he sped up the fermentation process and made wine out of water. Don’t miss the point of the text.

    Second, you are allowing your puritanical view on alcohol to taint the issue. Remember, the Bible does not condemn alcohol. It is not inherently evil. In fact the opposite was the case. In the O.T. it was considered to be a blessing from God. Jesus drank and passed it during the Lord’s supper. To suggest alcohol is inherently wrong is tantamount to arguing that instruments are wrong in every case. Of course you would not make that point. You presume that people had to have gotten drunk if Jesus had made wine? What do you base that on? To use your logic the wine at the Lord’s supper could have tempted some of the disciples to have gone out and gotten drunk after the meal. Who knows Peter may have been a recovering alcoholic and that one taste of wine knocked him of the wagon so to speak. Your circular train logic and syllogism has holes and lacks the support of common sense.

    We can still argue against the over indulgence of alcohol without having to take away the miracle at Cana. Your conclusion on this issue is a bit surprising especially since you claim to “speak where the bible speaks.” At least in this case you are not allowing the text to speak you are speaking for the text. Remember your post on proof texting a while back.

    have a good day,

    Jack Daniels

  2. Anonymous says:

    Consider the following comments by Hampton Keathley IV

    “Why would the production of wine be important to a Jewish audience? There are many passages in the OT that predicted that when the Messiah came there would be an abundance of wine. cf. Amos 9:12-15. Wine is a symbol of the presence of the Messiah. The opening sign of the ministry of Jesus is the production of wine that proclaimed that the Messiah was present and ready to establish the kingdom.
    # “You saved the best for last” may be an allusion similar to Hebrew 1. “Heb 1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son …”
    # Jesus is commanding servants to act in defiling ways with Jewish water pots to accomplish His purposes. Is that important? Yes, Jesus is demonstrating that He is superior to the rituals and traditions of the Pharisees. He will do this several times throughout His ministry.

    Jesus demonstrates himself to be the Creator and Messiah. He revealed his glory (John 1:14).”

    Sincerely,

    Sam Adams

  3. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t it Really Grape Juice?

    Some take the words for wine to mean ‘grape juice.’ If this were so, then why would there be prohibitions against drunkenness? One cannot get drunk on grape juice. Further, Jesus’ first miracle was changing the water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. He made between 120 and 180 gallons of wine! Even if this had been grape juice, it would soon turn to wine because the fermentation process would immediately begin. But it most certainly was not grape juice: the head waiter in John 2:10 said, “Every man sets out the good wine first, then after the guests have drunk freely, the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The verb translated ‘drunk freely’ is almost always used of getting drunk (and is so translated in the NRSV here). In the least, the people at this wedding feast, if not drunk, would certainly be drinking alcohol fairly freely (if not, this verb means something here that is nowhere else attested4). And this makes perfect sense in the context: The reason why a man brings out the poorer wine later is because the good wine has numbed the senses a bit. Grape juice would hardly mask anything. Note also Acts 2:13—”they are full of sweet wine”—an inaccurate comment made about the apostles when they began speaking in tongues, as though this explained their unusual behavior. The point is: If they were full of grape juice would this comment even have made any sense at all? That would be like saying, “Well, they’re all acting strange and silly because they have had too much orange juice this morning!”

    There are other references to alcoholic beverages in the Bible: Several times in the first books of the Bible, wine and strong drink are prohibited to those who take a Nazarite vow (cf. Num 6, Judges 13). Even grape juice and fresh and dried grapes (i.e., raisins, as the NIV renders the word) are prohibited to the Nazarite (Numbers 6:3)!5 But that restriction is only for those who make this vow. If someone today wants to claim that believers do not have the right to drink alcohol on the analogy of a Nazarite vow (as some today are fond of doing), they also should say that believers ought not to eat Raisin Bran!
    Negative Statements about Wine Indicate that it is not Grape Juice

    Further, the Bible at times speaks very harshly about becoming enslaved to drink or allowing it to control a person, especially to the point of drunkenness. Proverbs 20:1—“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (NASB). Cf. also Prov 21:17 (where heavy drinking and gluttony are equally condemned); 1 Sam 1:14; Isa 5:11, 22; 28:1 (drunkenness is condemned); 28:7; 29:9; 56:12; Jer 23:9; 51:7; Joel 3:3. In the New Testament notice: Eph 5:18 (“do not get drunk with wine”); 1 Tim 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7 ([elders and deacons ought not be] “addicted to wine or strong drink”); Titus 2:3 (older women, who would serve as role models to the younger ones, must not be addicted to wine). As well, numerous passages use wine or drunkenness in an analogy about God’s wrath, immorality, etc. (cf. Rev. 14:8, 10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3).

    The significance of these negative statements is just this: If this were only grape juice, why would excess in drinking it be condemned? If this were only grape juice, why are certain mental effects attributed to it (cf., e.g., Psalm 60:3)? One can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that wine is always grape juice, for then the negative statements in scripture make no sense; those who say that it is only grape juice tend to focus just on the neutral and positive passages, conveniently allowing them to condemn the drinking of real wine at all times. But even this position is not logical: If the Bible only speaks of grape juice, then it makes no comment about alcoholic wine. And if so, then it does not directly prohibit it. And if we are going to prohibit something that the Bible does not address, why stop at wine? Why don’t we include the ballet, opera, football games, country-western music (actually, I might be in favor of banning this one!), salt water fishing, zippers on clothes, etc. Once legalism infests the soul it doesn’t know where to quit.

    In sum, is wine the same as grape juice? No, for if it were, the Bible would hardly condemn the abuse of such. Those who argue that the two are identical simply cannot handle the passages that speak about excess.
    Neutral and Positive References to Alcoholic Beverages in the Bible

    At the same time, there are several neutral, almost casual references to alcoholic beverages. Genesis 14:18 refers to Melchizedek, a type of Christ, as offering wine to Abram; Nehemiah 2:1 refers to the king drinking wine (Nehemiah was required to taste it first to make sure it was not poisoned); Esther 5:6; 7:1-2 speaks of wine that Esther (the godly Jewess) drank with the king; Job 1:13 refers to righteous Job’s family drinking wine; Daniel 10:3 speaks of drinking wine as a blessing after a time of fasting. Some of Jesus’ parables are about wine, wineskins, vineyards (cf. Matt 9:17; 21:33; even John 15 speaks of God the Father as the vinedresser!). Paul tells Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach’s sake and not just water (1 Tim 5:23). The same Greek and Hebrew terms that were used to speak of the abuses of wine are used in these passages. One cannot argue, therefore, that alcoholic beverages are in themselves proscribed, while grape juice is permitted. The lexical data cannot be so twisted.

    There are, as well, positive statements about alcoholic beverages: Deut 14:26 implies that it is a good thing to drink wine and strong drink to the Lord: “And you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (NASB). Psalm 4:7 compares joy in the Lord to the abundance of wine; Psalm 104:14-15 credits God as the creator of wine that “makes a man’s heart glad” (cf. also Hos 2:8); honoring the Lord with one’s wealth is rewarded with the blessings of abundant stores of wine (Prov 3:10); love is compared to wine repeatedly in the Song of Songs, as though good wine were similarly sweet (1:2, 4; 4:10; 7:9). The Lord prepares a banquet with “well-aged wines… and fine, well-aged wines” for his people (Isa 25:6) [obviously this cannot be grape juice, for aging does nothing but ferment it!].

    The lack of wine is viewed as a judgment from God (Jer 48:33; Lam 2:12; Hos 2:9; Joel 1:10; Hag 2:16); and, conversely, its provision is viewed as a blessing from the Lord (cf. Gen 27:28; Deut 7:13; 11:14; Joel 2:19, 24; 3:18; Amos 9:13-14). Cf. also Isa 55:1; Jer 31:12; Zech 9:17.

    Indeed, there was even the Passover tradition that went beyond the biblical teaching: by the time of the first century, every adult was obliged to have four glasses of wine during the Passover celebration. Jesus and his disciples did this in the Last Supper.6 The fact that the wine of the Passover was a symbol the Lord used for his blood and for the new covenant implicitly shows that our Lord’s view of wine was quite different from that of many modern Christians.

    What is truly remarkable here are the many positive statements made about wine and alcoholic beverages in the Bible.7 Wine is so often connected with the blessings of God that we are hard-pressed to figure out why so many modern Christians view drink as the worst of all evils. Why, if one didn’t know better, he might think that God actually wanted us to enjoy life! Unfortunately, the only Bible most of our pagan friends will read is the one written on our lives and spoken from our lips. The Bible they know is a book of ‘Thou shalt nots,’ and the God they know is a cosmic killjoy.

    I think the best balance on this issue can be see in Luke 7:33-34: John the Baptist abstained from drinking wine; Jesus did not abstain [indeed, people called him a drunkard! Although certainly not true, it would be difficult for this charge to have been made had Jesus only drunk grape juice]. Both respected one another and both recognized that their individual lifestyles were not universal principles. One man may choose not to drink; another may choose to drink. We ought not condemn another servant of the Lord for his choice.

    As well, Romans 14 is a key passage for gleaning principles about how we ought to conduct ourselves in relation to one another on this issue: weaker brothers ought not to judge those whose freedom in Christ allows them to enjoy alcoholic beverages; stronger brothers ought not to disdain weaker brothers for their stance. Whether we drink or not, let us do all things to the glory of God.
    Conclusion

    There is much more that could be said about this issue; no doubt many readers will respond critically for what was left out. In later essays I hope to address some questions that arise because of this piece.

    This brief essay really has no conclusion; rather, this is the first volley in an ongoing discussion. The general contours of biblical teaching are that wine is a blessing from the Lord, something to be enjoyed. But like any good gift from God, it can be abused: in this case, abuse involves addiction and drunkenness. But whenever we condemn others who are able to enjoy God’s good gifts in moderation as though they were abusers, we misrepresent biblical Christianity. At bottom, it seems that biblical Christianity has a much different face than what much of modern Christianity wears. In many respects, we resemble more the ancient Pharisees than the Lord’s disciples.

    Good day,

    George DeBuff

  4. Drew Kizer says:

    Wow! I am impressed that renowned Bible scholar Daniel Wallace reads my blog!

    Seriously, I was initially impressed with the above comments, but they again degenerated into another cut-and-paste situation. Really, I don’t mind sources being cited on this site, especially when they are a part of a controversial study such as this one. But we don’t have to be plagiarists to get our point across.

    Also, I wonder why someone so sure of himself stays anonymous? If “Jack Daniels” believes he has the truth, why doesn’t he sign his name to it. I’m not embarrassed about any of my conclusions.

    Tomorrow I’ll respond to the things posed in these comments in a new post. I’m glad to see that one of my posts has finally generated a little discussion!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Plagiarist! Is that better than being a Pelagianist?

    Actually the first post was original the second post was referenced ( Consider the following comments by Hampton Keathley IV)
    and the third post wasn’t Daniel Wallace,albeit from his website but it wasn’t his piece. I actually thought I referenced that one too, up way to late last night probably should have left the ole blogosphere much earlier.

    but I’m glad you recognize the scholarship of Daniel Wallace and are impressed by it because even he thinks the holy cool aid theory is a bit far fetched.

    I look forward to your post. All though if at all possible can we avoid the 1950’s Church of Christ debate rhetoric.

    Sincerely,

    Kevin Bartles and my brother Rick James

  6. Anonymous says:

    OK, I sit corrected the third piece was D. Wallace.

    http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=988

    great article by the way if your readers are interested in a response to your post on social drinking.

    have a good day,

    ok I have just run out of alcohol names. I told you I don’t drink.

    Sincerely,

    James Frey

  7. The Berean Examiner says:

    “Behold, A Winebibber!”
    May A Christian Drink Wine?

    Men have long debated the intrinsic worth of wine. Does it cheer the heart, or muddle the mind? Is it invested with valuable medicinal qualities, or is it physically harmful? Is the consumption of wine approved by God, or is it sinful? As with most pursuits of men, the answer to these questions is determined by how one utilizes the object in question. Most anything we acceptably use can also be abused. Thus, it is not the object itself that is abhorrent to our God, but the misuse of it. There is nothing sinful about eating food, for example. Gluttony, however, is another matter altogether.

    With regard to drinking wine, the Bible nowhere condemns moderate, responsible consumption …. indeed, it is even encouraged in some passages. The Scriptures most certainly DO condemn, however, the misuse and abuse of wine. Drunkenness is never condoned, and is always condemned. The key to acceptable or unacceptable use of wine, therefore, lies in how one drinks. The same holds true with food, and any number of other things which may in themselves be good and wholesome and beneficial, but very harmful when not used responsibly.

    Some have suggested that drinking wine is always sinful, and that not a drop of this beverage should ever “pass over the lips” of a Christian man or woman. I know personally a preacher who has taught for years that anyone who takes even one drink of wine will go to hell. Such a position, however, completely fails to consider the many passages of Scripture to the contrary! Both OT and NT passages clearly convey there are positive qualities to be experienced from wine. Notice just a few:

    In a parable told by Jotham, one finds the following statement: “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come, reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to wave over the trees?'” (Judges 9:12-13).

    Psalm 104:14-15 praises God, the Creator of the riches of the earth, who “causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad.” Solomon wrote, “Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry” (Eccl. 10:19). “Their hearts will be glad as with wine; their children will see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the Lord” (Zech. 10:7).

    With regard to various medicinal uses of wine (both physical and psychological), one is advised to “give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter” (Prov. 31:6). The apostle Paul prescribed wine to the young evangelist Timothy, who was experiencing some kind of physical problem — “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23).

    Recent medical studies show that drinking one glass of red wine every day may have certain health benefits. Research indicates that moderate red wine consumption may help protect against certain cancers (particularly of the digestive tract), heart disease, strokes, and can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and even diseases associated with the eyes and kidneys. The compounds found in red wine that are responsible for its healing powers are antioxidants. Red wines contain several antioxidants beneficial to good health according to medical researchers. The experts caution, however, that the key to reaping the health benefits of red wine seems to be moderate consumption. Excessive drinking of wine actually reverses or negates the benefits!

    Poetically, we find such moving statements as: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine” (Song of Sol. 1:2) …. “Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine! The wine goes down smoothly for my beloved, flowing gently through the lips” (Song of Sol. 7:8-9).

    In a prophecy of the coming Kingdom, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine …. He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces” (Isaiah 25:6,8). “Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5).

    Under the Law of Moses, offerings of wine unto God were even commanded. On many occasions the people of Israel were commanded to “take one-fourth of a hin of wine for a libation with one lamb” (Exodus 29:40) as a soothing aroma unto their God. These drink offerings of wine can be found repeatedly throughout the Pentateuch.
    We should also not overlook the fact that four cups of wine were employed in the Passover celebrations of the first century Jews … celebrations which Jesus and His family observed yearly, as did the Lord and the Twelve after the beginning of His public ministry. Indeed, it was this wine Jesus used to symbolize His blood which would be shed upon the cross. We today still remember that sacrifice in our regular observance of the Lord’s Supper. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

    Jesus obviously had no qualms about the responsible use of wine. Indeed, His first miracle was performed at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) where He turned water to wine. Apparently His drinking of wine was public knowledge, for His opponents exaggerated the fact in their condemnation of Him. Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners'” (Luke 7:34). Jesus admitted He drank, but He was no drunkard. Such admission did not stop His critics, however! As critics are often wont to do, they take something good and twist it into something bad.

    Misuse and Abuse of Wine

    There are some brethren, in an effort to reconcile the above biblical citations with their belief that any consumption of alcohol is sinful, who boldly declare that the references to the word “wine” in the Bible simply refer to non-alcoholic grape juice. This argument is so ludicrous that it is almost laughable. Time and again Scripture speaks of those who abuse and misuse “wine,” and in so doing become DRUNK. To my knowledge, one does not become intoxicated by drinking unfermented grape juice. We won’t even dignify such an argument with any further analysis. Even a child could shoot holes through such an illogical attempt at justifying one’s theological bias.

    The Scriptures repeatedly condemn drunkenness. That is a fact! Time and again the people of God are cautioned that too much of a good thing can be extremely harmful, and that it constitutes sin! A piece of cake can make one happy …. eating the entire cake might merely make one vomit. A glass of wine might cheer the heart … drinking the entire bottle might cause one to act a fool. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) once wrote, “Nothing more like a Fool than a drunken Man.” Cassio, in Shakespeare’s play Othello, said, “O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!” The abuse of wine (or any alcoholic beverage) can be a dangerous, and even deadly, error. The Bible is filled with commands against, and examples of, the misuse and abuse of wine, of which the following are a sample:

    After leaving the ark, “Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Gen. 9:20-21). This led to an unfortunate incident with his sons “when Noah awoke from his wine.” Obviously, much grief could have been avoided had Noah not become drunk. The same could be said of Lot, who allowed his daughters to get him drunk two nights in a row so that they could have sex with him and become pregnant (Gen. 19:30-38). On both occasions he was so drunk with wine that “he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.” The Moabites and Ammonites were the result of those two nights of drunken debauchery!

    We see the result of days of drunkenness in the book of Esther, when King Ahasuerus, who was “feeling his wine,” demanded that Queen Vashti come and expose herself before all his friends. We, of course, know what transpired as a result …. all of which could easily have been avoided if these men were not engaged in a massive drunken party. It is also very likely that Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, sinned against their God (Leviticus 10) because they were drunk, as I point out in Reflections #63 — Nadab and Abihu: The Nature of their Fatal Error.

    “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). King Lemuel’s mother told him, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, lest they drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Prov. 31:4-5). They need to remain of sound judgment in their leadership, thus must not impair that judgment through the abuse of wine or strong drink. It is for much the same reasoning that the apostle Paul specified that Elders and Deacons in the church of God must not be “addicted to wine” (1 Tim. 3:3,8; Titus 1:7). The Greek word employed here is paroinos = “not addicted to wine, not quarrelsome over wine, brawling, abusive.” It literally signifies: “one who sits long at his wine.” Paul is not saying these men can never drink wine; rather, he declares they must not be under its control (addicted; abusing wine). Similarly, he instructs older women not to become “enslaved to much wine” (Titus 2:3).

    A perfect depiction of the physical and psychological consequences of being in a state of intoxication can be found in Proverbs 23:29-35 (see also: Isaiah 28:7-8, which speaks of men reeling and staggering, and of “tables full of filthy vomit”). Why would one seek out such a state?!! “Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (Isaiah 5:22). There is nothing “heroic” about being able to “drink others under the table!” “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink; who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!” (Isaiah 5:11). This all sounds very much like a group of rowdy sailors hitting port after being at sea too long (I used to “be in that boat,” literally, during my years overseas in the Navy)!! “‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink; and tomorrow will be like today, only more so!'” (Isaiah 56:12). This is excess! It is abuse and misuse …. and is sinful in the sight of God. It’s also just plain stupid.

    The apostle Paul writes, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Peter informs us that the world will be surprised that we, who are Christians, “do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation,” and they will malign us for this (1 Pet. 4:4). He defines that “dissipation” as being the pursuit of “a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” (vs. 3). Christians should choose better companions than this! “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty” (Prov. 23:20-21).
    The Matter of One’s Influence

    May a Christian drink wine? The biblical answer is Yes. However, a Christian may not abuse or misuse wine (or any other substance, for that matter). A Christian may drink wine, but he may not drink wine to excess. Such, by the way, would be sound advice even if it wasn’t commanded in Scripture (which it is). But there is an additional consideration for Christian men and women regarding the consumption of wine — our influence on others. If my drinking of wine would be the cause of another stumbling in his/her walk with the Lord, then my action would be harmful and sinful. Paul says, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Rom. 14:21). After all, “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (vs. 17). “Therefore, if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died; do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil” (vs. 15-16).

    Paul makes it clear in this passage that there is nothing inherently sinful in the act of drinking wine. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (vs. 14). It does become sinful, however, when we allow it to become a stone of stumbling to a beloved brother or sister in Christ. Paul discusses our liberty, and the responsible exercise of it, in some detail in 1 Cor. 8. “Take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (vs. 9). The divine principle Paul lays before us is that we are accountable for the impact of our lives upon others. I would encourage the reader to examine 1 Cor. 8 very carefully and prayerfully, for it is a powerful declaration of personal responsibility in the exercise of personal freedoms. Although the example given is of eating meat offered to an idol, the principle is just as valid if applied to drinking wine.
    Paul’s conclusion was: “If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13). Is eating meat offered to an idol a sin? No, it is not! Neither is drinking wine a sin, if one drinks responsibly. But both can become sinful if done in such a manner as to bring harm to another. Paul was not swearing off eating meat. I’m sure he ate meat offered to idols many more times during his life. But, he absolutely refused to do so in a setting that would cause offense to another. Such must be our attitude with regard to such matters as drinking wine. If I know it would offend a brother or sister in Christ, then I would be sinning against them, and thus against my Lord, if I invited them for a meal and served wine at the table. Such an action on my part would be godless and unconscionable! Would it be sinful for me to have a glass of wine in my own home when this person was not around? No, of course not! My liberty is not curtailed by their convictions, but neither must my liberty become an affront to their convictions. We must live in loving consideration of one another. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2).

    “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:19-23).
    Conclusion

    Drinking wine is not, in and of itself, a sinful action. Done responsibly, it can even be beneficial to some people (though certainly it is not recommended for all, especially for those with a tendency toward, or with a genetic history of, chemical dependency). Studies by doctors and researchers clearly show that there are certain medical advantages for some people, however, in a reasonable and regulated consumption of wine. Even the apostle Paul recognized some aspects of that reality, as evidenced in his advice to Timothy. Nevertheless, there are physical, psychological and spiritual dangers associated with the drinking of wine. These should be carefully and prayerfully weighed in any person’s decision with regard to whether he should or shouldn’t drink wine. One must especially consider the matter of influence on others, as discussed above.

    Some noted biblical personalities chose to abstain from the drinking of wine, perhaps for this very reason. This was their personal choice, and they should be applauded for their conviction. Daniel, for example, “made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank” (Dan. 1:8). Instead, he ate vegetables and drank water (vs. 12). Others, like John the Baptist, chose to abstain from certain foods and from wine as part of a vow before God. “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine” (Luke 7:33). This was also in fulfillment of the promise to his father Zacharias, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Again, such resolve on John’s part is commendable. One should not, however, seek to impose such personal conviction upon all other disciples the world over until the end of time. As Paul so clearly declares in Romans 14, we must each stand upon our own convictions before God, and we must accept one another, even when our individual convictions differ.

    There are issues much greater and far more eternally significant than eating and drinking. What fills our bellies is of far less importance than what fills our hearts! “Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8). “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:17-19). God has given us many good things to enjoy on this beautiful earth. Let us use them wisely and responsibly, doing all to His glory and for the edification of His One Body. With this focus, and guided by His precepts and principles, we cannot help but prosper in His peace.

Leave a Comment