Written by Drew on March 16th, 2006

Over the past few weeks we have been discussing Jesus’ first miracle in Cana and how it relates to the social drinking debate (see “Jesus and Social Drinking” and “Kool-Aid or Cana Cocktail?”). While we have disagreed on many points, it has been the consensus of our little corner of the blogosphere that this debate cannot be settled on the grounds of what Jesus created in John 2. For that reason, I thought I would answer a few questions that are more relevant to the discussion at hand.

1. Is alcohol really all that harmful? Yes! The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that alcohol use is implicated in 50% of all homicides, 50% of all fatal car accidents, 41% of all crimes, 33% of all suicides and a large proportion of drowning, boating and aviation deaths. Also the substance is responsible for health problems such as cancer, heart disease, brain damage, and cirrhosis of the liver (Isadore Rosenfeld, “Think Before You Drink,” Parade Magazine, April 6, 2003, p. 8).

2. Are any risks involved when a person drinks in moderation? According to the NIAAA, “moderate” drinking is defined as no more than one drink a day for most women, and no more than two drinks a day for most men. Even this low level of alcohol consumption poses dangerous risks, like strokes, motor vehicle crashes, harmful interactions with medications, birth defects, and shifts to heavier drinking.

3. But have studies not proven that light to moderate drinking can be good for your heart? Recent research has revealed that the drinking of wine in moderation reduces the risk of heart disease. However, that one benefit is not worth the risks involved. Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld advises against its use. “Alcohol’s downside far outweighs its benefits,” he says, “Alcohol as a nonprescription drug legally available to anyone over the national drinking age…is a sedative-hypnotic with a tranquilizing effect. It has no significant nutrients, vitamins or minerals. Alcohol is mainly empty calories—and its abuse can cause big trouble” (“Think…,” p. 8).

4. Doesn’t the Bible use “wine” in the alcoholic sense, even approving its use in some of those cases? Yes, but drinking alcoholic beverages in the first century does not justify drinking alcohol in the twenty-first century. Two things…

First of all, in biblical times wine was sometimes used for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23). Today, however, we have better drugs to treat our ailments effectively.

Secondly, comparing the wine of biblical times to its modern-day counterpart is like comparing apples to oranges. Not until the Middle Ages did the world know of concentrated alcohol. R. Laird Harris writes,

Wine was the most intoxicating drink known in ancient times. All the wine was light wine, i.e. not fortified with extra alcohol. Concentrated alcohol was only known in the Middle Ages when the Arabs invented distillation (“alcohol” is an Arabic word) so what is now called liquor or strong drink (i.e. whiskey, gin, etc.) and the twenty per cent fortified wines were unknown in Bible times. Beer was brweed by various methods, but its alcoholic content was light. The strength of natural wines [those used in Bible times, D.K.] is limited by two factors. The percentage of alcohol will be half of the percebntage of the sugar in the juice. And if the alcoholic content is much above 10 or 11 percent, the yeast cells are killed and fermentation ceases…To avoid the sin of drunkenness, mingling of wine with water was practiced (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 376).

Alcoholism was rare until the Middle Ages. Even when drunkenness occurred, deadly phenomena like drunk driving were impossible. If the Bible writers saw fit to warn readers of drunkenness in those days (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35) how much more emphatic should these warnings be today!

Christians ought to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11) and from “every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22). Knowing what we do about today’s alcohol, certainly these things would apply to the question of social drinking.


10 Comments so far ↓

  1. fitzage says:

    So, if wine was the most alcohol beverage in the Bible, what does “strong drink” mean? From what I’ve read, this was more alcoholic than wine.

    At any rate, alcohol level doesn’t really make any difference in this discussion.

    Also, while the Bible says to abstain from evil, it never says to abstain from something that is good because others use it for evil.

    I would dig deeper, but I’ve dealt with many of these arguments elsewhere and don’t know that I feel like getting into this discussion too deeply right now.

  2. fitzage says:

    I would also like to point you again to the link I posted on your previous article.

  3. fitzage says:

    And if mixing water with wine was a good thing, then why was it a sign of corruption in Isaiah 1:22?

  4. Drew Kizer says:

    C.S. Lewis had an interesting theory about evil. He said, “…in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel because they have a sexual perversion, which make cruielty cause a sensual pleasure in them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it–money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, or course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness, you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness….Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness” (Mere Christianity, p. 49).

    If the command “abstain from evil” only applied to things that are evil for evil’s sake, then it would apply to nothing. “Every form of evil” applies to things that are “lawful” but not “expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).

    I don’t see how you can say alcohol level doesn’t make a difference. It proves that twenty first century drinking cannot be judged by first century drinking.

    Isaiah 1:22 speaks of a practice meant to cheat the consumer into buying a watered-down product.

    The only explanation of all these things that will make sense is the one that harmonizes God’s warnings against drinking with the fact that alcoholic wine can be found in the Bible. Attempts to merely find alcohol in the Bible skirt the issue.

  5. fitzage says:

    My attempt is far from merely trying to find alcohol in the Bible. Rather, I take my position based on the fact that the Bible has much good to say about alcohol, while at the same time condemning the sin of drunkenness. This, therefore, is my position. Drink to the glory of God, but do not allow anything to become an idol, including alcohol, food, or whatever.

    Alcohol level doesn’t make a difference because, even if the level of alcohol was as low as 2 or 3 percent (as some claim, but I don’t agree with), they still drank much more than I do of my 5 or 6 percent alcohol beer, and also consumed a higher amount of alcohol than I do when I drink my Whit Russian’s with vodka and Kahlua.

    Alcohol is definitely lawful, and it is only your personal conviction that it is not expedient. I do not share this position, and think that I would rather be close to apostasy if I forbade partaking of the good gifts that God provides (I don’t remember where this passage is exactly).

    You claim that alcohol is wrong for all Christians, but you do not give sufficient evidence to make this claim. If you are convinced in your own mind that it is wrong for you to partake, I would never want to seduce you into partaking against your conscience. But when you take this position and try to make it mandatory for all believers you become legalistic.

    You can read my basic overview of the biblical teaching about alcohol on my blog in Alcohol and the Christian.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Why is it that the most activity that takes place on this bog is regarding the subject of alcohol? It is a shame that others don’t engage the articles presented, not just he ones dealing with alcohol, because there are a lot of great pieces on this blog. Now having said that, I would like to chime in on the conversation here.

    1. Is alcohol really all that harmful?

    Alcohol is not inherently harmful. Case in point, Paul’s advice to Timothy to drink a bit for medicinal purposes. And all the other myriad of passages all ready cited on it being a blessing. The harm is when people over-indulge. I have a tee-tottler friend who always makes the case that if a person has one beer then they are one beer drunk. Hence any type of drink is sinful. Not my line of reasoning.

    2. Are any risks involved when a person drinks in moderation?

    Well yes, but this a “watered down” argument. After all, are there risks when a person drives a car (unimpaired)? Well sure, but that doesn’t make driving sinful. There are also risks in eating in moderation. I knew a person who ate some bad seafood and developed a “flesh eating disease” and died 24 hours later. True Story! You get the idea.

    3.But have studies not proven that light to moderate drinking can be good for your heart?

    I don’t know this, “Dr. Rosenrosen.” He may just be trying to check out Alan Stanwyk’s file or something. (Sad attempt at a Fletch joke). Anyway, I can find a doctor to say anything. The fact is the medical community has already established that red wine is good for the heart and countries such as Greece who drink a lot of red wine along with a heavy Olive Oil diet has lower cases of heart disease. My cardiologist recommended a glass of red wine a night. I don’t partake for other reasons least of which would be that I thought it would be a sin to do so.

    4. Doesn’t the Bible use “wine” in the alcoholic sense, even approving its use in some of those cases?

    This is the strongest argument you offer.

    I would say in response to fitzage, we do not live in the first century and we have plenty of beverage alternatives to alcohol. Why not drink water, diet Coke, diet Orange Soda, diet Jolt, diet Mountain Dew, diet R.C. cola etc…. At least with these beverages you will only develop an addiction to caffeine and possible get cancer in the process.

    The point is why do you feel compelled to fight for the freedom to drink your beer and vodka. If at the very least the Christian principle that applies may be don’t financially support an industry that has contributed to the decline of the American family. Boycott Bud!

    I choose not to drink not because I don’t have the freedom to do such. Instead, I don’t want my child to be tempted with it in the house when he and his friends come over, I don’t want to contribute to an evil industry as the alcohol industry is, and I don’t want to been seen purchasing a beverage that consistently pays to advertise soft-core pornography.

    These are all valid reasons in my mind not to drink. Of course you have the freedom to drink a beer in your home. But the bigger questions is not does God permit to drink it but instead, is it wise for me to drink it?


    Arnold T. Pants esq.

  7. fitzage says:

    “I would say in response to fitzage, we do not live in the first century and we have plenty of beverage alternatives to alcohol. Why not drink water, diet Coke, diet Orange Soda, diet Jolt, diet Mountain Dew, diet R.C. cola etc…. At least with these beverages you will only develop an addiction to caffeine and possible get cancer in the process.”

    At least alcohol has some benefits. Can’t think of any for any of the other ones you mentioned besides water.

    I feel compelled to fight for my freedom because the Apostle Paul did. Also, the minute you start boycotting, you have to boycott almost every company in the world. Just look at all the companies that are owned by the parent company of Philip Morris. If we boycotted all of them, there wouldn’t be much left for us to partake of.

    And you may not realize this, but “soft-core pornography” is used to advertise everything today. I’m not saying that’s good, I’m just saying that it’s an impossible task (and something we see no biblical example of) to boycott every company that we have disagreements with.

    I think that there is great danger in forbidding things that God has given for our enjoyment, especially those that have been praised to the extent that wine is praised in the Bible.

    In regards to Drew’s statistics, I have a few of my own:

    Approximately 6% of American adults are what is classified as “heavy drinkers” by some researchers. This means men that have two or more drinks per day, or women who have 1 or more drink per day. Even these levels do not indicate problem drinking, so the number of drunkards and alcoholics is even smaller (although there could be a higher number of people who get drunk occasionally, but don’t drink that much on a regular basis).

    Contrast that to the fact that 60% of Americans are overweight. Which is the bigger problem? Obviously our addiction to food is much greater than our addiction to God as a country, and I would say the difference is even more pronounced in our churches, where gluttony is often the subject of joking, but many people don’t drink.

    My point is that you cannot solve a problem by abstinence (unless, of course, it’s something that God has demanded we abstain from). The solution, rather, is to turn our hearts to God; to make him the source of our satisfaction. Only then will we have the freedom to overcome our addictions without resorting to legalism.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Legalism gets such a bad rap these days. Why is it that everytime somebody is bashing legalism they are fighting for their right to flaunt a behavior that is “Well in your case” trite? So you want the freedom to “catch a buzz” “to take the edge off”, “to bring out the flavor in your steak,” We get the idea.

    Legalism in New Testament terms always refers to issues of salvation and not dietary preferences. I know I Know Romans 11-13 is about to be cited but before you go there keep in mind that when the Jews were requiring law obedience of the Gentiles they were legalistic. Covenant obedience was inherenlty salvific even when it boiled down to dietary laws.

    I take exception to your blatant critic of “legalism.” Legalism can be very productive. It works for my teen when I tell him it is against my Law that he drink and even when he does reach the legal age it will still be against my Law for him to drink in my house. See look? That wasn’t so bad was it. Brand me a legalist if you will, but I sure would rather raise a teenage boy in my legalist house than in your house of freedom. After all, freedoms of behaviour are suspiciously self-governing aren’t they.

    It may be you simply have a drinking problem and have found it convenient to make yourself a martyr. To that I say, “Eat Drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”


    Bill Grahmn

  9. The Berean Examiner says:

    Bill Grahmn,

    Can you define the words “legalism”and “legalistic” to me? “Legalism” is the work of Satan in the church. What do you think of “legalistic pattern theology”?

    And no, Fitzage do not have a drinking problem. Fitzage just “rightly divide the word of truth” on this subject. I also do not have a “drinking problem”. Why do you not understand that drinking in moderation is not a sin?

    Thank you for your reply,
    “The Berean Examiner”

  10. Ned says:

    The problem, Berean Examiner, is that these people in the Church of Christ cannot discern thruth. A veil covers their eyes.

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