Biblical Use and Abuse of Alcohol

Why Some Bible Preachers and Teachers Advocate Abstinence from Alcohol

Because alcohol is such a scourge on our society -- heavily contributing to highway fatalities (over 16,000/yr), domestic violence, divorce, child abuse, work loss, homicide, sexual promiscuity, etc., some evangelical preachers and teachers are convinced the Bible must teach abstinence from alcohol. Certainly there would be good reason for believing this is true since so much evil in our society has its roots in the consumption of alcohol.

New Testament Use of the Word, "oinos"

In order for evangelical preachers and teachers to advocate abstinence from alcohol on the basis of New Testament word usage, the word for wine, oinos, must be made to mean non-alcoholic grape juice in each case. To be honest with the text, such an interpretation of oinos cannot be made. Actually, "oinos" is used to mean both unfermented and fermented grape juice. One section of Jesus' teaching will suffice to clarify the question: "Neither do men pour new wine (oinos, not fermented), into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine (oinos, now fermented), will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved." Matthew 9:17. In this passage Jesus describes the natural process of fermentation in which gases are produced to the extent that they enlarge wineskins in the process. Old wineskins cannot take the expansion and therefore explode.

Because grape juice naturally ferments, it must be stored in new wineskins which can expand with the fermentation process. In this case, Jesus observes that both the wine and the new wineskins are preserved. Such preservation is absolutely necessary if the grape harvest is to be saved from one harvest to the next. So, wine was a common beverage in biblical times -- but not with a high alcoholic content as are some wines today.

Why Drunkenness is Condemned In Scripture

Since the New Testament word, "oinos," cannot be used to teach alcoholic abstinence, then what about drunkenness? Here there can be no doubt as to what Scripture teaches. In fact, drunkenness is listed along with other sinful activity -- when it is a lifestyle (a way of life) -- excluding such a one from being part of the kingdom of God.

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Someone who is habitually drunk cannot deceive himself into thinking that he/she is a Christian -- according to this passage. Such a way of life is on the path to eternal condemnation and does not characterize one who is part of the kingdom of God. Thankfully, there is a way out from every lifestyle described in the above text -- what Scripture calls being "in Christ." "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, and new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17. Old destructive lifestyles are gone -- left behind. Or as the above text teaches, an individual who becomes a believer in Christ is therefore washed, sanctified, and justified -- those old lifestyles becoming a thing of the past.

If one is controlled by alcohol through drunkenness, the Holy Spirit cannot be in control. "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit." Ephesians 5:18. And as believers, we are commanded to live by the Spirit: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Galatians 5:16

Just by way of observation, if "oinos" in the New Testament is always unfermented as some teach, then Ephesians 5:18 would make no sense since the verse clearly indicates that one can get drunk on wine, "oinos."

Why It is Wise for Believers Not to Drink Alcohol

As can be learned from the first section of this document, abstinence from alcohol cannot be a test of Christianity. Wine was a common beverage in biblical times and was consumed by most people. However, as can also be learned from the second section of this document, drunkenness is a sin which prohibits one from entering the kingdom of God -- and causes untold damage in our society.

Why It is Wise for Believers Not to Drink Alcohol

As can be learned from the first section of this document, abstinence from alcohol cannot be a test of Christianity. Wine was a common beverage in biblical times and was consumed by most people. However, as can also be learned from the second section of this document, drunkenness is a sin which prohibits one from entering the kingdom of God -- and causes untold damage in our society.

What is the better part of wisdom for believers? Simply, choosing not to start drinking at all. There are some key Bible passages which give some key principles, Romans 14:1 - 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 8. These principles have to do with our mutual responsibility to one another -- whether to fellow Christians or those outside the faith. What we do does have a profound influence on those around us.

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do to anything else that will cause your brother to fall." Romans 14:19-21

Taking a drink does not condemn a Christian to hell, but if we are wise, we will take heed to what Romans 14:19-21 is teaching. No alcoholic ever started drinking with the goal of becoming controlled by alcohol. No drunk driver ever drank with the purpose of killing or maiming someone on the highway. No drunkard ever began drinking with the purpose of eventually divorcing because of it, committing domestic violence, or child abuse. No alcoholic ever started drinking in order to be sexually promiscuous -- or to violently harm someone else. In other words, drinking leading to alcoholism always begins quite innocently -- a few drinks at a time. Would it not be better to choose not to drink at all?

Can a believer drink with a meal or at a social occasion? Most certainly, but there is always that individual who will not stop with just a drink or two. The key teaching of Romans 14 is quite simple. Why start doing something that can cause yourself or someone else to stumble -- in this case, to fall prey to drunkenness.

1 Corinthians 8:9 confirms this principle: "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." Is a believer free to drink alcohol? Yes? Is a believer free to cause someone to stumble, i.e. to transition from occasional drinking into alcoholism? No.

Most of us have attended Christian weddings where the marriage is inspiring and many tears of happiness are shed. Then, unfortunately, it is more and more the custom for receptions to be held at country clubs or restaurants where there is an open bar. Invariably there are some of the guests who become glassy-eyed and begin to lose control. Tongues are embarrassingly loosened. Recently after one of these wedding receptions a young man who drank too much was arrested for a DUI as he drove home. Thankfully he did not have an accident -- killing or injuring someone.

Rather than end up with situations like this, would it not be the better part of wisdom for Christians to serve other forms of beverages at occasions like receptions or family gatherings? As Christians we need to respect the teaching of passages like Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 which clearly direct us to conduct ourselves in such a way so as not to cause someone else to stumble. If we have anything to do with what beverages are served at an occasion, it would be much better to skip the alcohol. And if we are part of an occasion where alcohol is served, it would be much better to drink some other beverage.

What about what we do in the privacy of our homes? The principle of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 still applies. In our homes we have a profound influence on our children and those who spend time with us within our walls. How sad if our children grow up to become ensnared by alcohol because they got started drinking moderately with us. In the process of parenting it is good to teach our children that alcohol in and of itself is not evil, but when it takes control, (like any addictive substance), it becomes terribly evil. Then, it is not we who are in control -- but the Enemy of our souls who exploits our loss of inhibition. And this is always a dangerous position in which to be.

In and of itself, alcohol is not evil, but when it takes control of our minds and bodies, it is absolutely evil -- and becomes a tool of the devil. Because there is so much havoc in our world due to drunkenness, it is better not be involved in drinking alcohol at all. The principles of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 are to be taken seriously by believers in this regard. So much tragedy would be avoided if this were the case. Why should we bring the scourge of drunkenness upon ourselves and others when it could be avoided?

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