It has been said (and probably with a fair amount of accuracy) that if you try hard enough you can justify almost any position on any topic from the Bible. Often there is little, or no, desire, or even willingness, to seek, or allow for, balance – or even to hear verses of Scripture that appear contrary to one’s dogma. The result, in some cases, is that the person’s dogma is given more importance than Scripture. When that occurs, I fear the person is in no better a position than those to whom Jesus spoke the harsh words of warning in Mark 7 et al regarding placing the traditions of men above the word of God. One “sensitive” area where this problem seems to exist is in the understanding of the use of wine and/or other potentially intoxicating beverages. In most cases, the very moment a person hints at being either for, or against, it, that person is immediately labeled – categorized into a certain “group” and treated accordingly, and there is NO middle ground (regardless of what the Scriptures say). But what DO the Scriptures say?
This article is NOT intended in any way to condone social drinking nor to supply justification for "drinking". If you walk away with that conclusion, you have missed the intended point. Our bent toward sin and general lack of self control are seen everywhere with the results of alcoholism (addiction) and drunkenness (which according to the Scriptures is an abomination). Today's social drinking generally involves potent distilled liquors, not simply wine and most often such substances are not drunk as a beverage for the sake of taste and refreshment (such as a glass of wine accompanying a meal), but as a highly concentrated drug taken for "the effect". Millions use alcohol as a drug. It is used not to "gladden the heart" (Psalm 104) but to escape reality.
Exercising good judgment - putting others first (before our own selfish pleasures - is far more important than the exercise of any liberty (whether real or perceived) that we may have. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 8:9 " But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak."
In Romans 14:13-21 we read: "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these thing is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak."
Peter writes, in 1 Peter 4:3-5 "For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead."
Paul makes it clear in Galatians 5 that drunkenness is among those things that disqualifies a person from the kingdom of heaven!
We also know from the Scriptures of something called a Nazirite vow whereby a person voluntarily, purposefully abstained from any and all alcohol - we read that in Numbers 6:2-4 ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin."
Having said that, however, for those who decry any and all use of any kind of alcohol on Biblical grounds, it seems to us that the Scriptures are being made to state what they do not state. We have seen people who were SO proud that they had never touched a single drop of alcohol! Their pride perhaps reminds us of the account in Luke 18:10-14: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We may know first-hand the dangers of alcohol abuse and mis-use and so we call Scriptures to our defense. But so often we make the Scriptures to say what we want them to say rather than letting them speak for themselves - as the oracles of God that they are. So what DO the Scriptures say?
(Please note the Lexicon information and numerical references at the end of this page)
Some contend that “wine” is merely grape juice. There are specific Hebrew words that pertain to newly pressed grape juice. In the following verse, the word for freshly pressed grape juice is NOT used. It is simply a word for “wine” which means strong, fermented wine. What is challenging is that the “strong wine” is to be used for a “drink offering” – like other items are used for other kinds of offerings.
Numbers 28:7 "And the drink offering thereof shall be the fourth part of an hin for the one lamb: in the holy place shalt thou cause the strong wine (7941) to be poured unto the LORD for a drink offering."
The following verse is particularly challenging – it has to do with how a portion of a tithe was to be used!
De 14:26 "And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine (3196), or for strong drink (7941), 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 ARE some verses where there is prohibition against ANY use – but in context you find such prohibitions for certain people in certain situations (e.g. nazarite vow) and not as a general rule for all. This is demonstrated in the verses below.
Judges 13:4 "Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine (3196) nor strong drink (7941), and eat not any unclean thing:"
Judges 13:7 "But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine (3196) nor strong drink (8354), neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death."
Judges 13:14 "She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine (3196) or strong drink (7941), nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe."
Perhaps noteworthy in the last verse is that a distinction is made between (a) that which comes from the vine (grape juice?), (b) wine (if they are the same thing, then this is redundant), and (c) strong drink.
When warnings ARE applied in a general sense, they are warnings against excess, not prohibitions against all use.
Proverbs 20:1 "Wine (3196) is a mocker, strong drink (7941) is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." Question: If wine is “just” grape juice, does it make sense that it is a mocker ?
The following verse should be of particular concern if consumption of a single drop of alcohol is a sin (“a violation of the Scriptures”), because why would the Scriptures even hint at, let alone state outright, the following:
Proverbs 31:6 "Give strong drink (7941) unto him that is ready to perish, and wine (3196) unto those that be of heavy hearts."
It may be that the strong drink referred to here is what was offered to Jesus on the cross. He rejected that drink. Some would infer that is evidence of the sinfulness of the drink. More likely it is indicative of the Savior not accepting anything less than the fullest suffering for our sins – accepting nothing to make it any easier.
Matt. 11:18-19 and Luke 7:33-34 make strong inference that Jesus drank wine. If He, the sinless one, DID in fact do so, how do we justify a position that says to touch a drop of alcohol is a sin.
In the verse below, we see again that, in context, the sin is in the excess (drunkenness can clearly be shown to be sinful):
For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine (3632), revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:
Deacons are pretty high up there in most peoples’ minds – in the list of qualifications to be a deacon, it was NOT said that the man must be a teetotaler – it says he must have self-control such that he is not one to use it in excess.
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine (3631), not greedy of filthy lucre;
In this next verse we find Paul (an Apostle) giving instruction to Timothy (a Pastor):
Drink no longer water, but use a little wine (3631) for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.
One more thought....
Luke 7:33-34 "For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon'. The Son of Man [that's Jesus] has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'"
Lexicon information - Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament)
As can be seen from the list below, there are a number of Hebrew words that have to do with “wine” or some form thereof.
02561 - red wine; rmx; chemer
02562 - wine; rmx; chamar (Aramaic),
03196 - wine; !yy; yayin
03342 - wine; bqy; yeqeb
04469 - mixed wine; $omm; mamcak
05435 - wine; abo; cobe'
06025 - wine; bn[; `enab [grapes]
06071 - new wine, or sweet wine; oyo[; `aciyc
07941 - strong wine; rkX; Shekar [fermented; intoxicating]
08321 - choice wine; qrX; soreq
08492 - wine; Xwryt; tiyrowsh [freshly pressed]
In the Greek there are also a number of words translated “wine”. They are as follows:
1098 - new wine; gleukos
3631 - wine; oinos
3632 - excess of wine; oinophlugia [drunkenness]
3820 - old wine; palaios
3943 - given to wine; paroinos