CHRISTIAN VIEW ON DRINKING WINE
In the Scriptures, we have learned a few things about alcohol. In response to this question, did Jesus drink alcohol? In the book of John chapter 2, the first miracle that Jesus performed was to convert water into wine at a wedding. It was a very good wine to the extent that immediately the ruler of the feast tasted the wine he went to the bridegroom and said, ‘You usually save the bad wine for last, but for the last, you saved the finest wine’, and that was Jesus first miracle.
But Scripture doesn’t offer anything but a flat-out denunciation of alcohol. However, on the contrary, there are good things that are said about wine. In Psalm 104, for example, it is said that God has given wine to the joyful hearts of people. On the other side, there are warnings about the misuse of wine and the abuse of alcohol. Scripture warns us again and again of the dangers of drunkenness. You have it in Proverbs 23; you also have it in chapter 5 of Ephesians, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.”
Many good things are said about wine but caution needs to be taken. And when Christians talk about this topic of drinking alcohol now, we have to take all of those things into account. We have to know, on the one hand, that wine itself is a blessing from God. That’s what Psalm 104 states. There’s nothing wrong with the wine itself, so we can compare that to many other things that can be referred to as a gift from God. For instance sex is a gift from God. Sex is a good thing, and there is nothing wrong with having sex in as much as it is not done out of wedlock. As Christians, we aren’t opposed to sex. Money is a gift from God, and a job is a gift from God. There is a godly desire to work, to be creative, and to be productive. These are the gifts of Heaven. Relationships are gifts from God; food is a gift from God. But all of these things can be abused.
We could make an idol out of all of these things. As Timothy Keller likes to suggest, we can take a decent thing and turn it into something ultimate, and then it becomes an idol.
And then, if we take this good gift of wine, and turn it into the ultimate thing, and continue to use it in ways that God has cautioned us not to do, and we continue to use it in ways that God has prohibited us to use it, then that is when it becomes very harmful.
We can see, at times, the healthy use of alcohol — it can be used to celebrate in a positive way, where there are moderation and restraint — and, of course, we can see all sorts of destruction that result from the misuse of alcohol. And so, as Christians, we ought to take a cautious path, because, on the one hand, we do not flatly reject what the Bible says God has offered as a good gift, and, on the other hand, we do not collapse into the excesses of our society.
And then, for all Christian thinking about this, another thing that needs to come into play in our thoughts is the concept of liberty and equality in the Scriptures. We have freedom, we have been given freedom in Christ, but the New Testament specifically states that love for others is still intended to overshadow freedom. So there will be occasions where there may be something that God would encourage a Christian to do. Still, there may be a scenario where it would not be good to do so because it could influence another believer to sin. So the alcohol would be one of those situations.
You may be free to drink a beer. Nothing’s wrong with drinking a beer or drinking a bottle of wine. But to drink in the presence of another Christian who is a new covert and who has a history of alcohol abuse, or a person who was addicted to alcohol before he became a Christian, doing such could present the new convert with a temptation to sin that could be very destructive to that person’s faith. And so, in such a situation, your love for that person is going to outweigh the right or privilege that you have when you think about alcohol. Love trumps liberty. We have to put the others ahead of us when we talk of our rights, and the privileges that God has given us.
Many biblical references to drinking wine are positive and negative, actual and symbolic, descriptive, and instructional. Both archeological evidence and written records indicate the important cultivation of grapes in ancient Israel and the popularity of wine-drinking. The obvious processing potential of archeological remains and numerous biblical references to wine indicates that it was the main beverage of ancient Israelites.
Bible Dictionary of Easton says, “The sin of drunkenness must not have been rare in the old days, for it is described literally or metaphorically more than seventy times in the Bible,” although some claim it was a ‘vice of the rich rather than the poor.’ Biblical interpreters generally agree that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures condemn ordinary drunkenness as a serious spiritual and moral failure in such passages (all in the New International Version):
• Proverbs 23:20 says, “Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh, for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.”
• Isaiah 5:11 – 12 says, “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them. And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands”
• Galatians 5:19–21 says, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
• Ephesians 5:18 says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.”
The results of the drunkenness of Noah and Lot were intended to serve as examples of the dangers and repulsiveness of intemperance. The title figure in the Book of Judith made use of the Assyrian General Holofernes’ drunkenness to defeat him in a heroic victory for the Jewish people and an embarrassing defeat for the general who had planned to seduce Judith.
Proverbs 31:4–7 is a contested but significant text. Some Christian say that alcohol was forbidden to kings at all times, while most interpreters believe that only its misuse is advised against here. Some contend that the latter guidelines on perishing should be interpreted as sarcasm in contrast with the preceding verses, while others claim that beer and wine were meant as a cordial one.
SACRIFICES AND FEASTS
The Hebrew’s tradition recommended wine for use in festive celebrations and sacrificial ceremonies. In particular, fermented wine was offered regularly as a drink offering, part of the first offering of fruit, and various supplementary offerings. The wine was stored in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the King had his private stores.
The banquet hall was called the “house of wine,” and wine was used as a regular drink at most secular and religious occasions, including celebration and hospitality, Jewish holidays such as the Passover, and burials. Jesus introduced the Eucharist at the Last Supper, which took place at the celebration of the Passover and set aside the bread and the fruit of the vine, which were present there as the symbols of the New Covenant. St. Paul also scolded the Romans for getting drunk on wine at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
BRINGER OF JOY
The Bible also refers in general terms to wine as a source of joy, especially in the context of food and celebration, e.g.:
• Psalm 104:14–15 says, ” He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that makes glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart.”
Gregory of Nyssa made a distinction between the types of wine (intoxicating and non-intoxicating) – “note that wine that causes drunkenness, schemes against the senses, and kills the body, but the wine which the Prophet recommends gladdens the heart.”
• Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts thy works.”
Ben Sira discusses the use of wine in several places, stressing enjoyment, prudence, and common sense.
VOWS AND DUTIES
Some people in the Jewish Nation were forbidden to take part in the wine drinking because of their vows they’ve made and the responsibilities they have been saddled with. It was forbidden for kings to use alcohol because their decisions would be unfair. It was forbidden for priests on duty, even though the priests were given “the finest new wine” from the first-fruit drink offerings outside the tabernacle and the temple.
The Nazirites were forbidden to not only take wine but also vinegar, grapes, and raisins as part of their ascetic rule. However, when the Nazirites had fulfilled their vows, they were required to present wine as part of their sacrificial offerings and to drink it. Although John the Baptist followed such a regimen, Jesus did not do so during his three years of ministry.
The Rechabites, a sub-tribe of the Kenites, promised never to drink wine, to live in houses, or to plant fields or vineyards, not because of any “threat to wise living” of the latter practices, but due to their devotion to a nomadic lifestyle, by not being bound to any specific piece of land. The Rechabites’ strict adherence to the order of their father “not to drink wine is commended and contrasted with the failure of the Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem to listen to their God.
In the time of the Babylonian captivity, Daniel and his fellow Jews refrained from the King’s wine and meat because they saw it as defiling in some way, although it is not clear in the text how they would defile the Jews. A later passage indicates that Daniel had been drinking wine at times, although it may not have been the King’s. Likewise, Judith refused the Assyrian General’s wine, though she drank wine from the stores she brought with her.
Christians are instructed about abstinence and their duty to immature Christians: “All food is clean, but it is not right for a man to eat anything that lets someone else stumble. It is better not to drink wine or eat meat or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”
Wine has been used for various medical purposes in ancient times, and the Bible refers to some of these practices. This was possibly used as an anesthetic for mild pain, and many interpreters say that it was in this capacity that wines were given to Jesus at his crucifixion.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus relates the story of a man from Samaria who helps a wounded man he found on his, way, he bound up his wound, pouring oil and wine on his wounds. Oil mixed with wine was a popular treatment in the ancient world for the healing of wounds and the alleviation of their pain.
Paul advises Timothy not only to drink tea but to use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and recurrent infirmities. Some have indicated that this advice is especially linked to the purification of low-quality drinking water. In contrast, others say that it was meant to aid digestion and general illness.
READING THE BIBLE AS HAVING NO POSITIVE REFERENCES TO ALCOHOL
Some view some verses in the Bible as not relating to alcohol, claiming that all the positive references to wine in the Scriptures apply to non-alcoholic drinks and all negative references to alcoholic beverages. The advocates of this view, known as the “two-wine” position, argue that the Greek and Hebrew words “wine” in most English versions are generic terms for fruit juices; the context determines whether or not the beverage is alcoholic. It is known that even in earlier periods of the English language, such as 1611, when King James’ version was written, “wine” may refer to non-alcoholic drinks as well as alcoholic beverages. The view of the two-wine is popular in conservative evangelicalism.