In previous and more godly generations there really was very little debate about this. In the second volume of his immortal work Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that 100,000 American men had publicly bound themselves with a vow to not drink any alcoholic beverages. That was in 1840!1 Christians not drinking alcohol is not a new thing. In fact, just the opposite is true. Christians arguing that drinking alcohol is acceptable, that really is the new thing!
What guidance does the Bible give us on this subject?
The subject of drinking is an extensive one in Scripture, and it bears a good bit of study.
I. Drunkenness is forbidden
This is the one point on which both sides (usually) agree. And with good reason:
Deuteronomy 21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. 21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
1 Corinthians 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Some form of the word drunkard is mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible, and it is consistently negative. Rarely will you find anyone who claims to be a Christian who disagrees with this, although sometimes people are truly amazing in their ability to ignore what the Bible says. But after this first point, the disagreements begin. Those disagreements are unnecessary, though, to an honest student of Scripture. Here are the facts.
II. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for wine refer both to fermented and un-fermented grape juice.
This being true, context must determine what was being consumed, and whether or not it should have been consumed. The fact that the word “wine” today means “fermented grape juice” does not at all prove that what the Bible means by the word “wine” is the same thing as what we have today. For those who would protest at this point, I have a question: are you gay? Without evening knowing you, the correct answer is that yes, you usually are! You see, the Bible says:
James 2:3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
Gay clothing did not mean “homosexual clothing.” The word gay meant “nice, splendid.” The fact that the word gay now means something completely different does not allow us to change the original meaning of the word in the text of Scripture!
So again, the word wine in the Bible did not automatically mean fermented. And here is where the Bible begins to define itself. In his work Biblical Wines or Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients, William Patton noted that “In all fungi, analysis has detected the presence of sugar, which during their vital process is NOT resolved into alcohol and carbonic acid; but, after their death, from the moment a change in their color and consistency is perceived, vinous fermentation sets in.” 2
Notice please the fact that until there is a change in color, fermentation has not begun. Now please take note of this Scripture:
Proverbs 23:31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
That emphasized phrase is letting us know that fermented wine is being spoken of. And what is the command given concerning this fermented wine? We are told not to even LOOK at it! God was so intent on our staying away from alcoholic beverages that He told us not to even let our eyes wander that way. That is a strong prohibition! It is also a clear indication that the word wine in the Bible refers both to fermented and unfermented grape juice, because we later see Paul telling Timothy:
1 Timothy 5:23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.
Was Paul telling Timothy to disobey the clear command of Proverbs 23:31? No, of course not. Timothy knew that the wine that Paul was referring to was unfermented, not the fermented, color changed wine that was prohibited by Proverbs 23:31.
III. Whenever fermented wine is mentioned in the Bible, it is always mentioned negatively both by specific words, and by the effects that followed
Genesis 9:20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
Noah clearly drank that which was fermented, and what followed was negative, not positive. He got drunk, he got naked, and his son saw him and mocked him.
Noah should be given some latitude in this event. His character, according to God himself, was this:
Genesis 7:1 And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.
Noah was a good man, a righteous man. What happened with his wine and drunkenness is clear. With the raining down of the water vapor barrier during the flood, the climate of earth and the effect of the sun altered dramatically. Noah was caught by surprise by what his wine had become. Nonetheless, this is a clear instance of fermented drink producing negative effects, not positive. Here is another vivid description of this truth:
Proverbs 23:29 Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? 30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. 32 At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. 33 Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. 34 Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. 35 They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.
The picture painted here is universally negative! Woe, sorrow, contentions, babbling, wounds, red eyes, biting like a serpent, stinging like an adder, being drawn to strange women, talking filthy, these are the effects of fermented drink!
Throughout the rest of Scripture this pattern holds true:
Habakkuk 2:15 Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!
1 Samuel 25:36 And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. 37 But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.
Alcoholic drink caused Ahasuerus to lose his wife. Alcoholic drink caused king Belshazzar to ignore the armies outside his walls, and on that very night he died. Not one positive thing is ever shown in Scripture as having come from a fermented drink.
IV. In Bible times, even the fermented wine was mixed with water
This is another fact that modern proponents of alcoholic drink either do not know or choose to ignore. What we have today that is called “wine” bears no resemblance to what was consumed in Bible days. Patton cites multiple sources of Bible days on this. The lowest proportion was 2 parts wine to 5 parts water, and it went up to as much as the recommendation of Hippocrates that the best proportion was 20 parts water to 1 part wine! 3
V. The laws of testimony and opportunity forbid the drinking of alcoholic beverages
What do we mean by “The laws of testimony and opportunity?” We mean that there are some passages that gives us governing principles for every single thing we ever do. Here they are:
1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
Simply put, we are not just to avoid doing things that ARE bad, we are to refuse to do anything that even LOOKS bad! How can a Christian be a “social drinker” and not violate this principle? A Christian looks exactly the same while putting a beer to his lips as a lost drunkard does when putting a beer to his lips!
Romans 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
This is often called the “no provision clause” of Scripture. It simply means that we are never even allowed to give ourselves the opportunity to do wrong. A person never became a drunk without taking the first drink. A person who never takes the first drink never becomes a drunk.
Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
We are not to be conformed to the world. We are not to be like them. We are to be different. What we do in our bodies does matter!
Conclusion: In order to believe that Jesus made alcoholic wine out of water, in order to believe that Jesus or the Bible sanctions the drinking of alcoholic beverages, here is what one must believe:
1. He must believe that the Jesus who, as the Son of God, authored the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, wrote one thing in Proverbs 22:1 and Proverbs 23:29-35, yet disobeyed what He Himself wrote.
2. He must believe that he himself is too strong to ever become a drunk. In so believing, he must regard himself as better than the apostle Paul who said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing:” Romans 7:18
3. He must believe that everyone else experienced negative effects due to alcohol, but that he himself will not.
4. He must believe that he can be a good testimony while smelling like beer.
5. He must believe that the same Bible that condemns drinking alcoholic beverages also supports drinking alcoholic beverages.
But in order to believe that Jesus made non alcoholic wine, and that non alcoholic wine is all He Himself ever drank, the only thing that one must believe is that all of Scripture works together, and that all of the passages on the subject harmonize to give us the entire picture.
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, Vol. 2. P. 109 New York, Knopf
- William Patton, Biblical Wines or Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients, P. 17, Sane Press, 1974, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Ibid. P. 50