Generally, it seems Bible-affirming Christians agree that drinking to the point of drunkenness is sinful. However, total abstinence of alcoholic beverages is viewed by the majority of the “Christian” world as puritanical and antiquated. There’s lots of talk about moderation and Christian liberty combined with distortions and contortions of biblical passages cited by the moderate drinking crowd. Others, like myself, are firmly planted on the side of complete alcoholic self-denial.
The Three Paths to Alcoholic Abstinence
There are essentially three paths leading to complete alcoholic abstinence. Path one, personal experiences, history, hurt, conflict, danger, abuse, and heartache associated with drinking either due to their addiction or the habits of someone close to them. These real-life experiences are deeply ingrained and hard to argue against because they are so compelling. Typically, I find this to be the most common path leading people to take an unwavering stance against drinking. Path two, a practical and moral approach against alcohol by observing the destruction it causes from a distance and recognizing that far more evil than good is associated with its use. Path three begins with a biblical grounding and proper application of biblical absolutes and principles, leading to a doctrine of total alcoholic abstinence.
Each of these paths are good, but without the inclusion of path three (right biblical doctrine), we are merely giving great advice rather than a true spiritual direction. That’s not to say anecdotal experiences, opinions, testimonies, observations, and innate moral wisdom aren’t powerful. Those things are essential and persuasive. This article will include those arguments against alcohol as well. However, there seems to be so much biblical illiteracy and confusion on this subject. It’s becoming far more crucial for the Church to recenter the focus of our anti-alcohol stance firmly around the Bible. If we could learn to merge these three powerful paths, it would forge a highway for people to access easily. So, we’ll walk down these three paths and culminate with a hard look at what the Bible has to say about the subject.
Practical Objections to Alcohol
Millions of people worldwide abstain from alcohol without any Scriptural grounding or religious affiliation because they’ve seen the dangers it poses. It’s not hard to pick on alcohol because it leaves a wake of devastation everywhere it goes. Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States, coming after tobacco. A person who succumbs to excessive alcohol use loses a potential of thirty years of life. As many as forty percent of all the hospital beds across the country are used to treat health conditions that develop from alcoholism.The epidemic is so bad that seventeen percent of men in the general population and eight percent of women will meet the criteria for alcoholism in their lifetime.
And those stats are only a reflection of individuals who obtained treatment. Many millions more suffer from alcohol-related issues and never receive any diagnosis or treatment. Many statistics indicate (and I’ve perused them, so you don’t have to do the tedious work) that roughly fifty-six percent of Americans suffer from alcohol dependence. Another subset under that stat may not be physically dependent, but their drinking has long-lasting social consequences on their health, family, friendships, and productivity. Drinking is a proven contributor to suicide. Many drink to forget, but in the end, it only worsens their problems. The vast majority of rapes in the U.S. involve alcohol. Thirty percent of all driving fatalities each year are directly related to alcohol. The U.S. spends 199 billion dollars per year, trying in vain to stop this problem. This list could go on and on (you can read all the links at the end of this article if you’re interested).
The Dragon that Won’t Let Go
What stands out to me from the mountains of data collected is how few people break free from the grip of alcohol. Governments spend billions of dollars a year trying to solve the problems. Thousands of privately funded organizations work admirably to help people stay sober. Yet, the data shows only about ten percent of the people who complete these programs remain sober long term. Human attempts to cure what many scientists call a drinking epidemic have been tepid at best. For example, by classifying alcoholism as a disease but treating the substance itself (the actual alcohol) as harmless, society lulls millions of victims into the clutches of a ruthless dragon called alcohol addiction. Society gives the false impression that drinking is harmless, frivolous, fun, and only problematic for a small minority of “sick” people. Yet, no one begins drinking, hoping, or expecting to be dependent on drinking. By refusing to take the problem seriously and not defining alcohol as the dangerous dragon that won’t let go, society is complicit in the staggering loss of life and potential caused by drinking.
One More Major Practical Objection to Alcohol
You could probably pick out a stranger on the street in five seconds and hear stories about how their family hurts because of alcohol. Massive percentages of parents are missing in action either emotionally, spiritually, or physically because they self-medicate with alcohol. This brings enormous dissonance and disconnection in the lives of children. Even if the children don’t imitate their parents drinking patterns, they live with emotional scars that never seem to heal. Divorce rates are intrinsically tied to drinking. Drinking is a leading cause of marital unfaithfulness, adultery, emotional abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, and psychological distancing. The drinker rarely sees themself as the problem. Meaning they project blame on the innocent people around them. Or maybe the drinker has legitimate grievances that people around them care deeply about, but the alcohol fogs their brain and keeps them from finding lasting solutions to their woes. They begin fighting the people who care about them the most. The dragon of drinking causes them to be at odds with God, which moves them further down the rabbit hole of turmoil. In my opinion, these practical moral objections to alcohol are reasons enough to abstain completely.
But Don’t People Drink in the Bible?
The Bible is perplexingly silent on wine or alcohol in the Genesis account from Creation to the Flood. Interestingly, the great evils of Nimrod and the degeneration of humanity after the Fall in the Garden of Eden wasn’t directly linked to rampant alcoholism. Some assume Jesus’ mention of pre-Flood people’s eating, drinking, and giving in marriage (Matthew 24:38, Luke 17:26-28) is a reference to alcoholism. However, when taken literally, the Greek word drinking Jesus used doesn’t necessarily imply drunkenness.[i] Jesus’ overall point about pre-Flood people was their lack of awareness and unwillingness to heed the signs of coming judgment. Indeed, all kinds of wickedness must have been swirling around within the human condition. Still, their most profound problem was their refusal to seek after God. The sinful human tendency to avoid God is still humanity’s most significant problem. Jesus knew complacency would become even more acute in the Last Days (Matthew 24:39-41), so He warned us to avoid the trap of assuming everything will always just be normal.
Noah Gets Drunk
This brings us to the curious situation of Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8) getting drunk (Genesis 9:21). We don’t have many details; Noah planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:20), drank wine, and became intoxicated (Genesis 9:21). The Bible is commendable in that it never tries to cover up the flawed nature of its heroes. Whether or not Noah intended to get drunk hardly matters in the grand scheme of the story. His drunkenness produced nakedness (Genesis 9:21-22), a condition already marked by God as deeply shameful (Genesis 3:7-11, 21). Ham accidentally discovered his father’s scandalous condition and told his brothers Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:22). When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor and realized what Ham had done to him, he immediately pronounced a curse on the descendants of Ham (Genesis 9:24-25).
The Awful Aftermath of Noah’s Drunkenness
Speculation abounds as to what Ham did to his father to warrant such a harsh judgment.[ii] It’s safe to stick with the context and conclude that Ham took on a demeanor of disrespect towards his father. Rather than respectfully covering Noah’s nakedness and preserving his dignity, Ham gossiped about it to his brothers. Shem and Japheth wisely backed into their father’s tent and covered his shame without looking (Genesis 9:23). Noah’s failure is not a biblical license to excuse drunkenness. Noah was pre-law and pre-revelation, operating as best he could in a brand-new world full of uncertainty. He fell short, and the Bible wisely gives us the first recorded consequences of fermented wine. The Flood didn’t rid the universe of sin. It just gave humanity a fresh start. This tragic episode in Noah’s life story serves as a reminder of human righteousness’s frailty. It’s astounding how relevant Noah’s drunken failure is in today’s world. Wine lowered inhibitions, ushered in shameful nakedness and ripped a family apart. And, thousands of years later, intoxication is doing the same thing but on an epic scale.
It Just Gets Worse
The Bible’s second mention of drunkenness is even more horrific than the first. Lot had just barely escaped the fiery judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29). He took his two surviving daughters to live in a cave because he feared the surrounding people (Genesis 19:30). His two daughters hatched a disgusting plan to get their father drunk so that they could have incestuous relations with him (Genesis 19:31-35). They desired to have children and preserve their future in some twisted way. Clearly, all those years living in Sodom had warped their morals. Their plan was successful to Lot’s abysmal shame, and from those incestuous children, two of Israel’s most antagonistic tribes were birthed: The Moabites and the Ammonites (Genesis 19:36).
This passage doesn’t explicitly condemn drunkenness or incest; it doesn’t have to. Every Israelite reader would have known these were sins to be avoided because two of Israel’s most troublesome enemies were spawned due to Lot’s drunken actions.[iii] Again, the Bible demonstrates that alcohol is at the center of familial brokenness, terrible judgment, and sexual deviancy. Furthermore, a pattern of generational curses and consequences emerges only nineteen chapters into the Bible directly linked to alcohol. The Bible becomes much more explicit and forceful in its condemnation of alcohol later, but these early chapters give implied warnings about alcohol’s evils. The Bible consistently sheds a negative light on drinking and the fallout surrounding it.
More Unfavorable Mentions
Nabal died of a stroke after insulting David and throwing a drunken party (1 Samuel 25:1-44). His name means “fool,” which fits perfectly with his actions. In one of King David’s vilest moments, he intentionally got Uriah drunk while trying to cover up that he had impregnated the poor man’s wife. When that didn’t work, King David arranged for Uriah to be killed (2 Samuel 11:1-26). Zimri assassinated wicked King Elah of Israel while Elah was drunk, fulfilling the prophecy of Jehu (1 Kings 16:7-14). A pagan king named Ben-Hadad made a strategic blunder in battle while in a drunken state (1 Kings 20:15-21). Interestingly misfortune befalls each of these people from Noah to King Ben-Hadad either while in their drunken stupor or shortly after they woke up.[iv] In my opinion, these stories alone give compelling reasons a wise Christian should avoid alcohol entirely without needing a single explicit biblical command.
Old Testament Warnings Against Alcohol: The Prophet Joel
4 That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten, and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten, and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten. 5 Awake, ye drunkards, and weep; and howl, all ye drinkers of wine, because of the new wine; for it is cut off from your mouth (Joel 1:4-5).
The prophet Joel viewed the locust plague as a manifestation of God’s displeasure due to His people’s sins, and, quite appropriately, he directed his first great caution, “Awake,” to a prominent class of sinners always present in any wicked society, the drunkards. The destruction of all vegetation, including the vineyards, would have interrupted and cut off the supply of intoxicants for years to come. Notably, Joel did not address this class as unfortunates overcome by some innocent disease. The Biblical view of drinking intoxicants and wallowing in drunkenness relates such conditions to wickedness and not to disease. As Shakespeare put it:[v]
O thou invisible spirit of wine, If thou hast no name to be known by, let Us call thee devil.[vi]
Unlike many of the other prophets, Joel did not condemn Israel for idolatry. Earlier in their history, when Joel was prophesying, idolatry was not the great sin in Israel. Joel only mentions one sin, the sin of drunkenness.[vii] It would be a grave error to overlook the gravity of this inference by the prophet Joel. Of course, the subtext is Israel’s spiritual drunken stupor, but their literal drunkenness is the obvious sin. Joel compares the easily visible sin of outward drunkenness to Israel’s spiritual indifference. Even more compelling is the parallel the prophet makes between intoxication and spiritual malpractice. How can intemperate people properly serve a temperate God? Joel pointed out the irony that God sent a plague of locusts cutting off Israel’s ability to remain intoxicated, forcing the people to become sober long enough to reflect on their sins and the resulting judgments of God.
Old Testament Warnings Against Alcohol: The Prophet Hosea
Wine has robbed My people of their understanding (Hosea 4:11, NLT).
In this blistering chapter (Hosea 4), God rebuked the Israelites, likening them to literal and figurative prostitutes. God described Israel’s culture as murderous, unfaithful, adulterous, unkind, dishonest, and idolatrous. Then God pinpoints why their society had become so awful because they didn’t have proper knowledge and understanding of God. Then God revealed the root of the problem: Wine has robbed My people of their understanding (Hosea 4:11, NLT). Notice, God did not say drunkenness has robbed My people of understanding. Wine compounds terrible decisions and poor judgment in all its recreational uses, usually resulting in spiritual ignorance and stupidity.
Old Testament Warnings Against Alcohol: The Prophet Isaiah
1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine! 2 Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand. 3 The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: But even these reel with wine and stagger from strong drink:
7 The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink; They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while seeing visions, They stagger when pronouncing judgment. 8 For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, so that there is no place [that is clean] (Isaiah 28:1-3, 7-8).
Ephraim and Israel are synonymous terms for the ten northern tribes, also called Samaria. The picture here of drunkards is both literal and spiritual. They were in a stupor as far as spiritual understanding was concerned. In this instance, to be spiritually drunk is to be filled with pride.[viii] In this great city of abundance, drunkenness had become the prevailing sin, or rather, the root sin that spawned many other sins. Like the prophet Joel, Isaiah strikes at the source of the problem.
Religious leaders who were supposed to seek God’s word and give it to the people could not blame an ecstatic experience of the Spirit for their condition. They drank of other spirits.[ix] The debauched leaders were consumed by what they consumed. Though no doubt literal as well, the metaphorical “vomit” of cynicism poured out of Jerusalem’s leaders.[x] Spiritual leaders, “so-called” influenced by alcohol, spew out false guidance and lead their followers astray. Like so many other biblical passages, this passage links the consumption of strong drink with sin, bad judgment, spiritual lethargy, pride, misplaced confidence, and dereliction of duty.
Old Testament Warnings Against Alcohol: The Prophet Habakkuk
4 Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. 5 Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people (Habakkuk 2:4-5).
Here the prophet Habakkuk points out the wickedness of the typical Babylonian: He was addicted to alcohol. War was his passion. The prophet described him as a man “who enlargeth his desire as [Hades], and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations.” But wine was his downfall.[xi] Several translations render “transgresseth by wine” as “wine is treacherous” or “wine betrays.” Depicting wine or alcohol in general as a betrayer is a truism that reaches beyond Babylon’s vices. No different from people today; Babylonians drank for pleasure but found pain instead. Drinking aggravated their baser passions, and they became a perverted people. Habakkuk continues this theme a few verses later:
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! 16 Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the Lord’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory (Habakkuk 2:15-16).
Babylon is now condemned for leading others, her neighbors, into debauchery by causing them to drink intoxicants.[xii] In verse fifteen, drunkenness is connected with immorality (that he can gaze on their naked bodies), and they often go hand in hand.[xiii] Beyond the shame and sin of nakedness, this Scripture’s context suggests that perverse sexual acts accompanied intoxication.[xiv] It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice the correlation between alcohol, indecency, and sexual immorality. Ancient biblical prophets understood by observation and logic what we know scientifically; alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions and ability to exercise sound judgment. Inebriation leads to inhibition, inhibition often leads to indecency, and indecency often leads to sexual deviancy.
Old Testament Warnings Against Alcohol: The Prophet Daniel
1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords and drank wine before the thousand. 2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. 3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone (Daniel 5:1-4).
Daniel prophesied during the time of Babylonian captivity when God’s people were essentially well-treated slaves in Babylon. We don’t know why but Belshazzar, king of Babylon, decided to throw a great feast. The Aramaic construction of “whiles he tasted the wine” from the text seems to imply “under the influence of the wine.”[xv] So, when Belshazzar became slightly drunk, he made a foolish decision he wouldn’t otherwise have made. He called for the sacred vessels taken from God’s holy temple in Jerusalem to be brought into the feast. Belshazzar and his entourage desecrated those holy vessels with wine and idolatrous worship. At that very moment, the hand of God wrote on the wall warning of Belshazzar’s judgment, and Belshazzar was assassinated that night (Daniel 5:5-30). Interestingly, Habakkuk condemned the Babylonians for their drunken lifestyle, and just a few years later, Daniel witnessed Babylon’s fall due to a drunken decision made by its king?
We can hardly misunderstand the importance of wine since Daniel mentions wine or drinking in each of the first four verses of chapter five. Daniel specifically links drinking with the pagan worship of gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. The curse of Deuteronomy 32:15 falls on those who practice idolatry.[xvi] And, later, Daniel rails against Belshazzar, saying, “…they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them (Daniel 5:23).” To be clear, Daniel explicitly connects not only Belshazzar’s idolatry but also the drinking of wine in sacred vessels to God’s wrath.
The Biblical Connection Between Alcohol and the Mishandling of Spiritual Things
I’m not taking liberty with the Bible to connect drinking with the mishandling of spiritual things. The story of Belshazzar alone is a great example. However, it’s worth noting that Daniel refused to drink the king’s wine after he was first taken captive by the Babylonians. More precisely, the Bible says, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank (Daniel 1:8)”. Most commentaries recognize two main reasons Daniel refused the king’s meat: 1) Babylonian meat would likely have been offered in sacrifice to false gods. 2) Babylonian meat would likely not be in keeping with Old Testament dietary laws.[xvii] However, the other foods Daniel agreed to eat would also have been dedicated to false gods rendering the first point unlikely.[xviii] Furthermore, accepting the second explanation supposes Daniel believed Babylonian wine was off-limits.
The question naturally emerges, why did Daniel refuse the king’s wine? I believe the answer is twofold, and we begin finding the solution by observing that it was the king’s meat and wine Daniel refused. This understanding leads us to the first of a twofold answer: Daniel avoided the luxurious diet of the king’s table to protect himself from being ensnared by the temptations of the Babylonian culture. He used a distinctive diet to retain his distinctive identity as a Jewish exile and avoid complete assimilation into Babylonian culture (which was the king’s goal with these conquered subjects).[xix] Two, to abstain from the Old Testament prohibition against “strong drink” (which we have already outlined to some degree), Jews customarily diluted wine with water. Some added three parts of water to wine, others six parts, and some as much as ten parts of water to one part of wine. The Babylonians did not dilute their wine.[xx]
In ancient times, wine and strong drink didn’t have the alcohol content associated with modern beverages. Diluting wine with water rendered it down to microscopically small levels of alcohol content. Even drinking the undiluted wine would have required drinking from early morning until night to achieve inebriation (Isaiah 5:11). Without jumping too far ahead into the New Testament, this is why Paul could write without hypocrisy, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23)”. Obviously, the wine mentioned by Paul is not meant as a beverage but as a medicine.[xxi] This Scripture no more authorizes drinking alcohol for pleasure than it prohibits the drinking of water. Timothy’s stomach trouble was probably due to the alkali (a mineral salt) in the water at Ephesus. For this reason, Paul recommended that Timothy use a little wine with that water to neutralize its harmful effect. Wine used for the stomach, according to ancient Greek writings on medicine, was often unintoxicating.[xxii]
Regarding Daniel, he refused the king’s wine out of wisdom and obedience to Scripture. Daniel was set apart for the Lord’s service, and Babylonian wine was contrary to that spiritual calling. Daniel knew that by honoring God and refusing the Babylonian lifestyle, he would be healthier than his pagan captors. By setting himself apart, he invited the favor of God into his life, and it was visible to everyone around him (Daniel 1:15-18). Beyond that, “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17)”. Because mind-altering substances didn’t bind Daniel, he was able to handle spiritual things properly. Before you assume I’m stretching Scripture to fit my view, let’s look at the priesthood, the Nazarite vow, and the Rechabites.
The Priesthood & Alcohol
8 And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, 9 Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: 10 And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; 11 And that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses (Leviticus 10:8-11).
It seems this commandment from God was not random. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, had just offered strange fire before the Lord. God immediately responded by striking them dead with fire (Leviticus 10:1-7). In context, this prohibition suggests that intoxication led Nadab and Abihu to perform their blasphemous act.[xxiii] This commandment was necessitated by humanity’s inability to decipher the difference between “holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean” when under the influence of alcohol.
Alcohol dulls the senses and clearly makes someone “blemished.” Only priests in full possession of their faculties could enter the Sanctuary, for anything less was not worthy of God. God requires the very best. Therefore, to be under the influence of alcohol is clearly to be “unclean.” And the uncleanness remains until the total effects of the alcohol have worn off. And if they did enter under the influence of alcohol, they were in danger of immediate death, for it would be seen as a direct insult to the holiness of God. This statute was set as permanent for all time, stressing its seriousness. Paul takes this up concerning Christian worship when he says, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5:18-20)”. A state of intoxication is dishonoring to God. To be in such a condition is to be less than the best for God and excludes us from His presence.[xxiv]
The broader point being made in the Levitical instruction to the priests is that God is holy, and nothing that comes short of that holiness should be permitted into His presence. Nothing ritually unclean could enter the Sanctuary, or it would be defiled.[xxv] Some have speculated that God gave the priests (and, by extension, the rest of us) a license to drink when they were off duty. However, this is not the case. Rather, God forcibly demonstrated the importance of sobriety as an individual draws closer to God’s presence. The stress is on the importance of keeping the Sanctuary and its precincts holy to bring home the holiness of God. It meant that purity would become a daily concern for all the people, both physically and morally.[xxvi]
The idea here is that for anyone to come short of God’s requirements is to be rendered unclean. The priesthood’s duty was to discern, teach, and demonstrate God’s statutes and requirements, both concerning rituals and life. God’s people must always seek to avoid any possible sources of defilement. They, too, must be holy. For us, the question must always be, how can we ensure that we are the best for God? What should we avoid that might make us less than the best? In our case, it is spiritual cleanness that we must encourage and spiritual uncleanness that we must avoid (2 Corinthians 7:1, Mark 7:20-23). And we should be daily concerned that we do so. We must not enter His presence unclean.[xxvii]
This passage in Leviticus (Leviticus 10:8-11) clarifies several straightforward reasons modern Christians should avoid alcohol altogether. First, it demonstrates that God views alcohol as rendering a person unholy and incompatible with His presence. Second, it clarifies that alcohol renders a person unworthy and incapable of handling spiritual things. And thirdly, New Testament saints of God are likened to the priesthood, living sacrifices, and temples of the Holy Ghost. Understanding the third point is probably the most crucial revelation a person needs to abstain from alcohol completely. So, let’s zero in on what it means for the Bible to liken saints to the priesthood, living sacrifices, and temples of the Holy Ghost.
New Testament Priesthood, Living Sacrifices & Temples of the Holy Ghost
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God (1 Peter 2:5, NLT).
Paul called the Church a “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:21) and “a dwelling” (Ephesians 2:22). Believers make up the Church and serve in it, ministering as a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices. All believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9, Hebrews 4:16, Revelations 1:6) and need no other mediator than Jesus Christ to approach God directly. Priestly service requires holiness (1 Peter 1:16, 22).[xxviii] Not only does God consecrate us as a temple to Himself, in which He dwells and is worshipped, but He also makes us priests. Peter mentions this double honor as a call to holiness and purity. Of the spiritual sacrifices, the first is the offering of ourselves, as Paul says in Romans 12:1. Like the ancient priesthood, we can’t offer anything until we present ourselves unto God as living sacrifices, which is done by denying ourselves.[xxix] As becomes clear in 1 Peter 2:9, Peter evoked Exodus 19:5–6 and Isaiah 61:6, emphasizing that as priests (as well as stones) in this new temple, believers offer spiritual sacrifices, not physical animal sacrifices (Hebrews 13:15).[xxx]
The gravity of what the above Scriptures mean for New Testament believers can’t be overemphasized. Although many try to avoid it, the reality is that God views Spirit-filled Christians as priests, temples, and sacrifices. The holy Spirit of God dwells within us, and His holiness will not mix with unholiness. God’s Spirit will not compete with intoxicating spirits for our time, energy, focus, attention, or adoration. Furthermore, the same timeless (Leviticus 10:9) commandments regarding moral behavior and purity, which applied to the priesthood, pertain to modern believers. That word spiritual, when applied to house and sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5), does not mean immaterial (humans are not supernatural persons), but rather influenced or dominated by the Holy Spirit; sharing the character of the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:11, 1 Corinthians 2:13, 15, 12:1, Galatians 6:1, Colossians 3:16). Christians are a new temple of God operating under the constant influence and power of the Holy Spirit.[xxxi]
The Nazarite Vow & Alcohol
A Nazarite was a person specially dedicated or separated unto God. They can be viewed as lay priests, although they were not necessarily Levites. Like priests, Nazarites were forbidden to drink wine or strong drink of any kind (Numbers 6:4).[xxxii] Nazarites were like standard-bearers to show other people the way. They shone brightly with the special glory of God (Lamentations 4:7).[xxxiii] When the prophet Amos chastised Israel and Judah for their backsliding, he mentioned the Nazarites:
11 And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? Saith the Lord. 12 But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not (Amos 2:11-12).
Amos was reminding Israel and Judah that godly prophets and Nazarites were a distinct blessing from God. But instead of honoring and appreciating holy examples, they enticed the Nazarites to drink wine and commanded the prophets to be quiet. Amos considered this a particularly heinous sin for which God would make them “moan” with pain (Amos 2:13). I hope not, but someone might remain convinced that drinking in moderation is not a sin (later, we will examine the difficulty of defining moderation). However, let me give a firm warning: Enticing others to drink alcohol will likely invite the anger of God. If a person remains unconvinced and unconvicted, they should leave the godly convictions of others alone. God always calls us to give deference to firmer and stricter convictions than our beliefs (Romans 14:15-23). Otherwise, we are enticing that person to sin (Romans 14:23).
Although the Nazirite vow is an Old Testament concept, there is a New Testament parallel to the Nazirite vow. Once again, we are connecting back to Romans 12:1-2, where Paul states:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, because of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (ESV).
For Christians, the ancient Nazarite vow symbolizes the need to be separate from this world, a holy people consecrated to God (2 Timothy 1:9). Thankfully, in the New Testament, we are no longer bound by ceremonial and ritualistic laws that have no bearing on our salvation because of the work that Jesus accomplished. However, we are now called and enabled by the Holy Ghost to be even more separated unto God morally in many ways.
15 But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
The Rechabites & Alcohol
18 And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus, saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; because Ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab, your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: 19 Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me forever (Jeremiah 35:18-19).
We first read about Jonadab, the son of Rechab, in II Kings 10:15-23 when Jehu, the king of Israel, allied with Jonadab to destroy the followers of Baal. King Jehu knew Jonadab was zealous for God and an influential man. Together they completed what the prophet Elijah had begun. They killed all the worshippers of Baal.[xxxiv] So complete was this destruction that the pagan worship of Baal (which included human sacrifice, sometimes parents sacrificed their children) was wiped out in Israel, and the temple of Baal was torn down and made into a garbage dump.[xxxv]
In great wisdom, Jonadab commanded his family to abstain from wine and strong drink. He instructed them not to buy houses but to dwell in tents. He asked them not to plant vineyards or buy fields. Jonadab set standards to preserve his family both physically and spiritually. Some of his guidelines sound unreasonable to modern ears. But Jonadab wanted to ensure his family would survive the changes that would come to Israel when foreign invaders destroyed the nation. He took measures that permanently set them apart. He was preparing his family for the tragedies the prophets had been warning Israel about for years. Many other families didn’t survive the pagan invasions because they had been “living the good life.” But Jonadab’s family survived because they listened to the wisdom of their father.
Almost three hundred years after Jonadab’s death, the nation of Judah was in great turmoil. Idolatry was everywhere. Jerusalem was about to be captured, destroyed, and plundered by the Babylonians. Suddenly in the middle of all this turmoil, God said to Jeremiah, “Go find the descendants of Jonadab (Jeremiah 35:2).” They gathered the Rechabites together and offered them wine. Astonishingly, three hundred years later, the descendants of Jonadab refused wine and held to their father’s commandments. Jeremiah was using the Rechabites to illustrate faithfulness and obedience to the unfaithful and disobedient people of Judah. He wanted the leaders in Jerusalem to see what genuine dedication looked like. In Jeremiah 35:19, we see perhaps the most extraordinary promise given to a father and a family in the entire Bible. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying, “Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever (Jeremiah 35:19).” Meaning, somewhere in our world today, at least one descendent of Jonadab is alive and serving the Lord.
Notice the enormous contrast the Bible spotlights between the families of Noah, Lot, and Jonadab. The involvement of alcohol brought lasting curses on the families of Noah and Lot. The absence of alcohol played a significant role in the physical and spiritual preservation of Jonadab’s family. If nothing else, the Rechabites further underscore the wisdom of complete temperance. The Rechabites’ biblical account gives a template for multi-generational family success: Holiness and separation from the world’s destructive habits and patterns. I am reminded of what Paul wrote:
15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:15-18).
Proverbs Warnings Against Alcohol
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise (Proverbs 20:1).
Wine is pictured as a mocker, scoffing at the person foolish enough to drink it. Beer or strong drink is portrayed as a brawler. It not only bullies the drinker but turns him into an aggressive fool.[xxxvi] This verse is the beginning of a long series of warnings against strong drink by Solomon. Wise people, he said, will not be deceived by it. Other proverbs in the series point out that wine leads to poverty (Proverbs 21:17; Proverbs 23:21); it produces sorrow, strife, needless wounds, gossip, and red eyes (Proverbs 23:29–30); however desirable it may seem, it is a deceiver and harms all who drink it (Proverbs 23:31–32); it fills a person’s thoughts with lust and leads to adultery (Proverbs 23:33); and, finally, it is addictive and unpredictable (Proverbs 23:35).[xxxvii] Notice the alcoholic drink itself—not just its damaging effects—is described in disapproving terms—no matter how much or how little is used.[xxxviii]
The Foolishness of the Moderate Drinking Argument
It’s incredibly foolish to take one sip of alcohol! Suppose we go to the airport to board a plane, and as we present our tickets at the gate, we are told that one seat in every eighteen will fall through the floor before the flight is over. Startled, we ask which seats will fall. The attendant says, “We don’t know, but probably more of them are on the left side of the plane.” What person in his right mind would board such a plane? When someone takes his first drink, he is like a person who would board that plane. To embark on such a course is to risk becoming a confirmed drunkard before the journey of life is over. I’m certainly not the first to say it, but it’s worth repeating: If you never taste alcohol, you will never get drunk. Furthermore, if intoxication isn’t the goal, what is the point of drinking alcohol at all?
When the arguments for “moderate drinking” are made, several questions and problems arise. Why drink something so potentially destructive at all? When does intoxication begin? How drunk is too drunk? How do you know the moment before you’ve had too much (especially knowing that alcohol lowers inhibitions and weakens the ability to make wise decisions)? Maybe you’re willing to risk becoming a raging alcoholic, but do you want to gamble with your kids’ lives also? Is sipping a tiny bit of alcohol more important than being a stumbling block to others? Can you say beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ve never drunk to excess? Could you give it up tomorrow if you were convinced drinking is a sin? How do others around you view your drinking habits?
The reality is this. No one starts out planning to be a drunkard. But it happens every single day. Because alcohol is a mocker, it’s like a serpent that strikes unpredictably with lightning speed. Everyone goes through terrible seasons of pain, disappointment, suffering, and discouragement. Sadly, it’s during those seasons many people lean on alcohol instead of the Lord. Many “moderate” drinkers have become full-blown drunkards in seasons of depression. Honestly, the words alcohol and moderation are paradoxical; it’s just not reasonable for an individual to believe they can coexist indefinitely. Ironically, every alcoholic I’ve known whose life was in shambles considered themselves a moderate drinker who had everything under control.
New Testament Warnings Against Alcohol: Jesus
And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. (Luke 21:34).
Because we don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ Second Coming, He warned us to keep a constant watch. Other Scriptures caution us to watch for the signs of His return, but Jesus instructed us to look inward and watch ourselves so that we will be ready and worthy when He returns. The prophets sometimes spoke of judgment as a trap that would catch the unprepared (Isaiah 8:14, Jeremiah 50:24, Ezekiel 12:13), and Jesus employed this exact terminology.[xxxix] Interestingly, The Living Bible provides the best modern translation of Jesus’ words:
Watch out! Don’t let my sudden coming catch you unawares; don’t let me find you living in careless ease, carousing and drinking, and occupied with the problems of this life, like all the rest of the world (Luke 21:34, TLB).
Alcohol, in all its various forms, is incompatible with a lifestyle of readiness for the rapture. Spiritual alertness is vital to the Christian lifestyle. We are like watchmen on the wall looking intently for the Lord’s return. Like soldiers, we are commissioned to prepare others for His return as well. Anything that dulls the senses, or weakens resolve, or misconstrues good judgment conflicts with our mission.
New Testament Warnings Against Alcohol: Paul & Peter
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober… (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).
Some argue that Jesus was condemning drunkenness but not drinking in moderation. However, the apostle Paul understood precisely what Jesus meant, and he mirrored it in his first letter to the Thessalonian church. Paul is basically quoting Jesus’ comments from Luke 21:34. The context of this passage is very important and can only be intentionally misconstrued. In verse six, Paul uses the word “sober” in relation to alertness. In verse seven, he references drunkenness, symbolizing lostness. And again, in verse eight, Paul commands us to be “sober.” Paul’s use of the word sober wasn’t symbolic. That’s clear contextually, and because Paul could have utilized other Greek words to signal figurative soberness. However, he twice used the Greek word nepho, which means to abstain from wine.[xl]
The apostle Peter also echoed the words of Jesus from Luke 21:34 in his first letter:
But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer (1 Peter 4:7).
Peter likely remembered Jesus’ injunction to abstain from drinking and his failure to stay awake in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) while writing, “…be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” Peter’s instructions were literal and figurative at the same time. Because you can’t be spiritually sober and physically influenced by spirits. Furthermore, Peter twice used the Greek word nepho (sober), which, as already mentioned, means literally to abstain from wine. 1 Peter 5:8 instructs us to be sober and vigilant because the devil is like a lion roaming around seeking to devour us. Peter made a profound connection between alcohol and vulnerability to Satanic attack.
Again, 1 Peter 1:13 tells us to “gird up the loins of our minds” and be “sober.” In the next verse (1 Peter 1:14), he commented that some might have acted differently out of ignorance, but he emphatically warned them not to conform to their former desires. Essentially, he called the Church to a higher level of holiness than the Jews had previously followed. He explains why by quoting the book of Leviticus: But as the One who called you is holy; you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:15-16, HCSB).
Of course, there are numerous New Testament passages strongly condemning drunkenness and demanding temperance. These verses are straightforward and require minimal commentary, so for the sake of time, I’ll list the references for those who might wish to dig into them and leave it at that (1 Corinthians 5:11, 1 Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:21, Titus 1:7-8, 1 Timothy 3:2-3, Titus 2:2-3, 2 Peter 1:6).
Questions Answered: Did Paul Condone Drinking in Moderation?
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
Paul’s directives contrast the differences between being under the influence of wine, which leads to reckless actions, and being under the influence of the Spirit, which results in joyful living.[xli] “Did Paul condone drinking wine in moderation?” is a question that understandably comes up over and over again from sincere and insincere people. I’ve already touched on this issue, but it’s such a common question that it deserves extra attention. Regarding Ephesians 5:18, many commentators argue that Paul condoned by omission moderate wine consumption because he only mentions drunkenness. As if staggering, falling down, slobbering drunkenness is the only drunkenness God forbids. However, in this instance, Paul’s consistent denunciations of drinking and calls for sobriety in other passages made it unnecessary for him to be redundant in Ephesians 5:18. Also, the King James Version’s translation of Ephesians 5:18, although accurate, is unfortunately easily misunderstood by modern readers. For example, “…wherein is excess…” sounds to some as if Paul is saying, “getting drunk is excessive but drinking up to the point of excess is fine.” The English Standard Version gives a clearer perspective:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18, ESV).
Paul didn’t intend to give a new revelation about drinking or drunkenness. Actually, he was building on a concept his readers already understood to signify the importance of being continuously refilled and controlled by the Holy Spirit. But confusion surrounding the Bible’s overall view of alcohol stems from modern readers’ disconnection to ancient times.
Questions Answered: A Little Wine for the Stomach?
Drink no longer water but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23).
The above verse is probably the most cited verse used to justify moderate drinking, which is laughable because there are far more troubling passages of Scripture to contend with than Paul’s medical advice to Timothy. And this was medical advice. Timothy’s stomach trouble was probably due to the alkali (a mineral salt) in the water at Ephesus. For this reason, Paul recommends that Timothy use a little wine with that water to neutralize its harmful effect. Wine used for the stomach, according to ancient Greek writings on medicine, was typically unintoxicating.[xlii]
Paul was certainly not telling Timothy to get drunk; in Paul’s day, most wine was watered down two parts water to every part wine, and wine was not distilled, so the alcohol content was not high. At the same time, before refrigeration and hermetic sealing, any grape juice that had been kept for some months after the last grape vintage included some alcohol content. Would we tell every Christian today with a stomachache to avoid water and go have a watered-down beer? Or was that simply the best remedy available in Paul’s day, in contrast to our own?[xliii] If a pastor advises someone to take NyQuil or go under anesthesia, it does not mean they are recommending recreational drugs or casual alcohol consumption.
Questions Answered: Not Given to Much Wine?
Likewise, must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine… (1 Timothy 3:8).
Some interpret this as saying that deacons must not be habitual drinkers, which might seem to condone moderate alcohol consumption. However, in light of how strongly Paul condemns drunkenness (1 Corinthians 6:10), he probably had a different meaning in mind. Since there were many forms of wine available—both fermented (alcoholic) and unfermented—Paul is more likely advising self-control and warning against the excessive use of unfermented wine. In extremely pagan and self-indulgent cultures like Ephesus, excessive use of even non-alcoholic wine was prevalent. It often led to the use of other wines that were mixed and intoxicating. Essentially, Paul was emphasizing self-control and moderation in all areas of life, even in good things.[xliv] This answer and the previous explanations also apply to Titus 1:7 and Titus 2:3.
Questions Answered: Let Him Drink?
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: 5 Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. 6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. 7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more (Proverbs 31-4-7).
This passage is a song by Bathsheba written for her son, Solomon. Therefore, these troubling verses (Proverbs 31:6-7) are not to be taken literally. In essence, she seems to be utilizing a condescending figure of speech by comparing the poor’s drunkenness to Solomon’s regality. By contrasting the plight of the poor and dying, Bathsheba exclaims that Solomon should consider himself above such lowly things. Her advice to Solomon is relevant to us as well. We, too, should abstain from judgment perverting influences like strong drink.
For those who struggle with that viewpoint, notice that the Hebrew word used for wine in this passage does not necessarily refer to fermented wine (more on that in a moment). I can’t imagine a worse prescription for curing depression (even by modern standards) than drunkenness. Furthermore, why differentiate between strong drink and wine unless there is a substantive difference between the two? I have no issue with the ancient medical practice of giving strong drink to the dying or those in terrible physical agony. Likewise, few Christians would have any problem with cancer patients taking morphine or a strong narcotic for pain. Only the cruelest-hearted would deny the use of medical narcotics to a hospice patient. Such medical practices are a far cry from recreational drug use or drinking.
Questions Answered: Did the Early Church Get Drunk During Communion Services?
For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken (1 Corinthians 11:21).
In addition to the Lord’s Supper, the Early Church held what was referred to as the agape feasts, much like a present-day church fellowship meal (2 Peter 2:13, Jude 1:12). These probably took place in homes where those in the Early Church often met for worship and fellowship. “One remains hungry, another gets drunk” could also be translated, “One remains hungry, another is filled to the full,” since the word “drunk” (Greek methuö) can refer to being intoxicated or to being filled or satisfied without reference to intoxication. The context of this verse clearly relates to the meal in general. When the Corinthians came together for their fellowship meals before eating the Lord’s Supper, some gathered in small groups, separated by social class, and ate separately (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). The poor, who could not contribute much, if any, to the meal, were often ignored and left hungry.
Paul condemned the behavior of those who ignored the poor (1 Corinthians 11:17) for three reasons: One, they were practicing and encouraging division in the Church. Two, they were humiliating members of the Church who were poor and probably coming directly from work without food (1 Corinthians 11:22). Three, some of the rich saints may have brought fermented wine and got intoxicated, which Paul would have considered even more unacceptable. Some interpreters, however, feel that Paul was not referring to an issue of intoxication here, or else he would have severely condemned it as he did elsewhere in the letter (1 Corinthians 6:10). He considered drunkenness not only as an issue of dishonor toward others but also a condition serious enough to cause people to turn from God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:21).[xlv]
Questions Answered: Was Jesus A Winebibber?
The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children (Matthew 11:19).
Glutton and drunkard were insults that denote a rebellious son who deserves to be put to death (Deuteronomy 21:18–21).[xlvi] Jesus compared John the Baptist’s rejection and his own to the behavior of childish brats who would not play either the wedding game or the funeral game (Matthew 11:7-22). Neither John’s ascetic abstinence (compared to mourning or singing a dirge at a funeral) nor Jesus’ enjoyment of food and drink (likened to dancing at a wedding feast) was satisfactory to the Pharisees. John was slandered with the charge of demon possession (Matthew 11:18), and Jesus was smeared as a glutton and drunkard because he associated with tax collectors and sinners. No doubt Jesus did associate with such folk, but the charges of drunkenness and gluttony were unsubstantiated lies, evidently circulated by the Pharisees, who objected to table fellowship with sinners.[xlvii] It’s almost dramatically comical that people use the lies of the Pharisees against Jesus to justify their winebibbing.
Questions Answered: Isn’t Aged Wine Fermented?
On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined (Isaiah 25:6, ESV).
This eschatological passage is sometimes used against teetotalers to defend drinking aged (fermented) wine. The context of Isaiah’s prophecy is a victory celebration in Heaven given by the Lord for the saints. Apparently, some people find it easy to believe the Lord will happily get all the saints drunk in Heaven. Interestingly, this is a newer misunderstanding or misconstruing of Scripture, likely due to the English Standard Version’s uptick in popularity. The English Standard Version and many other translations butcher this verse and outlandishly alter its intended meaning by inexplicably adding the descriptors “aged” and “well-aged” to the word wine. Leaving hapless, low-information readers with the impression God approves of fermented wine. So much so that He will personally provide it for His people. One can only wonder if some of these modern translators had a pro-alcohol agenda? The King James Version is accurate although dated:
And in this mountain, shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined (Isaiah 25:6).
The words “aged” or “well-aged” are not in the Hebrew text. “Lees” is a good King James word meaning dregs or pulp. A banquet of “aged wine” (shemarim) is translated literally as “a banquet of preserves,” which probably refers to luscious grape juice that had been preserved for a long time for a particular purpose.[xlviii] And “refined” (zāqaq) is a Hebrew verb meaning to refine or to purify. The literal meaning of this word is to strain or extract. “Refined” is used about gold (1 Chronicles 28:18), silver (1 Chronicles 29:4, Psalms 12:6), and water (Job 36:27). It is also used regarding the purification of the Levites, comparing it to the refining of gold and silver (Malachi 3:3).[xlix] Interestingly, the prophetic wine Isaiah envisioned will be purified in every sense of the word.
Questions Answered: Did God Ok Strong Drink in the Old Testament
And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household (Deuteronomy 14:26).
This verse applies to special occasions for worship and thanksgiving by the entire household, including men, women, youth, and little children. The Hebrew word used here for “wine” (yayin) can indicate either fermented grape juice or unfermented grape juice. The Hebrew word for “fermented drink” (shekar) can be rendered “sweet drink.” This clarity removes the difficulty of suggesting that adults and children are commanded to worship God by consuming addicting and intoxicating beverages.[l] The purpose of the worship service was “that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:23). To properly worship God and learn to revere (regard with respect and honor) Him, we need to be alert and self-controlled (Ephesians 5:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).
We should note that the Levite priests were present at the worship service (Deuteronomy 14:27-29). As we’ve already covered, the priests were absolutely forbidden to have anything to do with strong drink. Breaking that commandment invited the death penalty (Leviticus 10:9). It would be contrary to God’s holy character to commend the free use of intoxicants by the worshipers while in the company of the priests. Also, the nature of the festival was a harvest feast, during which time fresh harvest products would be used (Deuteronomy 14:23). This suggests that new fresh juice (non-alcoholic) was available. In this instance, the New King James Version gives an accurate English translation:
And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household (Deuteronomy 14:26).
Some conservative scholars think (shekar) is best rendered “strong drink” and that it was fermented but low in alcohol content. Others note that Numbers 28:7 uses this same word for the content of a strong drink offering, indicating perhaps that the strong drink was not drunk by the people but used in a drink offering to the Lord.[li] While those are interesting thoughts, I lean heavily in favor of the viewpoint that the word “strong drink” is mistranslated in the King James Version. The New King James Version gives a much better picture of the original Hebrew wording. Regardless, we can rest assured God was not promoting a drunken worship celebration involving children in honor of His holiness.
Questions Answered: Did Jesus Turn Water into Fermented Wine?
9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now (John 2:9-10).
A quick Google search will show there’s a raging debate as to whether the Hebrew word for “wine” (yayin) only refers to wine that has fermented. Of course, pro-drinkers insist wine mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments is always fermented. For example, this is often cited to affirm the belief that Jesus’ first miracle endorsed the use of alcohol by turning water into fermented wine (John 2:1-11). “When men have well drunk” does not mean that they were intoxicated, though it is usually employed in that sense. In this context, it means when they have drunk sufficient, and the keenness of their taste has waned so that they could not readily distinguish the good from that which was worse.[lii]
There are numerous reasons to conclude that Jesus did not contribute to a drunken wedding celebration. Foremost in my mind is the reality that Jesus would not violate His Word: Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken (Habakkuk 2:15). It would have been scandalous to the highest degree had Jesus done such a thing. And not just in pharisaical circles but also among ordinary Jewish people. Furthermore, creating aged (fermented) wine would have been antithetical to the miracle’s message. Jesus demonstrated that His new wine is superior, as is everything tied to the new, Messianic age He was introducing.[liii] This introduction miracle is directly linked to the Feast of Pentecost, where the new wine of the Holy Ghost was first poured out upon the Church (Acts 2:1-18). The new fresh superiority of the wine at the wedding feast typified the new fresh superiority of the wine poured out at Pentecost. Ironically, skeptical onlookers at Pentecost also mistook the miracle for drunkenness, and Peter quickly assured them they were intoxicated by the Spirit, not alcohol (Acts 2:13-16).
Questions Answered: Does Yayin Always Mean Fermented Wine?
Those who argue that the Hebrew word yayin (wine) and its Greek equivalent oinos (wine) always refer to fermented wine are forced to ignore several salient Scripture passages. In both cases, the biblical word wine is used interchangeably to describe fresh juice or various levels of fermented juice, depending on the context. Yayin is a generic term used approximately 141 times in the Old Testament which speaks of all sorts of wine (yayin). Sometimes, yayin is applied to all kinds of fermented grape juice. On the other hand, yayin is used for describing the sweet unfermented juice of the grape. It can refer to fresh juice as it is pressed from grapes. Isaiah prophesied, “The treaders shall tread out no wine (yayin) in their presses” (Isaiah 16:10).” Likewise, Jeremiah said, “I have caused wine (yayin) to fall from the presses; none will tread without shouting (Jeremiah 48:33).” Jeremiah even refers to the juice still in the grape as (yayin) in Jeremiah 40:10-12.
Further evidence that yayin at times refers to unfermented juice of the grape is found in Lamentations, where the author describes nursing infants as crying out to their mothers for their everyday food of “corn and wine (Lamentations 2:12).” Also, The Jewish Encyclopedia  states: “Fresh wine before fermentation was called yayin-mi-gat (wine of the vat).”[liv] Fermentation is just another word for corruption. The potato must first rot (corruption) to make vodka. There is no corruption in God’s kingdom! Fermentation, corruption represents sin which is contrary to the holiness of God (Galatians 6:8).
Deeply welded into our sinful nature is the predisposition to seek confirmation for our preconceived ideas. Just like two thieves could hang next to Jesus and reach completely different conclusions about Him, we are vulnerable to misperceiving Truths hanging all around us. Why can two people read the same Scripture and walk away with opposing views? And why can those two people be wrong at the same time? Often, it’s because they view Scripture through the grimy lens of existing beliefs and confusing distortions.
Simply put, our flesh tends to believe what it wants to believe. That’s why Paul exclaimed that he died daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). A carnal unsubmitted mind will never understand spiritual things. While I do pray, this treatise will persuade someone to walk away from the alcohol. I realize it will take more than mere words formed into arguments to break that yoke. Whether I’m completely right or entirely wrong will make no difference to a person locked into a position or bound by addiction. Perhaps this will strengthen wavering resolve in the hearts of unsure saints. Maybe a leader’s tired hands will be lifted by this work. Hopefully, a sincere-hearted questioner will find food for thought in this resource.
Like so many others, I’ve seen first-hand the wreckage and waste accompanying even so-called moderate drinking. I’ve seen personalities freakishly changed by drink. I’m firmly planted in the category of people who do not need a Bible to be convinced that alcohol is harmful beyond measure and without redeeming value. I realize that for some people, the dilemma isn’t so black and white. Those people look for gray areas and live in the shadows. There’s no long-term warmth or comfort in those shadows. But I chose a long time ago to live in the light.
[i] Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. “πίνω πίω πόω,” paragraph 4016. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Greek_Strong’s#4016
There are at least six interpretations about the nature of this crime:
1. It was an act of incest between Ham and his mother. This is based on the later use of the phrase father’s nakedness to refer to the mother as translated word for word in the NASB (e.g., Leviticus 18:8). This interpretation sometimes suggests that Canaan was the result of this act of incest.
2. It was an act of homosexuality between Ham and his father. This is based on taking the phrase what his youngest son had done to him (Genesis 9:24) as referring to a physical act.
3. It was an act of trespassing by Ham into his father’s tent.
4. It was an act of castration. This view is found in the Talmud, a Jewish collection of rabbinical law, law decisions, and comments on the Laws of Moses. It is seen as a power struggle in the family.
5. It was an act in which Ham attempted to achieve authority over his father by “blackmailing” him with his indecent exposure. Ham, in this view, desired to be head of the family.
6. It was a viewing (accidental or purposeful) in which Ham did not treat his father with respect because he spoke about his condition to his brothers.
The last interpretation seems the most natural, when all the circumstances are considered. Any improper action can be seen as an attempt to embarrass the father and as a result possibly to take leadership from the father. The actions of the brothers Shem and Japheth seem to contrast with the actions of Ham. Since they actually covered Noah’s nakedness, Ham apparently saw and left his father in a compromising position and then gossiped about it. Since Canaan has been mentioned previously (Genesis 9:18, 22) and Noah’s curse on Canaan appears immediate, Canaan is best seen as living at the time of this incident.
[ii]Kenneth O. Gangel and Stephen J. Bramer, Genesis, ed. Max Anders, vol. 1 of Holman Old Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2002), 94-95. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Bible_Commentary#1043
[iii] Edwin A. Blum and Jeremy Royal Howard, eds. HCSB Study Bible: Holman Christian Standard Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010), paragraph 1747. https://accordance.bible/link/read/HCSB_Study_Bible#1747
[iv] Joe Cathey, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, s.v. “DRUNKENNESS,” paragraph 4819. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Dictionary#4819
[v] Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Joel 1”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joel-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
[vi] William Shakespeare, Othello, Act II, Sc. 3. Line 285.
[vii] McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 27: Hosea & Joel. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.
[viii] J. Vernon McGee, Proverbs—Malachi, vol. III of Thru the Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), paragraph 30067. https://accordance.bible/link/read/McGee-Thru_Bible#30067
[ix] Trent C. Butler, Isaiah, ed. Max Anders, vol. 15 of Holman Old Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2002), 164. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Bible_Commentary#57819
[x] Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), paragraph 11539. https://accordance.bible/link/read/ESV_Study_Bible#11539
[xi] John Phillips, Exploring the Minor Prophets, John Phillips Commentary Series. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998), 212. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Phillips_Commentary#35650
[xii] David W. Baker, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 27 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 64. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Tyndale_Commentary#38672
[xiii] Stephen R. Miller, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, ed. Max Anders, vol. 20 of Holman Old Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2004), 63. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Bible_Commentary#73119
[xiv] NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), paragraph 19110. https://accordance.bible/link/read/NIV_Biblical_Theology_SB#19110
[xv] Eugene Carpenter, “Daniel,” in Ezekiel Daniel, vol. 9 of Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2010), 374. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Cornerstone_Commentary#77030
[xvi] Kenneth O. Gangel, Daniel, ed. Max Anders, vol. 18 of Holman Old Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2001), 132. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Bible_Commentary#67248
[xvii] Dwight J. Pentecost, Daniel (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1330. https://accordance.bible/link/read/BK_Commentary#16837
[xix] Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), paragraph 14336. https://accordance.bible/link/read/ESV_Study_Bible#14336
[xx] Dwight J. Pentecost, Daniel (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1330-1331. https://accordance.bible/link/read/BK_Commentary#16838
[xxi] J. Vernon McGee, 1 Corinthians—Revelation, vol. V of Thru the Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 454. https://accordance.bible/link/read/McGee-Thru_Bible#60675
[xxii] Donald Stamps and J. Wesley Adams, eds. Fire Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2009), paragraph 11985. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Fire_Bible_Notes#11985
[xxiii] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), paragraph 3077. https://accordance.bible/link/read/MacArthur_Study_Bible#3077
[xxiv] Pett, Peter. “Commentary on Leviticus 10:9”. “Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible “. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/leviticus-10.html. 2013.
[xxv] Pett, Peter. “Commentary on Leviticus 10”. “Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible “. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/leviticus-10.html. 2013.
[xxvi] Pett, Peter. “Commentary on Leviticus 10”. “Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible “. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/leviticus-10.html. 2013.
[xxvii] Pett, Peter. “Commentary on Leviticus 10”. “Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible “. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/leviticus-10.html. 2013.
[xxviii] Roger M. Raymer, 1 Peter (The Bible Knowledge Commentary; ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Accordance electronic ed. 2 vols.; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), 2:845. https://accordance.bible/link/read/BK_Commentary#30327
[xxix] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 97601. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Calvin#97601
[xxx] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, eds. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), paragraph 17181. https://accordance.bible/link/read/NIV_Cultural_SB#17181
[xxxi] Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 105. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Tyndale_Commentary#59428
[xxxii] NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), paragraph 3685. https://accordance.bible/link/read/NIV_Biblical_Theology_SB#3685
[xxxiii] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 5239. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Calvin#5239
[xxxiv] Edwin A. Blum and Jeremy Royal Howard, eds. HCSB Study Bible: Holman Christian Standard Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010), paragraph 14458. https://accordance.bible/link/read/HCSB_Study_Bible#14458
[xxxv] A. H. Sayce, ISBE, s.v. “Baal (1),” paragraph 6416. https://accordance.bible/link/read/ISBE#6416
[xxxvi] Max Anders, Proverbs, ed. Max Anders, vol. 13 of Holman Old Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 198. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Holman_Bible_Commentary#49971
[xxxvii] John Phillips, Exploring Proverbs, Volume Two, John Phillips Commentary Series. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1996), 56. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Phillips_Commentary#24180
[xxxviii] Donald Stamps and J. Wesley Adams, eds. Fire Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2009), paragraph 4746. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Fire_Bible_Notes#4746
[xxxix] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, eds. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), paragraph 12568. https://accordance.bible/link/read/NIV_Cultural_SB#12568
[xl] Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. “νήφω,” paragraph 3443. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Greek_Strong’s#3443
[xli] Edwin A. Blum and Jeremy Royal Howard, eds. HCSB Study Bible: Holman Christian Standard Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010), paragraph 22602. https://accordance.bible/link/read/HCSB_Study_Bible#22602
[xlii] Donald Stamps and J. Wesley Adams, eds. Fire Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2009), paragraph 11985.https://accordance.bible/link/read/Fire_Bible_Notes#11985
[xliii] Craig Keener, The Bible in its Context, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: Oak Tree Software, 2015), 39. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Keener-Context#433
[xliv] Donald Stamps and J. Wesley Adams, eds. Fire Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2009), paragraph 11961. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Fire_Bible_Notes#11961
[xlv] Donald Stamps and J. Wesley Adams, eds. Fire Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2009), paragraph 10620. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Fire_Bible_Notes#10620
[xlvi] Walter J. Harrelson, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), paragraph 15714. https://accordance.bible/link/read/NISB#15714
[xlvii] David L. Turner, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in Matthew Mark, vol. 11 of Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), 162. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Cornerstone_Commentary#89927
[xlviii] Donald Stamps and J. Wesley Adams, eds. Fire Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2009), paragraph 5293. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Fire_Bible_Notes#5293
[xlix] The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament, s.v. “ז,” 301-302. https://accordance.bible/link/read/CWSD-OT#3374
[l] Donald Stamps and J. Wesley Adams, eds. Fire Bible Notes. Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Life Publishers International, 2009), paragraph 1627. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Fire_Bible_Notes#1627
[li] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, eds. The Ryrie Study Bible. Expanded, Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), paragraph 2891. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Ryrie#2891
[lii] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 6497. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Barnes’_Notes_(NT)#6497
[liii] NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), paragraph 23006. https://accordance.bible/link/read/NIV_Biblical_Theology_SB#23006
[liv] Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for ‘Wine’. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/w/wine.html. 1901.
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