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Alcoholic Beverages, Social Drinking, and the Bible

Alcoholic beverages, social drinking, the BibleAre social drinking and the use of alcoholic beverages, as practiced in modern society, pleasing to God? Are modern wines the same as Bible wines? 

Was "wine" in the Bible always alcoholic? Did ancient people know how to preserve grape juice from fermenting? What does the Bible teach about sobriety, drunkenness, and intoxication? What effect does drinking have on health and on a Christian's influence?

Note: The following is a brief outline to be considered when studying the issue of the use of modern alcoholic beverages. It is not intended to be a detailed study of every aspect of the subject.

I. Bible Wines Compared to Modern Wines

A. Bible "Wines"

"Wine" in the Bible sometimes refers to fermented (alcoholic) drinks.

See Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-32; 1 Samuel 1:13-16; Genesis 9:21-27; 19:30-38 plus references below regarding drunkenness.

No New Testament passage speaks favorably of fermented wine drunk undiluted. Many scriptures speak unfavorably of it.

"Wine" in the Bible sometimes refers to unfermented grape juice.

Like our word "cider," Bible "wine" may be fermented or unfermented.

Isaiah 16:10 - tread out wine in the presses

Jeremiah 48:33 - wine from the presses

Isaiah 65:8 - wine in the cluster

Genesis 40:9-11 - grapes squeezed into the cup

Revelation 19:15 - like treading grapes causes juice to flow, so God's punishment would cause blood to flow like wine (Greek OINOS) from the press.

John 2:1-11 - After people had already drunk all the wine (vv 10,3), Jesus provided another 120-180 gallons. If this "wine" was alcoholic like modern alcoholic drinks, Jesus would have provided for excessive drinking. 

These and many other passages refer to "wine" favorably or as a blessing, but the "wine" is clearly not alcoholic. The blessing of "wine" in the Bible refers to unfermented grape juice.

Revelation 14:10 - wine was considered strong if "without mixture" ("unmixed" - ASV; "undiluted with water" - Thayer). (Encyclopedias confirm this was the view.)

Ancient people did know how to preserve unfermented wine.

At least 4 ways were known:

1) Boiling (kill bacteria and seal juice in a jar like canning, or boil to a syrup).

2) Filtering (to remove the yeast)

3) Cooling (no fermentation below 45 degrees, yeast settles out - see Zondervan's Dictionary.)

4) Preservatives added (such as sulfur)

These methods are confirmed by any good encyclopedia; see also Bible Wines by Patton.

Note that fermenting grape juice to wine is just as hard as preserving it as grape juice. If grape juice ferments naturally, the most likely thing to happen is that it ferments to vinegar!

B. Modern Alcoholic Beverages:

1. Distilled drinks (such as whiskey) were unknown in Bible times.

2. Modern wines are more alcoholic than Palestinian wines, because our grapes gave higher alcohol content and because distilled alcohol is now sometimes added.

3. The total alcohol content of a typical modern drink is the same regardless of what kind of beverage is consumed, because less-alcoholic drinks are used in greater amount. A 1-ounce "shot" of whiskey (50% alcohol) contains as much alcohol as one glass of modern wine (10-23% alcohol) or as one can or bottle of beer (4-6% alcohol). Should a Christian drink a shot of whiskey? If not, why would it be acceptable to drink a glass of wine or a can of beer?

II. Bible Teaching about Drinking Alcohol

A. Intoxication (Drunkenness) Is Expressly Condemned

Passages to consider:

Ephesians 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10; Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-32; 1 Peter 4:3

Question: At what point does a person become "intoxicated"?

"Intoxicate ... to affect temporarily with diminished control over the physical and mental powers, by means of alcoholic liquor, a drug..." - Random House College Dictionary.

"A person is under the influence of alcohol when, due to the imbibing of alcohol, he has lost to any extent some of that clearness of intellect and self-control that he would otherwise possess" - Amer. Med Assoc via AlcoNarFax, p32

Quotes cited later show that this effect is caused by 1 or 2 modern drinks!

B. We Must Be Sober, Vigilant, and Exercise Self-Control in order to Avoid Temptation.


1 Peter 5:8 - Be sober, vigilant because the devil seeks to devour.

1 Corinthians 9:25-27 - Exercise self-control to keep the body in control.

Proverbs 4:23 - Keep the heart diligently, because it determines issues of life.

Matthew 6:13 - Pray, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Matthew 18:8,9 - Lose parts of the body rather than be lost for sin.

Proverbs 6:27,28 - Can we take fire to the bosom and not be burned?

Proverbs 23:31,32 - Specifically regarding alcohol, avoid its lure from the beginning, because of what it leads to at the end!

So God expects us to avoid practices of personal pleasure and self-indulgence which hinder our ability to think clearly so as to recognize and resist temptation. We will see that the very first effect caused by drinking alcoholic beverages is to weaken the mind's judgment, self-control, will-power, and inhibitions. For this reason, the Bible specifically warns us to avoid the lure of alcoholic drinks from the very beginning.

Note that it is not enough for a drinker to claim, "You can't prove I am intoxicated." Rather, to please God he must be sure that he is sober!

We should avoid alcohol because it tempts to sin and weakens the willpower and ability to control self and resist sin.

Consider now the evidence that drinking modern alcoholic beverages does tempt the drinker to sin and hinder sobriety.

Some sins drinking can tempt us or lure us toward:

* 1 of every 10 social drinkers becomes an alcoholic or problem drinker. It follows that every drinker is tempting himself to become an alcoholic or problem drinker. The person who does not drink cannot possibly become an alcoholic.

* Drinking tempts us to become clearly drunk (even if we are not addicted). The drinker may often resist the temptation to become drunk, but the Bible teaches that he should not even place himself in the position of being tempted.

* Drinking weakens our will to resist temptation and ability to distinguish sin. That is, it hinders sobriety.

How many modern drinks can produce these effects?

Dr. Haven Emerson: "The earliest effect, almost always unnoticed by the person who has drunk the alcohol, is a loss of judgment, of self-control, of discretion, of responsibility." - AlcoNarFax, p. 9.

Dr. Andrew Ivy: "All religious groups agree that it is morally wrong to drink to the point of impairing the higher faculties of the brain. It was formerly thought that this did not occur until a person was conspicuously drunk. Now we know that impairment frequently occurs before a person feels the effects and after the consumption of one or two beers or one or two cocktails." - "What Everyone Should Know about Alcoholic Beverages"

National Safety Council: "The quantity of alcohol contained in an ounce of whiskey or a bottle of beer is sufficient to lower the ability of the driver or pedestrian to use the street safely." - AlcoNarFax.

C. Modern Social Drinking Is Condemned As "Banqueting" - 1 Peter 4:3

1 Peter 4:3 describes different degrees of drinking and commands us to avoid them all!

"Excess of wine" = "extravagant indulgence ... long drawn out" - Trench (hence, a "drunken spree")

"Reveling" = wild parties with sexual looseness and drunkenness.

"Banqueting" (KJV) = "drinking parties" (NASB, NKJV), "tippling" (NEB), "not of necessity excessive... but giving opportunity for excess" - Trench (hence, social drinking).

This passage specifically forbids the practice of modern social drinking.

D. Drinking Is a Bad Example to Others.

Passages to consider

Luke 17:1,2; Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Timothy 4:12; Proverbs 28:10; Titus 2:7,8; 2 Corinthians 6:3; 1 Peter 2:11,12.

If you drink, consider your influence on the following kinds of people:

* Influence on young people - most start drinking because of peers and parents.

* Influence on former addicts - if they drink at all, they will be addicted again.

* Influence on people to whom we seek to teach the gospel - how can we convert drunkards or people who know Christians should not drink?

* Influence on all people - 1 out of 10 of people who drink will become addicts, and far more will get drunk.

What is our condition before God if, because of our influence, someone begins drinking or continues drinking and as a result becomes an alcoholic or simply gets drunk? No one ever became drunk or an alcoholic by following the example those who refuse to drink.

E. Drinking Is Harmful to Health

Passages about caring for our health

3 John 2; 1 Corinthians 6:19,20; Romans 12:1,2

Effects of drinking

It causes Cirrhosis, brain damage (even in "moderation" - brain cells are irreplaceable), damage to pancreas, stomach, intestines, etc.; also accidents (car wrecks, etc.)

"Ethel Alcohol ... A depressant, narcotic poison..." - Gould's Medical Dictionary


Christians should not practice social drinking nor drink modern alcoholic drinks as a beverage as practiced in our society

Drinkers can be forgiven, but to do so they must cease their improper practice - 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

(C) Copyright 2000, 2006,David E. Pratte;
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