What Does the Bible Say About...

What Does The Bible Say About Alcohol? (and common misconceptions)

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Few topics have been debated in Christian circles as much as alcohol in recent years. However, throughout most of Christian history this topic was rarely considered taboo. The consumption of alcohol in moderation was widely accepted and rarely condemned.

Not only was it not condemned, but beer and wine played a role in church tradition. The Guinness family created their famous Irish Stout as an act of worship to God. John Calvin had a 250 gallon wine stipend written into his church contract. And there were many monks that brewed their own beer. It wasn’t until recently that the question of “should Christians drink alcohol?” arose. For most of church history it wasn’t even a question.

What Caused This Recent Questioning?

Most Christians that advocate for abstinence from drinking for Christians do so on the basis of the damage alcohol can cause. However the Bible never actually condemns the consumption of alcohol. The Bible does talk about, and condemn, the abuse of alcohol. The Bible makes clear the dangers of drunkenness and being a slave to alcohol. But it does not condemn the consumption, rather it warns of the dangers.

Many Christians will take this to say we should just avoid it because of the dangers it poses. Just because something CAN lead to abuse doesn’t mean it has to be avoided. Under that logic we should all get rid of our money to fend off materialism. The Bible talks WAY more about the dangers of money, but I don’t see anyone using that logic there.

Just because alcohol can be abused doesn’t mean it needs to be avoided. The Bible doesn’t say that. Rather it says we should keep a close eye to make sure nothing takes the place of God in our life. Whether that be alcohol, money, sex, pride, our desires, or even family. We don’t need to avoid those things just because they might do us harm. Rather we should see them as they are intended and not elevate them to an unhealthy level.

What Does The Bible Say About Alcohol

Verses Talking Specifically About Drinking: Ephesians 5:18, Numbers 28:7-10, Proverbs 20:1, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:10, 1 Timothy 5:23, Proverbs 23:20-21, Romans 14:21, Isaiah 5:22, Leviticus 10:9, Ecclesiastes 9:7, 1 Timothy 3:8, Proverbs 31:6-7, Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14

This list is not exhaustive, but it gives us a solid picture of what the Bible says about alcohol. If you were to read every verse that talks specifically about alcohol you would find that Scripture dances around the issue. It never seems to give a straight answer. There’s no passage that says, “Thou shalt not drink.” Equally there’s no passage that says, “More than 3 drinks and you’ve sinned.” There’s a whole lot of grey.

Wine is often seen as a blessing (Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14) in the Old Testament. And a curse if you don’t have any (Deuteronomy 28:38, 51). While a blessing, the Bible also holds that alcohol should be consumed with caution (Ephesians 5:18, Titus 2:3). The Bible lives within this tension. Alcohol in and of itself is not portrayed as bad; however the abuse of alcohol is warned of many times.

Two Common Misconceptions

Lower Alcohol Content

One common argument is that wine in the Bible is really nothing more than grape juice. Or it was so diluted with water it doesn’t really count as alcohol. Therefore Jesus nor the Biblical writers advocated for drinking. But the problem is that is not substantiated in Scripture.

It is true that many of the wines probably had a lower ABV (Alcohol by Volume) than today’s wine. However we know from the Bible that the wine still had plenty of kick in it to get wasted on. That’s why the Bible warns against it. But even knowing that people could get drunk, the Bible never forbids it.

Wine isn’t the only alcohol mentioned in the Bible. Also mentioned is what the Bible calls “strong drink,” essentially fermented barley, aka beer. This rudimentary beer contained an average ABV of 6% – 12%, not too shabby for a beer. And certainly not a low alcohol count.

Of course the Bible strongly warns against the overconsumption of beer. But in moderation it is encouraged. God even commands the Israelites to go buy beer and celebrate before the Lord (Deuteronomy 14:26)

It Hurts Your Witness (or testimony)

I guess this depends on where you are witnessing. If you are ministering to Muslims you have a strong point. But the vast majority of non-christians are not put off by drinking. But they are put off by arbitrary rules created by Christians. I doubt my unbelieving friend will ever be turned away from God because they see me sipping a beer. It might actually help your witness to have a beer with your neighbor and break down some of the misconceptions about Christianity.

Can we just stop spreading this misconception? Drinking will not hurt your witness in America. Yes we are called to a life that is set apart from the world. But it’s not set apart by way of following rules. Our lives should be set apart by the radical way we love those around us.

A Smarter (more Biblical) Approach

Christians should take their cues about alcohol from the Bible. Crazy idea, I know. We should be okay with a little more grey, a little more uncertainty. The Bible never seems concerned with answering the questions: Should a Christian drink? or How much can a Christian drink? Rather it takes the path in the middle. We should too.

For more on reading the Bible: Everything in the Bible is True… BUT

I know this makes some uncomfortable; we like to know exactly where that line is. Exactly where our actions become sin. But the Bible is rarely concerned with answering that question. It’s up to each Christian to examine their lives (with the help of the Holy Spirit) and see where they should draw the line. When we tell others to abstain from alcohol we are adding to what the Bible says and making it harder for others to get to Jesus. That’s not the side of the fence I want to be on. Rather, I want to land in the middle ground that lands on.

Let’s hear from you! How were you raised to view alcohol? Do you think it’s okay for a Christian to drink?


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Jeffery Curtis Poor

Husband. Father. Pastor. Writer. Trying to be more like Jesus each day. Follow me: Twitter, Facebook, Email

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jwswift22
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Great points! Martin Luther even praised his wife for making the very best beer. we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit at all times and consider the role of conscience, ours and our brothers in these matters. I wouldn’t offer a beer to those who I know refrain for reason of faith. In discussions I remind people that Jesus turned WATER into WINE not the other way around. However, I would say that those who have made a clear stance to not drink at all will face no temptation from this source. Which is wise too. Seasons of… Read more »

Gary McPherson
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Excellent post. Just as an FYI, the wine was likely at least as strong as today’s wines. God designed the grape with yeast on the skin. The moment you break that skin the juice and yeast start doing their thing. Given most of the Bible is centered around hot desert regions you can imagine how quickly that would firment. I am encouraged to see more and more actual Bible being taken as it is written and not twisted around. I was saved in 1983 and endured a lot of contradictory teachings throughout my life. It’s only been in the last… Read more »

Danie
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Danie

In1 Cor Paul teaches that if I eat meat (drink wine…hard wood) and it causes my brother or sister to follow my example and sin…Im responsible for his/her downfall. Taking one glass may for many people the start to drink more and more, eventually fall as alcholic. Who can say: wine is Not my boss. What about cigarettes. A little thing many many peOple cannot resist. It Controls that person. It started with one “draw”. I feel a Christian,filled and led by the Holy Spirit, should refrain from alchohol to be a testimony of STRENGTH and in Control of your… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Terrible article. It’s sin! Alcohol carries spirit’s it does more damage in people’s lives than it does good. This is some soft sugar coated let’s please people false narrative of the Gospel.

prescottascoolbreeze
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prescottascoolbreeze

I hav always been conflicted on this. I drank in college but hardly drink now. Not because of a tragedy or witnessing it destroy lives I just don’t like the feeling it gives me but I know it can be destructive if you abuse it. I am glad you clarified the difference between bible days and these days. Great read