What Does The Bible Say About Alcohol?
Few topics have been debated in Christian circles as much as alcohol. I know many have very strong opinions and probably have a really good reason for holding that view. But for just a few minutes let’s put aside our opinions and look at what the Bible actually says.
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 want to read all the verses you can find them here: List Of Bible Verses 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.” It lives in this tension.
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.
The Bible lives in this tension with the issue of drinking. It never condemns it, but it often warns against the abuse of it.
So what should Christians do? Is it okay to drink?
Can Christians Drink?
What’s interesting about this question is that it’s more of a recent one. 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.
So, why do so many Christians push for the abstinence of drinking when it’s not in the Bible? I think it comes from a good place. The abuse of alcohol can cause damage, so many advocate to just avoid it altogether.
However, the Bible never condemns the consumption of alcohol just the abuse of it. So when Christians say that it’s a sin to drink they are adding rules to the Bible.
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 with money.
Just because alcohol can be abused doesn’t mean it needs to be avoided. It means that we should act cautiously. 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.
Two Common Misconceptions
I want to deal with two common misconceptions I see spread all the time about alcohol in the Bible.
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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