What does the Bible say about drinking? Is drinking a sin?
Few topics have been debated in Christian circles as much as drinking alcohol. What’s interesting about the debate surrounding this topic is that it’s relatively new. Throughout most of Christian history the consumption of alcohol in moderation has been widely accepted and rarely condemned.
Not only has it not been condemned, but beer and wine have 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 Christians started to ask, is drinking a sin?
I’ve seen numerous articles written on this topic. Yet despite all the content, I have seen very little clarity on this question, is drinking a sin? So, what I want to do is take a look at what the Bible says about alcohol and then look if Christians should drink.
What Does The Bible Say About Drinking?
Let’s jump in, what does the Bible say about drinking? Is drinking a sin?
Here’s a few of the most commonly used Bible verses about alcohol: 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
If you were to glance through these verses that talk about drinking you would find that the Bible never gives a straight answer. Some verses warn about the dangers of alcohol while others talk about it as a blessing.
The Bible lives in this tension with the issue of drinking. It never condemns it, but it often warns against the abuse of it. But there are a few things we can know about alcohol in the Bible.
Here’s 6 lessons from the Bible that will help us navigate the question, is drinking a sin? What does the Bible say about drinking? Let’s take a look:
For more about reading the Bible in context: How To Read The Bible (the 5 best tips)
1. The Bible Portrays Alcohol As A Blessing From God
Throughout the Old Testament alcohol is seen as a blessing from God. Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14 says that wine is a blessing from God and a few chapters later it says having no wine is a curse (Deuteronomy 28:38, 51). Psalms 104 says that wine gladdens the heart of main. And let’s not forget that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine… And no it wasn’t grape juice. More on that later.
These are verses you will likely never hear preached on in church. But the reality is the Bible teaches that alcohol can be a good and enjoyable thing. That’s not to say there’s no warnings. We’ll deal with those in the next point. But anyone who wants to claim drinking is a sin has to face the sometimes positive light the Bible talks about alcohol in.
What does the Bible say about drinking? It can be a good and enjoyable thing.
2. The Bible Continually Warns Against The Abuse Of Alcohol
The Bible holds drinking in tension. On one hand it talks about how it can a blessing. But on the other hand it warns of the damaging effects it can have if it’s abused.
Many times the Bible says that drunkenness is a sin (Ephesians 5:6, Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:3 to name a few). Often times the word that is translated as drunkenness also carries with it the connotation of a perpetual state of being drunk. In other words the Bible is warning of the damage that being addicted to alcohol can bring.
The Bible is clear that alcohol can be abused and that is a sin. This has lead many to the conclusion that all drinking is a sin. However, that’s not what the Bible is saying. That’s adding to the Bible, it doesn’t say that. It is simply warning against addiction and drunkenness.
What does the Bible say about drinking? It continually warns against addiction and drunkenness.
3. The Bible Says People Are More Important Than Your Freedom
It might seem that up to this point that as long as you don’t get drunk or become addicted it’s okay for Christians to drink. But this issue isn’t just a personal decision, it’s one that needs to be made in community. Is drinking a sin isn’t the only question we should ask. We should also consider how it effects those around us.
The Bible says that we should consider how our actions effect those around us (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8). In other words we should be considerate of others struggles. We should strive for unity rather then create division.
What does the Bible say about drinking? The people around you are more important your personal freedoms.
4. The Bible Says The Gospel Takes Precedent
The primary mission of Christians is to tell those around us about what Jesus has done (Matthew 28). Nothing should hinder that. There are certain cultures and countries where drinking would prohibit the spread of the Gospel. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 is trying to drive that home. If your drinking hinders someone coming to know Jesus than we should abstain.
What does the Bible say about drinking? The spread of the Gospel is more important.
5. The Bible Says Alcohol Is Good For Medical Reasons
The Bible talks about the medicinal qualities of alcohol. Paul told Timothy, Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illness (1 Timothy 5:23).
There are some that say drinking is a sin because there’s no health benefits. And as modern medicine advances there’s much better options to deal with issues. But in the first century there were certain benefits to light drinking.
What does the Bible say about drinking? In some cases there are benefits to drinking.
6. The Bible Never Forbids Alcohol In Moderation
The reality is there isn’t a single verse in the Bible that forbids drinking in moderation. There’s also no verse that classifies exactly how many drinks you can have and exactly what drunk is. It’s a grey area of the Bible. The only thing that’s clear is the abuse of alcohol through drunkenness or addiction is a sin.
Those claiming that all drinking is a sin don’t have support from the Bible. The Bible keeps this issue in the grey, up for each Christian to decide what’s the wisest and most loving thing for them to do.
What does the Bible say about drinking? Drinking in moderation is not a sin.
Two Common Misconceptions About Alcohol In The Bible
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 slightly 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 Jesus was accused of being drunk on wine (Luke 7:34). And that’s why the Bible warns against getting drunk on wine.
Also, wine isn’t the only alcoholic drink mentioned in the Bible. The Bible also talks about a “strong drink” made with 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).
The alcohol in the Bible did not have a lower alcohol content. We know this from what the Bible says and from historians who have studied alcohol during this time period.
It Hurts Your Witness (or testimony)
We’ve already touched on this a little above. But I wanted to address it from the other side. Some people claim drinking is a sin because it hurts your testimony.
Now there is some truth in that. In some cultures drinking will hurt your ability to reach those around you.
However, the vast majority of non-christians are not put off by drinking in western culture. But they are put off by arbitrary rules created by Christians. I doubt my unbelieving friends 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.
In the majority of cases drinking will not hurt your witness in America. Of course that will depend on where you live, that’s not universally true. But for the most part drinking in moderation will not hurt your witness in western societies.
So, Is Drinking A Sin?
Now that we’ve looked at what the Bible says about alcohol let’s switch over to application. Is drinking a sin? I think we can see by now that the answer is no, drinking is not a sin.
There’s simply nothing in the Bible that says all drinking is a sin.
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 our own 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.
We should be okay with a little grey. There are some topics that the Bible never gives a straight answer. Like the one we are asking, is drinking a sin?
I know this makes some uncomfortable; we like to know exactly where that line is. Exactly where our actions become sin. But in some topics the Bible just doesn’t do that.
- What’s the wisest and most loving thing for me to do?
- How will this affect those around me?
A hard lesson for us to learn is that while we may have the freedom to do something, it still has a consequence. We may lose influence because of the choices we make. There are people in our life that we have the opportunity to positively influence. There are relationships worth holding onto. How will your decision in these grey areas affect people in those circles?
You will never leave an impact on anyone if you just hold onto your freedoms and do what you want. Sometimes you have to give up something so that you can gain influence in someone’s life to help them see the change they need to make. That’s why Paul said, “I will become all things to all people so that I may win a few.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Each person is in a unique situation and will have to determine this themselves. Who’s around you that you can impact? And in light of them what is the wisest and most loving thing for you to do? We might have the freedom to do something, but that doesn’t always make it the best thing for us to do.
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