Many do not believe that there is anything unholy about social drinking. They believe that the Bible teaches that social drinking is acceptable to God. Their arguments are numerous so I cannot deal with them all nor as fully as I would like to in this one article but I do think it is important to address them as best I can in the space that I have because I believe that the Bible clearly condemns social drinking and if we want to be a holy people we will abstain from alcoholic beverages.
First of all, we need to take a look at the words God uses when He talks about drinking. The Bible uses generic words when it talks about drinking. Like we use the word “drink.” Someone says, “I gotta have a drink!” We may assume they mean alcohol. In a restaurant with an attached bar, the waitress may ask you if you would like a drink before dinner. In that context, you understand she means alcohol. Or, you might be traveling down the road with the family, and one of the kids might ask to stop so they can get a drink. They probably mean soda. I may walk through the lobby by the fountain and say, “I need a quick drink before church.” You know I mean water. So, we need to look at the words God uses and consider the context in which they are used.
Allow me to introduce you to a little Hebrew and a little Greek. They went in together and started a pizza shop down the street!
There are three main Hebrew words.
Shechar is the word normally translated strong drink in the Bible and is normally condemned in the Bible. However, the word is also used in other contexts in a different way. It was used as a drink offering poured on the altar to God (Num. 28:7) and it was to be eaten by God’s people (Deu. 14:26). This may be explained by the fact that shechar was used by ancient writers to denote: sweet syrups (the term is related to our words “sugar” and “saccharine”) such as the honey of dates or palm syrup. It was employed for sweet drinks and articles of food; “date or palm wine in its fresh and unfermented state” (Frederick Lees, Ph.D., in Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, John Kitto, Ed., 1880, I, p. 585); and, intoxicating beverages from non-grape products (e.g., date palm juice and grains – cf. Is. 5:11). Thus, Dr. Lees comments that: “shechar might also include the sense of ‘sweet-fruit,’ as in Deut. 14:26, where it and yayin are placed amongst the tithe-offerings as solids to be eaten” (p. 584). The only context in which strong drink was permitted was to relieve great physical suffering or distress, i.e. for medicinal purposes (Pro. 31:6). Alcohol is used that way today (e.g. NyQuil 25% alcohol). Hospitals used to use it and now have better drugs than alcohol to accomplish the task of relieving pain. Of course, this has nothing to do with social drinking.
Tirosh appears about 40 times in the Old Testament and is defined as “must or fresh grape-juice (as just squeezed out); by implication (rarely) fermented wine:--(new, sweet) wine” (Strong’s Hebrew). In Isaiah 65:8 “the new wine is found in the cluster” (still on the vine). Proverbs 3:10, “So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine.” The context in both of these verses show that they are talking about fresh grape juice, in the cluster or just pressed out before it had time to ferment. This is the normal use of the word in the Old Testament.
Yayin is found 141 times in the Old Testament. It can mean a grapevine (Num. 6:4); products of the vineyard that can be gathered, drunk, or eaten (Deut. 28:39; cf. Jer. 40:10, 12); the liquid that comes from the winepress (Isa. 16:10; Jer. 48:33); or, fermented grape juice (Prov. 23:31). Yayin is thus a general term referring to a variety of products from the grape vine (cf. “all sorts of wine” — Neh. 5:18), and the context in which the term is employed will determine its meaning in each circumstance.
There are only two Greek words to consider.
Gleukos denotes “sweet wine, i.e. (properly) must (fresh juice), but used of the more saccharine (and therefore highly inebriating) fermented wine:--new wine” (Strong’s Greek). Gleukos was the word used in the accusation of intoxication in Acts 2:13-15. They were sarcastically accusing them of being drunk on grape juice.
Oinos is the general word for wine (W.E. Vine). It may refer to a fermented beverage (e.g. Eph. 5:18), or it may denote freshly squeezed grape juice (cf. Isa. 16:10 – LXX). Oinos is used in referring to new wine which could burst the old wineskins (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37). This implies the fermenting of new wine into alcoholic wine.
So, the usage of the word wine in the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, can refer to either alcoholic or nonalcoholic grape juice. Writings from the following ancient writers also made use of the term wine to designate nonalcoholic wine: the Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC); the Greek medical doctor, Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC) was considered the father of the medical profession; Homer in about 800 BC made mention of sugar filled wine to refresh soldiers; Athenaeus lived in Egypt and wrote Sophist at Dinner, which was published in about AD 220 and quoted other writers about nonalcoholic wines; a Roman, Columella (4 BC – AD 70) wrote extensively on agriculture and wine; the Roman writer, historian, and biographer, Plutarch (AD 46 – 120); the physician and philosopher, Galen, in manuscript from AD 190; Virgil (70 BC -19 BC), the son of a farmer and a classical Roman poet; Theophrastus (371 BC -287 BC), studied under Plato and Aristotle, wrote Inquiry Into Plants, which distinguished between unfermented wine and intoxicating wine; Plato (428 BC -347 BC), a philosopher and mathematician, also founder of the Academy in Athens. Their writings are consistent with the word usage of wine in the Bible being used to describe at times a nonalcoholic beverage.
The claim is sometimes made, though, that in Bible times there was no method for preserving grape juice in an unfermented state. Therefore, “wine” must have had some alcoholic content. That is just not true. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary cites ancient skills for the preservation of grape juice all year long (p. 895). Secular writings from the New Testament period (0-100 A.D.) indicated grape juice could be preserved without fermenting up to a year. The Roman writers of Pliny (Natural History) and Columella (On Agriculture and Trees) documented for the juice to be bottled in a specific way and immersed in a pond for thirty days. Pliny and second century B.C. historian, Polybius (Fragments), stated the grape juice could be reconstituted by soaking raisins in water. Another method, according to Polybius, was to boil down juice into syrup. When needed, the syrup was diluted similar to the frozen concentrate of today. Ancients would also boil old fermented wine. Alcohol will boil at a lower temperature than water, allowing the alcohol to be boiled away. Adding salt or saltwater to the juice would also prevent alcoholic fermentation. The addition of salt causes lactic fermentation which form cultures that are similar to what would be in today’s yogurt or buttermilk. Pliny and others also mentioned using sulfur as a preservative. Sulfur prevents the yeast and bacteria growth which causes the alcohol fermentation. Sulfur is still a modern-day preservative.
Now having laid this foundation, let’s consider some of the passages in the Bible that are sometimes misused to argue for social drinking and others that forbid social drinking.
John 2:1-11, is where we read of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine. When the master of the feast tasted it, he said to the bridegroom, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!’’ (v. 10). The fact that the ruler of the feast could still distinguish the quality of the latter beverage from the former, suggests that his senses were not dull as a result of previous guzzling. Jesus did not turn water into fermented grape juice but good, sweet and fresh grape juice. The guests were not intoxicated but had their fill of grape juice. Jesus made an even better-quality grape juice than they had been drinking.
Albert Barnes writes, "We should not be deceived by the phrase 'good wine.' We often use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here. Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as 'good,' or mention that as 'the best wine,' which was harmless or 'innocent'…The most useful wine…was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine…was that which had not been adulterated by 'the addition of anything to the must or juice.' Pliny expressly says that a good wine was one that was destitute of spirit...It should not be assumed, therefore, that the 'good wine' was 'stronger' than the other: it is rather to be presumed that it was milder. The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape."
I do not understand how anyone could justify Jesus making 180 gallons of intoxicating beverage for people who had already been drinking such for some time, but it makes all the sense in the world if He made a good, sweet and fresh beverage to save the host from the embarrassment of running out of grape juice. This was the first miracle He performed. His very character and nature tell us He didn’t aid in making people at a party drunk as a part of His first miracle!
Luke 7:34 “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” John lived an austere life and never partook of the grape in any form, but Jesus lived a normal life partaking of food and drink, including grapes and grape juice, like everybody else. The enemies of Jesus were wrong about Him as they were about John. Jesus didn’t drink any alcohol and John didn’t have any demons.
1 Corinthians 11 tells us that when the church at Corinth met to eat the Lord’s Supper “one is hungry and another is drunk” (vv. 20-21). This does not mean that fermented grape juice is to be used in the Lord’s Supper, nor does it condone social drinking of alcoholic beverages. Paul condemned what Corinth was doing here. The word “drunk” is used here opposite the word “hungry” meaning “filled or satiated” with food, not alcohol. The Bible never uses the term “wine” for the Lord’s Supper but “cup” and “the fruit of the vine”. Yeast or leaven is necessary to produce fermented grape juice, but these were not to be used in the Passover at which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (Exo. 12:15-20; 13:6-7) and were symbols of corruption (Mat. 16:6, 11-12; Luke 12:1; 1 Cor. 5:6-8).
1 Timothy 5:23 is elliptical, “no longer water [only], but use a little wine [also]”. Paul is not telling Timothy to become a social drinker but to take a little wine mixed with water for his stomach’s sake. The use of wine was a widely recognized remedy for some illnesses among both Jews and Greeks, as reflected in the Hebrew Talmud, the writings of Hippocrates, Plutarch, and Pliny (Fee, p. 135). “Wine was often helpful in settling stomachs and preventing dysentery (it disinfected water)” (Keener, p. 619). Of course, Paul may have been simply telling Timothy to use a little grape juice, which has a very soothing effect on the body. There are historical references attesting to the use of unfermented grape juice for medicinal purposes in the ancient world. For example, Athenaeus (AD 280) counsels to use unfermented grape juice for stomach disorders.
1 Timothy 3 gives the qualifications for elders and deacons in the church. Elders are not to be “given to wine”, literally “at or near wine” (v. 3) and deacons are not to be “given to much wine”, literally “hold near much wine” (v. 8). It is just two ways of saying the same thing. Neither elders nor deacons are to be drunkards, but they must be “sober” (vv. 2, 11).
Like many of the qualifications for elders and deacons, the same is required of every Christian. Under the Levitical system, the priests were forbidden the use of any fermented beverages as they ministered in their priestly functions (Lev. 10:9). Now, however, under the reign of Christ, all Christians are priests (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6) and we are continually functioning in the capacity of offering spiritual sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1, 2; Heb. 13:15; 1 Pet. 2:5). How ought Christians to conduct themselves as ministers of a greater priesthood?
Ephesians 5:18 And do not be drunk [grow drunk – W. E. Vine, begin to be softened – Robert Young, get drunk, become intoxicated – Thayer] with wine, in which is dissipation [wine itself is condemned here because it is the cause of dissipation, literally unsavableness]; but be filled with the Spirit,
1 Thessalonians 5:6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober [be free from the influence of intoxicants – W. E. Vine]. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk [you can only get drunk by drinking] are drunk at night.
If one is social drinking, he is not obeying the command to be sober but is getting drunk. Drunkenness is a matter of degree and it begins with the first drink. Alcohol doesn’t have to be digested, it goes straight to the blood stream and immediately to the brain. The first effect of alcohol is on judgment and self-control. Just one or two drinks will cause you to say and do things you would never otherwise.
Consider this interesting quotation from the Encyclopedia of Christianity (pp. III.457).
“Modern study of the effects of alcohol shows that it is an anesthetic, which means that it affects the higher centers of the brain that regulate morals and judgment before it affects perception or motor coordination. Christians should know and be aware that even minimal use has some influence upon these higher centers. Also, alcoholic beverages are generally used in much the same way and for the same reasons as dangerous drugs. Since man has the inherent tendency to excuse himself, these factors should cause Christians to question strongly any claims of liberty with regard to their use.”
Every condemnation of drunkenness in the Bible (and there are many like Luke 21:34; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:21) is a warning not to drink because drinking causes drunkenness. With every drink, we become more and more drunk.
Proverbs 20:1 warns, “Wine is a mocker [it will embarrass you], Strong drink is a brawler [it will get you into trouble], And whoever is led astray by it is not wise [don’t be a fool].” Proverbs 23:31-35 warns, “Do not look on the wine when it is red [lest you be seduced by its attractiveness as Jesus warned about looking at a woman in Matthew 5:28], When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper [it is poison, most of the benefits from wine come from the grape not the alcohol]. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying: ‘They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?’” 1 Peter 4:3 warns, “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles--when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”
Jesus doesn’t want any of you drinking. He loves you too much to see you destroy your life and the lives of others (Eph. 5:2). He came down here to show us how to live and died to pay for our sins when we don’t live the way He showed us (1 Pet. 2:21-24). He was raised from the dead to give us the assurance and hope of eternal life (2 Cor. 4:14). It is the power of this message that can change your heart and set you free to live for God (Rom. 1:16). He challenges you to put down the bottle and take up the Bible. To be a Christian. There is no other life like it!
John 10:10 “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
That life begins in baptism where you die to self, bury the old man of sin and are raised up to walk in newness of life and continues as we present ourselves to God (Rom. 6; 12:1). Who will give their life to Jesus, today? Which one of you Christians will step out and come clean about your drinking and start to make things right with God? God’s family does not seek to condemn you or to put you down, but wants to help you and to build you up. We love you and want to pray for you. We want you to come to Jesus, whoever you are!
Written by Robert Dodson Note: This article has borrowed from numerous sources some of which are unknown.
Northwest church of christ
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