Many religious people believe that God has forbidden any use of alcoholic beverages — that any use of alcohol is wrong and sinful. They claim that the Bible supports this prohibition.
Wine and other alcoholic drinks are frequently mentioned in the Bible. If something sinful or beneficial exists about these beverages, then the Bible will show it. What does the Bible really say about wine and alcohol?
One of the first mentions of wine in Scripture is by Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God at Salem (Jerusalem) during the time of Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham. Melchizedek “brought forth bread and wine” for Abram and his companions: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” (Gen 14:18)
The Hebrew word translated wine in Genesis 14:18 is yayin. This word is used over 130 times in the Hebrew Bible to mean fermented wine, not grape juice. This same beverage, when used excessively, causes drunkenness.
Gen 9:21 says that Noah drank too much yayin and became drunk: “And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.”
Lot also became drunk on this beverage (Genesis 19:30-36) and so did Nabal: “And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light.“ (1 Sam 25:36)
Nevertheless, God told his people to enjoy yayin at the yearly festivals: “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,” (Deu 14:26)
In addition to using wine as a beverage, God also commanded the Levitical priests to include in the sacrifices a portion of wine (yayin) as a drink offering: “And with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering.”
These scriptures make it clear that there can be a right and a wrong use of wine. Naturally fermented wine is between 10 per cent and 14 per cent alcohol. Higher alcoholic wines are fortified wines. On special occasions God even allowed use of what is translated as “strong drink.” This term comes from a different Hebrew word —shekar — which is used 22 times in the Old Testament, and refers to alcoholic drinks made from dates and other fruit.
The high alcoholic drinks called hard liquor today (40 per cent to 50 per cent alcohol, or 80 to 100 proof) did not exist in Bible times. They are produced by distilling grain-based mash or material from other sources. They did not come into widespread use until the Middle Ages. The danger of these high alcoholic drinks is that, unless one dilutes them, they easily lend themselves to abuse, drunkenness and alcoholism. (Liqueurs, flavoured and sweetened distilled liquors, are somewhat different in that they are usually served in small amounts and sipped slowly.)
The Bible says that God gave wine to make men glad: “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.” (Psa 104:15)
Why have some people turned this blessing of God into a curse? The answer is that many people do not follow God’s instructions. A blessing of wine was prophesied as a heritage to the chosen people in: “Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine [tirosh]:” (Gen 27:28)
The Hebrew word tirosh, meaning “new wine,” is used in 38 places in the Old Testament. People sometimes conclude that this word means grape juice, or fresh-pressed juice of the vine. However, states: “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” (Hos 4:11) Grape juice could not have this effect. Tirosh is an intoxicating wine if used in excess.
New Testament instruction
John the Baptist did not drink wine (oinos in the Greek) or any other form of alcohol and it was prophesied that he wouldn’t: “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luk 1:15)
However, Jesus Christ did drink oinos (wine): “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.” (Mat 11:19) and “The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Luk 7:34)
Jesus did not preach against the use of wine; instead he did like most other Jews of his day. He drank wine in moderation. In ancient times it was normally diluted with water for drinking, and was one of the principal beverages at that time — as it is today. Jesus’ first miracle was to change water into wine (oinos). Some people who preach total abstinence claim that this miracle was to turn water into grape juice. Imagine if you can a Jewish wedding banquet where everyone drank only grape juice! (The ancients did not have refrigeration or any other method of preventing grape juice from fermenting.)
On this occasion, Christ turned six jars of 20 or 30 gallons each into wine (oinos). This was no small miracle. This wine was of the finest quality: “And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” (Joh 2:10)
At wedding feasts, the hosts normally started with the best wine, and they would bring out lesser-quality wines later. Jesus gave a parable involving the fermenting process of oinos:. “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Mat 9:17)
At that time, instead of having metal or glass bottles to enclose wine, the skins of animals were used. The fermentation of the wine could burst an old skin, but it would not break a new stretchable skin. Another proof that oinos is fermented wine is the fact that the apostle Paul said: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” (Eph 5:18)
Paul did not mean to avoid getting drunk on grape juice! Paul instructed Timothy: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (1Ti 5:23)
He said to use only a little wine, not a whole lot. The purpose of this wine was Timothy’s frequent stomach ailments; small amounts of wine can help some stomach problems. Some of the Corinthians Christians were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper: “For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.” (1Co 11:21)
They were using fermented wine, probably following the example that Paul had set for them. Paul did not tell them that they were using the wrong kind of wine. He simply told them to eat and drink at home, and to participate in the Lord’s Supper in a respectful way.
Paul says: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Rom 14:21) He is referring to fermented wine; grape juice wouldn’t offend anyone. The implication is that there’s nothing wrong with the wine in itself, only if it offends a weak brother.
Abuse, drunkenness condemned
Both the Old and New Testaments contain many examples and commands against excessive use of alcohol and drunkenness. Drunkenness is listed as one of the works of the flesh: “Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21)
That means it is the result of the undisciplined, indiscriminate use of alcohol. Jesus warned his followers not to be drunk: “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” (Luk 21:34)
The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church they must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but cannot control his or her drinking: “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1 Co 5:11-13)
This refers to people who will not face up to or won’t even try to overcome drinking problems, not people who are working on and overcoming their problems. The Bible says that drunkards will not enter the kingdom of God:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1Co 6:9-10)
“Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21)
“No one who abuses alcohol should be ordained in the ministry of Jesus Christ: Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;” (1Ti 3:3), and “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;” (1Ti 3:8)
“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;” (Tit 1:7)
If a minister drinks, it should be in moderation. Throughout the Bible, God criticizes those who are “heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks”:“Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:” (Isa 5:22)
Excessive drinkers are committing an evil: “Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” (Pro 23:20-21)
“Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine! Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people, And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate. But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.” (Isa 28:1-8)
“When used improperly, wine is a mocker and deceiver: Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Pro 20:1)
Those who “linger over wine” and spend a great deal of time in drinking will find all kinds of woe, sorrow and trouble: “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.” (Pro 23:29-30)
Prohibitionists focus on the verses that condemn or show the results of wrong alcohol use, but neglect those verses that show there can be a proper moderate use.
Another use of wine that has been recognized for millennia is the antiseptic qualities of wine. The germ-killing qualities of wine are greater than the same proportion of alcohol in water – and a good natural wine is not as damaging to the flesh as some strong antiseptics are.
Jesus showed he knew the benefits of wine as an antiseptic when he gave the parable of the good Samaritan. In this case a man had been injured and had a severe wound. The good Samaritan “bandaged his wounds, pouring on [olive] oil and wine [oinos]”: “And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luk 10:34)
The oil softened the flesh; the wine helped kill bacteria.
Use this knowledge
Some people reject this truth from the Bible about alcohol. They have made up their minds that the use of wine is always wrong. The Bible shows we are not to judge or condemn those who honestly hold such beliefs:
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1Co 10:23-33)
Alcohol is not a necessity of life. In God’s eyes, one does not have to drink to show maturity, virility or sociability. And because of the enormous destruction caused by alcohol abuse today, many people have decided that it is better to abstain even if the Bible does not require us to (see for example Howard H. Charles, Alcohol and the Bible, published by Herald Press in 1981).
That is a more respectable position than trying to argue that the Bible itself forbids the use of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholics, or anyone who reacts adversely to alcohol for any reason, should not drink alcohol privately or socially at all. Nor should a person use alcohol in the presence of a recovering alcoholic (and often one does not know who that might be). There are many non-alcoholic drinks a person can enjoy instead.
This article was written in 1991 and updated in 2012.
Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved.
Grace Communion International at http://www.gci.org/.
Please note that inclusion of links to other sites does not mean recommendation of everything on that site only the particular article/s referred to.
Other articles about alcoholism at Grace Communion:
- Overcoming Alcohol Abuse – A Series of Articles
- Overcoming Alcohol Abuse
- What Is Alcoholism?
- The Slide Into Alcohol Abuse
- Alcoholism — a Disease?
- Alcohol and Teenagers
- Alcoholism Is Treatable
- Help for Family Members of Alcoholics
- Alcohol – What the Bible Really Says
- Coping with Stress…Without Alcohol or Drugs
- A Child of an Alcoholic Speaks Out!
- At Greater Risk – Women and Alcohol
Deliverance from Alcoholism
People can be delivered from all addictions, whether gambling, sex and drug addiction, and alcoholism, by Jesus. Salvation in the form of living a godly life, reading and obeying God’s word, praying, giving praise and thanks to God, good fellowship, renunciation prayers for generational inquity, and so on, will help and may resolve the problems entirely. Otherwise there are many Christian and secular organisations who can help with information about how to be delivered from addictions.
Casting out demons can help with deliverance from alcoholism. There is an book by Win Worley available on Amazon called “The Alcoholic Syndrome.”
Even after years of being free of alcohol, someone’s life can be made difficult by life patterns acquired during the period of alcoholism, and accompanying demons do need to be cast out.