The Use of Alcohol

In Genesis 9, we read of the first use of an alcoholic beverage. From the wording of the passage, we assume that drinking wine was known to people before the flood. Noah used his knowledge of winemaking to grow a vineyard and produce wine. From the fruit of his labors, he got drunk.

The Bible is very clear about the effects of alcohol on the body. In Proverbs 20:1 we learn that it deceives the mind. You cannot trust your judgment while under the influence of alcohol. Things that we would not do while sober become things to consider while drunk. In Isaiah 28:1-3, 7-8, a warning is given to rulers not to drink because they will make mistakes. In our own laws, we recognize this. A modern slogan is "Don't drink and drive." We understand that a person under the influence of alcohol is prone to make mistakes that can cost someone their life. Is it not odd that people say, "I know when to quit," yet while they are drinking, the alcohol can cause them to err in their own judgment about how drunk they are?

Moral standards are also lowered by alcohol (Habakkuk 2:15). Since alcohol impairs judgment, people make mistakes in regard to moral decisions. A person under the influence of alcohol will do things that he would not do while sober. This is why alcohol is often used at social gatherings. A person under the influence of alcohol forgets he is shy and blurts out things he would normally keep to himself. The incident involving Noah shows the effect of alcohol on his thinking -- he lay naked in his tent while he was drunk (Genesis 9:20-21).

Both Proverbs 23:29-33 and Isaiah 5:11 contain detailed descriptions of drunkenness and alcoholism. It is clear that repeatedly getting drunk is condemned by God. Paul said, in I Thessalonians 5:5-8, that drunkenness is associated with darkness (or evil). Christians need a sound, sober mind to perform their duties before God. A drunk is not sober-minded. In Romans 13:13-14, Paul describes proper behavior as not being drunk or carousing (rioting or orgies in some translations). The word translated carousing means drunken parties. Other actions associated with drinking parties are also condemned, including promiscuity (or chambering) which literally means sexual intercourse, and sensuality (or wantonness) which means a desire for sin so strong that you don't care what other people think about it. Drunkenness and drinking parties are also condemned in Galatians 5:19-21 and I Corinthians 5:11; 6:9-10.

Peter also warns against the use of alcohol in I Peter 4:3. He, too, uses a number of words to describe behaviors that are not appropriate for Christians in which to be involved. The word "lasciviousness" (or "licentiousness") means a desire for sin that is so strong, you don't care what other people (or God) think about it. "Lust" is a desire for things that are forbidden. Peter then uses three different words which describe degrees of drinking. "Drunkenness" (or "excess of wine") refers to the down-and-out drunk. Today we call them alcoholics. "Revellings" refers to people who are intoxicated, but not dead drunk. This type of drinking is usually associated with wild parties. "Drinking parties" (or "banqueting") are social gatherings where alcoholic drinks are served, but not necessarily to excess. In all three cases, Peter is saying that these are things that Christians have left behind when they left the world.

Attempts to Justify Drinking

Despite this clear evidence, there are people who still wish to justify moderate drinking of alcohol. Let us examine some of the typical arguments.

It is not always condemned in the Bible

Much of the ambiguity in our Bibles is actually caused by the translators of the text. Translation is a complex process and translators have a difficult time keeping their own personal opinions out of the translation. As a result, while the Hebrew language contains several words for grape products, these varied words are typically translated to the generic word "wine." Here is a list of the Hebrew words, their definitions, and passages to show that the definition is correct. This list is based on Gene Frost's article The Strong Drink of the Bible.

  • Yayin is a generic term used to identify all products derived from grapes. The actual meaning of the term must be derived from the context.
    • It is used of the juice still in the grape before it has been squeezed out: Jeremiah 40:10; 48:33; Isaiah 16:10; Deuteronomy 28:39.
    • It is used of freshly squeezed grape juice: Jeremiah 48:33; Exodus 22:29.
    • It is used of boiled grape syrup which is later reconstituted with water: Proverbs 9:2,5.
    • It is used of fermented grape juice: Proverbs 20:1.
    • It is used of fermented grape juice that has drugs added: Proverbs 23:30; Isaiah 5:22.
  • Tirosh is a specific term used to identify fresh grape juice -- sometimes so fresh, it is still in the clusters: Isaiah 65:8; Joel 2:24; Proverbs 3:10.
  • Chemer is literally the blood of the grape as it comes out of a squeezed grape -- the emphasis is on its pure, unadulterated state: Deuteronomy 32:14; Isaiah 27:2
  • Asis is a generic term for any fruit juice: Song of Solomon 8:2; Isaiah 49:26; Joel 1:5; 3:18; Amos 9:13.
  • Sobe is syrup made from grape juice as a means of preserving it. It is mixed with water to reconstitute it: Isaiah 1:22, Hosea 4:18, Nahum 1:10.
  • Shekar is usually translated as "strong drink" and refers to any alcoholic drink made from grains or fruit. Every time it is used as a beverage, it is condemned: Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; 28:7; Deuteronomy 14:26; 29:6; Judges 13:4,7,14; I Samuel 1:15; Proverbs 20:1; 31:4,6; Isaiah 5:11,22; 24:9; 28:7; 29:9; 56:12; Micah 2:11.

[See the article "Old Testament Beverages" for more details.]

When you divide the Old Testament passages between those you know alcohol is involved with those you know it is not involved, you quickly learn that God consistently condemned the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Approval is only shown for non-alcoholic drinks.

In the New Testament, the Greek language did not distinguish between grape products. All products derived from grapes were called by one generic word, which is translated as "wine" in our English Bibles. We can only determine the specific meaning from the context of the verse. However, the Greek does distinguish between the various uses of alcohol as we pointed out in I Peter 4:3.

Preachers don't know the difference between excessive drunkenness and simple drinking.

The passage in I Peter 4:3 does show the difference in the quantity of alcohol consumed. Each level of drinking, from light social gatherings to down-and-out binge drinking is associated with non-Christian living. Just two verses before, in I Peter 4:1, Peter warns Christians to cease from sin.

Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach ailment.

It seems that no matter how much alcohol a person consumes, I Timothy 5:23 is quoted to justify their practice. However, in this passage, the alcohol is being used for medicinal purposes. This has nothing to do with social drinking. It would be similar to saying that since Valium has medicinal benefits, we can regularly get high on Valium.

Jesus turned water into wine.

In John 2:1-11, we know that Jesus converted water into some product of grapes, but we cannot directly determine its alcohol content. If the drink produced was intoxicating, then we would be claiming that Jesus supplied more alcoholic beverages to a group who had already drunk all the available supplies. A quick calculation shows that Jesus made about 120 to 160 gallons of drink. Consuming this quantity of liquor would have constituted a huge drinking party. However, drinking parties are condemned, so we must conclude that the drink must have been unfermented.

Notice that the governor of the feast, the one in charge of making sure no one violates the Law by getting drunk, called Jesus' drink the best served during the feast. The best wine does not necessarily refer to the beverage with the greatest alcohol content. In a culture without refrigeration, fresh, pure grape juice was a treasured treat. The governor was simply complimenting the host on the drink's quality of taste.

Also, notice from our study of the Hebrew words for grape products that the Old Law did not permit the serving of alcoholic beverages, and since Jesus did not violate the Law, the drink he made could not have been alcoholic.

Social drinking isn't so bad if you have a few friends in your home and avoid the taverns. If you are visiting a fine restaurant, a glass of wine or two may be in order.

To show how poor this line of reasoning is, consider its meaning if we substituted another sin in its place. Would adultery be acceptable if it is only practiced at home or in a fine hotel? The place where something is practiced does not make an act right or wrong. Don't fool yourself into thinking a sin is acceptable just because few people are aware you are doing it ( John 3:19; I Thessalonians 5:5-8).

There are foreign places where a traveler cannot drink the water. Intoxicants are the only safe beverages. Therefore, why can't I have a drink with my meals?

It reminds me of a tear-jerker I was once told. A soldier had been reading his Bible out in the desert during the war. He placed it in his breast pocket, over his heart, and returned to battle. An enemy's bullet struck him in the chest, but his Bible stopped the bullet. [Time out for a few sobs.] His brush with death scared him, so he decided to be baptized, but being in the desert he couldn't find any water. [Need a tissue?] Before he could be baptized, a land mine killed him! [Compose yourself!] What will happen to him? [More violent sobbing.] This proves we don't need baptism for salvation.

People, who haven't been reading their Bible, have no Bible in their pockets, have no bullets in their Bible, aren't hunting water, and are not within 50 miles of a land mine, offer such arguments because they don't want to obey the Lord. People who sob about drinking in a foreign country are in the same boat. It is not that they have no choice. It is that they aren't interested in any other choice. Besides, they are not in that situation here and now, even if we could find some credence to their reasoning.


Instead of trying to justify a questionable practice we should be seeking ways to avoid coming close to sin. As Christians, we need to be watchful and sober, ever vigilant in our duties - I Thessalonians 5:5-8. A solider is not allowed to drink while on duty, because the drink will dull his senses. We are soldiers of God and ever on duty while we live in this world of corruption. Can we do no less?

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