What does the Bible say?...

Is it SIN to drink alcohol?

Many of our readers are quite rightly concerned about the high level of alcohol abuse with its often horrific consequences. Is it appropriate, and Biblical, for a Christian to imbibe alcoholic drinks: wine, beer, liquor, spirits?

It must be clearly stated that it is wrong, and contrary to the Bible teaching - and it is sin - for a Christian to become drunk. Drunkenness leads to abuse, to injury, to death - often living death, as any uncontrolled alcoholic will admit. Consequently, the idea of "temperance" has become closely associated with evangelical Christianity, and is promoted by many organizations and denominations.

As in every aspect of the Christian's daily walk, however, what is sin is determined by Scripture and not by our feelings nor, often, the traditions of our church. What, then, do the Scriptures teach about the use of alcohol? Is there a proper use for it?

Ancient Practice

You don't read far into the Scriptures - even the New Testament - to find that alcoholic drink was a feature of ancient life. Indeed, wine (Gk. oinos) was the usual beverage. That this liquid was alcoholic is confirmed by Paul's statement "Be not drunk with wine (oinos)" (Eph 5:18) . The equivalent Hebrew term was used to record that Noah became drunk with wine (Gen 9). No-one gets drunk on grape-juice!

Wine has proven qualities that are recognized both in Scripture and in the modern world. It was used daily as an additive to purify water. It was poured into wounds as an antiseptic. "Strong drink" was administered to people "ready to perish" (Proverbs 31:6). All of which are echoed in our day.

Indeed the drinking of alcohol was recommended by God Himself as a festive drink for his own people (Deut 14:26). It is, too, listed among God's blessings as "wine that makes glad the heart of man" (Psalm 104:15)! Medically it has been shown that moderate daily use does indeed protect, literally, our heart and cardiovascular system. Paul recommended "a little wine" [oinos] for Timothy's "stomach's sake, and [his] often infirmities" (I Tim 5:23). And, of course, it was used by the Jews for Passover observance, and by Christians in New Testament times for the Lord's Supper.

Jesus' Example

When we turn to the example of Jesus, we find him accused of being a "winebibber" (Matt 11:19). The charge was, of course, false. He did drink wine but he never overindulged! He said that he came "eating and drinking" - not just water, obviously (v.33), but wine, in contrast to John the Baptist who was an abstainer (Luke 7:34). We also find him at a wedding reception turning water into gallons of top-quality oinos (John 2:10). And Jesus refers to wine in his parables.

Whatever alcohol's potentially harmful effects, then, it clearly is not prohibited (except in specific instances) in the Bible, Old Testament or New. It is one of God's blessings to mankind. "Temper- ance" - which is by many used in the sense of total abstention from alcoholic drink - is therefore a human tradition and stems from a misinformed conscience, however sincere.

That, however, isn't the end of story. For there is such a universal misuse of alcohol that drinking it clearly must be done with extreme caution.

It must be stated that contrary to the teachings of some it is not sin to be a teetotaller! Some Christians are teetotal except for the Lord's Supper. Others are wary of even a drop passing their lips at any time. But the Bible carefully avoids using the word oinos for the symbol of the shed blood of Jesus, instead using the term "cup" (I Cor. 11:25). By usage and typology, of course, the cup contained wine. Paul (v. 21) chided the Corinthians for getting drunk - certainly not on grape-juice - at the Lord's Supper! If, therefore, a Christian has strong objection to wine a different liquid could be substituted with no implied condemnation.

Christian Choice

Of all people, Christians are to be an example to others. In some circumstances it may be inappropriate for him or her to drink alcohol. An example would be where the Christian had been alcoholic, or someone in the family were in that unhappy situation. Life can go on without a drink!

For example, to avoid offence we do not offer alcoholic beverages at our Festival social activities. And they are hilariously enjoyable - probably because of our abstinence!

There are other situations where imbibing is inappropriate for the Christian. All the time, of course, we must be in complete control of ourselves. And it doesn't take much to shake that control! So know how much - or how little - you can take and still remain completely sober. Avoid alcohol completely when you face decision-making, driving etc. This reflects the Bible prohibition for kings and priests in active service. Be very careful how you use this gift from God to man.

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Volume 2 No. 1, January/February 1998. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.

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