Can Christians Drink Alcoholic Beverages?

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The question has commonly been asked, “Can Christians drink alcoholic beverages?”  The die-hard fundamentalist would say no.  The more liberal evangelical would say yes.  A lot of the people in the middle are just confused.  In this article, I hope to dispel some of that confusion.

Clear Commands & Examples

First off, the Scriptures are crystal clear that we are not to get drunk.  Multiple verses warn against and even condemn it.

  • Ephesians 5:18 (Be not drunk with wine)
  • Galatians 5:21 (Drunkenness listed as a lust of the flesh)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:10 (Drunkards are listed among those not inheriting the Kingdom of God)
  • 1 Peter 5:8 (Be sober)
  • Luke 12:45-46 (The drunken servant is cut in sunder)
  • Romans 13:13 (Let us not walk in drunkenness)
  • 1 Corinthians 5:11 (Do not keep company with a drunken “brother”)
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 (Be sober)
  • 1 Peter 4:3-5 (Excess of wine is of our past life)

In addition to clear commands against drunkenness, there are several Biblical examples of lives ruined because of the sin.  Noah got drunk, which led to extreme family troubles (Genesis 9:20-27).  Lot got drunk, resulting in immorality (Genesis 19:30-38).  Nabal died after becoming extremely drunk (1 Samuel 25:36-38).  Amnon was killed while drunk (2 Samuel 13:28-29).  King Elah of Israel was drinking himself drunk when he was assassinated by Zimri (1 Kings 16:8-10).  Ben-hadad and 32 other kings were attacked and killed by Israel while drunk (1 Kings 20:12-21).  The Scriptures go on and on with example after example of how drunkenness leads to disaster.

Further than that, certain groups of people were commanded to completely abstain from wine.

  • Priests (Leviticus 9:8-11)
  • Nazarites (Numbers 6:3)
  • Leaders (Proverbs 31:4-5)
  • Bishops or Elders (1 Timothy 3:2-3, The Greek word for “given to wine” is paroinos.  This word comes for the words para (near, by) and oinos (wine), so it literally means “near wine”)
  • People under the legal drinking age (Romans 13:1-2, Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to drink alcohol.  That being so, if you are not legally allowed to drink, it is a sin to do so.)

The Wisdom Principle

What about the rest of us?  Is it okay for believers who are not in any of those categories to drink without getting drunk?  Well the Bible never condemns it outright, but it does stop just short of doing so.  There are several Biblical warnings against the consumption of wine and alcoholic beverages in general.

  • “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)
  • “For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” (Proverbs 23:21)
  • “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.” (Proverbs 23:29-30)
  • “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.” (Proverbs 23:31)
  • “At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” (Proverbs 23:32)
  • “Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:33)
  • “Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast.  They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake?  I will seek it yet again.” (Proverbs 23:34-35)
  • “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” (Hosea 4:11)
  • “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:” (Habakkuk 2:5)
  • “Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory.” (Habakkuk 2:16)
  • “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.” (Romans 14:21)

You may choose to ignore this advice, but it is to your own detriment.  Alcohol has led to countless deaths, diseases, and divorces.  Its ultimate end is destruction, and its potential is deadly.  According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually.  That makes it the fourth largest preventable cause of death in the United States.  Alcoholism ruins lives, and the only sure way to avoid it is abstinence.

John MacArthur’s Opinion

John MacArthur, in his messages on alcohol, gave eight question to answer when it comes to alcohol.

  1. Was the alcohol in Biblical times the same as the alcohol we consume today?  Short answer: No.  Long answer: While there was such thing as “strong drink”, the typical reference to wine was an extremely diluted form of grape juice.  Palestinian wine in the time of Jesus was only about 2-4% alcoholic at the most.  Most of the time this was added to water in order to conserve the supply and enhance the flavor, which would further dilute it.
  2. Is it necessary?  Short answer: No.  Long answer: In Biblical times it was needed for water purification and sanitation.  Today, we have other methods for doing the same thing.  It was also commonly used as an anesthetic.  Today, we have more powerful and effective ways to alleviate pain, which would only warrant the use of alcohol in an emergency.
  3. Is it the best choice?  Short answer: No.  Long answer: It is not better to drink than to abstain.  Period.  You may enjoy the flavor, but is it worth the risk of addiction?  Is it worth the chance of destroying your life?
  4. Is it potentially habit-forming?  Short answer: Yes.  Long answer: In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul says, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  Modern alcohol has the strong power of control.  It will control you.  As Christians, we are to be under the control of the Holy Spirit, not wine.  The word expedient literally means “free-feet”.  Alcohol does not lead to “free-feet”.  In fact, it literally tangles them.
  5. Is it potentially destructive?  Short answer: Yes.  Long answer: Just think for a moment of all the people you know who have been impacted as a result of alcohol.  It has ruined lives, and it has taken lives.  It has the potential for enormous destruction.
  6. Is it offensive to others?  Yes, several people were saved out of an environment where alcohol was prevalent.  For example, to drink in front of a recovering alcoholic would be in direct contrast to the teaching of Romans 14.
  7. Is it harmful to my testimony?  Most likely.  Imagine if you were an unbeliever struggling with alcohol.  Would you think highly of Christ and Christians if you always saw them drinking just like you?  Probably not.
  8. Am I really certain it’s right?  Are you positive this is okay?  Romans 14:23 says, “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”  Abstinence is the answer to uncertainty until a conclusion is reached.

So while the Bible does not command teetotalism, It advises and common sense dictates that it is the best option.  I will conclude this article with a direct quote from Dr. John MacArthur in response to several arguments for the consumption of alcohol.

Psalm 104, they love to point to this. “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle and vegetation for the labor of man so that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine which makes man’s heart glad.” So they say, “See, it’s supposed to have a buzz. Supposed to make you happy.”

No…no, that’s not what it’s saying. What makes the heart glad here…I mean, look at it, it’s obvious, the grass grows and the cattle flourish. The crops, the vegetation grow under the labor of the farmer and food comes from the earth and wine. All of which make the farmer happy. Why? Because his cattle are healthy. His crop is growing. His vines are producing. That’s what makes him happy. This isn’t about being silly drunk. There are terrible things being advocated and verses like that used as support. No reason for that whatsoever.

Somebody else used the argument I read… “Well drinking is like eating. You’re in trouble if you overdo it.” Really! Do you know anybody who dozed off the road and killed all the people in the car because they had one too many tacos? I don’t think so. Tacos don’t alter your consciousness. Or somebody drove off a cliff because he had an extra slice of pizza. Or somebody raped a girl because he ate too many cheeseburgers.

The potential for loss of sense, loss of control, loss of judgment especially with youth, and potential for binge-drinking addiction is so high.

-Dr. John MacArthur

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