There are valid reasons to abstain from alcohol. Some people, like me, simply don’t like the taste of most of it. Others have never had the inclination. Those who grew up in homes with alcoholic parents or who have had problems with alcohol themselves often eschew drinking vehemently. Some medications interact badly with alcohol, as is the case with many antidepressants.
However, to say that Scripture forbids drinking is not a valid reason.
The command simply doesn’t exist. We are absolutely told not to get drunk, just as we are told not to lie, not to habitually overeat, not to be vengeful. Consistently and constantly, we are reminded that only God is to have mastery over our lives. Any addiction, from substances to relationships, is to be dealt with and turned away from.
Amazingly, what appears to be perfectly clear is often muddied by those who insist that alcohol is itself a sinful substance, and that imbibing is just about the worst possible thing that one can do.
This is especially seen in connection with the life of Jesus, as some that teach that in the Cana wedding miracle (John 2), He did not make fermented wine, but some other substance akin to grape juice. R.A. Torrey writes:
[Jesus] provided wine, but there is not a hint that the wine He made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until some time after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay or death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation. It is true it was better wine than they had been drinking, but that does not show for a moment that it was more fermented than that which they had before been drinking.
Torrey’s argument is a case of reading an opinion into the text. There isn’t a hint in John 2 that all, many or even some of the guests were drunk at the point of the miracle, but can we take this non-mention to mean that nobody was intoxicated? Furthermore, the Greek word for “wine” used throughout the passage is oinos, the common word for fermented wine – not grape juice.
Was the wine watered down? Some say so:
Wine today has a much higher level of alcohol than wine in the New Testament. In fact in New Testament times one would need to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in two martinis today.
And yet Greek, Hebrew and Roman sources all speak of wine with at least a 15% concentration of alcohol; even if mixed with three parts water, the resulting 5% would be higher than that found in most beers today.
Not only did Jesus make wine, and wine that was alcoholic, Luke 7:33-34 is one of several passages showing that He also drank it:
“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (NKJV)
Obviously, our Lord was without sin and so was neither a glutton or a drunkard. The accusation reveals the prejudice of the religious leaders, who had a problem with everything Jesus did and said. Surely the Messiah would conform to their expectations!
In Matthew 26, Jesus celebrates the Passover with His disciples, at which four cups of wine were drunk. The Gospel records:
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” – vs. 27-28 (NKJV)
The cup that Jesus had His disciples drink from was most likely the third, which is:
The cup of redemption, which reminds us of the shed blood of the innocent Lamb which brought our redemption from Egypt. We see that Jesus took the third cup in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25. . .This was not just any cup, it was the cup of redemption from slavery into freedom. This is our communion cup.
I ask you, how gorgeous is that?
As in our discussion on food, we turn to Paul in Romans 14 for a final word:
Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. – vs. 10 (NKJV)
Alcohol is not something we should fight about. It’s not something we can judge each other on. Certainly we can talk to a brother or sister if the inappropriate use of alcohol is seen or suspected. Getting drunk is a serious thing that can cause innumerable problems. But a glass of wine or a bottle of beer with dinner? Not something to yell about.
For all the posts in the Not the Fundamentals series, go here.