Okay, here we go. That all too debated and culturally driven topic of alcohol. I just made tenure, so I thought I’d stick my neck out and throw this out on the table since I’ve got nothing to lose.
What does the Bible say about the consumption of alcohol and should Bible believing Christians drink alcohol? These two questions should be answered in the same way, since self-professing, Bible-believing Christians should do what the Bible says. Unfortunately, many Christians lay aside the Scriptures when they think through this issue. In this post, I’m going to stick to God’s word.
Let me begin by laying out some general assertions about what the Bible says about alcohol, to the best of my knowledge.
1. The Bible condemns drunkenness (Isa 28:1-7; Eph 5:18).
2. The Bible condemns being enslaved to alcohol (Isa 5:11; Titus 2:3)
3. The Bible does not condemn drinking when it doesn’t lead to enslavement and drunkenness (too many verses to list).
4. Jesus drank alcohol (Luke 22:18; Matt 26:27-29)
5. Jesus hung out with people who were drinking, some of whom were probably getting hammered (Luke 5:29-32; John 2:1-10, esp. v. 10)
6. Well aged wine will be served in the kingdom of God (Isa 25:6-8; Amos 9:13; cf. John 2:1-10)
None of these assertions are debated; the texts are rather clear. The debate seems to surround other issues that aren’t explicitly discussed in Scripture. Issues like, “what about causing another brother to stumble by drinking around them” (apparently sisters don’t tend to stumble); “what about those who were former alcoholics,” “what about harming our testimony,” and “isn’t it more wise to not drink at all, given all the problems it can create?” And so on.
We’ll try to cover these below or in another post, but let’s first lay out a few more assertions about what the Bible says—and these are often unnoticed in the discussion. The first one answers the last question above: “Isn’t it more wise to not drink at all, given all the problems it can create?”
7. While the Bible condemns drunkenness and enslavement, it never says that the best way to not get drunk or enslaved to alcohol is to never drink.
This is important. If God knows the best way to be sanctified (I’m assuming He does), and if He never said that the best way to avoid drunkenness is to never drink, then logically, those who advocate abstaining from alcohol as the best way to avoid drunkenness are trumping God’s wisdom for our sanctification. (If that sentence was confusing, then read it again slowly. It’s important.) This may sound bold, but I don’t know of another logical conclusion. I’m assuming, with Paul, that the Scriptures are sufficient for our sanctification, and yet the Scriptures never advocate abstinence as the wiser way to avoid drunkenness (or enslavement).
In fact, to be consistent, I would say that those who advocate abstinence as the best way to avoid drunkenness should also place salary caps on themselves. Think about it. What does the Bible condemn more thoroughly and harshly, the misuse of alcohol or the misuse of wealth? Just flip a few pages in the good Book and you’ll see clearly that the Bible condemns the misuse of wealth 10 times more often and more harshly than the misuse of alcohol. That’s actually an understatement; there are over 2,000 passages (a conservative estimate) that condemn the misuse of wealth, even to the point of making it the barometer of whether or not you’re even saved (Matt 25:31-45). So logically—no, biblically—it makes much more sense to place a very tight salary cap on yourself in order to avoid misusing wealth than to not drink in order to not get drunk. A rich teetotaler who abstains in order to not get drunk or enslaved is a walking contradiction—if she or he believes the Bible.
8. Alcohol is often portrayed not as a neutral substance that’s “allowed,” but a blessing that’s often “promoted.”
This is another point that I don’t hear too often in the debate over alcohol, but it’s clear in many passages in the Bible. Like Deut 14:22-27 (esp. v. 26), where Israelites are commanded to use some of their tithe money to buy strong drink or wine and drink it in the presence of the Lord. Did you know that was in the Bible? Commanded…to use tithe money…to buy some ancient near east Jack Daniels. Crazy! Then there’s Isaiah 62:9 that talks about drinking wine “in the courts of my sanctuary.” Isaiah 25:6-8 says that when Jesus comes back He’ll prepare a banquet with strong wine. Amos 9:13 says that wine will flow from the mountains in God’s kingdom, which is why Jesus created over 60 gallons of wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-10), and sanctified one of the four glasses He drank on the night before his death (Luke 22:18). I could go on and on but the point is clear: Like marital sex, alcohol is not just allowed—as if it was a naughty thing that’s okay from time to time—but is actually promoted as a symbol of God’s blood-bought material and spiritual blessings.
This doesn’t mean that all Christians should drink. You never heard me say that, because I didn’t. There are theological reasons for drinking, but this doesn’t mean that every Christian should drink. Some Christian simply don’t like the taste, and that’ll all change when God gives you a resurrected palate in the new creation. There are other more serious reasons why some Christians don’t drink: they’re under age, they come from alcoholic parents, they were alcoholics themselves, or for whatever reason, they are ministering in a culture where it’s forbidden by law or is such a taboo that it would prevent the gospel from going forth. (I’m thinking here of Christians ministering in Muslim countries.) These are all good topics of discussion for a later post.
Stay tuned; there’s more to come!
(By the way, we don’t have tenure at EBC. I made that up. Perhaps this post will get me into more hot water than I realize!)