Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Does the Bible Prohibit the Drinking of Alcohol?

I am a John Piper fan. You're surprised, I know. One of the main reasons that I respect and admire him as a man of God is his desire to base everything he says on Scripture. I was recently listening to him preach a sermon on Romans 12:3-8, and he stated this:

"I pray that all leaders at every level would pray for the gift of teaching. There's a joke at this church; you want to get something through the elder board or committee? Write a paper. That's not an accident, and its not a joke, merely. It's true! And the reason is this: I have done my best for 24 years to cultivate a leadership atmosphere in which persuasion on the basis of the Bible carries the day. Not personality, and not high lifted voices. Elders can tell when my voice is getting so high because my arguments are weak. We argue with each other. We write papers. We give reasons from the Bible. That's a power issue, to keep personalities and brokers from getting their way in this church, including me! Truth holds sway at the elder council, and if you have good reasons from the Bible for your view, it will pass, God willing. And therefore you are inclined then to assemble them, and that's why they turn up on papers. This is an issue for me, and it's really big, and I hope I never lay it down; that we lead by truth! That we lead by teaching! That we lead by persuasion! And therefore we can be shown wrong on the basis of the Authority."


I admire his thoughtful subjection to the Scriptures in all areas of life, faith, and practice. With this in mind, I want to consider carefully the subject of the consumption of alcohol for believers. I want this post to be so carefully based on Scripture that my reasons for holding my position are obvious. So, does the Bible prohibit the drinking of alcohol?

First, even as early as Genesis 9, abusing alcohol caused people to get drunk. After the flood, Noah planted a vineyard, made wine and drank it, and got drunk. Lot drank wine and got drunk, too, and evil resulted (Gen 19). These are two clear abuses of alcohol. But there are other uses of alcohol in the same book that do not lead to evil. Melchizedek, Priest of God Most High, served Abram bread and wine as he blessed him (Gen 14). Isaac, too, drank wine during his blessing of Jacob (Gen 27). I think it is clear that the Bible does not condemn Melchizedek or Isaac for drinking wine, while clearly Noah and Lot sinned in their drunkenness.

Furthermore, the provision of wine is used in the Scriptures to indicate blessing. In Deuteronomy 29:6, Israel did not drink wine or strong drink during the 40-year period of wandering "so that you may know I am the Lord your God." This was a time of God's punishment upon Israel. By contrast, Deuteronomy 32:14 describes God pouring out his blessings upon his people, blessings that include his people drinking "wine made from the blood of the grape." The promised land is described as "a land of grain and wine" (Deut. 33:28).

Nehemiah commanded the people to "eat the fat and drink sweet wine . . . for this day is holy to our Lord" (Neh. 8:10). David praised God when he wrote, "You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart" (Psalm 104:14-15).

Isaiah 55, a beautiful text about the grace and mercy and compassion of God, tells us to "Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (55:1). Jesus made (good) wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2). Jesus marveled at the Pharisees' rejection of John the Baptist because he did not eat bread and drink wine, and he marveled again at the Pharisees' rejection of himself because they thought he was "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:33-34). Interestingly, in Luke 22:18, Jesus plans on drinking of the "fruit of the vine" at, and not before, the coming of the kingdom.

We all will agree that being drunk with wine is a clear violation of Ephesians 5, and Proverbs warns us not to be led astray by it (Proverbs 20:1). Many other passages of Scripture warn against abusing or longing after wine or strong drink, but I cannot find evidence in Scripture for a strict prohibition against the drinking of alcohol. I am personally convicted and convinced that I will not drink alcohol, but I cannot, in good conscience, demand more from others than does the Bible. I will preach and teach that we must avoid causing brothers to stumble, but I cannot call the simple act of drinking alcohol sin.

Otherwise, Jesus Christ was not without sin.

Todd

By the way, I found this article on desiringgod.org helpful.

13 comments:

Mary said...

Otherwise, Jesus Christ was not without sin.

That is such a good observation!

I am Hispanic and wine was common with meals and special gatherings growing up. One of my favorite memories was of my grandfather inviting me to have a glass of wine with him while we just chatted while watching a Florida sunset on his porch. I rarely have anything to drink. My last drink was September and before then I think it was two years ago or something like that. And I'm a firm believer in self control.

Wes doesn't care to drink...he hates the taste. You'd get a good laugh at watching him try to drink champagne (one tiny sip of champagne, one HUGE gulp of water).

Anyway, while I've carried on with my tradition of novel writing, I just wanted to thank you for posting this. It's a topic of discussion for me and Wes from time to time and it's great to read some more perspective on it!

Terry Delaney said...

I agree with you, brother, that you cannot prohibit the use of alcohol. I actually was unable to teach at a church I attended because I would not sign a covenant stating that I would not shop or work where alcohol was sold. They were too inconsistent when I asked where they would get their gas or buy their groceries.

However, where the Bible ends, I begin with philosophy. Keep in mind, that I do not think that drinking alcohol is prohibited by Scripture. What I do believe in a nutshell is that because man is totally depraved and alcohol messes with your thinking, you should not drink. The moment you drink alcohol, I believe your thinking is immediately restricted. It is like any other sin we commit. I would argue that James 1:14-15 should cause us to really think about whether or not we should take that first drink of alcohol: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

Therefore, if we are already bent towards sin, why would we want to do something that is more likely to lead us into sin?

Again, I do not condemn anyone for drinking a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a bbq (unless they signed a covenant with Southern Seminary!) unless they are drinking in excess and are either sinning or causing others to sin.

Thanks for this post. I am glad to see some rational people thinking this through and allowing the Bible to speak without their bias one way or the other.

God bless, brother.

S. Todd Young said...

Hey Mary and Terry! Thanks for the comments!

Terry: By way of response, and not to be argumentative, I want to toss in the cultural aspect here. Many cultures across this world enjoy some form of alcohol. I can think of Germans and their beer and Italians and their wine as examples. If you grew up having a glass of beer/wine with dinner on a regular basis, you would not bring the American Evangelical phobia of alcohol to Christianity. As well, you would not be a stumbling block to others because they might not give the topic one thought!

I guess, having never consumed one glass of alcohol, I cannot comment on the effect it has on one's mind. But even Paul prescribed a small amount to Timothy for his stomach. Surely Paul would not have instructed Timothy to sin.

My point in this post, however, was only to argue that we cannot find clear biblical basis for including strict prohibition of alcohol in our church covenants.

Thanks again for posting!

Todd

Terry Delaney said...

I totally agree with the cultural aspect. I am arguing from the objective in that alcohol begins to diminish your ability to think clearly the moment you begin to drink it.

In no way do I believe that there should be a prohibition against alcohol. The only way I am able to sign the covenant at Southern is because I am willing to waive my right to drink an alcoholic beverage in order to attend. With that being said, what the Missouri Baptist Convention is doing to the Acts29 missionaries is down right sinful. I see nothing Christian about their actions concerning a Biblical stance.

We are arguing (poor choice of word here) the same side of the coin. I simply take it a step further because of my own convictions. At the end of the day, it does not matter because my body does not allow me to have alcohol. Crohn's Disease will do that to you.

Mary said...

Alcohol can act as a stimulant and depressant. However it all depends on the person on how much it takes before it starts to actually alter a person....hence the joke about holding ones liquor. For some people, they get tipsy right at the first drink. For others, it takes many drinks. I know I've had a glass of wine and it has never altered my ability to think clearly and make split second rational decisions. Not to mention that some alcohol is healthy and beneficial...such as red wine (and actually recent studies have shown that some alcohol consumption can help keep the mind *sharp*). Obviously too much would be the opposite, of course.

If we were to say that it can lead us to sin because of its mind alteration, then we would have to say the same for some medications, certain foods (such as chocolate as that is a stimulant) or even any adrenaline filled activity (such as exercise) as adrenaline can really alter a mind to the point of addiction as well...and even can be fatal. Of course, most people wouldn't view the above as sinful...though people can still sin in it. Do we draw it to its extreme conclusion then and say that everything that can alter the mind or emotion should be kept away from since it can lead to sin? Or is alcohol only "more" sinful because it can act more quickly (though meds would still fall under this category)? Interesting now that I'm thinking about it to its "extreme" conclusion...pretty complex!


Have the started making students sign the seminary covenant now? Wes never had to sign anything and actually never even heard of the covenent until about 2 years ago when it was brought up to students saying that apparently everyone was under that covenant. While Wes doesn't drink and he would have signed the covenant, it would have been appreciated if they went over it with students rather than have a situation that was like "oh by the way, you all are under this...surprise!!"

Terry Delaney said...

You bring up some valid points. I guess my real contention is because of the total depravity of man and the easier access to alcohol than most other stimuli, I would still contend that we should abstain because it is too easy to continue with pure motives. I refer back to James 1:14-15 as to why I believe it could lead to sin. Again, these our just my convictions and the only time I would ever "push" them on anyone is in a conversation like this.

As for the covenant, if you do not sign it electronically, you could be prevented from registering for classes. I have commented on it on my diary blog and have rubbed many the wrong way with my thoughts. The only reason I can sign it in good conscience is because I would be willing to waive my right to drink in order to attend the seminary. My challenge to the students was how they defined being a student: some only when they are in class, some only when they are registered, and some when they are doing anything school related. I found those arguments to be playing fast and loose and challenged them to set aside their idols and sign the covenant in good conscience.

I am so glad we can have these conversations and not be at each other's throats and such. I love you guys!

Merry Christmas.

P.S. Looks like you got a good one going Todd!

BRYAN TUCKER said...

I agree completely! I have found that so many people are obstinate about there position on this subject without properly surveying what scripture has to say on the matter. My Pastor(SBC) has preached that the wine that Christ consumed had a very scant ammount of alchol, so minute that it would take copious amounts to reach intoxication. I don't know if you have heard this objection before, but I would like to have your thoughts on it. Visit my blog@, www.reformedbygod.blogspot.com. Hope to hear from you.

Bryan

S. Todd Young said...

Hi Bryan! I think the argument about the potency of the alcohol that Jesus drank is difficult to support. The fact is that the New Testament authors argued against abusing alcohol, not against drinking it. I'm thinking specifically about Paul's instruction not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. We probably have a lot more drinks designed to make a person drunk in our society today, but that doesn't change the fact that you could get drunk with the drinks they had in New Testament times.

All that to say, it is much more important for us to affirm what the Scriptures DO and DO NOT say, as opposed to what we think they might say. The Scriptures indicate that wine made people drunk and that Jesus drank alcohol.

"Whether you eat or whether you drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God." Jesus lived his entire life this way, and it didn't matter if his drink had alcohol in it; it didn't rule over him. He ruled over his drink. He subjected his entire being to the will of his Father.

We need to point this argument away from obeying laws and toward loving God and people. When we make hard and fast rules that aren't biblical, we give people false guilt or false pride! Both of these are spiritually unhealthy. Let's love God and seek to obey his Word and do the will of our Father and rule over our desires instead of justifying our preconceptions. I have a hard enough time obeying the commands that are clear from Scripture. I don't think we need extra!

~ Todd

Stacy said...

In referance to Terry's comment
"What I do believe in a nutshell is that because man is totally depraved and alcohol messes with your thinking, you should not drink. The moment you drink alcohol, I believe your thinking is immediately restricted." This is a fascinating scripture that supports that the drinking of wine can, in fact, hinder our thought process. This prohibition is for priests.
Leviticus 10:8-11 (New King James Version)

Conduct Prescribed for Priests

8 Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying: 9 “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, 10 that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, 11 and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”

Jonny & Matt said...

Jesus came eating and drinking! He Turned water into wine and he was accused of drunkenness! So no the Bible does not say not to drink instead to hang around people who are drunk, prostitutes and people who are seen as scum. BUT The bible also says that you should not be drunk of wine but instead the Holy Spirit (see Corinthians). It also teaches us self control. I find God says its fine to drink not to get drunk!

Anonymous said...

This is a very good post. Jesus made sure there was plenty of "good wine" at a party he attended. Drunkenness is forbidden in scripture as well as gluttony yet you see few folks advocating fasting as a way of life! :)

Gondai Moyana said...

I agree with all of you: no where in the Holy Bible will you see a passage prohibiting the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol is stated umpteen times in the Bible. Even Paul, an Apostle who led through inspiration, wrote in his letter to Timothy, urging him "to drink a little bit of alcohol" for the purpose of "eliminating stress".

The Bible, however, condemns drunkardness! I one knows that s/he bad behaviours when or after drinking alcohol, it is wise to abstain from it. Otherwise, if one can drink it and still be in his or her sobber habbits, there's nothing wrong about it. Drinking or not drinking is not a moral code - it's up to a person to decide.

In summery we can say: the Bible does not condemn the drinking of alcohol but it condemns drunkardness.

Anonymous said...

Just as an aside, the water aailable in a desert/arid region is often less than fresh, and stored water goes "stale", which was a problem for early sea captains. They used to put in to South Jersey to fill up with the cedar water from their rivers because the water would keep better due to natural acidity. Grapes juice fermented into wine was a healthier drink than water. Having done some home brewing, the alcohol content will be determined by the amount of sugar. The "good wine"- that from the first pressing of the grapes- was likely pretty potent stuff, and commonly watered. The alcohol content of the wine would kill off the bacteria and such that otherwise was in the water. Second and third pressings would be less alcoholic. I had a girl once argue wih me that the "wine" referenced in the Bible was simply grape juice. I asked her how one keeps grape juice from becoming wine in a hot climate before refrigeration. But I agree. The prohibition is against anything in excess, and getting drunk and stupid is definitely at least a minor sin. You have such pillars of righteousness as Lot and Noah getting drunk, and apparently God wasn't terribly upset with it.
Now, offering a glass of wine or other spirits to someone who is an alcoholic, or someone who believes any alcohol consumption is sinful, is, on your part, a sin. But if you enjoy your occasional glass, or even get a bit tipsy,and you harm no one by it, there isn't any sin to it. Ever participate in a traditional Jewish Seder? It is practically a drinking game,with each person taking a turn reciting or reading, each section followed by a cup of wine. We just take a sip, because otherwise we'd be asleep before we ever finished. I think a lot of the American Protestant sects have forgotten to look at culture, history, and context when they make their rules and decide their definitions of "sin".