What does the Bible say about wine? (drinking alcohol)

UPDATE: This article includes content from Bob Enyart's radio debate with a Denver Church of Christ preacher, Chris Peltz, about drinking wine. Two weeks prior to our broadcast, Brian from Thornton called into Peltz' radio program presenting three lines of evidence that Bible teaching generally and Jesus in particular approve of drinking alcohol, but that to excess, it is drunkenness that is the sin. Denver Bible Church agrees with Brian that God's Word approves of drinking wine, beer and other alcohol. First consider that the warnings against drunkenness actaully affirm the drinking of alcohol in modertion. And then see below the many biblical evidences showing that God approves of wine.

WARNINGS of Drunkenness Affirm Alcohol: In our English Bibles the word wine occurs about 230 times. And in addition to about a dozen commands to be "sober," some form of the word “drunk” occurs more than 70 times as in Paul's list of sins including "envy, murders, drunkenness," (Gal. 5:21). Words for hard liquor also appear. The repeated scriptural warnings against drunkenness, themselves, show that God permits drinking wine. God does not prohibit overdoing that which is a sin to do. God does not warn you about too much stealing, too much blasphemy, too much adultery, but His Word does warn against being "given to much wine" (1 Tim. 3:8). He doesn't warn of backaches from bowing down to many idols, nor of bearing much false witness. So warnings of selfishness do not condemn owning property, nor of gluttony, eating, nor of laziness, rest. The warnings against the misuse of alcohol themselves show that God permits drinking. What God permits let not man forbid, lest men make men in their own image. [See more below on this point.]

Alcohol Content of Ancient Wine: Some teachers claim that ancient wine had minimal alcohol content. However, the mothers of the Moabites and Ammonites were certain of the intoxicating effect of ancient alcohol. Lot's daughters knew that wine was so effective at getting someone falling-down drunk that they used that knowledge to accomplish their perverse goal, "that we may preserve the lineage of our father" (Gen. 19:32). Noah is the very first man known to consume wine. His drink contained enough alcohol to make him so drunk that he could not protect his family which became irreversibly harmed. Today wine coolers have about 5% alcohol, standard red and white wines about 11% alcohol, increasing to 20% for port wines and Zinfindels up to 22%, all around the range of ancient wines which for chemical reasons likely topped out at 16% alcohol. Jesus Himself described the Good Samaritan as pouring wine on his neighbor's wounds (Luke 10:34) similar to dressing the wounds with beer more than 2,000 years earlier in the time of Hammurabi, just as Hippocrates had recommended using wine to fight infection centuries before Christ. Further, if ancient wine had minimal alcohol, the many biblical warnings against drunkenness would be inexplicable. And of course if wine were basically grape juice, even the legalistic "weaker brethren" (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8) would have struggled to make a religious argument against consumption. Finally, those who teach abstention rather than moderation who say ancient wine had less alcohol content teach against drinking even wine coolers anyway, so the percent of alcohol is not the issue. Wine has always been wine.

AFFIRMATIONS of Wine Affirm Alcohol: As documented below in the section on the Last Supper (which the Lord commenced at the time of the Passover in the Spring of His last year one earth), until the 1800s the world did not know how to prevent the fermentation of grape juice into wine, a natural process which beings almost instantly after the summer harvest (Acts 2:13) of grapes. Thus, not only do the passages against drunkenness affirm drinking alcohol in moderation, but so do the Bible's many positive statements about drinking wine.

Jesus Drank Wine Unlike the Baptist: Jesus showed the hypocrisy of unbelievers, who would condemn the righteous for drinking wine or for abstaining from wine. For example, they condemned John the Baptist for not feasting and nor drinking wine, and the unbelievers criticized Jesus for feasting and drinking wine (Luke 7:33-34). Some even accused the Lord of being a drunkard because of this.

"For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine [fasting and no celebration], and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" Luke 7:33-34

Those Weak in the Faith Don't Drink Wine: The Apostle Paul encourages those strong in the faith to not cause “one who is weak in the faith” to stumble by drinking wine in front of him, which would include abstaining from alcohol when an alcoholic is at the table. In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul refers to those who would not drink wine, and to those who would refuse to eat meat purchased from the marketplace because very possibly the animal would have been offered to an idol as a sacrifice before it was butchered for sale to the public."

It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." Romans 14:21 

Jesus Served Fermented Wine at the Last Supper: Some say that the "fruit of the vine" that Jesus served at the Last Supper was unfermented grape juice. However, it wasn't until 1869 that Thomas Welch (of the grape juice fame) discovered how to prevent grape juice into fermenting into wine (using Louis Pasteur's pasteurization process). Passover is in the spring, and the grape harvest is in the summer, and so when Jesus served wine at the Lord's Supper, there is no question that it was wine and not grape juice. As the pastor of DBC, I had the honor of leading a Bible Tour of Greece (call us to get the MP3 CD with photos) and our wonderful local Christian guide, Costas Tsevas, told of his previous group who asked him to get them grape juice for communion and he said he would get them a bottle of wine. They refused this and asked for grape juice and he explained to them that there was no such thing, because as soon as grapes are crushed, the juice begins to ferment into wine. They insisted on going to various grocery stores even though Costas assured them that there was no such thing as grape juice in the Mediterranean where he grew up and lived, only wine. He had quite a laugh when his blessed group celebrated communion with bread and orange juice.

Then [Jesus] said to them,  “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said,  "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying,  "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Luke 22:15-19

Sinfully Getting Drunk on Last Supper Wine:  Even while celebrating communion, early Christians in Corinth tragically were getting drunk, and bringing entire meals to their fellowship, and eating meat and drinking wine to excess. Paul rebuked them and explained that communion was not a full meal but a ceremony breaking bread and taking from the cup. And he wrote:

For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What!  Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? … 1 Corinthians 11:21-22

Jesus Made the Kind of Wine Served at Weddings: The term trux for grape juice in ancient Greek does not occur in the New Testament. The type of wine miraculously made by Jesus was the kind that the master of the feast would normally serve first at a wedding. Weddings are held through the year, but also often in the spring, when the grape juice, harvested the previous summer, would long ago have turned into wine having been fermenting for many months starting from within a few days of crushing. Even at the feast of Pentecost, which is only 50 days after the Passover, the skeptics thought that the believers were "drunk" and "full of new wine" (Acts 2:13, 15).

When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and… he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!" John 2:9-10

Put New Wine into New Wineskins: The modern phrase "unfermented wine" is itself a contradiction. The Jews in Christ's day, along with the rest of the world, had no pasteurization and no refrigeration to slow down the fermentation process. Thus Jesus advised against putting new wine into old wine skins, since the carbon dioxide produced as a by-product could burst the skins.

"…new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved." Luke 5:38

Medicinal Wine: There is evidence that red wine is good for your health. Paul gave such medicinal advice to Timothy for his "frequent infirmities:"

Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake…  1 Timothy 5:23

Buy Food, Wine, and Strong Liquor with your Tithe: For some reason many churches never teach about the Tithe Feast. But in Deuteronomy God instructs the Jews to deduct money from the ten-percent tithe that they had set aside for God's ministry (for the Aaronite Priesthood and the Levites), and to use that money to purchase food, wine and strong drink to enjoy in their annual Tithe Feast. The Hebrew word for "strong drink" is shekar [ShekAir] from shakar [ShakeAir] which means to get drunk. If God disapproved of alcohol sales, of course He would not have counseled the Israelites to "buy" wine and hard liquor, and especially not with funds from their tithe. And to this day, Jews (in Philadelphia for example according to Al Sharin, our Bob Enyart Live office manager) refer to drunks as "shikirs."

You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses… the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, [and] you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to [Jerusalem]. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink [Heb. strong drink, shekar], for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. Deut. 14:22-23, 25-26

Ruth and Boaz: When did Ruth make her wishes known to her future husband Boaz?

…after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful… Ruth 3:7

When the Nazirite Can Drink Wine: In the book of Numbers God distinguishes between grape juice and wine. A worshipper would show a special dedication to God for a time by taking the vow of the Nazirite, when "he shall separate himself from wine… neither shall he drink any grape juice" (Num. 6:3). The Bible presents the blood of the grape as a symbol of the blood of sacrifice, and ultimately, as a symbol of Christ's blood. So wine, from the moment it is crushed from the vine, was elevated in this ceremonial vow. However,

After that the Nazirite may drink wine. Num. 6:20

Wine and Strong Drink Allowed to the Priests: God forbade wine to the priests but that was only when they went into the Tabernacle:

Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying: "Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting…"… Leviticus 10:8-9

The Apostle Paul warns strongly against legalism because when men make up rules, including on what you can and cannot drink, and impose them on others in the name of God, then keeping those rules does not conform anyone into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), but into the image of those men who invented the rule. As Paul warned:

...do you subject yourselves to regulations— "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle..." — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:21-23

Pastor Bob Enyart
Denver Bible Church
KGOV.com

You can hear Pastor Bob talk about what the Bible says about wine in the June 29, 2011 BEL radio program. And you may want to read Bob's best-selling book, The Plot to get an overview of the entire Bible. You can get The Plot online (in print or by a downloadable PDF) or by calling 1-800-8Enyart. Also online you can see more of Bob Enyart's Bible resources or write to us at BEL, PO Box 583, Arvada, CO 80001.

Bob Debates a Church of Christ Preacher about Wine: You're invited to listen to the July 13, 2011 BEL program with Chris Peltz.

Bob Retracts Concession re: Overly Wicked: Bob retracted a concession he made to Chris during the debate. Chris attempted to refute Bob's argument that, "The repeated scriptural warnings against drunkenness, themselves, show that God permits drinking wine. God does not prohibit overdoing that which is a sin to do. God does not warn you about too much stealing, too much blasphemy, too much adultery..." Whereas God's Word does warn against being "given to much wine" (1 Tim. 3:8). Chris replied that Solomon warned of being overly wicked. Touché! Bob admitted that on the surface that phrase seems to undermine his point, but that with the Bible being such a large book, you can find all kinds of phrases that can easily be taken out of context as proof texts. However, Solomon's use becomes obvious immediately upon reading the passage in context: "Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise... Do not be overly wicked..." (Ecclesiastes 7:16-17). One cannot be overly good, nor overly wise. Solomon did not write prose but poetic verse (instead of justified margins translators use a ragged right margin in this passage and wherever they encounter poetry). His hyperbole instructs people to act neither to show how righteous nor how wicked they are. I doubt that any Church of Christ would urge their members to avoid being wise; afterall, one might say, "Well, the reason I drink beer is to avoid being overly righteous." So Chris using such a weak verse, and taking it so far out of context, to try to refute the point helps substantiate it, that the many warnings against drunkenness themselves show that God permits drinking alcohol, because He does not prohibit overdoing that which is a sin to do.