Alcohol and the Bible

By Paul E. Brown
Type: Article
Subject: Wine in the Bible; Drinking; Alcohol


An article by Paul E. Brown

Some people claim that the Bible does not forbid drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation, while others claim that it does. What does the Bible teach in that regard? It is true that the Bible does not contain any specific statement advocating complete abstinence, but is what the Bible advocates or does not advocate always to be determined on the basis of whether or not a position is stated explicitly? The answer to that is “no.”

Iʼve often thought of a humorous illustration I once heard my father use in his Sunday School class to make that very point. A farmer and his neighbor got into a heated argument, and in his fury the farmer grabbed a singletree and beat his neighbor almost senseless. An arrest was made, and the farmer was taken to court before a local Justice of the Peace. The arresting officer said, “Your honor, this man beat up his neighbor with a singletree.” The Justice of the Peace turned back and forth through his law book with increasing frustration and finally, in exasperation, said, “Case dismissed! There simply isnʼt anything in here about beating up someone with a singletree!” (Had he considered the matter more carefully, though, he would have realized that the offense was covered, in principle, under the category of “assault and battery!”)

The Bible does not purport to deal explicitly with every conceivable issue that might confront people in every generation. But the Bible does set forth timeless principles which can be applied to any situation that might ever arise in any generation, so as to help us determine what is or is not right in the sight of God.

It is my contention that when one carefully and correctly considers the Biblical principles involved, he will be brought to the conclusion that Christians should abstain from all consumption of alcoholic beverages. Here are what I believe to be the pertinent factors to be considered:

1. Some, in claiming that moderate consumption of alcohol is all right for a believer, point to the fact that Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.

But even if the wine which Jesus made did contain alcohol, it would have contained only a very low level of alcohol, and that would not justify social drinking today - and I say that for the following reason: conditions existed then which do not exist today.

Historians are agreed that in the first century many of the water supplies available to people were contaminated, and therefore they drank a low alcohol-level wine for health reasons. Warren Wiersbe says that the ancient Jew mixed 3 parts water with one-part wine for drinking purposes. In third-world countries today, the problem of contaminated water supplies still exists, but not in our country. We have water treatment plants which make our water safe to drink just as it comes out of the tap.

2. Alcohol is today one of the top killers in America, resulting in ruined lives, abused children, broken homes, and mayhem and murder - including all kinds of carnage on the road and elsewhere.

Decades ago Upton Sinclair wrote a book entitled, Cup of Fury, in which he dealt with the alarming damage being done in our nation by alcohol consumption. Even then, he said that statistics showed that of those who began drinking moderately, one in three became what was called “a problem drinker.” Sinclair went on to say, “If I had a dog in my house that bit one out of every three people who came into my house, I wouldnʼt be very smart to keep that dog.” Jesus taught that we are to love others even as ourselves, and that this command is second only to the command to love God with our total being. Making available, or condoning, that which causes so much misery and wreckage is surely not a loving thing to do.

3. There is also the particularly important issue of influence.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul was dealing with the matter of eating meat that had been offered to idols. He pointed out that there was nothing technically wrong with the meat--it was like any other meat, so far as being unspoiled, etc., and that therefore he and many other believers didnʼt think there was anything intrinsically wrong with eating it--but, he went on to point out, there was a larger issue to be considered. He pointed out that some “weak” Christians were offended by seeing other Christians eating that meat that had been offered to idols--and therefore, Paul concluded, eating such meat was “off limits” for him (1 Corinthians 8:4-13). In Romans 14:21 he wrote, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.”

“Bottom line”: When all of the above-mentioned factors are taken into account, you simply cannot justify alcohol consumption in any amount by believers. But people do try to find justification in the Bible for drinking. For example, some try to use Paulʼs statement to his young protege in 1 Timothy 5:23: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” Although we arenʼt told specifically what Timothyʼs illness was, it is reasonable to think that it was probably dysentery, which was so common in that day and time because of so much impure water. Medical science was very archaic in that day and time, and wine was probably one of the best medicines they had. Paul frequently traveled with Luke, who is spoken of as “the beloved physician,” so probably this “little wine for the stomachʼs sake” was a doctorʼs prescription which Paul was simply passing on to Timothy.

So if youʼve got dysentery, and if you donʼt have available a clean water supply, and if you live some place where better medicine is not available, and you have a dedicated, on-fire Christian doctor on the level of Luke who prescribes it, thatʼs fine, go ahead and use it - but unless thatʼs the case, you would be wise to stay away from it.