Alcohol and the Bible: New Expanded Version

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"The saloon is a liar. It promises good cheer and sends sorrow. It promises prosperity and sends adversity. It promises happiness and sends misery.... It is God's worst enemy and the devil's best friend."

-Billy Sunday

When I was sixteen years old, I received the tragic news that a certain member of my family, to whom I was very close, was dying of alcohol-induced liver cancer. I vividly remember visiting him in the hospital, not prepared for what I would see when I walked into the room. What was once a big, robust man was now essentially a skeleton covered with ghostly, pale skin, barely able to speak.

I had only been a Christian for a few months. Even before I came to Christ, I never was much of a drinker, mainly because I just didn't like the way it tasted. However, when I saw what years of drinking had done to my above mentioned relative, my decision never to touch alcohol was set in stone. As I studied the Scriptures over the years, I learned that I had made the right choice.

The issue of alcohol has always been a controversial one within the Christian community. Did Jesus make, or advocate the use of, intoxicating wine? Is having an occasional drink really that big of a deal? These are certainly valid questions that committed Christians have asked over the years.

In looking at the overall teaching of the Bible, as well as observations made in my own life over the years, I firmly believe that total abstinence is by far the best policy. I am not a prude, nor is this message intended to be legalistic or condemning. On the contrary, I want to share a truth with you that is very liberating. God's Word has been compared to a map showing us where the "land mines" in life are. Beverage alcohol is one of those land mines.


It is important to remember that in Bible days, the word "juice" was not widely used. It only occurs once in the entire Bible (Song of Solomon 8:2.) Wine was a general term for any grape juice product-even when it was still in the grape clusters (Isaiah 65:8.) Even in pre-prohibition America, nonalcoholic grape juice was often referred to as "grape wine." Their are nine Hebrew, and four Greek words translated "wine" in the Bible (to study this further,see William Patton's classic book "Bible Wines or Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients.") Generally, it is easy to see from the context of individual Scriptures which form of wine is being referred to. For example, in the Book of Proverbs, alcoholic wine is referred to as a mocker and a deceiver that leads to violence (20:1-2), poverty (23:21), sorrow (23:29-30,) immorality(23:33,) insecurity (23:34,) insensibility (23:35,) and is even compared to a poisonous snake! (23:32)

On the other hand, abstinence from wine and other intoxicants is presented as a great virtue. God honored Daniel for refusing the King's wine (Daniel 1:5, 8, 16; 10:3.) John the Baptist's greatness in the eyes of God was directly linked to the fact that he drank no wine or strong drink (Luke 1:15.) Even as He was dying, Jesus refused the wine that was offered Him to deaden His pain (Mark 15: 23.)

In Ephesians 5:18, we are told to "be not drunk with wine...but be filled with the Spirit." Note the contrast: Being drunk with wine is in total opposition to being filled with the Spirit.

If we look at the most strictly literal translation of this verse, it reads "Be not entering into the act of being drunk with wine, but be continually entering into the process of being filled with the Spirit."The context of the verse goes deeper than just "Don't get drunk." It is telling us not to even enter into the act of drinking intoxicants.


What then, about the wine that Jesus made at the marriage feast? Was it alcoholic?The Greek word used here is "oinos," a variation of the Hebrew word "yayin."This word can refer to grape juice in any stage, either fermented,or unfermented.

Regardless of your opinion of casual drinking, I'm sure most of you will agree that drunkenness is definitely a sin. In light of this, would Jesus contribute to drunkenness?

At the time Jesus had arrived at the feast, the guests had "well drunk"of whatever they were drinking (V.10.) Jesus knew well the solemn warnings of Habakkuk 2:15,"Woe to him who gives his neighbor intoxicating drink." (Note: If it is a sin to put alcohol to our neighbor's lips, would it not also be a sin to put it to our own?) With this in mind, we can be sure that the beverage Jesus made was a refreshing, nonalcoholic grape drink. To do otherwise would have been totally incompatible with His nature.


We often hear the term "alcohol and drugs."This is a false distinction, because alcohol IS a drug. It is one of the most abused narcotics in the world. I have personally witnessed, and many of you have as well, how strong the addictive bondage of alcohol can be. I have known a number of people whose lives were shattered by alcoholism. I have often wondered how much different their lives might have been if they had just said "no" to that first drink. No "social drinker" thinks that they can become an alcoholic, just like no one who casually experiments with cocaine, heroine, or other drugs thinks about the possibility of becoming an addict. The old adage about an ounce of prevention certainly holds true here. It is far better to stop a problem before it starts, wouldn't you say? God does not want us in bondage to ANYTHING, whether it be alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or any other vice (1 Corinthians 3 :17; 9: 27; 1 Thessalonians 4:4.) As a teenager, I heard a simple,but profound statement that has always stuck with me: No one ever became an alcoholic, who didn't take the first drink.


In my experience in doing personal evangelism, I have made the observation that the fact that there are Christians who drink is a major excuse many alcoholics hide behind. God calls us to be salt and light to the world that we live in (Matthew 5: 13-14) and to avoid conduct that could cause others to stumble (Romans 14:21.) I was once discussing this with an elderly Chritian gentleman who brought up a very good point. He said "One beer might not send me to hell, but it could lead ten people there who saw me, and followed my example."

To quote Gleason Archer; "If we really care about the souls of men, and if we are really in business for Christ, rather than for ourselves, then there seems to be no alternative to total abstinence-not as a matter of legalism, but rather as a matter of love.?#034;

Friend, this issue is a very serious one. In light of Jesus' soon return, we are called to live holy and sober lives (Luke 12:45-46; 1 Thessalonians 5: 7-8.) Those who indulge in drunkenness will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 6: 10; Galatians 5: 21,) so in sharing the Gospel with others, it is vitally important to warn them against the dangers of alcohol. God doesn't call us to abstain from alcohol because He is trying to take away our enjoyment of life. Quite the opposite is true. God loves us, and knows what it takes to truly make us happy (see Jeremiah 29;11, John 10:10.) Alcohol is counterproductive to the abundant life that Jesus came to bring us. He knows the devastating impact alcohol has on countless people. He sees the jobs lost, the families shattered, and the lives destroyed by alcohol, and He wants to protect us from these things. He has a plan for your life that is far greater than any bottle of alcohol could ever possibly give. If you have never given your life to Jesus, why not do it now?

?1999 JHB


?John R. Rice, ed, "The Best of Billy Sunday" (Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Sword of the Lord Publishing, 1965, page 76. Quoted in Jack Van Impe's "Alcohol: The Beloved Enemy" 1980, Jack Van Impe Crusades, Royal Oak, Michigan, page 85

?Gleason Archer "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, the Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan, page 149

For More Information:

"Booze"-a classic sermon from Billy Sunday

International Commission on Prevention of Alcoholism

Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

Women's Christian Temperance Union

Anti Saloon League Historical Archive

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