Alcohol—What Is the Christian View of It?
“WHO has woe? Who has uneasiness? Who has contentions? Who has concern? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has dullness of eyes? Those staying a long time with the wine.” (Proverbs 23:29, 30) Yes, the Bible acknowledges that alcoholic drinks can produce some very evil effects: hallucinations, shameful conduct, psychotic behavior, health disorders, family problems, and even poverty.
Note that the above Bible text talks of those “staying a long time” with wine, habitual drunkards! For such ones, alcohol is like a poison, often causing adverse physical and mental effects. (Proverbs 23:32-35) Heavy drinkers can lose self-control and begin to do things they would normally be ashamed of. The Bible thus warns: “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine, among those who are gluttonous eaters of flesh. For a drunkard and a glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with mere rags.” (Proverbs 23:20, 21) Drunkenness is also classed among “the works of the flesh,” which can debar one from entering God’s Kingdom.—Galatians 5:19, 21; 1 Corinthians 6:10.
“Not Wise”—For Whom?
Does this mean that alcohol is absolutely forbidden to Christians? What of the clergyman’s claim, mentioned in the preceding article, supposedly based on Proverbs 20:1, that “wise men do not drink wine at all.” The King James Version renders this verse: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Again, the Bible does not chastise those who drink wine but, rather, those who are deceived by it! “Those staying a long time with the wine” and “heavy drinkers of wine”—these are the ones who are “not wise.”
Consider, too, Isaiah 5:11, 22. These verses read: “Woe to those who are getting up early in the morning that they may seek just intoxicating liquor, who are lingering till late in the evening darkness so that wine itself inflames them! Woe to those who are mighty in drinking wine, and to the men with vital energy for mixing intoxicating liquor.” What is Isaiah condemning? Is it not excessive drinking, that is, drinking from “early in the morning” till “late in the evening darkness”?
Faithful servants of God—like Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus—are reported as drinking wine, in moderation. (Genesis 14:18; 27:25; Luke 7:34) The Bible also mentions wine among the blessings coming from Jehovah. (Genesis 27:37; Deuteronomy 11:14; Isaiah 25:6-8) The Bible even indicates that wine in moderation can have beneficial effects. Wine “makes the heart of mortal man rejoice,” said the psalmist. (Psalm 104:15) The apostle Paul recommended to Timothy: “Do not drink [contaminated] water any longer, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.”—1 Timothy 5:23.
Wine or Grape Juice?
Some argue that the “wine” spoken of in such Bible texts was ordinary grape juice. McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, however, reminds us that “the Bible makes no distinction between intoxicating and non-intoxicating wines—never refers or alludes to such a distinction.” Consistent with this, in the Bible “wine” is shown to be an intoxicating beverage and is associated with “strong drink.”—Genesis 9:21; Luke 1:15; Deuteronomy 14:26; Proverbs 31:4, 6.
Interestingly, Jesus’ first miracle was to convert water into wine. The Bible account says: “When, now, the director of the feast tasted the . . . wine but did not know what its source was, . . . [he] called the bridegroom and said to him: ‘Every other man puts out the fine wine first, and when people are intoxicated, the inferior. You have reserved the fine wine until now.’” (John 2:9, 10) Yes, “the fine wine” Jesus produced was real wine.
Indeed, self-righteous religious leaders in Jesus’ day criticized him for occasionally drinking wine. Said Jesus: “John the Baptist has come neither eating bread nor drinking wine, but you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of man has come eating and drinking, but you say, ‘Look! A man gluttonous and given to drinking wine!’” (Luke 7:33, 34) What would have been the point of contrast between Jesus’ drinking and John’s not drinking if Jesus had merely been drinking nonalcoholic grape juice? Remember, it was said of John that he was to “drink no wine and strong drink at all.”—Luke 1:15.
Obviously, Jesus did not condemn the drinking of alcoholic beverages in moderation. In his day the drinking of wine was a part of the celebration of the Passover.a And real wine continued to be a part of the Lord’s Evening Meal, which replaced the Passover.
Judgment Is Required
So the Bible does not prohibit the drinking of alcoholic drinks. In most cases, whether to have strong drink or not is a matter for personal decision. Yet the Bible forcefully condemns drunkenness, along with gluttony: “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine, . . . gluttonous eaters of flesh. For a drunkard and a glutton will come to poverty.” (Proverbs 23:20, 21) Thus, all should display moderation and self-control. “Do not be getting drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but keep getting filled with spirit.” Remember, self-control is one of the fruits of God’s spirit.—Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:19-23.
Indeed, one does not have to get drunk to run into problems with alcohol. A booklet produced by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse reminds us: “When someone has a drink, the alcohol is absorbed through the digestive system into the bloodstream and reaches the brain quickly. It begins to slow down the parts of the brain that control thinking and emotion. The person feels less inhibited, freer.” This “less inhibited” feeling can expose one to moral dangers.
Another danger exists when it comes to driving. According to some estimates, in the United States alone 25,000 people a year are killed in accidents caused by intoxicated drivers. Evidently, many greatly underestimate how severely alcohol impairs their reflexes. But Christians view life as a gift from Jehovah. (Psalm 36:9) Would it be consistent with this view for a person to risk his own life, and that of others, by driving while his reflexes are slowed down by alcohol? Thus, many Christians have decided not to touch alcohol at all when they have to drive.
A Christian is also concerned about the effect of his drinking on others. Doubtless this is why Christian overseers, ministerial servants, and older women all are exhorted not to give themselves “to a lot of wine.” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, 8; Titus 2:2, 3) While one person may have a seemingly high tolerance for intoxicating beverages, he is careful to be moderate in his drinking so as not to influence someone else wrongly; nor does he endeavor to force liquor on someone who does not wish to drink. The Bible further says: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.”—Romans 14:21.
Some circumstances may even call for abstaining from drinking. Consider pregnancy. The International Herald Tribune (Paris edition) cited a study done at the University of North Carolina (U.S.A.) and reported that “a single episode of heavy drinking early in pregnancy may result in serious physical and mental damage to the developing child.” Women should seriously weigh such possible risks of drinking during pregnancy.
Those with a history of drunkenness or a tendency to be immoderate may also find it best to forsake drinking altogether.b It likewise might be best to avoid drinking in the presence of one who is an alcoholic or whose conscience condemns drinking. And drinking intoxicating beverages before Christian meetings or when engaged in the public preaching work would be improper. The ancient Levites set the pattern for this in abstaining when on duty in the temple.—Leviticus 10:8-10.
Finally, respect should be paid to the laws of the land. In some countries alcohol is absolutely forbidden. In others, it is restricted to adults above a certain age. A Christian obeys such policies of “the superior authorities.”—Romans 13:1.
Of course, whether you will drink alcoholic beverages or not or how much or how little you will drink are personal decisions. God is glorified when we use discernment and willingly choose the course of moderation. Follow, then, this wise course so that “whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else,” you will “do all things for God’s glory.”—1 Corinthians 10:31.
a In Palestine, grapes were harvested in late summer. The Jewish Passover and the Lord’s Evening Meal, however, took place in spring—six months later. Without means of preservation, grape juice would naturally ferment.
b Doctors recommend that one diagnosed as an alcoholic completely abstain from alcohol. See Awake! of July 8, 1982.
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A Christian may decide to abstain from the drinking of alcoholic beverages on account of another’s conscience