Recently, I read some comments from well meaning Christians about the use of alcohol in the life of the believer. The argument is usually more closely associated with an American sense of rights and personal opinion than Scripture and tradition of the church. Ironically, arguments for moderation in the use of alcohol tries to say the Bible and people in Jesus’ time used alcohol all the time. Isn’t it good to take some for your stomach? So the argument goes. It is a faulty argument, based on the premise that the use of alcohol as we know it today was the same as in first century Palestine. This not only demonstrates an immature or at best uninformed reading of Scripture, it seeks to make a less than holy lifestyle choice agreeable and even affirmed by those who follow Christ’s call to holiness of heart and life.
My tradition of The Church of the Nazarene makes a strong statement against moderation. This decision is not made out of some form of shallow legalism. Rather, it is the prayerful, thoughtful, and grace-driven response of a people wishing to embrace holiness. Specifically, those affirming membership in the Church of the Nazarene, our call is not to moderation but to abstinence.
The Church of the Nazarene’s Covenant of Christian Conduct says, (29.5):
The use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage, or trafficking therein; giving influence to, or voting for, the licensing of places for the sale of the same; using illicit drugs or trafficking therein; using of tobacco in any of its forms, or trafficking therein. In light of the Holy Scriptures and human experience concerning the ruinous consequences of the use of alcohol as a beverage, and in light of the findings of medical science regarding the detrimental effect of both alcohol and tobacco to the body and mind, as a community of faith committed to the pursuit of a holy life, our position and practice is abstinence rather than moderation. Holy Scripture teaches that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. With loving regard for ourselves and others, we call our people to total abstinence from all intoxicants. Furthermore, our Christian social responsibility calls us to use any legitimate and legal means to minimize the availability of both beverage alcohol and tobacco to others. The widespread incidence of alcohol abuse in our world demands that we embody a position that stands as a witness to others. (903.14-903.16) (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-24:2; Hosea 4:10-11; Habakkuk 2:5; Romans 13:8; 14:15-21; 15:1-2; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:9-12, 19-20; 10:31-33; Galatians 5:13-14, 21; Ephesians 5:18)
"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." Proverbs 20:1
My heart aches for those who have lost family members or loved ones to accidents involving alcohol. Someone dies from drunk driving every 33 minutes. That’s right. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a person dies every 33 minutes in an alcohol related accident. And that’s not all. An estimated 310,000 persons were injured in crashes each year where police reported that alcohol was present. An average of one person injured approximately every 2 minutes. Is alcohol the only source of injury and death? Of course not.
But consider these additional statistics from the United States Justice Department: Nearly 4 in 10 violent victimizations involve use of alcohol. Also, victim reports show, on average each year about 183,000 rapes and sexual assaults involve alcohol use by the offender, as do just over 197,000 robberies, about 661,000 aggravated assaults, and nearly 1.7 million simple assaults.
Scripture should not be read flippantly in this area. "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." Proverbs 20:1. It is at the root of all kinds of problems in our country today and it has been for hundreds of years. Proverbs 23:31-32 is a powerful injunction against drinking alcoholic beverages. It says, “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”
Let’s look more specifically at the Scripture and its statements about alcohol:
There are 637 references to wine, drink and drinking in the Bible. As is often the case, Scripture is read and applied to our lives today out of context. For example, most people believe when wine is mentioned it is referring to alcoholic wine. Actually, that is not necessarily true. Thirteen different words are translated "wine" in the KJV. The word wine has a wide range of meaning in the Bible, covering everything from grape juice, to concentrated grape syrup to alcoholic wine. To understand what the Bible has to say about drinking, we need to look at several of these words. It is not sufficient, nor wise, to read the word “wine” and allow that reading to give permission for the use of modern day alcohol socially.
Let’s begin by looking at Old Testament Hebrew words for WINE:
yayin -- It is a general term for grape beverages and includes all classes of wine, non-alcoholic or alcoholic; unfermented, in the process of fermentation and fermented. (Proverbs 31:4) The context will show whether it is alcoholic wine or not. Yayin, when used properly was always diluted with water.
shekar -- It is the word for strong drink, unmixed wine. THE JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIA says, "Yayin, wine, is to be distinguished from shekar, or strong drink. The former is diluted with water; the latter is undiluted." Shekar was not diluted with water." (see Numbers 28:7)
tirosh -- This word refers to fresh grape juice. It is referred to often as new wine or sweet wine. (see Proverbs 3:10; Deuteronomy 7:13)
Let’s consider New Testament Greek words for WINE:
oinos is the counterpart to the Old Testament word yayin. It is a general term for grape beverages and includes all classes of wine, non-alcoholic or alcoholic; fermented or unfermented. The context has to be used to determine whether the drink was intoxicating or not. (Luke 10:34; Ephesians 5:18). Oinos, when used properly was always diluted with water.
sikera is the counterpart to the Old Testament word shekar. It is the word for strong drink, unmixed wine. (Luke 1:15)
gleukos is the counterpart to the Old Testament word tirosh. This refers to fresh wine, or a new wine. This is basically freshly squeezed grape juice.
As you can see, reading “wine” in the Bible is not a sufficient to justify a lifestyle of moderation, nor is such a reading accurate. It is simply not right to say people in Jesus’ time drank alcohol, therefore, I can drink socially. Not only is this reading inaccurate, it does not testify to the calling of the Christian to holiness of heart and life. Here are some very good reasons.
POTENTIAL FOR ADDICTION & HARM:
American Medical Association statistics on the use of alcohol and it relationship to addiction makes it clear that the use of alcohol is not unlike Russian roulette: every tenth person becomes automatically hooked. The only solution is total abstinence. The Apostle Paul condemned anything that could lead to addiction or actions that had the potential to cause harm to oneself or others through addiction. The simple fact is statistically, drinking leads to drunkenness. As Christ followers we should abstain from anything that can lead to addiction.
DRUKENNESS IS CONDEMNED IN SCRIPTURE:
Isaiah 5:11-- "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!"
Proverbs 23:20-- "Be not among winebibbers;" The word means to drink so much that you become tipsy or drunk.
Romans 13:13 -- "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting (drunken partying) and drunkenness (general drunkenness) ..."
Galatians 5:19a & 21 -- "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these... drunkenness..."
Ephesians 5:18 -- "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;"
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
You can’t get around it, and in fact, all godly men agree that the Bible condemns drunkenness. Drunkenness is a serious matter. The Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 6:12 that we are not to "be brought under the power" or to be controlled by anything. The only exception is the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
So, what was “Strong Drink” in the Bible?
Distillation was not discovered until about 1500 A.D. Strong drink and unmixed wine in Bible times was from 3% to 11% alcohol. Dr. John MacArthur says "...since anybody in biblical times who drank unmixed wine (9-11% alcohol) was definitely considered a barbarian, then we don’t even need to discuss whether a Christian should drink hard liquor--that is apparent!"
Since wine has 9 to 11% alcohol and one brand 20% alcohol, Christians should not bring strong drink. Brandy contains 15 to 20% alcohol, so that’s out! Hard liquor has 40 to 50% alcohol (80 to 100 proof), and that is obviously excluded!
Anyone who know me knows I love biblical archaeology and first century Jewish and Palestinian culture. It is common knowledge among biblical scholars and those in the serious study of first century dietary habits that Jews and early Christians drank sub-alcoholic beverages, basically it was purified water.
Remember the Hebrew word "yayin" and the Greek word "oinos" we looked at earlier? These were the companion words for wine, whether fermented or unfermented. In fact, whether fermented or not, it was mixed with water.
Norman Geisler, former Dean of Liberty Center for Christian Scholarship, Liberty University, has written: "Many wine drinking Christians today mistakenly assume that what the New Testament meant by wine is identical to wine used today. This, however, is false. In fact, todays wine is by Biblical definition strong drink, and hence forbidden by the Bible. What the Bible frequently meant by wine was basically purified water," purified by adding some alcoholic wine. The Holman Bible dictionary says, wine was also used as a medicine and disinfectant.
Geisler goes on to say, "Therefore, Christians ought not to drink wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages for they are actually strong drink forbidden in Scripture. Even ancient pagans did not drink what some Christians drink today."
All alcoholic beverages used in our culture fall under the biblical classification of STRONG DRINK and are therefore are not drunk. The least ratio of water to wine mixture used in Bible times was 3 parts water to 1 wine. That produced a sub-alcoholic drink that was 2.5% to 2.75% alcohol. Normally, the ratio was even higher, up to 20 to 1. There is no Biblical Support for Christians socially drinking the alcoholic beverages of our day. None! What early believers drank was sub-alcoholic by today’s standards. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul warned his early church pastors and deacons to steer around even sub-alcoholic drink (I Timothy 3:3 & 8).
The Apostle Paul was also very concerned with another issue. Will your choices cause others to stumble? Romans 14:21 says, "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” Do not do anything else.
Innumerable Christians claim their "Christian Liberty" or “Freedom” when it comes to social drinking. In order to do that, they must turn their backs on this passage of Scripture. Is a decision to drink socially giving someone an excuse to drink. More than once, I have heard a believer say "there is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation.”
The problem is, drinking often sets off a chain reaction of influences that are like tipping over the first domino. Drinking causes some to stumble, others to be offended, and many to be weakened. The Apostle Paul would say, “Avoid such behaviors.”
Innumerable research shows children drink because parents or peers drink. As a Christ follower, you are an example. While you may think you can drink in moderation (something that isn’t always true), what is the example you are setting for that brother or sister who cannot? The Bible clearly defines drinking as an activity that is to be foregone because it causes others to stumble and makes them weak (fall into sin).
Is there any other reason not to drink? Yes.
John Wesley’s mother, Susanna Wesley says this about sin, “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.”
Your body is a temple of God. The first effect of alcohol on the brain is to dull the capacity for self-criticism, reason, tenderness of Conscience, and sense of caution. No matter how little is consumed, it results in a lessening of care and increases authority of the body over the mind. The checks on irresponsibility and unreasonable behavior are also curtailed. Actions follow the impulses, which is dangerous. Reaction time become slower; coordination is disturbed; drowsiness follows.
Consider this timely Proverb 23:29-33:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things.
Here is the problem: Even in moderate amounts, alcohol has noticeable effects on the body. Because it enters the blood stream it touches almost every organ, and its effects on feelings and behavior are well known.
The Madison, WI Office of Highway Safety has this to say, “Alcohol has adverse effects on your esophagus, stomach and intestines, bloodstream, pancreas, liver, heart, bladder, kidneys, glands and your brain. The most drastic and noticed effect of alcohol is the brain. It depresses brain centers, progressively produces a lack of coordination, confusion, disorientation, stupor, anesthesia, coma, death. Alcohol kills brain cells, and brain damage is permanent.”
As believers, our body belongs to the Lord. We should not knowingly do anything that would harm it. Alcohol harms the body; therefore, we should not drink alcohol.
The Church is God’s people, called apart and sanctified unto God. Believers are kings and priests separated unto God.
In the Old Testament, prophets, kings, Nazarites, and leaders – those who were called for God’s special purposes – totally abstained from alcohol. Dr. Paul Dixon reminds us, Kings and public officials were not to drink (Proverbs 31:4-5). Further Dr. Dixon says, "the priests of the Old Testament were to abstain totally." The Aaronic priests were not to drink because they ministered in the tabernacle before the Lord (Leviticus 10:9).
Believers today are a "royal" or kingly priesthood (I Peter 2:9). We are the temple of God (I Peter 2:5). We are God’s special children and should choose total abstinence.
Drinking, even social drinking, cannot be legitimately supported by the Bible. Every drink that is available today, even beer, falls into the category of unmixed or strong drink. Clearly, Christians should not drink alcoholic beverages. Drinking socially is a worldly activity and in light of the fact that believers are neither to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) nor love the world (I John 2:15) our choice should be clear. We are to be separate from the world (II Corinthians 6:17) and light to the world (Ephesians 5:8; Philippians 2:15). Perhaps social drinking has enhanced the acceptability of Christians in society, but it has not advanced the cause of Christ, and it does not glorify God. Social drinking is simply a means which the devil uses to blunt our testimony for Christ and squeeze us into his mold.
The Church of the Nazarene’s clear statement of abstinence over moderation is well founded, Scriptural, and consistent with God’s call to holiness of heart and life.