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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Should Christians Use Intoxicating Beverages? Part One

From an earlier post someone had asked about my views on Christians and alcohol. Here is a brief summary of my position along with my fullypersuaded conclusion!

There of course are many Christians who would advocate a no alcohol policy. There are others that would contend that the issue is not the use of intoxicating beverages but drunkenness. This would seem to be an issue wherein the Scripture provides some fairly clear direction.

I think first of all it is important to keep in mind that the word wine in the Bible is a generic word. It is a word that can have reference to every stage of the fruit from the vine to fermentation. What is meant by the word “wine” is determined by the context. It is seldom difficult to discern what is intended.

Consider the following examples where the word wine is used but clearly fermented beverages are not in question:

Genesis 49:11 - Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:
Wine is likened to the blood of grapes.

2 Chronicles 31:5 - And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.
Wine is included among the increase of the field, this is not likely making reference to fermented wine for the field does not bring forth fermented wine. It may spoil on the vine but it does not ferment on the vine.

Isaiah 16:10 - And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease.
Fermented wine did not come forth from the presses; it was rather the pure juice of the grape (unfermented).

Isaiah 27:2 - In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.
We know that there is no fermented beverage in the vineyard. Here the word wine is making reference to the grapes themselves.

Isaiah 65:8 - Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all.
What kind of wine is in the cluster? It is not fermented it is unfermented.

Jeremiah 40:10 - As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah to serve the Chaldeans, which will come unto us: but ye, gather ye wine, and summer fruits, and oil, and put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that ye have taken.
The wine being gathered is in the context of summer fruits and oil. It is not likely that fermented wine is being referenced here, but unfermented wine.

Jeremiah 48:33 - And joy and gladness is taken from the plentiful field, and from the land of Moab; and I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses: none shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting.
What kind of wine comes from the winepresses? Unfermented wine.

There are other places where the word “wine” is used in a context that clearly is not speaking of a fermented beverage. The point is what kind of wine we are speaking of must be determined by the context. Only the context can help us understand if it is speaking of fermented or unfermented wine.

I think it would be helpful to consider the warnings and prohibitions concerning wine. In each of these cases it seems evident that the scripture is not addressing unfermented wine but rather spirituous liquors.

Genesis 9:21 - And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
Here with the story of Noah we have a warning by example. It is clear that Noah was engaged with intoxicating drink. It led to nakedness and a lack of decency.

Genesis 19:32-35 - Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
Here is a tragic story of incest and treachery. The means of lowering the inhibitions was intoxicating drink. The warning is again presented to us by way of example.

Proverbs 20:1- Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
The language could not be clearer. In order to justify the use of intoxicating beverages one must conclude that that which is a mocker and raging, that whereby one may be deceived is a suitable drink for Christians. What we are given here is the characteristics of wine and strong drink. The Bible declares that it is a mocker and raging. It is difficult for me to conceive how one can justify the use of such a beverage even in supposed moderation.

Proverbs 23:29-35 - Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 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. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.
Admittedly this passage is clearly dealing with drunkenness. But what is important to note is the instruction we are provided considering the dangers involved in the use of such beverages. The Scripture declares that we are not to look upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. What is being described here is the process of fermentation, the transformation of pure juice into spirituous liquors. When it is fermented we are not to look upon it.

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!
Again, the verse is dealing with drunkenness but again I ask why would a believer consume something that entails such risk.

Isaiah 5:22 - Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:
Woe is pronounced on them that drink wine and mingle strong drink. Should a believer engage in something on which “woe” has been pronounced?

Isaiah 28:7 - But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
Is it prudent to drink a substance that is known to cause people to err and stumble in judgment? This is the nature of the fermented drink. Wisdom would seem to dictate that moderation is a weak argument for something that has the potential to be such a destructive force.

Hosea 4:11- Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.
Is it prudent to drink that which has the potential to take away the heart? Here the wine is contrasted with the new wine, or rather the fermented wine with the unfermented wine. The unfermented wine being a symbol of wealth and prosperity we are being instructed that prosperity has the ability to take away the heart.

Habakkuk 2:5 - Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:
Is it prudent to consume that which increases the opportunity for transgression? Fermented beverages certainly have that propensity.

Habakkuk 2:15 - Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!
There is simply nothing positive about this. Where is the spiritual discernment that says here drink this substance that has so much potential to evil and ruin?

Then there are some other passages that are cited to substantiate the moderate use of fermented wine. Let us consider several of those.

Of course the most common justification for the use of wine, beer, whiskey, vodka and practically any other intoxicating drink is the fact that Jesus turned the water into wine. If Jesus turned the water into wine then it must not be that bad we are told. Well let us examine the credibility of that logic.

John 2:1-11 - And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
If you believe that Jesus turned the water into fermented wine then it seems you must accept several correlating conclusion. 1. That Jesus was at a place where men had already drunk much wine for they had used all that was provided. Thus Jesus was present at a party full of drunks. 2. That Jesus provided more spirituous liquor to those who were already inebriated, thus Jesus promoted drunkenness. 3. That Jesus turned the water into that which the Scriptures say is “mocker” and “raging”. 4. That Jesus turned the water into a substance that the Scripture says we are not to “look upon”. 5. Jesus by turning the water into fermented wine is giving his neighbor drink and putting the bottle to him in direct contradiction to the Scripture. If you can believe all this then so be it. The stretch is too far for me.

Ephesians 5:18 - And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
It is argued that moderation is OK it is just the excess that is inappropriate. I believe this is a difficult argument to make from this verse. Just because the prohibition in this case is against drunkenness it does not necessarily allow for the moderate consumption of fermented wine. How many drunks claim to have drunk in moderation?? There is excess in the consumption of fermented wine. Where is the wisdom and spiritual discernment in consuming that, which is the subject of continual condemnation in the Scripture and has tendencies to such evil ends? Remember whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. This is its greatest subtlety, it ability to deceive. I know that the person who abstains completely can never be deceived thereby.

1 Timothy 3:3 - Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
The argument goes that the bishop is just not to be given to wine. It is interesting that wine is specifically mentioned. Why? Because of its danger. It perverts judgment. Again we are told it can be used in moderation. The degree that one uses it is the degree to which they are given to it. The Scripture is declaring that the bishop is not to be given to it at all.

1 Timothy 3:8 - Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
Deacons are not to be given to much wine but they can be given to a little, so the argument goes. That could be, but I doubt it! It is amazing how people can read the prohibition and find license. So if the deacon can be given to a little wine then that means several things. The deacon can be given to a little of that which the Scripture declares is a “mocker” and “raging”. The deacon can be given to a little of that which perverts judgment. The deacon can be given to a little of that which the Scripture instructs us not to look upon. The deacon can be given to a little of that which takes away the heart. The deacon can be given to a little of upon which woe is pronounced. I, for one, cannot believe those things. I am not prepared to argue that a little is OK, simply because God says he is not to be given to much wine. If this was all that was said about the matter I might be able to entertain the thought, but this is not all that is written on the matter.

1 Timothy 5:23 - Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.
Well, let’s concede that it is talking about fermented wine on this occasion, which is not necessarily the case. If it is fermented wine what are we told? 1. You are permitted to use it for illness sake. 2. Even then you are to only use a little.

My conclusion is that fermented wine is not to be a beverage of choice for the believer. It is a mocker, it is raging, it perverts the judgment, it takes away the heart, it is not to be looked upon, and it involves excess. The greatest danger is that it has the ability to deceive. Those who are deceived thereby the Bible declares that they are not wise. I know that if I never take a drink, I can never be deceived. If you choose to drink “socially” or in “moderation” can you say the same? If you think you can then you are at least partially deceived already.
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