What the Bible Says about Alcohol - Can a Christian Drink Alcohol?

Recently I’ve been asked about my convictions on alcohol and have been told by people I’ve respected over the years that they now drink alcohol in moderation. I’ve been prompted to write this article for those whom I influence and that I teach.

The times we live in are characterized by a steady slide away from Biblical conviction to  liberal preferences based on self-love. The new trend is to resist any form of dogmatism and absolute and drift towards what impulse dictates. One topic that we can see this exemplified is the issue of alcohol. Social drinking and secret drinking among Christians and churches today have become more and more prevalent. As a matter of a fact, you’ll even find Bible study groups today that include beer in their meetings. I see alcohol as a gateway drug. It is a door that opens up many social woes and impropriety - a threshold that leads to carelessness on every level, even if a person drinks and doesn’t get drunk.

My observation is that when a Christian departs from sound teaching and casts off a daily cross many times they will begin to proclaim their deception by liberty to drink alcohol. They will claim that the Bible is not specifically clear in a prohibition drinking alcohol and that it is allowed in moderation. This can be no farther from the Truth than it is. The Bible is clear in both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the prohibition of drinking alcohol in both principle and in practice.

Biblical Word “Wine” and Its Usage

Examining the original language and the words used for wine and strong drink in the OT & the NT we can see the extensive coverage of this subject in the Bible. The word "wine" is mentioned 231 times in the King James Bible. In the Old Testament there are 3 Hebrew words that are all translated as “wine”.
     YAYIN: Intoxicating, fermented wine - Genesis 9:21
     TIROSH: Fresh grape juice - Proverbs 3:10
     SHAKAR: Intoxicating, intensely alcoholic, strong drink - often referred to other  

          fermented intoxicants than wine such as beer - Numbers 28:7

The New Testament, translated from Greek, uses the word “wine” for both fermented and unfermented drink. There are 2 Greek words for wine the New Testament.
     OINOS: Wine (generic term) - Matthew 9:17 = unfermented, Ephesians 5:18 =  

         fermented, 1 Tim 5:23 = an antiseptic or base for a medicine or homeopathic     
     GLEUKOS: Sweet wine, fresh juice made with sugar - Acts 2:13 - This also can mean  

         highly inebriating wine as implied in the verse.

Interestingly enough the english word “alcohol” is taken from the Arabic: الغول‎ al-ghawl — properly meaning "spirit" or "demon". Thus the word we use at times for alcohol “spirits”. It is clear even on a secular level the relationship alcohol has with the demonic realm. There is no ambiguity here.

The Prohibition Exemplified

There are those that may say “where does it say in the Bible Thou shalt not drink alcohol?” For those who claim there is no prohibition for drinking alcohol we can prove it both in principle and by example. It was forbidden for priests (Ez 44:21, Lev 10:8) and that when they did drink they erred. As Christians we are taught that our body "is the temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 6:19) so as spiritual priests (Rev 1:6) we’re not permitted to drink wine or strong drink in the temple, a modern parallel would prohibit strong drink in the temple of the Holy Spirit our body.  For those who took the Nazarite vow it was forbidden (Is 28:7), we too as saints, called to holiness are called out to be separated from the gateway of familiarity and corruption that one goes through when they drink alcohol. It was forbidden for kings and princes (Proverbs 31:4-6) thus any leader or person of responsibility in the Kingdom of God is to abstain. The greatest example we have is of our Lord and Savior who Himself did not drink fermented wine.

Jesus and Wine
Some will still say that Jesus Christ indeed drank alcoholic wine and we know this by the passover (which was the last supper - Mark 14:14-17). The wine mentioned here in Mark’s Gospel was a wine that had aged seven months. There is a difference of seven months grapes between the harvest and passover. It may be argued that “they didn't have refrigerators, so to keep the grapes from souring, they were fermented”. Nature by itself never forms spiritous liquors. There is no such thing as “natural fermentation”. The fruit (grape) may rot and turn sour but it takes artistic chemistry to convert grape juice to alcohol. The indispensable conditions for vinous fermentation are exact proportions of sugar, yeast or gluten and water with air temperature between 50 and 75 degrees. Chemical science forbids vinous fermentation when heat exceeds 75 degrees and assures the acetous (vinegar). Since the Middle East is well above that even at night most of the year, something had to be done to preserve the juice (wine) for the year, or else it would all turn to vinegar. To assume it was all turned to alcoholic wine is an inaccurate assertion and flies in the face of historical fact. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, declares that he has seen provisions at the Jewish fortress of Massada including grapes and fruits, kept fresh to last for 100 years. Pliny the Roman historian confirms this. As we have shown above, the seven month time span would not have been a problem due to the multitude of frequently used preservation methods, all of which easier than fermentation, available to the people at that time.

Furthermore, in Matthew 26 it was "the fruit of the vine” (verse 29) they drank. This is also in Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1Corinthians 11. The “fruit of the vine” would be grapes, and when the grapes are crushed they do not make naturally make alcoholic wine (Isaiah 65:8). In addition to all this - it was forbidden to have any fermented or leavened items during the Passover. Therefore we see clearly that the wine Jesus drank at the Last Supper was not fermented.

One passage of scripture sited by many who maintain their liberty to drink alcohol is in John 2 where Jesus performed the miracle in Cana, his first miracle, by turning approximately 150 gallons of water into wine. This is problematic for people who haven’t read carefully the passage and examined it in the original. It is necessary to first understand that the word used multiple times in this passage is one of the two words in the greek for wine “OINOS” which is the generic term for wine used in the New Testament to describe both fermented and unfermented wine (Mat 9:17). The word “OINOS “ is used at least 33 times in the LXX to translate “TIROSH” the Hebrew word for grape juice. With that being said let me ask a question. If the scripture states here in John 2 that all that were present at the party had “well drunk” (had already had plenty to drink) why would Jesus make another 150 gallons of fermented wine (an an estimate of 4,800 glasses of wine) for the guests? There are several problems with that. One, if Jesus made intoxicating wine in His miracle that would be a definite inconsistency with the Old Testament law as well as the Lord’s pronounced woe upon anyone who provided his neighbor alcoholic wine and made him drunk in Habakkuk 2:15. Secondly, Jesus’ testimony to the world and the unbelievers at the party is contrary to scripture. Therefore the wine “OINOS” here (that can mean unfermented wine as well as fermented wine) used in John 2 was the type of wine that was unfermented. This is an important principle to remember for proper interpretation when reading other passages of scripture that refer to wine using the Greek word “OINOS" (such as with the parable of the Good Samaritan).

A Personal Story
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? 30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. 32 At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. 33 Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. 34 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. 35 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.”

The verse mentioned above reminds me of a sad story unfortunately that had happened with a good friend of mine I went to Bible College with. My friend before he was saved was an alcoholic who was delivered by God. He went to Bible School to be trained as a missionary and then moved overseas. He became a team member on a church planting mission in Europe, a great preacher and a man of the Word, later marrying a native of the country he was ministering in. One summer he came back to his home church where he was sent from and met with his pastor for dinner. That pastor had recently adopted the error of drinking in moderation and during dinner he had a glass of wine in front of this returning missionary. When probed why the change in his conviction the pastor explained his liberty and my brother that night had his first drink in years. That resulted in a return to the bottle, where he spiraled down into the addiction worse than before. He lost his wife, and his mission. He eventually sold his large library of Bible study books to support his addiction. This tragic situation was triggered by the excessive liberty of a pastor who will be responsible for causing “one of these little ones to stumble” (Mat 18:6, 1 Cor 8:9)

A High Standard - Using our Liberty in Living for Others

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth... (I Corinthians 10:23-24,31-33)
These are some sobering words on the subject that we have discussed. That is why we as believers must live the highest standard we can live in the Royal Law of God’s Love by the enabling Grace of God. See what Paul writes about the high standard in his epistles:
      Bishops: Not given to wine (Titus 1:7), sober...Not given to wine (I Timothy 3:2-3)
      Aged women: that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness...not given to much   
          wine...That they may teach the young women to be sober (Titus 2:3-4)
      Deacons: not given to much wine (I Timothy 3:8)
      Everyone: It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby
          thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. (Romans 14:23)

These evil days call for abstaining from all appearance of evil - 1 Thes. 5:22 therefore it is wise and prudent to abstain from all alcohol. Though many Christian organizations today, some even large church-planting organizations, struggle with this conviction, we must take the Bible conviction on this subject and totally abstain. Even if one doesn’t agree with the Bible, abstain for the sake of others.

Our Joy

When the Apostles were filled with the Spirit on Pentecost the fruits of their filling was joy and preaching. The accusation was that they were drunk with wine - Acts 2:13. The truth is that the joy of the Holy Spirit in the Temple of the Lord, our body, is the substituting factor for wine. We don’t need wine. We don’t need it to spice up our social life or social events. We don’t need wine to be happy. We are filled with the Spirit and not wine - Eph 5:18. There is no need for wine at all in our lives. 

- p. Christian Moore

Read: 75 Bible Verses on Alcohol