Alcohol and the Bible

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus drank wine (Matthew 15:11; Luke 7:33-35) and approved of its moderate consumption (Matthew 15:11). On the other hand, he was critical of drunkenness (Luke 21:34, 12:42; Matthew 24:45-51).

The later writings of St. Paul (d. 64?) deal with alcohol in detail and are important to traditional Christian doctrine on the subject. He considered wine to be a creation of God and therefore inherently good (1 Timothy 4:4), recommended its use for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23), condemned drunkenness (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 5:11, 6:10; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 13:3) and recommended abstinence for those who could not control their drinking. 1

However, late in the second century, several heretical Christian sects rejected alcohol and called for abstinence. By the late fourth and early fifth centuries, the Church responded by asserting that wine was an inherently good gift of God to be used and enjoyed. While individuals may choose not to drink, to despise wine was heresy. The Church advocated its moderate use but rejected excessive or abusive use as a sin. Those individuals who could not drink in moderation were urged to abstain. 2

Royce has observed that "there seems to be neither historical nor theological basis for the total abstinence movement, since...the Jews, Christ, and the founders of the major Protestant denominations all drank. Although drunkenness is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, there is no condemnation of drinking in either." 3

However, some Christians today argue that whenever "wine" was used by Jesus or praised as a gift of God, it was really grape juice; only when it caused drunkenness was it wine. Thus, they interpret the Bible as asserting that grape juice is good and that drinking it is acceptable to God but that alcohol is bad and that drinking it is religiously unacceptable.

This reasoning appears to be incorrect for at least two reasons. First, neither the Hebrew nor Biblical Greek words for wine can be translated or interpreted as referring to grape juice. 4 The same Hebrew and Greek word is used for the wine that Jesus drank and the wine that made Noah drunk. 5 Second, grape juice would very quickly ferment into wine in the warm climate of the Mediterranean region without refrigeration or modern methods of preservation.

Did you know?

During Prohibition in the U.S., temperance activists paid a scholar to rewrite the Bible omitting all references to alcohol beverages!

Read about it in Fun Facts.

The development of the "two-wine" doctrine occurred in the 19th century. Before that time, the moderate consumption of alcohol was widely accepted as natural and normal by Christian teachings. However, as the temperance movement spread, some Christian churches began to preach that the consumption of alcohol was not only undesirable but was actually sinful.... and that the substance of alcohol itself was evil. This was a rejection of the earlier Christian view that alcohol was the "good gift of God" and its replacement by the view that alcohol was "Demon Rum."

Obviously this new assertion that alcohol was evil and that consuming it was sinful faced a major problem: Jesus, himself, had used wine and had approved of its moderate consumption. Thus, the "two-wine" doctrine was formulated to deal with these otherwise inconsistent facts.

This page is informational only and does not attempt to influence any religious faith or practice.

References

  • 1. For more documentation on the views of Jesus and the early church see Hewett, T. F. A Biblical Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol and Other Drugs. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Department of Human Resources, Pastoral Care Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 1980, pp. 14-19, Raymond, I. W. Teachings of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927, and O'Brien, J. M., and Seller, S. C. Attributes of alcohol in the Old Testament, The Drinking and Drug Practices Surveyor, 1982, No. 18, pp. 18-24.
  • 2. Austin, G. A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Press, 1985, pp. 44 and 47-48.
  • 3. Royce, J. E. Alcohol Problems and Alcoholism: A Comprehensive Survey. New York: Macmillan, 1981, p. 291.
  • 4. Raymond, I. W. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927, pp. 18-22; Hewett. T. G. A Biblical Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol and Other Drugs. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina Department of Human Resources, Pastoral Care Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 1980, pp. 11-12; Royce, J. E. Sin or Solace? Religious Views on Alcohol and Alcoholism. In: Watts, T. D. (ed.) Social Thought on Alcoholism: A Comprehensive Review. Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing, 1986. Pp. 55-56.
  • 5. Royce, J. E. Alcohol Problems and Alcoholism: A Comprehensive Survey. New York: Macmillan, 1981, p. 291.
  • 6. The American Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4; "Dry" Bible, www.corkscrew-balloon.com/00/03/1thai/prat3.htm/.

Readings

  • The following readings present a diversity of views on biblical teachings about alcohol. Some are self-published and some are owned by very few libraries. Listing does not imply endorsement.
  • Austin, G. A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio Press, 1985.
  • Bacchiocchi, S. Wine in the Bible: A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages. Berrian Springs, Michigan: Biblical Perspectives, 1989.
  • Burkholder, L. A little wine for the soul? Christianity Today, 2002, 44(4), 85. [This article ignores the important fact of equivalence. That is, the fact that a standard drink of beer, wine, or distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. To a Breathalyzer, they're all the same.]
  • Bustanoby, A. The Wrath of Grapes: Drinking and the Church Divided. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1987,
  • Caesar, L. O. The Meaning of Yayin in the Old Testament. M.A. thesis, Andrews University, 1986.
  • Charles, H. H. Alcohol and the Bible. Scottsdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1966.
  • Cochrane, A. C. Eating and Drinking with Jesus: An Ethical and Biblical Inquiry. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Pres, 1974.
  • Foote, G. W. Bible and Beer. London, England: Pioneer Press, 1912.
  • Gordon, E. B. Christ, the Apostles, and Wine. Evanston, Illinois: National Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) Publishing House, 1944. [The WCTU remains a very active temperance organization.]
  • Hewett, T. G. A Biblical Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol and Other Drugs. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina Department of Human Resources, Pastoral Care Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 1980.
  • Jeffcoat, W. D. The Bible and Social Drinking. City unknown: W. D. Jeffcoat, 1987.
  • Lackey, B. P. What the Bible Teaches about Drinking Wine. Chattanooga, Tennessee: B. P. Lackey, 1985.
  • O'Brien, J. M., and Seller, S. C. Attributes of Alcohol in the Old Testament, The Drinking and Drug Practices Surveyor, 1982, No. 18, pp. 18-24.
  • Phillips, T. W. The Bible versus Prohibition. Butler, Pennsylvania: T. W. Phillips, 1930.
  • Raymond, I. W. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927.
  • Reynolds, S. Alcohol and the Bible. Little Rock, Arkansas: Challenge Press, 1983.
  • Reynolds, S. M. The Biblical Approach to Alcohol. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989.
  • Royce, J. E. Sin or Solace? Religious Views on Alcohol and Alcoholism. In: Watts, T. D. (ed.) Social Thought on Alcoholism: A Comprehensive Review. Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Co., 1986.
  • Wallace, D. B. The Bible and Alcohol (www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/alcohol.htm). [Dr. Wallace points out that the Hebrew text makes a clear distinction between wine and grape juice and does not use one word for both.]
  • Westerfield, B. Alcohol and the Bible: What the Bible Says About Alcohol. Bothell, Washington: Del West Co., 1994.
  • Winters, H. The Bible and Strong Drink. West Jefferson, North Carolina: Win-More Publishing, 1979.

This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about any subject.
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