Separate Personal Opinion from Biblical Teachings on Alcohol, Says Minister

Some communities are voting on whether or not to allow Sunday alcohol sales or on whether to overturn old laws prohibiting any sale of alcohol. In virtually all news reports, opposition to such change is organized by a local minister who contends that drinking is prohibited by the Bible or otherwise against the will of God.

The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, the founding pastor at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Rincon, Georgia, expresses concern that people in such communities are only hearing from local religious leaders who oppose alcohol sales or alcohol sales on Sundays and are coming to the conclusion that such an issues is one of Christians against non-Christians.

The Bible says to "use a little wine for thy stomach's sake" (1 Timothy 5:23). This admonition caused serious problems for temperance writers, who argued that alcohol was a poison and that drinking it was a sin. So they insisted that the Bible was actually advising people to rub alcohol on their abdomens.

ref: Edwards, G. Alcohol: The World's Favorite Drug. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000, p. 167

Dr. LeFavi says that what he sees as vital to these debates "is a clear separation between Holy Scripture and personal opinion." 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). Rev. LeFavi says the Bible makes clear that alcohol beverage is neither good nor bad in itself.

"That it can be used rightly (in celebration, etc.) is seen in Jesus' attendance at events where alcohol was served. Indeed, in his first miracle at a wedding in Cana, Jesus himself produced wine. The arguments from some religious leaders that this wine was somehow not what we know as wine today is, according to the consensus of biblical scholars, dramatically overwhelming and greatly at odds with the truth. Like it or not, it was wine Jesus produced, which has the same alcohol we find in liquor, and it was wine Jesus gave to his disciples and called his "blood" on the night before he was crucified.

However, some Christians 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 but that alcohol is bad and that drinking it is religiously unacceptable.

During Prohibition, temperance activists hired a scholar to rewrite the Bible by removing all references to alcohol beverage.

ref: The American Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4

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.

The Bible also makes it clear that Jesus was critical of drunkenness (Luke 21:34, 12:42; Matthew 24:45-51). Rev. LeFavi elaborates:

"That alcohol can be used wrongly is seen in the scriptural admonitions against drunkenness, all of which are clear that God abhors. Therefore, like sex and money, alcohol has the potential to be used by humans to bring about good results or bad results. For Christians, then, the challenge is to ensure alcohol is used rightly."

Dr. LeFavi argues that the issue of when and where alcohol should be sold is not an issue of Christian versus non-Christian, but one of personal opinion.


  • LeFavi, Bob. Guest column: Separate Holy Scripture from opinion on alcohol referendum. Savannah Morning News, December 13, 2007.