Alcohol and the Bible

Alcohol and the Bible is an important subject. As with many religious matters, it is controversial. Here we look some of the evidence. Ultimately, you must decide.

Overview

  1. Traditional Christian Theology
  2. Heretical Sects
  3. Temperance Teachings
  4. Two-Wine Theory
  5. Resources

I. Traditional Christian Theology

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

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

II. Heretical Sects

However, late in the second century, several heretical Christian sects rejected alcohol. They called for abstinence. The Church responded strongly. It asserted that wine was an inherently good gift of God, Therefore, it was to be used and enjoyed. While individuals may choose not to drink, to despise wine was heresy. The Church clearly advocated its moderate use. On the other hand, it rejected excessive or abusive use as a sin. Those individuals who could not drink in moderation were urged to abstain. 2

III. Temperance Teachings

The temperance movement spread in the 1800s. And it became very strong. As a result, some Christian churches began to preach that the consumption of alcohol undesirable. Not only undesirable, but bad…very bad. In fact, so very bad that it was sinful. They also decided that the substance of alcohol itself was evil. 

This was clearly a rejection of the traditional Christian view that alcohol was the “good gift of God.” In its place they presented the view that alcohol was “Demon Rum.”

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

IV. Two-Wine Theory

Temperance theologians believed two fundamental things. One was that drinking wine was sinful. The second was that alcohol was evil. 

However, there is a major problem. Jesus, himself, had both made and consumed wine. In adition, he had approved of its monderate consumption.

These ideas are inconsistent. Jesus could not have been a sinful consumer of evil. Thus, they formulated the “two-wine” doctrine to deal with these otherwise inconsistent facts.

The two-wine theory is simple. 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 they argue that alcohol is bad and that drinking it is religiously unacceptable.

A Problem

alcohol and the bibleThis 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 quickly ferments into wine. Especially in the warm climate of the Mediterranean region without refrigeration or modern methods of preservation.

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

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

V. Resources for Alcohol and the Bible

The following readings present a diversity of views on biblical teachings about alcohol.

Books

  • Bacchiocchi, S. Wine in the Bible: A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages. Berrian Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1989.
  • Bustanoby, A. The Wrath of Grapes. Drinking and the Church Divided. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987,
  • Caesar, L. The Meaning of Yayin in the Old Testament. M.A. thesis, Andrews U, 1986.
  • Charles, H. H. Alcohol and the Bible. Scottsdale, MI: Herald, 1966.
  • Cochrane, A. Eating and Drinking with Jesus. An Ethical and Biblical Inquiry. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1974.
  • Foote, G. Bible and Beer. London: Pioneer, 1912.
  • Hewett, T. A Biblical Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol. Raleigh: NC Dept Human Resources, 1980.
  • Jeffcoat, W. The Bible and Social Drinking. Jeffcoat, 1987.
  • Lackey, B. What the Bible Teaches about Drinking Wine. Chattanooga: Lackey, 1985.
  • Phillips, T. The Bible versus Prohibition. Butler, PA: T. Phillips, 1930.
  • Raymond, I. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine. NY: Columbia U Press, 1927.
  • Reynolds, S. Alcohol and the Bible. Little Rock, AR: Challenge, 1983.
  • ______ The Biblical Approach to Alcohol. Princeton: Princeton U Press, 1989.
  • Westerfield, B. Alcohol and the Bible: What the Bible Says About Alcohol. Bothell: Del West, 1994.
  • Winters, H. The Bible and Strong Drink. West Jefferson, NC: Win-More, 1979.

Articles & Chapters

  • Burkholder, L. A little wine for the soul? Christianity Today, 2002, 44(4), 85.
  • O’Brien, J., and Seller, S. Attributes of Alcohol in the Old Testament, Drinking Drug Practices Surveyor, 1982, No. 18, pp. 18-24.
  • Royce, J.  Sin or Solace? Religious Views on Alcohol and Alcoholism. In: Watts, T. (ed.) Social Thought on Alcoholism. Malabar, FL: Krieger, 1986.
  • Wallace, D. The Bible and Alcohol.(www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/alcohol.htm).

References

  1. For more documentation on the views of Jesus and the early church see these. Hewett, T. A Biblical Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol. Raleigh, NC: NC Dept Human Resources, 1980, pp. 14-19. Raymond, I. Teachings of the Early Church on the Use of Wine. NY: Columbia U Press, 1927. Also O’Brien, J. and Seller, S. Attributes of alcohol in the Old Testament, Drink Drug Practices Surveyor, 1982, No.18, pp. 18-24.
  2. Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1985, pp. 44 and 47-48.
  3. Royce, J. Alcohol Problems and Alcoholism. NY: Macmillan, 1981, p. 291.
  4. Raymond, I., op cit, pp. 18-22. Hewett. op cit,  pp. 11-12. Royce, J. Sin or Solace? Religious Views on Alcohol and Alcoholism. In: Watts, T. (ed.) Social Thought on Alcoholism. Malabar, FL: Krieger, 1986. Pp. 55-56.
  5. Royce, J., ibid.
  6. “Dry” Bible. The American Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4.