Alcohol and the Bible: What Does Bible Say About Drinking?

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

              OVERVIEW

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

Alcohol and the Bible

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

II. Heretical Sects

Late in the second century, several heretical Christian sects rejected alcohol. As a result, they called for abstinence. But the Church responded strongly. It asserted that wine was an inherently good gift of God. Therefore, it was to be used and enjoyed. Although people 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 who could not drink in moderation were urged to abstain.2

III. Temperance Teachings

Then the temperance movement spread in the 1800s. Also it became very strong. As a result, some Christian churches began to preach that drinking alcohol was 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.” Instead, they presented the view that alcohol was “Demon Rum.”

alcohol and the BibleRoyce has observed that “there seems to be neither historical nor theological basis for the total abstinence movement.” That’s because “Jews, Christ, and the founders of the major Protestant denominations all drank.” He noted that “Although drunkenness is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, there is no condemnation of drinking in either.”3

IV. Alcohol and the Bible: Two-Wine Theory

Temperance theologians believed two fundamental things. One was that alcohol was evil.  Second was that drinking wine was a sin.

But there is a major problem. Jesus, himself, had both made and drank wine. Also, he had approved of its moderate use.

In short, these ideas are inconsistent. Jesus could not have been a sinful consumer of evil. Therefore, they formulated the “two-wine” doctrine. They thought it dealt 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 argued that alcohol is bad. Therefore, drinking it is rejected.

A Problem

However, this reasoning appears to be false for at least two reasons. First, neither the Hebrew nor Biblical Greek words for wine can be interpreted as referring to grape juice.4 Indeed, 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. Nor did they have other modern methods of preservation.

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

V. Resources: Alcohol and the Bible

The following resources present a diversity of views on biblical teachings about alcohol. Note well. This page is informational only. Therefore, it does not try to change any religious belief. Nor does it give advice.

Web
Readings

NOTE: CROSSED OUT LINKS WORK FINE.

Footnotes

NOTE: CROSSED OUT LINKS WORK FINE.

    1. For more on the views of Jesus and the early church see these. Hewett, T. A Biblical Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol, pp. 14-19. Also Raymond, I. Teachings of the Early Church on the Use of Wine.
    2. Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society, pp. 44 and 47-48.
    3. Royce, J. Alcohol Problems and Alcoholism, p. 291.
    4. Raymond, I., op cit, pp. 18-22. Also 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. Pp. 55-56.
    5. Royce, J., ibid.
    6. “Dry” Bible. Am Mix, 1(1), 4.  
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