Communities sometimes vote on whether or not to allow Sunday alcohol sales. Or they vote on whether to overturn old laws prohibiting any sale of alcohol. That is, on whether to become “wet.” In virtually all cases, opposition to such change is led by local ministers. They contend that drinking is prohibited by the Bible. So exactly what are the Biblical teachings on alcohol?
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi is the founding pastor at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rincon, Georgia. He thinks that people in such communities are only hearing from local religious leaders who oppose alcohol sales. As a result, they’re 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 caused serious problems for temperance writers. They argued that alcohol was a poison and that drinking it was a sin. So they insist that the Bible was actually advising people to rub alcohol on their abdomens.1
Dr. LeFavi sees in these debates “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). He also approved of its moderate use (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.”2
The arguments of some religious leaders is that the wine of the Bible was somehow different. But most biblical scholars reject that view. 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.
Yet some Christians argue that whenever “wine” was used by Jesus or praised, it was 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 good. On the other hand, alcohol is bad and drinking it is sinful.
During Prohibition, temperance activists hired a scholar to rewrite the Bible by removing all references to alcohol beverage.3
Weaknesses of Theory
This reasoning appears to be incorrect for at least two reasons. First, neither the Hebrew nor Biblical Greek words for wine refer to grape juice. 4 The same word is used for the wine that Jesus drank and the wine that made Noah drunk. 5Second, grape juice would very quickly ferment into wine in the warm climate of that region.
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. Therefore, alcohol has the potential to be used to bring about good results or bad results. For Christians, then, the challenge is to ensure alcohol is used rightly.”4
Dr. LeFavi argues that the issue of alcohol sales is not an issue of Christian versus non-Christian. Instead, it’s one of personal opinion.
Resources: Biblical Teachings on Alcohol
1. Edwards, G. Alcohol: The World’s Favorite Drug. NY: St. Martin’s, 2000, p. 167.
2. LeFavi, R. Separate Holy Scripture from opinion on alcohol, Savannah Morn News.
3. Am Mix, 2001, 1(1), 4.
4. LeFavi, op cit.