Christianity and alcohol

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Jesus making wine from water at a wedding

In the first 1,800 years of church history, Christians often enjoyed alcoholic drinks as a part of their everyday life and almost always used wine (fermented grape juice) in the Eucharist (Lord's Supper).[1][2] They taught that according to both the Bible and Christian tradition, alcohol is a gift from God that makes life happier, but that drinking too much of it and becoming drunk is a sin.[3][4] In the mid-19th century, some Protestant Christians moved away from this traditional belief that drinking a moderate (small) amount of wine was not bad (sometimes called moderationism). They either decided that not drinking wine at all was wisest (abstentionism), or that drinking any alcohol was sinful (prohibitionism).[5] Today, all three of these positions are in Christianity, but most people still believe in the traditional position.

Alcohol in the Bible[change | change source]

The Bible often mentions alcoholic drinks. Sometimes it is simply mentioning real wine, and sometimes it uses wine for poetic expressions. The Bible says that alcohol is a blessing from God that makes people happy, but it can also be dangerously and sinfully used.[6][7][8] Most Christians' opinions about alcohol depend on the way they understand what the Bible says about it, so the Bible is an important source about it.

The languages in the Bible have several words for alcoholic drinks.[4][9] Though prohibitionists and some abstentionists disagree,[10][11][12][13] most people agree that the words were usually meant to be about intoxicating drinks.[4][6][8][14][15][16][17]

Wine was an important and common drink in biblical times, as the Bible shows by using it for metaphors about good and bad.[18][19] Wine can be used as a symbol for good things, like abundance and health.[20] However, the Bible also calls wine a mocker and beer a brawler (a person who fights too much).[21] Drinking a cup of strong wine and getting drunk are also used sometimes as a symbol of God's anger.[22]

References[change | change source]

  1. R. V. Pierard (1984). "Alcohol, Drinking of". Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 28f. 
  2. "Wine". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.). (2005). Ed. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford University Press, USA. “[W]ine has traditionally been held to be one of the essential materials for a valid Eucharist, though some have argued that unfermented grape-juice fulfils the Dominical [that is, Jesus'] command.” 
  3. Raymond, p. 90.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Wine". Easton's Bible Dictionary. (1897). Retrieved on 22 January 2007. 
  5. Kenneth Gentry (2001). God Gave Wine. Oakdown. pp. 3ff. ISBN 0-9700326-6-8.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bruce Waltke (2005). "Commentary on 20:1". The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 127. ISBN 978-0802827760.
    F. S. Fitzsimmonds (1982). "Wine and Strong Drink". New Bible Dictionary (2nd ed.). Ed. J. D. Douglas. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. “These two aspects of wine, its use and its abuse, its benefits (good uses) and its curse, its acceptance in God's sight and its abhorrence (being hated by God), are interwoven into the fabric of the [Old Testament] so that it may gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15) or cause his mind to err (Is. 28:7), it can be associated with merriment (Ec. 10:19) or with anger (Is. 5:11), it can be used to uncover the shame of Noah (Gn. 9:21) or in the hands of Melchizedek to honor Abraham (Gn. 14:18) ... The references [to alcohol] in the [New Testament] are very much fewer in number, but once more the good and the bad aspects are equally apparent ...” 
    D. Miall Edwards (1915b). "Drunkenness". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. Retrieved on 9 March 2007. “[Wine's] value is recognized as a cheering beverage (Jdg 9:13; Ps 104:15; Prov 31:7), which enables the sick to forget their pains (Prov 31:6). Moderation, however, is strongly inculcated and there are frequent warnings against the temptation and perils of the cup.” 
    John McClintock and James Strong (eds.) (1891). "Wine". Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature X. New York: Harper and Brothers. “But while liberty to use wine, as well as every other earthly blessing, is conceded and maintained in the Bible, yet all abuse of it is solemnly condemned.” 
  7. I. W. Raymond (1970) [1927]. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. AMS Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0404512866. "This favorable view [of wine in the Bible], however, is balanced by an unfavorable estimate ... The reason for the presence of these two conflicting (different) opinions on the nature of wine [is that the] consequences of wine drinking follow its use and not its nature. Happy results ensue when it is drunk in its proper measure and evil results when it is drunk to excess (too much). The nature of wine is indifferent."
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ethical Investment Advisory Group (January 2005). "Alcohol: An inappropriate investment for the Church of England". Church of England. Retrieved 2007-02-08. "Christians who are committed (devoted) to total abstinence have sometimes interpreted biblical references to wine as meaning unfermented grape juice, but this is surely inconsistent (not matching) with the recognition of both good and evil in the biblical attitude to wine. It is self-evident that human choice plays a crucial (very important) role in the use or abuse of alcohol."
  9. Fitzsimmonds, pp. 1254f.
  10. Stephen M. Reynolds (1989). The Biblical Approach to Alcohol. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. "[W]herever oinos [Greek for 'wine'] appears in the New Testament, we may understand it as unfermented grape juice unless the passage clearly indicates (shows) that the inspired writer was speaking of an intoxicating drink."
    "Stuart, Moses". Encyclopedia of Temperance and Prohibition. (1891). New York: Funk and Wagnalls. “Wherever the Scriptures speak of wine as a comfort, a blessing or a libation to God, and rank it with such articles as corn and oil, they mean—they can mean only—such wine as contained no alcohol that could have a mischievous tendency; that wherever they denounce it, prohibit it and connect it with drunkenness and reveling, they can mean only alcoholic or intoxicating wines.”  Quoted in Reynolds, The Biblical Approach to Alcohol.
  11. Ralph Earle (1986). "1 Timothy 5:13". Word Meanings in the New Testament. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press. ISBN 0834111764. "Oinos is used in the Septuagint for both fermented and unfermented grape juice. Since it can mean either one, it is valid (fair) to insist that in some cases it may simply mean grape juice and not fermented wine."
    Dave Miller (2003). "Elders, Deacons, Timothy, and Wine". Apologetics Press. Retrieved 2008-03-25. "The term oinos was used by the Greeks to refer to unfermented grape juice every bit as much as fermented juice. Consequently, the interpreter must examine the biblical context in order to determine whether fermented or unfermented liquid is intended."
    Frederic Richard Lees; Dawson Burns (1870). "Appendix C-D". The Temperance Bible-Commentary. New York: National Temperance Society and Publication House. pp. 431–446.
    William Patton (1871). "Christ Eating and Drinking". Laws of Fermentation and the Wines of the Ancients. New York: National Temperance Society and Publication House. p. 79. "Oinos is a generic word, and, as such, includes all kinds of wine and all stages of the juice of the grape, and sometimes the clusters and even the vine ..."
  12. Samuele Bacchiocchi. "A Preview of Wine in the Bible". Retrieved 2007-01-22.
  13. John MacArthur. "Living in the Spirit: Be Not Drunk with Wine--Part 2". Retrieved 2007-01-22.
    G. A. McLauchlin (1973) [1913]. Commentary on Saint John. Salem, Ohio: Convention Book Store H. E. Schmul. p. 32. "There were ... two kinds of wine. We have no reason to believe that Jesus used the fermented wine unless we can prove it ... God is making unfermented wine and putting in skin cases and hanging it upon the vines in clusters every year."
  14. W. Ewing (1913). "Wine". Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels 2. Ed. James Hastings. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 824. Retrieved on 14 March 2007. “There is nothing known in the East of anything called 'wine' which is unfermented ... [The Palestinian Jews'] attitude towards the drinker of unfermented grape juice may be gathered from the saying in Pirke Aboth (iv. 28), 'He who learns from the young, to what is he like? to one who eats unripe grapes and drinks wine from his vat [that is, unfermented juice].'”  (Emphasis in original.)
    Charles Hodge (1940) [1872]. "The Lord’s Supper". Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 3:616. Retrieved 2007-01-22. "That [oinos] in the Bible, when unqualified by such terms as new, or sweet, means the fermented juice of the grape, is hardly an open question. It has never been questioned in the Church, if we except a few Christians of the present day. And it may safely be said that there is not a scholar on the continent of Europe, who has the least doubt on the subject."
    A. A. Hodge. Evangelical Theology. p. 347f. "'Wine,' according to the absolutely unanimous, unexceptional testimony of every scholar and missionary, is in its essence 'fermented grape juice.' Nothing else is wine ... There has been absolutely universal consent on this subject in the Christian Church until modern times, when the practice has been opposed, not upon change of evidence, but solely on prudential considerations." Quoted in Keith Mathison (January 8 to January 14, 2001). "Protestant Transubstantiation - Part 3: Historic Reformed & Baptist Testimony". IIIM Magazine Online 3 (2). Retrieved 2007-01-22.
  15. W. J. Beecher "Total abstinence". The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Retrieved on 22 January 2007. “The Scriptures, rightly understood, are thus the strongest bulwark of a true doctrine of total abstinence, so false exegesis of the Scriptures by temperance advocates, including false theories of unfermented wine, have done more than almost anything else to discredit the good cause. The full abandonment of these bad premises would strengthen the cause immeasurably.” 
  16. William Kaiser and Duane Garrett, ed. (2006). "Wine and Alcoholic Beverages in the Ancient World". Archaeological Study Bible. Zondervan. ISBN 9780310926054. "[T]here is no basis for suggesting that either the Greek or the Hebrew terms for wine refer to unfermented grape juice."
  17. John F. MacArthur. "GC 70-11: "Bible Questions and Answers"". Retrieved 2007-01-22.
    • Pierard, p. 28: "No evidence whatsoever exists to support the notion that the wine mentioned in the Bible was unfermented grape juice. When juice is referred to, it is not called wine (Gen. 40:11). Nor can 'new wine' ... mean unfermented juice, because the process of chemical change begins almost immediately after pressing."
  18. W. Dommershausen (1990). "Yayin". Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament VI. Ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren. Wm. B. Eerdmans. 
  19. Raymond, p. 24
  20. Ge 27:28; 49:9-12; Dt 7:13; 11:14; 15:14; compare 33:28; Pr 3:9f; Jr 31:10-12; Ho 2:21-22; Jl 2:19,24; 3:18; Am 9:13f; compare 2Ki 18:31-32; 2Ch 32:28; Ne 5:11; 13:12; etc.
  21. Pr 20:1
  22. Ps 60:3; 75:8; Is 51:17-23; 63:6; Jr 13:12-14; 25:15-29; 49:12; 51:7; La 4:21f; Ezk 23:28-33; Na 1:9f; Hab 2:15f; Zc 12:2; Mt 20:22; 26:39, 42; Lk 22:42; Jn 18:11; Re 14:10; 16:19; see Ps Sol 8:14