Christianity and alcohol

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Jesus making wine from water at a wedding

Christianity and its beliefs about alcohol have changed since Christianity was started about 2,000 years ago.

Wine and Christianity[change | change source]

Wine has always been important in Christianity. Christians believe that Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding where there was not enough to drink (see the picture at the right).

The Bible says that wine was also important at the Last Supper - the last time Jesus ate with his disciples before he was arrested. The Bible's Gospel of Matthew 26:27 says that Jesus held up a cup of wine and told all of his disciples:

"Take this [cup] all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood ... My blood will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven."

Since that time, Roman Catholic church services have always included something called the Eucharist (also called "Holy Communion"). A priest holds up a cup of wine and says a prayer. At that point, Catholics believe the wine is turned into Jesus's blood. They believe drinking the wine is a way of remembering that Jesus was willing to die so their sins would be forgiven.

Early Christian Beliefs[change | change source]

In the first 1,800 years of church history, Christians often enjoyed alcoholic drinks as a part of their everyday life. At church, during the Eucharist, they almost always used wine.[1][2]

Early Christians believed the Bible and Christian tradition both said alcohol is a gift from God. They taught that this gift made life happier, but that drinking too much alcohol and becoming drunk was a sin.[3][4]

Protestant Beliefs[change | change source]

In the early 1500s, the Protestant Church split off from the Roman Catholic Church. Over time, these two Christian churches started to believe some different things.

By the mid-1800s, some Protestant Christians moved away from the traditional belief that drinking a moderate (small) amount of wine was not bad. (This belief was sometimes called moderationism). Some Protestants decided that not drinking wine at all was wisest (this was called abstentionism). Others decided that drinking any alcohol was sinful (this was called prohibitionism).[5]

Beliefs About Alcohol Today[change | change source]

Today, there are many different types of Christianity, with many different beliefs. Most people still believe in the traditional position: that drinking some wine is all right, just not too much.[source?] Most Christians' opinions about alcohol depend on how they understand what the Bible says about it.[source?]

Alcohol in the Bible[change | change source]

The Bible often mentions alcoholic drinks. Sometimes it talks about real wine. Other times, it uses the word "wine" to mean something else.

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]

The Bible uses a few different 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 (drinks that can make a person drunk).[4][6][8][14][15][16][17]

Wine was an important and common drink in Biblical times. Because of this, the Bible sometimes uses wine as a symbol to teach about good and bad.[18][19] Some parts of the Bible use wine 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] Other parts of the Bible use drinking a cup of strong wine and getting drunk 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